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+++ Cuba illustrates that societies can be centred on social justice, human dignity and international solidarity. +++ A Submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review +++

Cuba, Human Rights and Self-Determination by Isaac Saney


Cuba holds an admirable place in the international community regarding the protection and promotion of the rights of its citizens. In Cuba everyone is guaranteed an education and access to universal and free healthcare. In Cuba no one is "disappeared" or the victim of extra-judicial execution. In Cuba there are no homeless roaming the streets, no one left to fend for themself, eking out an existence in a dog-eat-dog society. Cuba is not a haven for the economic violence that reigns in so many countries. This submission will briefly summarize Cuba's domestic achievements, as well, as the island's considerable contribution to the well-being of the world's nations and peoples.

Cuba & Human Rights: The Social Sphere

Cuba admirably fulfills its responsibilities under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The annual United Nations Human Development Report (HDR) attests to the success in this regard of the Cuban Revolution. These annual reports are recognized as the most comprehensive and extensive determination of the well being of the world’s peoples.  Since its inception, the HDR has repeatedly confirmed the advances and progress of the Cuban Revolution. Cuba is firmly placed in the High Human Development category. Moreover, Cuba ranks 1st in terms of the relationship between economic means and capacity for human development. In other words, Cuba's ranking in the Human Development Report outstrips its per capita world ranking. Thus, in the effective use of resources for human benefit, Cuba out-performs the much richer countries of the so-called "developed world". In short, Cuba is a country that effectively uses its very modest resources for the benefit of its citizens.

It bears noting that for any country to try to cope with and overcome the current worldwide economic crisis in a manner that favours its people, not the global monopolies, is no small feat. This is all the more true for a country such as Cuba that is subjected to a brutal all-sided economic war from the United States. One cannot forget that Cuba's impressive achievements in human development have occurred in the face of all-sided aggression by Washington, which has never accepted the January 1, 1959 verdict of the Cuban people. Washington's objective is the negation and extinguishing of Cuba's right to self-determination and independence. The U.S. economic blockade is the principal obstacle to Cuba's social and economic development, having cost the island nation in excess of $1 trillion U.S, constituting it is a flagrant violation of the human rights of the people of Cuba.

Cuba and Human Rights: The Political System

Cuba is almost invariably portrayed as a serious violator of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; a totalitarian regime, a veritable "gulag" guided and controlled by the Castro brothers: first, Fidel and, now, Raúl. However, this position cannot be sustained once the reality of Cuba is assessed on its own merits. Extensive democratic popular participation in decision-making is at the centre of the Cuban model of governance. The official organs of government in Cuba are the municipal, provincial and national assemblies of the Poder Popular (People's Power) structures. The National Assembly is the sole body with legislative authority, with delegates – as in the provincial and municipal assemblies – directly elected by the Cuban electorate. The National Assembly chooses from amongst its members the Council of State, which is accountable to the National Assembly and carries out its duties and responsibilities, such as the passage and implementation of decrees, when the National Assembly is not in session.

Cubans are not preoccupied with a mere mechanical implementation of a rigid, unchanging model. Contrary to dominant misconceptions, the Cuban political system is not a static entity. Cubans are involved in an intense learning process whose hallmark has been experimentation and willingness to correct mistakes and missteps by periodic renovation of their democratic project. Thus, the system responds to popular demands for adjustment.

In 1992, the Constitution and electoral laws were modified to require the direct popular election of all members of the national and provincial assemblies. Previously, only the municipal assemblies were directly elected, with the make-up of the provincial assemblies determined by a vote of municipal delegates and, in turn, the National Assembly composition established by provincial representatives. Also, the creation of the popular councils was directly aimed at increasing the power of local government and reducing the impact of bureaucracy.

Second, the function of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) is significantly circumscribed, as it does not operate as an electoral party. Cuban law proscribes the PCC from playing any role in the nomination of candidates. At the municipal level, the nominations occur at street meetings, where it is the constituents who directly participate in and control the selection. Each municipality is divided into several circumscriptions, or districts, comprised of a few hundred people. Each circumscription nominates candidates and elects a delegate who serves in the local municipal assembly. There is a high degree of popular participation in the selection of candidates, marked by active and uncorked citizen interaction and involvement.

The elections at the municipal level are competitive and the casting of ballots is secret. The organization of the elections and counting of the ballots are transparent and free of fraud.  Even Hildebrando Chaviano, a government opponent who ran and lost in 2015, admitted the validity of the elections, stating,  "The vote was clean. The count was clean. The people don't want change. They still want the revolution." By law, there must be at least two candidates and a maximum of eight. In the 2015 elections, 27,379 candidates competed for 12,589 municipal assembly posts, the first rung on Cuba's political ladder.

At the provincial and national levels, candidacy commissions select and sift through thousands of people. The commissions are comprised of representatives from the various mass and grassroots organizations and are presided over by workers' representatives chosen by the unions. The PCC is prohibited from participation in the work of the commissions. Therefore, it is the norm for ordinary working people to be both nominated and elected. The commissions’ recommendations are then presented to the municipal assemblies for final approval. By law, up to 50 percent of National Assembly deputies can be municipal assembly delegates. The other members of the National Assembly are persons from every sphere of Cuban society: the arts, sports, science, religion etc.

The selection process ensures a broad representation of society. In the 2013 national election of the 612 representatives in Cuba's National Assembly of the People’s Power, a record number are 299 women (48.9%), up from 43.2, 37.09 percent are black and 82.68 are university graduates. The average age is 48.

Each member of the National Assembly, including President Raúl Castro, is directly elected and must receive more than 50 percent of the vote in her or his constituency. In Cuban municipal, provincial and national elections, the turnout is very high, usually in the ninetieth percentile. The vote, as in municipal elections, is by secret ballot. Also, although a single national delegate list is put to the electorate, not all candidates receive the same number of votes as Cubans exercise their discretion in a very serious, deliberate and definite fashion. There is no formal campaigning, which curtails the role of money in Cuban elections. Instead, a month before the election, a biography of each candidate is displayed in various public places, where they can be perused at the convenience of the entire electorate.

The objective of circumscribing formal campaigning is avoid the development of professional politicking in which money and backroom deals become the driving force of the political system. Elections in Cuba are free of the commercial advertising that dominates and has come to denote the political system in capitalist countries. Professional politicking and politicians are viewed as symbolic of the corrupt past and marginalization of the citizenry that characterized pre-revolutionary Cuba. Consequently, the sons and daughters of workers and peasants comprise virtually all the delegates of the national, provincial and municipal assemblies.

Third, an intimate relationship exists between the elected municipal delegates and the people they serve. Each delegate must live in the electoral district (usually comprising a maximum of 2,000 people). Each municipal assembly meets four times a year and elects from its membership a president, vice president and a secretary. These are the only full-time, paid positions in Cuban local government; all other members of the municipal assemblies are unpaid and continue in the jobs they had before they were elected. Delegates have a high degree of familiarity with their constituency and are constantly on call. Every six months, there is a formal accountability session at which complaints, suggestions and other community interests (planteamientos) are raised with the delegates.

The delegate must then attempt to resolve the matter or provide an explanation at the following accountability session.  Consequently, the delegate must account for her or his work carried out since the previous session. Each planteamiento is carefully recorded, and approximately 70 percent are resolved. These planteamiento sessions have resulted in local issues being taken to the national level where they are examined and discussed, thus, ensuring popular input into government policy. If constituents are dissatisfied with the performance of their representative, then she or he can be recalled or voted out in the next round of elections. From election to election there is high turnover in representatives. For example in 2013, 67% of the delegates were newly elected, entering the municipal assemblies for the first time.

Fourth, the Cuban system eschews the adversarial approach that dominates the western political processes. In the work and meetings of the municipal, provincial assemblies and the National Assembly, the goal of achieving unity and consensus is central. The unanimous votes that occur are not indicative of a rubberstamp mentality but a consensus that is arrived at through extensive and intensive discussion, dialog and debate that precedes the final vote in the National Assembly: the end-point of a long, conscientious and sometimes arduous process. The National Assembly has 10-permanent commissions that discuss and debate a wide-range of topics, including, among many others, the economy, foreign investment, industry, the environment, constitutional and legal affairs, education, culture, science and technology.

Fifth, the Cuba political system is augmented by a very active and vibrant civil society. A critical aspect of the Cuban political system is the integration of a variety of mass organizations into political activity. No new policy or legislation can be adopted or contemplated until the appropriate organization or association representing the sector of society that would be directly affected has been consulted. These organizations have very specific functions and responsibilities. In addition to the Communist Party, the Young Communist League and the Confederation of Cuban Workers, there are the Cuban Federation of Women, the Committees to Defend the Revolution, the National Association of Small Farmers and the Federation of University Students.

The mass organizations are supplemented by numerous professional and other associations that represent the specific interests of other sectors, including for example, lawyers, economists, journalists, writers and artists, the physically challenged and stamp collectors. As Ricardo Alarcon, former president of Cuba's National Assembly underscores, "these associations and organizations embrace practically the entire universe of activities, interests and problems of all Cubans." Mass organizations, unlike the Communist Party, are granted through Article 88 (c) of the Constitution the right to propose legislation in the areas that fall under their jurisdiction. Hence, these organizations have a dynamic existence, and Cuba is replete with almost daily assemblies, meetings and gatherings of various organizations to discuss and examine particular issues, in conjunction with the participation of government officials.  This daily engagement of the citizenry with government is the essence of the Cuban political process.

Additionally, when critical decisions have to be made regarding the direction of Cuban society, the country is transformed into a vast island-wide parliament. For example, in 2010-2011 a mass discussion was held on Los Lineamentos, the proposals to renew and update the Cuban economic model. From December 2010-February 2011: 163,079 meetings, involving almost 9-million people, were held to discuss the various proposals and guidelines. As a result of this mass national discussion and debate across the island and in Cuba's National, Provincial & Municipal Assemblies more than two-thirds of  the original 291 proposals were modified: eventually 311 guidelines emerged. These 311 guidelines were further debated and discussed at the 6th Congress of the PCC Congress in which 86-guidelines (28%) of the 311 were amended, with 2 new ones adopted, resulting  in 313 guidelines. However, this has not been the end of the national discussion and debate. The three documents that outline Cuba's future path – Los Lineamentos; la Conceptualización del Modelo Económico y Social Cubano de Desarrollo Socialista and Plan 2030 – are the product of this profound mass engagement with Cuban citizens. These documents were subjected to another nation-wide scrutiny and analysis by Cuban citizens in 2016.

Cuba in the World: Internationalism 

Cuba's contributions to advancing and defending human rights extend beyond the geographical boundaries of the island nation. Since its inception, the Cuban Revolution has made – and continues to make – an invaluable contribution to the global struggle for human rights, justice, social development and human dignity. Cuba has established an unparalleled legacy of internationalism and humanitarianism, embodying the immortal words of José Martí: "Homeland is Humanity. Humanity is Homeland." For example, Cuba played a crucial role in African national and anti-colonial liberation struggles (from Algeria to South Africa). In the struggle to defeat the racist apartheid regime in South Africa more than 2,000 Cubans gave their lives. This has not been – nor will ever be – forgotten by Africans. The late Nelson Mandela stated: "The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the peoples of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character.. Cubans came to our region as doctors, teachers, soldiers, agricultural experts, but never as colonizers."

