Cuba: A Case Study
Historical Origins of the Cuban Socialist Project
The model proposed for the revolution of mid-century has its roots most fundamentally in the "revolutionary laws" promulgated by Fidel Castro in his defense at his hearing for the failed uprising he led in 1953. The date of this failed rebellion, July 26, later served as the name for his rebel group, the M-26-7. These laws were in no way explicitly geared at achieving socialism, but instead at correcting the injustices in Cuban history and expressed Castro's hope that his government could reestablish the rule of law so corrupted by the Batista regime. These laws also promised to redistribute plots to Cuban peasants who worked the land owned by latifundistas, or other proprietors like absentee landlords, through due compensation to the owners to grant higher percentages of earnings to industrial and mine workers, and to restitute "all holdings and ill-gotten gains of those who had committed frauds [sic] during previous regimes."3 Notably, the revolutionary group looked to restore the highly progressive Constitution of 1940 as the law of the land.4 This manifesto became the first publication of the social program promised by Castro's revolutionary group. It reflected the desires of the Cuban population and would eventually be institutionalized as the state carried out its socialist liberation project under the rubric of Marxist-Leninist policy.
Castro's defense, published as "History Will Absolve Me," is perhaps the most crucial piece of evidence that can be used to support the argument that the Cuban Revolution, while socialist, was above all a nationalist movement bent on achieving the social justice and economic independence promised by the long deferred dream of Cuba Libre. Thus, the Revolution was not immediately caused by the Cold War, although its existence in this context did much to push it further to the left. The radical shift was mainly because conflicts with the US obliged Cuba to seek sympathetic allies and trade partners elsewhere. It was instead a popular movement supported by the Cuban people as an option to deal with the myriad problems on the island that needed to be addressed by a socialist system.
The Road to Socialist Development
While plenty of theory and promises existed in the minds of the revolutionary government, few tangible plans were actually previously formulated. Alan Luxenberg notes that the ambiguity of Castro's early socialist commitment is compounded by this fact. He suggests that in order to achieve his nationalist ends Fidel turned to the party infrastructure and program of the Communist Party of Cuba, which at the same time were well suited to his socially oriented goals.6 Regardless of early ideology, quick progress was made to crystallize the promises of the rebel movement and the government immediately implemented policy that drastically improved the lives of millions of people. Louis A. Pérez Jr. explains what was done within the first months since the culmination of the Revolution on January first:
Later in the year it became obvious to the revolutionary government that much more needed to be done. The fledgling administration realized that social justice was unattainable without radically altering the patterns of non-agricultural ownership in Cuba, and thus pressing the necessary, but expectedly unpopular among American and other property owners, action of reclaiming Cuban national territory and services from the hands of foreign owners, so as to keep them responsive, accountable, and beneficial to the Cuban people. The unlikely president of the Banco Nacíonal de Cuba, Che Guevara, later remarked:
After a somewhat peaceful year, the Cuban government worked to implement a greater plan to expand the role of the state in the economy through nationalization of its industry and the diversification of products and trade partners. Among the top priorities, perhaps in foresight to US reaction to later policy choices, was to seek out other trade partners and to cut dependence on the economy of its northern neighbor. This impelled Cuba to reestablish relations with the Soviet Union in April of 1960, non-existent since 1952, and to secure trade relations which included aid, technical assistance, oil supplies, and a guaranteed sugar purchase quota. This made the United States uncomfortable, as it realized that its threats of import reduction would become less powerful, but little publicly visible retaliatory action was taken. Instead, President Dwight Eisenhower initiated a program through the CIA to arm and train Cuban exiles the same month in preparation for a military solution.9
Tensions escalated further as the Cuban government made a request to American oil companies located on the island to refine the subsidized crude obtained from the Soviet Union, a demand which they, under "advice" from Washington, declined. Cuba then reacted by carrying out its first non-agricultural requisitions of foreign held property on the island. The United States responded by setting its import quota of Cuban sugar to zero, a move to which Castro's government replied in turn by nationalizing two more utilities, thirty-six sugar mills, and petroleum assets.10 This speed-chess game concluded with the United States' decision to implement a ban on all exports to Cuba, barring medicines and certain foodstuffs, on October 13, 1960.
