Cuba at 60
by Frieda Park
The Cuban revolution has defied the enormous odds stacked against it and this year celebrates the 60th anniversary of the overthrow of the US-backed Batista regime. The Cuban people have reaped the benefits of this in every aspect of their material, cultural and social lives. Its importance is immense to all of us as an example of what can be achieved, even with relatively few resources, if the will is there. We should remember that when the question is asked how will Labour pay for its radical programme of change. If the wealth of the country is not being sucked away as profit and if people have the opportunity to develop their abilities and contribute their talents a great deal can be done.
Furthermore it is not only an example, but has been a practical support to millions of people across the third world and beyond. A country of 11 million has fulfilled 600,000 internationalist missions. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have lived, worked and fought in164 countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Countries where they have seen the realities of capitalism. They have helped bring liberation, disaster relief, literacy and healthcare to people who had never before seen a doctor.
Incredibly all this was done in the face of the unending hostility of Cuba’s near neighbour the most powerful and aggressive country in the world, the United States. Its active attempts to defeat the revolution have included:
- The invasion at the Bay of Pigs
- Hundreds of terrorist attacks against the Cuban people and assassination attempts on the life of Fidel Castro
- The illegal US blockade which is nearly as old as the revolution itself and which has enacted sanctions against third countries and agencies for trading with Cuba. Let us be absolutely clear, though Trump is now rolling back Obama’s measures which loosened some aspects of the blockade, the blockade never went away. Even under the rapprochement during Obama’s time the blockade was largely still intact
- And, of course, the billions of dollars poured into subversion and attempted regime change
With the end of the Soviet Union the Cuban economy virtually collapsed. The gross national product almost halved between 1991 and 1993 and what followed was called the special period. Cuba also faced some inherent and inherited problems in building socialism, starting out with a monoculture of sugar and as the playground of rich Americans. It also experiences adverse climatic conditions with the island frequently ravaged by hurricanes.
A REVOLUTIONARY PEOPLE
How has it survived these multiple challenges which should have floored the revolution 10 times over?
Of course, there was the clarity and leadership of Fidel and the Cuban Communist Party. This ensured that Cuba remained true to its socialist principles, but pragmatically also did what it had to do to survive. This meant on occasion making difficult compromises like opening up the island to tourism during the special period and legalising holding dollars. But Cuba’s survival is also the story of a liberated and empowered people, particularly those formerly most oppressed – working class black people and women. Cuba’s record on women’s rights and LGBT rights is way better than most countries on the continent and access to abortion is certainly the best.
The Cuban revolution freed the people not only to build a new society but also freed them from imperialist domination. The revolution is not only socialist, bringing all the benefits of a social and economic system which works for people rather than for profit, it is also synonymous with the dignity of a people who have thrown off the domination of a power which treated them as though they were second class human beings. Even more than that this tiny country, once a plaything of the US has become a major force on the world stage.
The pride of the Cubans in being able to determine their own future, not live to be exploited at the behest of the US and to be respected across the globe has generated great strength and resilience. These qualities are a major factor in how Cuba has survived against all the odds.
The approach of the revolution has been to value people above all else, creating high levels of social cohesion. The people are what maintain and sustain so much of everyday life that is the fabric of the revolution. That is how they can survive huge adversity such as the special period, because people collaborate socially to help each other.
BIG CHALLENGES AHEAD
Ten years ago in surveying the prospects for Cuba at 50 things looked better than they do now. Since then Cuba has lost its iconic leader and great intellect Fidel. The revolutionary generation has moved on. Obama’s rapprochement has come and gone with the blockade still in place and Trump rolling back the gains from the Obama period. The “pink tide” of leftist governments which was sweeping Latin America then has been in full scale retreat with coups – soft and hard - right wing victories and the onslaught against Venezuela.
Internally Cuba has embarked on a massive programme of change, encouraging the development of the private sector and instituting a new constitution.
The turmoil in Venezuela means that once again Cuba does not have a reliable economic partner providing it with essential resources. The current fight for the survival of the Bolivarian Revolution is also a struggle to aid Cuba. Trump is not wrong when he links sanctions against Venezuela to the defeat of Cuba too.
Recently Cuba was forced to pull out of the Mas Medicos programme in Brazil as the extreme right wing President, Jair Bolsonaro, placed unacceptable conditions on their work. 8,500 doctors have returned to Cuba, leaving 10s of millions of the poorest Brazilians without health care. (1)
President Trump has partially activated Title 3 of the Helms Burton Act, which had been suspended by every previous president since it was passed in 1996. This will allow Americans to sue foreign companies that have used assets nationalised after the revolution. This is designed to prevent companies trading with and investing in Cuba. Although the EU and Britain are unhappy about this – Britain recently sending a couple of members of the Windsor family over to build links - it is difficult to combat the US’s economic might. A former US official was recently quoted as saying, “The message to Cubans is ‘You’re next’” – that is after Venezuela. (2)
Cuba has met many challenges in its history now it has a new set to deal with we must continue to offer our solidarity with the revolution and its people.
(1) Cuba withdraws from “More Doctors” programme in Brazil – Cuba Si Winter 2018-19
(2) Breaking the stalemate, The Economist 6/4/19