President delivers keynote address to Society for Irish Latin American Studies

Fri 17th Feb, 2017 | 10:00
location: University of Havana, Cuba

Keynote Address at Colegio Universitario San Géronimo “Ireland and Cuba: From a past of complex struggles and solidarities to a future of shared possibilities”

University of Havana, Cuba, 17 February, 2017

Señor Rector de esta insigne casa de studios, Dr. Gustavo Cobreiro Suárez,
Dr. Eusebio Leal Spengler, Historiador de la Ciudad,
Dr. Felix Julio Alfonso López, Vicerrector del Colegio Universitario San Gerónimo,
Queridos estudiantes y profesores,
Distinguidos invitados,
Amigos y amigas,

Es para mí un honor y un placer estar aquí en Cuba, en el precioso Colegio Universitario San Gerónimo, en el sitio original de la Universidad de La Habana. Quiero agradecer al Presidente Raúl Castro, a las autoridades cubanas, y a todos ustedes, por su calurosa acogida. Permítanme comenzar expresando mis más sentidas condolencias al Presidente Castro, su familia, y al pueblo de Cuba, por el fallecimiento del Comandante Fidel Castro.  

It is an honour to be the first President of Ireland to visit Cuba. Our two peoples – el pueblo irlandés, muintir na hÉireann, in our ancient Celtic language, y el pueblo cubano, muintir Chúba – have enjoyed deep bonds of friendship and solidarity over the centuries, a friendship and a solidarity which, I hope, my visit to Cuba will contribute to rekindle and strengthen.  

Latin America at large, its social, cultural and economic development, its struggles for freedom and for human rights, and above all, the generous heart of this continent, have occupied a special place in my own heart for over fifty years. As patron of the Society for Irish Latin American Studies (SILAS), I am delighted to have this opportunity, today, of speaking at a conference that gives evidence of the deep and extensive scholarship that currently exists on the relations between Ireland, Cuba, and Latin America in general. The fruitful collaborations we have been witnessing in recent years, between researchers, between various schools of Irish studies, between archival institutions, are so welcome.

Indeed, it is so important that we recall and celebrate the manifold historical links that bind our nations together, across the Atlantic Ocean. An awareness of history, of the circumstances which led our ancestors to cross paths along the trails of Empire and transatlantic networks, is an essential compass as we apply ourselves to crafting our shared responses to contemporary challenges and creating new futures together. Such an awareness unlocks for us a rich repertoire of experiences and political meanings, of solidarities lived and imagined, that do not only illuminate our present, but also open up new horizons for cooperation between our countries, calling for new solidarities to be forged, of a global, regional and bilateral kind.

There is so much that unites Ireland and Cuba. Tenemos tanto en común. Irish and Cuban people have in common a proud sense of their national identity, a passion for freedom, as well as remarkable achievements in the boxing ring! In the past, both of our people have shared an experience of living in the shadow of a powerful neighbour. We are two island nations who have been marked by colonisation and that have had to wrestle their freedom from the grip of empires. 

This morning I want to reflect with you upon the meaning of that freedom at the turn of the 21st century, in a context of profound change, instability and uncertainty. I also want to affirm my belief in the possibilities that exist for our people to respond creatively to those changing conditions and to create new models of development.

Reflecting on the wide range of papers presented at this conference, it is obvious that Ireland and Cuba’s shared experiences unfolded through the prism of competing empires, a particular set of historical events that included repressive laws implemented against the Irish people on the grounds of religion and were used as an instrument of economic policy within the colonising project. This history of colonisation and emigration is the background to the many traces of Irish presence that can be found everywhere in Cuba today, and notably here, in Havana. It is also a history that has led Irish and Cuban people to forge many bonds of sympathy and imagination, and to exchange stories, dreams and aspirations of freedom. 

