Cuba: Comparing revolutionary goals with realities
Exactly 60 years ago, Fidel Castro attempted to take power in Cuba for
the first time. He expressed an ambitious revolutionary platform – but
how does the Cuba of today measure up to his grand plan?
Cuba’s revolution officially began on July 26, 1953, the day after the
festival of Saint James. A year earlier, the US-backed dictator
Fulgencio Bastista rose to power following a coup. Fidel Castro – at
that time a little-known, young lawyer – had first unsuccessfully tried
to displace the dictator by running against him in the 1952 elections.
Voting was called off before Cuban’s had a chance to cast their ballot.
Castro garnered the support of some 130 people, and together they
attempted to overtake the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba
and seize weapons being stored there. He had hoped the 400 soldiers
stationed there would be exhausted or absent after the previous night’s
festivities. But the plan failed, and many of the revolutionaries were
executed, while the remainder were forced to stand trial.
Castro’s long and ambitious political agenda was well primed, even when
he stormed the barracks in 1953. After taking over he wanted to
distribute land more evenly, push for industrialization, reduce
unemployment, improve the education sector and create a system that
would allow all Cuban’s the opportunity to access healthcare – the
framework of a democracy.
It was not until 1959 that the rebels finally achieved their revolution.
Now, more than 50 years later, what’s the situation with the reforms
Castro dreamed of all those decades ago?
Between socialism, capitalism and market reform
“The Moncada program was more socialist than that of the old Communist
Party,” wrote Cuban historian Pedro Campos, an activist with a
collective called Participatory and Democratic Socialism (Socialismo
Participativo y Democrático).
Castro’s original program “didn’t promote state capitalism under party
control, with some agricultural cooperation, like Stalinism,” Campos
said. Rather, Castro wanted to see workers directly participating in
companies, self-governed agricultural cooperatives, and recovery of
democratic citizen participation. All of which have still not been
achieved, he added.
Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a former professor of economics and Latin American
studies at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States, thinks
this could be due in part to Cuba’s political isolation. “Cuba gained
and maintained only conditional sovereignty, because the country is not
economically self-sufficient and has always depended upon an external
actor – be it Spain, the United States, the Soviet Union, or now
Venezuela,” Mesa-Lago said.
By the end of the 1980s – just before the fall of the Iron Curtain –
Cuba had attained its highest level of social and economic indicators in
its history. But this all changed following the collapse of the Soviet
Union in the early 1990s, when Cuba lost support from its communist
allies. The country was plunged into a time of hardship, which became
known on the island as the “special period.”
Today, Fidel Castro’s brother Raul Castro’s economic reforms continue to
challenge the country’s 11 million inhabitants. According to estimates,
a million Cubans lack proper housing. The country’s trade deficit and
state debt have risen to record levels. Income disparity is increasing,
and the numbers of poor and vulnerable has grown. Meanwhile, social
welfare has been cut, with 70-percent less people receiving state benefits.
Agricultural production continues to stagnate due to centralized
planning, with the state owning almost all land. Only 10-percent of the
country’s farmers remain independent. Manufacturing continues to be
subject to outflows of capital and a lack of industrialization. Raul
Castro announced public sector layouts – which could lead to a third of
Cuba’s employable population losing their jobs, Mesa-Lago said.
Political stagnation and international image
Cuba’s social situation is ambivalent. On the one hand, Cuba has the
lowest child mortality and highest life expectancy rate in all of Latin
America. On the other hand, there’s been a clear worsening of social
security, education and health, said Cuban historian and political
scientist Armando Chaguaceda, who lectures at the University of Veracruz
in Mexico. Not only has the quality of these services been reduced, “but
also access, because of cuts to funding in these areas,” Chaguaceda added.
“Abandoning infrastructure for water and waste management” has also
occurred, Mesa-Lago said, increasing a risk of an epidemic on the
island. Trained doctors are leaving the island, leading to a shortage of
professional medical services across the country, she added.
The Cuban government has had to make do with less foreign assistance –
Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador continue to reduce
their financial support for the country. Internally, there’s also a lack
of citizen support. Above all, it’s a problem of “political stagnation –
which is continued in an authoritarian regime, a single party with very
serious controls on freedom of expression, including no right to public
protests or strike. Media, and labor unions,” Mesa-Lago added, “are an
extension of the government.”
But things have changed somewhat. Recently, the opportunity for Cubans
to travel or migrate from the island has increased, along with private
investment. But even these reforms have authoritarian tones, Chaguaceda
insisted. He believes that 60 years after Moncada, fundamental changes
originally championed by Fidel Castro have not taken place.
“The citizenry is tired and civically disempowered, opinion is split,
and there’s a lack of reference points for peaceful civic protest,”
Chaguaceda said. Cuban citizens see themselves in opposition to “an
elite rich who control information and the tools of power.”
Source: “Cuba: Comparing revolutionary goals with realities | Americas |
DW.DE | 26.07.2013″ –