Tuesday, January 6, 2009



5th January, 2009

By Mariano l. Betancourt

This January, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the victory of the Cuban revolution. The revolution happened on the January 1, 1959 and to celebrate 50 years of the victory is indeed very important and auspicious.

The legacy of the then Batista government in Cuba was a very sad situation; with 24 percent of the people illiterate, with a very high index of mortality especially in children, and high unemployment.

At that time we used to have in Cuba two main working seasons – the time of the sugar harvest; and after harvest, there was the ‘dead time’ with no possibility to get a job. More than 20,000 people were killed during the seven years of the Batista regime.

Such a situation created a favourable environment for the revolutionary struggle that was initiated by Fidel Castro, his brother Raul Castro and Che Guevara in 1956. They achieved victory on January 1, 1959.

On that day, excited people went on the streets waving Cuban flags when they received news that the Batista dictatorship had left. People were both happy and sad. This is because on this day, people searched in police cells for their loved ones who were imprisoned. In most cases, the information they got was that they were dead or had disappeared. People started to search for the bodies.

We can never forget this day and have to remember our history. This is because those who do not remember the past have no future. What have we achieved in 50 years? Firstly, in the last 50 years of the Cuban revolution, we have recovered our sovereignty, self-respect as a nation and independence.

From the domestic point of view, illiteracy has been abolished. Today, the average level of education for Cuban citizens is the 11th grade. Next year (2010), we will have one million people who will have graduated at university level in a population of 11.2 million people. That means that for every 11 Cubans, one will be a university graduate.

Also, our mortality rate is 4.7 for every 1,000 live births; that is at the same level with many European countries. And our life expectancy is at 78 years for females; and 77 for men. We hope within the next five years, the average life expectancy will be 80 years.

In the last 50 years, we have developed an active international policy of solidarity with different countries especially from Africa. For instance today 1,389,000 patients in 32 countries have recovered their sight in 59 centres specialising in ophthalmology, with the participation of Cuban specialist doctors and support of the Venezuelan Government.

Another important figure is that Cuban specialist doctors working in different countries have carried out 414 million medical consultations. They have saved 2,129,874 lives and carried out more than 2.5million surgical operations all over the world. Today, more than 39,000 Cuban health workers are working all over the world.

All this has been achieved in spite of the economic blockade and the negative press campaign against Cuba by the United States, which became especially aggressive during the Bush administration.

This blockade is not a bilateral affair. It is a real economic war that is extended to all places of the world even in Uganda. You see, there is one regulation of the US that does not allow banks with relations to the US to send money to Cuba. Recently, a Ugandan lady came to the Cuban Embassy here in Kampala. She wanted to send pocket money from Uganda to her daughter studying medicine in Cuba. Her daughter is in her fourth year and will be a doctor after two years. The lady went to the bank to make a transaction. But from the bank, they phoned and told her that the bank was not allowed to send money to Cuba.

Now, I am going to request Cuba to see how parents of Ugandan students in Cuba can send pocket money to them. We grant education, food, and healthcare; but young people need pocket money and how can they get the money?

This is one small example which illustrates that in spite of the economic blockade, we are working hard and working under austerity and moving forward.

There is also another practical demonstration of the aggression and negative policy of the US towards Cuba. It is about five Cubans that have been in jail for the last 20 years. They are accused of espionage. But the real situation is that those five men infiltrated Cuban terrorists sponsored by the US. They infiltrated in order to gather information to stop terrorists from carrying out activities against Cubans and even US citizens. They never carried out terrorist activities against the official institutions of the Government of the United States. They have been in jail for 20 years under harsh conditions and there is a big campaign to mobilise the public opinion in order to have them released. Also, another success in the Cuban foreign policy was hosting of the Caribbean Countries Meeting last month (December) in Santiago de Cuba, the second city of Cuba where the revolution started.

Another summit for Caribbean and Latin American countries was held in Brazil during which Cuba was officially re-admitted as a member of the Latin American community in spite of the sanctions. In 1962, Cuba had been considered unfit to be an active member of the Organisation of American States. At that time, all Latin American countries broke relations with Cuba except Mexico. But now gradually, Caribbean countries have started to reopen embassies and re-establish relations with Cuba.

Also, our bilateral relations with Uganda are positive. In November, we held the ninth session of the Joint Permanent Commission (JPC).

We had the honour to receive minister Henry Okello Oryem who headed the Ugandan delegation comprised of 14 persons. The visit was indeed good and there are possibilities to increase collaboration in different sectors between Cuba and Uganda.

Today, we have a Cuban coach for Uganda’s national boxing team, with professors in Gulu University, Kyambogo University, Mbarara University, and in Bushenyi (Kampala International University). Now there is a possibility of learning Spanish following the agreement under the JPC to send a professor of Spanish to Kyambogo University in 2009. We are taking preliminary steps to have Spanish classes at Kyambogo University; including professors of electronics, civil engineering and technology.

The relations between Cuba and Uganda are very good. Uganda supports the resolution opposing the US blockade against Cuba. Also, Cuba supported Uganda to be elected as non-permanent member on the UN Security Council.

We consider this a big achievement for the Ugandan government. Also, President Yoweri Museveni has developed energetic domestic and international policies. We hope that the long bond between Uganda and Cuba will continue.

The writer is Cuba’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, to Uganda

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