The Contradictions of Cuba’s Foreign Minister
November 6, 2013
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — The United Nations has once again gone through the
motions of condemning the blockade/embargo imposed on Cuba by the United
States. Though this gesture is very ineffective, I am happy it was
repeated, for the blockade/embargo has increasingly become a stumbling
block devoid of any evident advantages for anyone.
In addition to being an interventionist measure, the embargo has helped
create an exceptional situation which the Cuban government has known how
to use to its advantage, polarizing the island’s internal political
landscape and manipulating national and international public opinion.
It is the latter I want to focus my analysis on, taking as my point of
departure a number of the rhetorical maneuvers from Cuba’s Foreign
Minister Bruno Rodriguez during his publicized speech before the UN
General Assembly. I particularly wish to focus on the way in which
Rodriguez has relied on euphemisms to give simple economic necessity a
Ultimately, this leads his arguments to a kind of political dead end,
evident in his remarks that describe the blockade as an act of
“ignorance”, in a section of his speech which deserves a special place
in the history of Cuba’s political schizophrenia.
Rodriguez says: “The blockade is an act of ignorance that prevents the
free movement of people, the flow of information, the exchange of ideas
and the development of cultural, sport and scientific links between our
What the stiff Cuban foreign minister means with this, in truth, is that
the blockade denies Cuba tourism. Though one can reasonably expect that
tourism will lead to the exchange of information and ideas between
people, this is precisely the part of the whole affair that terrifies
Cuban leaders, for whom the best possible international tourism would be
of the kind that takes place at isolated keys, which are as close to
paradise as they are distant from the reality of common Cubans.
At most, the Cuban leadership would approve of gringos and Cubans
exchanging ideas about the best way to cook fried plantains, the amount
of mint one should use to prepare a mojito or the advantages of oyster
cocktails over Viagra pills, but not much beyond this.
But, since the blockade/embargo is framed as a humanistic issue, the
discourse surrounding it cannot be besmirched with materialistic
considerations. This is why Foreign Minister Rodriguez takes
globalization at its word and speaks of human rights, the exchange of
ideas and the flow of information.
He even bemoans the curtailment of the constitutional rights of US
citizens, who are denied the right to travel to Cuba. No matter how hard
Rodriguez tries to resemble Thomas Paine, however, we all know he is
merely a shopkeeper, and that, behind his spiel hides Cuba’s interest in
selling daiquiris, traditional summer shirts and multi-colored maracas
Rodriguez’ efforts at sounding convincing stand a chance only within a
closed circle of drowsy diplomats. His speech is divested of all
sincerity from the start by the very nature of the speaker, the Cuban
government, by its authoritarian character and the way in which it
manipulates the rights of its quasi-citizens.
His rhetorical euphemisms turn into contradictions as soon as they are
voiced, and these contradictions become sheer hypocrisy, for Bruno is
one creature on the face of this earth who has no right to invoke the
curtailment of rights by others, and this because he represents a State
that denies Cubans the possibility of exercising such rights.
First of all, the Cuban government restricts the rights of its citizens
to travel freely within Cuba. The internal movements of the population
continue to be governed by a medieval decree law.
This government also denies Cuban émigrés the right to freely visit and
travel around the country, a right that would be totally in keeping with
a society that is already clearly transnational and relies on this
condition to a considerable extent.
The recent migratory reform did not establish citizen rights. It only
made travel legislation more permissive, leaving intact the mechanisms
that maintain Cuban émigrés in their condition of exiles who are denied
Foreign Minister Rodriguez also represents a State that restricts the
flow of information by denying the immense majority of its population
access to the Internet (to blame this situation on the blockade is a
bare-faced lie) and by maintaining strict control over the printed
publications to which Cubans have access.
Numerous books, some of them written by Cuban authors whose intellectual
merit has earned them international recognition, are kept on
inaccessible shelves at Cuba’s National Library, and I know of cases in
which whole series of works have been turned into pulp because of their
Hundreds of works, containing the very best of intellectual production
from around the world, remain out of the reach of Cubans simply because
these books are published outside of Cuba, where, by contrast, all of
the ideological pamphlets regurgitated by the regime’s followers are
Finally, Rodriguez is a member of a political class that curtails and
represses all exchanges of ideas which take place outside the
government’s restricted premises and the interesting but extremely
short-lived spaces for authorized critique.
An intense production of ideas of the most varied nature is taking place
within Cuba – the island and the diaspora of our transnational society,
that is – and these ideas cannot be circulated or exchanged on the island.
I believe that a highly significant part of the spiritual and
intellectual production of Cubans is kept from society as a result of
the repressive policies of the regime, and that this leads to the
impoverishment of all, both inside and outside Cuba.
To return to my previous comments, before aiming to have US tourists
exchange small talk with a local waitress, I believe it would be far
more productive to have a world-renown expert on social security issues
(such as Carmelo Mesa Lago) converse with Cuban officials and share his
ideas about the future of Cuba’s system.
Or to allow Pedro Campos to address the whole of Cuban society, so that
he may explain his ideas regarding democratic socialism; or to grant
this right to Siro del Castillo, so that he may speak of Christian
Democratic values and their significance for Cuban society; or have a
sociologist as knowledgeable about the intricacies of Latin American
social development as Francisco Leon give a lecture at the university;
or allow Yoani Sanchez to do the same in connection with the use of
social networks and their importance to democracy, and Cuesta Morua on
the many issues which he addresses so positively, among many others. Not
because they are the opposition and critical of the government, but
because they are Cuban intellectuals.
That this should not happen has evidently nothing to do with the
blockade/embargo, but with the existence of the authoritarian and
exclusivist political regime that Bruno Rodriguez represents – a
government that, day after day, and against the best interests of the
nation, conspires, and I quote, “against the free movement of
individuals, the flow of information and the exchange of ideas.”
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by
Source: “The Contradictions of Cuba’s Foreign Minister – Havana
Times.org” – http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=99851