Obi Egbuna Simunye
Our US correspondent Obi Egbuna Jr (OE) had a chance of interviewing the Cuban Ambassador to Zimbabwe Elio Savon Oliva (AESO), in which they discussed parallels between the US blockade on Cuba and US-EU sanctions on Zimbabwe.
OE: Your Excellency, I would like to begin this interview by having you highlight the historical relationship between Cuba and Zimbabwe.
AESO: The relationship began before Zimbabwe won their independence (in April 1980). Cuba was supportive of the entire African continent’s courageous battle against settler colonialism. The Cuban government was very inspired by the Patriotic Front between zanu and zapu, which cemented their monumental victory against the Rhodesian Prime Minister (Ian Smith) and his regime. The timing to unite their efforts was a clear illustration of Zimbabwe’s commitment to rid themselves of the shackles of British and Rhodesian colonialism. It diverted attention away from the fact that zanu had Chinese support and zapu had Russian support, and forced their comrades all over the world to do what was the most important thing in the final analysis, reiterate that we stood with the indigenous people of Zimbabwe.
When Zimbabwe won its Independence Commandante Fidel Castro visited Zimbabwe and immediately made a commitment to train Zimbabwe teachers in Cuba, I believe the current chairman of ZIMCUFA (Zimbabwe Cuban Friendship Association) Cde Fananidzo Pesanai was one of the first teachers to go to Cuba for training. We know whenever our comrades the world over think of Cuba’s solidarity work in Africa, Southern Africa in particular, they think of our military solidarity in Angola and Mozambique. We urge our comrades not to overlook the 3 000 Zimbabwean teachers that were trained in Cuba, that is not to say we Cuba is taking full credit for Zimbabwe having a 97 percent literacy rate which is Africa’s highest, but the historical record shows we made a small and humble contribution.
I always am astonished that many of Cuba’s friends believe that Madiba Nelson Mandela is the only African freedom fighter, to receive the Marti Award, Cuba’s highest political honour; it is Cuba’s responsibility to set the record straight: In 1984, that late great son of Africa Thomas Sankara the President of Burkina Faso won this award and in 1985, President Mugabe received this honour, this was important for Cuban-African relations. I say that because some misguided people in progressive and revolutionary circles would call Cuba pawns of the Soviet Union, since the Soviets supported Cde Joshua Nkomo and zapu and not President Mugabe and zanu, this showed that Cuba could make decisions independent of the Soviets.
OE: Ambassador Oliva could you provide a comparison between the US blockade on Cuba and US-EU sanctions on Zimbabwe?
AESO: The policy of the US Government and their allies in the EU is to try to sanction and punish nations who refuse to submit to coercion and intimidation, the aim is to bring about the implosion of Cuba and Zimbabwe’s economies. In the case of Cuba we have been resisting the blockade for 54 years under the guise of the Toricelli Act and the Helms-Burton Bill which was seeking to stifle Cuba politically. When sanctions were placed on Zimbabwe in 2001 in response to the land reclamation program, the objective was a regime change. The sanctions were used as a 5th column to undermine a democratically elected government. We have seen Zimbabwe forced to confront hunger and poverty due to sanctions, the goal is to create an atmosphere where the Zimbabwean people turn their anger inward, stifle economic trade with other nations. The only difference is the blockade against Cuba is more comprehensive, and Zimbabwe has some diplomatic relations with the US and Cuba does not, which makes any logically thinking person say if we normalise relations with the US but they still aim to crush our revolution what difference does it really make?
OE: Ambassador Oliva there are some of our comrades in revolutionary and progressive circles who are against the US blockade on Cuba, however, ignore US-EU sanctions on Zimbabwe. Why politically is this an error in judgment?
AESO: I think maybe one reason is the US has succeeded in the case of Zimbabwe has been because of the propaganda centred around why the sanctions were imposed in the first place, the propaganda machine has highlighted the persecution of white farmers, poverty, human rights. In the few months since I have been here, I have witnessed several visitors to Zimbabwe shocked by the peace and stability. This will help Zimbabwe in the long run. In the case of Cuba, US citizens have been told, travelling to Cuba is like the fruit in the Garden of Eden in the Bible — completely forbidden. For Zimbabwe US citizens are told it is dangerous and unpredictable. I think this is very strategic and methodical, you have 40 million people of African ancestry in the US, if they are told not to visit an African nation, they will go regardless, look how many defy the travel ban on Cuba. The sanctions against Zimbabwe are relatively new, remember you are talking to someone who was raised in a nation that has been blockaded by the same country we are discussing openly and honestly in this interview. The international community will eventually fight to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe in the same manner they have defended Cuba, we just hope it doesn’t take over 50 years. We wouldn’t wish the suffering that comes with being blockaded on anyone not only our comrades but our worst enemies.
OE: Ambassador, what has been the response of sadc to the international campaign to release the Cuban 5?
AESO: Our comrades in sadc and all over the world understand the US government had imposed silence on the Cuban 5, we in Cuba believe even when they came back to Cuba at home where they belong, this silence will continue. This was the main obstacle internationally, people who stand with Cuba were very supportive. To accuse any Cubans of terrorism is the ultimate insult. Our beautiful country is unfortunately stained by colonialism and slavery, and we are still making amends for that, when our doctors work in Africa and the Caribbean, we are fully aware the children, women and men our doctors treat were kidnapped, exploited and enslaved. We accept full responsibility for our strengths and weaknesses. It is the terrorists and apologists for the terrorists, who used the Cuban 5 as scapegoats. The rich and powerful have yet to realise the will of the Cuban 5 and their supporters was at its peak and this why they are free and back in Cuba where they belong with their families Comrades and Friends.
OE: Ambassador Oliva my last question is how is President Mugabe perceived in Cuba?
AESO: President Mugabe is perceived in Cuba the same way Commandante Fidel and more recently Commandante Raul is perceived in Zimbabwe. President Mugabe is a hero in Cuba, his place in not only African history but world history is secure. When I met him I was humbled by his humility, and his love for justice. In Cuba we respect great fighters who have both resolve and superior intellect.
When President Mugabe encountered Thatcher and Carter during the Lancaster House negotiations, both were floored by his intellect. This went beyond stereotypes or any racist disposition. His discipline and track record on the battlefield for Zimbabwe in particular and Africa as a whole is something all Africans should feel proud to embrace.
OE: Thank you, Ambassador.