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 improve 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
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 in 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 judgment, 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 10 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
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 to
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
Expansion of the East Havana Thermal Power
Oil exploration in the Cuban economic zone in
the Gulf of Mexico.
Resumption of the interrupted project of a lead
and zinc mine in Castellanos, using new
Studying the possibility of expanding the
Hermanos Díaz Refinery in Santiago de Cuba
for the export of oil by-products to foreign
Reconstruction and modernization of railway
transportation for the sugar industry.
Supplying fertilizer and herbicides for the sugar
A comprehensive program for the repair and
recovery of Russian diesel engines and hydraulic
transmissions used in the sugar industry.
Hotel construction and the promotion of
Russian tourism to Cuba.
Development of airlines to link the CIS nations
with Cuba, to increase the flow of tourists and
complete the single air traffic coordination
Reconstruction and modernization of railway
transportation and the development of new
forms of urban transport for the city of Havana.
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 on the residual world market, very different from the prices
used for trading in Europe, the United States and elsewhere in the
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
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
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.
Published in Granma daily, October 27, 2001