At President Fidel Castro's urging, Cubans reaffirm their faith in the country's socialist system.
THE Cuban people have once again demonstrated to Washington and the rest of the world their faith in the socialist system. On a call given by Cuban President Fidel Castro in early June, millions of Cubans marched on the streets of Havana in support of the socialist system of government and to protest against the recent threats and provocative remarks made by United States President George W. Bush against Cuba. The first fortnight of June also witnessed rallies and marches all over Cuba. "Long live socialism and down with lies," was one among many anti-U.S. and anti-imperialist slogans raised outside the U.S. Interest Section in Havana.
In a recent speech, Bush had warned that the U.S. would be justified in using "pre-emptive military force" against countries that were characterised by the U.S. State Department as "terrorist". For the last seven years, Cuba has been classified unilaterally as a "terrorist" state by the State Department. Evidently, the decision is a political one taken at the behest of the "Cuban mafia" based in the U.S. State of Florida. Bush in his speech at the West Point Military Academy called for the overthrow of the socialist system of government.
Moreover, the Bush administration has been bankrolling the disparate and discredited dissident movement in Cuba. A month ago, the dissidents had collected around 11,020 signatures calling for a vote on whether the country's Constitution should be amended to bring in market reforms and U.S.-style democracy in Cuba. The Cuban Constitution allows citizens to petition the government if more than 10,000 signatures are collected.
In response to the U.S. manoeuvre, Castro urged the Cuban people to give a fitting response to Washington. A nationwide drive was launched on June 15 to collect the signatures of Cubans of voting age (above 16 years) in support of the socialist Constitution. The aim of the exercise, which ended on June 18, was to preserve the socialist system of government and its gains from the biggie of the North - the U.S. Castro called on the Cuban people to sign a petition, moved by the leadership of the country's mass organisations, to amend the country's Constitution to make the socialist workers' state "untouchable". A specific amendment approved by Cubans in the recent signature drive stated that "the economic, political and the social system codified in the Constitution of the Republic is untouchable". About seven million of the country's 11 million people participated. President Bush, in a speech in the third week of May, had demanded that Cuba implement the kind of democracy favoured by the U.S. and at the same time introduce a market economy.
Castro, in a broadcast to the nation, said that the three-day signature campaign was necessary "so that no one could doubt in the least how Cuban people feel and think. Millions of Cubans will give a conclusive and adequate reply to a 'liberator' whom nobody invited here". Castro observed that Bush instead of letting the people of Puerto Rico go free was talking of liberating Cuba. (Puerto Rico was illegally occupied by the U.S. more than a century ago.)
GEORGE W. BUSH owes his Presidency to the electoral shenanigans of the right-wing Cuban exile community in Dade County, Florida. Besides, his brother Jeb Bush is up for re-election as Governor of Florida. Hence keeping the well-heeled Cuban exiles in good humour is politically expedient for the Bush administration. In fact, the Bush administration's hawkish moves against Cuba came when signs emerged of public opinion in the U.S. being in favour of lifting the four decades-old economic blockade against the country and for the normalisation of relations between Washington and Havana.
Even Congressmen belonging to the Republican Party of President Bush have been demanding the lifting of trade sanctions against Cuba. Democratic Congressman William Delahunt, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives' "Cuban Working Group", formed with the aim of improving relations with Cuba and which consists of 20 Democrats and an equal number of Republicans, said that Bush was paying off a "political debt" to the Miami Cubans. "He owes them for what they did for him in 2000 and for what they will do for his brother Jeb, who is running for re-election in Florida," said Delahunt. In the third week of May, the 40 Congressmen demanded the removal of restrictions on U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba and the lifting of the decades-old trade embargo. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who was in Cuba around the same time, echoed the views while interacting with the media.
But the Bush administration was unrelenting. Bush's primitive mindset on Cuba had manifested itself earlier in the year when he prevailed upon Mexican President Vincente Fox to hasten Castro's exit from the United Nations Conference on Financing for Development, held in Monterrey, Mexico, ahead of schedule. Although Castro was invited by the U.N. Secretery General, the petulant U.S. President made it clear to the Mexican government that his presence was incumbent on Castro leaving the summit. Bush has openly demanded that Latin American countries like Mexico back his counter-revolutionary agenda in the region, which includes the destabilisation of the progressive governments in Cuba and Venezuela.
Many of President Bush's recent provocative remarks were made during a fund-raiser for his brother in Miami, in the third week of May. Among those present in the audience were the prominent members of the Cuban exile community. Although they constitute less than 5 per cent of Florida's population, they have appropriated the role of arbiters of the Bush family's collective political destiny. The Cuban Americans, much like the Jewish lobby, manipulate politics in Florida thanks mainly to their stranglehold on business and the media. Their role is resented by many in Florida, as was illustrated during the incidents involving the Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez. Most people in the State and in the U.S. supported the stand of the Clinton administration to let the boy leave with his father to Cuba, where he belongs.
The mood of mainstream U.S. public opinion was reflected in the visit of the former President Jimmy Carter to the island in April. This historic visit was the first by a senior U.S. dignitary to Cuba after the revolution of 1959. After quitting active politics, Carter has devoted much of his time to humanitarian causes and other issues, some of which are not popular with the current occupants of the White House. A recent poll showed that Carter is the most admired U.S. President after John Quincy Adams.
A few days before Carter's visit, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and Disarmament John Bolton made the preposterous suggestion that Cuba had "limited offensive biological warfare" capabilities. Carter made a visit to the research establishment in Havana which, according to Bolton, was conducting research in germ warfare. Carter was quick to give the Cuban government a clean chit. Many senior Bush administration officials were also said to be embarrassed by the allegations.
Cuba has made major strides in medical and biological research. Castro, in a speech in the last week of May, said that throughout history scientific and technical developments have served either good or evil causes. However, he emphasised that in Cuba the scientists were educated for "the sacred mission of protecting life and not destroying it". He pointed out that Cuba had twice as many doctors per person as the most developed nations. "No country has given, or is giving, more support to other people's health care services, free of charge, than Cuba, and no other has saved more lives," Castro said. Cuban doctors and health care specialists are today working in remote corners of the under-developed world, among the poorest of the poor, at the invitation of host governments.
Castro, in a speech delivered at Santiago de Cuba, the island nation's second biggest city, in the middle of June, said that Cuba has been the target of countless terrorist attacks organised by the Cuban exile community under the umbrella of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) based in Miami before the Bush administration started its crusade against "international terrorism". Castro said: "Today that same organisation continues to fund the defence, protection and impunity of the worst terrorist while waiting for the Cuban revolution to be destroyed by the United States. Everybody knows this, both Miami and the White House. Bush's intimate relationship with these terrorists completely undermines his moral authority and disqualifies him as a world leader fighting against terrorism."