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Lawless Tories Pass Legislation Allowing Security Forces to Commit Crimes

This is very ominous. It’s another attack on the security of British citizens from potential persecution and tyranny from their own government. On Wednesday, 6th October 2020, Mike put up a piece on his blog reporting that Boris Johnson and his cronies have passed legislation that permits MI5, the National Crime Agency and other organisations using undercover agents and informants to commit crimes. They do, however, have to show that the offences are ‘necessary and proportionate’, but won’t say which crimes are authorised for fear of revealing the identities of their spies to the criminals and terrorists they are attempting to infiltrate and monitor. Mike also points out that there’s the danger of ‘mission creep’, that the scope of the crimes the undercover cops and agents are permitted to commit will expand as the security forces decide that this is required by their activities.

The new law was opposed by both Labour and Tory MPs, criticising the lack of safeguards in it which they described as ‘very vague and very broad’. In fact, only 182 Tory MPs voted for it. Keir Starmer once again showed his Blairite utter lack of backbone, and ordered the party to abstain. Only 20 Labour MPs voted against it. This means that it would have failed if Labour had had any principles and opposed it. Unsurprisingly, the Labour MPs who voted against it included the ‘far left’ MPs Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Ian Lavery, whose tweet explaining his reasons for doing so Mike also gives in his piece. Lavery said

I voted against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill tonight. This was the correct course of action. I simply could not support legislation that would allow #spycops to murder, torture and use sexual violence without fear of any legal accountability.

Mike’s article also includes numerous other tweets from ordinary Brits condemning the new law and the Labour party and its leader for not opposing it, except for Corbyn and the other 19 courageous and principled MPs. Carole Hawkins, for example, tweeted

Mass kidnappings, torture & assassinations all without any comeback now the rule of law in 3rd world, nonentity Torydom. Every so called “British value” disappeared on the 5/10/20.

And Elaine Dyson said

#StarmerOut The Labour party & the public deserve better. During the COVID-19 crisis & with Brexit just a couple of months away, we need a strong opposition against the Tory gov. Labour must stop whipping its MPs to abstain on bills that leave sh*tstains on human rights.

Mike comments

There is only one reasonable response to legislation that authorises government agents to commit crimes – especially extreme crimes such as those contemplated here, and that is opposition.

But opposition is not in Keir Starmer’s vocabulary.

Let’s have a leadership challenge. He has to go.

And if he isn’t ousted this time, let’s have another challenge, and another, until he is. He has turned Labour into a travesty.

This is a real threat to the safety of ordinary citizens, and another step towards despotism and arbitrary government. This is very much the issue which made Robin Ramsay set up the conspiracies/ parapolitics magazine Lobster in the early 1980s. There is plentiful evidence that the western security forces are out of control, and are responsible for serious crimes against people and their governments. The late William Blum, a fierce, indefatiguable critic of the American empire and its intelligence agencies, has published any number of books exposing and discussing the way they have conspired to overthrow foreign governments and assassinate their leaders. One of these has two chapters simply listing the countries, whose governments the US has overthrown and in whose democratic elections it has interfered. One of the most notorious is the CIA coup of the mid-70s that overthrew the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, by the Fascist dictator General Pinochet.

Britain’s own security forces have also shown themselves no strangers to such activities. In the 1950s we conspired to overthrow the last, democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadeq, because he dared to nationalise the Iranian oil industry, the majority of which was owned by us. We’ve since engaged in rigging elections and other covert activities in other countries around the world. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, British security forces colluded secretly with loyalist paramilitaries in the assassination of Republicans. The IRD, a state propaganda department set up to counter Soviet propaganda, also smeared left-wing Labour MPs such as Tony Benn as supporters of the IRA. All this and worse is described by the entirely respectable, mainstream historian Rory Cormac in his book Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy.

Such lawbreaking and criminality is the reason that there is a significant conspiracist subculture in America and Britain. Following the assassination of JFK and the shock of Watergate, many Americans don’t trust their government. This distrust mostly takes the form of paranoid, bizarre, and in my view utterly false and dangerous stories about the government forming secret pacts with aliens from Zeta Reticuli to experiment on humans in exchange for alien technology. But some of this distrust is justified. In the 1970s, for example, the CIA plotted to stage a bomb attack in Miami. This would be blamed on Cuba, and provide the pretext for an invasion to oust Castro and his communist government. Fortunately this was never put into practice, but this, and similar entirely historical, factual plots, mean that Americans are justified in being wary and suspicious of their secret state and intelligence agencies.

And so should we.

We’ve already taken several significant steps towards authoritarian rule. One of the most significant of these was the passages of legislation by Blair and then David Cameron setting up secret courts. This allows suspects to be tried in secret, with the press and public excluded, if it is deemed necessary for reasons of national security. The law also allows evidence to be withheld from the defendant and his lawyers for the same reason, in case it reveals the identities of agents and informants. As I’ve said numerous times before, this is very much the kind of perverted justice system that Kafka described in his novels The Castle and The Trial, and which became a horrifying reality in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalin’s Russia.

The idea that the state, or high-ranking individuals within it, are engaged in a conspiracy against their own people has now become something of a staple in American cinema and television. There was Nine Days of the Condor in the 1970s, in which Dustin Hoffman plays a secret agent, whose co-workers are killed by another covert organisation while he’s out getting lunch, and then the X-Files in the 1990s. Not to mention Star Trek: Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond, both of which feature rogue Federation officers conspiring to lead some kind of attack on the Federation itself.

Back down to Earth, the 1990’s British police drama, Between the Lines, also tackled the issue of rogue undercover agents. Between the Lines starred Neil Pearson and Siobhan Redmond as members of a unit set up to investigate offences committed by police officers. This included issues that are still, unfortunately, very much relevant, such as the shooting of unarmed suspects by mistake by armed police. One episode had the team investigating a secret agent, who had infiltrated a neo-Nazi organisation. This man was responsible for a series of assaults, raising the question that he had actually gone native and become part of the group he was supposed to bring down. This was at least 25 years ago, and it depicts exactly the kind of thing that could and no doubt has happened. Except that the Tory legislation means that the individuals responsible for such crimes, or at least some of them, will be exempt from prosecution under the new laws.

As for the claims that there will somehow be safeguards to prevent abuse, I’m reminded of the Charter of Verona, issued by Mussolini’s Fascists towards the end of Fascist rule in Italy. By then the majority of Italy had been occupied by the Allies. Mussolini himself was the puppet head of a rump Fascist state in northern Italy, the infamous Salo Republic. The Duce attempted to regain some popularity for himself and his movement by taking a leftward turn, promising the workers’ a place in industrial management. The Charter declared that no individual would be held for more than seven days without charge or trial. Which sounds far more liberal than previous Fascist rule. The reality, however, was that the Salo Republic was propped up by the Nazis, while brutal deaths squads like the Deci Mas roamed the countryside killing anti-Fascists.

