IJCS Vol.4 Nos. 3 and 4: SPECIAL ISSUE DECEMBER 2012

Cuban Studies

IJCS Vol.4  Nos. 3 and 4: SPECIAL ISSUE DECEMBER 2012


George Lambie

This issue contains a series of articles that truly get to ‘the heart of the matter’ concerning contemporary Cuba. Ludlam and O’Sullivan consider the current reform process and the cautious introduction of market mechanisms; Wilkinson and Lehoczki discuss respectively the relevance of the Chinese and Vietnamese market economy models for Cuba, and Cuba’s relations with China; Lamrani and Cole examine ALBA and in part its Cuban context; Erisman analyses Cuba’s health internationalism and US attempts to lure away Cuban personnel from this very successful aspect of Havana’s foreign policy, and finally Chaguaceda et al. make a study of participation in Cuba. Within all these topics lies a common thread which raises the question: Can Cuban socialism survive, and if so how?


Stephen Ludlam – ‘Legitimacy and Political Culture in Cuba’s Reform Strategy’

As Cuba enters a period of reform, the fundamentals of the revolution have been questioned with a view to aligning them to a new trajectory. Fidel and Raúl Castro and the ‘historic generation’ in general see it as their duty to carry through an ‘updating’ under their auspices that will preserve the Cuban state and its Constitution. In examining this process, Ludlam argues that these two planks of the socialist system and Cuban sovereignty have a high level of legitimacy with the population which are engaged to varying degrees and capacities with the process of change that is taking place. While the structure of the Cuban system is relatively secure, it is the social and economic problems caused by the ‘special period’ that are the main source of discontent, and ultimately it is poverty, growing inequality and the uncertainly about the future it generates that could undermine the whole system from within. At the core of the restructuring process is the introduction of market-style reforms, with a possibility of up to 20 per cent of the population becoming self-employed, and increased decentralisation of power to the provinces and municipalities. The author examines these plans and the drive for improving efficiency and the effect on such areas as the re-organisation of the labour force and the massive redeployment that has been proposed. Some of these workers will enter the private sector, and this has generated a debate surrounding the legal status of the self-employed and the need to encourage acceptance of this new category of workers into a radical socialist system which by its nature rejects such activities. Other areas which are under review are: price stability; cooking fuel supply; transport; access to building materials; the ration book, etc. In all these, Ludlam demonstrates the level of engagement of the population with the debates, through consultation, popular assemblies and other conduits between the state and citizens. Besides the fundamentals of reform and details of areas that are affected, the author also shows how the inner rationale of the system is being exposed to discussion and criticism; such as some of the practices of the Communist Party, the political mantras of the revolution and the state bureaucracy. The problem of corruption, which is often shrouded, is also being exposed and dealt with. While much of the Western media only comment on the market orientation of Cuba’s reforms and imply that the population are straining against the leash of communism, Ludlam shows just how involved the population is in the process of reform and along with much of the leadership do not want to see a breakdown of Cuban socialism, but look to its improvement.



Stephen Wilkinson – ‘Neither Beijing nor Hanoi but a Cuban Market Socialism?’

Despite the enormous problems encountered by the communist transition economies in the 1990s, because of Western prescriptions advocating a generalised model of market reforms, there persists a view in some quarters that shifts towards the market, even if only partial, can be designed according to experiences of other countries. While acknowledging that there are some similarities between the socialist systems of China, Vietnam and Cuba historically and politically, there are also huge differences. These are introduced in a table with well selected categories of comparison such as how much each economy depends on agriculture, relations with the US, and GDP per capita. In all these areas and others there are considerable differences which impact significantly on the way market reform can be implemented. Explanations are then given of these differences and their implications. For instance, agriculture in China and Vietnam is still largely based on peasant production with low levels of development and education, and this has produced a tendency for a rural migration to the cities where many new jobs have been created in these export orientated economies. In contrast, Cuba was a New World plantocracy in which most small producers were linked to a dynamic and modern sugar export economy rather than being part of a largely subsistence peasant structure. The modern and industrial aspects of sugar production continued in Cuba during the revolution and retained its importance in exports in its relationship with the former Soviet Union. This along with Cuba’s highly educated and ‘modern’ population; its much higher GDP per capita; policies to maintain socialism as the dominant system and preserve levels of equality, along with its poor relations with the nearby major market of the US, makes its orientation towards market socialism a very different experience to that of China and Vietnam.