Selecting Socialism: Its Successes and Failures
The nature of the project began to crystallize early and continued on a radical course until the 1970s when world market conditions turned against Cuba, at which point it had to "retreat" to more pragmatic development projects. Up until that point the nature of the model had been that,
In the realm of health care improvements, early in 1959 the Cubans created a model that would later be dubbed the "preeminent model in the Third World." The revised Constitution of 1976 institutionalized this commitment to the health of islanders by affirming that, "Everybody has the right to health protection and care - by providing free medical and hospital care by means of the installations of the rural medical service network, polyclinics, hospitals and preventive and specialized treatment centers."12
Schwab chronicles the impressive extent and quality of the Cuban health establishment as of the end of 1998:
These achievements are made all the more impressive when noting that Cuba can boast of having had more doctors serving abroad than the World Health Organization during the much of the 1980s.14 Up until the economic crisis precipitated by the collapse of the socialist bloc, Susan Eckstein notes, "more than 30,000 doctors, dentists, nurses, and paramedics had served on international missions in more than twenty countries." In sum, they are believed to have treated about sixty million people [almost six times the population of Cuba itself].15 On one continent alone, Fidel Castro claimed in a speech to the South African parliament last September, "a total of 80,524 Cuban civilians, among them 24,714 doctors, dentists, nurses, and health technicians, together with tens of thousands of teachers, engineers, and other professionals and skilled workers, have co-operated by rendering international services of different ends in Africa."16
Policies for the advancement of women have also been a trademark of the socialist government. The institutions created and results attained have been impressive:
This dedication to the upliftment of women has continued throughout the forty years of the revolution. As such, it disproves the assertions of Julie Marie Brunck, who has stated that Castro's progressive policies were motivated and continued primarily in order to replace the skilled labor force which had left the country during the early years of the Revolution. It also conflicts with her contention that misogyny is still institutionally existent.18
The guarantee of education is also enshrined in the 1976 Constitution. Article 38 outlines that education is a function of the state, is to be provided free of charge, and is to be accessible to male and females equally. Infants are enrolled in state preschool nurseries at the age of 45 days, and at 4 years they are transferred to preschools organized by the Organization of Cuban Women. This is followed by 6 years of primary school, 3 of high school, and 3 at the intermediate level. This commitment to education has been the foundation under Latin America's highest literacy rate of 96%.19
However, the socialist project, for all intents and purposes, has come to an end in the 1990s, and will eventually fail in its present form. The United States will not normalize relations with Cuba until Fidel Castro is ousted from power. With the end of Castro's charismatic rule will come a different form of government, very likely not socialist, with different opportunities by virtue of having occurred with a clean slate outside of the context of the Cold War.
Given socialism's failure in Cuba, then, what were the main reasons that it did fail as a model on the island, especially in light of its successes in social transformation and popular acceptance? Problems inherent to socialism that undermined this development path in Cuba include; its commitment to social upliftment rather than more pragmatic development choices based on raw economic growth; the creation of inefficient trade relations and a distorted industrial sector based not on market forces but socialist solidarity; and assumptions about worker motivation stemming from miscalculations about human nature. Aside from deviating from Marx' prescriptions for the propriety of socialism in the undeveloped world, these problems caused the economic predicaments within Cuba that forced it to solicit Western capital and to remain undiversified economically because of socialist dependency and manufactured trade relations which were ill-suited for transfer into the capitalist world economy.
The paradox of success in human development in the Third World is well put by Susan Eva Eckstein:
Thus, the nature of socialism makes it dependent for legitimacy on the ability of the state to provide the conditions for social and economic equality amongst its population. When it cannot do this, as has often happened in the Third World, state legitimacy is eroded by economic trouble which then has the capacity to destroy the system.