Britain isn’t a Fascist state by any means at the moment. But legislation like this paves the way for the emergence of a genuine authoritarian regime. It is an active threat to the lives and security of ordinary Brits, and Starmer had no business whatsoever supporting it.

Would Fascist Oswald Mosley Have Treated the Windrush Migrants Better than the Tories?

Oswald Mosley, the head of the British Union of Fascists, tried to get back into British politics after the War. He’d been interned during the War, but still wished to return and lead a far right party. His new outfit was simply called the Union Movement, and Mosley desperately and vehemently denied that he would have been a collaborator had there been a Nazi invasion, and that he wasn’t a racist or anti-Semite.

There’s footage on YouTube of an interview he gave on British television in the 1970s, from the same programme, I think, which the late, great antipodean TV critic, Clive James, reviewed in his column for the Absurder. Mosley’s interviewer asks him frankly about anti-Semitism and his attitude to the Jews. At this, Mosley gets visibly angry and starts to deny that he is or has been any such thing. This is interrupted by a working class bloke in the audience, who stands up to remind him that the ordinary working people of this country saw him off, and his mate Hitler during the War, and they’ll see him off again. It’s been suggested that if the Nazis had invaded Britain, Mosley wouldn’t have collaborated with them because he would already have been shot by Special Branch as a traitor. As for the anti-Semitism, it has been claimed that Mosley genuinely didn’t hate the Jews and the BUF only turned towards anti-Semitism from a mixture of opportunism, the anti-Semitism of some of it’s rank and file and Mosley’s subordinates and advisers, and as a reaction to the hostility to the movement from the Jewish community. More recent research suggests that Mosley may already have been anti-Semitic, and I don’t doubt that if somehow he had seized power and made Britain an ally or satellite or Nazi Germany, he would have cheerfully collaborated in the Holocaust.

Some of Mosley’s post-War political views are laid out in his 1961 book, Mosley – Right Or Wrong? The book’s arranged as a series of questions on issues like the Empire, international relations, race, industry, the economy, trade unions and so on. Section 13 is on the ‘Colour Question in Britain, Immigration, The Racial Question’. In it, Mosley tells the reader what he intends to do about non-White immigrants. His solution is compulsory repatriation, but he claims he won’t be inhumane, because those deported will have their fares paid. He also intends to avoid criticism from Britain’s Black colonies by making sure Britain buys their products and helps their economy rather than their competitors’. This means, for example, that he would buy sugar from Jamaica rather than Cuba. Question 116 in this section asks the wannabe dictator how he would deal with coloured students and and coloured immigrants, who have been here a long time. Mosley’s reply is that he would continue to allow coloured people to come here for their education and that they would be made welcome. As for non-Whites, who have been resident in Britain for a long time, he states that those,

who have been good citizens and have developed roots in this country will also not be sent away. For this reason we propose that all coloured people of this character who came here before the last war, should be allowed to stay, if they wish. They are too few to create any serious problems. And on the whole they have been good citizens of Britain. (p. 118).

You can compare that with Tweezer’s and the Tories’ deportation of the Windrush Migrants. They’d been resident here for a similar length of time or more than the non-White immigrants Mosley was talking about. They also had a guaranteed legal right to remain, which Tweezer as home secretary illegally removed. It may therefore seem possible from the above passage in which Mosley states he’d let some non-White immigrants remain, that he, a horrendous Fascist, would also have respected the Windrush immigrants rights to remain.

In fact I doubt very much that he would. The history of Fascism shows that they can’t be trusted and that however moderate and respectable they appear, the reality is always dictatorship, brutality, violent repression and mass murder. Fascist leaders like Hitler and Mussolini were able to win power partly through propaganda and carefully tailoring their message to their audiences. If Hitler was speaking in a very traditionally left-wing, working class district, he’d stress the anti-capitalist strand of Nazi ideology. When campaigning in a traditionally right-wing, anti-Semitic area, he’d attack the Jews. Mosley and the other Fascist and Nazi groups were presented with the problem after the War that Europe had had enough of it. The British people had seen and fought against its horrors and weren’t going to tolerate its revival. Hence Mosley’s attempts to present himself in a more moderate light. He states at one point that he dislike the word ‘racist’ because it implies that one race is superior to another, which he rejects. Well, he might have done, but that won’t stop anyone reading him coming to the conclusion that a racist was precisely what he was. I don’t doubt therefore that if by some miracle of medicine Mosley had lived on and been in power a few years ago, he would have deported the Windrush immigrants like Theresa May and the Tories.

What is alarming is not that he would have done – you’d expect it from a Fascist leader – but that Mosley could sound more moderate and tolerant in some respects than the leaders of the modern Conservative party. Or if he doesn’t, then he doesn’t sound that much more extreme, either.

And that should show you how much trouble we’re in, and how much the Tories are moving to the extreme right.

From 1997: Financial Times Article on Free Market Creating Global Poverty

This is another piece I found combing through my scrapbooks. It’s by the Financial Times’ columnist, Joe Rogaly. Titled ‘Market Victims Who Are Free to Be Poor’, and with the subtitle ‘One set of figures shows the capitalist road leading to paradise; a better set shows it leading to misery for many’ it compares and contrasts two reports on global poverty, one by the UN and another by a group of free market think tanks led by the Fraser Institute. And Rogaly comes down firmly on the side of the UN. The article, published in the Weekend edition for 14/15 June 1997, runs

When pictures of skeletal children or abandoned babies appear on the TV news do you (a) lean forward to catch the commentary (b) change channels (c) switch off and head for the kitchen? Some of us have seen about as many images of third-world distress as we can bear. Our assumption is that we know the cure for deprivation: unshackle the free market and the globalised capitalist wealth-producing machine will do the rest.

No it won’t. The 1997 Human Development report, published this week by Oxford University Press for the United Nations, demolishes the idea that the bounty created by the genius of market economics will trickle down. You have to spend tax -payers’ money to help the worst-off, or they will be dead before they are rescued.

Not everyone accepts this. It is contrary to the spirit of the 1997 Economic Freedom of the World report. Right-thinking and therefore expressive of familiar sentiments, it was published last month by the Fraser Institute, Vancouver, in association with 46 other pro-market think-tanks dotted around the planet.

This clutch of capitalist theologians, which includes London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, has invented an index of economic freedom. Its 17 components include growth and inflation rates, government spending, top marginal tax rates, restraints on trade, and so on. These are expressed in hard numbers and therefore “objective”. Hong Kong tops a list of 115 countries thus appraised. The US comes 4th, Britain 7th and France 36th.

You can guess what follows. A few clicks on the mouse-button tell you that between 1985 and 1996 the economies near the top of the economic freedom index grew fastes, while those at the bottom – the “least free” fifth – got poorer. That unhappy quintile includes Russia, Ukraine, and the well-known African disaster areas. The lesson is obvious. Impede the market, and you pay, perhaps with your life. The unobstructed capitalist road is the highway to  paradise.

