Mr. Nagamootoo: Mdm. Deputy Speaker, I wish on behalf of the Alliance for Change (AFC) to wish you and all Members of this House a productive 2013 and wish that this year will be a historic turning point for Guyana, where, like the people of Cuba, they survived because of, and on account of the unity of the people and also because of the courageous and uncompromising leadership offered to the Cuban people. This motion is a timely one tabled by the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs on the 40th Anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Guyana and the Republic of Cuba.
The Alliance of Change fully supports the motion. I may say this with the amendments, though not tabled formally, of which we have notice, to recognise the role of the four countries referred to by other Speakers before me that had established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1972 and also recognition of the fact that the relationship between Cuba and Guyana predated the formal establishment of diplomatic relationships between our sister countries, dating back to the early days of the Cuban revolution.
Cuba’s influence on Guyana, Latin America, the Caribbean and the world was not only a recognition that came from the revolution in 1959, but those of us who grew up in an environment where anti-colonialism had become part of our national conviction would know that the conditions against which we fought as colonies were in fact the conditions which Cuba successfully attempted to eliminate the conditions of poverty, widespread unemployment, prostitution, gambling and the abuse of the control of Cuba’s natural resources, particularly sugar in a mono-cultural economy to satisfy what was described then as the gringos of the north, the North American colonialist.
So, we have to ask ourselves, after forty years of the diplomatic relationship between Cuba and Guyana, while we can speak glowingly of the record of achievement of Cuba, we have to ask ourselves, where is our comparative record? For me, the precursor to the Cuban revolution was the attack on the Moncada, where a young Cuban lawyer, Fidel Castro, then 26 years old accused the President of that country who would seize power illegally and use that power unlawfully for his friends, cronies and corrupt capitalist, the parasitic capitalist, sucking the blood of the Cuban people; he called him a thief and a criminal. It was on that basis, where he felt that his relationship with the then social democratic popular party was not going to solve the problem of the Cuban people that he departed his relationship with Chavas, the then leader of that party and formed his own movement that later became the July 26th movement that engineered and organised the attack on the Moncada Garrison of 1952.
So, we have to see a biolitical relationship, when we speak today of Cuba, between solidarity, sacrifice and struggle. We cannot just say that we are the solidarity with Cuba and we ourselves have done nothing to eradicate the condition that gave rise to the Moncada attack and the Cuban revolution. We ourselves could not learn of the things that inspired and hurt Fidel at the same time as leader of that group of brave revolutionaries when you look at the ostentatious living and lifestyle.
I saw a documentary just a few days ago in New York where he was persuaded to wear a pair of suits because he would not give up his olive-green uniform, nor his fatigue because he did not know much of the ostentatious lifestyle that we see which is so pervasive in our own environment. Today, I would like to say that this motion is timely.
A few weeks ago when the Hon. Foreign Minister made a statement under the heading “Statement from a Minister” on the attack by Israel on the Gaza and the Palestinian people as a whole, and that we had called for a cease fire, I had noted to her in a conversation in which I sincerely, and still do, feel that we could bring on the floor of the Parliament some issues on which we could be united. I think we would have been united if we spoke to the world that we were against the occupation of Palestinian land and that we against the consistent attack on the Palestinian people, whether on the west bank or on the Gaza strip and that we would have recorded in one voice, our conviction that we stand for justice and sovereignty and that we stand in defence of rights of people to self-determination which are all parts of the sacred principles that had guided our own national founded leaders in Guyana in the days when they stood up against colonialism in a united way. Today, I wish to on this floor that i congratulate the Hon. Minister for bringing this motion because I am sure that we could be united on one issue and that we could say with one voice in this Parliament for the world to hear us, more particularly the United States, when we say with one voice and with one conviction, “President Obama, lift the blockade against Cuba”.
This is perhaps the most anachronistic issue in world politics, the oppression of a big nation of a small country. It is noted that inferentially and in a comparative way, that if we had said how great David was in slaughtering Goliath, in today’s political term, we would say how brave the Cuban people are in standing up to the most powerful Goliath in the world, standing in dignity and in defence of their own right to freedom and choice of path for their country’s development.
I also want to say that without equivocation here, that we cannot laud Cuba on the one hand and at the same time we do not link the revolution of Cuba to core principles of social justice, of equity, of redistribution of wealth of the state, particularly in the favour of the poor, and we ourselves do not see that as an intrinsic principle on which our own conviction could reside. We could not say today that Cuba survived, mainly, because of leadership. I would like to emphasise the leadership of Fidel Castro. We have to say also that Cuba survived because of unity. That is the example that we wish we could have in terms of our forty years of relationship with Cuba. We ourselves must see the need for survival based on unity and I repeat that.
