THE INFAMOUS PARAGRAPH
In yesterday’s editorial, we noted that following President Putin’s meeting with the heads of parliamentary factions, the national television network broadcast an interview with an impromptu spokesman who, seeking to explain the inexplicable and justify the unjustifiable, resorted to gratuitous slander against Cuba. In wrapping up his report on the embarrassing decision adopted by Russia, he said: "In any case, the presence of the center in Cuba would be limited, because as soon as relations improved with the United States, the Cubans themselves would call for the departure of the Russian contingent." "This had already happened in the economic area," he added, "where the Cubans had turned down offers from Russia in favor of million-dollar deals with Western countries such as Canada, France and Spain because this is what best suited Cuba. Now, this decision was what best suited Russia." He mentioned that Cuba had also not resolved the matter of its debt.
We have a saying in Spanish, which roughly translates as, "It takes a thief to believe that everyone is like him."
Our way of thinking is worlds apart from the opportunism, selfishness and lack of ethics that characterize the decadent camp of the imperialist and capitalist system, or those who aspire to join it. As long as they continue to exist, they will provoke ever-greater disgust.
Actually, it would have made our people very happy if after the 1962 Missile Crisis, --created in a such a mediocre way and handled so clumsily by one of the parties involved-- the Guantánamo Naval Base, the Motored-mechanized Brigade that remained, and the Electronic Radar Monitoring Center established two years later, had been removed from our country as quickly as possible. Only one distinction should be made: first the Soviet soldiers, and later the Russian soldiers, were always our friends. They were here alongside us with our consent and willingness. They were perceived as a symbol of internationalism, or of friendship and trust. The system had changed, but they remained the heirs of the victors over fascism. Heroism and generosity have never faltered the human person while the governments, the prevailing social systems and the politicians in the society of exploitation that history has known so far have had no possibility of being anything other than what they are.
Today, we Cubans have the privilege of having never changed our stripes, of never betraying or selling out a person, a country, a cause, a just word, not for all the gold, well-being or convenience in the world. We Cuban revolutionaries do not belong to that moral breed. The danger faced in Cuba by any Soviet or Russian unit was not the danger of being betrayed by Cuba.
Today, however, the subject of this editorial is the second part of that infamous paragraph, where we were accused of having refused Russian offers "in favor of million-dollar deals with Western countries, such as Canada, France and Spain." This merits particular attention.
When President Putin visited our country, just as he visited others that had developed close economic and technological ties with the USSR in the past, we saw it as an intelligent and wise decision. We also noted his sober character, his obvious desire to rectify errors, his sincere Russian sentiment and sensitivity to the plight of the veterans of the Great Patriotic War, abandoned to their fates without pensions or protection of any kind. As revolutionaries, we were impressed by his respect for the color of the flag and the notes of the national anthem under which tens of millions of Russians fought and died, including, heroically, his own father. This is how he was received in Cuba, in December of 2000, along with an entourage of civilian and military representatives.
We never entertained any illusions that it was a Soviet delegation we were receiving. There had been great changes. We were pleased, nevertheless, that what was left of that superpower would not end up crumbling down in pieces as well. It was highly advantageous for the world that Russia survived. Despite the terrible grievances, damages and suffering, we were willing to develop our economic, cultural and social relations with Russia.
As far as politics is concerned, things went remarkably well. There was respect, caution and a conscientious attention. There were visits to numerous historical sites, as well as an especially significant visit by the two heads of state to the Electronic Radar Monitoring Center.
It was with regard to economic matters that Putin’s visit turned out to be a disaster, but through no fault of his own. Ten years had passed. His country had been ravaged by a hurricane of plunder and theft. Everything was left in chaos. A swarm of cunning plotters and advisors had moved in from abroad or risen up from the fertile ranks of opportunistic Russian politicians who divided up and stole everything there was to steal.
Although we were fully aware of what had happened, our task was not to pass judgement, but rather to seek out everything that remained of what was good, worthy and honest in that country, for whose sons and daughters our people felt and still feel such affection, admiration and fondness.
Nevertheless, the crushing weight of ten years, the suffering and deprivation that we had been obliged to endure here and the chaos that reigned over there, had changed absolutely everything.
At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Soviet-Cuban cooperation was fundamentally focused on three industrial sectors: nuclear power development, investment in the development and production of nickel, and oil refining.
The nuclear power industry
Cooperation for the development of nuclear power in Cuba was agreed upon in January of 1975. In 1983, work began at the Juraguá nuclear plant for the building of the first two VVR-440 reactors of the four planned for the first stage. Colossal efforts were made to get the project underway. Progress was made, despite our inexperience. Then, there was the Chernobyl accident, and although the reactors under construction here did not use graphite, but were instead water-cooled, that event led to intensive investigations and extreme quality control measures in all nuclear facilities, which slowed down the pace of work. The construction of the first reactor was considerably advanced when the demise of the USSR paralyzed it in 1992. Some 1,456 billion US dollars had already been invested in the plant. The preservation of the equipment cost an additional 134 million US dollars. In 1995, we began to seek out partners from third countries to continue advancing the project alongside Russians and Cubans. In 1996, the Helms-Burton Act crushed those efforts. Funding for maintenance ran out in 1998.
When Putin and his delegation arrived in December of 2000, it had been 25 years since the idea first emerged, 17 since work on the plant began, over 10 since the construction of the first reactor had begun and eight years since everything was paralyzed.