Wrong again. The UN’s Human Development Index is closer to the truth. it does not measure progress by the rules of conventional economics alone. To be sure, it factors in real gross domestic product per head, as do the freedom-theorists. But GDP is only one of three ingredients. The other two are life expectancy and educational attainment. The resulting list puts countries in a different order from the free marketeers’ league table.

On the latter, remember, Hong Kong comes first. On the development index it falls to 22nd. France, which believes in government expenditure, moves up from 36th on the economic freedom ladder to second place on human development. The United Kingdom falls from 7th to 15th. It’s not just the wealth you generate. It’s how you spend it.

The Human Development report introduces another index this year – for “human poverty”. It counts the people who are expected to die before turning 40, the number of illiterates, those without health services and clean water, and underweight toddlers. Once again you get changes in the rank order, particularly among developing countries.

Cuba, China, Kenya and Peru have all done relatively well at alleviating human poverty. Egypt, Guatemala and Pakistan score less on poverty relief than on human development. It is not only how you spend it, but who you spend it on.

The obvious message is aspirational. If the rich countries would put their hands in their pockets, poverty could be eliminated. We know this will not happen, in spite of the determination to give a lead expressed by Britain’s new Labour administration. Government to government aid is no longer fashionable. The money does not always reach its destination, as the worst case story, that of Zaire, teaches us. The US poured in the dollars, and they went straight into former president Mobutu’s Swiss bank accounts.

Tied assistance is better. Big donors usually demand that markets by set free. This is not quite enough to meet the needs of Human Development or the alleviation of poverty. Happily, contracts tying aid to certain actions are getting more sophisticated – although so are the means by which recipients contravene them. Anyhow, aid is but a part of what is needed.

The true value of the Human Development report lies in its implicit challenge to narrow-focused concentration on the market mechanism. Compiled by a team of economists and others directed by Richard Joly, it has evolved within the broad discipline of economics. It would be better still if someone could come up with an acceptable index of political freedom, to measure both economic and human development and democratic practices. That would require judgments that could not be quantified. How would you have treated 99 per cent votes in communist countries?

The outlook is not all so dolorous. Poverty is declining overall, largely thanks to the improvement in China, which has moved up the economic freedom tables and reduced destitution. Not many countries can make that boast. There are still 800m people who do not have enough to eat. We have some clever indices, but so far no great help to the misery on our TV screens. Only a change in the way we think can achieve that.

That was published nearly a quarter of a century ago. I don’t doubt that with time and the progress of neoliberalist, free market economics, things have become much, much worse. The book Falling off the Edge, which I’ve reviewed on this blog, is a full-scale attack on such globalisation, showing how it not only has created worse poverty and exploitation, but has also led to political instability and global terrorism. And as more British children go hungry, as more people fall into poverty due to the Tories’ privatisations and destruction of the welfare state, I wonder how long it will be before conditions very like those of the Developing World appear here.

This was published when the Financial Times’ weekend edition was still worth reading. It had good reviews and insightful columnists. It declined in quality around the turn of the millennium when it became much more lightweight. It has also switched its political allegiance from liberal to Conservative in an unsuccessful attempt to gain readers.

This article shows that neoliberal free market economics, of the type pushed by the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute for Economic Affairs, has always been a fraud, and known to be a fraud.

But our mendacious, vicious press and political establishment are still pushing it, at a massive cost in human lives and wellbeing. Even in Britain.

Rubio, Cruz Bill Would Deem Cuba’s Medical Missions “Human Trafficking Operation”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/06/2020 - 7:33am in

In what has already become a parody of a shrinking empire’s habit of clutching at the vestiges of its Cold-War era mistakes, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and fellow war-hungry reactionaries in the United States Senate, Rick Scott (R-FL) and Ted Cruz ((R-TX) have put a bill on the Senate floor meant to undercut Cuba’s medical missions program, which sends trained medics all around the developing world to assist in general healthcare services and emergencies in more than 60 countries.

The bill, if passed, will require the U.S. State Department to publish a list of nations contracting with the Cuban government for their medical services and consider that as a factor to include said nations in the Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report; opening the door for further economic sanctions and other measures against any country on that list.

A class-action lawsuit brought against the D.C.-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in 2019 by four defectors out of the 50,000 Cuban doctors who participate in the program alleged that the “Mais Medicos” program run by the Brazilian government from 2013 to 2017 was an “illegal, forced labor enterprise,” which profited from the Cuban medical workforce in collusion with the Castro government, whom they accused of pocketing money they claim should have gone to them.

The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District Court Division of Miami, Florida – a bastion of anti-Castro sentiment and a republican stronghold led by generations of Cuban exiles with entrenched Cold War politics. Ramona Matos Rodriguez, Tatiana Carballo Gomez, Fidel Cruz Rodriguez, and Russela Margarita Rivero Sarabia are the plaintiffs named in court documents accusing PAHO of human trafficking and seek full compensation for what the organization allegedly paid for their services.

Coinciding with the filing that September, U.S. officials publicly urged “nations to stop using Cuba’s medical missions” and called the international medical programs a form of “modern slavery” following statements made by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro a year earlier on the eve of assuming office when his invectives caused Cuba to withdraw thousands of doctors from the South American nation, who were serving that country’s most marginalized communities.

The political spat may have ended up costing thousands of Brazilian lives given the severity of that nation’s COVID-19 toll, which reportedly reached 1 million cases and 50,000 deaths yesterday. The Cuban government has deployed over 1,400 doctors to fight the pandemic and has been one of the brightest hopes for the world’s most voiceless nations, while the United States has targeted nations fighting and struggling with COVID-19 with crippling sanctions.

 

The Height of Hypocrisy

Cuba’s free healthcare system is funded largely by these international medical assistance programs and provides critical financial support for medical research projects in the Caribbean nation, which have yielded some important breakthroughs over the years and boasts one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates, despite a multi-decade embargo imposed on the nation by the world’s most powerful economy.

The “Cut Profits to the Cuban Regime Act” proposed by Senators Rubio, Scott, and Cruz represent yet another attempt to sabotage Cuba’s historic efforts for self-determination in a political and economic landscape dominated by predatory capitalism. But, it is especially egregious when we consider the history of one of the bill’s sponsors, former Florida governor Rick Scott, who administered the largest case of Medicare fraud in the history of the United States, siphoning over $300 million into his own personal bank account.

Trump’s pick to lead the GOP’s healthcare reform, pled the fifth no less than 75 times during his deposition in the year 2000, including to the simple question of whether or not he was “employed.” Scott would reach a settlement with the federal government before it pursued criminal charges against his company Columbia/HCA, that eventually resulted in a $1.7 billion-dollar fine over convictions involving investors and physicians who bought equity stakes in the company and defrauded senior citizens who depended on its 380 hospitals, 200 home health agencies and 130 surgery centers.