Michael Erisman – ‘Brain Drain Politics: The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Programme’

Erisman begins his analysis by employing Nye’s concept of ‘soft power’, in which a country’s cultural and political influence and foreign policy are used as tools of persuasion to achieve desired outcomes. Cuba’s international medical aid programmes are seen in this category. Feinsilver, another analyst of Cuban health strategy, has alternatively coined the term ‘politics of symbolism’ to describe the same process. The author identifies Cuba’s ability to exercise ‘soft power’ not only as remarkable considering its level of development, but also because it is seen as a challenge by its Great Power neighbour to the north. In response the latter has set up in direct competition with Cuba the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) programme, launched by the Bush administration in 2006 as a joint venture between the Department of Homeland Security and State Department. This agency seeks to encourage defections by Cuban medical aid personnel, who are then recruited to work for US international health aid programmes. Notably, like the work of the National Endowment for Democracy and related US and Western agencies which seek to influence ‘democratic’ outcomes in many countries in favour of corporate global interests, the CMPP flies beneath the academic and media radar. After outlining the differences between Cuba’s labour- and people-intensive approach to health aid with America’s capital driven model, Erisman details and compares, with the support of tables and graphs, the strategies, priorities and performance of both countries in the international development arena. The evidence given suggests Cuba is more efficient and has a much greater impact using far less resources. This clearly gives rise to the need for the CMPP, whose prime instrument of persuasion is the power to treat Cuban health personnel overseas as a specifically designated group with the right to seek asylum in any US Embassy, and once accepted for them to receive permanent residence status in the US. The justification for this policy is grounded in claims that such personnel are victims of various human rights restrictions by the Cuban authorities and therefore qualify for asylum. Assessing the effectiveness of the programme, the author estimates total recruitment to be only 1.89 per cent of all Cubans working abroad in the field of health aid. Moreover, Cubans who were in the Communist Party have problems with being accepted, and professionally it is often difficult for Cuban-trained personnel to adapt to a different health system in the US. Erisman concludes that on many accounts the CMPP programme is counterproductive, but is unlikely to be withdrawn in the near future because of the complex politics surrounding US-Cuban relations.



Bernadett Lehoczki – ‘Sino-Cuban Relations in the 21st Century’

China is seen to be important to Cuba in two respects: as a model of economic reform, and as a political and economic ally and source of support as Cuba goes through a process of change. The author sets the task of assessing how significant these factors are  for  Cuba. More specifically she presents  various frameworks for analysis which include: that both are socialist countries; China is engaged generally in extending economic ties and improving relations with Latin America and the Caribbean; Asian nations are following a similar pattern in the region; China in the absence of the former Soviet Union is the only real political challenge to the US and offers Cuba a degree of protection in this context. Lehoczki then gives a timeline of Sino-Cuban relations concentrating on developments since 2000; noting that key areas of interest for China are Cuban nickel, oil resources and a whole range of joint ventures and collaborative initiatives. Beijing is also a source of credits for Havana. Cuban imports from China include transport vehicles and equipment, electrical, industrial and textile products and food. Trade relations between the two countries are now so extensive that, after Venezuela, China is Cuba’s largest trading partner, but at 12 per cent of total trade compared to almost 40 per cent, China is far from replacing Venezuela in first position. Raúl Castro’s recent visit to China was given high priority as the Cubans probably feel that if Chávez loses power in Venezuela, either through an electoral defeat or ill health, then despite the developing ALBA arrangements with other Latin American countries, Cuba could be isolated. China is in this respect not only a good existing trade and cooperation partner but also potentially a lifeline. Lehoczki moves on to address the issue of Chinese reforms as a model for Cuba. This, as Wilkinson has indicated in his article, is not a straightforward matter and a similar conclusion is reached. The author indicates that there are more dissimilarities between China and Cuba than similarities and this does not bode well for adopting any model wholesale; nevertheless some of China’s experiences with the introduction of markets could be instructive to Cuba. However China as an important political and economic partner is not in question and that relationship is likely to grow to mutual advantage.


