Cuba stars at Brazil integration summit

News analysis Two recent happenings are of signal importance for the future of Latin American politics. They are the 50th anniversary of Cuba’s socialist revolution on Jan. 1, 2009 and a gathering in Brazil on Dec. 16-17 highlighting progress toward Latin American integration.

Observers have registered amazement at the survival of the Cuban revolution, especially given the disappearance of other socialist states and proximity of its powerful enemy. A few took note of Cuba’s own revolutionary traditions informed, according to Diana Raby, (Monthly Review, January, 2009) by “an ideology of radical egalitarianism, anti-imperialism, and agrarian self-sufficiency.” The Cuban revolution gained thereby an extra lift and devotion from a bevy of Latin American revolutionaries.

In a year-end interview with the Mexican daily Jornada, veteran revolutionary Armando Hart, former minister of education and later of culture, explored the same connection as he called for coalescence of “the most elevated socialist thought” with the “liberal Latin American and Caribbean Movement.” That two-century-long struggle, led by the likes of Simon Bolivar, Benito Juarez and Jose Marti, also had to do with anti-imperialism and social justice. “There is no socialism in only one or two countries,” he explained, adding that Cuba will “reinvent …worn out” socialism.

For Hart, the Brazil meeting “communicated to the United States and the world that [Latin America] is the only region that is now in the process of multinational integration. The dreams of 50 years ago that propelled the triumphant revolution are in our sight.” For Cuba, shedding U.S.-imposed isolation is crucial to melding the revolutionary currents of a continent.

Both were on display at the beach resort in Bahia state where Brazilian President Lula da Silva hosted a mega-summit. Four regional summits had been convened simultaneously — the first occasion, he told participants, for all countries “south of the Rio Bravo” (Rio Grande) to meet “without exclusions and without the presence of those foreign to the region.” That meant Cuba was present and U.S. representatives were not.

The groups on hand were: Mercosur, four Southern cone nations joined in a trade alliance; The Rio Group, formed in 1986 to resolve regional conflicts and now numbering 23 nations; UNASUR, 12 member nations intent upon EU-style integration; and the new 33-nation Latin American and Caribbean Summit (CALC).

Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s announcement that Cuba had joined the Rio Group brought forth shouts: “Viva Cuba,” “Viva Fidel.” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared, “Cuba is part of the soul of Latin America.” President Raul Castro assured delegates, “For us this is a transcendent moment in our history.”

The CALC conclave unanimously denounced the anti-Cuban U.S. economic blockade. Bolivian President Evo Morales proposed that “If the [U.S.] economic blockade is not lifted, we will lift their ambassadors.” President Lula advised waiting for action, if any, by the new U.S. president.

The tables are thus turned. Participants judged the Organization of American States, a U.S. cold-war creation, to be obsolete. Within that framework all Latin American states save Mexico broke diplomatic relations with Cuba back in 1962. Rather than join the OAS, as some proposed, President Castro suggested the OAS go out of business.

Diana Raby sees Cuba’s welcome into the fold of Latin American integration as a homecoming of sorts. Not only do present-day Latin American social movements bond with the spirits of Cuban independence fighters still alive in a socialist revolution, but she suggests political strides there have been fueled by concrete solidarity help from Cuba in health care and education.

Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon elaborates upon these associations: “On the occasion of [the] fiftieth anniversary … our continent has begun a new era. Campaigns by old and new social movements are underway everywhere … None of this would exist if Fidel Castro and his comrades had not triumphed.” (Monthly Review) The Revolution was a month old when Salvador Allende, then a Chilean Senator, explained, “The Cuban revolution does not belong only to you [Cubans]. We are dealing with the most significant movement ever to have occurred in the Americas.”