Ideas & Debates


Cuba: Thaw in relations with imperialism II

July 24, 2015

Illustration by Natalia Rizzo (Ideas de Izquierda)

Read previous article: Cuba: Thaw in relations with imperialism

The "thaw" between the United States and Cuba has opened a new strategic setting and is already influencing all the orders of Cuban life. It is true that the laws of blockade like the Helms-Burton Act, are still in force, and reverses cannot be ruled out, but in the US establishment, the idea – as The New York Times insists – predominates that "The more books, goods and ideas the people circulate, the more likely it is that it will result in significant reforms on the island” (1). In other words, the historic line of bullying and blockade [has] failed; this is the best way of exerting pressure and promoting the capitalist restoration in Cuba. In the preceding issue of Ideas de Izquierda, we already addressed some aspects of this matter (2). This note hopes to contribute some elements of the political situation, in order to think how the "situation" (3) could move, and what problems are posed in front of the critical Cuban left.

The mending of relations with Washington contributes a certain economic relief (4), and it opens new perspectives for the attracting of foreign investments and foreign trade. Politically, it is a big success for Raúl’s government, allowing the renewal of popular expectations and strengthening his authority among the bureaucracy. It is likely that he will use this favorable situation to deepen the economic plan, but also to move forward on the political terrain.

It is certain that the government is moving on this level with more caution and conservatism than on others, but the "thaw" can also induce new steps. In fact, there have been signs of movements in the political "situation." It can be addressed on two levels: the Cuban leadership’s political plan of "succession/renewal" and the strategic and historical problem of the "transition" to a new state regime. (5)

Organizing the succession ... and something more

Raúl [Castro] will retire from his office in 2018, which would complete the decisive phase in the "succession" of the historic generation by a brood of leaders born and educated after the Revolution, simultaneously guaranteeing "continuity" while a real "renovation" from below is carried out, increasing the participation of young, female and black cadres, to improve the image of the intermediate authorities and the mass organizations. (6)

It is fitting to recall that in February 2013, on the occasion of the retirement of the veteran Machado Ventura and the promotion of Diaz-Canel to the strategic post of First Vice-Minister, Raúl stated that it was a matter of "a defining step in the shaping of the country’s future leadership, since it will guarantee the transfer of the main posts to the new generations," at the same time that "in accordance with the agreements of the Sixth Party Congress, it will be necessary to harmonize the postulates of the Constitution of the Republic with the implementation of the Guidelines of the economic and social policy of the Party and the Revolution [...], these changes are necessary, since some matters can be modified by the Legislature, but others require the voting of the citizens in a referendum”. (7)

Meanwhile, although control is being maintained, and repression and intimidation by police or administrative measures are not scarce, gestures of greater official tolerance towards demonstrations of dissatisfaction and criticism, and even towards the activity of some oppositional groups, have been taking place. For example, in the April municipal elections, when 12,589 offices were voted on, for the first time, two candidates aligned with the right-wing opposition successfully presented themselves in neighborhoods of Havana. In addition, in the city of Caibarién, a female delegate from Poder Popular Adela, an openly transsexual (8) person, was reelected in another gesture of the new "inclusive" policies of the renewal. (9)

In short, it is a matter not only of a generational replacement, but that a redesigning of the regime is being proposed, and big partial changes in legislation and the institutions have been introduced: a political-administrative reorganization at a provincial and municipal level, a new Labor Code, a new Foreign Investments Law, etc., although it is not clear when, how and with what dimensions, a constitutional reform would be produced.

The profound political problem that the Castro leadership must address is the adaptation of the regime, facing the accumulation of economic and social changes and the exhaustion of the current forms of the bureaucracy’s power.

The ruling caste cannot relinquish the monopoly of power, a source of its privileges and a key of the "Cuban way to capitalist restoration," with the possibility of being recycled as a new owning class. But, at the same time that it protects the core of that power, it needs to "update" its forms, to face the tasks of "updating of the model" in search of greater efficiency, but also to repair a capacity for mediation that the deterioration of the current institutions no longer guarantees, to which is added the fossilization of the official organizations of the masses.

In this sense, the agreements with the Catholic Church (10) (that the papal visit is coming to endorse) gain importance, by consolidating this institution as a tolerated mediation, at the same time as a "facilitator" in the relations with imperialism and with the Cuban émigrés overseas. The church is expanding that role by presenting itself as a promoter of national "reconciliation" and a coordinator of a moderate opposition, by promoting the convergence of Catholic, Social Democratic and nationalist groups for a strategy of pressure for more economic and political openness without open confrontation (like the traditional anti-Castro extreme right wing).

Big groups of the dissidents have been turning to a policy of "constructive dialogue," like those that make up the "Open Space," to promote a constitutional reform and new electoral legislation. According to Manuel Cuesta Morúa, from Arco Progresista, "In Cuba, dominance has to agree with diversity" (a formula that recognizes the leading role of the bureaucracy), and it would go looking for influencing the changes that the government could implement: "with the law, from the law, and from below to above, under conditions such that no one will feel himself defeated." (11)

What "transition"?

