Cuba: From Politics to COVID-19 and Vice-Versa

By Ariel Dacal Diaz  (El Toque)

Photo: Jorge Beltran

HAVANA TIMES – COVID-19 is the synonym for uncertainty. The road map is unclear. Its figures are a flood of unease. Science and ignorance fight against each other, in their battle against it. Common sense and selfishness take a firm stand. As do viciousness and solidarity. Our notion of what’s “normal” shatters into a million fragments.

In the fight against COVID-19, the immediate past is like an irrecoverable house of cards. The present is a stunned face. The future is the battle that is yet to come. Politics, sovereign or  subjected; the economy, orderly or chaotic; human interaction, essential or disdainful, dictate these dichotomies.

COVID-19 is a watershed. A deafening call for attention. This pandemic demands that we take a position, make a choice, define, raise our voices and hands to push the world towards the utopia we long for. It also demands that we challenge those who benefit from the dystopia that is our world.

Cuba faces this dilemma too, the challenges it brings, the need for taking a stance, the political tug-of-war, complaints and breakthrough decisions. Cubans should be speaking out, suggesting, demanding, pushing and doing things. Silence is a sin in politics. Today, a structural sin.

There are plenty of opinions about how the Cuban government has handled this COVID-19 pandemic. How, when, who and what to do at every moment, gives rise to a vast number of options and points of view. Cries, depreciation, caution, anxiety, reasonable doubt and certainty are some of the different attitudes to concrete problems: what should we be learning from all of this? What country do we want to push for?

This is one of those rare times when we need to talk about politics with a capital P and we need to make noise. Talking about its issues, the way politics are done in our country, its scope and limitations. Talking about its relationship with ethics, aesthetics, sensitivity and historic projects. Talking about possible reconciliations and unsolvable discrepancies.

COVID-19 has pulled the carpet from under the reality Cuba was planning to make progress on. But this doesn’t detract from the fact that this country was already in crisis when this new crisis rolled around, and it had very clear projections on the one hand, and pending matters on the other. Every crisis is a new opportunity, which shouldn’t be taken as an opportunity for other crises, but as a time to ammend frameworks and conditions that have allowed the current crisis to endure for so long.

The challenges that COVID-19 presents for Cuba are drastic manifestations of old, foreign and domestic dilemmas. The wickedness of the US government’s imperialist policies has also been drastic. The example of indecency, disdain and decline in international politics. No matter how shocking these names might be, they don’t hide the real efficiency of these policies in their attempt to hurt, stop and delay Cuba’s conditions for progress.

The clash between world powers is becoming more and more drastic, which moves the tectonic plates of geopolitics, with direct, material and political effects on Cuba.

Incompetence and instability in finding solutions for domestic, structural and conceptual problems have also been drastic. Questions without a response have been drastic, including: how can you keep the COVID-19 infection curve low in favorable, astounding and admiral terms, while, on the contrary, the lines and crowding because of shortages is reaching an alarming rate, exhausting the population and shooting up social tensions? Why isn’t Cuba able to produce food for its population? What path needs to be taken in order to overcome the crisis that has only been exacerbated by COVID-19?

Looking at the much-needed lessons we need to face our post-pandemic reality, I can say that the way politics is done in Cuba is changing. “Interesting” methods and content can be described:

  • greater public presence of key officials to inform;
  • growing channels of access to information on different platforms;
  • a willingness to listen to opinions and proposals coming from different sources;
  • a more active dialogue with different social agents and sectors, especially from the field of Science;
  • transparency in trial-error practices;
  • moderate use of emotional resources in politics;
  • clear and stable conceptual ideas in decision-making.

However, these signs of hope need to be further supported by:

  • adjusting mechanisms for regional autonomy, which implies a greater capacity for decision-making and education in decentralized political practices;
  • outlining steady and legitimate channels for dialogue with civil society, and the drive for organized social initiatives to solve temporary or chronic problems;
  • the government’s greater recognition of inequity and social inequality in order to make distribution policies more efficient;
  • make debates about different proposals to solve concrete problems more visible, that is to say, debate not just informing the population;
  • secure the regulatory use of the Constitution and dismantling the discretional use of laws;
  • refute the bureaucratic mindset of creating “a problem for every solution”;
  • stress the hierarchy of public over private in discourse and practice; as well as humans over profits, decency and public transparency above secrecy and lies;
  • push for the greatest production sovereignty possible, especially in the food production, once and for all;
  • reassume that the economy is not only more or less constrained forces of production, but also human relationships, fair or not.

