Evo Morales’s Visit to Cuba, December 30–31, 2005

by Joaquín Bustelo

The following is a slightly edited version of a message the author posted on the Marxmail discussion group on January 1, 2005

Hardly anything has been reported about Evo Morales’s visit to Cuba by the English-language imperialist news outlets (aside from brief mentions, for example, the accompanying item from the BBC web site). But Morales’s visit is of extraordinary significance, and U.S. labor and socialist activists should be aware of what was done and said. It tells me this New Year is going to be a very New Year in Bolivia, and perhaps all of Latin America.

Evo was in Cuba for a very long workday, arriving Friday morning and leaving in the predawn hours of Saturday morning after signing a bilateral cooperation agreement. According to press reports, Fidel and Evo met for 15 hours, in conversations that the Cuban leader described as having taken up many areas, and held “almost as if with family.”

The two leaders also talked by telephone with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. After returning to Bolivia, Evo’s press officer announced that the next stop in the president-elect’s several-nation international tour will not be Spain, as originally planned, but Venezuela, although it will be an abbreviated stopover of a few hours on the way to Spain.

The cooperation agreement was signed before a town-hall type meeting with Bolivian students in Cuba, during which Fidel wore a miner’s helmet that was given to him by a Bolivian miner who was part of Morales’s delegation. The “town hall” meeting was followed by a question-and-answer session with the press.

Under the terms of the Cuba-Bolivia agreement, which technically will go into effect as soon as Morales is formally sworn in on January 22, Cuba will provide technical resources and other support for a literacy campaign that will begin in July. Morales emphasized that this campaign would be of special benefit to women in the countryside.

“In a year and a half we plan to teach everyone in Bolivia how to read,” he said. “It’s not possible that in the third millennium there continue to be illiterates in Bolivia. The [Bolivian] state has neglected peasant women.”

Cuba pledged full scholarships for 5,000 medical students in the next two years, in addition to some 800 Bolivians who have been already attending the Latin American Medical School or other universities on the island, and is setting up three eye clinics with all necessary equipment, supplies, and personnel to offer free services to Bolivians who can’t afford the services of eye doctors and surgeons. This is an expansion of a program that was originally an initiative with Venezuela and is being taken to other countries in the region.

Cuba will also help the Bolivian Government develop its sports programs.

Asked about possible U.S. reactions to closer ties between Havana and La Paz, Fidel responded, “How could it be possible that the government of the United States could feel offended because Cuba is cooperating with a sister nation?”

For his part, Morales reiterated a theme of his election campaign, that he will not tolerate “blackmail or threats” from Washington. “I’ve never had good relations with the United States government,” he said, “but I have had good relations with the people of the United States. The U.S. government is constantly accusing me of everything: of being a drug smuggler, of having a cocaine Mafia, of being a terrorist. So why should I seek relationships with the U.S. government? If they want to, they [the U.S. authorities] should respect the sovereign will of the people; if they want bilateral diplomatic and trade relations, let’s do it, but without subjugation, without subordination, without conditions, without blackmail.”

The Havana correspondent of the Mexican Milenio newspapers said Morales had returned to Bolivia “after warning that Bolivia would follow a socialist path ‘with or without the United States.’

“Morales ruled out that the government of President George W. Bush ‘can stop’ the ‘new era’ that in his opinion is taking shape in the region under the leadership of Castro and Hugo Chávez (the Venezuelan leader), who Morales called ‘the commanders of the freedom forces of the Americas’….

“Morales said the agreement, the first public result of some 15 hours of private talks with Castro, which Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez joined by telephone, is a result of ‘the struggle of the Cuban people, and especially the struggle waged by Che Guevara.’

‘Without that seed, the struggle for change of the Bolivian people would not have been possible,’ he said.”

The Cuban daily Granma reported: “On the results of the elections, Evo emphasized that ‘I want to tell you that the mission has been accomplished in this fight for solidarity and humanity. This victory is also the victory of the Cuban people, who are permanently fighting for social justice.’…

“Together, all of us united, we are going to change not just the history of Bolivia but of all Latin America, and we are going to free ourselves from North American imperialism,” Granma paraphrased Morales.