Secondly, the (theoretically) non-market driven cooperation between socialist states stunted the growth of Cuba's economy which would lead to its difficulties in adapting to a world without the socialist bloc and COMECON.22 Cuba had depended on the Soviet Union for about 70% of its imports and sent a like figure to the USSR, which shows an unnatural level of dependency, and is reminiscent of Cuba's prerevolutionary dependence on the US. Moreover, the only product that Moscow was particularly interested in receiving from Cuba was sugar, which it bought at four times the market price. This led to a false value of the Cuban sweet and furthermore, kept Cuba from diversifying its agriculture, not to mention developing its industry.23
Finally, socialism failed in Cuba for domestic reasons because it assumed that it could create the material conditions for the development of the "New Man." This person was to be motivated not by material reward, but instead by moral incentive that would allow him to produce more and at the same time become "more human." As Che envisioned it:
This hope for the metaphysical transformation of Cuban society as a whole, while its success would have been a great leap forward for the resource strapped Third World, failed due to its roots in speculative theory and a somewhat idealistic optimism about human nature. It was employed with vigor, and limited success, by the state in its failed campaign to harvest 10 million tons of sugar in 1970 and later in the "rectification" process of the mid-1980s which was a push back to orthodox Marxism during the fiscal and ideological crises cause by perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet Union.25 This effort to transform methods of worker motivation did not take hold in Cuba, and in so doing, it hurt the economy due to worker absenteeism, foot-dragging, and other forms of legal protest against inadequate remuneration. Accordingly, it undermined the legitimacy of the state and the push for economic development.26
Thus, the failure of socialism in Cuba due to inherent flaws in the system seems tied to the economic realm. These conditions as caused by socialism arise from the commitment of resources to social sustenance and egalitarianism instead of reinvestment of surplus capital in development and "progress," the non-sustainable framework of international socialist economic relations, and the assumption that humans within a socialist society can be motivated to produce in the absence of proper remuneration.
External Factors Subverting the Socialist Project
The main external factors which led to the destruction of Cuban socialism are; the war in Africa which resulted from Cuban internationalist aid to the government of Angola but which was prolonged by Western support for Angolan rebels; the collapse of the socialist bloc in the North which undermined the Cuban economy; and, of course, the embargoes and other forms of interference by the United States.
Burdening heavily the scarce resources of revolutionary Cuba (even aided as it was by the Soviets), the island offered extensive military and civilian assistance to the decolonizing nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This was based on the solidarity as promised by Castro's 26th of July Movement and the internationalism demanded by Marxism, combined with a need to accumulate trade and political allies in the world. Primarily ideological, and often far from pragmatic, these missions were first crystallized for Cuba from the ideas of Fidel Castro into the actions of Che Guevara when he toured the African continent in mid-1959 as a diplomat shortly after the consolidation of the Revolution.28 The Revolution was later exported in Che's role as an internationalist guerrilla attempting to foment, unsuccessfully, "many Vietnams" in the Congo and later in Bolivia where he met his demise.29 These attempts to mire the capitalist empires in multiple costly counterinsurgency wars in the Third World eventually failed. However, Che's example and contacts established links that would be used by the soon to be independent Angola's MPLA government leader, Agostinho Neto, when requesting military protection for his threatened organization.
The MPLA, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, the country's non-tribalist and majority party that looked to a legitimate reign as Angola's post-independence administering party, asked for Cuba's help in securing its popular mandate against the competing organizations of UNITA and the FNLA, both of which were heavily supported by the United States and South Africa. These other two groups were partially secessionist, or based on ethnic divides, but primarily steered by foreign governments like South Africa and the United States. The latter states had vested interests in a weak and decentralized administration of Angola, so that expropriations of the nation's oil and mineral wealth could take place with little government interference and regulation.30
This drawn-out conflict had, in its early stages, been funded by the Soviet Union, although not coordinated or at times even approved by them. The military victories of the war against domestic insurgents and South African invasion had early on garnered a certain prestige for the Cuban government on the world stage. Later, however, Cuba became bogged down in a counterinsurgency war that was of the most supreme irony, considering the original Cuban liberation struggle and the aid it had given to guerrilla groups precisely like the ones it was now fighting. The economic and social costs for Cuba were high, especially at a time of poor world market conditions. Cuba's growth had been at the impressive level of 16.3% per year in the period of 1970-1975. However, coinciding with the 1975 intervention in Angola and the drop in world sugar prices, growth dropped to 4.1% between 1976-1980.31 In addition, the economic crisis of the 1980s was further exacerbated by the military commitment which ended only in 1991.
