Cuba’s Problems Cannot Be Solved with Magic Spells

Fernando Ravsberg*

A Cuban neighborhood ration booklet store. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — “The biggest economic mistake we made was thinking that building socialism would guarantee development,” one of the Cuba’s most reputable economists said to me. It was something of an informal conversation, but that idea stuck in my head.

I find that this idea is alive in the position that some Cubans assume with respect to the nation’s future. It is present among those who regard socialism as a magic formula and those who believe that capitalism will solve all of the country’s problems.

Some continue to believe that, without the US embargo, Cuban socialism would be automatically viable. At the other end we find those who claim private property is the key to success. It is as though they believed that one of the two systems is going to guarantee, in and of itself, the future development of the country.

The truth of the matter is that, in a little over a century, Cuba has already gone through the two systems and has failed at both. Cuban capitalism created much wealth but it did so on the basis of brutal inequality, with fortunes built upon the extreme poverty of the countryside.

Nixon with Batista (r). Few countries in Latin America were as dependen ton the United States as was Cuba.

Inequality was so pronounced that the political program advanced by Fidel Castro as a rallying banner, History Will Absolve Me, focused on demanding more social justice and a fairer distribution of the nation’s wealth.

Capitalism in Cuba was a failure in many respects. Suffice it to read the report issued by the Catholic University Youth in 1957 to get a sense of the malnourishment, illiteracy, lack of medical services and terrible sanitary conditions that a great many Cubans were subjected to (1).

Violence reached such levels that one president was forced to strike a deal with local thugs and another leader struck an agreement with US mobsters, who ran businesses in Cuba with no restrictions whatsoever.

The “democratic system” forged over half a century of capitalism was a joke. It had a mere decade of normal operations, as opposed to 40 years of institutional crises, three decades with the Platt Amendment hanging over the constitution, foreign invasions and several coups (2).

Inequality among Cubans during the first 50 years of the republic was brutal.

Nor was Cuba an example of national sovereignty. Dependence on the United States was such that one US ambassador wrote the State Department requesting to be relocated to another country. He said he was exhausted because Cuban politicians did nothing without consulting with him first.

Revolutionary leaders believed socialism would allow them to solve many of these problems and convinced the majority of people that this was the path towards economic development, a fairer society and a country with greater sovereignty.

They achieved enviable equality, at least in comparison to their regional context and to pre-revolutionary Cuba. The agrarian and urban reforms, free health and education and even the ration booklet guaranteed a more just distribution of riches.

When the available resources ran out, the Soviet Union began to “sponsor” the Caribbean experiment and offered financing. The long-term effect of this, however, was to accustom Cubans to depending on the port-transportation-internal economy chain, that is to say, on imports. The crisis of the 90s drove home again that the country was underdeveloped and devoid of natural resources.

The history of Cuba demonstrates that political labels do not guarantee development with equity.

Ironically, the country evaded collapse thanks to the remittances of émigrés and tourism. Today, it survives thanks to the sale of medical and other professional services.

Fifty years of brutal capitalist inequality and another fifty years of a socialist system incapable of reaching economic prosperity should suffice to make people distrustful of any magic spell that would cure everything through the repetition of certain words or some political slogans.

Instead, the nation should look to the wide range of talented professionals it has produced. Intellectuals and common Cubans could contribute a lot to the nation if truly effective (not merely consultation) participatory mechanisms were created.

The nation’s challenges cannot be overcome with a mere label; they call for a model capable of brining economic prosperity while offering equal opportunities for all, without ditching free healthcare, access to education, culture and sports.
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(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.

 


36 thoughts on “Cuba’s Problems Cannot Be Solved with Magic Spells

  • November 2, 2015 at 1:56 pm
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    Do you find it at all peculiar that both communism and capitalism were/are controlled by the same “people”?

    Why are these “people” always on both sides of the issues…. Remember WW2, who funded both hitler and the allies?

