Fidel Castro's Rule and Legacy--Part II

Samuel Farber

THE FACT THAT the new Cuban revolutionary government was undemocratic did not mean that it was not popular, particularly during its first 30 years. Fidel’s regime enjoyed a great deal of popular support until the early nineties, when the collapse of the Soviet bloc produced a severe economic crisis in the island that alienated a substantial part of the population, especially the youth.

This support was based on four principal factors: First, the regime was perceived by most Cubans as being honest, an important departure from the popular view of practically all previous Cuban governments. The top revolutionary leadership surely enjoyed a much higher standard of living than the majority of the population, but based on their privileged access to all kinds of consumer goods (including travel abroad as part of official delegations) and not on their theft of public monies or in any kind of racketeering (drugs or gambling) inside Cuba.(1)

Second, the regime established, with massive Soviet subsidies, an extensive and generous welfare state, particularly evident in the areas of health and in a system of education that went from universal elementary education and literacy to secondary and university education for a significant proportion of the population.

This helped to consolidate an austere but secure standard of living assuring the minimal material needs of the great majority of the population, although — like every economy based on the Soviet model — it was chronically affected by serious shortages of consumer goods and a permanent housing crisis.

Third, the departure of the upper classes and major sections of the middle classes, and a substantial population growth until the late ’70s created room for considerable social mobility notwithstanding the very mediocre rates of economic growth during the entire revolutionary period.(2)

Last but not least was the early radicalization of large sectors of the population, and the resurgence of mass anti-imperialism, dormant since World War II, brought back to life by the threats and aggressions of U.S. imperialism, which in turn contributed to the legitimacy and support for the revolutionary government.

Fidel Castro adroitly manipulated this real and authentic support in his favor, particularly in the first years of the revolution, when he and his inner group would make fundamental decisions regarding the road the revolution would take without giving any previous clue as to what they had in mind.

Fidel’s modus operandi involved proclaiming totally unanticipated policies never previously mentioned, much less open to any kind of discussion beyond his inner circle, and then organizing great mobilizations to show support for what he and his close associates had already decided.

Perhaps the best example of this was the Agrarian Reform law of May 1959. Even though talk about a new agrarian law had abounded since the revolutionary victory, nobody, including the mass media of all political colorations, had any idea of what it would entail and how radical it would be.

That is why even the big landlords and sugar mill owners “supported” the notion of agrarian reform and donated significant amounts of money and agricultural equipment to the new government with the clear hope of influencing its content. Once the law was promulgated, however, they fiercely opposed it since it sharply limited landholding size, established the compensation of the confiscated land based on the undervalued estimates that the owners had declared for tax purposes, and made it payable with 20-year bonds (which, in the end, were never issued.)(3)

To be sure, Fidel Castro’s method was effective in surprising and throwing domestic and foreign enemies off balance, at least in the short term. Most important, however, was that his sudden and unexpected communication to the public, from the top, of major policy decisions like this one, prevented the autonomous political development and organization among the supporters of the revolution themselves, two indispensable elements of an authentically democratic revolution from below.

For those opposed to or critical of his decisions, Fidel resorted to an extensive and ever present apparatus of control and repression. To be sure, the saliency and importance of these repressive mechanisms varied substantially throughout his regime.

One of the first was the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), founded in September 1960. Their principal purpose was vigilance and repression, as Fidel Castro himself indicated when he called on the Cuban people to “establish against the campaign of imperialism a system of collective revolutionary vigilance, in which everyone knows who everyone is, what each person who lives on the block does, what relations he had with the tyranny, to what he is dedicated, whom he meets, and what activities he follows.”(4)

Every Cuban citizen was supposed to participate in the CDR, and those who declined were seen as not “integrated” in the revolutionary process, which seriously affected their higher education and employment prospects. With the passage of time, the CDRs acquired other functions besides political vigilance, particularly in the area of social assistance. However, with the onset of the Special Period that began in the 1990s, their functioning substantially deteriorated.

Cuban social scientists Armando Chaguaceda and Lennier López described, in a recent article, how CDR meetings and neighborhood patrols that characterized the earlier decades became extremely rare, and the fact that younger people did not care to assume the leadership of the committees at the local level.(5) Thus, while the political control of Fidel’s regime continued to be extraordinary, it increasingly became more dependent on the supervision and surveillance of government agencies, such as State Security (Seguridad del Estado)

The repression of political dissidents started early on in the first years of the revolution, and included right-wing counterrevolutionaries, many of them organized and supported by the CIA, as well as supporters of the revolution. One of Fidel Castro’s first acts of repression was the purging, and in some cases the imprisonment, of local union leaders who resisted the takeover by the old Communist Party and its allies of the union confederation in 1959 and 1960.

The repression of leftists also touched the old Communist leader Aníbal Escalante, first, in 1962 for his sectarian attempt to accumulate power by excluding from government positions revolutionaries who had not belonged to the old Communist Party. He was purged and arrested again in 1968, when he and a group of his followers were accused of forming a party “micro-faction” critical of Fidel Castro’s economic policies and of attempting to rally the support of East European diplomats with whom he had regular contact.

Escalante and his closest collaborators were given long prison sentences. What distinguished this particular purge from any other is that for Fidel — and his brother Raúl, assigned to officially charge Escalante — the “micro-faction” represented an organized threat to the monolithic conception of the party that he and his brother shared and that they were trying to implement.

Besides the fact that many of the “micro-faction” criticisms of Fidel Castro’s economic policy proved to be correct later on — such as what turned out to be the disastrous effort to have a 10 million ton sugar crop in 1970 — no evidence was ever presented that Escalante and his little group were conspiring to remove or overthrow the Cuban government with or without the active support of any Eastern European Communist diplomat.(6)

Rather than combat Escalante’s “unpatriotic” behavior through political means, police methods were used instead. Of course the issue here is not that of sympathy for Escalante’s hardcore Stalinism, but whether his group was entitled to factional rights in the Cuban Communist Party rather than being criminally prosecuted for their dissent.

A much lesser known but far more significant purge of the pro-revolutionary left involved Walterio Carbonell (1920-2008), a Cuban exponent of a particular version of Black Power politics.
Carbonell had originally been a member of the PSP (the old pro-Moscow Cuban Communists). Ironically, he had been expelled from the party for supporting Fidel Castro’s attack on the Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953. After the revolution, he served as Cuba’s Ambassador to the Algerian FLN (National Liberation Front) then located in Tunisia.

In 1961, he published his Crítica: Como Surgió la Cultura Nacional (Critique. How [Cuba’s] National Culture Emerged) asserting that Black Cubans had played a major role in Cuba’s wars of independence and the establishment of the republic, and that this fact had been subsequently erased by the pre-revolutionary white racist culture and institutions.