Today this Cuban commitment to humanity is mirrored in the tens of thousands of medical personnel and educators who have served and continue to serve across the world, battling in the trenches against disease and illiteracy. In 2014, for example, Havana responded without hesitation to the Ebola epidemic in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia & Sierra Leone. The Cuban medical mission was the largest sent by any country, consisting of 461 Cuban doctors and nurses chosen from more than 15,000 volunteers. Africa called and Cuba answered.

Even at this difficult time, when the island-nation is dealing with the havoc wrought by Hurricane Irma's, Cuba's deep internationalist spirit has once again been profoundly demonstrated by the sending of more than 750 Cuban health workers to Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Haiti, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, and the Bahamas.

The Cuban doctors serving across the world are motivated not by financial gain but by the profound internationalist values of solidarity inculcated since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. Since 1959, more than 300,000 Cuban medical workers have served in 158 countries. Currently, 50,000 Cuban doctors and nurses are serving in 66 countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia, with more than 4,000 Cuban healthcare personnel treating people in 32 African countries. As Dr. Jorge Perez Ávila, the director of Cuba’s Pedro Kouri Institute for Tropical Medicine, noted: "Our principle has been to share what we have."


Cuba's achievements occur within a very specific political context. It is the political base of the Cuban Revolution that has been the guarantor and motive force upon which these achievements rest.

The Cuban revolution is an outgrowth of Cuba's long struggle to achieve independence and establish an autochthonous nation-building project rooted in its historical legitimacy as the vehicle for the realization of these historical aspirations. Periodically, the Cuban people reaffirm these historical aspirations, which are expressed in a political consensus to defend the revolutionary project. The Human Development Reports, for example, bear out this reality and demand reflection; they validate the revolutionary path chosen by the Cuban people.

Cuba's very existence reaffirms the inalienable right of the people of Cuba – and all other peoples – to determine their future and their political, economic and social system without external interference: a right enshrined in the United Nations Charter, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-Operation Among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

The example of Cuba assumes even greater significance as the 21st century unfolds, fraught with grave dangers that threaten the well being of the peoples of the world. In the midst of these profound challenges, Cuba refutes those who argue that relations within and among the world’s nations and peoples are — and can only be — determined by self-interest, the pursuit of power and wealth.

Cuba illustrates that societies can be centred on social justice, human dignity and international solidarity.



IOPS TIMES | "The Truth shall make Ye Free; more or less."

posted by I. Z. Nessuno-Raskolnikov

Discussion 9 Comments

  • Irie Zen 24th Nov 2018

    • Irie Zen 24th Nov 2018


      Verlasst die Maschinen,

      Heraus, ihr Proleten,

      Marschieren, marschieren,

      Zum Sturm angetreten!

      Die Fahnen entrollt,

      Die Gewehre gefällt!

      Im Sturmschritt

      Marsch marsch!

      Wir erobern die Welt!

      Wir erobern die Welt!


      Wir haben die Besten

      Zu Grabe getraten,

      Zerfetzt und zerschossen

      Und blutig geschlagen,

      Von Mörden umstellt

      Und ins Zuchthaus gesteckt,

      Uns hat nicht das Wüten

      Der Weissen geschreckt!

      Uns hat nicht das Wüten

      Der Weissen geschreckt!


      Die letzten Kämpfer,

      Heran, ihr Genossen!

      Die Faüste geballt

      Und die Reihen geschlossen.

      Marschieren, marschieren!

      Zum neuen Gefecht!

      Wir stehen als Strurmtrupp

      Für kommendes Recht!

      Wir stehen als Strurmtrupp

      Für kommendes Recht!


      In Russland, da siegten die Arbeiterwaffen!

      Sie haben's geschafft - und wir werden es schaffen!

      Herbei, ihr Soldaten der Revolution!

      Zum Sturm! Die Parole heißt: Sowjetunion!

      Zum Sturm! Die Parole: Welt-Sowjetunion!


  • Boulder Dash 1st Dec 2018

    “55: CUBA

    Sam considered it a form of blindness that some of our allegedly leftist comrades are incapable of distinguishing true revolution from the capture of state power. Especially so if those seizing state power spout the correct—that is Marxist—rhetoric. Sam considered this blindness to be the “triumph” of the Bolshevik interpretation of Marxism in the twentieth century. The brutality of the victorious “revolutionary” regime is denied or explained away as necessary to protect the supposed revolution—which is in fact a counterrevolution. The civil libertarian critics, including the anarchists, are derided as impractical—and I guess they are if your aim is to multiply state power. An unconscious lust for power or the urge to be close to power does not improve the eyesight of these alleged comrades, especially those of intellectual bent useful to the regime.

    Sam saw the pattern repeat upon the overthrow of Batista’s Cuba. The tyranny was installed. There was the cult of the God-like leader, Castro this time rather than Stalin. The anarchists and other’s concerned with liberty were knifed in the back. Sam had information from the underground in Cuba and from exiles at the SIA Hall. He had his eyes and ears and his own instincts. His “blood was up.” He was not going to sit by while the anarchists were persecuted once again. He was going to challenge the regime’s intellectual mythmakers and apologists. His challenge turned into a fifteen-year war against the pro-Castro Left. His enemies were influential. Substitute Cuba for Russia and Castro for Stalin and it was the 1930s all over again in miniature. It was a lonely time in some ways for Sam and the few comrades at his side, but it did not bother him one little bit. He relished the isolation.

    Cuban anarchism had a long and honorable tradition that existed well before Batista and Castro. The historian Frank Fernandez recounts that tradition in his excellent Cuban Anarchism, The History of a Movement. He devotes an interesting chapter to the MLCE (Cuban Libertarian Movement in Exile). Those anarchists not imprisoned, or worse, were deported. They set up shop in Miami and as their name indicates proceeded to do their best to oppose the Castro regime as they had in Cuba. However, because most people on the Left were ignorant of Cuban anarchism and Cuba in general they bought into the slander spread by Castro and his ass-kissers that the MLCE was a CIA front; it was an easy thing to believe in the wake of the Bay of Pigs debacle. Sam and Russell knew this to be a lie. No activity in Sam’s seventy-year commitment to the radical movement brought him more satisfaction than his campaign on behalf of the exiled Cuban anarchists, coupled with his exposure of Castro from the Left. Frank Fernandez writes that “without doubt, the primary source of solidarity and cooperation for the newly arrived Cubans was the New York-based anarchist Libertarian League, led by Sam Dolgoff and Russell Blackwell.… Without the collaboration of the members of the Libertarian League, the task of the Cuban anarchist exiles would have been much harder.”

    I’ve mentioned many times that for Sam history was not an academic exercise. He took what he perceived to be matters of historical betrayal and intellectual dishonesty personally. And two living, breathing individuals with whom he had worked and knew quite well in the past came to personify that betrayal and dishonesty. They were David Dellinger and, to a lesser extent, David Thoreau Wieck.

    Now, to be fair, they were men of personal courage and high reputation: longtime anarcho-pacifists and conscientious objectors who had served time in federal prison during World War II. Sam and Wieck went way back to at least 1945 when they worked together on Why? (later named Resistance). Wieck went on to earn a PhD in philosophy from Columbia University and for many years taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate NY. Dellinger’s radical pacifist resume would fill several pages. While in prison, he led a demonstration to integrate the dining hall. He drove an ambulance in the Spanish Civil War. He was for a time active in the IWW. He founded major pacifist organizations. He was a founder and editor of the important anarcho-pacifist Liberation, along with Wieck and Roy Finch of Sarah Lawrence College. He was one of the famous Chicago Seven on trial for disrupting the 1968 Democratic Party convention in opposition to the war in Vietnam. He traveled in a huge circle of important friends and contacts.

    That these were men of substance infuriated Sam the more. They should know better. They had to know better. They were either willfully blind to Castro or hypocrites, which amounted to the same thing. In 1964, Dellinger returned “from Cuba after the May Day celebrations in Havana (the trip being paid for by the Castro regime)—with, of course, the obligatory military parades, Soviet slogans, and ‘The International’ as background music,” and proceeded to write “a pro-Castro piece which was published in… Liberation.”

    Sam described the article and its aftermath in a VC piece titled “Cuba: Dellinger Returns from Animal Farm”: “The first lengthy installment of his [Dellinger’s] report reminds us of the glowing, equally ‘objective’ accounts of many international travelers of the 1930s whose chronic euphoria prevented them from seeing Stalin’s most glaring atrocities. All is well in Paradise. They saw and heard no evil. As to Cuba, Castro himself had been far more critical of the defects of his ‘revolution’ than Dellinger. Dellinger pretends to be an anarchist but he has become an apologist for the Castro dictatorship.”

    The article goes on to quote from a leaflet of the MLCE:

    An old tyranny has been replaced by a new one. Castro’s government has denied the right to strike and the right of a free press. It has made state agencies of labor unions. In place of the heralded agricultural cooperatives, the Castro-communist government has set up a [regimented] system of State working conditions dictated by State employees. The so-called voluntary militias—( have) been superseded by a policy of military conscription, the conscripts being used as forced labor. The autonomy of the University has been suppressed for the first time in Cuban history. Private capitalism and exploitation has been supplanted by state control. People are encouraged to spy on their neighbors, for the secret political police, through local “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.” …Sixty thousand [resisting] Cuban WORKERS now languish in prison. Other thousands, including Castro’s closest early collaborators have escaped into exile.… [We] are against both capitalist imperialism and communist imperialism, both of which would exploit the country as a semi-feudal sugar plantation. The Cuban workers need not choose between Castro and the CIA, both of which represent counterrevolution.

    Sam and comrades attempted to distribute that leaflet at a public meeting sponsored by Liberation where Dellinger spoke on Cuba. Dellinger, surprised, was visibly shaken by the picket line. Sam writes, “He was even more embarrassed when I, and a few other comrades, denounced him as a liar and a turncoat. I challenged him to debate the issue anywhere, anytime and at our expense. My challenge was greeted with catcalls and demands that we be forcefully removed from the meeting.”

    Paul Berman described the reaction of the audience this way: “Middle-class radicals looked at the old house painter and called him—him!—a reactionary.”

    I was not present at the event. I can well imagine that the anger some people felt toward Sam and the League was a natural reaction to having their meeting hijacked. It was a meeting they had taken the trouble to attend, that featured a man they respected, and now this man was under attack. True enough, probably, but I bet many of the throw-the-bums-out crowd were indeed intolerant snobs. I am referring to Sam’s working-class appearance and to the more substantive matter of his anti-Castro stance.

    The vast majority of the “New Left” of the time, which constituted Dellinger’s audience, enthusiastically shared his pro-Castro euphoria. They listened avidly to their “house organ,” WBAI radio. It was an extremely popular station that catered to the left and left liberals of the day, amplifying their sanctimony and hypocrisy. Am I abusive? You be the judge. WBAI invited Roy Finch, Russell Blackwell, and Sam to present their disagreements with the Castro government, uncensored (Finch had resigned from Liberation in protest of its support of Castro and other third-world regimes). Sam and Russell then made the audio tape that the radio station had requested, pulling no punches; Finch acted as moderator. But WBAI refused to air the tape on the grounds it was too controversial and would disturb their listeners.

