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2007-12-01 / Oscar Espinosa Chepe
Cuba and Spain – Relations and Contradictions
The ties between Cuba and Spain have deep roots. Besides Puerto Rico, Cuba was the last Spanish colony in Latin America after thirty years of war with intervals of peace. The Cuban victory in 1898, obtained with support from the United States, believed in the basis for independence. However, in spite of the bloody battles it should stand out that rancor never nested in the soul of the Creoles.
Perhaps this was due to the existing strong blood and cultural links, the participation of Spaniards next to the Cubans in the fights for independence or Jose Marti’s inclusive sermons, since friendly feelings have always existed between Spain and Cuba. Proof of this is can be seen in the fact that after the founding of the republic in 1902, a considerable migration arrived from the Iberian peninsula to the island, between them were more than a few former Spanish soldiers who participated in the wars, and yet it never created an obstacle for the respect and affection of Cubans, who have always been proud of their origins.
Because of this shared history, when there has been contempt and scorn towards those who fight peacefully in Cuba for liberty and democracy under extremely difficult conditions in recent times, the offenses hurt much more than if they originated from the governments of other countries. One must clarify that these unfortunate actions have not come from the Spanish society, where Cuban democrats have always received support, understanding and solidarity.
It would be fitting to ask ourselves why the current Spanish government has taken this approach. Why is the Spanish Embassy in Havana the least active in taking in Cuban dissidents? Why did Chancellor Miguel Ángel Moratinos not meet up with the opposition nor give no public gesture toward the prisoners of conscience and political during his visit to Cuba? This attitude was repeated by Mrs. Leire Pajín, the Secretary of State, during her recent stay with her statements that Spain’s collaboration was not connected to human rights issues in Cuba. Why would a proclaimed socialist government and a representative of a party that suffered so much under the pro-Franco totalitarianism take such an approach? Why the eagerness to not only to change Spain’s political position toward Cuba, but to endeavor that the European Union act in the same way serving an anti-democratic state and a known violator of human rights that has led Cuban society to the most absolute economic, social and moral disaster?
Possibly the answers to these questions can be found in the high level of priority that Spain’s commercial and economic interests have in Cuba, which seem to be above their commitments for their respect of human rights, and particularly to the rights of workers.
Cuba is the third largest destination for Spain’s products in Latin America. In 2006, their exports rose to a record of about $800million, equivalent to an increase of 20% from 2005. Since August of 2007, sales have increased another 15%. Spain is the main investor above Canada and 182 Spanish companies are present on the island, among them Altadis, Agbar, Meliá, Iberia, Repsol, Banco Sabadell y Corporación Financiera Habana-Caja Madrid. At the same time, Cuba’s debt with Spain has been recently calculated at $1.4million.
The Spanish has a substantial presence in essential sectors, like tourism, where it fundamentally controls half of the operations through the Meliá company with 22 hotels and nearly 10,000 rooms out of the 44,000 that exist. In the promising petroleum industry, Repsol has financed and arranged offshore drilling. Altadis has a decisive role in the cigarette manufacturing industry by means of joint businesses ventures with Cuban companies.
Spain’s activities are conducted in an environment of absolute labor peace, guaranteed by a regime that prohibits the free unionization of workers, the right to strike and that demands the contracting of the employees by the foreign companies through state businesses that charge in hard currencies while paying workers salaries in Cuba’s depreciated national currency and only hiring people that the government considers politically suitable. It is unnecessary to say that anyone that expresses some criteria or demanding attitude is removed immediately without any rights. Additionally, the Spanish companies and those of other countries involved in tourism are in concert with the tourist apartheid imposed by the Cuban government, so that no Cuban can rent a room, although he have currencies to do it. The cooperation with the repressive politics of the state is such that in 2005 the Hotel Meliá in Havana suspended a contract hours before a reception arranged during a national celebration by the Czech Republic in which dissident would participate.
Certainly, commerce, tourism, and foreign investment can be factors for progress, it might be facilitating technology, capital, markets and above all contacts between people, which is in no way objectionable and can include receiving reasonable benefits from the development of those activities. Furthermore, in Cuba’s case, these activities could strengthen ties to democratic countries and their experiences, as a means of contributing towards a greater respect for human rights and the future establishment of the norms of respectful coexistence. Nevertheless, when economic relations are only marked by the anxieties of profits they become miserable exercises, leaving to one side the principles accepted by governments in their own countries and in international agreements (The International Labor Organization, the Counsel of Human Rights, etc.) instead they constitute protected abuses against a defenseless people.
As Cubans, we deserve that this position be reconsidered by the Spanish authorities, in order to execute a more harmonious politics with the tradition of its society, certainly distant of egotistical positions. It should be recalled that the Sakarov Prizes to the Liberty of Conscience, which were awarded by the European Parliament in 2002 to Oswaldo Rustic and in 2005 to the Ladies of White, were proposed by Spanish representatives, and that simple citizens have consistently shown their permanent solidarity with Cuba by striving to reach peacefully for a reconciled, democratic Cuba with social justice.