Moreover, Carbonell argued, it was the Black Cuban experience that was at the heart of the Cuban Revolution’s radicalism. Fidel’s government, about to proclaim that the revolution had eliminated racism as part of its campaign for “national unity,” labeled Carbonell as a racially divisive figure and began to persecute him.

In 1968 Carbonell, a leading figure of a group of Black Cuban intellectuals and artists calling on the government to actively intervene against racism in the island, was arrested. He endured various forms of detention between 1968 and 1974, including compulsory labor. After his release in 1974, and as a result of continuing to defend his ideas, he was interned in various psychiatric hospitals where he was subjected to electroshock and drug therapy for another two to three years.(7)

Meanwhile, his 1961 book disappeared from circulation. It became available much later, in 2005 when, in a relatively more liberal period, the director of the National Library, where Carbonell was working as a little-known researcher, made it available on line.(8)

At various times Fidel Castro admitted the existence of large numbers of political prisoners in the island, mentioning 15,000 political prisoners at one time after having previously mentioned 20,000.(9)

These political prisoners — many, although by no means all, were right-wing opponents of the regime some of whom were also involved in the commission of violent acts with support from the U.S.  government — were most often found guilty of vague, frameup charges such as enemy propaganda, contempt for authority (desacato), rebellion, acts against state security, clandestine printing, diffusion of false news, pre-criminal social dangerousness, illicit association, meetings and demonstrations, resistance, defamation and libel.(10)

Typically they received long-term sentences, frequently 20 years or longer in prison. (Under Raúl Castro, the emphasis changed from long-term sentences — there are now some 140 long-term political prisoners — to making thousands of short-term arrests every year both to prevent and to punish dissident political activity.)(11)

It is worth mentioning that Cuba under Fidel had a very large number of common prisoners. This pattern continues under Raul: In May 2017, Cuba occupied, with a ratio of 510 common prisoners per 100,000 persons, the sixth place among 223 prison systems in independent countries and dependent territories, surpassed only by the Seychelles, the United States of America, St. Kitts and Nevis, Turkmenistan and the U.S. Virgin Islands.(12)

Repression under Fidel’s regime not only included criticism or opposition to his regime, but a much larger set of practices — for example, membership and activities in religious organizations, which in Cuba included the African religion of Abakuá, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses — that escaped the control of the state, or those, like homosexuality, that shocked and did not conform to the officially accepted norms of conduct, and stood against the New Man that Fidel wanted to create.

In 1965, Fidel’s government established the Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción (Military Units for Aid to Production) camps, where for about three years gays, along with Jehovah’s Witnesses, many committed Catholics, members of the Afro-Cuban secret, but non-political, societies such as Abakuá, were forced to provide cheap, regimented labor for the Cuban State.(13)

The repression of gays was intensified at the onset of the Quinquenio Gris (The Grey Quinquennium) in 1971,(14) with the declaration by the National Congress of Education and Culture that “notorious homosexuals” were not going to be tolerated in spite of their “artistic merits” because of the influence they could have on the Cuban youth.

Homosexuals who had direct contact with young people regarding cultural activities of any kind were to be transferred to other organizations and workplaces. The Congress also declared that people with “morals undermining the prestige of the revolution” would be prevented from joining any group of performers representing Cuba abroad.(15)

Contrary to what some North American liberals and radicals have argued, the big push for this anti-gay campaign did not come from the old pro-Moscow sector of the new Cuban Communist Party, but from a Fidel Castro determined to create among the youth a military-style discipline with a marked anti-urban bias.

Thus, in Fidel’s March 13, 1963 speech at the University of Havana, he blasted the “bourgeois children” who imitated Elvis Presley and presented “freelance effeminate” shows, and then noting that given that it was not easy to straighten out adult homosexuals — “a tree that had grown twisted” — no radical measures would be taken against them, but that the young “aspiring” to be homosexuals were a different matter.

He then pointed out that rural Cuba did not produce the “subproduct” of homosexuality.(16) That is why, at about the same time that the UMAPs were established, the Cuban government opened the Center for Special Education for boys considered to be “effeminate” and for those raised by single mothers believed to be at risk of becoming homosexuals. The obligatory separation of these children from the public schools was based on the notion that they could “infect” their fellow students.(17)

The UMAP experience and the long-lasting discrimination and persecution of Cuban gays, which seriously began to diminish only in the 1990s,(18) is a test of the commonly brandished argument justifying the Cuban government’s repression as a response to the real (and imagined) subversion of U.S. imperialism and its Cuban right-wing agents.

Evidently, these repressive “cultural” campaigns had nothing to do with such enemies; instead they were aimed at the creation of Fidel’s version of the New Man, instilled with Spartan military virtues, who worshiped the Cuban state and rejected the degeneracy of city living, which not incidentally facilitated Fidel Castro’s aim to wholly control the life of Cubans.

Much of the admiration and respect that people in the Global South, especially Latin Americans, have for Fidel Castro comes not necessarily from his having established Communism in Cuba, but from having challenged outright the North American empire not only by affirming Cuban independence but also by sponsoring movements abroad against the local ruling classes associated with the U.S. empire.

This deepened Washington’s hostility to the Cuban regime leading the United States not only to establish the economic blockade of the island but also to sponsor military invasions, terror campaigns and assassination attempts on Fidel Castro.

While it is true that Fidel Castro maintained his opposition to the U.S. empire to his last breath, his foreign policy, particularly after the late 1960s, was moved more by the defense of Cuban state interests as he defined them and by his alliance with the USSR than by the pursuit of anti-capitalist revolution.

Foreign Policy between Revolution and Reasons of State

In the early and mid-’60s, Fidel Castro sponsored revolutionary guerrillas in several Latin American countries. In the late ’60s, however, the Soviet Union, interested in upholding the then-existing international balance of power that assigned Latin America to the U.S. sphere of influence, began to apply strong political and economic pressure on Cuba to play down its open support for guerrilla warfare in that part of the world.

Fidel responded by reducing, in the ’70s, his support of guerrilla warfare in Latin America and turning instead to Africa, aware that his interest in supporting African liberation movements was strategically more compatible with Soviet interests in spite of their many subsequent tactical disagreements. It is this strategic alliance with the USSR that explains in many ways Fidel’s apparently contradictory policies in the African continent.

On the one hand he very actively pursued a left-wing policy, with the support and collaboration of the USSR, of fighting alongside the left-wing nationalists in Angola against the right wing UNITA and the forces of South African Apartheid. On the other hand, he pursued a right-wing policy in the Horn of Africa, also in accordance with the USSR, of supporting the “leftist” bloody dictatorship in Ethiopia against Eritrea’s independence movement.

