By Calla Walsh
April 2, 2023
Speech given by Calla Walsh (co-chair of the National Network on Cuba) to the Counter-Summit for Democracy, held on 2 April 2023 and organized by Friends of Socialist China and the International Manifesto Group.
Cuban Democracy, US sanctions on Cuba, Internationalist medical brigade
The only criteria to be invited to Biden’s so-called Summit for Democracy last week was to be a lapdog of US imperialism, not to be a real democracy. Instead of uplifting true people’s democracies which have dynamic, mass participation — such as those in Cuba and China — Biden’s summit promoted the overthrow of these governments.
The US Democracy Summit was selective and virtual, as virtual as its own "democracy", a reflection of its own international moral isolation. Did it lay down patterns for demagogy?
— Bruno Rodríguez P (@BrunoRguezP) March 31, 2023
As Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said, “The US Democracy Summit was selective and virtual, as virtual as its own “democracy,” a reflection of its own international moral isolation.” He is right. The US is increasingly isolating itself, and it is clearer each day that its hegemony is in decline. On the other hand, countries like China and Cuba are overcoming the US attempts to diplomatically isolate them by practicing true internationalism and paving the way to peace and multipolarity. The US is doing everything it can to stop these inevitable changes, rather than address the needs of its own population.
Biden used the Summit to prop up US regime change operations under the guise of democracy promotion. Foundations like the National Endowment for Democracy, a CIA front group, are some of the most blatant examples of how the US uses “democracy” as a weapon to undermine real democracy in the name of democracy. Over the past 20 years, the NED and USAID have allocated over $250 million USD to programs targeting Cuba. These programs aim to mutate real economic dissatisfaction in Cuba into violent anti-government protests. They have especially targeted Cuban cultural groups and youth groups, with the CIA notoriously infiltrating the underground hip hop scene in Cuba and fomenting counter-revolution. These protests have been utter failures, because people in Cuba are dissatisfied by the US blockade, not by the Cuban government.
But the US is still trying to fulfill the original goal of its blockade, which, in the words of the State Department itself, is “to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” Over 60 years of the longest and most severe unilateral sanctions in the world have been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and decrease of tourism to Cuba, but more significantly by Trump’s hawkish policy towards Cuba, which saw the reversal of Obama-era normalization policies, the addition of 243 new sanctions on Cuba, and the re-addition of Cuba to the so-called “State Sponsors of Terrorism” List. In spite of his campaign promises to revert to Obama-era policy, Biden has kept nearly every single one of Trump’s added sanctions and doubled-down on the fallacy that Cuba is a terrorist state. Biden could change this designation with the stroke of his pen.
The blockade is not about restoring democracy in Cuba, despite the US attempts to portray it as such. No, these sanctions are designed to force Cuba into a return to capitalist dictatorship. US laws condition the lifting of sanctions on the complete destruction of Cuba’s revolutionary political and economic systems. For example, the “Cuban Democracy Act of 1992,” commonly known as the Torricelli Act, requires that, for sanctions to be lifted, Cuba must change its Constitution, return US property that was legally nationalized by Cuba, move “toward establishing a free market economic system,” and hold elections for a new government. It promotes US intervention by “[authorizing] the President to provide assistance to promote nonviolent democratic change in Cuba.” So, the “Cuban Democracy Act” is about tearing apart Cuba’s existing democracy and replacing it with what the US deems to be fair elections.
The blockade is not about forcing Cuba to give its people a greater say in their democracy. Cubans already have one of the most robust democracies in the world. Rather, the blockade is about exerting maximum economic pressure on Cuba, to enable the US to impose their so-called model of democracy on Cuba, meaning democracy for the US ruling class to seize and exploit Cuba’s people and resources.
Reports published by the US government on their plans to remodel Cuba into a capitalist state have even modeled Cuba’s transition after the neoliberalization of Eastern Europe during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, where economic shock therapy caused a huge drop in life expectancy and rise in disease and poverty. The US wants to reverse the accomplishments of the Revolution, and force Cubans back into the poverty they lived in under the yoke of the US.
These policies are in blatant defiance of international law. They are a gross violation of Cuba’s right to sovereignty and self-determination.
Not only is the blockade a violation of Cuba’s democratic rights, but it is also maintained against the democratic will of the US people and the 96% of the countries on Earth which vote year after year to condemn the blockade in the United Nations. A consistent majority of US citizens support normalizing relations with Cuba and lifting sanctions, especially for vital products like food and medicine, but we don’t get any say in the continuation of the blockade.
