Wednesday, April 29, 2015

China and Cuba: A brief shared history

Presentation made today at the Tenth Interethnic Interfaith Leadership Conference
Chinese leader Xi Jinping meeting Fidel Castro in Havana on July 22, 2014
 On March 2, 2015 the news broke that the government of Colombia had seized a shipment of ammunition bound for Cuba on a China-flagged ship due to a lack of proper documentation.

The BBC reported that "Officials said about 100 tons of gunpowder, almost three million detonators and some 3,000 cannon shells were found on board. The ship's records said it was carrying grain products."

The Guardian reported: "The captain of a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship has been arrested in the Colombian port city of Cartagena, charged with arms trafficking for transporting undocumented large-caliber munitions, reportedly bound for Cuba."

According to The Guardian the final destination is a front company for the Cuban military and the ammunition was supplied by a Chinese manufacturer:

Photos of the crates containing the gunpowder, published by the Cartagena newspaper El Universal, showed they were destined for a company called TecnoImport in Cuba, which according to several blogs is a procurement branch of the Cuban armed forces.
The company officially lists itself as an importer of machinery and industrial products. The supplier is listed on the crates as Norico, a Chinese manufacturer of machinery and chemical products, as well high-tech defense products.
What goes unmentioned in the reporting is that the ship with COSCO markings, although presented as a commercial entity, is apparently an arm of the Chinese military establishment. COSCO ships have also been involved in smuggling weapons into the United States.

Before Castro
The relationship between Cuba and China predates the Castro regime (1959) and the Cuban Republic (1902) beginning while Cuba was still a Spanish Colony. The first Chinese arrived in Cuba about 1847. Spain signed a trade treaty with the Qing Government in 1864 that allowed Chinese to work in all Spanish colonies, and made it legal for Cuba to hire Chinese workers. The Diplomatic Courier in 2013 reported on Chinese immigration to Cuba in the nineteenth century:
Between 1847 and 1889, more than 125,000 semi-indentured Chinese peasants, mostly from Guangdong and Fujian provinces, sailed to Cuba as coolies to work on Spanish sugar and tobacco plantations. Recruited in China by brokers for plantation owners looking for low-cost alternatives to the dwindling supply of African slaves, Chinese peasants were enticed by offers of 20-30 cents a day. Many more arrived from the United States where they had been building (and dying on) the most dangerous stretches of the transcontinental railroad.
Kathleen López, writing in Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History , described how Chinese Cubans were involved in the forging of the Cuban republic. They fought in the wars of independence and sided with and supported the independence movement against Spanish rule on the island in the Ten Years war (1868 - 1878) and the Cuban War of Independence (1895 - 1898). 

Chinese migrants, primarily male, intermarried with Cuban women of Spanish and African descent. Another wave of immigration took place following the end of nationalist rule in mainland China in 1949. Sadly, those who fled to Cuba (along with many other Chinese Cubans) would also have to flee Cuba in 1959 while others went up into the hills and fought in a guerrilla struggle against the communist dictatorship in Cuba and were killed or imprisoned for decades in Castro's prisons. Many Chinese Cubans relocated in Miami and New York City.

Castro regime
Fidel Castro broke relations with Taiwan in 1960 and recognized Communist China. It was the first country in Latin America to recognize the communist regime. However, a closer working relationship with the Soviet Union, was a contributing factor to his public reproach of the Peoples Republic of China and Mao Ze Dong on March 20, 1966:
Cuba was also capable of a dignified denunciation of the economic aggression committed against us by the government of China in an act of stupidity and political blindness, and Cuba formerly passed a judgment on Kennedy that he deserved for his crimes against our country. That means that although we are a small nation we will not be intimidated or subjugated by anybody. ... And I warn him that Mao Tse-Tung will not appreciate being listed with Kennedy and the league of Yugoslav communists.
The alliance with the Soviet Union also accounts for publicly criticizing Chinese incursions into Vietnam, another Soviet ally,  in 1979.

The Diplomatic Courier described what happened to the Chinese Cuban community in the first decade of the Castro regime:
"Conditions in Cuba, especially for those of Chinese descent, improved little under Fidel Castro. When Castro came to power, Chinese Cubans, who numbered more than 50,000, at least still had their own ethnic community with private businesses centred in Havana’s Barrio Chinoc. But in 1968 they became one of the targets of Castro’s Revolutionary Offensive, a socialist campaign launched in March to jump-start economic growth and curb individualism—the Cuban counterpart of Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution combined, and equally disastrous. Chinese Cubans saw their businesses confiscated and fell under renewed racial and political discrimination. Many finally left Cuba. By the 1990s, only some 20,000 second-generation Chinese Cubans remained, most poor and no longer identifying with their Chinese cultural roots."
CCTV in 2012 reported that there were less than 300 ethnic Chinese left in Cuba. What they leave unmentioned is that the destruction of that century old community was a result of the Castro dictatorship and its policies.

With the rise of Gorbachev and his policies of Glasnost and Perestroika relations cooled with the Soviet Union and began to warm with the Peoples Republic of China. Twenty five years ago, in June of 1989, it was the Cuban regime in Havana that expressed support for Beijing's brutal repression of protesters in Tiananmen Square with the Cuban foreign minister commending Chinese authorities for "defeating the counterrevolutionary acts."

Pin Zuo in his monograph "A survey of the relationship between Cuba and China: A Chinese Perspective" reported how "Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Cuba in November 1993. It was the first Chinese leader’s state  visit to Cuba. Fidel Castro was invited to an official visit to China in November 1995, his first visit to China." The visits have continued and ties have been strengthened since then.

Chinese and Cubans have also been systematically spying on the phone conversations of tens of millions of Americans. It began in the 1960s with the Lourdes spy base in Cuba that was first operated by the Russians and kept running with the help of the Chinese until it closed some time in the 2000s . Another important base run by a well-trained Cuban electronic intelligence battalion working together with the Chinese is the base in Bejucal.  There is also an understanding with the regime in Havana to share intelligence with the Russians.

The dictatorships in China and Cuba coordinate efforts at the United Nations Human Rights Council and the mutual admiration society that now exists between them is not good news for human rights. The only member of the United Nations Human Rights Council to recommend that China increase its repression on human rights defenders during its first universal periodic review in February of 2009 was the Cuban dictatorship. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) expressed their concerns regarding this recommendation at the time. 

The International Business Times reports that the economic relationship is of great importance to Cuba:
"China is Cuba’s second largest trading partner after Venezuela. In addition, Cuba is China’s largest partner in the Caribbean, with bilateral trade now standing at a little over $2 billion annually, according to Chinese government data."
 Providing some background the IBT continued with the following information:
"...China agreed in 2004 to give Cuba $400 million in the form of long-term loans to support development, on top of the $1.3 billion it had already invested in the island since the 1990s. China has also undertaken several large-scale projects in the country, such as developing onshore and offshore oil exploration, as well as the expansion of Cuba’s largest refinery in Cienfuegos; the development of the recently opened deep-water port in the town of Mariel; and building two hospitals."
 Returning to the start, the outlaw behavior of these two nations - smuggling tons of weapons - and trying to pass them off as a grain shipment does not bode well for the future. Furthermore the destruction of the Chinese Cuban community in Cuba by the Castro regime is another sad legacy of the communist revolution in Cuba that should be remembered.

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