The possibility arises that the "thaw" with the United States will favor new strategic agreements on the basis of the "convergence" of interests in the fundamental problem: the pace of the capitalist restoration, by recognizing that the way "to the Cuban style" under the leadership of the PCC [Cuban Communist Party] is the possible one. On this horizon, a "moderate" or "loyal" opposition could find a place, with a program of gradual economic and political reforms, proposals of a social-democratic type, the recognition of some conquests that came from the revolution (like healthcare and education, but certainly not the structural ones, based on expropriation of the bourgeoisie).

It has been suggested that the convergence could occur on the basis of "Cuban nationalism as an efficient element for the re-articulation of the socio-political consensus, and concerning the urgent need for a democratic model capable of managing a prosperous and sovereign Cuba” (12), with which the nationalism of the non-gusano emigrants, official nationalism (state speech is being re-made in an increasingly patriotic and "Martí-"style standard, with less "Marxist" phraseology) and that of the internal opposition, will agree. In short, taking note of the fact that, for a half-century, the United States has been unable to subjugate Cuba, it is being discussed whether a certain revolutionary nationalism could provide the ideological core for "the possible articulation of a bloc of socio-political actors based on the methodology of the agreement." (13)

In view of this strategic horizon, some hypotheses about the perspectives of the regime’s "transition" are interesting, that do not mean inexorably going to a liberal-bourgeois regime, as imperialism and the Latin American right wing would like, nor a simple copy of the Chinese political model of a "single party" either, contemplating other possibilities of evolution, like some variant of Latin American Bonapartism that will include a certain formal, controlled openness. Alfonso Dilla has suggested a parallel with Mexican PRI-ism (14). The Venezuelan, Ecuadorian and Bolivian regimes and their constituent processes could also be considered intriguing, from some ideas of Julio C. Guanche, who proposes a "new socialist constitutionalism." (15)

Although it would be possible to arm oneself with some democratic concessions and still maintain certain limits to imperialist penetration, its content would not be progressive for that reason, since its essence would be carrying out the demolition of what remains of the 1959 Revolution under the discursive cover of a "XXI Century Socialism" with a market and democracy, or with businessmen and foreign capital on an island from which they were expelled half a century ago. The tentative hypothesis that can be left for reflection is whether the evolution towards some variant of Bonapartism of a bureaucratic-bourgeois character would provide the political formula viable for going to the end on the road of the return to capitalism "in the Cuban style."

Crossroads for the Cuban Left

The changes that are arising in the "situation" under the sign of the "thaw" and the estimates of a possible "opening" are hastening realignments in the broad and heterogeneous field of the critical left that has emerged in the most recent years, in the cultural, academic and social media, inside and outside of the ranks of the PCC [Cuban Communist Party] (16) that is displaying a notable intervention, despite the persecutions and obstacles that the regime arranges.

It is possible that part of the critics that have stayed close to the PCC, believing its reform is possible, are renewing their expectations by betting on "dialogue" as "advisers" of the left of Castroism.

On the other hand, the line of dialogue from the opposition can attract other groups to conciliation in social-democratic terms. The former Cuban diplomat Pedro Campos supports the call of a "democratic left” (17), based on 5 basic points; number 1 stands out: For "a new Constitution," a "state of law" and a "democratic humanist and supportive republic," and number 2: "A new economic policy, starting from acceptance of all the modern forms of production," while it asks that "free labor, of a self-managed type, individual or associated, be preferentially encouraged, with public and private support," while it salutes "the modest but insufficient national and international efforts to get out of the stagnation in which half a century of ’bureaucratic socialism’ has sunk us." It is a program adapted to the restorationist course which would be pulling along the moderate opposition camp.

This is serious because precisely a fundamental political dividing line for the left is going to be what political attitude to take in this setting, both in facing the line of "updating" and "renewal" of Castroism, and facing the pro-dialogue reform of a moderate opposition, more so, if they move forward, as is possible, in the agreements, under a papal blessing, for a certain "openness." If, on the one hand, it is necessary to take advantage of all the opportunities and legal margins for cultural, political intervention and, alongside of the workers, the youth, women and the oppressed groups, it is necessary to do it from a position independent of the bureaucracy, the pro-bourgeois opposition, and the Church.

This involves a program of the workers facing the pro-market economic reforms; for full rights of trade-union and political organization with the only limit of the defense of the Revolution against any imperialist aggression, freedom of artistic and literary creation and research, the right of expression, meeting and a press, independent of the government, etc. It is not a matter of choosing between a "single-party" regime that smothers the political life of the masses or a bourgeois "multi-party system" that would separate them from the real decisions. While a struggle is being waged for the expansion of all the democratic margins, at every level, including the right to debate and decide on a new Constitution, the objective must be the conquest of a real workers’ and socialist democracy, based on the forms of workers’ and people’s power, democratically organized, that the masses will give themselves and on the broadest recourse to direct democracy in all the environments of the economic, social and political life of the country.