Scott was able to walk away largely unscathed, later becoming governor of Florida supplanting termed-out GOP governor Jeb Bush and taking his place in the conveyor belt of arch-conservative, reactionary Cold War Republicans of that state.

 

The End of Duplicity

The accusations levied by Scott against the Diaz-Canel government in order to justify the absurd bill are the height of hypocrisy, to say the least. The “ultimate Medicare thief” claims that “Cuba is using the coronavirus pandemic for profit at the expense of […] hardworking physicians” and deems “any country that requests medical assistance from Cuba” to be aiding and abetting human trafficking.

The Canadian of Cuban-descent Ted Cruz, for his part, joins the chorus of duplicity and projection by painting Cuba’s genuine efforts to present an alternative to U.S. hegemony for the world’s poorest nations as “a tactic used by Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel to exert power and fill government coffers.”

The same dynamic employed in the Cuban embargo, which the United States has enforced against Cuba and any nation doing business with it since the early 1960s, is at play with the bill now a vote in the Senate. As the power and influence of the world’s only superpower begins to wane and the imminent reality of capitalism’s total failure to provide for basic human needs like universal healthcare, the sheer political opportunism and crass hypocrisy of legislative proposals like these become more and more transparent.

Feature photo | Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, looks out from an elevator on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 5, 2020. Susan Walsh | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Rubio, Cruz Bill Would Deem Cuba’s Medical Missions “Human Trafficking Operation” appeared first on MintPress News.

Trump Hammers Cuba While Cuba Cures the Sick

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/06/2020 - 12:58am in

A team of 85 Cuban doctors and nurses arrived in Peru on June 3 to help the Andean nation tackle the coronavirus pandemic. That same day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced another tightening of the sanctions screws. This time he targeted seven Cuban entities, including Fincimex, one of the principal financial institutions handling remittances to the country. Also targeted was Marriott International, which was ordered to cease operations in Cuba, and other companies in the tourism sector, an industry that constitutes 10 percent of Cuba’s GDP and has been devastated globally by the pandemic.

It seems that the more Cuba helps the world, the more it gets hammered by the Trump administration. While Cuba has endured a U.S. embargo for nearly 60 years, Trump has revved up the stakes with a “maximum pressure” strategy that includes more than 90 economic measures placed against the nation since January 2019. Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, called the measures “unprecedented in their level of aggression and scope” and designed to “deprive the country of income for the development of the economy.” Since its inception, the embargo has cost Cuba well over $130 billion dollars, according to a 2018 estimate. In 2018-2019 alone, the economic impact was $4 billion, a figure that does not include the impact of a June 2019 Trump administration travel ban aimed at harming the tourist industry.

While the embargo is supposed to have humanitarian exemptions, the health sector has not been spared. Cuba is known worldwide for its universal public healthcare system, but the embargo has led to shortages of medicines and medical supplies, particularly for patients with AIDS and cancer. Doctors at Cuba’s National Institute of Oncology have had to amputate the lower limbs of children with cancer because the American companies that have a monopoly on the technology can’t sell it to Cuba. In the midst of the pandemic, the U.S. blocked a donation of facemasks and COVID-19 diagnostic kits from Chinese billionaire Jack Ma.

Not content to sabotage Cuba’s domestic health sector, the Trump administration has been attacking Cuba’s international medical assistance, from the teams fighting coronavirus today to those who have traveled all over the world since the 1960’s providing services to underserved communities in 164 countries. The U.S. goal is to cut the island’s income now that the provision of these services has surpassed tourism as Cuba’s number one source of revenue. Labeling these volunteer medical teams “victims of human trafficking” because part of their salaries goes to pay for Cuba’s healthcare system, the Trump administration convinced Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil to end their cooperation agreements with Cuban doctors. Pompeo then applauded the leaders of these countries for refusing “to turn a blind eye” to Cuba’s alleged abuses. The triumphalism was short-lived: a month after that quote, the Bolsonaro government in Brazil begged Cuba to resend its doctors amid the pandemic. U.S. allies all over the world, including in Qatar, Kuwait, South Africa, Italy, Honduras, and Peru have gratefully accepted this Cuban aid. So great is the admiration for Cuban doctors that a global campaign has sprung up to award them the Nobel Peace Prize.


A Cuban medical worker disinfectants his hands before he boards a bus at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, June 8, 2020. Yamil Lage | AP

The Trump administration is not just libeling doctors, but the whole country.  In May, the State Department named Cuba as one of five countries “not cooperating fully” in U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The main pretext was the nation’s hosting of members of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN). Yet even the State Department’s own press release notes that ELN members are in Cuba as a result of “peace negotiation protocols.” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez called the charges dishonest and “facilitated by the ungrateful attitude of the Colombian government” that broke off talks with the ELN in 2019. It should also be noted that Ecuador was the original host of the ELN-Colombia talks, but Cuba was asked to step in after the Moreno government abdicated its responsibilities in 2018.

The classification of Cuba as “not cooperating” with counterterrorism could lead to Cuba being placed on the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list, which carries tougher penalties. This idea was floated by a senior Trump administration official to Reuters last month. Cuba had been on this list from 1982 to 2015, despite that fact that, according to former State Department official Jason Blazakis, “it was legally determined that Cuba was not actively engaged in violence that could be defined as terrorism under any credible definition of the word.”

Of course, the United States is in no position to claim that other countries do not cooperate in counterterrorism. For years, the U.S. harbored Luis Posada Carriles, the mastermind of the bombing of a Cuban civilian airplane in 1976 that killed 73 people. More recently, the U.S. has yet to even comment on the April 30 attack on the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C., when a man fired on the building with an automatic rifle.

While there are certainly right-wing ideologues like Secretary Pompeo and Senator Rubio orchestrating Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, for Trump himself, Cuba is all about the U.S. elections. His hard line against the tiny island nation may have helped swing the Florida gubernatorial campaign during the midterm elections, yet it’s not clear that this will serve him well in a presidential year. According to conventional wisdom and polls, younger Cuban-Americans – who like most young people, don’t tend to vote in midterms – are increasingly skeptical of the U.S. embargo, and overall, Cuba isn’t the overriding issue for Cuban-Americans. Trump won the Cuban-American vote in 2016, but Hillary Clinton took between 41 and 47% percent of that electorate, significantly higher than any Democrat in decades.

As an electoral strategy, these are signs that Trump’s aggression towards Cuba may not pay off. Of course, the strategy might not be just about votes but also about financing and ensuring that the Cuban-American political machinery is firmly behind Trump.

