China and Cuba: A brief shared history

John Suarez in Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

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.

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1 thought on “China and Cuba: A brief shared history”

  1. And for this–to wind up with a malignant, putrefying, zombie-like, grotesque fossil STILL trotted out as the greatest Cuban alive–for THIS abomination Cubans gave up their country, culture and future. Lord, forgive us, and take pity on our shame and our disgrace, which are far greater than most Cubans admit or even feel, but that does not alter their degradation. Surely such a people are unworthy and can demand nothing from You; they can only appeal to Your mercy, kindness and generosity, and hope You will relent from righteous anger and disgust and deign to heal them and raise them up. Amen.

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