Sunday 12 September 2010

What Castro Really Said

Never posted anything about Cuba before and then two show up at once. Regardless of what the hard of thinking might say, Castro hasn't come out as a convert to neoliberalism and said Cuban "socialism" is a failure. No one reading his interview in Atlantic Magazine could possibly reach this conclusion, unless they hate the regime and/or are grinding the market fundamentalist axe. Sadly, for a man as verbose and expansive as Castro his discussion of Cuba's "failure" is rather truncated. Perhaps AM are holding back the best bits for next issue. The relevant bits and pieces are:
I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

"The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore," he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, "Never mind"?

I asked Julia to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, "He wasn't rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under 'the Cuban model' the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country."

Julia pointed out that one effect of such a sentiment might be to create space for his brother, Raul, who is now president, to enact the necessary reforms in the face of what will surely be push-back from orthodox communists within the Party and the bureaucracy. Raul Castro is already loosening the state's hold on the economy. He recently announced, in fact, that small businesses can now operate and that foreign investors could now buy Cuban real estate. (The joke of this new announcement, of course, is that Americans are not allowed to invest in Cuba, not because of Cuban policy, but because of American policy. In other words, Cuba is beginning to adopt the sort of economic ideas that America has long-demanded it adopt, but Americans are not allowed to participate in this free-market experiment because of our government's hypocritical and stupidly self-defeating embargo policy. We'll regret this, of course, when Cubans partner with Europeans and Brazilians to buy up all the best hotels)
Hardly a disavowal of the Cuban revolution. It seems the government are taking a leaf out of the Chinese book and allowing a controlled return of the market in certain sectors of the economy. Whether they will avoid the inequalities and social problems those reforms have brought to China remain to be seen. But the much smaller size and population of the island means the party/state bureaucracy can monitor their reforms more closely (as Andy has variously written, despite China's foreboding and brutal reputation, the state is quite institutionally weak outside its Eastern heartlands). Cuba also has its own homegrown experience of the blackmarket to draw on: the impact this has had on Cuba's social fabric and the contradictions set in train will, if state planners have any sense, inform the introduction and condition the reviews of the reforms' performance.

From the standpoint of maintaining Cuba as a bastion of anti-capitalism in the Western hemisphere and given the present balance of forces in the world, these reforms are probably necessary. Cuba is no North Korea located in sunnier climes, but the longer it carries on in the old way the more likely the economy will seize up. That said market reform will certainly exacerbate and generate contradictions within Cuban society, but at the same time they offer an opportunity for developing cooperatives, encouraging debate on various types of ownership and could add to the pressure for democratisation (there seems to be a
real movement in Cuba pushing in this direction).


Dave Riley said...

There's an open and very healthy debate in Cuba at the moment about what to do next (eg: Fidel's recent interviews) ...but it isn't about rolling over for Miami. Its' about building on the rev's achievements. OUR problem is that 'Cuba' is filtered through so many contrary POV --many owned and manipulated by Uncle Sam -- and some deployed to shore up crude shibboleths on the far left. I think our bottom line has to be to defend the revolution from its offshore detractors and allow as much as we can for the Cuban's to work out their own future.

Gary Elsby said...

You just have to love the Cubans for nailing the Americans, surely.
In 1959, they knew that the American oil companise were cooking the books on revenue for the Cuban Government.
When Fidel confiscated and Nationalised the oil industry, they paid the yanks the value they (the US) put on the profits and not what it was actually worth.
They did their nut, attempted to invade and lost.
Surely, you have to laugh?

modernity said...


You missed out Castro's comments on antisemitism....

Rick said...

Phil, it's disingenuous to suggest "[n]o one reading his interview in Atlantic Magazine could possibly reach this conclusion." See Jeffrey Goldberg's follow-up two days later:

The idea that you could say one thing and mean the exact opposite is very much 1984-esque.