The strategy has certainly not paid off when it comes to achieving the goal of regime change. The Trump administration is arguably farther from achieving regime change in Cuba now than the U.S. has ever been in over 60 years of intervention. During Trump’s tenure, Cuba calmly transitioned from the presidency of Raul Castro to that of Miguel Díaz-Canel. In 2019, Cuban voters overwhelmingly ratified a new constitution. These aren’t signs of a country on the brink of collapse.

All Trump has achieved is making life more difficult for the island’s 11 million inhabitants, who, like people all over the world, have been battered by the economic impact from coronavirus. Tourism has collapsed. Income from remittances has tanked (both because of new U.S. restrictions and less income in the hands of the Cuban diaspora). Venezuela, once a major benefactor, is mired in its own crisis. But Cuba’s economy, which was forecast to contract by 3.7% before the pandemic hit, has been through worse, particularly during the 1991 to 2000 economic crisis known as the “special period” after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A change in the White House would bring some relief, although Joe Biden has staked a rather ambivalent position, saying he would restore relations as President Obama did, but adding that he was open to using sanctions as punishment for Cuba’s support to the Venezuelan government.

It’s clear that from now until November, and perhaps for four more years, the Trump administration will pummel its island neighbor. Cuba will continue to seek global condemnation on the blockade (the 2019 UN vote was 187 against vs 3 in favor—the U.S., Brazil, and Israel) and continue to show what a good neighbor looks like. It responded to these latest provocations in the way that only Cuba does: with more global solidarity, sending Covid-19 healing brigades to Guinea and Kuwait a day after the June 3 round of sanctions. A total of 26 countries now have Cuban medical personnel caring for their sick.

That is the kind of goodwill that money just can’t buy and it greatly presents a stark contrast to the Trump administration’s shameful behavior during the pandemic. Back in March, as Cuban doctors arrived in Italy, former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tweeted:

One day we will tell our children that, after decades of movies and propaganda, at the moment of truth, when humanity needed help at a time when the great powers were in hiding, Cuban doctors began to arrive, without asking anything in return.”

Feature photo | The first Cuban medical brigade of the Henry Reeve Contingent returns from Italy at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, June 8, 2020. The Cuban doctors had gone to Italy on March 22 to help with the COVID-19 emergency in the Lombardy region. Ismael Francisco | AP

Medea Benjamin is an author/activist, and cofounder of the peace group CODEPINK.

Leonardo Flores is a Latin American policy expert and a campaign coordinator with CODEPINK. For more on the Nobel Prize for Cuban Doctors campaign, see www.cubanobel.org.

The post Trump Hammers Cuba While Cuba Cures the Sick appeared first on MintPress News.

A Soft Power Ploy? Cuba Continues to Aid the Poorest and Least Influential Nations

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/04/2020 - 5:06am in

Amidst a worsening COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba has answered an urgent South African request for aid. 217 medical personnel, including family physicians, epidemiologists, health technology engineers and biotech workers touched down Sunday evening, eager to help their African ally. Dr. Reynaldo Denis de Armas, the head of the medical brigade, informed the press that they would first go through a quarantining period then be dispersed throughout each of the country’s nine provinces. Along with Egypt, South Africa currently has the highest number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases in Africa, although the scarcity of testing kits means numbers from the continent are likely only pale reflections of the gravity of the problem.

Despite the Caribbean island’s poverty (according to the CIA World Factbook, Cubans have less than a third of the GDP per capita of even their Puerto Rican neighbors), Cuba has sent over 1,200 healthcare professionals to more than 20 countries around the world – one of very few countries to export any doctors whatsoever during the global pandemic.   

https://twitter.com/camilateleSUR/status/1254617074565025793

To many in the West, the connection between Cuba and South Africa may appear incongruous, but that is not the case to anyone from the Global South. Even as Western nations like the United States and Great Britain supported the white supremacist regimes of southern Africa, Cuba played perhaps the key role in decisively defeating apartheid, sending hundreds of thousands of troops to oppose South African annexation of its neighbors, resoundingly beating apartheid forces and dealing a mortal blow to the myth of white supremacy, ushering in the demise of the regime.

Dr. Helen Yaffe of the University of Glasgow, author of the new book “We Are Cuba!: How a Revolutionary People Have Survived in a Post-Soviet World”, told MintPress that she was “not at all surprised” to see solidarity between the two nations, noting,

 Cuba has a long and principled history of solidarity and practical assistance to the people of Southern Africa. Their military support to the newly independent Angolan nation, helped to weaken the racist apartheid regime in South Africa which invaded the country in the mid-1970s. This contribution was acknowledged by Nelson Mandela after his release from prison. Cuba was the first country outside of Africa which he visited.”

Yaffe explained that by the end of the apartheid regime in 1991, some 300,000 Cuban soldiers (a great number of them Afro-Cubans) and 50,000 civilians, including healthcare workers, teachers and construction workers, had served in defending the newly independent Angola from a white supremacist takeover.

Since the end of apartheid, Cuba has eschewed the guns but greatly increased its medical internationalism. As Yaffe explained:

 In 1999, the Cuban government set up the Latin American School of Medicine (known as ELAM for its Spanish acronym) to provide medical education to students from the region enabling them to graduate as healthcare professionals. Very quickly it opened its door to students from around the world, including South Africa. Over 1,200 South African students have been among its beneficiaries. Thus, the medical ties between these two countries are well established. In the field of medical science, South African is one of nearly a dozen countries in the global south with which Cuba has established a biotechnology joint venture.

ELAM is famous all over the world for educating doctors for free, on the understanding that they will go back to their communities and treat the neediest people first. By 2019, 29,000 doctors from 105 countries had graduated from the Havana-based medical school. Half of them were women and the majority from poor backgrounds. Former World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan applauded ELAM, stating that, “For once, if you are poor, female, or from an indigenous population, you have a distinct advantage [in admission]. This is an institutional ethic that makes this medical school unique.” Even young people from the United States – a country that has been crushing Cuba for decades with economic sanctions – can study for free. Last month, MintPress spoke with a number of American students and graduates from the school. Dr. Sarpoma Sefa-Boakye, a Ghanaian-American ELAM graduate practicing in San Diego, said her colleagues are always amazed when they find out she was paid by the Cuban government to study medicine and graduated debt-free, also estimating that more Africans train in Cuba to become doctors than in Africa itself, a testament to the island’s commitment to revolutionary medicine.

The country’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries are also playing their part. Interferon Alpha 2b, a Cuban drug developed to fight Dengue Fever, Hepatitis and shingles, has proved highly useful in boosting COVID-19 infected patients in China; 45 countries have now requested the antiviral drug for use themselves. Doctors have also volunteered to travel to hotspots such as Italy to help fight the outbreak. “Cuba’s sustained training to its medical and technical personnel, and to that of other nations, and its scientific research in the development of medicines, have allowed it to provide invaluable support to many other countries in the world,” said former Jamaican Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines was so happy to see a contingent of Cuban staff come to his country that he met them himself on the airport runway.