COVID-19 came and imposed itself on the reality that preceded it, and it will leave us a reality that it isn’t really at fault for. Human behavior, collective consciousness, common sense, political decisions and their benefactors, continue to be what has the last word at the end of the day.

COVID-19, as a macro discourse, put utopia and dystopia at heads. As an imperative, it demands that we ask ourselves again: what country do we want? Let’s take advantage of this recovery phase to talk less about COVID-19, and more about politics in Cuba. To do that, there’s a crisis we need to fix.

14 thoughts on “Cuba: From Politics to COVID-19 and Vice-Versa

  • Aside from the myriad other questions and comments posted each with their own validation and need of an immediate solution, this one is paramount:

    “Why isn’t Cuba able to produce food for its population?”

    When a country cannot feed its population given the abundant amount of fallow, suitable agricultural land available, Cuba has very serious, embarrassing problem.

    Absolutely, politics needs to move from “talk” to immediate action. All Cuba needs to do is look around the world and witness what other countries have done when faced with disaster even much worse that what Cuba is presently experiencing.

    Other posters in other articles have referred to a country friendly with Cuba – Vietnam. We all know its history. Devastated beyond recognition in many parts of the country, having its abundant agricultural land contaminated with napalm, let alone the human atrocities, tragedy and suffering, yet after some internal analysis of what makes a country’s economy profitable it moved into swift action and changed. It wasn’t rocket science that they instilled on their economy.

    A simple market economy is what they saw worked worldwide. No, they did not relinquish their centralized authoritarian socialist government but allowed the ordinary Vietnamese on the street to freely operate like entrepreneurs using market economic principles. Their mantra: Let the Vietnamese become rich as long as the general population follows the political decrees of the centralized political elites, all is well; it seems to work.

    Vietnam after beating the United States in war showed the world that no matter what the adversity if a nation unifies and bands together with a common purpose and adopts proven, capitalist change, success will occur.

    Can Cuba do the same? For successful change to occur those presently in power need to allow the market economy to operate unabated and allow ordinary Cubans, like farmers, to reap the rewards their abundant soil provides so that Cuba can produce food for its population, and hopefully like Vietnam, sell some.

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  • I could not have said it better. The article covered all the bases and it also applies to the rest of The World countries going through the same predicament at various levels according to their stage of development.

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  • As Stephen has pointed out, the key sentence in the article is:

    “Why isn’t Cuba able to produce food for its population?”

    The sole suggestion made by the author is:

    “push for the greatest production sovereignty possible, especially in the food production, once and for all.”

    That begs several questions:

    How, by whom, with whom, where, when?

    The Castro regime in response to those who have urged long necessary improvement in agricultural structure, management and cost of production relative to controlled prices, has merely entrenched its failed policies. Those in power don’t change, being bound by those ingrained 19th century concepts and Stalinist considerations. But unlike Stalin, who starved millions of Ukrainians in endeavors to provide minimal nutrition for Russians, it is their fellow Cubans whom the Castro regime has determined should experience the pangs of hunger.

    What has been the regimes response? Year in, year out, the aged tottering Second Secretary of the PCC, is shown on TV visiting the few remaining sugar processing plants, wearing the hard hat and exhorting the workers to produce more, Production of the main crop for which Cuba was previously famed, has dropped to a level where importation is necessary.

    Blarney about “production sovereignty” achieves naught. Adoption of proven systems practiced in the capitalist world is necessary and critical.

