On Feb. 16, the Internationalist Students’ Front-GW and the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) hosted an event at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., commemorating 60 years of the Cuban revolution. The special guest was Miguel Fraga, First Secretary of the Cuban Embassy, who spoke to a crowd of over a hundred friends of the revolution about the revolution’s challenges and achievements, along with two other speakers. Fraga also gave a private interview to Liberation News about these topics and more.
A quote from Cuban revolutionary and national hero José Martí, who was cited by many of the day’s speakers, might serve as an effective summary of the forum’s message: “Like stones rolling down hills, fair ideas reach their objectives despite all obstacles and barriers. It may be possible to speed or hinder them, but impossible to stop them.”
Morgan Richmeier of the ISF was the forum’s host and set the stage for Fraga’s talk by describing the history of Cuba’s anti-colonial and anti-capitalist struggle, including the destructive blockade against the island organized by the U.S. government Sean Blackmon from Stop Police Terror Project D.C. spoke about the accomplishments of the Cuban revolution and also the challenges it faces, particularly as a result of the damaging and criminal U.S. blockade of the country, that he saw during a recent 12-day trip to the country.
Fraga’s presentation included a slideshow subtitled “Cuba at a Glance,” featuring numerous statistics, infographics, and factoids about Cuban society. One particularly illuminating slide showed the strong support both within the U.S. and around the world for ending the U.S. embargo and travel restrictions against the island.
Liberation News sat down with Fraga and talked about his mission as a Cuban diplomat in the United States, as well as the upcoming referendum on their new constitution on Feb. 24, which the nation has been working on constructing for years, and Cuba’s model solidarity with people around the world. He later touched on many of these topics in greater depth during his talk,
Liberation News: Tell me about the education program you head at the embassy and why you pursue it. Who do you talk to and what are your main messages for them?
Miguel Fraga: I came in June 2015 to the United States when we reopened our embassy. Since that moment I have said, “I have to go everywhere. I have to try to talk to everybody about why it’s important to have relations between Cuba and the United States.” And since that moment, I realized there is not enough information about my country here and there is a lot of misinformation. For that reason I am doing this.
So far I have been in almost 20 states and more than 40 universities in the United States – even in Montana, California, Oregon, Washington state, Connecticut, and others. I think it’s a wonderful experience because you also learn more about American people, you know? And you see how they see Cuba … When I do these presentations, you see a lot of interest about Cuba and you see support for the relations and that’s very important. According to all the polls, the majority of Americans want better relations with Cuba. But those are numbers. You go and you talk with people, you see the reasons why: people want cultural interchange, academic interchange, sport interchange, they are open to that, you know? Despite all the campaigns against Cuba, despite all that misinformation, you see support for relations and that’s the reason why I’m doing this.
LN: Do you find yourself confronting more misinformation or disinformation, or are you just kind of working from a blank slate?
MF: That depends: you see everything. When you go and you talk with the students and you ask “what do you know about Cuba?” they only know about, you know: Cuba is famous because of cigars, rum, Fidel, because it’s a communist country, it’s a dictatorship, human rights abuses. And you say, “Have you been in Cuba?” and they say “oh, no, never.” “So how do you know that?” “Oh, because the media says that.”
LN: My next question is about the constitutional process. Can you tell me a little bit about what’s happening, is it connected specifically to the fact that it’s been 60 years, or is it a coincidence that they are happening together?
MF: No, I think it’s not because we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the revolution. The Cuban constitution is younger, we approved the constitution in 1976 – but the society has changed and the country has changed and we need to put all the changes in the constitution because the importance of that is [that it’s] the law of laws. We made a process that has [made it] very important to consult everybody, to give everybody the opportunity to say what they believe should be in that constitution.
So the national parliament approves a draft, the draft comes to the people and they make a lot of proposals. Now that returns to the national parliament. They approved the final draft, and it’s going to referendum, because in our constitution it’s mandatory to do a referendum for a new constitution and that is going to happen in eight days: Feb. 24. It’s a big challenge because we have to vote on the constitution – that’s a unique test. And there’s many changes: political changes, economic changes, and also social changes, but we trust in the people and we explain that this is only, you know, another step. A very important one, but another step. So that is what is happening right now, people are ready to vote on this on Feb. 24 for a new constitution that we believe is the expression of the country that we have right now.
