Discusses economic and political direction

Jorge SoberĂ³n Luis, the Cuban Consul General of Toronto, visited the Capilano Students' Union (CSU) on November 19 for a presentation entitled Cuba Today: Which Way Forward?

A documentary was shown to open up the discussion, describing different agricultural initiatives in Cuba. In particular, there was a strong focus on permaculture, back-yard and community farms.

Luis explained that, will the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost half of its oil imports, and about 80% of its import and export trade. It is known as the 'Special Period' to Cubans. Faced with the necessity of food shortages, they developed community farm initiatives, including biofuels and biopesticides.

Today, about half of the food Havana requires is provided from these inner city farms and as many communities around the country are self-sustaining. But Luis points out that they still cannot meet the total demand by these farms. They must still import about 2 billion in food per year, and the US embargo on Cuba is a crippling factor, amounting to about 236 billion dollars in lost revenue over the past 50 years. The blockade was just condemned on the 28 of October for the 18th time by the UN.

Luis points out that, if they were allowed to export their cigars, rum and produce to the US market, conditions would be greatly improved. “Cuban products cannpt be exported [to the US] even through third parties,” stated Luis.

He also points out that the blockade has prohibited doctors from obtaining medicine necessary for open heart surgery.

They are negotiating the problems by focusing on medical services, tourism and industrial development. Cuba received about a million tourists per year from Canada, and, in particular, Cuba's nickel economy is among the top seven globally. Once more, they produce about half of the oil that the country needs locally.

“Cuba is a socialist country . . . we don't intend to change that,” said Luis. They are trying to adapt the model to the changing global economy, however. They are looking forward to a united Latin American political party, encompassing many of the Central and South American countries.

“An important aspect of Cuba is that we include the opinions of people in everything we do,” said Luis, explaining that the steady economic growth of Cuba since 1995 can be attributed to the “consensus” and participation of citizens.

However, a recently released 123 page Human Rights Watch (HRW) report reflects a different reality. They accuse Cuba of torture, arbitrary imprisonment, unfair trials and executions. According to the American director of HRW, Jose Miguel Vivanco: “Cubans who dare to criticize the government live under constant fear since they know they could end up in prison just for expressing their opinion.”

The Cuban Criminal Code enforces up to a year of jail time for anyone who “publicly defames, denigrates, or scorns the Republic's institutions, the political, mass, or social organizations of the country, or the heroes or martyrs of the nation.”

When asked about this, Luis stated that “There is a very strong [propaganda] campaign, very well funded . . . from the US.” When asked about Cuban constitution policies (established in 1976) of censoring information that works against the agenda of the Socialist party, Luis mentioned that “We have the right to defend ourselves from these [US] policies towards Cuba . . . for government and social stability . . . in order to prevent [US propaganda] from happening.”

“We believe that the situation is backed by the Cuban population.” Luis pointed out that issues of human rights are different in a country like Cuba than they are for a country like the US.

//Kevin Murray

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