  • September 3, 2015 at 5:59 pm
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    One of my brothers-in-law manages one of Cuba’s State poultry operations. With labour at well under a $1 a day and the Cuban climatic advantages, it ought to be possible to undercut the production costs of the US industry.
    I am not opposed to small farms, providing that they are efficient and competitive.When in the UK prior to emigrating to Canada, I managed large agricultural estates. By efficiency we were able for example to produce milk at a lower labour cost per gallon whilst simultaneously paying staff more.
    But, I think dani that I detect your recognition that the individual operating the business irrespective of size is a critical factor. I mentioned paying more to staff and that is difficult for the small farmer, who as you have pointed out, cannot fully mechanise.
    Regarding rural Cubans wishing to sell up nd move to cities, that for several reasons is not possible in Cuba. In my opinion, good management of economically sized businesses can provide a better standard of living than most (not all) small farms.
    What we have to keep in mind when discussing agricultural mehods is that the world has a rapidly increasing population with an ever increasing demand for food. I like others can sit and criticize companies involved in genetic manipulation of both plants and animals. But without that, the green revolution in Asia could not have occurred and millions more would have starved. Those emotive pictures of children with distended bellies much used by some of the well intended do-gooders, display the effects of hunger and starvation. Apart from utilising them to raise funds for charity, let us address how we increase food production. Cuba has been increasingly guilty of allowing good agricultural land and with a very substantial rural workforce available to revert to bush> That in my view is criminal!
    I first visited Cuba with a group of fairly distinguished agricultural producers (note my choice of words). We held our AGM there. Without exception we were amazed by the inefficiency displayed and the poor working conditions. One obvious problem is that labour is far too cheap and in consequence is not valued.
    I would love to persuade a company like that of the Green family to manage a chunk of Cuba’s agriculture and demonstrate really sound agriculture. But conditions in Cuba don’t permit that. The State has to pay the employees, and so cuts off any possibility of reward for production.
    I want to see Cuba increase its food production, I want to see an ensuing reduction in imports for the benefit of Cubans! The current State system doesn’t work – and the evidence for that statement is there to behold.

  • September 3, 2015 at 11:41 am
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    I would bow to your superior knowledge, but I’m not sure you are arguing against me. The issue was whether splitting up the large estates into 50 acre parcels of land was efficient and from what I have read it wouldn’t on either a per person or a per acre basis. Without mechanization the large estates wouldn’t be efficient either.

    I think you are making another point that small farmers if they expand can grow into massive productive farms. I think that is more likely in America as you don’t have a load of people in Cuba wanting to sell up and move to the cities/industry. You may be right regarding poultry but you need to remember that rich countries are happy to offload their surpluses/substandard products on the third world at prices that third world can’t compete with.

  • September 2, 2015 at 6:50 pm
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    As a qualified agriculturalist with a lifetimes experience, I have to correct your no doubt genuine view about the relative productive capacity of different farm sizes.
    For some emotive reasons, the urban public at large like to think of agriculture as a way of life not as an essential industry. Its role is food production.
    The Soviet mistake was thinking that the State by nationalising and introducing five year plans, could improve agricultural production, a lot of theoretical bunkum!
    How efficient do you consider US agricultural companies like Mann’s to be? They alone promoted broccoli from an almost unknown vegetable to one which many North American families consume almost daily.
    How do you explain the success of the Green family of Soham, England. From John and Andrew Green starting as tenant farmers in 1966 to today a business farming 86,000 hectares in England, Scotland, Poland, the Czech Republic and Spain.
    Have you physically looked at Cuban agriculture – I have! Near San Antonio de Los Banos in the province of Artemisa, there is a so-called agricultural co-operative which strives to be a multi-crop business. Controlled by the State, there is research in biological controls operated by a Cuban graduate of Moscow University – he graduated in nuclear physics and worked in the Russian nuclear program until the implosion of the communist system.
    If you go further west in the Province of Artemisa, you will find wonderful potentially high yielding red soils, which farmers elsewhere in the world would envy. So what is the regime doing with those soils? Well about one third is reverting to bush – in agricultural and productive terms a disaster! But does the regime care? The local sugar plant is an empty rotting shell. Ah! you may respond, but that is a consequence of the collapse of the industry following Russia ceasing to take 85% of Cuba’s production. Well why not produce more poultry instead of importing frozen chicken from Brazil, Mexico, Canada AND the US of A?
    I could go on, but find thinking about the potential of agriculture in Cuba, the potential employment it could create, the ability to replace imports, frustrating. I have sat at home in Cuba and watched Marino Murillo prattling on about his economic plans to the Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba – and I have seen the results of Socialismo agricultural planning. As long as Cuba is controlled by theoretical socialism it will continue to be in agricultural terms an economic basket case!