    David Wieck did not turn the other cheek to Sam’s criticism: “My old friend Sam is now sucking the CIA tit,” he wrote to him insolently. The Cuban anarchists were “counter-revolutionists” he said, and had to flee to Florida. Sam and Castro’s critics had no right to call him a communist. Unfortunately for Wieck, as Sam writes in Fragments, “Castro himself confessed, the very next morning [after Wieck’s letter] that he was, and would remain a communist to his dying breath.”

    Back and forth the argument went. I take a more charitable view than Sam did of Dellinger and Wieck. Clearly they were mistaken. But their mistakes were motivated by enthusiasm for what they thought was a genuine revolution of the poor and downtrodden. They fell in love and love can be blind. Sam himself had often said, “Show me the man who has not made a fool of himself on occasion.”

    Sam’s book on the Cuban Revolution was published in 1976. I find the proofreading terrible, the mechanical editing poor, and the layout confusing. All this makes for a difficult read in places. In spite of these shortcomings it is a groundbreaking work, in my opinion a classic. Frank Fernandez noted in Cuban Anarchism that “It wasn’t until 1976 that the atmosphere of suspicion and distrust of the MLCE began to dissipate, with the publication of The Cuban Revolution: A Critical Perspective, by Sam Dolgoff. This book… had a demolishing impact among the left in general and anarchists in particular. It was the most cutting critique Castroism had received in these years… and was the decisive factor in the change in attitude toward the MLCE within world anarchism.”

    I can still see Sam sitting in his vakokta shorts at his self-made desk in his bedroom on East Broadway as he hunted and pecked the keys of his ancient typewriter: articles in Spanish all over the place, cut-out strips of paper all over the place, writing his heart out. (Left of the Left: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff, by Anatole Dolgoff, 2016)

  • Boulder Dash 1st Dec 2018

    Chapter 1: The Cuban Revolution: an Anarchist Perspective

    Between reactionary "pro-Batistianos" and "revolutionary Castroites," an adequate assessment of the Cuban Revolution must take into account another, largely ignored dimension, i.e., the history of Cuban Anarchism and its influence on the development of the Cuban labor and socialist movements, the position of the Cuban anarchist movement with respect to the problems of the Cuban Revolution, and libertarian alternatives to Castroism.

    Today's Cuban "socialism" differs from the humanistic and libertarian values of true socialism as does tyranny from freedom. There is not the remotest affinity between authoritarian socialism or its Castro variety and the libertarian traditions of the Cuban labor and socialist movements.

    The character of the Latin American labor movement -- like the Spanish revolutionary movement from which it derived its orientation -- was originally shaped, not by Marxism, but by the principles of anarcho-syndicalism worked out by Bakunin and the libertarian wing of the International Workingmen's Association -- the "First International" -- founded in 1864.

    The Latin American labor movement was, from its inception, greatly influenced by the ideology and revolutionary tactics of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist movement. Even before 1870, there were organized anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist groups in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Mexico, Santiago, Chile; Montevideo, Uruguay; Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

    In 1891, a congress of trade unions in Buenos Aires organized the Federacion Obrera Argentina which was in 1901 succeeded by the Federacion Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA-Regional Labor Federation of Argentina) with 40,000 members, which in 1938 reached 300,000. The anarcho-syndicalist La Protesta, one of the best anarchist periodicals in the world, founded as a daily in 1897, often forced to publish clandestinely, is still being published as a monthly.

    In Paraguay, anarcho-syndicalist groups formed in 1892 were in 1906 organized into the Federacion Obrera Regional Paraguaya. The anarcho-syndicalist unions of Chile in 1893 published the paper El Oprimido (The Oppressed). In the late 1920s the Chilean Administration of the IWW numbered 20,000 workers. Before then, many periodicals were published and the labor movement flourished. The journal Alba, organ of the Santiago Federation of Labor, was founded in 1905. The anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist groups and their publications were very popular with the workers in San Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica (where the anarchist paper Renovacion first appeared in 1911).

    To illustrate the scope of the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Latin America, attention is called to the organizations participating in the syndicalist groupings, convened by the FORA of Argentina in Buenos Aires. Besides the FORA, there were represented Paraguay, by the Centro Obrera Paraguaya; Bolivia, by the Federacion Local de La Paz and the groups La Antorcha and Luz y Libertad; Mexico, by the Pro-Accion Sindical; Brazil, by the trade unions from seven constituent provinces; Costa Rica, by the organization, Hacia la Libertad; and the Chilean administration of the IWW. These examples give only a sketchy idea of the extent of the movement. (sources: The Anarchist historian Max Nettlau's series of articles reprinted in Reconstruir, Rocker's Anarcho-Syndicalism, India edition, pgs. 183-184; no date)

    Insofar as the history of anarcho-syndicalist movements in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, and other Latin American lands are concerned, there is a voluminous literature in Spanish, and some, though by no means enough, works in English. Unfortunately there is scarcely anything, in any language, about the history of Cuban Anarcho-Syndicalism.

    The anarcho-syndicalist origins of the Cuban labor movement and its influence is substantiated by the Report on Cuba, issued by the conservative International Bank for Reconstruction and Development:

    ... in the colonial days, labor leadership in Cuba came largely from anarcho-syndicalists of the Bakunin school. A strong thread of their ideology with its emphasis on 'direct action', its contempt for legality, its denial that there can be common interests for workers and employers, persists in the Cuban labor movement in modern times ... it must be remembered that nearly all popular education of working people on how an economic system works and what might be done to improve it, came first from the anarcho-syndicalists ... (quoted in Background to Revolution: Development of Modern Cuba; New York, 1966, p. 31, 32)

    Even the communist historian Boris Nikirov concedes that

    ... the labor movement of Cuba has had a long tradition of radical orientation. Anarcho-Syndicalist influence was important from the late 1890's to the 1920's (quoted ibid. p. 135) [Anarcho-Syndicalist influence certainly spans a longer period.]

    Even less is known about the anarcho-syndicalist roots of the Puerto Rican labor movement, which as in Cuba, traces back to the latter half of the 19th century. The editor of the excellent anthology of labor struggles and socialist ideology in Puerto Rico, A.G. Quintero Rivera asks:

    ... who even in Puerto Rico knows about readers in tobacco workrooms? [as in Cuba and Florida, workers paid readers to read works of social and general interest to them while they made cigars] Who knows that Puerto Rican study groups in the first decade of this century studied the works of the [anarchists] Bakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus and the history of the First International Workingmen's Association ... that as early as 1890, Bakunin's Federalism and Socialism was published by anarchist groups in Puerto Rico and widely read by the workers? ...

    Quintero informs the reader that in 1897, the anarchist, Romero Rosa, a typographer, was one of the "principal founders of the first nationwide union in Puerto Rico -- the Federacion Regional Obrera." Together with Fernando Gomez Acosta, a carpenter, and Jose Ferrer y Ferrer, also a typographer, Romero Rosa founded the weekly Ensayo Obrera to spread anarcho-syndicalist ideas among the workers.

    Louisa Capetillo, the Emma Goldman of Puerto Rico, whom Quintero calls a "legendary figure in the history of the Puerto Rican labor movement," was a gifted speaker and organizer who addressed countless meetings all over Puerto Rico in the late 1890s and early 1900s. She championed women's rights and preached free love (further defying convention by wearing pantaloons).
    A prolific writer, Louisa Caprtillo wrote -- in Spanish -- such libertarian essays as: Humanity in the Future; My View of Freedom; Rights and Duties of Woman as Comrade, Mother and Free Human Being. She also wrote and spoke extensively on art and the theater and carried on an extensive correspondence with foreign anarchists.

    Between the years 1910 and 1920, anarchist and syndicalist periodicals were published in Puerto Rico and syndicalists carried on an intense agitation and militant action in labor struggles. (source: Lucha Obrera en Puerto Rico; 2nd edition, 1974, pgs. 1, 14, 34, 153, 156, 161.)

    The example of Puerto Rico illustrates how little is known about the anarcho-syndicalist origins of the labor and socialist movements in the Caribbean area. This work tries to trace the remarkable influence of anarchism in the development of the Cuban revolutionary movement and to present the anarchist view of the Cuban Revolution. (The Cuban revolution: A critical perspective - Sam Dolgoff, 1976)

    Chapter 3: The Character of the Cuban Revolution

    A Non-Social Revolution

    The myth, induced by the revolutionary euphoria of the pro-Castro left, that a genuine social-revolution took place in Cuba, is based on a number of major fallacies. Among them is the idea that a social revolution can take place in a small semi-developed island, a country with a population of about eight million, totally dependent for the uninterrupted flow of vital supplies upon either of the great super-powers, Russia or the U.S. They assume falsely that these voracious powers will not take advantage of Cuba's situation to promote their own selfish interests. There can be no more convincing evidence of this tragic impossibility than Castro's sycophantic attitude toward his benefactor, the Soviet Union, going so far as to applaud Russia's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, a crime certainly on a par with the military coup in Chile, which Castro rightfully condemned. To assume, furthermore, that the Cuban social revolution can be miraculously achieved without simultaneous uprisings in Latin America and elsewhere, is both naive and irresponsible.

    Nationalization Versus Socialism

    To equate nationalization of the economy and social services instituted from above by the decree "revolutionary government" or a caudillo, with true socialism is a dangerous illusion. Nationalization and similar measures, under the name of "welfareism," are common. They are widespread, and in many cases deep-going programs, instituted by democratic "welfare" states or "benevolent" dictators as an antidote to revolution, and are by no means equivalent to socialism.

    Russia and Cuba: Two Revolutions Compared

    Another fallacy about the nature of the Cuban Revolution can perhaps be best illustrated by contrasting the early stages of the Russian Revolution of 1917 with the Cuban events. Analogies between the Russian and Cuban Revolutions--like analogies in general--fail to take into account certain important differences:

    Czarism was OVERTHROWN by the spontaneous revolts of the peasant and proletarian masses only after a prolonged and bloody civil war.

    In Cuba, the Batista regime COLLAPSED WITHOUT A STRUGGLE for lack of popular support. There were no peasant revolts. No general strikes. Theodor Draper (and many other observers) argues persuasively that since there were at least "500,000 agricultural workers in Cuba" there could not have been many peasants in a

    . . . guerrilla force that never amounted to more than a thousand. . . there was nothing comparable in Cuba to the classic peasant revolution led by Zapata in Mexico in 1910. . . there was no national peasant uprising. Outside the immediate vicinity of the guerrilla forces, revolutionary activity, in the country as a whole, was largely a middle class phenomenon, with some working class support, but without working class organizations...(Castroism: Theory and Practice; New York, 1965, p. 74-75) [This takes on added significance when we consider that the unions comprised ONE MILLION out of a total population of about six million when the Revolution began, Jan. 1, 1959.]

    In Russia, the masses made the social revolution BEFORE the establishment of the Bolshevik government. Lenin climbed to power by voicing the demands of, and legalizing the social revolutionary DEEDS of the workers and peasants: "All Power to the Soviets," "The Land to the Peasants," "The Factories to the Workers," etc. In Cuba, Castro, for fear of losing popular support, carefully avoided a social-revolutionary platform--assuming that he had one. Unlike Lenin, he came to power because he promised to put into effect the bourgeois-democratic program.

    History is full of unexpected twists and turns. Ironically enough, these two different revolutions had similar results: Both Lenin and Castro betrayed their respective revolutions, instituted totalitarian regimes and ruled by decree from above.