That is why Fidel Castro directed the Cuban armed forces to relieve the Ethiopian troops fighting on the Ogaden front, where the war between Ethiopia and Somalia was being played out, which allowed the Ethiopians to continue their war versus the Eritreans.(19) For Cuba, the support for Ethiopia’s war, especially in the Ogaden region claimed by Somalia, was a war of choice, since it was neither an anti-imperialist war, and much less a war in defense of Cuban sovereignty. In this war against the Somalian government, Cuba deployed, during the first quarter of 1978, no fewer than 17,000 of its troops.(20)

In a speech delivered on April 26, 1978, Fidel Castro tried to justify his government’s new position of opposing Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia (which he had previously supported) by comparing the Eritrean liberationists to the secessionists in the American South who provoked the American Civil War.

As Nelson P. Valdés pointed out, this was a baseless comparison for a number of reasons, including the fact that the American South had been an integral part of the United States since its inception and did not constitute a separate nation. Besides, the Eritrean struggle was an authentic popular movement untainted by the racism of the Southern secessionists.(21)

In fact, the main reason why Fidel Castro changed his earlier position was that the new “left wing” Ethiopian government, unlike Haile Selassie, had taken the side of the Soviets in the Cold War.

It was for the same reasons that, to the great surprise and disappointment of the Cuban people, Fidel Castro supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, although it was also clear that Castro’s political dislike for Dubcek’s liberal policies played an important role in his decision to support the Soviet action.

Castro was also critical of the USSR, and sarcastically wondered whether Moscow would come to Cuba’s military aid in the event of a U.S. invasion. He also supported, at least implicitly, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, although with much discomfort and in a low-key manner because of the high political cost that his support entailed for his leadership, since 1978, of the non-aligned movement, the great majority of whose members were strongly opposed to the Soviet intervention.(22)

Even in the most radical stages of his foreign policy in the early ’60s, Fidel refrained from supporting opposition movements against governments that had good relations with Havana and rejected U.S. policy towards the island, independently of the ideological coloration of those governments.

The most paradigmatic cases of his “reasons of state” approach to Cuban foreign policy was the highly cordial relations that his government maintained with the Mexico of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and with Franco’s Spain. His support, or lack thereof, for the guerrilla and opposition movements then ongoing in Latin American countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Venezuela depended on the degree to which they agreed with Cuba’s favored guerrilla strategies and political approach to the governments that the guerrillas were combating.

The Cuban Economy under Fidel

The triumph of the Revolution of 1959 ushered among the great majority of Cubans great expectations for the Cuban economy. Short term, they were looking forward to an agrarian reform and a program of economic diversification that would diminish sugar monoculture and radically improve the living standards of rural Cuba.

Responding to those expectations, the early months of the revolution saw a program of industrialization, supported by an import substitution policy, animated by the government’s popular slogan “compre productos cubanos” (buy Cuban products), expected to help address the chronic unemployment that not only affected rural Cuba but a high proportion of urban youth entering the labor market.

In the long run, as a 1956 study of the United States Bureau of Foreign Commerce explained, the goal of the Cuban average working person was “to reach a standard of living comparable to the American worker.”(23)

During Fidel Castro’s rule, sugar production was dramatically reduced (a 57% drop between 1989 and 2000), and by the time of his death in 2016, it ranged from one to one and a half million tons a year compared with the 5-7 million that had prevailed in the 1950s. In 2018 only 1.1 million tons were produced, and Cuba had to buy sugar abroad to complete the quota assigned to Cubans in their ration books.(24)

But this decline was not the result of a successful agricultural diversification and industrialization program. Instead, Cuba became even more dependent on imports from abroad for most of its food and industrial products. Quite aside from the problems that Cuba, like all sugar producers confronted in the international market, the Cuban government’s failure to maintain and modernize its sugar mills and the lack of diversification into various sugar byproducts sealed the fate of the industry.

Thus, for example, while Cuba reduced its capacity to produce sugar, Brazil was expanding and modernizing it, with the ability to flexibly move from the production of sugar to alcohol produced to be used as fuel.(25)

Although sugar decay in Cuba started long before the collapse of the Soviet bloc, it was undoubtedly aggravated by it. As the reign of sugar declined under Fidel Castro’s rule, Cuba became heavily dependent on remittances from Cubans abroad and especially from the United States, the export of services such as the foreign sale of medical services and tourism, the export of nickel (Cuba is the 10th largest producer in the world), and a promising but yet relatively small pharmaceutical industry.

From a longer and comparative perspective, Cuba’s economic performance throughout Fidel’s 47 years-long regime was rather unimpressive.

Gross Domestic Product figures, an admittedly crude and problematic but still useful indicator of economic dynamism, which the Cuban government itself uses as a yardstick —  although with revisions to include the social services provided free of charge in the country — show the Cuba of 1950 as ranking tenth in per capita GDP among 47 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Almost 60 years later in 2006, the year that Fidel Castro retired, Cuba ranked seventh from the bottom and was ahead of only Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Bolivia, El Salvador and Paraguay. While its overall growth rate during the period of Fidel Castro’s rule (1959-2006) was only 0.92%, it varied widely during those 47 years but was nevertheless never higher than the 2.04 percent growth it achieved for the period 1971-1989 that included the sugar boom of the ’70s.(26)

For purposes of comparison, the rate of GDP growth in the pre-revolutionary period of 1950-58 was 1.61%, also unimpressive, but still higher than during the subsequent revolutionary period.(27)

Supporters of the Cuban government would argue that, although useful, those figures are less revealing than the various indices published by the United Nations, and especially the Human Development Index (HDI) compiled by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The HDI is based on three criteria: health, education, and per capita Gross National Income. Since it was first published in 1990, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuban ranked seventh among the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, and continued to rank seventh in the 2007/2008 rankings right after Fidel Castro retired.

By 2018, Cuba’s ranking had descended to 73rd in the world and the 11th in Latin America and the Caribbean behind Chile (44), Argentina (47), Bahamas (54), Uruguay (55), Barbados (58), Costa Rica (63), Panama (66), Trinidad and Tobago (69), Antigua and Barbuda (70) and Saint Kitts and Nevis (72).(28)

Thus Cuba certainly fared better in the comparative HDI scores, under Fidel and also under Raúl. However, the Index was primarily designed to measure the hardships in underdeveloped capitalist countries, and not for countries that, like Cuba, combine the problems of underdevelopment with those of Soviet-type societies.

In the specific case of Cuba, those systemic problems have included food shortages, particularly for the more than one third of the population that does not receive hard currency remittances from abroad and is disproportionately Black; scarcity of housing, clothing and toiletries;(29) poor public urban and interurban bus and railway transportation, except for those paying with hard currency; lack of road maintenance; irregular and sporadic garbage collection; and inadequate delivery of water and electricity, except for those lucky enough to live in or near a tourist zone.

