by The People’s Minister of Information JR
At Merritt College, the birthplace of the Black Panther Party, on the 74th birthday of its co-founder, Huey P. Newton, the African American Studies Program fittingly hosted a talk by the recently opened Cuban Embassy’s First Secretary Miguel Fraga, where he spoke on Cuban-U.S. relations.
In an interview following the Fraga led discussion, he and I continued to talk about Cuban-U.S. relations, but we were able to extend the conversation to talk more directly about the embargo, the U.S. government’s relationship with Haiti, Venezuela and Bolivia, the U.S. government’s funding of Radio Marti, and the dissipation of the radical Latin American bloc of nations that are opposed to U.S. aggression and hegemony in the region and in the world.
Check out this historic and candid conversation at such a historic time in the two countries’ histories in dealing with each other.
M.O.I. JR: One thing I noticed about your presentation is that for the most part you think that a friendship between Cuba and America would be a positive thing, but if you look at the history of the Haitians, who fought a revolution 200 years ago, the United States and the European powers have not let them breathe yet. Look at Venezuela, who Cuba has been in an alliance with for a very good amount of time and has some business relationships with; look at what has been done with the Maduro regime in getting them out of power by using their money and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to cut back on the left.
Look at what’s happening all around Latin America, whether we talk about Brazil, or whether we talk about what happened with Evo Morales. Why do you think that friendship with capitalism is even possible?
Miguel Fraga: We are not talking about friendship with the capitalist system. We don’t believe in the capitalist system. We only believe that it is good to have normal relations between two countries.
The embargo, the blockade, is hurting our people every day. So if we have an opportunity to put an end to the embargo, it’s what we want.
We are not going to change our principals, we are not going to change our ideas for that, and I know that people are always concerned here in the United States, but I always say, have a little faith in Cuba. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, everybody said, OK, you are going to disappear. We’re still here.
So it’s what a majority of the Cuban people want – to have more opportunities. And we share a lot of history with the United States, with the people of the United States.
And if you go to Cuba right now, if you go to Cuba tomorrow, you will see that Cubans don’t hate Americans, because hate is not the answer. We know that this is not the American people. But if we have the opportunity to engage, why not?
We are not talking about friendship with the capitalist system. We don’t believe in the capitalist system. We only believe that it is good to have normal relations between two countries.
The embargo, again, is the main obstacle to our development. It’s hurting our children, our people. So if we have an opportunity to put an end to that, why not?
M.O.I. JR: What do you think about the deradicalization of Latin America in 2015 and 2016? Central and South America along with the Caribbean have been the strongest block of revolutionary forces on the planet, and that is starting to evaporate and dissipate.
And not because that is what the people want, but because we know the financial forces that are fighting against the egalitarian policies that have been enacted. How does Cuba see this situation in the Caribbean and Latin America?
Miguel Fraga: Remember, I’m a diplomat. So my answer to this is that Cuba is going to support the same ideas, the same values, the same principles, but every country should do what the people of that country want. It’s about those people. They need to understand what are the real answers to those problems that they have. They have to face those problems.
It’s not about what Cuba can do. They are always going to have the Cuban support. And it’s not only the countries that you mentioned; it’s also, for example, Puerto Rico. We believe that Puerto Rico deserves to be independent. And even now that we have this new moment between Cuba and the United States, we are not going to change that.
Cuba is going to support the same ideas, the same values, the same principles, but every country should do what the people of that country want.
So the people in Venezuela and Bolivia and in all the countries that you mentioned are going to have the support of Cuba, but they need to realize what is the real situation that they have. They need to be sure of what they want.
And it’s difficult. You know how difficult the struggle is. But the idea is that even with all of this, you still have Maduro, Morales and all of the good examples to show to people that another world is possible if you fight for it, you know?
M.O.I. JR: No doubt. You talked a little bit about the United States and Cuba potentially having an opportunity to work together in Haiti. It’s a trip that you said that because I’m reading a book right now on Haiti, and the United States has been on a destabilization mission since the beginning of the revolution – and I’m talking about the Haitian revolution of 1804.
What makes you think that the two countries could work together when your agendas are so different? Even though it might be a medical mission, the reasons Cuba is participating and the reasons the United States is participating are so totally different. So if the agendas are different, why do you assume that there could be a partnership?