Much has been said in terms of the chronology and the graphic portrayal of Cuba’s humanitarianism and Cuba’s generosity. We believe that in the 20th Century there is perhaps no other country except Cuba that has encapsulated concepts of dignity with freedom. While we believe, and as we have said before when I had an opportunity to share the conviction of the late Cheddi Jagan, that multi-party democracy was the wave of the future. I believe we still do not have the right to dictate to the Cuban people what model of political structure they should have for their development. As much as we may have an opinion on it, a multi-party democracy is the wave of the future and it is the way of also the present. They have made their choice and the people are united behind their leadership. We can say that that struggle that we talk about in the 20th century would have seen one little David standing up against the Goliath and still was able to carry the burden of struggle around the world for social justice. They saw anti-imperialism as the gateway to socialism. Wherever there were a people who were held captive, subjugated by, oppressed or invaded by an imperialist power, Cuba stood on the side of the oppressed and those who were invaded and those who rights were violated.
Our own backyard, Grenada, saw a small tiny island being invaded by the Armada of the west, the reignite hoards and Cubans who were there to help to build Cuba, stood up like soldiers and patriots though they were Cubans as Grenadians in defence of that tiny island’s sovereignty. The concept of what Cuba is lies in its attitude to freedom, to liberty and to dignity.
After the Vietnam War Cuba was the first country to respond to Vietnam’s need for doctors and for rehabilitation. They deployed about 26,000 Cuban doctors and other trained technicians to help Vietnam. It was out of that concept of the lesson of Vietnam that we had a microcosm of Cuba’s own attitude of a country committed to internationalism. So today, when we talk about Cuba, we have to also talk about Cuba as internationalists, in the sense that we share the concerns and the plight not only of our people here, but of the rest of humanity. That is why we saw that Cuba not only was able to capitalise on the contradictions that existed in the American relationship with Vietnam, but they had take the position in 1975 to create one, two, three Vietnams to be able to replicate the struggle of the Vietnamese people around the world so we will be able to confront what they considered the threat against peoples of the world.
It was for that reason we know that Cuba has helped, in a significant way, in the destruction of Apartheid. When South Africa invaded Angola it was the Cuban troops that were flown to Angola that helped to break the back of the Apartheid Regime and the Apartheid Mercenary Troops that had invaded Angola. I say it is to the credit of Guyana and to the leadership of Guyana, in that period, when Forbes Burnham was Prime Minister, that Cuba was allowed to use our territory to ferry the troops to Angola. So we also must claim credit for our own internationalism. While we may have our point of view on politics that was largely divisive, we should also see ourselves as part of the humanity that sees the sufferings of others as our own. That is what defines us. Cuba helped to define us and we have to see in this motion what Cuba can do for us and not what we say of Cuba by way of solidarity.
So it was that when Nelson Mandela decided that the first person he would wish to see after Apartheid was destroyed was Field Castro. It was as if two titans had decided to meet and shape the definition of humanity – Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro. I say this with emotion because I know both of these leaders are advanced in age and we do not know what the future holds. However, we would just wish that the two iconic symbols, now into the 21st century, should have good health and long life.