However, the Trump administration has accused Havana of cynically using medical aid to deflect from its human rights record, putting great pressure on countries in the Global South, and even Europe, to reject Cuban aid. As right-wing governments came to power in Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil, their governments quickly expelled the Cubans working within their borders, often accusing them of being terrorists or mercenaries. However, amid a worsening pandemic, the Brazilian Health Minister is now asking them to return. Meanwhile, without a functioning healthcare system, Ecuador has been transformed into perhaps the country worst affected by COVID-19, as MintPress reported earlier this month.

If medical internationalism is merely a cynical “soft power” ploy, as the U.S. government insists, then the Cubans are not doing it very well, focusing on the poorest, least influential countries in the world and working with the poorest people in those countries. That the Trump administration should see any gesture as a cynical attempt to bully, intimidate or increase their power is perhaps unsurprising, given their own actions. The U.S. currently leads the world in seizing and stealing medical equipment bound for other countries. It also tried to compel a German pharmaceutical corporation to move production to the U.S., in order to make sure that America alone had access to and control of any coronavirus vaccine it might produce. Trump reportedly wished to ensure that it would only be available on a for-profit basis.

Washington appears to see Cuba’s genuine solidarity in the face of such adversity as a threat: the threat of a good example to other countries, showing them that “another world is possible,” as the revolutionary phrase goes. People in other nations are often just happy they can see a doctor.

Feature photo | A brigade of Cuban health professionals who volunteered to travel to South Africa to assist local authorities with an upsurge of coronavirus cases, attend the farewell ceremony in Havana, April 25, 2020. Ramon Espinosa | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post A Soft Power Ploy? Cuba Continues to Aid the Poorest and Least Influential Nations appeared first on MintPress News.

Cuban Communist Party to launch post-Congress debate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/06/2016 - 9:02am in

In the wake of Obama’s historic visit, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) held its 7th Congress on April 16-19 in the Havana Convention Centre. Beneath a backdrop featuring a huge likeness of Fidel Castro, PCC secretary Raul Castro delivered the main report on behalf of the Central Committee.

Fidel being Fidel, many Cubans would have been reassured by his surprise appearance at the closing session on the eve of his 90th birthday. Traditionally, PCC congresses are the culmination of a months-long process of consultation with the Party’s activist base and the wider Cuban society.

By contrast, an air of secrecy and anticlimax hung over the 7th Congress. Fidel’s brief valedictory address, which moved some in the audience to tears and was received with a thunderous and prolonged ovation, served to stamp the Congress with a legitimacy that only Fidel can confer.

While Fidel’s appearance at the Congress and the content of Raul’s report may have unruffled some feathers, the PCC’s central leadership must now strive to reconnect with the Party’s grassroots so that a disconnect doesn’t harden into a dangerous rift. Having received a sharp rebuke from the party base, it seems the leadership has got the message.

Fidel (left) and Raul (centre) at the 7th Congress

Controversy

The disconnect between the Central Committee and the PCC base is evident in the preparatory process for the 7th Congress. The 6th Congress, held in April 2011, was preceded by a three month process of PCC-wide and public consultations on the draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines.

While critics have noted the democratic deficiencies of that consultation—such as the fragmentary nature of the local debates, which hindered the emergence of possible alternative platforms for the election of delegates—the Guidelines adopted by the Congress bore the imprint of public opinion.

Initially, the PCC leadership gave every indication that there would be a comparable consultation prior to the 7th Congress. Soon after the 6th Congress, the Central Committee began work—behind closed doors—on two strategic and programmatic documents to be presented to the 7th Congress.

These two documents, the 2016-30 Plan and the ‘Conceptualisation of the Cuban socio-economic socialist development model’, would complement the Guidelines. As a set of concrete objectives based on certain principles, the Guidelines are neither a programmatic vision nor a socialist plan.

As the 7th Congress approached, it became apparent that the drafting process was well behind schedule. Either the anticipated public consultation would have to be abandoned, or the Congress would have to be postponed. As late as February 23, the Central Committee’s Tenth Plenum reiterated its commitment to a public consultation on the draft documents prior to the Congress.

On February 14, Esteban Morales, a prestigious and outspoken Cuban intellectual whose party loyalty is beyond reproach, circulated an acerbic commentary on the Congress process. In 2010, Morales’ PCC membership was suspended—one step short of expulsion—for warning that high-level corruption (and not US-sponsored ‘dissident’ grouplets) was “the real counterrevolution” in Cuba. He was eventually reinstated after receiving numerous public gestures of solidarity.

Morales complained that “for months” he’d been asking for the Congress documents, to no avail. This would be a congress of party functionaries rather than the grassroots “which I consider to be the real party”, he added. He suggested the PCC was regressing in terms of party democracy, and described the mood among the party base as justifiably “indignant”. That perception was anchored in his “broad and continuous contact with Cuban society” as an intellectual and an ordinary citizen.

In a similar vein, on March 27, PCC activist Francisco ‘Paquito’ Rodriguez published an Open Letter to Raul Castro on his personal blog. Rodriguez is an academic, a journalist for the Cuban trade union confederation’s Trabajadores newspaper and a prominent gay rights activist. As a gay rights activist he is said to be close to Mariela Castro, Raul Castro’s daughter.

Rodriguez objected to “the lack of discussion of the key Congress documents—which are still shrouded in secrecy—in both the grassroots Party committees and among the rest of the citizenry”.

He proposed that the Congress be postponed till late July to allow for a PCC base and public consultation during April and May. He noted that Raul Castro himself had often insisted that the reform process underway in Cuba must proceed ‘without haste’, and “I see no reason to rush so decisive a political process … if its preparation has not yet reached maturity”.

Granma responds

Also on March 27, the PCC daily, Granma, acknowledged the controversy in an editorial: “The Granma editorial board has received, through various means, concerns of Party activists (and non-members) who question the reasons why, on this occasion, no public discussion process has been planned, such as that carried out five years ago on the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines.”

Granma made no mention of the Central Committee’s earlier commitment to a public consultation. Its core justification for not holding such a consultation was that only 21% of the 2011 Congress Guidelines had been fully implemented, so the 7th Congress would be effectively a continuation of the 6th. The implication is that this is for the Central Committee, not the party as a whole, to decide.

The Granma editorial, which expressed the opinion of the Central Committee, did not discuss the possibility that that same statistic (21%) might call into question the viability of the course set at the 6th Congress, or the party leadership’s approach to its implementation. It suggested the leadership can assume an indefinite popular mandate until it decides a new course is desirable:

[R]ather than launch a new society-wide debate process in the throes of implementation, we need to finish what we have begun, continuing to carry out the popular will expressed five years ago and advancing along the course set by the Sixth Congress.

