Bernard Wiltshire
Bernard Wiltshire

The dramatic re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba represents a considerable victory of the Cuban people. It signifies the survival of the Revolution and the right of the Cuban people to determine the course of their development independently of external interference, especially from the United States and the West. Cuba is likely to emerge much stronger from these developments and to normalize its relations with all its neighbours with more room for freedom of action in framing international and domestic policy than any other country in Latin America and the Caribbean.

No one today would question the usefulness and normalcy of our relations here in Dominica with Cuba. But it wasn't always like that. The story of the transformation of the image of Cuba from communist bogey-man to acceptable friend and partner is a story by itself, but one that is worth telling at least from a Dominican perspective. One still hears the odd "communist" jibe off and on by right-wing media talking heads, but these are just outdated voices that have difficulty coping with changing reality.

It is the peculiar contribution of the "Left" that we were able to see so far ahead and opened the relationship with Cuba that has brought so much benefit to our country. It was after hurricane David in 1979 that I was able to persuade Prime Minister of the Interim Government, O.J. Seraphine, to send me to Cuba to plead for assistance with the 102 Kings, Presidents and Prime Ministers who had assembled there for the conference of Non-Aligned nations. Fidel obliged with 10 scholarships, 7 medical doctors and $US100, 000. Working closely with my long-time political comrade, Rosie Douglas, we were able to raise over $13 million and much developmental aid besides from other countries. Today there is no organized "Left" in Dominican politics. Events beginning with the Grenadian debacle in 1983, torpedoed its formation and now the "left" exists more as informed political sentiment than as an immediate political force. But from its ashes we can still rise again.

Yet what the events in Washington and Havana show us in Dominica is that the "Left" was right all along about Cuba, even if, as in so many other areas, we were ahead of our time. Things that appeared clear to us then were not at all clear to the majority of people who were then, and still are, trapped in the mental prison that a really conservative establishment enforced.

The contribution of the "Left", organized under Dominica Liberation Movement, (DLM) and its predecessor, the Movement for a New Dominica (MND), was to attempt to open the people's eyes to see that what was happening to Cuba was a replay of what had happened to Haiti more than a century earlier. To bring it nearer home, the same thing happened to the maroons at around the same time. In all these cases the strategy of the Western powers, when faced with a successful revolt against its control in the periphery nations, was to throw a "cord sanitaire" around the rebels, to demonize and isolate them so that they could not become an example to their neighbours. The ultimate aim, as was successfully deployed in Haiti, to strangle, or at least warp, their development.

Haiti was strangled, but Cuba survived, though at the cost of a prolonged and terrible ordeal.

Those who formed the "Left" of the seventies can be justly proud of their contribution in helping to normalize relations with Cuba. The willingness to embrace change and to remain firmly on the side of the downtrodden and oppressed drew great inspiration from the selfless sacrifice of men like Fidel and Ché Guevara, an inspiration and a confidence which the resumption of diplomatic relations and all that it will eventually entail, have now fully justified. History has already absolved us.

Detractors of the Cuban Revolution should realize that all revolutions in the end involve the suppression of the rights of the overthrown class or classes. Cuba was no exception, and many abuses have been reported, especially by the pro-western press. But no one can deny that the existence of the American embargo and all the bizarre attempts to kill Fidel and destroy the Revolution have delayed reforms that would have improved the lives and expanded the human rights of many Cubans, especially in the political/social field. The Cubans appear, however, to have challenged head-on the desire of the capitalist West to confine human rights solely or primarily to such political or social issues as freedom of speech etc. But for them, the ability of all to eat, to find housing, education and health care on an equal footing was more important in the early stages of the revolution than the expression of individual political rights. With normalization of relations with America, the road should be clearer for the attainment of far more individual rights than was previously possible and for Cuba to play its full role in regional and world affairs.

Bernard Wiltshire. 23rd December 2014