A recent poll also showed that a powerful 0% of US citizens think that Cuba is a threat to the US, yet the Biden administration continues to label Cuba as “terrorist.” There is an ongoing push by extreme right-wing Miami Republicans to codify into law Cuba’s “terrorist” designation, so that it could only be reversed if Cuba agrees to destroy its socialist system and replace it with what the US deems to be “democracy.” However, the US people are resisting these hawkish policies. The National Network on Cuba is leading an effort to get Cuba #OffTheList of State Sponsors of Terrorism. For the past several years, Cuban-Americans and allies have been organizing monthly car caravans and standouts against the blockade to build “Puentes de Amor,” or bridges of love, between the US and Cuban people. In Miami, these protests against the blockade have been violently attacked by fascists aided and abetted by the Miami police.
The US labels Cuba as “authoritarian” and “undemocratic” to justify its cruel blockade. In reality, Cuban democracy is centuries ahead of the so-called democracy we have in the US. Observing Cuba’s municipal elections last November was the first time I saw real democracy, after working on dozens of elections in the US. Cuban elections are completely nonpartisan and there is no campaign spending, advertising, or lobbying allowed. Cuba consistently has much higher voter turnout than most other countries in the world. Once elected, representatives are not paid, they continue their lives as workers alongside the rest of the population, and they can be recalled at any point by voters. The workers are the state in Cuba.
In the US, on the other hand, the corporations are the state. Bribery by corporations and lobbyists is legal and in fact a guaranteed path to victory, because the candidate who spends the most money almost always wins. In the US, we are only called upon to have a say in our government when elections take place. In Cuba, elections are not the full extent of how citizens can participate, they are only the beginning. The Constitution is regularly revised with the participation of millions of citizens. Ideas are constantly being generated from the masses and laws are tested and revised with the masses. This is what real democracy looks like.
The father of Cuban Independence, Jose Martí, said, “In a time of crisis, the peoples of the world must rush to get to know each other.” This has been exactly Cuba’s approach to fighting US attempts at isolation. The US uses its huge leverage over the international financial system to bully other countries into submission, to punish Cuba, and to punish even its own US allies for trading with Cuba. Cuba’s approach to building strong diplomatic relations with other countries is based not on bullying, but on cooperation. Cuba sends doctors, not bombs.
Friendships with other countries, and the strength of the Cuban people, are how the Cuban Revolution has continued to survive. When the blockade first began, the Cuban Revolution was able to survive because of the internationalist solidarity it received from the Socialist Bloc. Since then, Cuba has returned the favor to working people across the world, including working people in the US. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuba was able to survive because of the internationalist medical brigades it launched and because of its partnership with the Bolivarian Revolution. And of course, through collaboration with the People’s Republic of China on economic development.
As we speak, Cuba, along with 148 other countries, is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, collaborating on significant infrastructure and energy projects. While the US blocked vital medical supplies reaching Cuba during COVID, China supplied them, returning the favor to Cuba, which offered material aid to China at the onset of the pandemic. In November 2022, Cuban President Miguel Díaz Canel visited Algeria, Turkey, Russia and China. During his visit, they signed a historic cooperation agreement formalizing a $100 million donation from China to help Cuba overcome the economic crisis resulting from US sanctions.
This is the difference between the US and China’s approaches to diplomacy and development. China’s approach is what gives us hope for a world order that is not based on US unipolar hegemony. Multipolarity, de-dollarization, building unity and cooperation will all help Cuba, and all countries being strangled by the US, to maintain sovereignty and hold back regime change.
Young people in the US like me are increasingly skeptical of US regime change propaganda. More young people see China as a friend, </strong>not an enemy, than any other generation. We see the utter incompetence of the US in their attempts to ban TikTok. We see Biden continuing the destruction of our environment while China is leading the world in reducing carbon emissions. We see that Cuba has the most progressive laws in the world on LGBTQ rights while fascists in the US are attempting a genocide of trans people. It could not be clearer which countries are the true democracies representing the interests of working people.
The Cuban Revolution has survived for over 60 years despite all odds, and we can only imagine the incredible things Cuba will do when it is able to develop free from the constraints of the US blockade. If we fight for it, then we will see an end to the blockade in our lifetimes and we will live in a truly democratic, multipolar world.
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