    The well-known anarcho-syndicalist writer and activist, Augustin Souchy, makes a cogent comparison between the Spanish Revolution (1936-1939) and the Cuban Revolution (both of which he personally witnessed):
    . . . while in Spain, the confiscation of the land and the organization of the collectives was initiated and carried through, by the peasants themselves; in Cuba, social-economic transformation was initiated, not by the people, but by Castro and his comrades-in-arms. It is this distinction that accounts for the different development of the two revolutions; Spain, mass revolution from the bottom up; Cuba, revolution from the top down by decree . . . (see Cuba. An Eyewitness Report, below)

    Which brings to mind the celebrated phrase of the "Apostle" of Cuban independence Jose Marti: "To Change the Master Is Not To Be Free."

    Revolution the Latin American Way

    The Cuban Revolution draws its specific character from a variety of sources. While not a Latin American "palace revolution" which produced no deep seated social changes, it nevertheless relates to the tradition of miltarism and bogus paternalism of Latin American "Caudillismo," the "Man on Horseback." "Caudillismo"--"right" or "left," "revolutionary" or "reactionary"--is a chronic affliction in Latin America since the wars for independence initiated by Simon Bolivar in 1810. The "revolutionary caudillo" Juan Peron of Argentina, catapulted to power by "leftist" army officers, was deposed by "rightist" military officers. Maurice Halperin calls attention to the ". . . expropriation of vast properties in Peru in 1968 and in Bolivia in 1969 by the very generals who had destroyed Cuban supported guerrilla uprisings in their respective countries. . . " (The Rise and Fall of Fidel Castro; University of California, 1972, p. 118)
    The militarization of Cuban society by a revolutionary dictatorship headed by the "Caudillo" of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro follows, in general, the Latin American pattern. Like other revolutionary Latin American "Caudillos, " Castro would come to power only on the basis of programs designed to win the indispensable support of the masses. Edwin Lieuwen marshalls impressive evidence:

    . . . In Chile in 1924, Major Carlos Ibanez established a military dictatorship [that] was notably successful in combining authoritarian rule with policies aimed at meeting popular demands for greater social justice. Successful but short lived revolutions took place during 1936 under the leadership of radical young officers inspired by ideas of social reform and authoritarian nationalism. . In Bolivia a clique of radical young officers came to power. Major David Toro and Colonel German Busch successfully headed regimes that had social revolution as their goals. . . they catered to

    the downtrodden and pledged to build a new nation. Toro and Busch based their dictatorial regimes on attempts to win mass support ... (Arms and Politics in Latin America; New York, 1961, pgs. 60, 62, 78, 79)

    When in 1968, a "revolutionary" military Junta seized power in Peru, the new military government proclaimed the fundamental principle underlying all "radical" military regimes":

    . . . the final aim of the State, being the welfare of the nation; and the armed forces being the instrument which the State uses to impose its policies, therefore, . . . in order to arrive at collective prosperity, the armed forces have the mission to watch over the social welfare, the final aim of the State... (quoted, Modes of Political Change in Latin America, ed. Paul Sigmund, New York, 1970, p. 201)

    Dr. Carlos Delgado, Director of the Information Bureau of the Revolutionary Government of Peru, after stressing that the revolution was " . . . initiated from above" by decree, boasted that the dictatorship in "...the last four and a half years" accomplished more for the betterment of the people than in the "whole epoch of Republican rule." The revolution was hailed, boasted Delgado, even by the French Marxist thinker, Henri Lefebvre, as one of the most important historical events of the contemporary world..." (see Reconstruir, anarchist bi-monthly, Buenos Aires, Nov.-Dec. 1974)

    There is an umbilical connection between militarism and the State, fully compatible with, and indispensable to, all varieties of State "socialism"--or more accurately State Capitalism. George Pendle (and other observers) with respect to Peron's social and welfare programs initiated to woo mass support concludes that:

    ...Peron's National Institute of Social Security...converted Argentina to one of the most advanced countries in South America. . . it was not surprising that the majority of workers preferred Peron to their traditional leaders...they felt that Peron accomplished more for them in a few years than the Socialist Party achieved in decades...(Argentina; Oxford University Press, London, 1965, pas. 97, 99)

    . . . In Havana Premier Fidel Castro proclaimed three days of mourning and Cuban officials termed Peron's death a blow to all Latin America. . .(New York Times, July 2, 1974) This cynical proclamation was not made solely for tactical reasons, but in recognition of the affinity between the Casro and Peron regimes. As early as 1961, there were already informal contacts between Che Guevara and Angel Borlenghi "... a number two man in Peron's government and his Minister of the Interior for eight years ... Che told Borlenghi that there's no question about it that Peron was the most advanced embodiment of political and economic reform in Argentina ... and under Che's guidance a rapport was established between the Cuban Revolution and the Peronist movement ... Che has in his possession a letter from Peron expressing admiration for Castro and the Cuban Revolution and Che had raised the question of inviting Peron to settle in Havana . . . " (quoted by Halperin, from Ricardo Rojo's work, My Friend Che; ibid. p. 329-330)

    Herbert Matthews supplements Rojo's revelations:...the Argentine journalist Jorge Massetti who went into the Sierra Maestra in 1958, became friends with Guevara. He was trained for guerrilla warfare in the Sierra Maestra and in 1964 was killed in a guerrilla raid in Argentina . . . Massetti was credited with convincing Guevara that Peronism approximated his own ideas. Hilda Gadea--Guevara's first wife--wrote that for Ernesto Guevara, the fall of Peron Sept. 1955 was a heavy blow. Che and Massetti blamed it,...'on North American Imperialists'...(ibid. p. 258)

    [Carmelo Mesa-Lago notes the connection between State Socialism and militarism. Castro enthusiastically hailed] " . . . the Peruvian Social Revolution as a progressive military group playing a revolutionary role. . ." (Cuba in the 1970s: University of New Mexico Press, 1975, p. 11]) In an interview, Castro emphatically maintained that social revolution is compatible with military dictatorship, not only in Peru, but also in Portugal and Panama.

    [When the military junta in Peru] took power...the first thing they did was to implement agrarian reform which was MUCH MORE RADICAL than the agrarian reform we initiated in Cuba. It put a much lower limit on the size of properties; organized cooperatives, agricultural communities; . . . they also pushed in other fields--in the field of education, social development, industrialization. . . We must also see the example of Portugal where the military played a decisive role in political change. . .and are on their way to finding solutions. . . we have Peru and Panama--where the military are acting as catalysts in favor of the revolution. . . (Castro quoted by Frank and Kirby Jones, With Fidel; New York, 1975, p. 195-196)

    [The evidence sustains Donald Druze's conclusion that] . . . the programs of modern 'caudillos' embodies so many features of centralism and National Socialism, that it almost inevitably blends into communism...(Latin America: An interpretive History; New York, 1972, p. 570)

    Militarism flourishes in Cuba as in latin America. Castro projected militarism to a degree unequalled by his predecessor, Batista: total domination of social, economic and political life. In the Spring of 1959, a few months after the Revolution of January 1st, Castro, who appointed himself the "Lider Maximo" ("Caudillo") of the Revolution and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, promised to cut the size of the army in half and ultimately to disband and replace it by civilian militias and police. "The last thing I am," said Castro, "is a military man . . . ours is a country without generals and colonels. . . "

    Within a year after the disintegration of the Batista Army, Castro turned Cuba into a thoroughly militarized state, with the most formidable armed force of any in Latin America. For the first time in Cuban history, compulsory military service was instituted. Now, Cuba has adopted the traditional hierarchical ranking system of conventional armies. The Cuban army differs in no essential respect from the armies of both "capitalist" and "socialist" imperialist powers.

    \"Communism\" a la Castro

    Insofar as relations with the communists are concerned, Theodore Draper notes the striking resemblance between the policies of Batista and Castro:

    . . . Batista paid off the communists for their support, by among other things, permitting them to set up an official trade union federation, the Confederacion de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC) with Lazaro Pena as its Secretary-General. In 1961, Castro paid off the communists for their support, by, among other things, permitting Lazaro Pena to come back officially as Secretary General of the CTC...(ibid. p. 204)

    If we accept at face value Castro's conversion to "communism," his "communism" embodies the Latin American version of Stalinism, absolute personal dictatorship. But "Caudillos" are not primarily ideologues. They are, above all, political adventurers. In their lust for power, they are not guided by ethical considerations, as they claim. In this respect, there is no essential difference between capitalist states and "revolutionary socialist states." All dictators conceal their true visage behind the facade of a political party, paying lip service to goals supposedly popular with the masses. Castro became a "communist" because he considered that his survival in power depended on cementing cordial relations with his saviors, the "socialist" countries (former enemies) and by extension with Batista's former allies, the domestic "communists." To promote his ends, Castro established relations with Franco Spain and the Vatican. Nor did he hesitate to side with the Arab oil magnates--lords over their impoverished subjects--in the mid-east disputes, or to endorse the Russian invasion of Czecho-Slovakia.

    The Real Revolution Is Yet To Come

    Albert Camus observed:
    . . . the major event of the twentieth century has been the abandonment of the values of liberty on the part of the revolutionary movement, the weakening of Libertarian Socialism, vis-a-vis Caesarist and militaristic socialism. Since then, a great hope has disappeared from the world, to be replaced by a deep sense of emptiness in the hearts of all who yearn for freedom... (Neither victims Nor Executioners)

    Whether Castro is working out his own unique brand of "Cuban Socialism" is a relatively minor question. Even if Castro had no connection with the communist movement, his mania for personal power would lead inevitably to the establishment of an "independent" totalitarian regime. What is decisive is that the Cuban Revolution follows the pattern established in this century by the aborted Russian Revolution of 1917. This pattern is the counter-revolution of the State.”(The Cuban revolution: A critical perspective - Sam Dolgoff, 1976)

    • Irie Zen 1st Dec 2018

      The Cuban Revolution - A Critical Perspective by Sam Dolgoff (1974) as *PDF* here @ http://www.anarchyisorder.org


       ::: Anarchy is Order! ::: 


       I must Create a System or be enslav'd by another Man's. 

       I will not Reason and Compare: My Business is to Create. 


       (William Blake) 



      During the 19th century, anarchism has develloped as a result of a social current which aims for freedom and happiness. A number of factors since World War I have made this movement, and its ideas, dissapear little by little under the dust of history.

      After the classical anarchism of which the Spanish Revolution was one of the last representatives a new kind of resistance was founded in the sixties which claimed to be based (at least partly) on this anarchism.

      However this resistance is often limited to a few (and even then partly misunderstood) slogans such as Anarchy is order, Property is theft,..

      Information about anarchism is often hard to come by, monopolised and intellectual; and therefore visibly disapearing. This is an attempt to make the principles, propositions and discussions of this tradition available again for anyone it concerns.

      We believe that these texts are part of our own heritage. They don't belong to publishers, institutes or specialists. These texts thus have to be available for all people interested. That is one of the conditions to give us a new impulse, to let the new system outgrow the slogans.

      This is what makes this project relevant for us: we must find our roots to be able to renew ourselves. We have to learn from the mistakes of our socialist past. History has shown that a large number of the anarchist ideas remain standing, even during the most recent social-economic developments.

      Everyone is invited to spread along the information we give.

      (Be aware though of copyright restrictions. Our priority on the other hand remains to spread the ideas, not the ownership of them.)