The case of water is very revealing. On one hand, Cuba has reported being able to deliver drinking water to 95% of its population. Yet Cuba has never been able to solve the serious water shortages it has chronically experienced before the revolution, since the late 1940s.

The most important contemporary cause of that shortage has been the very deteriorated infrastructure — broken pipes and numerous leaks — a problem that originated before the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989 and 1990 (recently worsened by recurring droughts). As a result, 58% of the water pumped by the country’s aqueducts is lost, a situation that is even worse in the case of the Havana metropolitan area, where 70% of the water is lost.(30)

The accumulated spilled water has led to epidemics, such as the Dengue epidemics spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, that have periodically affected Cuba throughout Fidel and Raúl Castros’ rule. While some of the problems listed above are common to Cuba and capitalist underdeveloped countries, others are the result of the specific problems that affect Soviet type economies in such areas as agriculture, consumer goods, such as toiletries, and personal services.

Fidel Castro continually pointed at the U.S. economic blockade, instituted in the early ’60s, as the single most important explanation for the economic problems of the island. The criminal blockade undoubtedly dealt a big blow to the Cuban economy. It was particularly damaging in the early days of the revolution, when the island was totally dependent on U.S.-made machinery, technology and services for the functioning and maintenance of its infrastructure.

As a result of the blockade, much of the capital stock and inputs of the Cuban economy had to end up being replaced with equipment and other materiel resources from the Eastern bloc. It’s also clear that the abolition of that blockade would have substantially benefited the island’s economy during that period.

There is no doubt that the complete abolition of the criminal blockade — already significantly modified with such measures as the authorization to sell U.S. agricultural goods to Cuba in 2001, and the liberalization of restrictions decreed by Obama, such as the recent resumption of regularly scheduled commercial flights to the island — would be a welcome development and benefit the Cuban economy, particularly in the rapidly growing tourist industry and in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump’s measures against Cuba, while less severe than was expected due perhaps to the pressure of the pro-Cuba-trade business lobbies such as agribusiness and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, undoubtedly constitute a setback to such prospects.

Under Trump’s new rules, travel by Americans (other than Cuban-Americans) to Cuba was significantly reduced and since then the active discouragement of travel to Cuba by the State Department and the withdrawal of most U.S. diplomatic personnel from the island has further reduced the number of travelers from the United States and made it much more difficult for Cubans to obtain U.S. visas.

The latter Trumpian moves were supposedly adopted as a response to the mysterious “sonic attacks” suffered by U.S. and Canadian diplomats, although it is perhaps possible, as Peter Kornbluh has argued, that since no tourists were affected and that many of those harmed were CIA agents,(31) the mysterious sonic phenomena were possibly the result of mismanaged CIA operations.(32)

In April of this year, the U.S. government adopted new measures against Cuba in the context of its growing intervention in Venezuela to overthrow the Maduro government, a close ally of the Cuban regime.

Following the lead of John R. Bolton and Senator Marco Rubio who for a long time have been trying to “tighten the screws” on Cuba, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the full implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act that will allow U.S. citizens to bring lawsuits against entities “trafficking in confiscated property” in Cuba effective May 2. This section of the Act had previously been waived by each administration since the Act’s adoption in 1996.

Trump’s actions will particularly affect foreign investors in Cuba who may be utilizing plant and other facilities previously confiscated from U.S. capitalists. Canada and the European Union have registered their strong objection to Title III since the legislation was adopted and continued to do so in the wake of the recent Washington measures.

As part of the April measures, the Trump administration will further restrict nonfamily travel to Cuba and will also limit money sent to the country to $1,000 per person, per quarter. While it is true that this measure will have little effect on the great majority of remittances since these average $200 to $220 a month, it will have a negative impact on the relatively small but significant number of large remittances that are used in Cuba for such purposes as house renovations (often to rent them to tourists) and the opening of small businesses.

In any case, there are important facts that undermine Fidel’s blaming the blockade for Cuba’s economic ills in major ways. First, the United States was the only major capitalist country that boycotted Cuba. Canada, Spain, France and the rest of Western Europe did not, and since the 1960s they have played an important role in Cuba’s economic life.

The principal problem in Cuba’s economic relations with these countries has been the overall scarcity of goods and services it has been able to offer for sale, and as a result, the insufficient amount of hard currency it has to pay for imports.

It is very telling that when Cuba obtained large amounts of foreign income as the result of the rise of the world price of sugar to record levels during the commodities boom of the first half of the 1970s (it increased 15-fold from 1968 to 1974), it dramatically increased its trade with the capitalist world. While the non-Communist world’s share of Cuban exports (mostly sugar) rose to an all-time high of 47.3% in 1972, and remained high at 43.3% in 1974, its share of Cuban imports reached 39.5% in 1974, and peaked at 51.4% in 1975.(33)

Beyond trade itself, the European capitalist countries were willing to expand their economic relations with the island. Thus, the Cuban government received more than six billion dollars in credits and loans from many of these European industrialized capitalist countries until its economic problems led it to suspend the service of these debts in 1986 — several years before the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Cuba managed to negotiate this extant debt with the Paris Club only in December of 2015 when it was forgiven some of its obligations and allowed to resume the gradual repayment of the remaining debt.(34)

Most significantly, from 1960 to 1990 Cuba received approximately $65 billion from the Soviet Union on very favorable terms, in addition to other credits and aid from other East European countries and China. Even the most conservative estimates place the Soviet aid well above Cuba’s losses from U.S. economic aggression during that period.(35)

Thus, even though the U.S. blockade has certainly harmed the Cuban economy, it was less important than internal factors in determining its poor performance. Fidel’s Cuba replicated in all its essentials the Soviet economic model, where a bureaucratic ruling class appropriates the economic surplus without any democratic planning or institutional constraints by unions or other independent popular organizations — thereby depriving the system of a mechanism equivalent to the regulating and disciplining role of the capitalist market.

It is a centralized bureaucratic system that lacks any trans­parency in its managerial conduct and decision making, and where managers avoid taking responsibility for economic decisions for fear of being overruled and punished by those above them, resulting in economic inefficiency and even chaos.

For their part, workers have little motivation to work since they neither have material incentives (adequate salaries and satisfactory access to consumer goods) nor political incentives (a real say and democratic control of their workplaces and communities). This lack of motivation is evident in the lack of care in the performance of their work in every sector of the state-run enterprises.

Observers of the Cuban economy reported inefficient factories under Fidel (as under Raúl Castro’s rule), inflating their expenses to obtain more financial subsidies from the government, and a generalized lack of attention to the costs of production, leading to situations such as a plastics factory investing $1.15 for every dollar’s worth of merchandise produced.(36)

These widespread patterns are part of the phenomenon of “soft budgets” of public enterprises in Soviet-type economies, and are a key element of what the Hungarian economist Janos Kornai called “shortage economies” with their accompanying waste and inefficiency. Cuba’s central bureaucratic planning has produced the long-standing problems of the economy under both Fidel and Raúl Castro.