The provision of troops and civilians for internationalist aid abroad drained precious material resources and took the lives of approximately 2,300 Cubans.32 Furthermore, the drawn out conflict caused discontent at home. Ordinary Cubans began to lash out at the government for sending food and supplies abroad when islanders were starving. This served to undermine the legitimacy of the centralized government and its ambitious internationalism by means other than economic.33
The collapse of the socialist bloc and the Soviet Union has had a devastating impact on Cuba. It lost 93 percent of its trade with the former Soviet bloc and has not been able to reorient its trade to the West because of the embargo, which has also made it next to impossible to get loans from the IMF and the World Bank.34 By 1994 Cuba's real GDP annual growth rate declined by more than 50 percent from 1985's level, from 1.6% to 0.7%.35 Healthwise, caloric intake dropped from 2,800 a day to 1,800 in the period between 1989 and 1993, a decrease of about one third. Protein intake dropped 40%.36 This gave the Cuban government little choice but to betray major aspects of the Revolution so as to attain the hard currency and internal stability needed to provide for its people. A recently published article in the NACLA Report on the Americas stresses that this loss of trade and destruction of the economy forced Cuba to change its external policies, with profound ideological consequences for the domestic economy:
Furthermore, the economic changes implemented in the 1990s have caused fundamental questions to arise among Cubans themselves:
But perhaps the most destructive external factors contributing to the subversion of Cuba's socialist development project have been the policies followed by the United States for the destruction of the Revolution. These embargoes and other attempts to destroy the Cuban Revolution, such as the invasion at the Bay of Pigs and the recent allegations that the US is funding terrorist operations in Cuba, have perhaps always been the strongest chain holding down the successful socialist development of Cuba.
The Bay of Pigs, or as it is referred to in Cuba designating the actual beach, Playa Girón, invasion followed the implementation of the initial embargo and took place in April of 1961. This military action, funded and planned by the United States, was based on the Guatemalan invasory model but executed by Cuban exiles. It was a failure for many reasons, the most obvious of which were the United States' trepidation about being seen as an aggressive invader and thus not committing the forces necessary for victory as well as the miscalculation of Cuban popular support for Castro.39 The results of this military blunder had vast repercussions not only for the domestic affairs of Cuba but for decolonization and liberation struggles throughout the Third World. In Cuba, it served to consolidate the nationalist aspect of the Cuban Revolution and, therefore, allowed Castro to ask more sacrifices of his people. Its main drawback, on the other hand, was that resources in the ensuing 38 years have been diverted to maintaining a strong national army as well as training civilians and students for battle, thus taking them out of economic production and keeping them away from studies for a period.40
While President John F. Kennedy's negotiations with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis guaranteed protection from US invasion, recent documents provided by the Cuban newsweekly Granma International have claimed to prove that the United States continues to fund plans by the exile-led and Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation to carry out terrorism in Cuba.41
Thus, violent methods are still used to subvert Castro's government, although the most damaging of external interference by the US are the embargoes. Schwab puts together a concise summary of the history of the economic blockades,
The severe restriction on trade between the United States and Cuba has been in effect to the current day in what one Cuban publication has called the "most extensive dispute of the contemporary era."43 Originally a response to the nationalization of American industries and property, the embargo has grown and matured as a reaction to the Cuban Missile Crisis, a fight against communism, and more recently, claims of human rights violations.
The strengthening of the embargo in 1992 with the Cuban Democracy Act and again in 1996 with the Helms-Burton Act have done much to subvert socialism in Cuba, although they still aren't quite as effective as Washington would like since their avowed goal is the deposition of Fidel Castro. In 1992, President Bush signed the CDA (also known as the Torricelli Act, for its New Jersey Congressional proponent) into effect. This measure, looking to finally finish Castro off in the immediate post-Soviet era, extended the restriction of food sales and stated that this legislation could only be repealed should a "transitional Cuban government" which conducted free and fair elections as well as committed itself to observe "internationally recognized human rights" come to power. Furthermore, it prohibited any third party ship to dock in US ports if it had in the six previous months visited a Cuban port. The act also put an end to US subsidiaries abroad from trading with Cuba, while also blackmailing countries who trade with Havana on terms other than those dictated by the world market by withholding aid.44 This last aspect is of particular damage to countries like Angola and Namibia, among others in the global South, who still owe an intangible debt to Cuba. These countries must choose between Third World solidarity on one hand and tangible development aid in the present on the other.
