Monday, May 27

Cuban official sets record straight


Cuban official sets record straight

First Secretary aims to dispel misconceptions about foreign
policy

By John Digrado

Daily Bruin Staff

Speaking out against an economic embargo that some consider an
injustice against a peaceful people, Cuban First Secretary
José Luis Ponce held an informal discussion group Thursday
evening regarding the United States’ "misconceptions" of Cuba and
its foreign policy.

"Our mission is to get the other side of the story to the
American people," said Craig Honts, a member of the Coalition in
Solidarity of Cuba, the interest group that organized Thursday’s
event.

"We’re telling the truth on what Cuba is. There are some very
positive things" about the country today, he said.

Since the United States does not maintain normal diplomatic
relations with Cuba, and no Cuban embassy or ambassador keeps ties
in Washington, D.C., Ponce’s position is the closest office to
ambassador that a country can send to the United States without
normal relations.

Though Ponce’s appearance was part of an ongoing West Coast tour
of Cuban dignitaries in an effort to dispel those misconceptions,
much of the discussion centered on sweeping reforms that the
country has adopted since the fall of the Soviet Union, in addition
to the ongoing American embargo of the island nation.

"People think that problems (between the United States and Cuba)
began in 1959," Ponce said. "The truth is that we’ve had bad
relations since the last century. Our relationship has been a very
strange one from the beginning."

Aimed at suffocating the Cuban socialist revolutions of the late
1950s that brought communism within 90 miles of American shores,
the U.S. embargo against Cuba has prevented the country from freely
trading innovations and economic goods with its northern neighbor
for over 30 years.

"There are different interests that are dividing the two sides,"
said political science Professor Edward Gonzalez.

"Cuba lost its international patron with the collapse of the
Soviet Union and has had to adjust to a post-Communist world. It’s
no longer the security threat that it once was, but nonetheless
there are still some outstanding differences between us that have
to do in part (with) what has happened over the past three and a
half decades."

After the Soviet collapse in 1989, Cuba lost approximately 85
percent of its yearly income, setting the Cuban economy into a
tailspin from which it has only recently begun to recover. This
most recent recovery is largely due to sweeping economic reforms
that have opened Cuba’s borders to much of the world, Ponce
explained.

The reforms allow outside corporations from Europe and Canada,
and the tax dollars that come with them, onto Cuban soil.
Industries such as tourism and biochemistry are also open to
outside investment, Ponce explained.

But despite these seemingly amicable movements toward
capitalism, Ponce maintained that the most recent actions do not
signal a Cuban return to a capitalistic economy.

"We believe that the only way we can maintain the social
advances in our society is to maintain a Socialist approach," Ponce
said. "(The reforms) introduce some elements of capitalism that
will solve our economic problems."

Those reforms include a shift away from defense spending and the
reintroduction of taxes to a population generally unfamiliar with
taxation.

"The bulk of the Cuban budget is devoted to education and
welfare," Ponce said. "We’re going back to a moderate taxation.
Until everyone is convinced of giving more, we can’t apply other
taxes (such as income tax)," to the population, he said.

But there may be problems ahead in spite of these recent
movements toward a capitalistic economy.

Though the reforms may open external, international sectors of
the Cuban economy to globalization, outside investment in the
internal, mainly state-controlled sectors is still banned.

"The problem is that if they only go halfway, you still have an
array of (internal) economic activities that the Cubans must depend
on," Gonzalez said.

"This is what has led to this tremendous explosion of black
market activities," Gonzalez continued. "The state sector (cannot)
meet the needs of the people."

Gonzalez refers to such an approach to economic reform as
"market-Leninism."

"You open up part of the economy to certain outside sources, but
you still retain this Leninist vanguard party that monopolizes
political power," he argued.

Though Ponce believes that these most recent reforms are a step
in the right direction, they may not be sweeping enough to convince
U.S. foreign policy makers to change their position on the
embargo.

With key differences left unresolved and the general U.S.
disapproval of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, changes in the policy may
be further away than some would like to believe.

And lifting the ban on U.S. trade and investment in Cuba may
only serve to halt the reform process in its tracks, Gonzalez
added.

"I would submit that this is not the best point to lift the
embargo," he said.

"Castro and their investors have drawn to the conclusion that
they don’t have to reform any further," Gonzalez continued. "If we
lift the embargo at this time, I think you’re going to freeze the
transition process where the regime remains a Caribbean version of
Vietnam."

Despite the embargo, Ponce expressed his country’s determination
to become economically prosperous through reform.

"(We will) preserve the social achievements of the revolution
… we are there despite all the attempts to crush us," Ponce
declared.

KRIS FALLON

Cuban First Secretary José Luis Ponce spoke Thursday night
about Cuba and reforms that have been implemented since the fall of
the Soviet Union.

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