  • September 2, 2015 at 8:46 am
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    “Cuba used to be a net exporter of food & could be again”. This is misleading as Cuba was also a net exporter during the Soviet era ie Sugar in both cases. “Cuba went from an era of large colonial plantations, to large corporate farms (with many small independent small farmers too, by the way), to the collectivized farms of the state-socialist era.” Again this is misleading as a lot of the independent small farmers were in fact tenants. After the revolution many received the title to their land for the first time. The majority of the large farms (but not all) were turned into state farms and a limit was set to how much a single farmer could own. Also individual farmers were encouraged but never forced to join cooperatives. However a large proportion (my figures are 200,000) remained private farmers. “give farmers their own piece of land to work and let them sell their produce & meat on the open market”. The problem here is that neither small nor large farms are the most productive – this was a Soviet mistake. The most productive are medium sized – small farms only tend to supply their families rather than a creating a surplus. Farmers are allowed to sell their produce on the open market after they have supplied the state quota. This isn’t ideal but can’t be changed overnight otherwise people will starve.

  • September 1, 2015 at 3:24 pm
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    END THE EMBARGO

  • September 1, 2015 at 7:28 am
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    Erik Brynjolfsson’s, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management believes differently. He argues that advances in computer technology (from improved industrial robotics to automated translation services) are largely behind the sluggish employment growth of the last 10 to 15 years. Even more ominous, he foresee dismal prospects for many types of jobs as powerful new technologies are increasingly adopted not only in manufacturing, clerical, and retail work but in professions such as law, financial services, education, and medicine. His research show that rapid technological change has been destroying jobs faster than it is creating them.

  • August 31, 2015 at 2:24 pm
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    “Capitalism versus socialism is an endless debate.”
    Capitalism is based upon energy and individualism.
    Socialism is based upon envy and theory.
    Successful capitalists provide employment and higher living standards as demonstrated by the EU and North America.
    Socialism provides equality of the type demonstrated by Cuba and member countries of CELAC.
    Compare the GDP’s!
    How much is donated to charity in Cuba?
    How much is donated to charity in North America and the EU.
    Cuba is the recipient of charity.
    Oxfam and the Gates Foundation are the providers of charity.

  • August 31, 2015 at 2:13 pm
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    “Hong Kong benefitted all of China.”
    That is correct, the development was the child of the British and remains a huge asset for China. Hong Kong is a consequence of capitalism.

  • August 31, 2015 at 2:06 pm
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    And the end result nidal was that Hong Kong was a major financial asset to China. It was also the only part that had multi-party democracy. Prosperity for the people obviously runs counter to your personal beliefs, but it was all summed up by Sophie Tucker when she said:
    “I’ve been rich, I’ve been poor, rich is best.”
    There is no way that the dedicated Socialismo Castro family regime could possibly mimic the success that the British created in Hong Kong. Doing so requires capitalism!
    Singapore is another result of what you describe as “British greed.”

  • August 30, 2015 at 11:03 pm
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    Simply not true. Intuitively it may appear to be true but empirically, for example, there are more jobs created by the iPhone than jobs it displaced. Now this has been true so far. It remains to be seen if this will continue to be the case.

  • August 30, 2015 at 1:24 pm
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    Actually, in Johns defense, and I’m no great fan of his, he is correct insofar as technology is displacing more jobs than it creates. Manufacturing, specifically, has taken the greatest beating.

  • August 30, 2015 at 1:19 pm
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    John, I saw that movie. Terminator!

    Bill Gates, Steven Hawking, and Elon Musk, among others are sounding the warning against letting that happen. ….Your utopian future may be a long way out yet John.