We can think, for example, of the great interest that one of the past Professors at this University of Havana, the distinguished social anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, took in the fate of James J. O'Kelly, an Irish nationalist who, in the early 1870s, reported on Cuba's War of Independence for The New York Herald. James O'Kelly's chronicles of his perilous journey to Cuba's Eastern provinces in search for the camps of the insurgents – to whom he refers by the criollo term of “Mambí” – the story of his capture, court-martial and near execution by the Spanish Cuban authorities, were followed by an international readership at the time. 

Published in 1874 as La Tierra del Mambí, James O'Kelly's account made its formal entry into the Cuban canon when it was re-published in 1930 with a lengthy biographical introduction by Fernando Ortiz, and then re-printed once again in 1968, to mark the centenary of Cuba's Ten Years’ War. It is interesting to note how, in his Prologue, Fernando Ortiz glosses over James O'Kelly's role as the New York Herald correspondent and chooses, instead, to emphasise O'Kelly's identity as an Irishman, tied to Cuba through the bonds of a sympathetic nationalism. In doing so, Ortiz situates the Cuban question within a transnational political geography and he also makes a place for Irish nationalism in the Cuban vernacular, describing the Irishman as a “mambí del separatismo antibritánico.”

Fernando Ortiz also traces precedents of Irish participation in the Cuban separatist cause, offering examples that range from the abolitionist Richard Robert Maddento the Irish members of the mid-19th century filibustering expeditions of Narciso López. 

Ortiz's Prologue is but one expression of the fascinating economy of sympathy that has linked together Irish and Cuban nationalists throughout the long struggle for freedom in their respective countries. Indeed, at the same time that Irish patriots were challenging the colonial relationship between Ireland and Britain in the early 19th century, an emerging sense of nationhood was taking shape in Spain’s American possessions, allowing for multiple transfers of identification between Irish and South American nationalists. A number of the papers presented at this conference examine this involvement of Irish people, and people of Irish descent, with a host of uprisings and nationalist movements, in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Puerto Rico, and of course Cuba.

A striking example of the mutual sympathy between Irish and Cuban people can be found in the work of the great José Martí, who devoted a significant number of his New York Chronicles, dated between July 1882 and May 1891, to a socio-anthropological study of the immigrant Irish community there. In those Chronicles, José Martí also wrote at length on prominent figures of the Irish independence movement, such as Daniel O’Connell, who successfully campaigned for the rights of Catholic people in Ireland, Michael Davitt, a prominent Republican and agrarian agitator in the 19th century, as well as Charles Stewart Parnell and Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. 

José Marti’s writings also illustrate the different definitions that were given within nationalism to issues of freedom, emancipation, relations between races, gender and classes. Such mixture of motives with nationalism is something that Irish and Cubans share in their history, and it points to contradictions that an adequate historiography cannot avoid.

Another, particularly compelling, instance of transnational identification between Irish and Cuban people, was that studied by the President of SILAS, Dr. Margaret Brehony, in the PhD thesis she presented in 2012 under the title “Irish Migration to Cuba, 1835-1845. Empire, Ethnicity, ‘Free’ Labour and Slavery”. Drawing on Spanish and Cuban archival records, Margaret Brehony related in that thesis the experience of a group of Irish labourers who were contracted in New York in 1835 and brought to Cuba to lay the tracks of what was to be the first stretch of railroad in Latin America. 

Forced into a brutal work regime under Spanish military rule in Cuba, those Irish railroad workers came to identify with the subaltern position of the bonded labourers from the Canary Islands alongside whom they were working. This led to some of the first strikes recorded on the island of Cuba and to the repudiation of the Irish workers by the authorities within months of their arrival. A few years later, some more Irish workers were imprisoned, accused of conspiring with people of colour in what is known as the Escalera slave uprising of 1844.

Dr. Margaret Brehony’s work is an important contribution to both Irish and Caribbean historiography, one that enables us to come to terms with the impact of an ideology of empire, the values that drove it, and the human price paid for the transition from tobacco to sugar in Cuba, after slavery was formally abolished in other parts of the Caribbean.  

