At a lively fringe meeting at Unison National Delegates’ Conference in Manchester, over 250 delegates heard from Manuel Montero, European Officer for the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (Cuban equivalent of the TUC). Manuel spoke about the economic reforms in Cuba and contextualised them within the ongoing blockade of the island and the global economic crisis.
Cuba – as a result of international recession and financial crisis – is now paying an additional 900 million dollars for its annual food imports. The effects of the world-wide recession have been compounded by a number of natural disasters including 16 hurricanes which battered the island between 1998 and 2008. To pay for this, Cuba has had to embark on a process of economic reforms to rejuvenate the economy and develop their socialist model. As Manuel said:
This has been achieved through a program of mass participatory democracy. Neighbourhoods, students, farmers, trade unions, workers have all been consulted. 8 million people in total were involved with 30% of the original proposals accepted and the rest amended or rejected. They will take five years to implement to ensure continuity and sustainability.
Manuel compared the current economic crisis with the special period which occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the 1990s Cuba lost 95% of its trade but survived because of “the support and work of the population which ensured the economic recovery”. Manuel believes the same sense of national unity will ensure the success of the economic reforms.
As in the 1990s, Cuba faces a “complex challenge of introducing a number of changes to make the economy more efficient and raise living standards for all Cubans”.
In addition to the current economic crisis, Cuba remains the victim of an illegal and inhumane blockade. According to Manuel, Barack Obama made many promises about normalising relations with Cuba but many of these remain unfulfilled and the impact of the blockade is now “worse than ever”.
The reason for the ongoing blockade is America’s fear of Cuba’s “good example”. Manuel described how the blockade is imposed extraterritorially by the US and commented how a Swiss bank was fined 100 million dollars for trading with Cuba.
Manuel also highlighted the hypocrisy of American foreign policy and reflected that – whilst Cuba continues to be named as a country promoting terrorism – the Miami Five remain imprisoned within America for fighting terrorism. Since the triumph of the revolution in 1959, America has funded and organised terrorist acts against Cuba in an attempt to undermine their socialist system. As a result of this, 3500 Cubans have been killed and more than 3000 have been handicapped.
Keith Sonnet, chairing the meeting, praised the fifty years of solidarity between Britain and Cuba and appealed for Unison branches and regions to affiliate to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.