Even the Cuban government press has acknowledged the waste of resources, the overuse of energy carriers, and the existence of idle plants in enterprises. But the blame for these problems has been assigned to the lack of “economic culture” rather than to the structure and organization of the economic system itself.(37)

Like other Soviet-type economies, Fidel Castro’s Cuba was characterized by what the social scientist Charles E. Lindblom called an economy of “strong thumbs, no fingers.” A “strong thumbs” economy, typical of a centralized bureaucratic administration, is one where the government is able to mobilize large numbers of people to carry out homogeneous, routine and repetitive tasks that require little variation, initiative, or improvisation to adapt to specific conditions and unexpected circumstances at the local level. Examples of such tasks are the systematic, military style preparations in anticipation of natural disasters and massive vaccination campaigns and other preventive and standardized medical tests.

In contrast, a “nimble fingers” economy allows the system to efficiently and effectively deal with issues of variety, size, design and taste in consumer goods and to adequately organize the timely coordination of complex processes inside and among the different sectors of the economy.

The consequences of having a “strong thumbs, no fingers” economy in Cuba are evident in the agricultural sector, mostly because of the inevitable and unpredictable changes in climate and local conditions, which require more local initiative, intensive care and individual motivation than in the industrial sector — and also because of the complex and time-consuming bureaucratic hurdles involved in the process of conveying the agricultural goods, which become easily damaged or quickly spoiled from the farm to the consumer.

Just a couple of years after Fidel Castro retired, a foreign journalist residing in Cuba reported that the long bureaucratic road from farm to consumer established under Fidel Castro included eleven transfer points.(38)

Fidel’s’ personal interventions considerably aggravated the problems of his already malfunctioning economy. In contrast with his younger brother Raúl, who as the long-time head of the Armed Forces since the early ’60s got used to delegating power through the established military hierarchies, Fidel was a micromanager, often ignoring the judgment of local workers and managers intimately familiar with the situation at hand.

Considering himself an expert after having read a few books and articles on a given issue, he would also disregard the advice of the professional experts and initiate predictably unsuccessful and wasteful projects, such as developing a new breed of the so-called F1 hybrid cows, which he insisted on against the advice of the British experts he himself brought to Cuba in the 1960s.(39)

Most disastrous of all was his campaign to achieve a totally unprecedented 10 million ton sugar crop in 1970, which not only failed but also greatly disrupted the rest of the economy by deviating transportation and other resources from other economic sectors.

Like so many other dictators, Fidel was also inclined to gigantism, whether order­ing the con­struction of an Olympic size swimming pool in a local recreation center when a smaller pool would have been fully adequate for the purposes at hand, or, on a far larger scale, insisting in an unnecessarily wide and wasteful eight-lane highway traversing much of the island.

This gigantism in the execution of new projects was, in many ways, the other side of the economic coin of paying little attention to the modernization, maintenance and upkeep of existing facilities, as in the case of the sugar industry which he just let fall apart.

The already meager resources of the island were thus further depleted with these and other economic interventions. The last ones Fidel undertook, based on his so-called “Battle of Ideas” campaign, took place from 2000 to 2006, when at the head of the “Grupo de Coordinación y Apoyo del Comandante en Jefe” (Commander in Chief’s Coordination and Support Group) that he formed outside and independently of the established agencies and institutions of his own government, he set out to “solve” certain problems meriting his attention.

One of those problems involved the educational sector affected by the massive flight of poorly compensated teachers and other professionals to the tourist industry. By fiat Fidel created a program for “emergent” teachers involving 18 and 19 year-old people, fresh out of high school, who with very little training were given teaching positions with very poor educational results.(40)

Meanwhile, disregarding the economic plans and budgets set by his own government, he arbitrarily appropriated material resources for his own pet projects, such as the reconstruction of the University of Havana Law School building, which he had attended many decades earlier. When Fidel was forced to retire due to poor health in 2006, Raúl Castro immediately disbanded most of these projects along with the Grupo de Coordinación.

After Fidel: Raúl Castro’s Reforms

The fundamental outlines of the society built under Fidel Castro remain, although the reforms introduced by his brother Raúl in the last ten years have modified and softened some of its hardest edges.

Prompted by the urgent need for economic modernization and growth, Raúl, ever the pragmatist of the two Castros, has been trying to establish a modified version of the Sino-Vietnamese model that maintains the one-party state built by Fidel while partially opening the economy to self-employment, private enterprise and the market, resulting in some 25-30% of the active labor force becoming independent producers and service providers.

In the political realm, the state’s control of its citizenry has been liberalized. But this hasn’t been matched by the recognition of citizen rights and any degree of democratization. For example, the 2012 emigration reform, and the subsequent revisions thereof, have facilitated the movement of Cuban citizens in and out of the country, but do not recognize travel abroad as their right.

Thus, many dissidents have been prevented from leaving the country or their trips abroad have been delayed until after the events they were trying to attend have taken place. Meanwhile, the structures and politics of the one-party state with its so-called mass organizations as its transmission belts remain, along with a state-controlled monolithic mass media and the omniscient State Security who have even reached beyond Cuba to train and advise the intelligence systems of foreign countries such as Venezuela.

The new Cuban Constitution approved on February 24, 2019 does not change this political reality, leaving aside the fact that it was approved under the Cuban Communist Party’s monopoly of the mass media and the impossibility for dissenting views to organize in order to present and campaign for alternative constitutional visions.

This contrasts with the progressive Constitution of 1940, where a variety of political parties, including the Cuban Communists who played an important role in the Constitutional Convention, offered alternative views that were partially incorporated into the constitutional text.

Reluctant to deviate too much from the Soviet model of economic control he inherited from his older brother, Raúl’s reforms have been relatively modest and contradictory, as shown by the almost cyclical restrictions and subsequent relaxation of the rules for urban self-employment,(41) probably stemming from the government’s fear of losing control of the economy, but which is hardly reassuring to the small, sometimes tiny, businesses operating in the island.

Another, very important example are the agricultural reforms Raúl Castro introduced early on to solve the shortage of agricultural products, granting leases to individuals to work the land. The 169,434 people who obtained those leases from 2008 until 2016 have been facing numerous obstacles that have prevented the reform from yielding positive results.

Most of these obstacles are government made: In contrast with the five-year and permanent leases typically granted by the Chinese and Vietnamese governments, Raúl’s government only granted 10-year leases, renewable for 10 years; their recent extension to two 20-year terms and doubling of the maximum size of the land allotments will probably not be enough to provide positive prospects to the new leaseholders.