      We offer these texts hoping that values like freedom, solidarity and direct action get a new meaning and will be lived again; so that the struggle continues against the

       "demons of flesh and blood, that sway scepters down here; and the dirty microbes that send us dark diseases and wish to squash us like horseflies; and the will-o'-the-wisp of the saddest ignorance." 

       (Louis Paul Boon) 


    • Irie Zen 1st Dec 2018

      Look what the (black) cat dragged in.. Your addendum to the article: Necessary and much appreciated. Yeah!

  • Boulder Dash 1st Dec 2018

    A controversy has arisen on the left in the U.S., and perhaps more
widely as well, about recent events in Cuba. The Cuban government
has enacted repressive legal measures against opponents. The U.S.
government, having provoked the situation over decades and more
immediately as well, will very likely use the events to justify
further machinations against the Cuban people. 

Some leftists say that given this manipulative and dangerous reality
one can only support the Cuban decisions or, at most, be silent
about them.  

    Other leftists have openly criticized the decisions, though this has taken
the form of two different petitions (one that I signed because I
felt it placed the criticisms of Cuba in the proper context, criticizing
also U.S. imperialism, and the other that I did not sign, feeling
that it offered inadequate context and balance). In my view of the
recent events, to have better health care, housing, and education
than any other country suffering even a fraction of the denial of
economic and political access imposed by the U.S. on Cuba does not
justify dictatorship in Cuba. For any state to execute people is
bad enough. For a state to catch, try, sentence, and execute people
in a week is beyond legal, moral, or social comprehension. To fear
external intervention by the U.S.—that has been intervening
for decades and now threatens, or appears to threaten to do much
more—is prudent. But to react to this danger by cracking down
on internal dissent and violating even minimal norms of jurisprudence
is not justified. It actually fuels the logic of intervention, providing
grist for interventionist rationales.  

Understanding the U.S. role in Cuba should be trivially easy for people of good
will. The hypocrisy and cynicism of U.S. policy is brutally evident
in the historical record. Activist opposition to any variant of
U.S. intervention in Cuba should be forefront. Thankfully, there
is little or no left controversy about this. An issue that gets
considerably less attention, however, and about which controversy
now rages, is understanding more about Cuba and about the efficacy
of leftists criticizing the Cuban government’s choices and
Cuba’s institutional structures. 

In a 1962 speech, “The Duty of the Revolutionary,” Fidel
Castro said, “The summary of the nightmare which torments America
from one end to the other is that on this continent…about four
persons per minute die of hunger, of curable illness, or premature
old age. Fifty-five hundred per day, two million per year, ten million
each five years. These deaths could easily be avoided, but nevertheless
they take place. Two-thirds of the Latin American population lives
briefly and lives under constant threat of death. A holocaust of
lives, which in 15 years has caused twice the number of deaths as
World War I. Meanwhile, from Latin America a continuous torrent
of money flows to the United States: some $4,000 a minute, $5 million
a day, $2 billion a year, $10 billion every five years. For each
thousand dollars that leaves us there remains one corpse. A thousand
dollars per corpse: That is the price of what is called imperialism.
A thousand dollars per death … four deaths every minute.” 

In the four decades since Castro’s assessment, for most of Latin
America except Cuba, the above statistics have improved little,
or even worsened. In the 1980s, for example, income in Latin America,
excluding Cuba, declined by 8 percent, according to the Inter-American
Development Bank. Castro’s injunction in the same 1962 speech
is as apropos today as it was then: “The duty of every revolutionary
is to make the revolution. It is known that the revolution will
triumph in America and throughout the world, but it is not for revolutionaries
to sit in the doorways of their houses waiting for the corpse of
imperialism to pass by. The role of Job doesn’t suit a revolutionary.
Each year that the liberation of America is speeded up will mean
the lives of millions of children saved, millions of intelligences
saved for culture, an infinite quantity of pain spared the people.”

Little has changed, as well, regarding who and what is the principle enemy
of the people of Latin America or regarding the magnitude of the
crimes that need rectification. And therefore little has changed
regarding the urgency of transcending imperial and neo-colonial

But what about “liberation?” Have the positive goals that
a revolution against capitalism, sexism, and racism should strive
for changed? What does Cuba’s experience teach us in these
respects? Despite decades of CIA-supported terror and U.S.-imposed
economic boycott, Cuba exceeds most of its Latin American neighbors
in intellectual, cultural, health, educational, and political accomplishments.
This deserves praise and support. 

At the same time, no matter how you look at it, one-person-rule through
a bureaucratic hierarchical party is dictatorship, even when, as
in Cuba, the leader is in many respects benevolent. Castro is the
hub; the Cuban Communist Party radiates the spokes. Parallel grassroots
institutions, including what is called Poder Popular, represent
a participatory political trend that has, however, failed to transcend
party manipulation. To inaugurate the 1970s, Castro proclaimed:
“The formulas of revolutionary process can never be administrative
formulas…. Sending a man down from the top to solve a problem
involving 15 or 20 thousand people is not the same thing as the
problems of these 15 or 20 thousand people—problems having
to do with their community—being solved by virtue of the decisions
of the people, of the community, who are close to the source of
the problems…. We must do away with all administrative methods
and use mass methods everywhere.”  

    Cuba had the Leninist, hierarchical Party and also the popular democratic
Poder Popular. But, Castro’s words notwithstanding, the former
 consistently dominated the latter.
    Oversimplifying a complex and
variegated political history, it follows that three main impediments 
continue to obstruct Castro’s stated hope to substitute political
participation for political administration: 

    * The Cuban Communist
Party monopolizes all legitimate means of wielding political power
and thereby ensures that there is only one Cuban political line,
that of the Party and its leadership. The first problem is political
    * The omnipresence
of Fidel Castro leaves little room for any popular vehicles to
attain true decentralized grassroots power. The second problem
is Fidelismo. 
    * The willingness
of the U.S. to manipulate political differences to destroy Third
World revolutions provokes and is used to justify regimentation.
The third problem facing Cuba is the not-so-benevolent U.S. 

    As Cuba faces the problem of succession, as the U.S. boycott and aggression
diminish the life options of Cubans, and as the corruption of the
Cuban political bureaucracy increasingly alienates the Cuban populace,
two political paths are possible. 

Cuba can return to its early aspirations and move from Leninism and dictatorship to participatory democracy premised on mass participation. 

Or, instead, Cuba can defend authoritarianism and preserve elite privileges
under the guise of defending the revolution. In the political realm,
in practice, it follows that choices moving toward greater regimentation
are choices for a repressive path and not a liberatory one. 
When the Cuban government decides to utilize the death penalty, to speed
prosecutions, and to engage in other repressive acts ostensibly
to protect its survival—but having the opposite implication,
at least regarding opinions abroad—it is bad enough. But when
the Cuban government speaks as though doing these things is some
kind of positive and worthy pursuit, it communicates that regimentation
and centralization are seen as virtues and not as deviations from
preferred aspirations. 

What about the economy? For all its worthy accomplishments, the Cuban
economy is far from liberated. Planners, state bureaucrats, local
managers, and technocrats monopolize decisions while workers carry
out orders. In the resulting economy, a ruling coordinator class
plans the efforts of workers and appropriates inflated pay, perks,
and status. Cuba’s coordinator economy has given the Cuban
people pride in national accomplishments and major material gains
in health care, housing, literacy, security, and overall standards
of living. But however admirable these achievements are when compared
to conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador, Watts, and the South Bronx,
this does not justify applying the label “liberated.”
For that, there would have to be no ruling class, and workers would
have to collectively administer their own efforts.

However, as with politics, Cuban economic history has not followed a simple
trajectory. The coordinator model has been dominant, but there has
always been an alternative spirit manifested, sometimes in hope,
sometimes in actual experiments, but regrettably never leading to
liberated economic relations. In 1962 and 1963, impressed with what
they saw when visiting the Soviet Union, and seeing no other options,
Cuba installed economic forms mimicking the traditional Soviet model.
By 1964, disenchantment set in and a great debate ensued. In a letter
written from Africa in 1965, summarizing the spirit of the recommendations
he championed in that debate, Che Guevara wrote: “The new society
in process of formation has to compete very hard with the past.
This makes itself felt not only in the individual consciousness,
weighted down by the residues of an education and an upbringing
systematically oriented toward the isolation of the individual,
but also by the very nature of this transition period, with the
persistence of commodity relations. The commodity is the economic
cell of capitalist society: as long as it exists its effects will
make themselves felt in the organization of production and therefore
in consciousness.” In the debate, Che disdained the use of
“profitability,” “material interest,” and a “commodity mentality,” arguing instead for emphasizing morality, collectivity, solidarity, and the criterion of use value
in meeting human needs. He did not, however, champion or even raise
the issue of direct control by workers over their own workplaces
or over economic decision-making in general. 

Castro adopted a similarly humane but incomplete stance saying: “We
will never create a socialist consciousness… with a ‘dollar
sign’ in the minds and hearts of our men and women… those
who wish to solve problems by appealing to personal selfishness,
by appealing to individualistic effort, forgetful of society, are
acting in a reactionary manner, conspiring, although inspired by
the best intentions in the world, against the possibilities of creating
a truly socialist spirit.” Castro acknowledged that his desires
to equalize incomes and forgo competition and individual incentives
would be incomprehensible to some. He knew that to “learned,”
“experienced” economists “this would seem to go against
the laws of economics.” “To these economists an assertion
of this type sounds like heresy, and they say that the revolution
is headed for defeat. But it so happens that in this field there
are two special branches. One is the branch of the ‘pure’
economist. But there is another science, a deeper science which
is truly revolutionary science. It is the science of … confidence
in human beings. If we agreed that people are incorrigible, that
people are incapable of learning; if we agreed that people are incapable
of developing their conscience—then we would have to say that
the ‘brainy’ economists were right, that the Revolution
would be headed for defeat and that it would be fighting the laws
of economics…”  

Over the years the economic debate in Cuba has vacillated between two
poles: competition versus solidarity, profit-maximizing versus meeting
human needs, markets versus central planning, and individual incentives
and inequality versus collective incentives and equality, with many
swings back and forth. Consider the following comments from Castro
when the left pole was in ascendancy: “A financier, a pure
economist, a metaphysician of revolutions would have said, ‘Careful,
rents shouldn’t be lowered one cent. Think of it from a financial
standpoint, from an economic standpoint, think of the pesos involved!’
Such persons have ‘dollar signs’ in their heads and they
want the people, also, to have ‘dollar signs’ in their
hearts and heads! Such people would not have made even one revolutionary
law. In the name of those principles they would have continued to
charge the farmers interest on loans; they would have charged for
medical and hospital care; they would have charged school fees;
they would have charged for the boarding schools that are completely
free, all in the name of a metaphysical approach to life. They would
never have had the people’s enthusiasm, the masses’ enthusiasm
which is the prime factor, the basic factor, for a people to advance,
for a people to build, for a people to be able to develop. And that
enthusiasm on the part of the people that support for the revolution
is something that can be measured in terms incomparably superior
to the adding and subtracting of the metaphysicians.” 