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  • Excellent article. Absolutely nails a number of key issues.
    I would agree with both Stephen and Mr MacD that the key Cuban issue above all others referred to in the article is the failure to be food self sufficient.
    The comparison Stephen makes with Vietnam is a prescient one.
    One Party State isn’t necessarily the problem when it comes to food self sufficiency. It is the competence of the food production mechanism that is the key. This totally overrides the question of one party state, two party state, twenty five party state etc.
    You could theoretically have a state with 100 political parties but if you only ever produce one single potato per harvest then it would be a failure of agricultural policy.

    Mr MacD, you have expertise in the agricultural industry and I would agree with you that an injection of ‘capitalism’ into the sector would probably work wonders (as has occurred in Vietnam).
    References to Stalin are relevant to a degree but bear in mind the fact that the man has been dead for around 65 years. His era was one of a move away from an agriculture-based economy toward a regional industrial revolution was it not? And if I remember correctly he was neither Russian nor Ukrainian. He was Georgian wasn’t he ?

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  • Yes Nick, Stalin was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili in Gori Georgia on the 21 December, 1879. He was educated as a Jesuit intended for the priesthood. (Fidel Castro was also a Jesuit and the current Pope is the first Jesuit one – maybe the reason for him making two visits to Cuba).

    Stalin virtually eradicated largely by execution and deportation, the Kulaks, a class of peasant farmers with about 40 acres of land apiece, who first refused to sell grain to the state at the end of 1927 at a price below cost of production. He regarded the peasantry as an enemy. In 1932, on the basis of theoretical figures, he demanded of the Ukrainian peasantry grain deliveries in excess of the total crop and enforced delivery virtually to the last ear, to supply the Russians.

    That created famine in the Ukraine and resulted in the deaths of between five and seven million people from starvation. As you may know, there are in consequence of Stalin’s actions, a lot of Ukrainian descendants in Western Canada and in the city square of Edmonton, Alberta, there is a touching memorial to those millions who died.

    It is not without cause or knowledge, that you will have noted that I refer to the Castro’s adoption of the Stalinist interpretation of Marx/Engels/Lenin as compared with that in China and Vietnam. As I have previously noted, Fidel Castro was a vocal critic of Vietnam for introducing capitalism despite the success. It is my belief that the reason the ‘Che’ Guevara left Cuba, giving up his Cuban citizenship and never setting foot again on the island, was because he disagreed with the Stalinist interpretation, but realized that the power in Cuba lay in the inflexible hands of the Castro’s, which he could not change.

    Obviously, if the regime in Cuba were to permit a degree of capitalism, it would as it has in China and Vietnam, benefit the people. It is the dogmatic view of the Castro’s that prevents doing so. But although dead since March 5, 1953 (one month prior to Raul Castro’s first visit to the Soviet Union), and as I observed previously, Stalin’s ghost still stalks Cuba.

    I agree with you that a One-Party state does not necessarily prevent food self-sufficiency. But state operated systems do inhibit initiative and invention, thus limiting potential levels of production which in Cuba is substantial.

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  • Mr MacD,
    Delighted to mention that I pretty much agree with all of what you say.
    I would suggest that Cuba does ‘permit a degree of Capitalism’ but needs to permit a helluva lot more.

    On the historical element that you have introduced:
    One party systems don’t necessarily prevent food self sufficiency and multi party systems don’t necessarily provoke this self sufficiency
    Just as multi party systems don’t necessarily provoke food self sufficiency, neither do they necessarily avert famine. A slightly more recent example than that of Ukraine would be the Bengal Famine. The blame is most often laid at the door of Winston Churchill.
    Perhaps coincidentally he was, of course, a sometime ally and sometime drinking buddy of Stalin.
    I wonder if, during their all night drinking sessions, the subject of famine ever popped up ?
    I would have to add here that for all his faults, I remain a highly critical admirer of Churchill – but not of Stalin.
    Another famine which occurred a century previous to that of Bengal was that of Ireland. Obviously that predates Churchill but it was also provoked by the governing body of the two party British system of the time.

    On to matters of our present time. I have an inkling that those in charge of the current Cuban system will just about scrape by when it comes to ensuring nutrition is adequate during the current crisis.
    I sincerely hope so. I am concerned also for those parts of the world with scant attempt at (or little capacity for) nationwide food distribution.