This particular piece of legislation had caused the island to face a crisis in its ability to feed its population as availability of, and transportation for, food supplies dried up:
The newly strengthened embargo then forced the Cuban government to liberalize its economy by legalizing dollars and permitting self-employment. This forced Castro to "create an economic mix of socialism and capitalism, despite his stern proclamation that "this does not imply a return to capitalism.""46
The 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, or the Helms-Burton Act, caused less problems, but still further undermined the ability of Castro's revolution to survive. The key thrust behind this act was to punish third parties and nations for doing business with Cuba, and because it does, it has met with much conflict in the international community. It achieves this by allowing US citizens and Cuban exiles to sue non-American companies who do business in Cuba and denies visas to business people who gain from "confiscated property in Cuba." As an unpopular measure in the world at large, it might be said to strengthen Castro's legitimacy both within and outside Cuba, because he is seen to stand up against the world hegemon.47
While many have pointed out the failure of the ever tightening embargo to remove Castro from power, it has succeeded in destroying what was left of socialism in Cuba in the post-Cold War era. As Schwab puts it:
Chapter 2: Notes1. Louis Pérez Jr. Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular Intimacy (1997), xvi.
2. Jorge I. Domínguez in Helen Desfosses & Jacques Levesque eds., Socialism in the Third World (1975), 35-36.
3. Fidel Castro, "History Will Absolve Me" (1953). Non-paginated as a document printed off the internet, approximately 40% of the way through. As translated by Booth (1997).
4. Susan Eva Eckstein, Back From the Future: Cuba Under Castro (1994), 15.
5. Barry Wigmore, in The Cape Times, 9 September 1998, 15.
6. Alan H. Luxenberg, in Irving Louis Horowitz & Jaime Suchlicki eds., Cuban Communism (1998), 81.
7. Pérez, 238-239.
8. Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, in Pérez, 241.
9. Pérez, 242.
10. Pérez, 243.
11. Eckstein, 58.
12. Peter Schwab, Cuba: Confronting the US Embargo (1999), 60.
13. Schwab, 60-61.
14. Sergio Díaz-Briquets, Cuban Internationalism in Sub-Saharan Africa (1989), 6. 15. Eckstein, 176.
16. Castro, speech to South African Parliament, 4 September 1998.
17. Schwab, 10-11.
18. Julie Marie Brunck, in Irving Horowitz & Jaime Suchlicki eds., 406-426.
19. Schwab, 158-159.
20. Eckstein, 147.
21. Eckstein, 207.
22. See Brigitte Schulz (1995), for an analysis of the motivations behind Western and Eastern aid to the Third World. This study disproves many of the assumptions about aid and economics between the socialist bloc and the Global South.
23. Eckstein, 88-93. 24. Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, Socialism and Man in Cuba, (1968, 1989), 9.
25. Eckstein, 69-62.
26. Eckstein, 40.
27. Eckstein, 204-213.
28. Díaz-Briquets, 13-15.
29. Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, "A Message to the Tricontinental," in Guerrilla Warfare (1967, 1985), 213. 30. Interview with George Risquet, in David Deutschmann ed., Changing the History of Africa (1989), 1-17. 31. Carmelo Mesa-Lago, in Mesa-Lago & Belkin, Cuba in Africa (1982), 203.
32. Maurice Halperin, Return to Havana (1994), 109.
33. Eckstein, 201-202.
34. Schwab, 116.
35. Schwab, 84.
36. Schwab, 85.
37. Pedro Monreal, in the NACLA Report on Cuba, March/April 1999, 22. 38. Jack Hammond, in the NACLA Report on Cuba, 25. 39. For a concise account, see the History Channel's "Military Blunders" series episode on the Bay of Pigs invasion, as aired Wednesday, 31 March 1999.
40. For more on the extramural activities of Cuban university students, see Eusebio Mûjal-León, in Horowitz & Suchlicki, eds., 343-364. 41. "Trial fully demonstrates that acts of terrorism against Cuba are planned in the United States," in Granma International, 3 March 1999.
42. Schwab, 54.
43. Lazaro Barredo Medina, "The Most Extensive Dispute of the Contemporary Era," 1.
44. Schwab, 81.
45. Schwab, 88-89.
46. Schwab, 92.
47. Schwab, 47.
48. Schwab, 167.