The problem has been that the left pole, which has argued for egalitarianism,
solidarity, meeting needs, and collective incentives, has also wrongly
argued for extreme central planning rather than decentralized, participatory
planning with direct workplace democracy. The difficulty here is
not only that something valuable wasn’t included on the left
side of the debate, but that the positive goals the left championed—solidarity,
equity, collectivity—were subverted by coordinator decision-making
and central planning, plus absence of free speech, etc. When the
left policy pole gained ascendancy, the continuing lack of real
institutional participation and power on the part of workers meant
that their enthusiasm and talent were not unleashed in the hoped
for manner. Thus, after a few years of left influence over economic
policy, the economy would eventually falter, and the turn back to
the right—always urged by the Soviet advisers, empowered by
virtue of Cuba’s dependence on Russian aid—would be legitimated. 

In the face of the fall of the Soviet model, Cuba has not jumped on
the free-market bandwagon preferring any alternative to resurgent
commodity economics and a sellout to the West. But, as the years
push on, what can they do instead? One depressing and the most likely
possibility is that they will stay the current course, as they have
over the past decade, defending coordinatorism while trying to rectify
its worst abuses. 

When the grassroots movement Solidarity began to succeed in Poland, it
had the option of retaining its working-class composition and its
emphasis on elevating workers to decision-making power via new economic
institutions or of jettisoning all that in favor of elevating intellectuals
and adopting markets, competition, and profit-seeking despite their
obvious inadequacies. The liberating choice lost because the young
movement put no structural, institutional supports in place. When
Jesse Jackson galvanized new energies across the United States,
he and the Rainbow Coalition had the opportunity to develop lasting
grassroots organization and democratic movement, or to subordinate
everything to narrow electoral priorities. The liberating choice
lost because the young movement put no structural, institutional
supports in place.  Later, when Ralph Nader ran a powerful
and popular presidential campaign, again there was the possibility
to solidify the gains, create perhaps a shadow government or some
massive continuing democratic and participatory institutional opposition,
but the liberating choice was again lost. 

The recent unprecedented international upsurge of anti-globalization
and anti-war activism around the world has created a potential for
establishing new levels of lasting organizational presence. We have
to see what the results will be, whether new structures will solidify
the gains or not.  

Likewise, Cuba can either persist with its siege mentality and defend not
only its virtuous accomplishments, but also bureaucracy, dictatorship,
central planning, and workplace hierarchy, or it can develop participatory
democracy and truly liberated economics consistent with revolutionary
Cuba’s past aspirations. With their Eastern bloc bridges burned,
facing continued and perhaps even escalated U.S. opposition, we
can only hope that Cuba will once again opt for “a revolution
within the revolution,” and there is no compromise in saying

Others will see the situation differently. But those who think that having
the audacity to criticize dictatorship, the death penalty, and violations
of political liberty more broadly is somehow casting aside radical
commitment and aligning with imperialism, ought to think twice. (Michael Albert, 2003)

  • Boulder Dash 1st Dec 2018

    “How Democratic was Cuban Socialism?

    Cuban officials argued that their political and economic system was extraordinarily democratic. Most Western governments believed just the opposite, claiming that Cuba suffered from an extreme lack of democracy. Scholars in both countries examined the system implemented in the 1960s and 1970s and its evolution through the 1980s and 1990s. “Before 1959 we had plenty of political parties, but no democracy,” Cubans like to explain. For those raised in the United States, the type of democracy that has developed in this country sometimes seems to be the only, the inevitable, or the ideal form of democracy. But democracy has in fact taken many different forms over space and time. It’s worth taking a moment to look a bit more deeply at what we mean by “democracy.”

    To many Americans, the idea of socialism has become almost synonymous with political repression, restrictions on freedom of speech and other political freedoms, arbitrary rule, and human rights violations. Censorship, repression, and gulags play a key role in how Americans view socialism.

    If the July 26th Movement enjoyed almost unanimous support when it took over the country in January 1959, those supporters were far from unanimous about the direction they believed the Revolution should take. Antipathy to the old order did not necessarily mean agreement about the new. The Revolutionary Tribunals that condemned hundreds of former Batista police, army and security officers to death in the months following the Revolution received far greater condemnation abroad than in Cuba. But as the July 26th Movement consolidated its hold on power, liberals lost their initial enthusiasm for the revolutionary project. As the government expropriations of property expanded, property owners, and often their workers, were alienated. Voluntary labor, and support for the Revolution, became conditions for employment. Citizens were urged to joinmass organizations like the CDRs, the FMC, and the civilian militia. Those who doubted, hesitated, or chose not to participate found themselves increasingly marginalized.

    It was not only liberals who became disenchanted, or whose ideas were squeezed to the margins of the revolutionary project. By the early 1960s the revolutionary leadership, pressed on one side by the increasing U.S. aggression, and on the other, by the need for capable and experienced cadres to develop and run its institutions, drew closer to the country’s old Communist Party (known as the PSP from 1944–62). Recent work by Lillian Guerra shows the extent to which the PSP–paradoxically, one of the most conservative forces in the revolutionary coalition worked to establish its place in key revolutionary institutions. 38

    Historic Party members tended to hold a hard line and a narrow view of what revolution could mean and could encompass. They scorned intellectual and cultural experimentation. Some of the Revolution’s most ardent supporters, like the peasants and Afro-Cubans “actively resisted the implementation of Communism as a set of economic policies and paternalistic moral mandates. They found that these clashed with their expectations for the Revolution and their identities as fidelistas .” 39

    The Revolution’s policies towards intellectual freedom were summarized by Fidel Castro in 1961 in an oft-quoted speech entitled “Words to Intellectuals.” “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing,” he said. That is, a distinction is made between intellectual work, from art to literature to academics, which opposes the Revolution, and critical or challenging work which does not oppose it –and work which opposes the Revolution is not permitted. (This is essentially the same distinction enshrined in the Cuban Constitution: “freedom of speech” may not be exercised against the Constitution, the laws of the country, or socialism.)

    This position, however, leaves much room for interpretation, and in fact the boundaries of what is considered “within the Revolution” and what is “against the Revolution” have changed considerably over time. American journalist Lee Lockwood, who spent several months traveling on the island and studying the Revolution in 1965 and 1966, was impressed that “under the loosely administered patronage of the Revolution, the arts have flourished in Cuba and remained refreshingly free of the ideological influence and restraint common to other socialist cultures.” 40 In the 1970s the limits shrank considerably, and many intellectuals and ideas that had up until then been encompassed “within the Revolution” suddenly became defined as “against the Revolution” as the government became more closely aligned with the Soviet Union. Cuban intellectuals now refer to the five-year period between 1971 and 1976 as the “gray five years” because of the intense Sovietization of cultural life. “Socialist realism” as imposed during that period, explained Cuban author Ambrosio Fornet later, required a “literature as pedagogy and hagiography, aimed at developing ‘positive heroes,’ erasing any possible conflicts in the ‘bosom of the working class’.” 41 The bounds started to ease after 1976 with the appointment of Armando Hart as Minister of Culture, and what has generally been seen as a “new openness” through the 1980s. 42 Most intellectuals felt that the Fourth Party Congress in 1991 was an important positive step in further legitimizing debate and critical thought. Indeed, for Cuban intellectuals, the collapse of the Soviet bloc, while bringing a virtual economic collapse, also heralded an era of increased intellectual openness and debate. Chapter 5 will explore in more depth the issue of intellectual and artistic freedom under the Revolution, while Chapters 7 and 8 will examine all of these different aspects of the Special Period.” (Aviva Chomsky - A History of the Cuban Revolution, published 2015)

    “Cuba after Fidel: A New Era?

    Raúl Castro took the reins in the face of a difficult economic panorama. The global recession beginning in 2008 affected remittances (though this sector recovered quickly) and tourism, and meant that prices for Cuba’s main exports, sugar and nickel, plummeted. A series of natural disasters compounded the crisis.

    Cuba was struck with five hurricanes between 2000 and 2005. Charley and Ivan, in 2004, caused $2.15 billion of damage. In 2008, Hurricanes Ike and Gustav within two weeks caused “the worst storm damage in Cuba’s history” (some $5 billion in losses); then 2012’s Hurricane Sandy devastated the island’s second largest city of Santiago. 21 Severe droughts from 2003–2004 and again from 2008–2011 further undermined hopes of economic and agricultural recovery.

    In Raúl’s first few months in office he proposed various economic and political steps that excited much commentary both at home and abroad. The Battle of Ideas was clearly over, and quietly dismantled. One set of reforms sought to stimulate agricultural production by offering incentives to small farmers, including leasing state land to private farmers, and raising state prices for agricultural goods. Development of agriculture to reduce dependence on imports, Raúl argued, was a matter of national security. 22

    Other reforms targeted social and political restrictions. Access to computers, video recorders, and cell phones was opened, and Cubans were granted entry to tourist hotels.

    Raúl called on Cubans to openly discuss the country’s political and economic problems. “Fidel cannot be replaced unless all of us replace him together,” he told Havana university students, signaling what many Cubans saw as a shift to a less personalistic and more collective style of leadership. 23 In early 2009 he overhauled the Cabinet once again, creating what journalist Marc Frank called “a seismic shift in the political landscape” and, perhaps most significantly, naming Marino Alberto Murillo Jorge as Minister of Economy and Planning. Murillo would become known as Cuba’s “economic czar” overseeing a decisive shift towards new market openings. 24

    In late 2010, Raúl announced that 500,000 state employees –almost a tenth of Cuba’s labor force –would be laid off in the coming months. Cubans were urged to take advantage of new openings for self-employment and small businesses. Although the pace of the layoffs ended up being slower than initially proposed, by early 2014 close to 600,000 state-sector jobs had been slashed. 25 Meanwhile self-employment grew, and new categories of self-employment were legalized. Some restrictions, like on the size of business establishments and the employment of workers, were eased.

    Nevertheless, as Time magazine pointed out, “taxi drivers and barbers do not an economy make.” 26 Moreover, in addition to the restrictions on the types of business people could open, would-be entrepreneurs still, like in the 1990s, faced enormous hurdles in gaining access to inputs they needed. “Self-employed workers generally obtain inputs from the black market, which in turn is largely fed by theft from the state sector,” Díaz-Briquets and Pérez-López explained. They cited an example raised by Ana Julia Jatar-Hausmann, who described how Jorge, a self-employed shoemaker, evaded directly answering the question of where he obtained his tools and equipment. “It is, in fact, a silly question,” Jatar-Hausmann explained:

    Everybody knows that there are no free markets for any of the instruments used by Jorge; nor are there supplies for most of the products the artisans make. They either take them from their workplaces (in other words, steal them) or they buy them in the black market. Where do the products in the black market come from? From other workers who do the same thing. Everyone has to steal in Cuba for survival. 27

    Other market-oriented reforms followed. A new property law in 2011 allowed Cubans to buy and sell real estate for the first time in decades. Predictably, reactions were divided. Sociologist Ted Henken celebrated the move, explaining that “With a housing market, suddenly people have some wealth and that’s a stake in the economy that generates activity.” One Havana resident noted a downside: “What happens if I sell my home and then I can’t find another one to buy? Where do I sleep?” Havana’s former director of urbanism and architecture, Mario Coyula, worried that class differences would exacerbate as money came to determine housing options. 28

    The Sixth Party Congress held in 2011 put forth a new set of guidelines, or lineamientos, for the country, emphasizing market reforms and decentralization, and making it clear that the era of one-man rule was over. On the political side, the lineamientos called for a limit of two five-year terms for Cuba’s highest political offices. This meant that Raúl Castro would have to cede power no later than 2018 –which he later confirmed was indeed his intent. Popular participation in preparing the lineamientos was Cuban-style: nation-wide mass meetings and discussions preceded the Congress, to discuss the proposals before they were finalized and approved.