The 1000 Congress delegates elected by the Party base, the 612 National Assembly deputies and some 3500 other selected consultants had contributed to the elaboration of the two key documents, Granma stressed. Put another way, less than 0.05% of Cuban citizens had access to them prior to the Congress. No timeframe has been announced for their wider availability.

As usual, readers submitted comments to the online version of the Granma editorial. Most touched on the controversy. A reader identifying themselves as ‘Leandro’ argued that a dangerous precedent is being set: a new generation of PCC leaders that lack the legitimacy of the historical leadership “would feel they have the right to hold Congresses without popular participation”.

Cuban philosopher Jose Ramon Fabelo opined that the Conceptualisation of the Cuban socialist model aspired to “is not a task for experts and social scientists alone”. The most important congress “is that which takes place in the streets and workplaces of revolutionary Cuba. Let’s not pass up the opportunity to give another lesson in democracy—genuine democracy, Cuban style—to Obama and all those who want to throw their discredited models in our faces”.

Ernesto Estevez stressed the question of representation. How, he asked, can Congress delegates be said to represent the PCC membership when the vast majority of party members are unaware of the content of the draft documents? Delegates’ opinions and votes should “reflect the consensus of those that elected them from the grassroots”. For that, the membership must have the documents.

Estevez urged his party to “learn from the errors of the former Soviet Union”. All party members “should zealously uphold the democratic side of centralism, so that democracy operates in the right way and doesn’t end up being held hostage to centralism, albeit with the best of intentions”. The lack of consultation is a regression, and “there should be no attempt to compensate after the fact”.

Congress shift

Clearly in response to the rumblings of discontent from the party base, Raul proposed in his Congress report that the documents be adopted by the Congress only “in principle” rather than definitively. They would then be the basis for a “profound and democratic process of analysis by the membership of the Party and the Communist Youth, as well as by broad sectors of our society.”

This wider consultation would be aimed at “improving and enriching” the documents. Raul further proposed that the incoming Central Committee be empowered to approve the final versions, which would be subsequently submitted to the National Assembly. Both proposals were adopted.

Like the Granma editorial, Raul’s report did not acknowledge the leadership’s earlier commitment to a broad consultative process. It merely stated that there was no such process “given that what is involved is the confirmation and continuity of the line adopted five years ago”. Incongruously, it also said that given the theoretical intricacy of the draft Conceptualisation of the socialist model “and its importance for the future”, it should not be adopted by the Congress.

What’s missing from Raul’s report is a logically consistent and persuasive explanation for the leadership’s abandonment of the foreshadowed pre-Congress PCC base and public consultation process. That explanation can be inferred from Raul’s account of the drafting process.

Raul reported that the Conceptualisation document had been drafted no less than eight times. Work on the 2016-2030 Plan began four years ago. It was initially hoped a complete draft would be ready for the Congress, but due to its “great technical complexity” only its bases have been elaborated. A complete, final version is not expected till 2017.

In December and January, the Central Committee redrafted the Congress documents on the basis of some 900 opinions and suggestions submitted by Central Committee members, Raul reported. If, as the Granma editorial claims, “the basis of these [two] documents is the content of the Guidelines”, why has it taken the Central Committee five years to draft them?

Divergent visions

In reality, the Guidelines and their implementation open the door to not one, but several distinctly different socialist models and corresponding medium-term plans. They leave unresolved the vital question posed in 2011 by Havana University planning specialist Oscar Fernandez:

From the traditional state socialism that characterises Cuba today, is it moving towards a more decentralised state socialism? An Asian-style market socialism? A self-managed socialism of the Yugoslav variety? To the so-called participatory socialism of the 21st century? There is an urgent need for a debate aimed at a consensus on the key features of the vision of the future society.

Cuba’s Marxist intelligentsia perceives competing poles of socialist thought in Cuba today. Each polarity corresponds to divergent conceptions of the socialist transitional society in general and in Cuba’s conditions. Each is seen as influencing the evolution of Cuba’s emerging socialist model, and each polarity is reflected to some degree in the content of the Guidelines.

Veteran Cuban sociologist Juan Valdes and Cuban cooperatives proponent Camila Piñero both perceive essentially three such polarities: state socialism, market socialism and ‘socialisation’.

The first pole tends to view the socialist transition through the prism of state power; the second, through the lens of economic development, i.e. GDP growth; the third views progress towards socialism in terms of the socialisation (i.e. democratisation) of party-state power and property.

The Central Committee’s glacial progress in drafting the two key documents suggests that it has tried to reconcile, behind closed doors, divergent conceptions of the new Cuban socialist model that is aspired to. They had to be reconciled if the leadership were to present a more or less coherent programmatic vision to the party as a whole—rather than strive to involve the party as a whole in developing that vision from the outset over the five years since the 6th Congress.

Leaving the realm of speculation, opting for secrecy over transparency relegated the vast majority of the PCC’s 680,000 members to the role of spectators rather than participants in the 7th Party Congress. Having won the right to be consulted on the socialist model that is aspired to, the party base has—consciously or instinctively—shifted the balance of forces a little towards the socialisation pole.

***
This commentary was written for Australia’s Green Left Weekly. It draws together the threads of my previous blog posts on the Cuban Communist Party’s 7th Congress and also appeared on Cuba’s Socialist Renewal.

The post Cuban Communist Party to launch post-Congress debate appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Cuba: Building on Sugar or Sand?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 20/03/2016 - 10:57pm in

Guevara

With the first visit to Cuba in 88 years by a sitting U.S. president unfolding this week, this co-authored piece with Chris Hesketh – stemming from a joint visit to the island in 2013 – is offered as a snapshot reflecting on the changing dynamics facing revolutionary politics in Latin America.  

In Memorias del subdesarrollo [1965, available in English Memories of Underdevelopment], the novelist Edmundo Desnoes captures the idée fixe of uneven development in Cuba by noting that the people of Latin America have often been confronted with ‘nothing but a bad imitation of the powerful, civilised countries, a caricature, a cheap reproduction’. Clearly, the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and its series of cycles since broke with that pattern of imitation. The mass mobilisation and structured participation of the Revolution has meant that Fidel Castro has survived nine U.S. presidents, one U.S.-backed invasion, various assassination attempts and the longest sanctions in history. Talking about revolutionary processes, Che Guevara once declared in his famous statement to the Tricontinental: “Either a socialist revolution or a caricature of revolution”.

More than half a century after their imposition, U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba are estimated to have cost more than $751 billion, undermining a functioning health system on the island and leading to a state of siege, or blockade. As Salim Lamrani details in The Economic War Against Cuba, the United States has pursued the extraterritorial application of economic sanctions that affects the citizens and companies of third countries operating in Cuba. This has resulted in the prevention of the treatment of children suffering from cancer and diverse ophthalmic conditions. Meanwhile the Barack Obama administration has continued to apply the extraterritorial measures of the blockade, imposing a fine of $575 million on the Australia and New Zealand Bank Group, Ltd. for transacting with Cuba in dollars and punishing the Dutch bank ING with a fine of $619 million for the same reason, resulting in the largest penalty since the inception of the economic siege against Cuba in 1960.