These farmers — like the 589,000 (as of 2018) urban “cuenta propistas” (people who work for themselves, but also hire others)  — cannot obtain the inputs they need at wholesale prices and bank loans for an amount sufficient to operate and keep their usually small enterprises afloat.(42) Moreover, the new agricultural lessees must sell most of their produce to Acopio, the state enterprise that also determines the purchasing prices. It is only what remains after Acopio has taken its share that the lessees can sell on their own at market prices, thus discouraging production.

As in the days of Fidel Castro’s rule, Cuban agriculture continues to suffer from organizational and bureaucratic ineptness. In 2016, for example, the official Cuban press acknowledged the serious problem of insufficient and inadequate packaging of processed agricultural products for the retail market. Thus the available 3.2 kilogram cans of tomato paste are too large and, at the cost of 130 pesos, too expensive for the retail trade.(43)

Another article reported that in Eastern Cuba near Guantánamo(44) the tomato crop was lost because of the lack of industrial facilities to process it. Mundubat, a Basque NGO, recently estimated that Cuba loses 57% of the food it produces.(45)

Partly because of the slowdown of the rise in tourism that had taken place during Obama’s second period — due, in part, to the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba in December of 2014 — Cuba achieved negative GDP growth of -0.9% in 2016, a low 1.6% in 2017 and an even lower 1.2% growth in 2018. The government projects a growth of 1.5 percent for 2019, all of which is well below the 5-7% growth that economists estimate it would take for Cuba to embark on a course of economic growth.

More worrisome is that the rate of new investment, necessary to replenish the capital stock has become among the lowest in Latin America, dropping below 12% of GDP. With government forecasts indicating lower investments in the near future, the rate of gross capital formation may descend to slightly over 10%, barely half the rate of investment considered necessary for economic development.(46)

Productivity is sliding too. Agricultural yields — with the exception of potatoes — are well below the rest of Latin America. In industry, biotechnology is the only sector that enjoys high productivity relative to the region.(47)

Meanwhile, inequality — to a significant degree contained during Fidel’s rule — has grown. This is due to a number of factors that include the differential access to remittances from abroad (Black Cubans are much less likely to obtain them), and higher incomes in the growing private sector.

It is also the result of racial discrimination, for which the government bears a heavy responsibility with its racially blind policies, although “affirmative action” exceptions have been made in specific instances such as in the racial composition of the Central Committee of the CCP. Experts put some 25% of the population below the poverty line, although that is just an estimate since the government has for over 20 years refused to release any data on poverty and inequality.

But the stark reality is that were it not for the remittances — more than three billion dollars — from Cuban-Americans in the United States and to a lesser extent from Spain and elsewhere, most Cubans would not be able to satisfy their most basic needs with their own earnings.

In 2017, Cubans earned on average 786 Cuban pesos a month.(48) Those pesos are used to acquire a diminishing number of goods, mostly through the shrinking rationing system, which the government plans to abolish. An increasing number of basic goods have to be acquired with CUCs (the Cuban equivalent of American dollars, each CUC costing approximately 25 Cuban pesos), making them unaffordable.

The purchasing power of average Cubans has been further eroded by inflation: the average state salary in 2016 represented 39% of its value in 1989 and 50% in the case of pensions.(49)

Free education and health services have offset part of those losses. However, that is changing as the deterioration of schools, which began after the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the 1990s, has led to an exponential growth of private tutoring, often provided by the schoolteachers themselves, as a source of income. A parallel development has been taking place in the health sector, with the growing practice of providing gratuities to doctors and other medical personnel in order to insure proper attention.

This deterioration has continued the reversal of many of the positive gains achieved by the revolutionary government in its early decades. Thus, for example, 390 Cuban schools were closed in the country for structural safety reasons before the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.(50)

According to Minister of Education Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, Cuba’s education system was still short of 16,000 teachers in 2016,(51) even after 17,800 retirees, part-timers, university students and others were enticed to return to the classroom in recent years. Even so, the number of classroom teachers declined from 218, 570 in the academic year 2008-2009 to 194,811 in the year 2016-2017. This is hardly surprising, since the average monthly compensation in the educational sector in 2016 was 533 pesos ($21), well below the then-average state salary of 740 pesos.(52)

The widespread physical deterioration of public buildings and facilities has affected not only schools but also hospital and other medical centers except for those set aside for the hard-currency medical tourism. To cap it all, the massive export of medical personnel to Venezuela (in exchange for oil), and to other foreign countries (in exchange for hard currency) has taken a heavy toll on the medical services provided to the Cuban people in the island.(53)

Thus the number of family doctors in Cuba shrunk by 40%. At the same time, while the total number of doctors rose 21% (including those sent abroad,) the total health personnel decreased 22% in 2008–2016 and the number of hospitals declined 32% in 2007-2016.(54)

Fidel’s system endures, but it is foundering, primarily for internal reasons. Cuba has a new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, born after the 1959 revolution, although Raúl Castro continues to be the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party and head of the Armed Forces.

It remains to be seen whether, as the historic generation of revolutionary leaders passes away within the next several years, the new Communist leaders will proceed to fully establish the Sino-Vietnamese model or attempt to hold on to Raúl Castro’s status quo.

