January–February 2015        

The view from Cuba

Seán Edwards interviewed Noel Carrillo, former Cuban ambassador to Ireland, in Havana on 14 January 2015

     SE: The Communist Party of Ireland has already expressed its congratulations to the Cuban people on the release of the five Cuban anti-terrorists from prison in the United States, and you have replied. Have you anything to add at this point?
     NC: The release of the last three took us by surprise. As you know, it was the result of long secret negotiations. These negotiations became possible because of the long struggle of the Cuban people and the solidarity of many parties and organisations throughout the world. I was happy seeing that the Five, in one of the first television programmes in which they took part, mentioned many organisations and individuals, including Bernie Dwyer as one of those who dedicated her life to this cause. The case of the five was a political case, and we won this battle politically, so I must say it is a victory for the CPI as well.
     SE: The United States and Cuba have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations. Has the United States recognised the failure of its drive to isolate Cuba? Does this mean a change of heart on its part?
     NC: Even if they haven’t said so, it is a recognition of its failure. Of course they still want to change the social system in Cuba, but they will try to reach that goal by different means. But we must accept this challenge, because we want to avoid confrontation, and because we trust our own principles. I think they realise that they became isolated in Latin America and they are trying to reverse the situation. We are ready for normal relations among equals, without conditions.
     SE: The US blockade of Cuba has not achieved its political objectives, but it is still damaging to the Cuban economy. How important is it for Cuba to establish normal business relations with the United States?
     NC: I think we will have to be clear that it will be a situation for now of normal diplomatic relations with the United States, with the blockade in place. Just two days before Obama’s and Raúl’s statements the Kommerzbank of Germany was fined by the US Department of the Treasury, so the struggle against the blockade continues. The ultra-rightist part of the US Congress remains a very difficult obstacle to ending the blockade. In the event of the blockade being lifted we will maintain a diversified trade with the entire world.
     SE: Since the election of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, especially after the defeat of the coup d’état there in 2002, a new relationship among Latin American states has developed, exemplified by the establishment of ALBA [Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America] and CELAC [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States]. Can we say that the isolation of Cuba has come to an end?
     NC: Yes, absolutely. Cuba is not isolated. There are many concrete facts to say why. (1) Cuba plays a part in the integration process in Latin America. (2) Cuba had the support of the Latin American states to come back to the Organisation of American States, reversing the decision to expel Cuba. (3) The Latin American states demanded that Cuba be included in the Americas Summit in Panama this year, against the wishes of the United States. (4) In Latin America we have an increasing number of left and progressive governments, which has led to the foundation of CELAC, with the participation of the states of Latin America and the Caribbean but without the United States and Canada. CELAC is now acting as a plural entity, representing the entire continent in discussions with China.
     SE: What do the economic and social changes taking place in Cuba signify? Why were they considered necessary, and what do you hope to achieve? Do you see any potential dangers in these measures? How widely were they discussed?
     NC: We have come through a period of more than twenty years confronting a deep economic crisis and focusing ourselves on surviving as an independent socialist nation. But our purpose cannot be just surviving, and now we have the possibility of organising the future development of our society. Through the transformation we are creating the basis of the future socialist model of Cuba. That must be economically efficient and prosperous, and socially more participative and inclusive. I think history shows us that only those capable of seizing the historical moment are able to survive and develop. We are building socialism for the next generation, who will have to work without the participation of those who made the revolution possible.
     We cannot afford to commit mistakes in this process: we know our enemies see a chance of introducing anti-socialist ideas into Cuban society, and it is well known that they have huge resources. We have to consult more than ever the Cuban people over our decisions, and we have to improve and perfect the participative character of our democracy, not only in the government structures but in social organisations and in the party.
     The updating process began with the discussion of the 291 proposals made by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The discussion took place in neighbourhoods, work-places, schools, and colleges, with the participation of trade unions, students’ organisations, neighbourhood associations, and women’s organisations. This resulted in amendments to 70 per cent of the proposals and the addition of thirty-three more. It was a clear democratic debate on the future of Cuba.
     SE: In Ireland almost nothing is known about Cuban democracy or the Cuban electoral system. How are candidates nominated? What is the role of the various people’s organisations, CDRs [Committees for the Defence of the Revolution], trade unions, local organisations, etc.? Can one spend money or use influence to support any candidate?
     NC: For local government any person over eighteen can be proposed for election in neighbourhood assemblies organised by the CDR, then elected by secret ballot. For national and provincial assemblies half the candidates are proposed from elected local representatives, the other half by a commission that comprises social organisations and trade unions. The party is not a member of that commission. They take into consideration the need to have every sector and region of our society represented.
     The issue of participation is very important. The representatives must render an account to the voters every three months in constituent assemblies organised by the CDRs. They can also be recalled in case a majority of the voters considers that they are not doing their job properly.
     We have been introducing changes in the system in the last few years. For example, we are dividing the economic responsibilities from the political responsibilities of the government. We want to increase the role of the delegate in every constituency. Local government will receive more political authority and economic resources.
     In the course of elections the only publicity allowed is the biography of the candidate. Members of the assemblies continue in their jobs, receiving the same salary.
     SE: What changes are taking place in the work-place in these democratic developments?
     NC: In the process of updating our economic model, the state enterprises and co-operatives are getting more independence to implement economic decisions, aiming to increase efficiency and incomes. The trade unions and the workers are getting more possibilities to participate in the decision-making process of the enterprises. For example, there are more and more places where workers are paid according to the result of the production, so they have a bigger interest in participating in the discussion of planning production and contracts with other enterprises. We always had this possibility in law; now it is being implemented more effectively.
     SE: What are your hopes for Cuba’s development over the next ten years?
     NC: We plan Cuba to be a socialist society where the most important topic will be social justice. We want to stick to the socialist concept “to each according to their work.” We are confident that we will leave the economic crisis behind, but we do not want to create a consumerist society. We aspire to build the material basis that will permit us to meet the material, cultural and spiritual needs of our people. The means of production will remain under public control and will work in a more efficient way.

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