[News] ‘We Will Prevail’: A Conversation With Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Apr 8 12:00:48 EDT 2022

‘We Will Prevail’: A Conversation With Cuba’s President Miguel
Díaz-Canel by Manolo
De Los Santos <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/manolo-de-los-santos/> -
April 8, 2022

In 1994, Miguel Díaz-Canel began a new position in Santa Clara, not far
from his birthplace of Placetas, as the provincial secretary of the Cuban
Communist Party. He set aside the air-conditioned car given to him and went
to work each morning on his bicycle, his long hair and jeans defining him.
Díaz-Canel organized rock concerts, spent time with his family at El Mejunje
the local LGBTQ cultural center, and roamed about talking to people on the
streets. This closeness to the people defined his tenure at Santa Clara,
which shaped the man who is now the president of Cuba.

In March, I spent a few hours talking to Díaz-Canel, who—born in 1960—has
entire life as Cuba struggled against the suffocating policies from
Washington to shape its socialist path. Raised by a teacher and a factory
worker, Díaz-Canel saw firsthand the Cuban Revolution’s comprehensive
program of social justice in which millions of members of the working
class, peasants, Black people, and women began to access for the first time
on equal terms the right to work, study and live with dignity. Díaz-Canel’s
generation grew up in a period under Fidel Castro’s leadership in which,
despite the existence of a U.S. blockade, most Cubans saw their standards
of living and quality of life rise significantly due to national
development plans, favorable trade relations with the Soviet Union and a
growing network of support in the nonaligned world. Díaz-Canel studied
electrical engineering at the Central University of Las Villas, but early
on in his career teaching engineering there, he devoted much of his time to
local activism with the Young Communist League. That led him to an
internationalist mission in Nicaragua where, along with thousands of Cuban
doctors and teachers, he served among the poorest, often in remote corners
of this Central American country that was then trapped
a U.S.-funded war of counterinsurgency.

Díaz-Canel returned from Nicaragua in 1989 as the USSR neared its final
days and as the U.S. government seized the opportunity to tighten
restrictions on Cuba. In 1991, Cuba entered a Special Period
trade fell by 80 percent
Cubans were eating less (caloric intake decreased by 27 percent
1990 to 1996), long queues for food became common, electricity became a
rare occurrence, and millions took to riding bicycles as the island faced a
severe oil shortage under an intensified blockade. Díaz-Canel was one of
those on a bicycle. Cuba’s resilience during the Special Period shaped his
view of the world.

*Special Period II*

In 2018, Díaz-Canel was elected to be the president of Cuba. U.S. President
Donald Trump had tightened the U.S. blockade on Cuba, with 243
sanctions measures, the prevention of remittances from overseas Cubans
coming to the island, and Cuba being placed back on the United States’
State Sponsors of Terrorism list
This campaign of maximum pressure has hurt the Cuban economy, which began
to see fuel and food shortages that echoed the Special Period. The Biden
administration has kept
and every one of these measures in place.

During the pandemic, the U.S. did not allow Cuba any relief from its
unilateral blockade. The Cuban government spent
million on reagents, medical equipment, protective equipment, and other
material; in the first half of 2021, the government spent $82 million on
these kinds of materials. This is money that Cuba did not anticipate
spending—money that it does not have because of the collapsed tourism
sector. Despite the severe challenges to the economy, the government
continued to guarantee salaries, purchase medicines, and distribute food as
well as electricity and piped water. Overall, the Cuban government added
$2.4 billion to its already considerable debt overhang to cover the basic
needs of the population.

In this context, public discontent spilled onto the streets in 2021,
notably on July 11. Díaz-Canel’s first instinct was to go to the heart of
the matter and speak with the people. He went to great lengths not merely
to dismiss their concerns but rather to understand them within the broader
context of what Cuba was facing. Díaz-Canel said
the people that most of them are “dissatisfied,” but that their
dissatisfaction was fueled by “confusion, misunderstandings, lack of
information, and the desire to express a particular situation.” “Imagine
facing that situation in a country that is attacked, blocked, demonized on
social networks, and then COVID-19 arrives,” he told me. “Therefore, I am
convinced that they [the U.S.] bet that Cuba had no way out: ‘They cannot
sustain the revolution; they cannot get out of this situation.’”

Among the many creative responses to these many challenges was the decision
by the Cuban government to develop its own vaccine. On May 17, 2020,
Díaz-Canel called together Cuba’s scientists. “I told them, ‘Look, there is
no alternative; we need a Cuban vaccine. Nobody is going to give us a
vaccine. We need a Cuban vaccine that guarantees us sovereignty,’” he told
me. Seven weeks later, in the second half of July, the first bottle of a
Cuban vaccine candidate was ready. Soon after Cuba would have five
candidates. Of these, three are already in use: Abdala, Soberana 02, and
Soberana Plus. Two others are in the final stages of clinical trials and
are quite promising, including one called Mambisa, which can be applied
This is all short of a miracle considering that Cuba was only able to
invest $50 million to develop these vaccines.

With the many economic problems that Cuba faces, President Díaz-Canel, in
line with his predecessors Fidel and Raúl Castro, has renewed the principle
of self-reliance. “We have to face the economic battle ourselves with the
concept of creative resistance,” he said. With a growing number of workers
in the non-state sector, the economy has encouraged small local businesses.
A new energy has emerged
the state-led sectors of the economy and these growing new businesses.

In regular visits made by Díaz-Canel across the island, a great deal of
emphasis is being placed on the local capacities of each municipality. He
advocates a line of continuity with politics based on the ethics of José
Martí and Fidel Castro, whose premise is to study the contradictions that
exist in society, find the causes of those contradictions, and propose
solutions that eliminate the causes. “We are defending the need to
increasingly expand democracy on the basis of people’s participation and
control in our society,” said Díaz-Canel. This approach has already opened
the door to deep debates about how to eradicate
vestiges of racism that remain in society, the transformation
neighborhoods in disrepair, and a proposed
code that would radically expand the rights of LGBTQ people, including
marriage. In hundreds of meetings, many of which are recorded and
televised, Díaz-Canel listens patiently to religious leaders, university
students, artists, intellectuals, community organizers, social activists,
and other sectors of Cuban society who have much to say. These meetings can
quite often be tense. Díaz-Canel smiles and says, “We have learned
tremendously, proposals are made, we can share criteria, we can clarify
doubts, and then we all go out together to work.”

Cuba continues to face great challenges, and many problems remain to be

Yet it’s clear that Díaz-Canel is leading a profound renewal of the Cuban
Revolution in a process that seeks to face many complex challenges by
empowering local leaders and citizens to become democratic problem-solvers
within their communities. Those who continue to see the Cuban system as a
repressive dictatorship refuse to come to terms with an evolving society
that, despite the cruel violence from Washington, exists and is creating
its own future.

*This article was produced by **Globetrotter*

*Manolo De Los Santos is a researcher and a political activist. For 10
years, he worked in the organization of solidarity and education programs
to challenge the United States’ regime of illegal sanctions and blockades.
Based out of Cuba for many years, Manolo has worked toward building
international networks of people’s movements and organizations. In 2018, he
became the founding director of the People’s Forum
in New York City, a movement incubator for working-class communities to
build unity across historic lines of division at home and abroad. He also
collaborates as a researcher with Tricontinental: Institute for Social
and is a Globetrotter/Peoples Dispatch fellow.*
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