NEW DELHI - The foreign investment law in Cuba passed last month has been portrayed by the western media as indication of the Cuban government's gradual "surrender" to capitalism, but the political leadership in Cuba remains as committed as ever to the ideals of socialism, the head of the foreign affairs committee of the Cuban National Assembly, Jorge Lezcano Perez, said in an interview here Sept. 13. "We are not going towards capitalism, capitalism will never come back to Cuba," he emphatically stated. Perez who is a member of the Central Committee and the Politbureau of the Communist Party of Cuba visited India as the head of a parliamentary delegation.
On Sept. 5, the National assembly of Cuba passed a law which allows foreign investors access to all economic sectors except education, health care and national defense. It allows, in exceptional cases, 100 percent ownership to foreign companies and other changes to attract foreign investrnent.
Perez said, "It is important to understand the background of the changes taking place in Cuba. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc was a hard blow for the Cuban economy. Around 85 percent of our total trade was with these countries. Overnight we lost 70 percent of our import capacity. 1n addition to this was the tightening of the U.S. economic blockade. Cuba does not receive any financial assistance from international financial institutions. It receives no assistance from bilateral sources either. As a result of all this, we were faced with a situation we were not prepared to face. We had to carry out our foreign trade in hard currency - in cash. We had to undertake a struggle for survival."
It was in this struggle to survive . . . that the Cuban leadership was forced to carry out many changes. "We were compelled to open our economy and reach out to foreign investors. To people who express concern about what Cuba is doing, I ask them what else could Cuba have done, I ask them which country can do without foreign investment in the climate we are living to day," Perez said.
But, and this is crucial, for all the changes being carried out, the objectives have not been diluted, the reforms do not harm in any way the socialist ideals that inspired and continue to inspire the Cuban revolution.
Perez said, "All the changes we are carrying out are directed to preserve the achievements made in the 35 years of the revolution.
We are not implementing the neoliberal economic model that is prevailing in much of Latin America, we are not privatizing the economy, even if we are introducing certain mechanisms of the capitalist economy. The foreign investment law in Cuba excludes three sectors of the economy - education, public heal.th and national defense. What we are mainly promoting is the m.odality of joint ventures even it foreigners are now allowed majority shares."
There exists six forms of ownership in Cuba - private ownership by small peasants, three forms of cooperative ownership by peasants and agricultural workers, joint venture with foreign companies and state-owned concerns. Perez emphasized, "In our conception, state ownership will remain the fundamental, the predominant mode of ownership." The reforms must thus be seen in the context of the continuing overall control of the economy in the hands of the state. The economic changes seen in this context, Perez asserts, "will enable us to maintain education and public health for the entire population; to maintain the social security system for the needy; to provide the worker out of a job with means of subsistence untils he finds a new job; to further develop science and education for the betterment of our people; maintain mass development of sports and culture that Cuba has attained; and most of all it will enable us to enjoy something that we have never enjoyed until today - economic independence and remain an independent sovereign state.
"That is why we can assure our friends that we are not going towards capitalism. Capitalism will never come back to Cuba"
All the measures taken by Cuba have ensured that after years of hard struggle, the economy is at last turning around. For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban economy registered a 0.7 percent growth last year and 2 percent this year. While this is extremely negligible, it has been a great moment for Cuba and has had a favorable impact on the population which has stood so valiantly by the leadership in defending the gains of the Revolution even in the most diffculty of conditions. The massive turnout of 97 percent in the recent municipal elections and the mammoth march of 500,000 people in Havana (of a total population of two million) at the end of the international youth festival were indications of the immense support of the people for the socialist system. The immigration agreement signed with the U.S. has also put an end to the immigration crisis encountered last year and an atmosphere of peace and tranquility prevails in Cuba today, Perez said.
Stating that there was an atmosphere of great confidence that the "worst period is over," Perez said this factor has been well perceived by the western world, particularly the U.S. No one is betting any more on the liquidation or collapse of the Cuban revolution. There is even a report prepared by the U.S. defense department that concludes among other things that the regime of Fidel Castro will stay, that the economic blockade has been a failure and that the U.S. government ought to change its policy towards Cuba."
The Cuban leader, however, cautioned that "none of this should lead us to the conclusion that the U.S. policy has changed. We do not expect the blockade to be lifted in the near future, one of the reasons being that the campaign for the next presidential elections has already begun. No goverflment in the U.S. makes changes of any importance before the eIections. We will have to see who wins the next elections but whoever wins, we are confident that sooner or later, they will have to lift the blockade."
Asked how far Cuba identified with the experiences of China and Vietnam in the recent period, Perez said, "We see China and Vietnam as cases which prove that changes can be carried out within the context of a socialist system without destroying the system as happened in the Soviet Union. The leaders of both coun- tries constantiy reaffnm their adherence to socialist principles, within the framework of their own concrete experience. We study closely the experience of China and Vietiiam and try to put them into practice, but of course adjusting them to Cuba's specific conditions. We also take into consideration the great difference between our situation and theirs. While in those two countries, 80 percent of the population live in reral areas and 20 percent in urban areas, in our case it's the exact opposite. The natural resources they have, we do not. There are differences of culture, history, traditions. Being in the Latin American continent, we are integrated in the process going on in our part of the worid. The proximity of the North American imperial power to Cuba has conditioned many of the measures that we have adopted in Cuba."
While the collapse of the Soviet Union has taught Cuba many hard lessons, it has also imparted a lesson in ideological terms, Perez said, 'The lessons we have learnt from the collapse is about the mistakes leaders commit and how they commit them. The socialist system has not failed. The socialist ideals of the Cuban revolution remain as relevant as ever. We continue to believe that socialism is the fairest system any people can aspire to. One of the lessons we learnt is that the leadership, the vanguard, has to remain with the people, has to suffer as much as the people, has to work as hard as the people and be in tune with what the people go through. Socialism will not be able to succeed anywhere when the leadership is not clear enough, does not remain close enough and does not work hand in hand with the people. It is only because of the great closeness between the people and the leadership in Cuba that we managed to survive despite the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"But we must also realize that socialism is a very young system - only 70 odd years. How long did it take feudalism or capitalism to establish itself? And then where has capitalism succeeded? It has not succeeded in Latin American or Africa or Asia. Even in the U.S., there is starvation, discrimination, poverty on a very large scale. The last word has not yet been said on which system will prevail. On the basis of the expertence of the USSR and on our own experiences in Cuba, we continue to bet on so- cialism."
This article is reprinted from the Sept. 24 People's Democracy, newspaper of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)."
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