    And yes, future food self sufficiency for a fertile country such as Cuba should definitely be the first priority for whoever any Cuban Government consists of.

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  • Being aware Nick, of Churchill’s opinion of Stalin (it was Roosevelt who was palsy-walsy with “uncle Joe” and his health prevented binges), I doubt whether Stalin and Churchill ever had a joint all-night drinking session, but it is highly probable that they did so individually.

    To be accurate, it was the UK and the US that were allies of the USSR, rather than Churchill being an ally of Stalin. Remember the Cossacks and others that were “repatriated” to their deaths as a consequence of Roosevelt’s trust at Yalta. Whereas Roosevelt was a staunch supporter of the UK and Commonwealth forces, prior to the US entering the Second World War in December 1941, there were many within the US who were as you have pointed out previously, supportive of the Nazis.

    As a little reminder of Churchill’s wit, It was he who as then Prime Minister, officially recognized Communist China. and upon him doing so, the Labour Party opposition attacked him vigorously in Parliament, quoting all the things he had ever said (and they were numerous) about the evils of communism. Churchill sat for a prolonged period, glowering by the dispatch box until eventually rising and responding:

    “Members opposite, must understand that there is a difference between recognizing something and liking it,” he then hesitated as if going to sit down, before adding: “For example we all recognize the Member for Ebbw Vale.”

    The Member concerned was Aneurin Bevan, who hadn’t even said a word during the debate. But he and Churchill were at times, to be seen drinking together in the Members bar – Churchill of aristocratic background and Bevan from the mining valleys of South Wales.

    As an aside, I had the pleasure at one time, of chairing a committee which included Sir Harold Wernher of Luton Hoo (his wife Zia, was a niece of the Tsar) close friend of the Queen – they hosted she and Philip each year for their wedding anniversary, and Jim Weeber, Head shop steward of the Bedford truck plant (Vauxhall Motors). Jim was an avowed communist. Yet after meetings, the two would drink draught beer together in the public bar of a nearby hostelry.

    It is amazing what booze can achieve!

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  • Well Mr MacD, Moscow – August 1942 – Churchill and Stalin apparently started in mid afternoon and were up drinking until 3am according to files released a few years ago. Took place at Stalin’s Moscow apartment. Apparently Churchill had to leave for the airport at 4.30.
    Molotov was also there (perhaps he was drinking cocktails?).
    I don’t know if this was their only heavy session, but I do recall files relating to this particular occasion being released not so long ago.
    And yes, Churchill has been in the news again recently with some of his less savoury comments being quoted on the back of the Black Lives Matter protests.
    But the man most surely had a brilliant and sometimes very cutting wit. Didn’t he once describe Attlee as a sheep in sheep’s clothing?

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  • Churchill could never be described as a feminist supporter. His comment To Nancy Astor when she became the first woman M.P reflecting his opinion. She said to him in the House. “If I was married to you, I would give you poison.” Churchill’s immediate response being: “And if I was married to you, I would drink it.

    Interesting about the drinking session you mention, I must try to track it down. As for less savoury comments regarding race, few people were not guilty of racial disparagement much of it unwittingly, at that time. I recall as a child hearing the song Polly Wolly Doodle on the BBC radio.One of the pre-war story books we had as children, had a poem about a little black boy. i didn’t actually see a black man until 1947, but had seen Sikh soldiers in their turbans during the war. it was that memory that caused me to resign from the Royal Canadian Legion in 1991, when they considered a motion to ban all headdress within the clubs – that after Sikhs started to immigrate. I never rejoined as it was evidently racist.

    It is i think critical to understand general concepts of the time, when examining history. That concert by Paul Robeson that I attended in 1948, first made me aware of racism.

    In 1955, the Gold Coast regiment (Ghana) still had white officers, but black other ranks. In 1986, all the training officers for the Gurkhas (the base was in Hong Kong) were white. Such customs were maintained under Labour as well as Conservative governments.

    Black Lives Matter doesn’t have to look far to find democrats, socialists or communists just as racist as those of the right. They still have a hard road to pursue.