Ken Cole – ‘Progress in Cuba: The Regional Dimension’

Cole begins by presenting and explaining comments by Fidel Castro concerning the nature of humans as ‘species beings’ and their tendency towards cooperative affinity and social empathy. Given this propensity, Castro sees highly individualised neo-liberal globalisation as a negation of human potentials giving rise to a need for a resurgence of human values. The author then concentrates on Latin America to show how decades of neo-liberal experimentation, including the debt crisis and global change, has undermined any prospect of meaningful human development. But these constraints placed on ordinary people’s potentials have led to various forms of resistance, some socialist and radical, others more reformist, which as a general process has become known as the ‘Pink Tide’. This regional response to globalisation and US hegemony is seen by Cole as a transformative process. A formal manifestation of this counter hegemonic trend, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) OK is held to be the most progressive regional response to the popular aspirations which seek to reject neo-liberal globalisation. After describing the main initiatives within ALBA, the author links the advanced socialist position of Cuba to the aspirations of the peoples of Latin America and sees a symbiosis based on a process of integration through ALBA.


Michael O’Sullivan – ‘The August Announcements: Strengthening Cuba’s Essential Socialist Character or a Transition to Capitalism? The Economic Reforms and Cuba’s Educated Youth

After outlining the proposals for reform, O’Sullivan reminds us Raúl Castro emphasised that the objective was greater efficiency not an end to socialism in Cuba. But this does not negate the fact that moves towards more private sector freedom are potentially the first step on the road to a transition to capitalism. The analysis moves on to the response and attitudes of Cuba’s youth to the ‘realignment’ of Cuban socialism. From a Western perspective, the younger generation is portrayed as dissatisfied and with different priorities to the ‘historical generation’ who made the revolution. This is partly true, however those external observers who see the revolution as a failed experiment believe that the young are simply seeking the ‘liberties’ of their counterparts in other countries; forgetting the real conditions of youth under globalisation not just in poor developing countries but also in the West with drugs, unemployment (almost 50 per cent in Spain) and an uncertain future as the global crisis deepens. O’Sullivan’s survey gives us a more informed and balanced perspective on Cuban youth, ranging from those who support the revolution and accept some limited changes but not a significant move towards capitalism, to those that feel capitalism offers opportunities not given by the current system. Generally speaking on all the areas in which he questioned young people, he concludes that they are ‘pragmatic’ rather than counter revolutionary. Using interviews, the author continues in his analysis of the reform process, adding further valuable observations. He also includes a commentary on the exchange between the North American cubanologist Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Cuba’s former Minister of Finance and later the Economy, José Luis Rodríguez, concentrating on the latter’s response to a request to clarify the model of socialism he envisages emerging from the reform process. Although Rodríguez is broadly supportive of the reforms, saying they will not undermine socialism, it is notable that he has recently published a book on the global crisis, in which he examines the adoption of market mechanisms in other socialist countries and their impact, which he shows not to have been favourable; now leaving these economies highly exposed. In this same work he advocates a more extensive use of socialist planning in Cuba as an alternative, which he believes could offer good prospects for extending participation and deepening socialism in Cuba. While presented as a member of the ‘old guard’, it must be remembered that as Minister he helped guide the revolution through one of its most difficult phases and oversaw what was regarded by many external observers as a remarkable recovery of the Cuban economy, largely based on non-market solutions. Other Cuban intellectuals cited include Piñeiro Harnecker and Rafael Hernández, who broadly believe that market reforms can be integrated with the revolution. In conclusion to this wide ranging and informative analysis, O’Sullivan asks a series of important but yet unanswered questions concerning the reforms, saying the outcomes are too difficult to predict. However he reminds us that after 50 years of surviving against the odds, it would be unwise to see this as the beginning of the end of the revolution.

