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Cuban Ambassador Responds to Peter Calder Article

Response To NZ Herald Article "Charmed By Cuba's Courage"

By Miguel Ramirez
Cuban Ambassador

Reading the unfair article of Peter Calder on Cuba, called ''Charmed by Cuba's courage'' it is easy to understand why he told me when we met in Cuba that he was not a journalist involved in politics and that he was just a movie critic writer. I think probably he was right and he should better limit his comments to movies, although he did not have any after the Cuban Film Festival in New Zealand in October, only some ambiguous and tendentious remarks at the start that may have discouraged quite a few movie goers.

I, of course, may understand that financial urges could have inspired him to write an article promoting? tourism to Cuba 5 months after he was there, but a lot of comments of personal experiences, (supposing that all of them happened to him) cannot be considered as a fundamental truth from a person only staying a few days in Havana.

First of all, I would like to emphasize that Cuba is not a paradise and is not a developed country as New Zealand is, and therefore trying to compare living standards between both societies is not only utterly superficial but it is also not based in any serious historical analysis.

Although he tries to give the impression of being objective and balanced when he talks about US sanctions he expresses himself in a pessimistic tone talking of “almost killing off the Cuban economy”, without being honest and saying that despite the US blockade and economic aggression that has cost Cuba 76 billion dollars, the Cubans have survived and are advancing.

It seems that a few questions here and there have given Mr. Calder the liberty to know what the State provides, almost free of charge to his citizens, which is not very much, but, for sure, much more than what his small inventory offers. Of course he will not mention that education is free of charge, including going to the University, that health care, hospital beds, surgical operations are also free of charge and that all the Cuban children are vaccinated against 13 diseases, more immunization and education than is provided in some developed countries.

We do have economic difficulties because of the US economic blockade that affects every sector in our life and some economic measures have had to be applied in order to face that aggression. Therefore some economic contradictions appear as a waiter earning more than a doctor, but that does not stop the Cuban people to be willing to be physicians and we have 67 000 doctors, with the people to doctor ratio the smallest in the world around 167 persons per doctor, much less than in many developed countries.

He did not understand anything about Cuba. He did not see that despite our economic difficulties we are able to send abroad more than 15 000 physicians to work in very hard conditions in developing countries with no economic goal in mind, just the feeling of solidarity of the Cuban people. He did not see as well the pride and the dignity of a country that is able to stand on its feet despite any difficulty or consequence coming from the aggressions of our northern neighbour.

He would have been honest if he had mentioned, particularly, the level of the education in Cuba, so high, that there is a team of Cuban educational advisors in New Zealand helping eradicate the illiteracy among the Maori population in your country, without any economic interest, despite our difficult economic situation. He knew that and knew more, because he accompanied his wife to Cuba, who was attending an educational conference in Havana at that time.

Yes, life is tough for Cubans that do not earn dollars, but almost 65% of the population have access to dollars, and those who do not, are not abandoned by the government. We may be poor, but you will not see a beggar in Cuba, not a homeless person on the street or anybody without health care properly guaranteed.

The following paragraph exudes biased attitude and ignorance on the root causes of the Cuban government’s action: “In October, the regime made matters even more complicated by outlawing US dollars as legal tender in an attempt to eliminate Cuba's dependence on US currency reserves and to reassert centralised control over the economy.”

Mr Calder does not mention or probably does not know that the Bush Administration is hunting every Cuban transaction in US dollar everywhere in the world and has even dedicated a team for that purpose with more staff and resources than those to trail money laundering of international terrorists. He does not say that a couple of months ago the Swiss Bank UBS had to pay 100 million dollars to the Treasury Department in fines for having accepted Cuban transactions in US dollars. But probably this would be too much to ask to a movie critic.

He does not mention either that any other hard currency can be exchanged to the Cuban Convertible Peso without any fee attached to it, and the fee is only applied to the US dollar, in order to encourage customers to use alternative currencies.

It is really a shame that he has entered the biased and deceitful world of some American media when he gives the impression that nobody is able to dissent or give a different opinion from the official one. This view, that a lot of Cubans are against the Revolution but do not express it openly, is one put about by the American and corporate media to stir up dissent, but one which has repeatedly been shown to be false, including in every election. Even biased CIA estimates of the number of so-called dissidents in Cuba calculate less than 4% of the population is opposed to the Revolution, and to the current government.
And even accepting that Mr Calder had that personal experience, it is really unprofessional to generalize the Cuban attitude towards their government because of a few throwaway comments and hearsays.

Not only are his opinions ill-informed, but he also gets his facts wrong, when he says that a couple of years ago Cuba had 100,000 tourists. When we started promoting tourism in 1989 we were receiving already 400,000 tourists and that is now 2 million tourists a year, including a growing number from New Zealand despite the efforts of Mr. Calder.

Again he is misinformed when he says that the majority comes from the United States and Europe. In fact, those coming from the United States are rapidly declining because of the US policy of hunting down every single American travelling to Cuba. Ask the 75-year-old lady that has been forced to pay a very high fine and the threat of jail for just having bicycled in Cuba. Maybe they can easily go to Cuba through Mexico and Canada – but their final destination may well be an American courtroom or prison cell on their return.

When he says that Old Havana is falling down he really shows a total ignorance of the preservation work underway (that he must have seen, because he stayed in Old Havana). Or is it not ignorance? His own contradiction, typical of biased writers, is clear – on the one hand he complains it is falling down, and on the other complains that we are refurbishing and renting to big conglomerates. How else are we supposed to get money to continue the restoration?

He did not bump into me in Havana. A meeting was arranged by another New Zealander to talk about the Cuban Film Festival that we were organizing for October in New Zealand. That was the reason of the meeting and that was the only authority given by me to publish any of my words, which have been distorted by him as the other two people present can witness. I said to him that UNFORTUNATELY, the New Zealand Herald was using a sort of a cliché slogan to promote Cuban tourism talking about the need to go to Cuba while Fidel is there, that was bringing people, but I never said that I agreed with that slogan. In fact I told him the slogan was wrong and short sighted because it ignored the fact that our Revolution is a result of many people, with Fidel, of course, at the head of that struggle and the Revolution will survive him.

I will not enter into the details of whether food is good or bad. I prefer the readers judge for themselves when they go to Cuba with a more open mind and less First World attitudes towards my country.

Just to end these comments, I feel disappointed I misjudged Mr. Calder when I met him. I now believe I spent a nice Sunday morning talking to somebody that had a biased attitude, and a preconceived notion of what he wanted to see. I am annoyed I wasted precious time 5 months ago just to result in this distorted article about Cuba, hopefully not with the intention of deterring the growing number of New Zealand tourists to Cuba.


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