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  • Mr MacD, Yes I’ve heard that one about Nancy Astor. Classic.
    I would agree that the right do not have a monopoly on racism. And I also agree that one needs to put comments and opinions within the context of the times. To an extent it is simply how people were taught to think. When I look at textbooks from the era of my Nan’s school days (about 100 years ago), it is quite shocking to see the blatantly supremacist lessons and some of the descriptions of different peoples/races.
    Some of Churchill’s comments regularly come under the spotlight because they do not appear to be casual remarks but fully thought through opinions on which certain policy preferences were based.
    It may be the case that hindsight gives some of his comments a very sinister tone but it’s also worth remembering that such comments also attracted some fierce criticism at the time.
    As I say, I am a highly critical admirer.
    His statue in Whitehall provokes a lot of debate. It often gets graffitied/vandalised. Usually within the context of these types of protests. A couple of weeks ago his Granddaughter said maybe it’s time it was moved to a museum. That way it wouldn’t be such a divisive focal point.
    If it’s some old Slave Trader then I have no issue with the statue being taken down but Churchill???
    I don’t know if I really come down either side of that debate.
    One thing that occurs to me apart from anything else is that it’s actually a very good piece of sculpture.

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  • The final of four official meetings on the 16th August 1942 between Stalin and Churchill, commenced at the Kremlin at 7.00 p.m. Later in the evening, Stalin suggested moving to his apartment in the Kremlin. There were present, Stalin, Churchill, Molotov, Sir Alexander Cadogan of the Foreign Office, Birss (interpreter) with service by Svetlana, Stalin’s daughter and a female servant, Averall Harriman the US representative was not present. Churchill was recorded by Cadogan, as drinking only a red wine. In the early hours, a roast pig was presented, Churchill did not partake, Stalin ate a lot, The meeting ended at 3.00 a.m. The Liberator aircraft departed at 5.30 a.m. for the 11 hour flight to Tehran, with Molotov making the official farewell. Churchill was gifted with remarkable stamina for a man of 67.

    Churchill having initiated the meeting following discussion with Roosevelt, , has been credited with the formation of the “Big Three” which was the basis of the allies winning the Second World War.

    Scarcely Nick a basis for “their all night drinking sessions” or “don’t know if this was their only heavy drinking session.” They had met for the first time on August 14.

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  • Well Mr MacD,
    You are putting a particular spin on the report or you have seen a different interpretation.
    Churchill and Stalin we’re both famously heavy drinkers. I read that this session started in mid afternoon and by a certain point later on in the proceedings Churchill acquired a headache and thence forward stuck with an ‘inoffensive red wine’.
    But the only thing that I can say for certain is that I wasn’t there in person so I can’t confirm which version is the more correct.
    It would be mere conjecture if one were to suggest that their subsequent ‘naughty document’ meeting may have been lubricated by a ‘naughty snifter’ or two…..

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  • It is well known that Churchill imbibed large quantities of brandy in particular – along with his Havana cigars (remember in the Second World War, Cuba was actually an ally). That however does nothing to substantiate your suggestions. The official meeting commenced at 7,00 p.m. with a dinner and proceeded as I described according to official records, not those dreamed up by some press reporter seventy years later.

    You are of course at liberty to choose to put your own “spin” on the records of the meeting made by Sir Alexander Cadogan.

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  • Sir Alexander Cadogan also reports that Churchill and Stalin had another big drinking session on 30th Nov 1943. This was subsequent to a dinner in honour of Churchill’s birthday during the Tehran summit. The party was thrown by Churchill himself therefore it is little wonder that the drinks selection was a good one (Johnnie Walker Black Label, Louis Jadot Chablis, Taylor’s Vintage Port etc……).
    Cadogan states that Roosevelt retired from proceedings leaving Churchill and Stalin to continue toasting which the did together into the wee small hours. Apparently one of Churchill’s toasts was to ‘the proletarian masses’ and one of Stalin’s was to ‘the Conservative Party’.
    When I originally said that Stalin was Churchill’s ‘….sometime drinking buddy’ which doesn’t at all mean that they were regular frequenters of the same pub. What I was referring to was the fact that they got hammered together on more than one occasion. Which is undeniably the case.

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