According to Margaret Brehony, the resistance of Irish workers to coercive labour practices on the Cuban railroad, as well as their identification with the abolitionist cause in Cuba must be construed, not as sporadic phenomena, but, rather, as the manifestations of a deeper structural struggle. That struggle emerged at the intersection of the British and Iberian systems of colonial exploitation and it had its roots both in the creation of a landless proletariat in 19th century Ireland, and in the Irish migrants’ experience of organised labour in the USA. The story of Irish railway workers in Cuba also shows us that culture and the defence strategies deployed by human imagination can never be entirely quenched by colonisation.  

The memory of those events on the Cuban railroads, and of so many other past links of solidarity and friendship between the Irish and the people of Latin America, has been kept alive, not just by later generations of revolutionaries, but also in the stories of our writers and poets. Those of you who attended this conference yesterday thus heard of the Irish connection in the work of Carlos Fuentes and Jorge Luis Borges, and they also heard of the Latin American mother of Molly Bloom, who was given the beautiful name of Lunita Laredo by her literary creator, James Joyce.

It was in fact this literary thread between our two parts of the world which determined the timing of my present visit to Cuba. I was indeed delighted to accept the invitation to attend the Havana International Book Fair, which celebrates, this year, the Cuban edition of Star of the Sea by Irish author Joseph O'Connor – which was published by Letras Cubanas under the title El crimen del Estrella del Mar. I had the pleasure of taking part, yesterday, in a panel discussion on this captivating book which recalls for us the great odyssey of Irish migrants across the Atlantic Ocean.

It would, however, be a misconstruction to portray all those of Irish ascendancy who reached these shores as men and women who were driven by their forefathers’ dreams of liberty and who automatically identified with the downtrodden and powerless. While 19th century Irish immigration to the Caribbean was often mediated through the United States and comprised people of lower socio-economic status, the earlier waves of Irish migrants to this region were numerically smaller and often came through the Catholic courts of Europe and the Irish Brigades in the Spanish army. 

Thus in the Cuba of the 19th century, “ordinary” Irish workers co-existed with a population of Irish-Cuban merchants, planters, slaveholders and high-ranking military men – people who had contributed to building a plantation economy dependent on forced African labour, and who were often committed to both free trade and the formation of a separatist Creole identity. Those people played a part in “importing” Irish labour to Cuba, as part of a project of ‘whitening’ the population of an island which comprised many black slaves and their descendants. 

Amongst that older Irish-Cuban population, we find families who were firmly placed at the heart of Spanish-Cuban aristocracy, such as the O’Donnell, the O’Gaban or the O’Farrill. This latter family, the O’Farrill, made their fortune as slave and sugar traders, and their imposing palace can still be seen on Cuba street, only turned into a hotel [Hotel Palicio O’Farrill]. But the best known representative of that class of Irish colonial elite is, perhaps, Alexander (Alejandro) O’Reilly, who grew up in Ireland’s County Meath before he was sent by his father, at a very tender age, to become a cadet in the army of the King of Spain. 

Known in his time as one of the shrewdest military brains in Spain, Alejandro O’Reilly is remembered on this island as the man who established Cuba’s modern fortifications, after the Seven Years’ War against Britain. The O’Reilly street, Calle O’Reilly, which is just outside this Colegio, is marked by a plaque in three languages – Spanish, English and Irish Gaelic – with the inscription: 

“Two island peoples in the same sea of struggle and hope: Cuba and Ireland.” 

The hope which animated Alexander O'Reilly and those like him who spent their lives soldiering abroad, was that Ireland would be freed from British rule thanks to the military intervention of the Catholic powers of continental Europe. This, of course, never materialised – the people of Ireland had to take the struggle for freedom in their own hands, eventually winning the battle for independence in the early 1920s. 

¿Dónde nos deja todo esto? Where does all of this leave us? Why, you may ask, is it important to salvage the full complexity of the Irish experience on this continent? 

