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Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo and Minister of Development, Ana Pastor, greeting Raúl Castro. (EFE / Estudios Revolución)Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo and Minister of Development, Ana Pastor, greeting Raúl Castro. (EFE / Estudios Revolución)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 May 2016 — Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, recently made his second visit to Cuba. Unlike his first, in November 2014–when the general-president did not deign to meet with him—this time his “highest excellency” Spanish Foreign Minister was emphatically welcomed by the upper echelons of power.

This new attitude between both sides is not so strange, since García-Margallo was in a “democratic” mode in 2014, triggering the olive-green gerontocracy’s suspicion and displeasure. Now, the Chancellor has come solely in a business mode, with the mission to strengthen and expand as much as possible Spain’s investments in Cuba before the resources of the powerful northern neighbor intrude (for a second time) in the territory of the former Spanish colony, once again depriving Spain of its devalued Crown jewel.

This time, the Castro’s media monopoly reported cryptically, in a brief note, the exchange with “the distinguished visitor,” who was accompanied by senior officials in the fields of Development and Cooperation of the Spanish Government and by the Ambassador of that country in Cuba, citing “positive relations between the two nations” and “the recent signing of agreements in Madrid regularizing Cuban’s intermediate and long term debt,” which “creates favorable conditions” for strengthening of relations between the two countries.

There is no doubt that the current scenario proved advantageous for the Spanish Chancellor when talking business with the satrapy

On Cuba’s side, the meeting was attended by the Foreign Minister, a Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, the Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, and the Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister. It was obviously a business visit that was took place in greatest secrecy.

So, as usual, details of interest did not reach the public about bilateral economic issues, debt terms and repayment of potential Spanish investments, although it is known that Spain is one of Cuba’s main trading partners and has maintained a strong business presence for more than two decades in Cuba, especially in the tourist and hotel field. Therefore, these should be topics of importance for the population, in the midst of the deep Cuban crisis.

In another sense, but equally secret, there were the activities carried out by the same Spanish Foreign Minister during his previous visit. Less than two years ago, the now “most excellent” visitor raised great distress at the Palace of the Revolution when he delivered the keynote On Living through the Transition: a Biographical View of Change in Spain–also behind closed doors and in the presence of a handpicked audience—in such a government space as the Higher Institute of International Relations. The piece established a comparison between the Spanish reality at the end of the Franco era, the beginning of the process of democratic transition, and the Cuban reality today, under the late Castro regime.

In retrospect, it is fair to concede that—although García-Margallo’s speech in November 2014 in Havana did not reach the national media—none of the governments and representatives of democratic nations who had visited us until then had so boldly expressed criticism towards Cuban official policy nor had they spoken about the importance of freedoms of speech, press, assembly and association.

However, on his first visit, the Spanish Foreign Minister did not enjoy the same privileges as US President Barack Obama, whose speech–directed to all Cubans and not to a select group of Castro’s faithful—was broadcast in real time through Cuban media, and it made a deep impression in the minds of ordinary people. Of course, the US president is not one to be provoked.

It is as if favoring the protection of the interests of Spanish business in Cuba must necessarily involve forgetting the exclusion Cubans live under, so exploited by those same entrepreneurs

That explains why Cubans did not learn about the audacity of García-Margallo, the first representative of a democratic government who mentioned, before an official venue’s microphone, ideas as subversive as the importance of political party pluralism as a pillar of democracy and national harmony, efficiency of peaceful political transitions in order to achieve true lasting changes, and the regaining of freedoms violated by long lasting autocratic regimes.

On that occasion, García-Margallo referred to the need for monetary unification and acceleration of changes in Cuba, decentralization of decision-making, ratification of the United Nations covenants on civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, and freedom of association, among other topics that are also taboo for the Cuban government.

In short, we would need to point that, when comparing the Spanish foreign minister’s approach on his first visit to Cuba with his second, there is no doubt that there was a setback in terms of defense of human rights and democracy for Cubans, as if favoring the protection of the interests of Spanish business in Cuba must necessarily involve forgetting the exclusion Cubans live under, so exploited by those same entrepreneurs. All this goes against the grain of the hypocrisy of officials of that country, who, when it is convenient for them, make reference to “the close historical, cultural and blood ties that bind our two nations.”

Now it turns out that García-Margallo has even chosen to be the interpreter of the wishes of the Cuban people, so his purely business mission in Cuba is not only justified by the large presence of Spanish capital in the former “always faithful island of Cuba” but because “the Cuban people now primarily want progress and economic development, and we will help in that change.” Unfortunately, we do not know how he will manage to do that. For now, freedom and the ratification of the covenants, blah, blah, blah … is still pending. Ah, Spanish politicians, always so fickle!

If Cuban rulers of the past 57 years are so very “Spanish,” it is not surprising that things in Cuba are so very topsy-turvy

However, the current considerate stance of the Spanish authorities towards Castro once again addresses the question of “roots,” no matter the tree. According to media allegations, Mr. Garcia-Margallo recently stated “in Cuba, apart from human relationships, Fidel’s and Raul’s father was a soldier who fought on the side of our troops during the [War of] Independence, and he later changed sides,” so the dictator brothers “are very, very Spanish.”

Well, finally! That explains everything: if Cuban rulers of the past 57 years are so very “Spanish” it is not surprising that things in Cuba are so very topsy-turvy, and even less strange that now—in the midst of the transition from Castro-communism to Castro-capitalism—the step-motherland’s claim for a certain droit de seigneur is being encouraged from La Moncloa*, especially when history, always so whimsical, seems to be closing another cycle that–bridging the gaps—mimics that episode over a hundred years ago when Spain and the US were quarreling over the spoils of the Island-in-ruins.

*Official Madrid residence of the Spanish Prime Minister

Translated by Norma Whiting


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