“The Argentine member of parliament and writer Miguel Bonasso said he considered the meeting of Fidel and Evo Morales to be a historic event, and said it was a privilege to be a witness to how we are building the Great Homeland in America, as was dreamed of by the leaders of the struggle for our first independence.

“With this humanist battle that President Fidel Castro is waging by exporting doctors to other countries, this is the most humanitarian society on earth, he said.”

Asked what advice he had given Morales, Fidel preferred to highlight the historic significance of the victory and expressed his full confidence in the Bolivian president-elect: “Our brother Evo has all the qualities needed to lead his country.”

After a 6-hour stopover in Venezuela on Tuesday, Morales heads to Spain, France, Holland, South Africa, China, and Brazil.

Some observations on these and other reports.

1. Morales is clearly and unambiguously projecting his government not just as part of what might be called the broader anti-FTAA bloc in Latin America, which in addition to Cuba and Venezuela also includes the governments of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, and has been most visible in trade and diplomatic negotiations, but as one of now three revolutionary governments in the region.

2. If the reports of Morales’s stance toward the United States are correct—and there really are no contradictions among the various reports, and they echo the statements Morales made on CNN en Español the day after the elections—it would seem Morales views a cutoff of U.S. “aid” to Bolivia as simply a fact. Most of the aid—two-thirds of it—is military and related aid for Washington’s “war on drugs” against the Indian peasantry and of course would not be wanted anyways, apart from the fact that really, the last thing the Bolivian people need is [continued] close ties between the national army and the Pentagon. But politically, this means that from the outset the U.S. is taking a sharply confrontational approach to the new government.

3. The somewhat irregular protocol followed by Cuba—and I suspect Venezuela will do something similar—of treating Morales already as formal president of his country is, I believe, meant to set a precedent for the quasi-state visits to follow. Cuba’s signing a formal cooperation agreement is along the same lines, but is also obviously meant to pressure, and shame, governments like that of Spain to make commitments now, rather than following the usual routine of low level talks, followed by ministerial level meetings culminating many moons later with a formal state visit where the agreements would be formally signed. In this regard, Morales is saying, especially in relation to Spain, that he isn’t going there to demand compensation for the last 500 years but to have a democratic dialogue and so on. This, of course, is a way of raising the point that Spain in fact owes them for the last 500 years.

Diplomatically, it is an extremely aggressive stance, but it makes HUGE political sense. The message is: “Here is the first head of state since Bolivia existed that actually is of and represents the majority of the country—the indigenous majority the Europeans tried to exterminate—and so you’re not going to use some bullshit technicality about the oath of office to avoid treating him with the honors due a head of state.” It is a way of underlining the extraordinary political significance of Evo’s election by bending the rules of protocol.

The Internet edition of the Cochabamba newspaper Opinión put it this way: “Havana’s José Martí airport became the scene of a historic moment in the memory, not just of Bolivia, but of the entire hemisphere, because it was there that for the first time an indigenous person received the military honors of a Head of State.”

4. The importance of Cuba as an already consolidated socialist revolution, which has scored tremendous advances in fields like education and health care and maintains an internationalist, revolutionary policy, becomes clear now, because it allows new revolutionary governments to immediately provide real social benefits, especially to the urban and rural poor who are largely outside the formal economy, without a long process of “bootstrapping”—building up the necessary personnel, equipment and supplies, and so on.

This is combined with the existence of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela and the very favorable situation in the world market for crude oil producers, which will facilitate the financing of various projects.

And actions like the 2,300 fully equipped Cuban doctors now in Pakistan in the wake of the devastating earthquake will highlight to those with a sense of history what the Soviet Union should have done over the decades but failed to do because of the bureaucracy’s abandonment of internationalism and how this helped extinguish the spirit of revolution among the Soviet working people—and helps to explain why the USSR and copycat regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed, but Cuba, the most vulnerable, exposed and economically smallest of the “socialist” countries did not.

5. Fidel has not yet made an extensive statement along these lines, at least not that I’ve seen, but I think attention should be paid to his judgment that the Latin American political situation is on the verge of a historic change. After expressing his confidence in Evo’s leadership, according to the Milenio newspapers correspondent’s report, he “wished eternal honor and glory to this great people at a crucial moment when...one gram can tilt the balance of history in this hemisphere.”