The first reason has to do with our understanding of the notion of freedom. Today as yesterday, there are huge variations, even contradictions, between different definitions of freedom, within different projects of nationalism. In pre-independence Cuba, for example, there were those who would have been content with Cuba joining the Union as a slave state, like Texas did, so that their system of trade would persist. In Ireland, there was a class of ‘native’ landowners, not dissimilar to the Creole elite, who were satisfied with the prospect of Home Rule, that is, limited autonomy within the Union with Britain, and for whom the notion of freedom did not entail the egalitarian social transformation upheld by what was indeed a minority within the Irish Republican and separatist movement.

What about today? ¿A qué nos referimos cuando hablamos de libertad? Is the freedom we most value that from fear and oppression – freedom from the control of human minds and bodies? Or is freedom simply to be defined by the freedom of the market, by the right to unlimited consumption on the island of Cuba as on that of Ireland? If we share in Amartya Sen’s moderate, and yet substantial, definition of freedom as the enhancement of “human capabilities,” the ability for people to lead lives that they have reason to value, then what balance should we endeavour to strike, in our societies, between the “mechanism of the free market” on the one hand and, on the other hand, regulation, planning, redistribution and public service provision by the state? 

There are, moreover, in the Americas as in Europe, those for whom freedom is primarily understood as sovereignty, or “national freedom.” Is it possible to preserve national independence and character, while at the same time establishing open relations with the rest of the world and substantial co-operative relations with other states? I personally see no contradiction between a proud national feeling and the ability to engage in regional and international co-operation. I believe too that it is necessary and possible to craft a new universalism for our times – a model of international co-operation grounded, not in the supremacy of any one model of civilisation, but in a respect for the distinctive history and aspirations of each nation, and in all that which, in those aspirations, allows for bridges and dialogues to be built with other nations. Indeed, as José Martí put it:

"Patria es humanidad, es aquella porción de la humanidad que vemos más cerca, y en que nos tocó nacer."

The other reason why it is worthwhile, I believe, to reflect back on the history of Irish presence in the Caribbean is because it illuminates a chapter in the history of global capitalism that invites us to assess critically our present condition. Irish and Cubans operated within transatlantic networks of migration and trade that included forced migrants from African and indentured labourers from the Canary Islands. The story of the Irish railway workers described by Margaret Brehony unfolded at a critical juncture in the transformation of modern capitalism, at the dawn of what is widely described as “the first globalisation”, a time of formidable commercial expansion before the cataclysm of the First World War. 

That period was marked by a boom, not just in sugar trade, but also in the rubber industry, with its associated cortege of atrocities inflicted onto the indigenous people who were forced to extract the rubber in the tropical forests of Africa and Latin America. The abominable practices then current in the Putumayo region of the Amazon were documented by another Irish revolutionary of the last century, Roger Casement, in what is widely held as an early masterpiece of humanitarian reporting. 

Bringing to light, as Roger Casement did, the assumptions, and the human consequences of the dominant ideology of the time – consequences which, in the past as today, were presented as ‘natural’ and an upshot of ‘progress’ – is essential for our democratic life.

Slave trade, that most ugly of breaches to human dignity, has been formally abolished, yet our advanced capitalist system, in its distorted, hyper-financialised, version is the source of many other injustices, unsustainable forms of trade and investment, not to mention ecological destruction. Literacy was a powerful tool for emancipation from slavery, a powerful buttress to democracy. Can we, nowadays, invent a new form of informed literacy, of an economic and fiscal kind, to avoid the drift to a rule of financialised capitalism without democracy? All of us can with much benefit, I believe, reflect on the wise words of Eduardo Galeano, when he said:

“The capitalist system, the so-called ‘market economy’, has sacrificed justice in the name of freedom, and the so-called ‘real socialism’ has sacrificed freedom in the name of justice. Beginning the new millennium, this is the challenge: we want justice and freedom, Siamese twins, living and walking together.”

As external pressure on this island is decreasing, as Cuba is enabled to reopen onto the world at this juncture of a new era, can we imagine new relations between freedom and justice? 