IMG_03570037Meanwhile, the social gains of the Revolution have been well documented, including education, employment, land reform, housing, gender equality, and the development of the arts and culture alongside an expansive foreign policy abetting social revolution. For example, in 1961, the Literacy Campaign brought the illiteracy rate in Cuba down in less than one year from 23.6 percent to 3.9 percent. The land reform of 1963 nationalised 10,000 properties and placed some 70 percent of Cuba’s arable land in the state’s hands. Revolutionary mobilisation witnessed the creation of the Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (CDRs: Committees for the Defence of the Revolution), established in 1960, numbering approximately 800,000 to 1.2 million members that rallied against invasion. As such, mobilisation became replaced by institutional structures in the 1970s and the guerrilla ethos of the Revolution dwindled in preference for an apparatus of political representation and formalised institutional participation. The Revolution has since evolved from the “special period” of austerity in the 1990s and the collapse of the Soviet Union to witness a complex mix of cubanía (“Cuban-ness”), a particular manifestation of revolutionary nationalism, in combination with demands for egalitarian social revolution.

From the viewpoint of Cuba specialist, Antoni Kapcia, in his excellent book Cuba in Revolution:

despite appearances of Cuba as an enclosed, militantly defensive community, the Revolution has more often than not (except at moments of national crisis or perceived or real external threat) operated as a system with a surprisingly high degree of leeway and space being given to those who, though not fully committed, are nonetheless passively supportive of the aims and meaning of something which they see as “the Revolution” . . . That is not to say that the political system has not been tolerant; at certain times greater or lesser levels of coercion, peer pressure or harassment have ensured a conformity that can be stultifying and oppressive, leading to excesses of intolerance.

One such historical manifestation would include the rise of the Unidades Militares para Ayuda a la Producción (UMAP: Units to Aid Military Production), or work camps, that targeted sexual, religious, and political dissenters in the 1960s to provide cheap labour for the state. In 2010, Fidel Castro admitted responsibility for such imprisonments committed during the revolutionary period, as detailed in the Mexican daily newspaper La Jornada. For Samuel Farber, in Cuba since the Revolution of 1959, this evidences how Cuba has been organised along a Soviet-type system where the dull compulsion of economic relations has been replaced with more direct coercion and the militarisation of labour. However, Kapcia’s stress on avoiding a petrified Cold War framing of Cuba, as simply the reproduction of a Caribbean version of the Socialist Bloc, is astute. Concurrent with Kapcia, ‘one constant in the understanding of Cuba’s complex system has been the need to eschew the paradigm of the Socialist Bloc and, in fact, to focus on Cuba’s differences’.

IMG_03560036One of these differences is Cuba’s emergence in the context of global capitalism or what George Lambie details in The Cuban Revolution in the 21st Century as ‘market socialism’ in which the state retains firm control over key sectors of the economy while allowing private enterprise and foreign capital to enter the country alongside participatory democracy. This is the most fascinating aspect of Samuel Farber’s book Cuba since the Revolution of 1959 in detailing how, since the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), the ‘statification’ of the Cuban Revolution is leading to a form of capitalist restoration. The renovation of Old Havana, through the ubiquitous tourist-oriented Habaguanex, directed by Eusebio Leal, is one expression of this form of economic development. Cuba, an island the size of England, and with a current population of some eleven million people is attracting over 2 million tourists annually. Indeed, walking around Old Havana it is impossible not to notice both the gentrification of the city and the rise of private markets, sometimes initiated by a hiss and whisper of ‘Cigar? Cigar my friend? Cohiba?’ (Cohiba being the premier brand of Cuban cigar once smoked by Fidel Castro himself). It is with a certain irony that a Revolution inspired by the excesses of US-based interests and the regime of Fulgencio Batista, now seeks to precisely utilise such symbolic capital as a form of branding alongside the old classic cars of Havana excitedly touted as ‘American taxis’. 

IMG_03220005Today, along with the liberalisation of rules governing small businesses and foreign investment we are witnessing the emergence of civilian and military joint ventures with foreign capital and economic enterprises, administered for example through the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA). As a result, Farber’s book is highly useful in delineating the emergence of what he refers to as a ‘reconstituted ruling class’ in Cuba, through enterprise improvement.

The official organ of the Central Committee of the CCP, Granma, indicated as recently as 22nd November in an article entitled ‘Continúa el fortalecimiento de la empresa estatal socialista’ that the strengthening of state socialist enterprises would continue into 2014. Under the application of the new concept of ‘Encargo Estatal’ [State Order], specific enterprises and products notably linked to the ministries of industry, construction, energy and mining sectors would be gradually included in the policy of commercial strengthening of state socialism. ‘The implementation of this project’, as stated in Granma, ‘will allow enterprises to increase their sales and profits, which is a source for recapitalisation and increased incomes for workers’. Here, the concept of ‘the state as the centre of accumulation’ begins to enter the picture, as detailed by David Ruccio in Development and Globalization.

RuccioIn Cuba as elsewhere across Latin America, there is a return to a conception of the role of the state in planning and controlling economic surplus, through the ‘new extractivism’, so that the state becomes the centre of accumulation by centralising the so-called surplus and thereby planning the use of that surplus in accumulation. The state can therefore ‘siphon off’ surplus realised in nonstate enterprises that could then be used for the reactivation and restructuring of the economy on the basis of state investment. However, these attempts then position the state in a wide range of political and economic class struggles and tensions: the elimination of subsidies and social benefits (food, education), attempts to lower real wages (to increase the amount of surplus extracted), or increase taxes on joint-venture capitalist enterprises in order to direct the surplus into fiscal revenues could all generate conflicts threatening the central role of the state in accumulation.

In 1960, as relayed in Eduardo Galeano’s classic book Venas abiertas de América Latina [1971, available in English, Open Veins of Latin America], Jean-Paul Sartre apparently asked about Cuba, ‘Is building on sugar better than building on sand?’ With sugar production falling from 7.2 million to 4.5 million tons in the 1950s and then rising to a high of 7 to 8 million tons in the 1980s to fall to 1 and 1.5 million tons more recently, it seems that Cuba is building less on sugar and more on sand in the form of tourism with the state as the centre of accumulation. Struggles from below, meaning the democratic self-management of the Cuban economy and the fight for the self-emancipation of the working classes against capitalist priorities might be one outcome, as argued by Farber. Resolving popular demands through new forms of co-option within state institutions and retaining the state as a centre of accumulation within a form of capitalist restoration might of course be another outcome. It is too early to say whether Cuba is now nothing but a caricature of socialism. Nevertheless, rather than talking about a revolution, it does indeed sound more like a whisper of ‘Cigar? Cigar my friend? Cohiba?’.