We cannot here speak of what Castro meant to the world. In fact, he himself, at the Moncada trials had said, “La historia me absolvera.” “History will absolve me.” And history has indeed absolved Fidel. He has survived 12 or 13 Presidents of the United States. They said they would destroy him, the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban people; they tried to assassinate him on many occasions. They used bacteriological methods to destroy Cuban crops; the Gusanos, the enemies of the Cuban Revolution, to destroy Cuban crops and to sow bacteriological diseases in Cuba, but they failed. Cuba became even more solidified. On one occasion, in the early part of the Revolution, a ship bringing assistance to Cuba - La Coubre - was attacked and bombed and tens and tens of persons, I believe close to 100, were killed. Even while they were trying to save the ship more bombs went off. It was then that we have the image of Che Guevara, the single photo in the world taken by a photographer that was the most printed and still is the most reproduced photograph in the world, which shows the bitterness and at the same time the bravery of the Cuban people, that they were buckling themselves for a long war, for a long fight. That photograph has entered into the minds and in people’s heart as a permanent portrait of what Cuba was. And it did not take a Cuban to send that message to the world. It took an Argentinean, who thought he was a Cuban and who fought as a Cuban and an internationalist around the world to carry out the same conviction that lead to the Cuban Revolution. So these 40 years must be for us 40 years of inspiration, 40 years not only of solidarity, but 40 years of joining in a struggle with a common purpose, and that struggle is a struggle that still has to be waged.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker, in his book, “The Caribbean is Nobody’s backyard,” Cheddi Jagan had written that Cuba… [Dr. Ramsaran: The title is wrong.] It is a question, “The Caribbean, Whose Backyard?” Thank you my good friend Dr. Bheri. He said that Cuba was… he linked it with Nicaragua at a particular historical point… for the Caribbean people almost the conscience of what Caribbean people would want to be; that we are nobody’s backyard, nobody’s yard fowl. The Caribbean has a right to be independent and sovereign, a zone of peace, without external interference, without external domination. I believe that was what the conviction was at that time. That we need to learn from Cuba and move forward in a way that would have given our people hope that we are following a good example. However, today, sorry to say this, we are neither fish nor fowl. We are neither socialist nor capitalist; we lack a definition. While we are saying today that we laud Cuba so much, we suffer from a definition problem. We have to now redefine the axis of our own belief that we are a Caribbean people together with Cuba, that we hold certain rights to be inalienable and we hold certain belief in freedom and social justice for our people to be uncompromising. So we have to move away from the vacillation and not only see Cuba as pages in history of bravery and bravado that we can talk good things about, but fail to follow the example that is good. We have to live it. I do not want to say much more. Much more could be said, but I want to say this: for us, Cuba would remain a friend, a brother and a sister country. We cannot underplay our own genesis in relationship with Cuba.
I want to commend the Minister of Foreign Affairs for going a little back into history to talk about the Cheddi Jagan Government and the people who wrote those books, not only Rabae exposure and what happened in certain aspects of their relationship. It is important for this Parliament, it is important for our history and for our young people to know that when one goes back into history one would see how Cuba played a role in not only defining the Caribbean, but defining the United States. A president was assassinated, John F. Kennedy. The last conversation that took place between Robert Kennedy and the Russian, I think Ambassador Dobrynin, was with regards to the Cuban missile crisis. The Soviet Union then placed missiles on Cuban territory in retaliation to the missile placed by the United States in Turkey. We were all told about the October crisis of 1963; we were all told that the world stood at the brink of a nuclear holocaust; we were all told that we were at the precipice of the end of the world, if the two countries – Russia and the United States - had engaged their deadly weapons in a final nuclear war. But we were also told that after an arrangement was made for the withdrawal of those missiles from Cuba on a reciprocal basis that missiles in Turkey were not going to be deployed. They were assured… [Interruption] Well, my reading of the history is that they were assured, though no statement was made that that was so. It was an aftermath of that that Kennedy was assassinated. The impact of Cuba’s role and position and place in the world, had affected the empire. They had seen Cuba as just a little pigmy that could be smashed and smothered. We have to look at Cuba as a world player and think big that we ourselves against great odds could survive and prosper if we live the good examples of others.
So today, in expressing our support for this motion, I want to say that for us all in this debate, it boils down to one thing. It boils down to our own conviction. I want to quote from Marti, that many people died in Cuba, many leaders gave their lives for what they believed in. They lived simple lives; they served their people well. They were not infected by greed. If they were corrupt, they were removed. There were several who were removed because of corruption. But Cuba held the course by people who had a conviction. People like Che, one Almeida, Cienfuegos, who made contributions; Ceila Sanchez who fought by the side of Fidel. They all were people of extraordinary conviction and they had revolutionary morality. The morality I imbibed quite a lot some years ago - revolutionary conviction - standing by principle and fighting for the common man.
Today, I want to recognise those many martyrs of Cuba and our own martyrs who died in the 1976 Cubana Air Disaster by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents who claimed they bombed that plane. Today we want to pay homage to all those who made the sacrifice for us. I want to end what I am saying with a line by Marti. I quote:
“There is a limit to the tears we can shed at the tomb of the dead. Instead of crying over their bodies, we should go there to contemplate their infinite love for the country and its glory. A love that never falters, loses hope nor grows faint. For the graves of the martyrs are the most beautiful alters of our day. In the arms of a grateful fatherland, death ends, prison wall breaks. Finally, with death live begins.”
I say today that we celebrate these 40 years of our relationship with Cuba, but we also are guided by the example of Cuba for Guyana. We wish that those examples would make us a united, a better and prosperous Guyana.
I thank you for allowing me time to speak. [Applause]