LN: What are some of the standout features of the constitution, things that are being hotly debated or that are seen as big changes?
MF: Well, for example, we changed the definition of the marriage in Cuba and we say that right now, equal marriage is going to be part of the new family code and that is going to be also going to referendum. On the political side, we put term limits for our president. That was a big change and some people didn’t like it, but it was interesting to see former President Raul Castro say that it’s very important to do it. He believes that you need a young person in charge of the country that is able to go everywhere, to talk with everybody, to do everything that you need to do as a president, and he believes that two terms of five years is something that is good. Also if you come with the preparation, you know, for taking office.
We are also going to create the charge of prime minister, so another person in charge of the government of the country, and probably that can be good. There are also changes in how we see the economy in Cuba, because we gave space for the private sector, and that should be supported in the constitution. But of course, at the same time we say that we are a socialist country that is fighting for a communist society, so that is also part of our constitution. People have to vote and say “okay, I agree with that.”
There are other changes: the structures in the municipalities, in the provinces, how the government is going to be structured there. We are giving more space to the municipalities to rule and to be able to manage projects and to see what are their priorities. So there are many, many things that are right now in that, but I can say that probably two most debated were the terms for the president and equal marriage.
LN: I’ll use that to segue into my next question: what does the future of the Cuban revolution hold? What are some of the goals that Cuba has set for itself?
MF: That’s a very important question. We always say that Cuba is a society that believes in equal opportunities for everybody. It’s a society that works for social justice. So it’s not only to have a paper that says that everybody is equal and everybody has the same rights, it’s to be able to guarantee that. That is the dream, you know? And we have accomplished many things in the first 60 years of the revolution, so the goal right now is to not only keep that, it’s also to be able to do more.
And of course, my dreams are not the same dreams that my parents have. The dream for my parents was “okay, my kids have to go to the university,” but right now I went to the university, so I have other dreams in order to have a better society. But in order to have the better society you need a better economy that supports that, and also you need to have the culture, because sometimes it’s about how people think. If you are able to understand why you have to make a sacrifice or why you have to do this or that, it’s easier. People do it because they believe it’s important. And we have a new generation in Cuba that doesn’t know anything about Cuba before 1959, that has never been abroad and doesn’t know anything about capitalism. They know that the blockade is there and is doing a lot of damage to Cuban society, but they don’t know how to live without that blockade.
And we want that, we are fighting for that, to see a day without the blockade and to be able to do more things. We always say, “right now we have all those doctors and all those accomplishments in our society, in mind of the day that we don’t have to deal with the blockade or we don’t have to deal with other issues right now that are very difficult for us.” Of course we aren’t dealing with a perfect world, but also we don’t believe that this is only good for Cuba. We are fighting for a better world, for the whole of humanity. That is the idea.
LN: That is actually an excellent segue into my final question, which is about the solidarity that Cuba has shown with revolutions around the Caribbean and Latin America, and indeed, all around the world, from Africa and beyond. So I was wondering if maybe you could talk briefly about how Cuba supports movements in the region or helps to show solidarity with those other struggles.
MF: Jose Marti, our national hero, was born in a colony in 1853. He was fighting for the independence of Cuba, but he said “homeland is humanity.” So, he believed that it’s not only about Cuba, it’s about the whole of humanity. For that reason we say … that we believe in solidarity, it’s part of our revolution, so we share everything that we have. Even in the more difficult situations, we try to share and we try to fight for the same ideals. For that reason we say, “yes, we have doctors right now but we also have had soldiers in Africa in the past, fighting for the independence of those countries against the Apartheid system.”
Right now we have doctors in more than 60 countries and I always mention there is a campaign that says “Cuba sends doctors to Venezuela because of the oil,” and we say “well, why do we have doctors in so many countries in Africa? Why do we have doctors in Haiti for more than 50 years?” It’s because we believe in that. And for that reason we also, we help people to become doctors or professionals in our country when we offer scholarships for free, because again, we believe it’s about the better world that we need. We need to learn from each other, we need to work with each other and it’s going to be easier for the future.