Cuba after Fidel

  • Left Voice | 
  • February 24, 2008

On February 19, Fidel Castro formally gave up the Presidency of Cuba
in a letter published in the official daily paper Granma, a post that
he had temporarily left in July 2006, after a severe health problem.
Since then, his brother Raúl Castro has been exercising actual
leadership of the island, together with other prominent figures of the
regime, like the Vice President of the Council of State (highest organ
of government), Carlos Lage, and Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque.
On Sunday, February 24, the National Assembly of Popular Power will
elect the new President. Although there are different speculations
about who will succeed Castro, his brother or a more shared
leadership, everything certainly appears to indicate that Fidel’s
resignation seeks a “generational” replacement in the governing
bureaucracy, useful for the introduction of economic – and possibly
political – “reforms” favoring a greater openness to capitalism by the
Cuban Communist Party (“CP”).

At the beginning of the 1990’s, after the disappearance of the Soviet
Union and with it, the disappearance of the economic aid on which the
Cuban state was essentially dependent, the governing bureaucracy
implemented a series of measures known as the “special period”1To grasp the scale of the economic catastrophe, the GDP contracted
by 35% in 4 years, during the blockade imposed by the US since 1962.
which facilitated investments of foreign capital through mixed
enterprises – mainly Spanish and Canadian – centered especially on the
cultivation of tourism, which continues to be one of main pillars of
the economy. In contrast to the concessions to capital and to the
possibilities for the bureaucracy to keep big quantities of foreign
currency, the majority of the Cuban people endured harsh conditions,
that were expressed by the restriction of popular consumption and of
access to basic goods.

The large part of the population that remained without access to
dollars saw their standard of living and their access to basic
products and services (food, transportation, electricity) decrease
drastically. There was also more decentralization and “self-financing”
of a large number of the state enterprises that constituted the
nucleus of the productive apparatus. In this way, economic planning
was seriously affected, and many workplaces were closed, as, for
instance, dozens of sugar refineries, yet another blow to the masses
and the bases of the workers’ state.

The army assumed a central role in the economy, reasserting its
function as one of the main factors of power. According to estimates
and official figures, the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) control
enterprises devoted to tourism, agriculture, cattle raising, tobacco,
telecommunications, construction, as well as military industry, which
accounts for more than 60% of the foreign currency that enters the
country. Toward the year 2003 these measures partially stopped,
especially with the introduction of certain restrictions on the
circulation of dollars. The Cuban economy began to grow at high rates
(with accumulated growth of 42% in the GDP in the period 2004-2007), a
result of the rise in the price of raw materials and of the alliance
of the regime with oil-producing countries like Venezuela. However,
the consequences of the “special period” have not been overcome:
social inequality has increased, the workers and campesinos are paid
in devalued pesos, but the prices of products are increasingly
expressed in CUC, convertible money that has a value 25 times greater
than the peso. For its part, the CP maintained an inflexible monopoly
on political power and material privileges for the governing elite, a
part of which was directly connected to the new businesses coming from
the economic opening of the special period.

Towards a greater openness to capital?

It is no secret that both Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl and
high-ranking members of the Communist Party hierarchy, have been
presenting the “Chinese” way2As the British paper The Independent indicated, “in November 2004,
when the Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Havana, Fidel asserted
that China is `the most promising hope and the best example for all
the countries of the Third World.’ That way, on this occasion and
others, Fidel extended a bridge to Chinese-style reforms in Cuba,
which is more than Mao ever did in China.” (See
or the “Vietnamese” road, that is,
countries where capitalist restoration has advanced qualitatively
under party-state regimes controlled by the respective Communist
Parties, as models to follow.

On several occasions Raúl Castro has indicated general lines that the
future government could have: “our willingness to resolve the
prolonged disagreement between the US and Cuba at the negotiating
table”3Speech during the commemoration of the landing of the Granma,
. “We will have to introduce the structural and conceptual
changes that may turn out to be necessary … we are currently studying
what pertains to increasing foreign investment … working with serious
businessmen on well-defined legal bases to reserve the role of the
state and the predominance of socialist property”4Speech given on the anniversary of the attack on the Moncada
barracks 7/27/2007.

