Uruguayan president and former guerrilla Jose Mujica left Tuesday night for Cuba where he is scheduled to hold meetings with President Raul Castro, the revolution leader Fidel Castro and attend the celebrations of the sixtieth anniversary of the assault on the Moncada military fort.
“The trip has undoubtedly a clear political significance” said Deputy Foreign minister Luis Porto. “Bilateral issues and also of regional interest are in the agenda to be addressed”.
Diego Canepa, Deputy Executive secretary said that among other issues, Mujica wants to personally thank the Cuban government for its support with ‘Operation Miracle’ which since 2007 has completed 45.000 ocular surgeries and 30.000 of cataracts.
Cuban ophthalmologists are involved in the operation and an estimated 400 Uruguayan students have gone to medical school in Cuba.
Although there are not many details of the agenda, “the visit is decisively political given the background of Mujica as a former urban guerrilla leader of the sixties and seventies”.
The National Liberation Tupamaro movement after fighting for almost two decades against police forces, was definitively defeated by the Uruguayan military in six months in 1972, after a failed attempt to reach a political agreement with the Army ‘to defeat the Uruguayan oligarchy’.
The Army said it was prepared to consider such a proposal and once it had all the information needed and names went after the Tupamaros which were essentially a nationalistic group. Once they had most locked in the military in 1973 closed parliament and ruled for the following eleven years.
This first stage of the military coup was relatively light compared to the following when the Army went after the communists considered an international party more faithful to the Soviet Union than to the country.
The meeting with the Castro brothers will also try to revitalize relations since Cubans were furious when a few months after taking office, Mujica received in his office dissident Cubans who asked for support from Uruguay to demand respect for human rights in the island.
This also caused a rift in the ruling coalition with the Communist party particularly critical and bitter about the meeting. However Mujica said the meeting took place following a request from the opposition but nevertheless ratified his full support for the Cuban revolution and “their standing struggle against the US”
Bilateral trade is not much of an issue with Uruguay exporting 42.5 million dollars, mostly dairy produce and pharmaceuticals, and Cuba sending produce equivalent to 1.2 million dollars last year. Cuban exports were mostly human blood, tobacco, rum, beer and some basic chemicals.
The four day visit will have a highlight on Friday in Santiago de Cuba where a huge celebration will remember the attack on the Moncada Fort which marked the beginning of the Castro led Cuban revolution.
President Mujica will be travelling with the First Lady and Senator Lucia Topolansky (also a former guerrilla) and Foreign minister Luis Almagro.
The visit originally was also to include El Salvador, but had to be suspended for medical reasons. There were fears that too much stress and travelling could bring complications with varicose blood clots in one of his legs.
Mujica’s doctors denied the ‘medical reasons’, and mentioned ‘logistics problems’, but the president is 78 and in a recent tour of China and Europe had to take one day’s rest every two and finally gave up the last leg of the trip to Italy.
Next year Uruguay will be holding presidential elections and Mujica is banned from re-election but the most certain candidate for the ruling Broad Front coalition is former president Tabare Vazquez originally from the Socialist party. Vazquez is expected to complete the ticket with Lucia Topolansky since the Mujica forces remain the second strongest in the coalition. Mujica is forecasted to run for Senator.