Can we imagine, too, new relations between Ireland and Cuba – relations that would not, this time, be mediated through the prism of Empire, but that would enable the sharing of opportunities and the enhancement and mobility of skills? Can we conceive of an alternative future for co-operation in food, science, nutrition, biotechnology, between our universities, our cities, and our ports? Can the new port of Mariel, whose draught were made deep enough to accommodate the giant ‘post-Panamax’ container ships, become a hub of equitable trade, along whose networks will travel, not men in arms and predatory dealers, but merchants and investors, as well as doctors, academics and scientists committed to work for our common welfare in a sustainable international economy that seeks to secure our planet from destructive climate change?

Such vision should not be dismissed as any mere utopia. As I have just suggested through Eduardo Galeano’s words, neither the collectivised, authoritarian state systems of the twentieth century nor the financialised version of global capitalism that has become hegemonic since the fall of the Berlin Wall are appropriate to our needs, or adequate for the civilisation of sustainable sufficiency our humanity so urgently needs. We have arrived at a critical juncture in the history of humanity. In no way is the extent of this systemic crisis most striking, perhaps, than in its environmental dimension. 

The speeches of Fidel Castro to international audiences throughout the decades were particularly unambiguous in establishing the link between the ecological crisis and the international economic system. The urgency of our position was expressed most powerfully, for example, in his speech at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, in 1992, where I heard him conclude with these words:  

“Si se quiere salvar a la humanidad de esa autodestrucción, hay que distribuir mejor las riquezas y tecnologías disponibles en el planeta. Menos lujo y menos despilfarro en unos pocos países para que haya menos pobreza y menos hambre en gran parte de la Tierra. No más transferencias al Tercer Mundo de estilos de vida y hábitos de consumo que arruinan el medio ambiente … Aplíquese un orden económico internacional justo. Utilícese toda la ciencia necesaria para un desarrollo sostenido sin contaminación. Páguese la deuda ecológica y no la deuda externa. Desaparezca el hambre y no el hombre.”

Yes, the current patterns of distorted trade, speculative investment, proliferating inequality, debilitating debt, unbridled consumption and destructive extraction of natural resources are unsustainable. We have moved to a point of crisis – political, social, cultural and ecological – that calls for the articulation of new models of co-existence, development and international co-operation. 

The two international agreements signed in 2015, on sustainable development in New York, and on climate change in Paris, are certainly milestones in that regard. Yet those agreed frameworks for international co-operation need all of our help and persistence if they are to capture public discourse and imagination, and, crucially, if they are to be effectively translated into regional and national action plans. The extreme volatility and uncertainty, not to say at times the irrationality and the cynicism, that currently characterise political life in too many countries across the world calls on those who support those seminal agreements to be vocal in ensuring that words become deeds and that aspirations become policies.
There is so much that remains to be invented: so many forms of co-operation to experiment, so many uncharted avenues to explore for a balanced co-existence between all those, human and non-human, who dwell together on this vulnerable planet. We know now that there is not just one path to social, cultural, ecological and economic harmony, no single formula for successful socio-economic development. 

It is not a challenge of imitation of a previous practice. It is a time for creating new models – a time for mustering the necessary courage to depart from old and failing models. And this is beginning to be recognised. 

In his short but compelling book entitled Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective, Professor Ha-Joon Chang, who reads in the Political Economy of Development at the University of Cambridge, draws our attention to the fact that “Now Developed Countries” (NDC) did not get where they are through the narrow set of reputedly “good policies” and “good institutions” that they now recommend to developing countries. Many of those countries, including supposed bastions of liberalism and economic laissez-faire such as the US and Britain, did in fact for many decades consolidate their own economic development by using policies and instruments of state intervention – such as infant industry protection or export subsidies – that are nowadays frowned upon by mainstream international institutions that advocate free trade.

Kicking Away the Ladder is but one study in a rich body of scholarship that convincingly challenges the wisdom of the “development recipes” that have been prescribed to developing countries. The specific value of Professor Ha Joon Chang’s work lies, in my view, in his historical approach to economics – a concrete and inductive method that contrasts strongly with some currently dominant derivatives of the neo-classical approach, based on abstract and deductive methods, and a reductive vision of human behaviour. Professor Chang’s approach also has the merit of exposing the highly ideological nature of a dominant economic discourse that often presents itself under the guise of neutrality and objectivity.

