Cuban Delegations Attend WTO and NNOC Conferences

Cubans focus on case of

kidnapped youngster, Elian Gonzalez

By JEFF MACKLER

 

“The struggle against the World Trade Organization (WTO) was not only in the streets of Seattle,” said Felipe Perez Roque, Cuba’s 34-year-old Foreign Minister and head of Cuba’s 20-member delegation to the WTO, “it was inside the conference itself.”

Perez Roque addressed a packed rally of 800 Cuba solidarity activists at the New Hope Baptist Church in Seattle. The rebuilt church, which a few years ago was burned to the ground by racist hate groups, has become a symbol of the struggle for social justice in Seattle.

“Cuba defended the rights and aspirations of the third world countries whose interests are not served by the WTO,” said Perez Roque. “We fight for trade policies that do not cause poverty, unemployment, that do not destroy the environment. We fight against the $2.5 trillion debt extracted from the third world.

“We are not motivated to support the objectives of the WTO,” Perez Roque said. For revolutionary Cuba, these “objectives” are the maintenance of the capitalist system, where human needs are subordinated to profit and human degradation.

Perez Roque was assigned to head Cuba’s trade delegation after Fidel Castro announced the cancellation of his planned participation a few days earlier. Castro’s six-page letter cited the unwillingness of U.S. authorities to guarantee his security in the face of mounting threats against his life.

Immediately following the WTO, a second delegation of 11 Cuban leaders attended the “U.S.-Cuba 2000 Conference: A Conversation for the New Millennium.”

Sponsored by the National Network on Cuba (NNOC) the Seattle conference drew some 200 participants from across the United States.

An immediate focus of the Cuban delegation was the return to Cuba of Elian Gonzalez, the six-year-old Cuban boy who miraculously survived a shipwreck by hanging onto an inner tube for several hours in international waters off the coast of Miami.

Gonzalez was taken from his home by his mother without the consent of his father and four grandparents in Cuba. His mother and nine others died when their 12-foot vessel sank in turbulent waters.

Already traumatized by the shipwreck, maternal loss, and separation from all that is dear to him, young Gonzalez has fallen prey to the exploitation of the corporate media and right-wing Miami Cuban groups who charged $1000 for each of the 10 people they illegally sought to bring to this country.

Citing U.S.-Cuba immigration treaties, international law, Cuban and U.S. family law, and the UN Declaration of Human Rights, President Castro has denounced the refusal of U.S. authorities to return the kidnapped child to his Cuban father, family, and homeland. Mass protest demonstrations have been called in Cuba in the coming days.

The NNOC similarly has called for protests in cities across the United States. (Cuban Interest Section representative Sergio Rodriquez is scheduled to address the issue at a San Francisco Socialist Action forum, Friday, Dec. 10.)

The NNOC conference included panel discussions with Cuban leaders in the fields of health, education, labor, democracy, women in Cuba, and economics. Cuban speakers took care to present both the achievements of their revolution and the great difficulties Cuba faces as a result of the 40-year U.S. embargo/blockade.

Cuban Ambassador Fernando Remirez Estenoz explained that Cuba’s economy has grown 20 percent since 1994. But these gains have not erased the massive blow to Cuba’s economy following the loss of virtually 85 percent of Cuba’s trade with the USSR and Eastern Europe.

“Our economy declined 35 percent in a single year, 1999,” explained Remirez, “the equivalent of the 1929 Great Depression in the U.S.”

“Despite this loss,” he continued, “Cuba has not closed a single school or hospital. We have not missed a single social security check for our retired people. While our per capita income is 30 times less than the U.S., our infant mortality rate is the same, seven deaths per thousand births.”

Rita Herreira, a leader of the Federation of Cuban Women, reviewed the gains of women since the 1959 revolution. She pointed out that “69 percent of Cuban doctors are women, 42 percent of our scientists are women, 49 percent of our judges and 47 percent of our Supreme Court judges are women.”

But despite these gains, she noted, “we are not a perfect society. We cannot leave the cause of the full integration of women to chance. We must consciously advance this critical question.”

Similarly, Lespia Canua, a representative of the Ministry of Education, noted that illiteracy has been eradicated in Cuba.

“At the same time,” she stressed, “After 40 years, we have not been able to solve all the problems of race that we inherited from the past.”

“Socialism is a catalyst of dreams, ” said the Cuban educator, “but reality sometimes swallows these dreams.”

While Canua outlined the impressive gains of Cubans of African decent, she described the special measures the Cuban government organizes to further close the gap in achievement in regard to those the U.S.-backed Batista regime had virtually excluded from social participation.

These measures include special educational assistance to families with low-achieving children and programs to provide special care and stimulation to children in their earliest years of development.

Following the conference, NNOC delegates representing some 50 U.S. solidarity groups approved plans to build the Second International Conference in Solidarity With Cuba, set for Havana, Nov. 11-14, 2000.