    The reformist push continued as the lineamientos were implemented. In 2013, Cuba’s migration law was changed to allow citizens to travel abroad without the need to obtain an exit visa. Like most low-income Latin Americans, though, only those Cubans who had someone on the outside to pay their travel expenses could really take advantage of the opportunity. (Also like many Latin Americans, many Cubans did have relatives who could help them.)

    A new Export Processing Zone was launched at the Mariel Harbor, offering investors low taxes and duty-free imports. The government hoped that the Zone would create opportunities for employment for the many workers displaced from the state sector. The state also planned to profit directly: like other foreign enterprises, companies would pay salaries to the state in dollars, and the state would contract workers and pay their salaries in pesos, pocketing the difference. Critics argued that this “hidden tax” would keep wages uncompetitively high and discourage investors –and also that it violated International Labor Organization regulations on the protection of wages. 29

    At the beginning of 2014, automobile markets were opened. Cuba’s roads were filled with pre-1959 U.S. cars, lovingly cared for, renovated, and circulated, and imported Soviet Ladas, which were mostly destined for those in priority professions like doctors. A 2011 reform allowed individuals to buy and sell these cars, but they still needed government authorization to buy a new car. With the 2014 law, anyone could buy a new, imported car in the new, state-run markets –if they had the money. Prices were in convertible pesos (CUC), and up to four times higher than in the United States. With most Cubans earning in Cuban currency, few could afford to do more than look at the new imports.

    Another problem that the 2011 lineamientos confronted was the dual currency and the dual exchange rate. While individuals could exchange pesos for CUCs at the rate of 24-1, the rate for businesses was 1-1.

    Aside from just being complicated and confusing, the dual rates created winners and losers. In some cases, the government used the dual rate purposely to benefit certain sectors; in others, it just created arbitrary roadblocks.

    The 1-1 exchange rate worked out well for state enterprises that were importing basic goods like food and medicine, and it kept these items cheap for consumers in the peso economy. It was expensive for foreign investors who had to use their dollars at the 1-1 rate to buy local inputs or who wanted to sell to the local population. It also undermined state companies producing for export, which only received one Cuban peso for every dollar’s worth of goods exported. And it made it hard for local producers to compete with imports that were essentially subsidized. 30

    The dual exchange rate also justified the system mentioned above, in place since the 1990s, in which foreign companies paid their workers’ salaries in dollars, to the government –which then paid the workers in pesos (at the 1-1 rate.) This policy, like other aspects of the dual-currency system, created “shadow taxes and subsidies” that made it complicated and expensive to produce in Cuba. 31 In late 2013 the government announced that currency and exchange-rate unification were in the works, and in early 2014, that state enterprises were being prepared to shift to an all-peso system. Few details about how the change would be implemented had been released by late 2014.

    One sector that seemed to thrive consistently through the global recession and the reforms was remittances, mostly from the United States. In 2013 Cubans received over five billion dollars in remittances –more than was earned by the next four sources of hard currency (tourism, and nickel, pharmaceutical, and sugar exports) combined. Half of this amount was in cash, and the other half in goods. Over 60% of Cuban households received remittances, and this income sustained 90% of Cuba’s retail markets. 32

    Still, a survey in Havana in 2013 showed 48 percent of the population described their economic situation as “bad” or “very bad.” 33 Despite the reforms in the agricultural sector, the island was still importing 60% of its food in 2013, at a cost of $2 billion a year. 34

    Civil Society into the New Century:

    The state’s ambivalence towards independent organizations was epitomized by the crackdown on CEA and Magín. Nonetheless, the late 1990s saw a kind of a boom in new forms of organizations and intellectual and artistic production. Some state-sponsored entities, like research institutions, became independent NGOs. Other NGOs have independent roots, or roots in different religious entities, and operate with state approval. Then there are illegal organizations, that identify clearly with opposition to the Cuban government and have either not sought legal status, or been denied it.

    In the area of gender and sexuality, the new century saw significant advances. The National Center of Sexual Education (CENESEX), founded in the 1970s, had long been a progressive voice in the struggle to “undermine traditional prejudices and taboos about sexuality.” 35 Under the direction of Raúl Castro’s daughter and noted sexologist Mariela Castro since 2000, the Center has pioneered efforts like a “Diversity is the Norm” campaign, the right to sex-change operations under Cuba’s national health system, approved in 2008 and brought into effect in 2010, and enthusiastic participation in World Anti-Homophobia Day celebrations since 2008. As of mid-2014, however, the government had still not implemented proposals for equal marriage rights.

    Religious organizations too took advantage of the new spaces that opened at the end of the twentieth century. Cuba’s 1992 Constitution removed language defining the state as atheist, redefining the country instead as a secular state and banning discrimination against religious believers and practitioners. Along with other developments, these changes led to a kind of boom in religious practice and presence.

    The Catholic Church gained more autonomy and power as an institution during the Special Period. It was one of the few entities that had the infrastructure and the international connections to address some of the needs created by the economic crisis. In some ways, the economic crisis led to a crisis of faith too, and some turned to the Church for answers.

    In 1992, the government approved the establishment of Caritas Cuba. Caritas, an international Catholic relief organization based in Rome, is active around the world –but had previously been banned in Cuba, as the state wanted no competitors in the provision of social welfare. 36 In 1993 the U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services initiated a project to support Caritas Cuba, and by 2008 had shipped $27 million in relief supplies. 37 Pope John Paul II’s decision to visit Cuba in 1998, and his enthusiastic official welcome, revealed aspects of both a changing Church and a changing Cuba.

    Warming relations between the Church and the government continued under Raúl Castro. A second papal visit occurred in 2012, from the more pointedly anti-communist Pope Benedict XVI. While he condemned Marxist ideology and called for a “peaceful transition” in Cuba, he also criticized the U.S. embargo and emphasized that the new Cuba must be “fraternal and just” –seeming to echo the very language the Cuba’s leaders have historically used to defend socialism. 38 The new Pope Francis spoke out pointedly in late 2013 against “trickle-down theories” that advocate reliance on free markets alone to bring about social justice, implicitly supporting twenty-first century Latin American attempts to strengthen government activism and even socialism. 39

    Afro-Cuban religions experienced a different kind of political opening in the 1990s. Because they are not centrally organized and have no institutional hierarchy or data collection, it’s harder to measure increases in religious observance. But Santería, in particular, has boomed as a practice and as a tourist attraction. In the early days of the revolution, the government promoted efforts to support and validate Afro-Cuban cultural forms. By the 1990s, practitioners realized that Santería could also be a source of income. Some santeros turned commercial and sought to sell the Afro-Cuban religious experience to visitors from abroad. 40 Many Cubans resented what one scholar termed “auto-exoticism” or “ jineterismo cultural ” –prostituting one’s culture for dollars. 41

    Cuban film flourished in new ways under the economic constraints that began in the 1990s. As the government’s ability to fund the film institute frayed, both established and emerging filmmakers were forced to look for sponsors abroad. This new dependence on the market, rather than the state, brought both opportunities and challenges. Sujatha Fernandes points out, for example, that “themes of homosexuality and Afro-Cuban spirituality are seen as particularly appealing to international audiences, given the attractiveness of ‘difference’ as a marketable commodity.” 42 This meant that previously obscured themes could now be explored. Although dependence on the market could pose its own demands and limits on artistic freedom and imagination, joint productions of the 1990s and 2000s co-sponsored by foreign sources, like Guantanamera (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío, 1995) , La vida es silbar (Fernando Pérez, 1998), Lista de Espera (Juan Carlos Tabío, 2000), Suite Habana (Fernando Pérez, 2003), Habana Blues (Benito Zambrano, 2005), Memories of Overdevelopment (Miguel Coyula, 2010), and 7 Days in Havana (Benicio del Toro, et al, 2012) enjoyed critical acclaim both on and off the island. When European funding dwindled after the 2008 economic downturn, ever-enterprising Cuban filmmakers turned to crowdfunding, until companies like PayPal and Indiegogo suspended their Cuban contacts under threat from the Treasury Department for violating the embargo. 43

    Meanwhile, what Ann Marie Stock called “street filmmakers” also emerged in the Special Period. Making use of new cheaper and lighter technology like hand-held video cameras, and pursued by young aspiring filmmakers outside of ICAIC, a whole new genre of Cuban film developed. “Out of necessity, working with limited budgets and without industry infrastructure, this generation became adept at resolviendo and inventando ,” Stock explains. Most of their films are short, and many are documentaries. Children of the Special Period, the new cineastes “turn their cameras toward the margins, to recover the disenfranchised, those who have been left behind by Cuba’s hegemonic socialist project.” 44

    Films like Humberto Padrón’s Video de familia (2001) illustrate some of the artistic and political innovations of the genre. Shot independently, the film was distributed by ICAIC and won numerous awards in Cuba and internationally. The story takes the form of a video postcard, recorded by family members to the son (or brother) who moved to Miami four years earlier. As the camera records, the family conversation explodes in arguments about race, politics, emigration, family relations, everyday life, and the daughter’s unexpected revelation of the absent son’s homosexuality.

    Many of the new Cuban organizations and projects operated within the spaces for civil society delineated by legal guarantees. Some have pressed the limits and sought more fundamental changes in Cuba’s laws and social and economic systems. In 1998, the Christian Liberation Movement’s Oswaldo Payá founded the Varela Project, collecting signatures, according to Cuban law, for a referendum that proposed some fundamental changes to the Cuban political system. The Project called for Cuban’s to vote on five issues: freedom of speech and association; freedom of the press; amnesty for political prisoners; the right of Cubans to form companies; and changes to Cuba’s electoral laws. 45 The Varela Project explicitly distanced itself from other “dissident” and exile organizations, insisting that it operated within Cuban law and was committed to legal, nonviolent means of change. Payá’s death in an automobile accident in 2012 turned him into a sort of martyr to the dissident cause.

    In early 2003, increasing dissident activity –some of it linked to the U.S. Interests Section –coincided with a spate of armed attempts to hijack planes or boats to Florida. Several of these were successful, but Cuban officials intercepted an attempt to force a Havana Bay ferry to Miami, arresting the hijackers. Three hijackers were tried and sentenced to death, leading to a round of protest. Meanwhile, 75 members of dissident organizations were also arrested, and sentenced to up to 28 years in prison, in what came to be known as the “black spring.” An international outcry ensued.