Notes

  1. In 1989, General Arnaldo Ochoa and three other high army officers were accused of engaging in the international drug traffic and executed. In light of Fidel Castro’s concerns with every aspect of Cuban life and his micro-managing tendencies, it is hard to believe that he was not aware and that at least he did not “look the other way” before the trafficking group’s activities, mostly on behalf of the Cuban state’s treasury, threatened to become an international scandal. However, the drugs involved were not destined for domestic consumption in Cuba.
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  2. Starting in the late ’70s, Cuba has been facing a growing demographic crisis with a declining birth rate, substantial emigration and an aging of its population.
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  3. The agrarian reform policy was not even developed by the revolutionary government’s cabinet but by a group secretly meeting at Che Guevara’s home with the substantial participation of PSP (the old pro-Moscow Communists) members but excluding the cabinet’s liberals, social democrats and revolutionary anti-imperialists alike. This was a clear demonstration of the growing power of the PSP-Raúl Castro-Che Guevara tendency within the revolutionary camp. John Lee Anderson, Che Guevara. A Revolutionary Life, New York: Grove Press, 1997, 404-6.
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  4. Cited by César Escalante in “Los Comités de Defensa de la Revolución,” Cuba Socialista, 1, septiembre 1961, 70.
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  5. Armando Chaguaceda and Lennier López, “Cuban Civil Society. Its Present Panorama,” New Politics, Winter 2018, 40.
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  6. Samuel Farber, “Cuba in 1968,” Jacobin, April 29, 2018.
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  7. Lillian Guerra, Visions of Power in Cuba: Revolution, Redemption, and Resistance 1959–1971 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 274.
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  8. bdigital.bnjn.cu/secciones/publicaciones/libros/walterio_carbonell/1A_%20cultura%20_nacional.pdf Unfortunately, Cuba’s growing but still expensive Internet coverage will still prevent many Cubans, and especially Black Cubans who are even less likely to have Internet access, to have the opportunity to become acquainted with Carbonell’s views. In any case, as of the publishing of this article, the site cannot be accessed.
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  9. Ignacio Ramonet, Fidel Castro: Biografía a dos voces (Barcelona: Random House Mondadori, 2006), 486, and Fidel Castro interview with Lee Lockwood, Playboy, January 1967, 74.
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  10. Amnesty International, Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in Cuba, London: Amnesty International, June 30, 2010, 9-10.
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  11. See Amnesty International report for Cuba 2016/2017.
    https://www.amnesty.org/es/countries/americas/cuba/report-cuba/
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  12. Roy Walmsley, Institute for Criminal Policy Research, World Prison Brief, World Prison Population List, 11th edition, May 2017.
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  13. Ian Lumsden, Machos, Maricones and Gays: Cuba and Homosexuality (Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple University Press, 1996), 65-70.
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  14. The late distinguished Cuban architect Mario Coyula Cowley persuasively argued that the Gray Period actually lasted a bitter 15 years (“Trinquenio Amargo”) and began much earlier in the 1960s. Mario Coyula, “El Trinquenio Amargo y la ciudad distópica: autopsia de una utopía,” UNAM Archipiélago, http://www.revistas.unam.mx/index.php/archipielago/article/view/19944.
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  15. Cited from excerpts from Granma Weekly Review, May 9, 1971, 5 in Allen Young, Gays Under the Cuban Revolution (San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1981), 32-33.
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  16. Departamento de Versiones Taquigráficas del Gobierno Revolucionario, “Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, primer ministro del gobierno revolucionario de Cuba, en la clausura del acto para conmemorar el VI aniversario del asalto al palacio presidencial celebrado en la escalinata de la Universidad de la Habana, 13 de marzo de 1963,” cuba.cu, http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1963/esp/f130363e.html.
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  17. Lillian Guerra, “Gender Policing, Homosexuality and the New Patriarchy of the Cuban Revolution, 1965-1970,” Social History, 35, 3, August 2010, 274.
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  18. For example, the compulsory isolation of HIV-positive Cubans came to an end in 1993.
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  19. William M. LeoGrande, “Cuban-Soviet relations and Cuban policy in Africa,” in Carmelo Mesa-Lago and June S. Belkin (eds.) Cuba in Africa (Pittsburgh: Center for Latin American Studies, University Center for International Studies, University of Pittsburgh, 1982), 41.
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  20. Wayne S. Smith, The Closest of Enemies: A Personal Account of U.S.-Cuban Diplomatic Relations Since 1957 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1987), 40.
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  21. Nelson P. Valdés, “Cuba’s involvement in the Horn of Africa: The Ethiopian-Somali War and the Eritrean Conflict,” Mesa-Lago and Belkin, ed. Cuba in Africa, 80, 84.
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  22. Initially, Cuba did not explicitly support the invasion, but refused to support and voted against (rather than abstain) a UN resolution condemning it, with Cuban foreign minister Raúl Roa claiming that “we shall not vote against socialism.” Lars Schoultz, That Infernal Little Republic: The United States and the Cuban Revolution, Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 351.
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  23. United States Department of Commerce, Investment in Cuba, 24.
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  24. Juan Triana Cordoví, “La dulce francesa,” Rebelión, October 22, 2018. http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=248056.
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  25. Ibid.
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  26. Frank W. Thompson, “Reconsidering Cuban Economic Performance in Retrospect,” paper delivered at the conference “The Measure of a Revolution: Cuba, 1959-2009,” May 7-9, 2009, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 3-4, 6, 7. This is one of several revisions of Thompson’s article “Cuban Economic Performance in Retrospect,” Review of Radical Political Economics, 37, no. 3 (Summer 2005). The important Cuban economist Pavel Vidal estimated that at best Cuba’s GDP grew just over one percent in the period 1960-2017. Joaquín P. Pujol, “Cuban Economy Today and Perspectives for the Future, Summary of Findings of 28th Annual ASCE [Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy], November 13, 2018.
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  27. Frank W. Thompson, Ibid.
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  28. Human Development Indices and Indicators. 2018 Statistical Update. [United Nations Development Program. Human Development Reports] hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2018_human_development_statistical_update.pdf. The historical record of HDI figures has been seriously questioned by the Cuban economists Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Jorge F. Pérez-López who argue that the lack of basic statistics to estimate the economic component of the HDI, and of reliable statistics for all three components in the years 1997-2000, have often made it technically impossible to determine the HDI for Cuba. Even the United Nations excluded Cuba from various tables in 2001 and entirely from the major HDI computation for lack of reliable information in 2010. It is also very puzzling as to how Cuba maintained its high standing in spite of the major economic crisis that started in the 1990s at least in terms of the economic dimension of the HDI. See chapter 4, “Cuba and the Human Development Index,” in Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Jorge F. Pérez-López, Cuba’s Aborted Reform: Socio-Economic Effects, International Comparison, and Transition Policies (Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2005), 111-130.
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  29. Shortages of toilet paper even when television stations report how well production is going are common in Cuba. See Irina Pino, “Looking After Your Behind,” Havana Times, October 28, 2017. http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=128080.
