BY NORTON SANDLER
DES MOINES, Iowa - Armando Ami-eva completed a several day tour of Iowa here on February 6 after speaking to students and trade unionists in four Iowa cities. Amieva is the third secretary of the Cuban government's interests section in Washington, D.C., in charge of economic and scientific matters. His tour was organized by the recently formed Iowa Network on Cuba.
Amieva began his Iowa swing in Sioux City, where he spoke to 45 students at Morningside and Briar Cliff colleges. In Ames he met with activists who have been involved in leading Iowa participation in the Pastors for Peace Friendshipment caravan. That meeting was also attended by several professors and meatpackers from the Monfort plant in Des Moines.
Amieva had a busy schedule at Drake University in Des Moines. He addressed a public meeting attended by 45 people sponsored by the Philosophy and Religion Department and Drake's Center for Humanities, met with 21 students who will be traveling to Cuba later this year as part of a tour organized by Drake professor Jon Torgerson, and addressed a history class of some 35 students.
In Perry he spoke to a meeting of 15 that included meatpackers from the IBP plant in that city, from the Monfort packing plant in Des Moines, and members of the United Transportation Union who work for the Union Pacific railroad. The Perry event was co-sponsored by the local affiliate of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
Amieva also met with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register and was interviewed by local television stations in Sioux City and Des Moines and by the all-Iowa radio network.
At every stop Amieva responded to questions from the audience. At Drake he was asked by a trade unionist how growing tourism and incentives being offered to foreign businesses to invest in Cuba were going to affect working people and union members. Amieva said that whether a businessperson can own 49 or 51 percent of an enterprise was not decisive. He said changes in the laws that affect the population as a whole are discussed and debated in workplaces and assemblies across the country before they are enacted and that the rights of Cuban workers are guaranteed. Amieva noted that the Cuban government has fought since the beginning of the revolution to maintain its health care system and protect the young and the elderly.
Another man asked if Cuba was moving more toward a policy of sustainable agriculture using less fertilizers and pesticides. Amieva said because of necessity Cuban agricultural workers were trying to experiment with all kinds of farming that required less use of fertilizers and pesticides but that Cuba could not survive in the short term without the use of agricultural chemicals, and that the lack of these was one of the consequences of the U.S. economic embargo.
A young woman who had traveled to Cuba as part of the delegation that attended the "Cuba Lives" festival last August pointed out that some people in Cuba are leaving universities and other professional jobs to work in the tourist industry where they will have access to dollars. She asked how the government was dealing with this problem, which she said created "almost two economies in one."
"Yes we do have this problem, we don't pretend that we don't" Amieva replied. "This is a consequence of tourism. But this tourism is something we need to do now to bring hard currency to the country. We deal with this through education, and through trying to meet the needs of the population as a whole."
He explained that an effort is under way in Cuba to encourage people to move from the cities to the countryside to help increase agricultural production. "We don't force anyone to move, we just try to explain why this is necessary, why it is important to the survival of the revolution."
"The U.S. economic blockade of Cuba has cost our country an estimated $45 billion, $1 billion alone in 1995," Amieva stated in Perry. "Today in Congress measures are being prepared under the Helms-Burton bill that would tighten this criminal blockade against our country." He urged participants to educate themselves about this legislation and to fight against its passage.
"This policy of the U.S. government has failed," he said. "The revolution still exists, it has not been overthrown, and Cuba is better known in the world today than ever before," Amieva stressed.
Amieva described measures working people have taken to defend the socialist revolution over the last five years since the collapse of Cuba's trade with the Soviet Union and other countries in eastern Europe. "Workers in the factories and in the countryside have taken steps to stimulate production and produce more food. Today, there are more products available in the market and this has helped to boost the morale of the Cuban people," he said. "Cuba has survived because of the will and power of its 11 million people."
Among those attending the Perry meeting were meatpackers born in Mexico, Guatemala, and Sudan. "My connection with Cuba goes beyond friendship," stated John, a young meatpacker from Sudan. "My native tongue is Arabic, but I spent nine years in Cuba studying, and I never had to pay for anything. Today I can speak both English and Spanish. To me Cuba is my own country," he said.
"This was a real education, a school for me," stated Danny, a rail worker in his 40s. "Now I am going to find out how I can get more involved."
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