    About half of those arrested were associated with the Varela Project. They were accused, and soon convicted, of accepting funds and support from James Cason of the U.S. Interests Section. Cason, the Cuban Foreign Minister explained, had turned the Interests Section into a “headquarters of subversion against Cuba” and was using his diplomatic status as a cover for working to overthrow Cuba’s government. Varela Project members were his witting, or unwitting, tools. By working as agents of a foreign state dedicated to the overthrow of Cuba’s government, and by collaborating with the implementation of the Helms–Burton Act, they were violating Cuban law. 46

    Female relatives of those arrested dubbed themselves “Ladies in White” and initiated Sunday protests modeled on those carried out by the relatives of the disappeared in Argentina and other Latin American countries in the 1970s. The met at a church in the upscale Miramar neighborhood, and marched along the elegant Fifth Avenue. Such public protests were almost unknown in post-revolutionary Cuba. For the first few years, the marchers were unmolested, but when they raised their profile in March 2010 –after one imprisoned dissident died on hunger strike –they were met by counter-demonstrations or actas de repudio by government supporters. Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega intervened, and began a process of negotiations with Raúl Castro that resulted not only in restoring freedom for the Ladies’ marches, but in a deal to release the prisoners. Most were freed and left for Spain in July, 2010. A few years later, as Spain’s economy plummeted and their refugee benefits evaporated, their status remained precarious. Some of them relocated to the United States. 47

    Revelations by Wikileaks in 2011 confirmed some of what the Cuban government had long been claiming about these and other dissidents. The Ladies had indeed solicited funds from the United States. 48 Dissident organizations, the head of the U.S. Interest Section conceded, seemed primarily interested in squabbling with each other over access to U.S. funds. “We see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organizations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans,” he wrote. “Informal polls we have carried out among visa and refugee applicants have shown virtually no awareness of dissident personalities or agendas. … They have little contact with younger Cubans and, to the extent they have a message that is getting out, it does not appeal to that segment of society” 49

    A different kind of unprecedented protest –this one virtually ignored by the United States –emerged among Cuban intellectuals when Luis Pavón Tamayo, architect of the “pavonato” that characterized the quinquenio gris of the 1970s, was honored on Cuban television in 2007. In what became known as the “email war” Cuban writers and artists protested the whitewashing of the official who instigated the worst of Cuban censorship. When the Minister of Culture agreed to meet with the protestors, they demanded –and received –an apology and retraction from the state broadcasting network that had run the show. Veteran Cuba journalist Marc Frank called it the “most significant protest [by intellectuals] under the Revolution” and concluded that the government’s response “revealed how much Cuba had changed over the decades, and the power of the Internet.” 50(Aviva Chomsky, 2015)

    “Analyzing the Changes

    Scholars and analysts offer different analyses of the shifts in Cuban economic policy in the 1990s and beyond. Carmelo Mesa-Lago describes a cycle that has characterized Cuba’s approach since the early days of the Revolution. Periods of pragmatism (1970–86, 1993–96, 2008-present), where economic policies were more market-oriented, have alternated with periods of idealism (1960–70, 1986–93, 1996–2008) where state control, moral incentives, and socialist ideals were emphasized. However, even Mesa-Lago and co-author Jorge Pérez-López suggest that Raúl Castro’s post-2008 market-oriented reforms seem to be more profound and long-lasting than earlier cycles. 66 Antoni Kapcia argues that a common ideological foundation underlay Cuba’s policies throughout, but that strategies shifted from relying on structures versus mobilizations to implement them. 67 Eckstein argues that pragmatism has governed Cuban policies all along, with idealism being mobilized to justify decisions taken for very pragmatic reasons –often because there were few other options. Corrales saw recentralization as proof that the 1990s market reforms were a false promise, and argues that Raúl’s post-2008 reforms are also too “hesitant and confusing” to be effective. 68 Julia Sweig calls the set of market openings to 2014 an “unsettled state of affairs” that “lacks complete definition or a convincing label … a public-private hybrid in which multiple forms of production, property ownership, and investment, in addition to a slimmer welfare state and greater personal freedom.” 69 For Cuban scholar Rafael Hernández and Cuban-American Jorge Domínguez, “the transformations constitute a new paradigm. It has moved from conceiving the new policies as a “necessary evil” to viewing them as a “strategic necessity.” The government is ‘letting go.’” 70

    In some ways the debate over whether Cuba’s policies are motivated by ideology or by pragmatism, and whether Raúl’s recent changes will endure or give way to further shifts, is a futile one. In every period, and in every country, a government’s goals and beliefs are realized in the real world and within limits and structures beyond its control. No governing body is without an ideology, and no governing body can impose its ideology in a vacuum. Every government has adjusted and shifted its programs as circumstances have changed.

    Some Cuban economists had been arguing since the 1990s that a wholesale de-socialization and plunge into the global market would be devastating for the country. Cuba’s advantages, and its future, should rest on its human capital. Rather than competing with other poor countries in a race to the bottom to offer low-wage workers to manufacturing companies, or cheap vacations to foreigners, Cuba should compete in the international playing field with its special strengths: its natural beauty –ecotourism; its doctors and professionals –health tourism, export of doctors, and attracting foreign students; and its skilled and educated workforce –promoting exports in biotechnology, medications, and other high-value products. 71 Both the market reformers and the recentralizers seemed to acknowledge this logic. But just because it’s logical doesn’t mean it’s easy to figure out how to achieve these goals.

    A recent round-table organized by the Cuban journal Temas addressed the question of how the past decades’ economic reforms have affected the well-being of the population. Cuban economists have long argued that poverty in Cuba must be measured differently from in other countries. Because of the strength of Cuba’s social service sector, measures of low income in Cuba do not necessarily have the same implications that similar low income levels have in other Latin American countries. 72 In 2013, though, some of these same analysts returned more soberly to the issue of salaries.

    The panelists agreed that market reforms had opened many new opportunities in the private sector. But those opportunities were not available to all. “The updating of the country’s economic and social model has not been reflected in wages,” economist Betsy Anaya explained. A salary from a state job in 2013 was only worth 50% of its 1989 value. Low wages and high prices meant that 60–75% of a family’s income was spent on basic food supplies. 73 In 2003, economist María del Carmen Zabala could argue that poverty as it was known in other countries did not exist in Cuba, because basic needs were guaranteed by the state. 74 In 2013, she was more guarded. “Even for health and education,” she noted, “families incur expenses if they want to receive better services or take full advantage of the opportunities.” Another economist, from the audience, insisted “We have to admit that today poverty exists in our country, and we have to establish policies to confront it.” 75

    Cuba’s economic model is clearly still in a period of great transitions. While government decisions and policies will play a significant role in how the economy fares, it’s also important to remember that economics is not an exact science. No economist has yet managed to provide a foolproof solution for the problems of poverty and inequality plaguing the Third World, or even the First. Still, the Cuban population’s exhaustion with the exhortations, mobilizations, and sacrifice that characterized the early decades of the revolution suggests that a resurrection of that style of governance is unlikely at this point.


    Two competing visions of Cuba seem to hold sway over the U.S. imagination. One is the Caribbean vision, of Cuba as a tourist destination, hot, colorful, beach-ringed, with plenty of music, drink, and sex. People in this Cuba are happy and carefree. The other is the Soviet vision, of Cuba as a dingy, gray, repressed police state, where citizens live in dreary fear. Both visions are figments of a foreign imagination, Cubas invented by the worldviews of foreigners. The real Cuba is, like every country, diverse and complex. Its history over the past 50 years of the Revolution is also diverse and complex, and anything but static.

    To study history is to learn how extraordinarily difficult it is, at any point in time, to predict future events. There are simply too many unknowns, too many contingencies that can undermine the most well-founded prognostications.

    There are, however, several different aspects of Cuba’s current reality that will play a role in the way events unfold in the country over the coming months and years.

    One is Cuba’s aging population. Increased access to health care, public health campaigns, and greater educational and employment opportunities for women have brought about a demographic transition that includes lower birth rates and longer life spans. Simply put, this means that there will not be enough young, working-age people to support the growing numbers of the elderly. The director of Cuba’s Population and Development Center put it bluntly: “In the past, there were many grandchildren to take care of our grandparents, and now there are more grandparents than grandchildren.” 1

    In the planet’s wealthiest countries, this transition occurred slowly over the course of many decades. Many wealthy countries are relying on immigration from poorer regions to fill the gap: in the United States, immigrants pay the taxes that sustain Social Security, harvest and process the food, and staff the nursing homes that will feed and house the country’s aging baby boomers. It remains to be seen how Cuba, and other Latin American countries, will adjust to the challenges.

    A second important factor will be the international context. Over the past decade and a half, Latin America has swung sharply to the left, and Cuba has enjoyed the benefit of strong economic and political ties there. But Latin American politics over the past century has been characterized by rapid swings between left and right, and the coming decades could bring unpredictable changes. Global economic shifts, including the potentially disastrous effects of climate change, may also significantly affect the context in which Cuba evolves. Finally, U.S. overt and covert hostilities towards Cuba may increase, or decrease, in coming years.

    Domestically, Party and government decisions will intersect and engage in complex ways with popular aspirations, which may be expressed both inside and outside the system. I hope that this book has shown that, much as Cubans may criticize their government and their economic system, most are decidedly uninterested in having the United States impose its own version of multi-party, electoral democracy and free-market capitalism in their country. While they may envy U.S. prosperity, their own historical experience and their awareness of the contemporary world (think Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Guatemala) has shown them that this kind of prosperity has rarely followed U.S. interventions abroad.

    One long-term effect of the Cuban Revolution is the extent to which Cubans hold their government and its policies responsible for their everyday experiences and well-being. The Revolution fostered the notion that all aspects of society and economy are subject to human control. Elsewhere in Latin America, or even in the United States, citizens may blame fate, supernatural forces, natural forces, their colleagues, or themselves, for the trials and obstacles they confront. Both inside and outside the country, Cubans overwhelmingly hold the government responsible. Cuba’s leaders may enjoy a concentration of power that allows certain autonomy in policy-making, but they are also subject to an unusual level of domestic and international scrutiny.

    I do not wish to sum up the Cuban revolutionary experience or cast an overarching judgment on it. The Revolution has been wildly audacious, experimental, and diverse. It has evolved under often adverse circumstances. It created unprecedented socioeconomic equality, and showed the world that it is indeed possible for a poor, Third World country to feed, educate, and provide health care for its population. It fostered astonishing artistic and intellectual creativity, while also creating stifling bureaucracies and limits on freedoms that many in the United States take for granted. It also showed just how extraordinarily difficult it is to overcome economic underdevelopment.

    The history of the Cuban Revolution is still unfolding, and the most educated predictions have proven wrong again and again. I left Cuba after my most recent visit in February, 2013, both optimistic and pessimistic, and mostly, curious, about what would happen in the coming years.

    One of the best things about studying the past, or a different country or culture, is how it can enable you to see things about your own reality in a different light. Usually we take our own historical context for granted. Until we are brought face to face with other possibilities, it’s hard for us to even imagine that they exist. If we want to imagine a better world for all of us, I can think of no better place to start than by studying the Cuban Revolution.”(Aviva Chomsky, 2015)

  • Irie Zen 1st Dec 2018


     Rǝʌoןutionary Experience  +1!

    The Rǝʌoןution will be wildly audacious, experimental, and diverse; It must evolve under often adverse circumstances; It must create unprecedented socioeconomic equality! It is possible to feed, educate, to provide housing and health care for earth's populations! We might even foster astonishing 4R71571C 4ND 1N73LL3C7U4L CR3471V17Y.

    The Rǝʌoןution is still unfolding, and the most educated predictions have proven wrong again and again and again.

    A: "One of the best things about studying the past, or a different country or culture, is how it can enable you to see things about your own reality in a different light. Usually we take our own historical context for granted. Until we are brought face to face with other possibilities, it's hard for us to even imagine that they exist. 

    A: "If we want to imagine a better world for all of us, I can think of no better place to start than by studying the Cuban Revolution."