Salim Lamrani – ‘The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America: The Challenge of Social Integration’

Lamrani’s article begins with a very useful and clear explanation of the background to the Bolivarian Alliance… (ALBA), well supported by appropriate reference to key documents and sources. It is in the author’s words, ‘an integrative alliance based on cooperation and reciprocity – and not on free trade…’. A brief critical assessment is made of the neo-liberal driven North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its impact on Mexico, to demonstrate some of the rationale behind this alternative approach, conceived by Venezuela and Cuba in 2001 and founded in 2004. The article continues with a focus on two major humanitarian and social components of ALBA, both delivered principally by Cuban internationalists: ‘Operación Milagro’ (Operation Miracle) which seeks to help people suffering from eye diseases and vision impairments, and ‘Yo, sí puedo’ (Yes, I can) aimed at eradicating illiteracy. The major thrust of these initiatives is in Latin America, and especially ALBA members, but support is given to a wide range of other countries. Using well-documented evidence, the author describes and explains the effects and outcomes of these humanitarian and social projects, implemented by Cuban personnel. The results are breathtaking, especially given the size and resources of Cuba, and the massive constraints still felt by progressive governments in Latin America from hostile Western powers and the continuing effects of neo-liberalism. But if one compares the ALBA/Cuba performance to recent reports (e.g. Lord Crisp, ‘Global Health Partnerships’, 2007) on that of mainstream international health and social aid underscored by World Bank prescriptions, then the achievements are even more astonishing. Will anyone in the West listen? Doubtful. But the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who have experienced this ‘not for profit’ humanitarian support are gaining a voice, especially in Latin America. Lamrani concludes that the main problem facing the development and consolidation of ALBA will be persuading the two main nations in the continent, Argentina and Brazil, to join. However he believes that the formation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in 2011 under the leadership of Venezuela, and not dependent on the US and Canada, is a good start.


Armando Chaguaceda et al. – ‘Community Participation in Cuba: Experiences from a Popular Council’

The article begins by defining the parameters of what is understood as community participation, and then proposes its study based on a Neighbourhood Comprehensive Transformation Workshop (TTIB), a Credit and Services Cooperative and ‘Popular Councils’ on the outskirts of Havana. The research is mainly based on qualitative methods such as interviews and consultations and was conducted in two stages; one in 2008 and the other concentration on ‘Popular Councils’ in 2011. Its objective is to seek to understand how people themselves comprehend participation rather than look at the formal structures within which it is enacted. Cuba, as the authors note, is in this respect a special case because popular involvement in the revolutionary process was something born with its inception in 1959. However analysing the structure of State and Party relations and the vertically organised Cuban political system, it would not seem to lend itself to more than formal participation. From the interviews and surveys conducted, it would appear that there are mixed feelings about the level of participation, with some citizens and their representatives seeing it as a rather mechanistic process; voting, attending, putting questions to delegates, etc. While others feel that participation is about solidarity with the revolutionary project associated with being in the ‘avant-garde of everything’ such as ‘voluntary work’, ‘blood donations’, etc. or simply a ‘feeling of belonging’. Only in rare instances do the authors believe that participation is actually seen as empowerment with the possibility of directing processes as ‘transformation agents of society’. Ultimately they see participative culture in Cuba as effective but only up to the level of involvement and political commitment; ‘taking part’ rather than ‘play[ing] a part’. In this sense participation as it is constituted could be regarded as an obstacle to ‘true community participation’. While the emphasis today in Cuba, both from internal and external observers, is focussed on the market–state balance of the economy, there is also a second potentially more significant issue that faces the island today: its ability to foster a socialist process of participation which empowers people in society and the economy to make collective decisions about the direction of the revolution, rather than reacting to policies which largely emanate from a benign and socially responsible leadership.