No more than there is one single path of development, recent history also teaches us that there is no singular or simple model of “transition” to a free market economy. Indeed, to posit “the free market” as the inexorable endpoint for both individual and social happiness is to fall into an interpretative linearity that is reminiscence of the worst days of modernisation theory. On this subject, and in particular on the dramatic failures of what is commonly referred to as “the Washington Consensus”, there is an abundance of fine critical scholarship. 

In one such work, Latin America: Development and Democracy Beyond the Washington Consensus, Professor Francisco Panizza traces the emergence, implementation and legacy of what was no less than a narrow and rather dogmatic model, described by its main author, British economist John Williamson, as – I quote – “the common core wisdom embraced by all serious economists of the time.” Such a remark would surely get a nomination for the Mont Pelerin Academy.

Professor Panizza starts his analysis at the time of the demise of Latin America’s dictatorial right-wing regimes, which were widely associated with a free market agenda. He goes on to show how the failure of the new democratic administrations of the 1980s to live up to the promises of a better life did, however, bring with it crisis narratives that shifted the terms of the political discourse of the day and enabled the shift from a previously dominant model of policy-making known as Import Substitution Industrialisation to a model of radical neo-liberal reform. Interestingly, Professor Panizza concludes his book by saying that the blatant failures of this neo-liberal agenda have, in turn, paved the way for new crisis narratives, based on an acknowledgment of the crucial role of the state in steering economic development and a recognition that no development policies are ever right independently of context, culture and history.

Let me offer one further observation on a scholarly matter. It is critical, I believe, that we not lose the capacity to use abstract models of capital to help us all see how capital in its different and changing forms can still lean on particular settings in different ways, in different periods. I side with Vivek Chibber’s critique when he warns of subaltern studies being in danger of serving as distraction from the necessary critique of capital. The work on capital is unfinished work, not a project to be abandoned. 

Surely the present circumstances show how a universalised capital can cast a shadow over the variety of social forms that are the substance of subaltern studies. There is, in the end, no reason to be governed by unnecessary binary choices between macro and middle range theories or simply descriptive ethnography, and I do not doubt that a fruitful dialogue can be established between the valuable perspectives of such as Dipesh Chakerabaty and Vivek Chibber, even one leading to reconciliation, at least as to fact.

Queridos Amigos,

All of us are invited to meditate on the tragic consequences of the extreme version of repressive, and even oppressive, statism which developed in the twentieth century, that age of totalitarianism. Yet we should be wary of avoiding any ideological confusion. Hay que separar el trigo de la paja, or, as we say in English, we must be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. 

The dramatic failures of the Washington Consensus on this continent, the very continent for which this programme of reforms was devised in the first place, and its equally dramatic failure in the other countries where it was applied, has demonstrated (by default) the fundamental importance of the state in providing basic services, such as education, healthcare and housing, as well as in planning, steering and delivering socio-economic development. Cuba provides an illuminating example in that regard, an example of a state which has proved its ability to consistently deliver such fundamental social goods as education and healthcare, including at times of economic hardship such as those experienced by your people during the “período especial.”

Today Cuba stands at a threshold, and it is positioned at a very interesting place. This island has already contradicted the expectations and predictions of so many foreign-based “Cubanologists”, as was shown by Emily Morris in a series of excellent papers, including one published just last month in the prestigious North-American journal, Foreign Affairs. The Cuban people should not be required to conform to a predefined model of development; they must remain free to shape their own path of development – su camino propio.

We are facing, may I say it again, a world of extreme instability. Old certainties are crumbling; previous models are shaken. For all the perils inherent to such a volatile world, we must, together, seize upon the real opportunities that exist to create new forms of cooperation, drawing on the capacity of our states to plan for the long-term, building on the best of our scholarship, but also drawing on our citizens’ sense of ethical responsibility and on their great capacity for scientific and technological innovation. There is so much that can be achieved by trusting our citizens’ creativity and encouraging the free and open exchange of ideas, so as to foster a vibrant culture of innovative, critical and independent thinking.