The working class, until now a “mute guest” in the plans of the government (as of the opposition), is the only class that can give a progressive alternative to the risk of the capitalist restoration that the bureaucracy is leading to. It is a matter of contributing to its own independent organization as a socialist class, uniting around itself all the groups of the population that have suffered oppression and discrimination.

We consider that the program and the strategy that can respond as a whole to Cuba’s vital problems are now those of the political revolution, in their turn inseparable from an internationalist perspective. In Trotsky’s ideas, his criticism of the Stalinist bureaucracy and his revolutionary concepts, a new Cuban revolutionary left will undoubtedly find an inspiring example.

Unprecedented possibilities for advancing in the construction of a new social and political force among the workers and the youth, independent of the bureaucracy, but anti-capitalist, socialist and revolutionary, seem to be arising. The international socialist left is called upon to contribute, by all means, to these challenges.

Translation Yosef M.


(1) The New York Times. June 19, 2015.
(2) Molina, E. “Cuba: en tiempos de "deshielo” con el imperialismo”. ["Cuba: in times of a ’thaw’ with imperialism."] Ideas de Izquierda n°20. June, 2015.
(3) J. C. Guanche says: "In Cuba ’la cosa’ is a colloquial expression used to refer to ’the situation.’ ’How is the situation?’ [’la cosa’], alludes both to the state of the nation and to the neighborhood’s gossip. Usually ’what is public’ and ’what is private’ are seen separately, but the question for ’la cosa’ refers us to the bond between them both."
(4) In the short run, it involves an increase of entries by trips and remittances from the United States, as well as the lifting of some commercial and financial restrictions, with which it would shore up the predicted upturn of the Cuban GDP at 4% for 2015 (Cuba ahora, June 26, 2015), after the most recent years of low growth.
(5) It is a matter, not only of the forms of political power, but of the qualitative transformation in the nature of the state.
(6) "In brief, between 42% and 45% of the positions at the level of CDR and of a district will be in the hands of young people, which strengthens the concept of historical continuity," Granma June 19, 2015. At the 20th Congress of the CTC, it was said that "After the broad process of renovation of mandates, 17% of those elected are young people, 45% have higher middle education, and 30% are university students," Cuba ahora, February 20, 2014.
(7) Juventud Rebelde. February 24, 2013.
(8) In the homophobic context that Castroism has historically fostered, this is not a minor fact. About Adela (José Agustín Hernández González), an article can be seen, something already old (it dates from 2012) in
(9) Among others, opinions of Haroldo Dilla, Armando Chaguaceda, Julio César Guanche and Marie-Laure Geoffray can be seen in
(10) See “El rol político de la iglesia en Cuba” ["The Political Role of the Church in Cuba,"] in Ideas de Izquierda n°20.
(11) Manuel Cuesta Morúa. Interview in La Nación, Argentina, March 22, 2015.
(12) Roberto Vega and Lenier González. “Nacionalismo y lealtad: un desafío civilizatorio” ["Nationalism and loyalty: a civilizing challenge"], in Havana Times, 03/04/2014.
(13) As Haroldo Dilla criticizes. “¿Nacionalismo revolucionario?” ["Revolutionary Nationalism?"] Cubaencuentro. May 5, 2014.
(14) " ... it is likely that the system will drift towards developments similar to other post-revolutionary experiences, and, especially, towards its most formidable manifestation in Latin America: Mexican PRI-ism. See ’Los dilemas y el poco tiempo de la elite política cubana’." ["The Dilemmas and the Short Time of the Cuban Political Elite."] 08/01/2014.
(15) Julio César Guanche has written about "La participación ciudadana en el Estado cubano," ["Civic Participation in the Cuban State"], Revista Temas, number 70 (April-June, 2012); "Un socialismo de ley. En busca de un diálogo sobre el constitucionalismo socialista cubano en el 2010” ["A socialism of law. In search of a dialogue about Cuban socialist constitutionalism in 2010"],, 09/04/2012.
(16) One can see: Marie-Laure Geoffray, “Existe una nueva izquierda en Cuba?”, ["Does a new left exist in Cuba?"] Contretemps, August 2013. Samuel Farber, “Tendencias políticas en la Cuba de hoy”, ["Political tendencies in today’s Cuba"] in Viento Sur number 136, October, 2014. Armando Chaguaceda, “La izquierda cubana y el debate racial”, ["The Cuban Left and the Racial Debate"] in Lietral magazine (
(17) Pedro Campos, “Por un amplio movimiento político de la izquierda democrática cubana”. ["For a broad political movement of the Cuban democratic Left."] HYPERLINK "" The appeal is signed by Socialismo Participativo y Democrático (SPD), Izquierda Democrática y Socialista (IDS) and el Nuevo Proyecto Socialista (NPS).


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