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Cuba at the crossroads

The chorus from the White House and Downing Street was entirely predictable (and so hypocritical). On hearing about the retirement of Fidel Castro as the president of Cuba, those pre-eminent world leaders and exemplary champions of human rights, George Bush and Gordon Brown, said that they now hoped that the island state would move “towards democracy”. It was enough to make you throw up!

Coming from leaders of governments that in recent years have brought us state torture, extraordinary rendition, detention without trial, illegal invasions of other countries, persecution of minorities, a surveillance state and close relations with dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, their statements went way off the double-standards meter.

Castro’s Cuban revolution of 1959 became a thorn in the side of successive American governments in particular. He outlasted nine US presidents in defending the independence of Cuba and its right to choose its own path of development. Castro survived several CIA assassination plots and the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 authorised by President Kennedy. Where the US wanted another client state in the Caribbean fit for American corporate interests, Castro led Cuba in another direction with contradictory results.

What began as a national revolution against the corrupt and criminal Batista US-backed dictatorship developed into an imitation of a Soviet-style regime under which capitalist property became state owned. Castro’s forces merged with the Cuban Communist Party, which was Stalinist in its outlook. Seeing an opportunity to develop its presence in the Caribbean, Moscow backed Castro, supplied the country with oil and Cuba became a pawn in the Cold War to the point where nuclear war was only narrowly avoided in the missiles crisis of October 1962. Moscow’s perfidious influence was a significant factor in Castro’s close comrade Che Guevara’s decision to leave Cuba in 1965 to take part in revolutionary guerrilla struggles in Africa and Latin America until his betrayal and execution in Bolivia in 1967.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Cuba was forced to rely even more on its own resources – human as well as economic. Despite an American economic embargo that has lasted for 45 years, the achievements have been amazing in terms of health, literacy and sport. Cuba has developed one of the most advanced free health systems in the world and actually exports doctors to help developing countries, while its literacy rate is higher than that of the United States. But its enforced isolation from the world economy has also thwarted economic development and the standard of living of the average Cuban is comparatively low.

In politics, Cuba remains an authoritarian state which regularly imprisons dissidents, poets and gays and blocks an open political discussion about the future of the country. But Bush and Brown are not particularly interested in these aspects when they talk of “democracy”. Their “democracy” is the right of global corporations to invest and exploit in Cuba, drawing the country into the market capitalist economy.

Castro’s retirement will almost certainly usher in political changes held back for so long. The challenge facing the Cuban people is to preserve the considerable social gains made since 1959 while undertaking a democratic, political transformation. Isolation makes this task much harder and Cubans urgently need radical change in the US and Europe to the point where support for Cuba’s self-determination becomes a global priority.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor
20 February 2008

Charles says:

As a long time socialist I agree with almost everything I have read on this website and the associated publications, but I am not at all happy about the above piece on Cuba and the two comments. First, I think this is one case where our enemies' enemy should be supported to the hilt. No point in being too sympathetic towards Castro, Dylan says! While I am sure Fidel is no saint - it is hard to believe a saintly person could have successfully led his country in its resistance to a ruthless behemeth over such a long period - he surely deserves our admiration.

I think it is also important that we question most carefully how much of the criticism of the political and economic conditions in Cuba is justified. Are members of the British - based Cuba Solidarity Campaign, simply to be dismissed as dupes and liars when they protest about this in their journal, CubaSi? And how about Renee-Marie Croose Parry,a woman who is clearly highly knowledgeble and intelligent as well as profoundly compassionate? A frequent visitor to the island, she has recently published a book on it, (The Political Name of Love, New European Publications, 2007), which gives a very different picture from the one you read about in the corporate owned press - even there they will often mention Cuba's free health and education services, but always played down because of the lack of "democracy".

I could go on, but I will just mention the views of another visitor to Cuba. This was a woman I somehow got into conversation with in a shop and who, quite out of the blue, told me she had just come back from Cuba and how different it was from what she had expected, how marvellous the people were and how HAPPY. She obviously hadn't stayed in the usual tourist places either. I don't believe in miracles, but I think it is little short of one that Cuba has resisted American (and often European) capitalism for so long. Socialists should be profoundly thankful that they have and all of us in the UK should support the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.

Fiona says:

Frankly I think if the American embargo was lifted tomorrow, Castro, or now Raoul, would have kittens! No more embargo, unjust as it is, to blame the poor economic situation on. They can nonetheless have tourist restaurants, hotels and beaches which are out of bounds to most Cubans, or which simply cannot be afforded by them. Doesn't alter the fact that great strides have been made in health, education etc. A record that puts the U.S. to shame.

Dylan says:

'In politics, Cuba remains an authoritarian state which regularly imprisons dissidents, poets and gays and blocks an open political discussion about the future of the country.'

Whilst I agree that Bush and Brown only have the free market idology to offer Cuba, the article didn't really go into great depth about how the Cuban people must suffer in Cuba. We all know its no shining beacon of socialism. No point in being too symathetic towards Castro. That's my only gripe or grumble..

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