In the present situation, it is likely that a new leap in the economic
opening to capitalism will be accompanied by some political reforms,
either some concessions to the social strata that have profited from
the measures of recent years – as, for example, the demands for
opportunities to be able to leave the country – or opening safety
valves to channel, in a controlled fashion, the dissatisfaction that
is possibly developing among the people as a result of growing social
inequality5In this sense, they seemed to point to, for example, the criticisms
by student leader E. Ávila in the presence of the President of the
National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcón, in a university when he scolded
Alarcón by asking him, “Why has the internal commerce of the country
been switched to the convertible peso, when our workers, laborers and
campesinos receive their wages in national money, which has 25 times
less purchasing power” and “why don’t the people of Cuba have the
possibility to go to hotels (on the island), or to travel to different
places in the world?”
and that, at the same time, could serve as a gesture
towards the demands by the imperialist powers and “friendly”
governments that demagogically demand a “transition to democracy”6Recently 7 political prisoners were released, out of more than 70
that were jailed in 2003, and this was a demand by Spain as a
condition for improving relations with that country and Europe.
Thus, it is possible that the regime will use the criticisms that have
been published in recent weeks – and others that could emerge from the
supposed “opening” that Raúl Castro has launched so that Cubans may
express their opinions – based on a project of decorating the
single-party regime to keep what is essential: control of the state
machine by the CP bureaucracy.

Imperialist pressure

The Bush administration, in line with the lobby of the Miami
counter-revolutionaries (“gusanos,” worms), that is, the Cuban
bourgeoisie and its descendants in exile, continued supporting a harsh
policy toward Cuba7During Bill Clinton’s administration, the so-called Helms-Burton law
was approved which strengthened the commercial embargo, by punishing
enterprises that established any type of contact with the island.
: in recent years the economic blockade against
the island has become more severe and extended still further the
restrictions on commercial exchange, sending money and the possibility
that US citizens could travel to Cuba. For some analysts, this policy
of the “big stick” hindered the open expression by more permeable
wings of the Cuban regime for a gradual and negotiated restoration of

For his part, Barack Obama like Hillary Clinton, the two Democratic
candidates for the Presidency, appear to be leaning towards a more
“open” or “negotiated” policy8It is likely that the interests of big enterprises that produce and
market food, for instance, that have been losing big deals on the
island for years, also influence this.
, although both are in favor of
keeping the blockade as blackmail. For example, Obama declared that
“if the Cuban leadership begins to open Cuba to significant democratic
changes, the US should prepare to begin to take steps to normalize
relations and make the embargo of the last five decades flexible.”

This policy would appear to be more in line with the powers of the
European Union and several Latin American governments, that “greeted”
Fidel’s exit from the political stage as “an opportunity for a
democratic and peaceful transition,” that is, for an orderly
restoration of capitalism.

But both the harsh policy of Bush and the “negotiated” policy of the
EU are based on getting full freedom for their monopolies to be able
to exploit the workers and the Cuban people without restrictions, to
make big deals and plunder the natural resources of the country,
returning Cuba to its semi-colonial status.

Defend the conquests of the revolution against imperialism and against
the restorationist policy of the bureaucracy

The Cuban revolution meant a big conquest for the oppressed. It
finished off the large estates and gave land to the campesinos [rural
small producers]; it emancipated the country from imperialism, by
nationalizing imperialist properties on the island. The revolution
eliminated the local bourgeoisie and put the main means of production,
the big service enterprises and sugar production (the basis of the
economy at that time) in the hands of the state. In spite of being a
small, backward country, Cuba managed to put an end to hunger,
unemployment and illiteracy. Health care became a real right and
accessible for the people. The great majority of the Cuban popular
masses continue to defend the conquests that still exist, in spite of
the action of the bureaucracy, that for years has gone on undermining
the bases of the Cuban workers’ state.

The Communist Party has monopolized control of the state and of
politics, by establishing a single-party regime, prohibiting any
workers’ organization that might escape its control, whether a union
or political organization. This single-party regime, copied from the
model of the Stalinized Soviet Union and from its strategy of
“socialism in one country”9This was seen clearly in the role that Castro played in the
processes in Central America, for example, by advising the Sandinista
leadership not to change Nicaragua into another Cuba.
favors the material interests of the
governing bureaucracy, that, through the state and without control by
the masses, has become a privileged stratum, that, as the course of
the Stalinist bureaucracies of the former USSR, the countries of
Eastern Europe and China showed, sooner or later aspires to become the
owner of the means of production.

The only way to avoid this prospect, that has meant an enormous loss
of the conquests of millions, is a political revolution led by the
workers and campesinos, that pushes the governing caste aside, in the
struggle against imperialism and against attempts at capitalist
restoration, to put an end to the privileges and political oppression
by the bureaucracy, by giving the workers and campesinos full rights
to union meetings and organization, and legalizing parties that defend
the conquests of the revolution. A state based on councils of workers,
campesinos and soldiers, that would be the basis of a new regime of
revolutionary workers’ democracy to transform Cuba into an engine of
socialist revolution in Latin America.

Translation by Yosef M.


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