May Ireland and Cuba explore together many possible paths for positive social transformation; may we re-open, together, the question of the alternative development strategies that exist for small countries in a highly interdependent world and build up our citizens’ capacity to respond creatively, and with a true solidarity, to our changing conditions. That is the globalisation we need to construct. My hope is that our two countries can make a meaningful contribution to the construction of a multi-polar and peaceful world – a world in which the benefits of science and technology are used to serve humanity rather than squandered in armaments industries – and that Cuba and Ireland will make this contribution, not just as individual nations, but also through their respective structures of regional co-operation. 

Regional co-operation is, indeed, an area in which we, Irish and Cubans, citizens of Europe and citizens of Latin America, have so much to learn from one another. I am delighted that the relations between the European Union and Cuba are no longer governed by the so-called “Common Position”, and I very much welcome the signing, last December in Brussels, of the first ever bilateral agreement of political dialogue and co-operation between the EU and the Republic of Cuba – el Acuerdo de Diálogo Político y de Cooperación entre la UE y Cuba.

I also welcome, like so many heads of state across the world, the progressive warming up of relations between the United States and Cuba. As President Obama said on 22nd March 2016, during his historic visit here:

“Cuba doesn’t have to be defined by being against the United States.”

This statement finds deep resonance with us Irish, who have understood, with the passing of years, but also through our common membership of the European Union since 1973, that Ireland did not have to be defined by being against Britain.

The recent agreements signed between Cuba and the United States show that mutually beneficial cooperation is possible between former enemies. Those agreements make it easier for your two countries to work together on tracking hurricane, protecting biodiversity, sharing information on pollution and undertaking joint maritime geological exploration. Cuba and the United States now also work together on cancer research, a field in which Cuban scientists excel, and on the prevention and cure of infectious diseases, including the devastating Zika epidemic, which Cuba has been combating with outstanding effectiveness.

Finally, and most importantly, Latin America’s regional institutions bear great potential for articulating alternative development models. I am thinking of course, of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, la Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (CELAC), but also of such regional development agencies as the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC, or CEPAL in Spanish), both of which have evolved over the last few years towards a strong critique of the narrow approach to development propounded by the Washington Consensus. This move represents, for ECLAC, a welcome return to the generous spirit of its first executive director, Raúl Prebsich, who was also the founding Secretary General, in the mid-1960s, of a very important, although too often marginalised, organ of the United Nations: The Conference on Trade and Development, or UNCTAD.

In her acceptance speech of the Doctorate Honoris Causa she received from this University of Havana last year, the current Executive Secretary of ECLAC, Alicia Bárcena, described in clear and compelling terms the role of her institution in shaping distinctive development paths for its member countries. Dijo:

“La CEPAL es una voz del sur que intenta construir desde nuestra historia, desde nuestra cultura, nuestras insuficiencias y potencialidades, un pensamiento y un camino propio para la construcción de sociedades más justas”

Yes, indeed, made stronger by an awareness of both its limitations and its possibilities, wiser from its experience of both dictatorship and democracy, and rich of the caring relation to nature that her indigenous peoples carry, this Latin American space can be the cradle of a new civilisation of sufficiency – a civilisation grounded in the unique history and aspirations of its constituent peoples. Here new life might be breathed into the aesthetic, yet profoundly ethical, vision of José Martí, who reminded us that:

“la naturaleza es hermosa, que la vida es un deber, que la muerte no es fea, que nadie debe estar triste ni acobardarse mientras haya libros en las librerías, y luz en el cielo, y amigos, y madres.” 

Long live the friendship between Ireland and Cuba! Gur fada buan an cairdeas idir mhuintir na hÉireann agus muintir Chúba! Viva la amistad entre el pueblo irlandés y el pueblo cubano!