Tackling the challenges of Cuba’s new economic model

Leima Martinez Freire speaking at the forum on April 4.

“Cubans want a socialist country, a developed country, and support for the Cuban Revolution remains strong,” Leima Martinez Freire told a 50-strong public meeting on April 4.

Freire, the Asia-Pacific Director of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples, was speaking at the NSW Teachers Federation at an event organised by the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society.

She said Cuba has been busy discussing the draft and re-draft of the new Constitution and “tackling the challenges of our new economic model”.

About 7 million people took part in the discussions over a new constitution and 659,000 amendments were put forward. Key topics included economic problems, how to improve people’s daily lives and the need to make officials more accountable.

In the lead-up to May Day, Freire said the Cuban union movement “has been seeking to find ways to raise the salaries of the country’s workers, which are still too low … Cuban unions are working hard to defend workers' rights, and to extend them further.”

Women play a key role in society and make up 48% of National Assembly of People’s Power — a situation which has been achieved by a longstanding affirmative action campaign rather than quotas.

“Cuba has its problems, but during 60 years of the Revolution, the struggle has always been about maintaining rights and conditions and to develop them further,” Freire said.

Young people have always been at the fore, seeking advances, and building on Cuba’s free education and health systems, she said.

Following the nationwide constitution discussion, local governments have been strengthened, Freire said, pointing to the transformation of the provincial assemblies of people’s power into provincial governments.

The biggest problem affecting Cubans’ daily lives, however, are the United States’ sanctions.

She confirmed that the new sanctions against Cuba, under the Donald Trump administration, is making life more difficult — its key aim. Transactions in US dollars are still very difficult.

“Contrary to reports, [former US President Barack] Obama did not lift the blockade. Travel by US citizens to Cuba is still severely restricted.”

The Trump administration is only making matters worse, Freire said, adding that its aim is “to attempt to make Cuba its colony once again”.

“The US government never gives up trying to interfere in Cuba’s internal affairs. But the Cuban people are resolute in opposing US attacks on our national independence.”

Despite the economic problems, “Cuba remains active in supporting the peoples of other countries under attack — including Palestine, Latin America and, most recently, Venezuela”.

She said the US is deploying the same aggression against Venezuela as it has towards Cuba. But, she said, “the resistance of the Venezuelan people shows the strength of the Venezuelan Revolution”.

Freire urged Australians to increase their support for Cuba and Venezuela against the US attacks. She invited participants to visit Cuba as part of the upcoming May Day Brigade and the Australia-Cuba Southern Cross Solidarity Brigade in January 2020.

“We welcome all those who respect the will of the Cuban people. Despite the challenges, the Cuban people insist that our destiny is in our own hands,” Freire concluded.

[Information on the Southern Cross Brigade to Cuba 2019 from December 28 to January 17, 2020 can be found here or email southerncrossbrigade@gmail.com.]