I shall relate a bit of history.
When the Spanish “discovered” us five hundred years ago, the estimated population on the Island was no more than 200,000 inhabitants who were living in harmony with nature. Their main sources of food came from the rivers, lakes and seas rich in protein; they were also carrying out a rudimentary form of agriculture that supplied them with calories, vitamins, mineral salts and fibre.
In some regions of Cuba they still have the custom of making “casabe”, a kind of bread made from casaba. Certain fruits and small wild animals rounded off their diets. They used to concoct a beverage with fermented products and they brought to world culture the rather unhealthy habit of smoking.
The current population of Cuba is possibly 60 times greater than the one existing then. Although the Spanish mixed with the native population, they practically exterminated them by making them work in the fields as semi-slaves and by the search for gold in the river sands.
The native population was replaced by the importing of Africans captured by force and enslaved, a cruel practice that was applied during centuries.
Of great importance for our existence were the eating habits that were created. We were turned into consumers of pork, beef, lamb, milk, cheese and other by-products; wheat, oats, barley, chickpeas, kidney beans, peas and other legumes coming from different climates.
Originally we had corn and sugar cane was introduced among the calorie-rich plants.
Coffee was brought in by the conquistadors from Africa; cacao was possibly brought from Mexico. Both of these, along with sugar, tobacco and other tropical products became enormous sources of resources for the metropolis after the slave rebellion in Haiti that occurred at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The slave-based production system lasted in fact until the transfer of Cuban sovereignty by Spanish colonialism to the United States, in a bloody and extraordinary war where Spain had been defeated by the Cubans.
When the Revolution triumphed in 1959, our island was a true Yankee colony. The United States had duped and disarmed our Liberation Army. One couldn’t speak of developed agriculture, but of immense plantations exploited on the base of manual and animal labour that in general used neither fertilizers nor machinery. The great sugar mills belonged to the Americans. Several of them had more than one hundred thousand hectares; others were tens of thousands of hectares in size. All together there were more than 150 sugar mills, including those belonging to Cubans; they were working less than four months a year.
The US received Cuban sugar during two great world wars, and had conceded a sales quota on its markets to our country, tied in with commercial commitments and limitations on our agricultural production, despite the fact that sugar was in part produced by them. Other decisive branches of the economy such as the ports and the oil refineries were American property. Their companies possessed huge ships, industrial centres, mines, docks, maritime and rail lines along with public services as vital as the electric and telephone systems.
For those who want to understand, that’s all you need.
In spite of the fact that the necessities of rice, corn, fats, grains and other food production were important, the United States was imposing determinate limits on everything that was in competition with its own domestic production, including the subsidized sugar beet.
Of course, in terms of food production it is a real fact that within the geographical limits of a small, rainy and hurricane-beset tropical country bereft of machinery, dams, irrigation systems and adequate equipment, Cuba could not have the resources, nor did it have the conditions to compete with the American mechanized productions of soy, sunflower, corn, legumes and rice. Some of these, such as wheat and barley could not be grown in our country.
It is a fact that the Cuban Revolution has not enjoyed a moment of peace. The Agrarian Reform had barely been passed, before the five-month mark of the revolutionary triumph had been reached and the programs of sabotage, fires, obstruction and the use of harmful chemical measures were begun against our country. These even came to include pests to attack vital productions and even human health.
By underestimating our people and their decision to fight for their rights and their independence, they committed an error.
Of course, none of us at that time possessed the experience collected during many years; we were taking off from fair ideas and a revolutionary conception. Perhaps the main error of idealism that was committed, was to think that in the world there was a determinate amount of justice and respect for the rights of peoples when, certainly, it didn’t exist at all. Nevertheless, the decision to fight wouldn’t depend on this.
The first task taking up our efforts was to prepare for the struggle that was coming up.
Experience acquired in the heroic battle against Batista’s tyranny showed that the enemy, no matter what his strength, could not defeat the Cuban people.
The country’s preparation for the struggle turned into the people’s main effort, and it took us to episodes that were as decisive as the battle against the mercenary invasion promoted by the United States in April of 1961, the landing at the Bay of Pigs escorted by the US Marines and Yankee planes.
Unable to resign themselves to the independence and exercise of the sovereign rights of Cuba, the government of that country adopted the decision to invade our territory. The USSR had absolutely nothing to do with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. The Revolution did not assume a socialist nature because of support from the USSR; it was the other way around: support from the USSR was produced by the socialist nature of the Cuban Revolution. To such a degree, that when the USSR disappears, Cuba keeps on being socialist.
By some means, the USSR learned that Kennedy would try to use Cuba with the same method that they had applied in Hungary. That led to the errors committed by Khrushchev in regards to the October Crisis that I saw the need to criticize. But it was not only Khrushchev who made a mistake, so did Kennedy. Cuba had nothing to do with the history of Hungary, and the USSR had nothing to do with the Revolution in Cuba. This was the sole and exclusive fruit of the struggle of our people. Khrushchev merely made the brotherly gesture of sending weapons to Cuba when it was being threatened by the invasion that was organized, trained, armed and transported by the United States. Without the weapons sent to Cuba, our people would have defeated the mercenary forces as it had defeated Batista’s army and occupied all the military equipment it possessed: 100,000 weapons. If the direct invasion of the United States against Cuba had occurred, our people would have been fighting right up to the present time against its soldiers, who would surely have had to fight against millions of Latin Americans. The US had committed the greatest mistake in all its history and perhaps the USSR would still be in existence today.
Hours prior to the invasion, after the cunning attack on our air force bases by US planes painted with Cuban insignia, the socialist nature of our Revolution was declared. The Cuban people fought for socialism in that battle that passed into history as the first victory against imperialism in the Americas.
Ten US presidents have come and gone, the eleventh is now passing through and the Socialist Revolution is standing firm. Also coming and going were all the governments that were accomplices to the crimes of the United States against Cuba, and our Revolution is standing firm. The USSR has disappeared and the Revolution moved forward. It didn’t take place with the permission of the United States; instead it is being submitted to a cruel and merciless blockade; with terrorist acts that took the lives or injured thousands of people, whose authors today enjoy total impunity; anti-terrorist Cuban fighters are condemned to life sentences; a so-called Cuban Adjustment Act concedes entry, residence and employment in the United States. Cuba is the only country in the world whose citizens have that privilege, one that is denied to Haitians after the earthquake that killed more than 300,000 persons and the rest of the citizens in the hemisphere, those being persecuted and expelled by the empire. Nevertheless, the Cuban Revolution stands firm.
Cuba is the only country on the planet that cannot be visited by US citizens; but Cuba exists and stands firm, only 90 miles away from the United States, fighting its heroic fight.
We, the Cuban revolutionaries, have committed errors, and we shall go on making mistakes, but never shall we make the mistake of being traitors.