The terms of negotiation would be different now. Only one reactor could be guaranteed, not a whole plant, much less a national nuclear power program. Over 800 million US dollars were still needed for that first reactor, and they would have to be invested over the course of six years without a single kilowatt of power being produced. Cuba had already come up with new and better solutions, with the construction of power generation modules that start producing electricity within ten months, using the natural gas that accompanies our own oil, while protecting the environment on the coasts and tourist areas. At the same time, it allows to double the use of energy produced, save two-thirds of costs, and pay off the foreign capital invested within four years. What is more, two-thirds of the plant’s value remain in Cuban hands. Two of these facilities are already in operation and will soon enter into the second cycle. Their full production capacity will match that of the above-mentioned Juraguá nuclear reactor.
Could that reactor continue to be built?
The nickel industry
An agreement was reached on June 1973 for the construction, with the USSR and several COMECON countries, of a plant with a 30,000-ton capacity in Camarioca, located in the mining area of Moa. Construction began in the early 80s, and the plant was 60% completed when work was paralyzed, again due to the demise of the USSR and the socialist camp. Previously, on a site near the above-mentioned plant, another one with the same capacity, 30,000 tons, had been built through Soviet-Cuban cooperation between 1972 and 1986, overcoming inexperience and obstacles of all kinds. Its design capacity was reached in 1996, in the midst of the special period, when the USSR no longer existed. However, our country had managed not only to bring it to full capacity, but also to expand it and cut fuel spending in half, something essential for costs in any industry with a high-energy consumption.
When the Russian president visited us, the plant was ready to undertake a second increase in production capacity, which would take it to 50,000 tons. It would use the nickel from Camarioca. There was no longer any need to build the old, unfinished, decaying plant left halfway completed 10 years earlier.
The oil refining industry
A large refinery was built in Cienfuegos with Soviet cooperation in the 1980s, as a means of replacing the growing imports of oil by-products.
The refinery was in operation until 1992, when economic realities dictated its closure, given its low technological efficiency and the fact that the industrial refining process was not complete. Numerous efforts and studies were carried out with foreign companies to try to modernize this refinery and make it efficient, but the desired results were not achieved. It would be necessary to wait until there were sufficient quantities of domestically produced crude oil available to be able to refine at least a significant percentage of domestic crude oil mixed with crude oil imported from abroad. This would be the most efficient and profitable strategy.
We informed the Russian businessmen that we would not object their involvement in the refinery, as long as the results of studies were positive and an agreement was reached with the other foreign investors involved. In all this time there has been no concrete proposal received from any Russian companies or authorities for the completion of the refinery.
The group accompanying Putin showed particular interest in the three investment projects outlined above. This was only logical, since the Russians of the former USSR had been involved in those projects. However, in the last 10 years there had been no cooperation between Russia and Cuba whatsoever and nobody gave a thought to whether we still existed or how we still existed. For many years we had to endure our ordeal alone, bearing the heavy weight of the cross on our backs.
Under these circumstances, how could anyone be so cynical as to claim that we turned down offers from Russia in favor of million-dollar deals with Western countries?
Can they possibly be unaware of the fact that we have spent over 40 years subjected to a rigorous blockade and economic war that obstructs investment and impedes our development?
Potential new investments
On the occasion of the visit to Cuba by the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, at his request, he was informed of a series of new ideas and objectives that could be explored for the development of cooperation and trade on a mutually advantageous basis. These included:
The famous mutual debts
The Russian Federation declared itself the de facto heir of the former USSR, unilaterally breaking the ties of economic cooperation between the Russian Federation and our country.
Almost immediately, the Russian authorities brought up the need to negotiate the payment of Cuba’s debt to the USSR accumulated over 30 long years, which they estimated at 20,848 billion transferable rubles. It should be noted that the transferable ruble in fact ceased to exist with the collapse of the COMECON, and the regular Soviet currency had been devalued from one ruble to 5,998 rubles to the dollar. It is also noteworthy that they were trying to make us pay this sum when our country was left without markets, food, fuel, raw materials and other crucial resources. While oil prices remained sky-high, sugar began to fetch the miserly prices of the garbage dump at the residual world market, very different from the prices used for trading in Europe, the United States and elsewhere in the world.
Cuba’s position was that it was not simply a matter of figures several times higher than the country’s total export revenues, due to the abrupt drop in prices following the demise of the USSR and the socialist camp. It was the same as if the numerous Third World countries that receive so-called preferential prices for their agricultural products and all the farmers in the wealthy countries were to be deprived of all subsidies overnight. What also needed to be discussed was the terrible damage caused to our people by the abrupt and total cancellation of all the agreements signed between the former USSR and our country. It is not possible to inherit rights without also inheriting duties.
In November of 1992 various agreements were signed, including one for the creation of the Intergovernmental Commission and, within this, a Working Group to analyze the mutual obligations between Cuba and the Russian Federation.
This Group held work sessions in 1994 and 1995. On May 1998, at its third meeting, the Cuban side officially submitted to the Russians a summarized preliminary report on the extent of the damages suffered by the Cuban economy as a result of the collapse of the USSR.
The year 1990 was used as the basis to calculate the damages suffered between 1991 and 1995. It was made clear that this was only a first approach, which was subject to revision, clarification, and even the addition of other elements. The preliminary claim filed for damages --that did not include moral damage-- totaled 36,363 billion transferable rubles, based on the loss of purchasing capacity, the forcible closure of facilities, the cancellation of investments, and the interruption of cooperation programs.
Our heroic people were able to endure when everyone believed the Cuban Revolution could not hold out for even four weeks. Today, 10 years later, they have earned the respect and admiration of many. Never before has a human community been capable of such a feat, living in such close proximity to the mightiest superpower in history, which harasses and blockades it relentlessly.
For the fraternal and heroic people of Russia, our undying respect.
For those who hate truth and justice, our contempt.
For those anywhere in the world who dream of destroying us, our profound conviction that nothing and no one will ever be able to defeat us now.
October 27, 2001