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  30. The official Cuban press has occasionally reported on water shortages. See Lianet Arias Sosa y Lourdes Pérez Navarro, “Salideros: ¿con el agua al cuello?, Granma, 9 de enero 2010, 4; Livia Rodríguez Delis, “Asignar y controlar el agua en el Plan de Economía,” Diario Granma 14, no. 356 (21 diciembre de 2010), http://www.granma.cu/granmad/2010/12/21/nacional/artic06.html; and see elsewhere “Déficit de agua afecta a capital cubana,” Havana Times, 21 enero 2011, https://havanatimesenespanol.org/noticias/deficit-de-agua-afecta-a-capital-cubana/.; Erasmo Calzadilla, “Water and the Old Vets,” Havana Times, November 14, 2011. http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=55578; Redacción IPS Cuba, “La Habana sigue con sed, pese a las lluvias,” Wednesday, June 20, 2012, http://www.ipscuba.net/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item@id=4545:la-habana-sigue-con-sed-pese-a-las-lluvias, Patricia Grogg, “La escasez de agua adquiere rostro de mujer en Cuba,” Interpress Service en Cuba, November 24, 2015. http://www.ipscuba.net/sociedad/la-escasez-de-agua-adquiere-rostro-de-mujer-en-cuba/#more-23579.
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  31. Samuel Farber, “Trump’s Cuba Rollback,” Jacobin, June 20, 2017 and Peter Kornhbluh, “What the US Government is not telling you about those ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba,” The Nation, March 7, 2018.
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  32. A recent investigation by Adam Entous and Jon Lee Anderson reaches no conclusion as to whom may have been responsible for the sonic attacks, but hints about the possible responsibility of Alejandro Castro Espín, a colonel in Cuba’s Interior Ministry, who disappeared from public view and seems to have been dismissed from his post by his father Raúl Castro. Adam Entous and Jon Lee Anderson, “Letter from Cuba,” The New Yorker, November 19, 2018.
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  33. Jorge I. Domínguez, To Make a World Safe for Revolution: Cuba’s Foreign Policy (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1989), 191-92.
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  34. Daniel Munevar, Cuba: What lies beneath the agreements on the debt with the Paris Club and other creditors? CADTM, January 7, 2016, http://www.cadtm.org/Cuba-What-lies-beneath-the/.
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  35. Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Market, Socialist and Mixed Economies: Comparative Policy and Performance: Chile, Cuba and Costa Rica (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 609.
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  36. Fernando Ravsberg, “La Resistencia Pasiva,” BBC Mundo, Cartas desde Cuba, December 24, 2009. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/mundo/cartas_desde_cuba/2009/12/la_resistencia_pasiva.html.
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  37. Roberto Campbell Tross, a professor of political economy in the city of Ciego de Avila, as told to Yalín Orta Rivera et al. in “Crisis económica mundial también afecta economía cubana,” Juventud Rebelde, 14 de junio 2009, www.juventudrebelde.cu.
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  38. Fernando Ravsberg, “El Embudo Agrícola,” BBC Mundo, Cartas desde Cuba, May 6, 2010, https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/mundo/cartas_desde_cuba/2010/05/el_embudo_agricola.html.
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  39. Robert E. Quirk, Fidel Castro, New York: Norton, 1993, 623-29.
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  40. Manuel Paz Ortega, “‘The Battle of Ideas’ and the Capitalist Transformation of the Cuban State,” International Viewpoint, February 8, 2007. http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article1207.
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  41. See, for example, Leticia Martínez, “Adecuan normas jurídicas para el trabajo por cuenta propia,” Granma, 5 de diciembre de 2018, http://www.granma.cu/cuba/2018-12-05/adecuan-normas-juridicas-para-el-trabajo-por-cuenta-propia-05-12-2018-21-12-22.
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  42. For some of the problems confronting the approximately 30% of Cuba’s labor force that does not work for the government see Carmelo Mesa-Lago, coordinator, Roberto Veiga González, Lenier González Mederos, Sofía Vera Rojas, Aníbal Pérez-Liñán, Voces de Cambio en el Sector No Estatal Cubano. Cuentapropistas, usufructuarios, socios de cooperativas y compraventas de viviendas (Madrid, Spain: Iberoamericana, Vervuert), 2016.
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  43. Marianela Martín González, Odalis Riquenes Cutiño y Lisandra Gómez Guerra, “Incongruencias ¿enlatadas?” Juventud Rebelde, domingo, 25 de Diciembre de 2016, 04.
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  44. Lillibeth Alfonso, “Tomatoes are Rotting in Guantanamo,” Havana Times, March 15, 2017. http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=124178.
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  45. “Cuba Pierde 57 Por Ciento de los Alimentos que Produce,” Redacción de On Cuba Magazine, 23 de mayo de 2017. http://oncubamagazine.com/economía-negocios/rendimiento-de-agricultura-cubana-entre-los-mas-bajos-del-continente/.
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  46. Pedro Monreal González, “El plan de desarrollo hasta 2030: ¿cuadran los plazos y las cuentas?” Cuba Posible.Un Laboratorio de Ideas, julio 20 del 2016, https://cubaposible.com/el-plan-de-desarrollo-hasta-2030-cuadran-los-plazos-y-las-cuentas.
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  47. Personal communication of the Cuban economist Omar Everleny Pérez-Villanueva, July 19, 2016.
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  48. El Economista Inquieto, “Salario Medio en Cuba…cifras y estadísticas.” Granma, 29 de junio de 2017, http://www.granma.cu/economia-con-tinta/2017-06-29/salario-medio-en-cuba-cifras-y-estadisticas-29-06-2017-23-06-02.
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  49. Carmelo Mesa-Lago, “Aging, Employment, Wages and Social Welfare in Cuba: Would they Change Under Diaz-Canel?” Presentation at the Bildner Center of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York on June 4, 2018.
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  50. Daniel Benítez, “Cuba tiene más de 11 mil maestros inactivos que se niegan a retornar a las aulas,” Café Fuerte, September 2, 2016. http://cafefuerte.com/cuba29708-cuba-mas-11-mil-maestros-inactivos/.
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  51. Caridad Carrobello and Lilian Knight, “Educación: Brújulas para hoy y mañana,” Bohemia, August 23, 2017. http://bohemia.cu/en-cuba/2017/08/educacion-brujulas-para-hoy-y-manana/ At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, the minister of education Ena Elsa Velázquez estimated that Cuban schools were still short of 10,000 teachers. “Cuba inicia nuevo curso escolar, pero persiste el déficit de docentes.” Inter Press Service en Cuba, 3 de septiembre de 2018. http://www.ipscuba.net/sociedad/cuba-inicia-curso-escolar-pero-persiste-el-deficit-de-docentes/#more-40316.
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  52. Inter Press Service in Cuba, “Déficit de docentes y epidemias matizan inicio del curso escolar en Cuba,” September 4, 2017. http://www.ipscuba.net/sociedad/deficit-de-docentes-y-epidemias-matizan-inicio-del-curso-escolar-en-cuba/.
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  53. Cuban medical personnel sent abroad are paid only a small fraction (it was approximately 25% in the case of Brazil) of the salaries that the Cuban government collects from foreign countries, and they have no independent trade union rights to bargain with their government employer about salaries and working conditions. While it is true that Cuban medical education is free, this is also the case for other Latin American countries such as Mexico, but while Cuban doctors have to serve the government for the rest of their lives, Mexican doctors have to do the “social service” (servicio social) for only one year. See Ernesto Londoño, “Cuban Doctors Revolt: ‘You Get Tired of Being a Slave’” New York Times, September 29, 2017. For a detailed account of the unjust rules governing the life of Cuban doctors abroad see José Alberto Gutierrez, “Cuba endurece reglas y recorta beneficios a médicos en Brazil,” Café Fuerte, October 26, 2017, cafe.fuerte.com/cuba/31389-cuba-endurece-reglas-recorta-beneficios-medicos-brasil/ As we know, since this article was published, Bolsonaro’s extreme right-wing government suspended the Cuban medical program in Brazil.
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  54. Carmelo Mesa-Lago, “Aging, Employment, Wages and Social Welfare in Cuba: Would they Change under Diaz-Canel?” Op. cit.
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July-August 2019, ATC 201