“The gentlemen of the north shouldn’t forget that we are followers of Martí, Fidel, Bolívar…and Chávez!” In other words: NOT gringos.
Just in case any of you folks out there were wondering whether Cuba would change its ways now that the US has taken steps toward lifting the decades-old embargo and re-establishing normal relations with the island, here’s your answer…straight from the mouth of Raúl Castro himself:
The president of Cuba, Raúl Castro, warned that there would be a “long and difficult struggle” for the United States to decide to lift the blockade against the island, and said that there must still be international and North American calls for an end to that embargo.
“It cannot be expected that in order to improve relations with the United States, Cuba must renounce the ideals for which it has fought over more than a century, for which the people have spilled much blood and taken many risks,” Castro said.
The president, speaking before the Cuban National Legislative Assembly, stated that the end of the blockade requires persistent international calls and that US society must also increase pressure in that direction.
For Castro, the decision to re-establish relations with the United States — which both governments recently announced — constitutes “an important step”, but “the essential remains to be resolved”, which is the end of the more-than-50-year-old embargo. “The re-establishment must be without shadows upon our national sovereignty,” he said.
For that reason, he expressed the hope that his counterpart, Barack Obama, “use executive prerogatives with determination to substantially modify the blockade in those aspects which don’t require congressional approval”.
The embargo against Cuba has been formally in place since 1962, although prior to that, there had already been other types of sanctions, and was elevated to the level of law in 1996 with the Helms-Burton Law, which is subject to congressional ratification.
“All the information indicates that the great majority of the US citizenry wants the normalization of bilateral relations with Cuba,” Castro affirmed, saying he was aware of the “virulent criticisms” which Obama received for his rapprochement with Havana.
According to Castro, “after decades of confrontation, they are doing everything they can to sabotage this process, not ruling out provocative actions,” but his administration will respond with “prudent conduct, moderate and reflective, but firm”.
Interrupted several times by applause from the legislators, Castro later insisted that Cuba would not renounce its socialist system, despite the accord for re-establishing diplomatic relations with the US, although he is disposed to discuss all topics in “equality” and “reciprocity”.
“In the same way in which we have never proposed that the United States change its political system, we demand respect for ours,” he warned, and asked for “understanding” that Cuba is a sovereign state, whose people decided “in a free referendum” for the socialist way.
The session was attended by perhaps the most symbolic representatives of the ideological struggle between Havana and Washington: the “Cuban Five”, heroes who were for many years imprisoned in the US, accused of espionage; and the “raft boy”, Elián González, whose mother died in 2000 in an attempt to reach Miami.
Elián was retained by relatives in Miami, and later returned to the island to live with his father after heavy diplomatic pressure.
“Do you remember little Elián, the struggle for Elián?” asked Castro, almost laughing. “We’re proud of him as the youngest of our heroes,” he said, and presented the young man, now 21, with a small medal which he wore on his lapel as a “memento”.
Legislators applauded while the “Five”, members of the Cuban intelligence network, captured and placed on trial in the US in a process which many organizations considered fraught with irregularities, and who recently returned to reunite in Havana, where two of them had already returned upon completing their sentences.
In his speech, Castro also confirmed that he would attend the next Summit of the Americas, which will take place in April 2015 in Panama, and which will mark in all ways the return of Cuba to the inter-American system.
“I confirm that I will attend in order to express our positions with sincerity and respect for all the heads of state and government, without exception,” said the president, who emphasized that Cuba’s participation in that summit is the result of “solid and unanimous consensus” in Latin America and the Caribbean, a region which he said “is living a new era and has united amid its diversity” in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Castro thanked the president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, for the invitation, and underscored the “permanent pressure and support” of all the countries of the region for “the elimination of those odious old sanctions against Cuba” which the OAS established, and which were lifted in 2012.
Castro also addressed some of the island’s economic numbers, although the question passed to a second phase, overshadowed by the new step in relations with Washington.
The president stated that in 2014, there had been an increase in the Gross Domestic Product “less than originally forecast”, but predicted that in 2015, the island would “consolidate and reinforce a major development of the economy”, projecting a growth in GDP of approximately 4%.
“That’s not to say that it will be easy. We must continue to confront the global crisis and the North American blockade which are still in place, denying countless resources to our economy,” Castro said.
Castro recognized that “the economy is the principal unfinished business” in Cuba, “and we have the duty of putting it on the road to irreversible socialist development.”
Uncompromising words from an unhoodwinked leader. Hasta la victoria siempre, Comandante Raúl.