Miguel Fraga: I think you have very good questions, by the way. Remember the earthquake in Haiti? All the media went there, and everybody went there and said, “All right, we’re going to help Haiti; we are not going to abandon Haiti.”
Cuba was in Haiti 10 years before the earthquake. We had doctors there. We only put more doctors there. And our primary concern is to help the people in Haiti. Right now we have an opportunity, because we don’t have enough resources, and the United States said that they are going to provide some resources there, they are going to provide facilities there, and why not if we have the doctors?
So we are not saying we are going to work on everything together. We are not going to say that our agendas are the same. We are only saying that we have an opportunity to help, to bring more health care to the people of Haiti.
And why not? It is good for those people. This is about human values. This is about what you believe. This is not about if you are white, Black, Muslim, Catholic, it’s about your …
M.O.I. JR: Ideology.
Miguel Fraga: Exactly. And what you believe. And we believe in solidarity. We believe in cooperation. We believe that we can have a better world and we need that.
If we can work in this specific area to bring more health care to the people in Haiti, why not? We don’t have the resources to do it alone, and this is about this specific project.
And we did the same in Africa against Ebola. The World Health Organization asked for doctors, and Cuba offered 400 healthcare workers.
And we sent those doctors to Africa, and at that time we had the cooperation of the United States because this was a real danger to all of the world. And we succeeded. And that is proof that we could have more cooperation if we find out what the real priorities are. Again, have a little faith in Cuba.
We believe in solidarity. We believe in cooperation. We believe that we can have a better world and we need that.
M.O.I. JR: You spoke on Jose Marti Radio. You put some figures up about what the U.S. spends on this propaganda machine that it tries to push on Cuba. Do you remember those numbers?
Miguel Fraga: Of course I remember those numbers. You can check this. There is a bill that you have right now in Congress, HR 570; it is from Congresswoman Betty McCollum.
And she explained that already you have spent $700 million in the last 30 years on this Radio Marti and on a website that nobody in Cuba sees. And you have spent last year $27 million only to broadcast propaganda against Cuba, and this is your money.
M.O.I. JR: You asked in your presentation about how we would feel if Cuba did that. Cuba is in the back, because the reality is Venezuela is doing it with TeleSur, the Iranians are doing it, Russian TV is doing it. When is Cuba going to step it up?
Because in this new world order, we’re not looking at television from just the United States. Al Jazeera is huge. Why is Cuba, who has been a frontrunner in fighting the revolution over the last 60 years, why are you guys not taking that seriously?
Miguel Fraga: Well, Cuba is part of TeleSur. You must know that. And again, we respect and we want respect. We respect the internal affairs of all the countries in the world.
When we sent soldiers to South Africa to fight, which we are proud of that, against the apartheid system, and we succeeded in that, it was because the government of Angola, if you remember, asked for our help, and we sent people there. We lost 2,000 people there. But again, we don’t want to say to the world what they have to do because this is about what the people want.
M.O.I. JR: But I think media is a budding of ideas, not so much telling. I think at one point television had 10 channels – that is when it was super-duper propaganda – but now it is spread over thousands of channels and on the internet.
We need to hear a raw voice from Cuba on how Cuba is looking at the situation. I’m not saying that I am going to be in agreement 100,000 percent, but I believe, because I do watch TeleSur …
Miguel Fraga: Do you like it?
M.O.I. JR: Yes.
Miguel Fraga: Well, part of that is Cuba.
M.O.I. JR: I just want to see something coming out of Havana or Santiago. But OK, last question: One of the main concerns of Black revolutionary-minded people in the United States is looking at the case of Assata Shakur, the political exile.
We helped Cuba to free the Cuban 5. Cuba has stepped up for us many times in dealing with our political prisoner issues. We fear that Cuba may trade Assata Shakur for some kind of status with the United States. Please tell us that is not true?
Miguel Fraga: Let me be very clear on this: You need to read what our president, our foreign affairs ministry and what everybody is saying about this. We don’t change our principles. That was never at the negotiation table. That was never a part of the negotiations.
But those are concerns that are here – and we are ready to talk about everything – but we are not going to change the fundamental ideas of Cuba. Thank you very much.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.