This interview with Nicanor León Cotayo was conducted in Havana in January 1993 by Freedom Socialist Party leader Doug Barnes, visiting from Seattle, Washington. Cotayo is Cuba’s expert on the trade blockade and a journalist for the official Granma newspaper.
The U.S. embargo, which President Clinton backs avidly, is three decades long. Combined with the recent Soviet withdrawal of trade and economic assistance, the blockade has brought about devastating shortages, necessitating the severe rationing of all basic foods and consumer goods. Great numbers of industrial plants are closing due to lack of raw materials and equipment.
The Cuban Communist Party has embarked on a revitalization plan that includes building up food self-sufficiency, specialized export trade, tourism, and joint ventures with foreign investors. But Cu bans today are surviving literally on rice, beans, and large doses of ingenuity and revolutionary spirit.
Cuba’s survival as a workers state is integral to freedom struggles worldwide. These interview excerpts are meant to help broadcast the embattled island’s appeal for support. Next issue, Barnes will follow up with an analysis of the promise, problems, and unfinished tasks of this defiant revolution.
Barnes: What is the economic situation of Cuba?
Cotayo: We are facing the most difficult years in the last 34 years of our history. At the beginning of the ’60s, we were able to face the economic blockade imposed by the U.S. because of the existence of the Soviet Union and the socialist field in Eastern Europe. The breakup of that relationship, which affected 81 percent of our exports and 85 percent of our imports, created a very big blow. For example, in 1989 we received 30 million tons of oil and last year only six million.
Barnes: What would happen if the U.S. blockade were lifted tomorrow?
Cotayo: If the government of the U.S. lifted the blockade, stopped the Torricelli law, and gave back the base at Guantanamo to the Cuban people, we would be able to have civilized trade relations with any country in the world and to proceed much more rapidly in the process of perfecting democracy in Cuba.
Barnes: Cuba’s internationalism has inspired workers worldwide for decades. Half of internationalism is supporting workers’ struggles globally. The other half is asking people from other countries to defend your own revolution. What role do you see for U.S. workers in ending the blockade?
Cotayo: The workers of the United States have a role of maximum importance. As Castro said last year, the solidarity of the North American people, and especially the workers of the United States, is decisive, and I stress decisive, against the blockade.
I think the White House cannot ignore the position of their own public opinion, particularly that of the workers. This is why we paid so much attention to the show of solidarity in defense of Cuban independence that took place last year in different cities across the U.S. as well as to the donations that some organizations sent to Cuba.
U.S. workers can fight against the blockade first by supporting organizations that are already working on this issue. Certain dates of the blockade are very meaningful for organizing. For example, next May 14 will mark the passage of 29 years since the U.S. prohibited sales of food and medicine to Cuba. This would be a good opportunity to make a journey around that date, to show a great opposition to the blockade starting with food and medicine.
The other help we need is for the workers’ movement to publish information about the significance of the blockade. As of this moment, this small country, made up of just a little bit more than ten million inhabitants on a small Caribbean island, has lost 38 billion dollars due to the U.S. blockade.
The Torricelli bill, passed at the end of last year with Clinton’s support, tightened the embargo through means such as. placing sanctions on other nations trading with Cuba. To demand repeal of the legislation, call the White House at 202-456-1414. Fax number is 202-224-2237.