Lok Raj Sangathan on 3 rd December 2005 organised a meeting at the Constitution Club to hail the essence of the speech about the blockade made by Felipe Pérez Roque, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba, to the UN General Assembly in November 2005. The Cuban Ambassador to India, His Excellency reiterated the points in the UN speech and talked about several aspects of life in Cuba. While the speech of the Cuban Foreign Minister to the UN Assembly can be found elsewhere in our site, the remaining points are briefly reported below.
On the democratic institutions in Cuba
“Our democratic institutions are a product of our armed revolution. It is system developed by our own people and in their service. It may not be perfect but it is something that is supported by the people and it is they who participate fully in the political process. We are convinced that our system is much superior to the multi-party democracy practiced in the West.
“Today after thirty years of struggle, our democratic institutions are well developed. The supreme power does not reside with the communist party but in the parliament with 500 representatives elected by open as well as secret ballot.
“In our elections, it is not necessary to be rich or have the support of the rich to get elected. At the local level, candidates are selected by their neighbours. Money and party affiliation are unnecessary as there is no need for propaganda. Election is based on constituencies in which the candidates are known to people in their daily lives and get elected purely on their own merit. The Communist Party does not field candidates. From among eight candidates, one is selected for the Municipality constituency (we have 168 municipalities of 30,000 to 100,000 population). This person is also eligible to get elected for the Parliament.
“50% of people elected for the parliament come from this route. The other 50% are elected from the different groups of people like trade unions, scientists, sportsmen – in general from among those who have contributed to the society and these people bring technical information and culture in the Parliament.
On the Cuban economy
“Cuban economy is growing at 9% per annum, which is the largest in Latin America. Our population is only 11 million and we are currently entertaining 2 million tourists. In 2008, we expect to have 5 million tourists. We are for open trade. We have been a signatory to the world trade bodies since the Uruguay round.
“Our economy is no longer based on sugar and cigars. In fact we are systematically reducing sugar production and converting sugar factories to other factories. Earlier we were producing 6-8 million tons of sugar and now we are producing only 3 million tons. We have been donating 70-100,000 tons of sugar to needy countries as solidarity sugar. We are also increasing the production of ecological sugar that does not use chemical fertilizers.
“We are a major Nickel producer (currently producing 75,000 tonnes). We have investment of 1 billion $ from a Canadian company and we expect to raise the production to 100,000 tonnes in the near future. We are also nearing self sufficiency in oil production. We have two contracts with ONGC Videsh and several others from companies in Spain and Venezuela.
“We are one of the leading centres for Biotechnology. We started with 6 original products and now we have as many as 38 products that are unique. We have invested abroad in the area of Biotechnology including in Biocon in India.
“We are also advancing in the Information Technology area. We have opened a new university in IT. Currently 8000 students are getting trained in Informatics. We are also getting some help from India. Despite the blockade, we are exporting IT services including to the US.
On the Cuban health services
“We have a quality health system that is free and universal. You don’t have to know someone influential to get treatment. In fact any Cuban can get a heart transplant if he or she needs it. In the US, a similar operation may cost 120,000 $.
“We have one doctor for every 132 Cuban citizens. In all, we have over 70,000 doctors. Of these, 40,000 doctors are on missions abroad (many in Africa). Our infant mortality rate is much lower than in the US. The average life expectancy in Cuba is 76 years. We are expecting to raise it to 85 years soon.
“We have launched operation Miracle to perform 6 million Cataract operations (of which 150,000 are expected to be from the US). We have already performed some 200,000 cataract operations free of cost. A person from Latin America can register with us if he or she needs a cataract operation. In some cases, we even support the travel to cuba for the patient and an accompanying person.
“In seven years time, we are targeting to increase the number of doctors to 100,000 in addition to training 100,000 doctors in Venezuela and also some in Guatemala. The training we are providing in theses countries is to produce doctors who will go to the country side and treat patients and not start private practices in the cities. We have opened a Latin American School of Medicine, which will train 1500 doctors from Latin American countries. Many have already been trained and have gone back to their countries.
“We have a special brigade of 100,000 paramedics and engineers to help with disasters all over the world. We constituted this brigade after the hurricane struck New Orleans and we have named it after an American by the name of Henry Reeves. Henry Reeves had come to Cuba and had taken part in our Independence struggle. He was valiant and a progressive person who died in battle. We had offered to help the victims of Katrina disaster in New Orleans. However, the American government did not even acknowledge our offer. The reality of the American Dream is that there are over 40 million people in the US who are below the poverty line. A group of Baptist Friends of Cuba are helping the poorer areas in the US.
“We have sent part of the brigade to help Pakistan deal with the earthquake victims. Currently we have 789 doctors in Pakistan and in addition have paramedics and electronics engineers to support the doctors. These Cubans are working in extremely harsh environment for them (they are not used to such cold weather). Cuban doctors have treated 60,000 patients and prevented major epidemics in areas where they have been operating. Many patients have been operated and thousands have been fitted with prostheses devices. They are also training the local population in dealing with the situation there. The other part of the brigade is currently stationed in Guatemala.
On the Cuban education system
“From primary level to the university, education is a right of every Cuban. The illiteracy rate in Cuba is 0.01%. We had 100,000 volunteers wipe out illiteracy within a year.
“At primary level, we have classes of 15 students with two teachers per class to give individual attention. We have opened schools even in remote mountainous areas. We have two TV channels dedicated to education. There is a TV and a computer in every class room. In secondary school, the class size is 20 students.
“We have 62 universities in Cuba. There are 23,000 foreign students who are studying at our universities. A majority of these are getting free education. We want to have one university for every municipality. This we call "universalisation of the university".
On the defence preparedness of Cuba
“We do not have a standing army. In stead, we have armed the Cuban population. There are arms stored in factories and farms. All Cubans undergo military training. There are regular practices in the use of arms. In Cuba, you cannot imagine a anti-popular government as people will overthrow it using their arms.
“We are under threat from the US government they want to destroy our revolution and they are only 90 miles from our shore. From Jefferson’s time, the US has looked at Cuba as its precious possession. The US has never recognized Cuban independence. They did not support us in our war against the Spanish occupation. President Munroe is quoted to have said that Cuba will fall in our hands when it is ripe! We defeated 400,000 Spanish soldiers with our 30,000 soldiers and the US did not recognize our Cuba Republic in Arms but decided to make deals with the Spanish.
“The Gauantanamo bay in Cuba is a stand off with the US. They had wanted to use it as a refueling station for ships in the older days when ships used to run on coals. Later they converted it into their military base without any permission from the Cuban government. However, Cuba is not in a position to oust their military base from our country.
“We don’t have any military threat from other countries of the region. We have friendly relations with the countries of Latin America. In fact, we are working to bring about integration of Latin America (economic, political and cultural), which in our views will be an effective counterweight to the US threats.”
The Cuban Ambassador, on several occasions, pointed out that although the Cuban system was not ideal, it had developed to serve the Cuban people. It has the support of the majority of Cuban people and it the people themselves who are making the system better and better.