  • August 30, 2015 at 1:12 pm
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    “Free Zone” …what would does that say about the areas that are not “free”

  • August 30, 2015 at 10:06 am
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    Hong Kong is the end result of British greed ,they wanted to use opium in trade for goods they could no longer be for with silver and gold , I was living in Vancouver Canada when the changeover happened , some off the Chinese who bailed out of Hong Kong , used there position living in the West and Hong Kong as there gateway in-to China to make a lot of money , some of them regretted the fact that they left Hong Kong ,
    The reason I bring this up as follows , I have relatives in Panama who have businesses in the free zone , in a casual talk with one of them he mention to me that initially free economic zone in Panama was actually designed for Miami , for some reason the idea fizzled out I don’t know why .
    If a gateway a free economic zone is created in Cuba , expatriates living in the US could do the exact same thing as what happened in Hong Kong ,
    As long as they’re willing to live and let live they could benefit themselves and the country they love , with the passing of time the benefits will slowly reach the rest of Cuba, they would have an economic zone that looks like Miami somewhere on the island , and that’s how the introduction off certain principles expand to the rest of the country , if they got out of hand simply they will get pushed back into the sea

  • August 30, 2015 at 6:10 am
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    Technology has always created more jobs than it has killed. I have seen no reason why this won’t continue to be true.

  • August 29, 2015 at 11:26 pm
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    As the advertisement says: “Happiness is egg shaped”, but eliminating government RED tape in socialist Cuba Sandra?
    Having a civil service that is civil and providing service – in Cuba Sandra?
    In December 2014, my niece submitted plans and an application to build a modest two bedroom home. It is now September – still no response to enquiries. That’s the reality of Cuba!
    People should understand that Cuba under the Castro family regime is a communist dictatorship. As such, its people in general and its civil service at national, provincial and municipal level in particular lack motivation and nobody cares!
    Socialismo is a failed conception – but the socialist sympathisers will blame the embargo! Venezuela is endeavoring to model itself on Cuba – result? -inflation at over 100%
    Argentina is chugging along behind practising Kirchnerismo, and CELAC is supposedly going to cure the ills of those South American countries pursuing socialism – fat chance!
    If one accepts that a country’s economy reflects its production and if one examines the ever declining production in Cuba, then the problem becomes apparent – the system doesn’t work!

  • August 29, 2015 at 11:05 pm
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    The difficulty for Hong Kong is that President Xi in China is manipulating the political system to try to eradicate the right of the people of Hong Kong to elect their political leaders by imposing his own preferred candidates. Hong Kong has been for China, a goose that laid a golden egg, but in practising free democratic voting, is running contrary to communist thinking. Hong Kong was not developed by the Chinese under a communist system and Raul Castro is not going to permit a similar free capitalist system in Cuba – doing so would be anathema. Yes, there is the Mariel project – but it isn’t capitalist and currently is a rather large albino elephant.

  • August 29, 2015 at 10:33 pm
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    I’m far from naive and nobody’s fool. Make your point without the name-calling. Acknowledging as I did in my comment the reality of the poor is no sin. I certainly don’t need a self-named atheist like you to remind me of my Christian values

  • August 29, 2015 at 9:40 pm
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    The barbarian hordes that end the American Empire will be advanced AI-driven robotics with better-than-human capabilities in all areas.
    This in twenty years at most, according to some eight recent books on the subject .
    Capitalism dies when there are no or few jobs for people .
    Hint: I believe I just heard that one in three men in the U.S have a job that involves driving.
    Self -driving cars are a reality now and their widespread use will be much as the cell phone take-off once they get approval.
    Then it’s trucking, trains, deliveries, mail, pizza deliveries etc in very short order.

  • August 29, 2015 at 9:33 pm
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    “I would actively work to change my government where I could …”
    “If voting could change anything, they would outlaw it. : Emma Goldman said this back about 75 years ago or so and, you poor naïve fool, it’s still true. .
    Your lack of ( Christian) sympathy for the poor is also noted.

  • August 29, 2015 at 9:29 pm
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    Excellent and pithy .
    Much food for thought or debate perhaps in a more enlightened forum.
    The answer to Cuba’s problems is the same answer to the problems of the United States: democracy in both the economy and the government .
    Trading Cuba’s totalitarian ( top-down ) STATE CAPITALIST form for the US’s totalitarian (top-down) free- enterprise capitalism (FEC)is a step in the wrong direction because under FEC there would not be the health , education and welfare programs that Cubans now have and the ill-effects of this can be seen in any developing FEC Latin American country .
    The enemies of the revolution have a valid point in saying that Cuba lacks democratic systems but to point to the USA as their desired model for democratic systems stands the reality of the totalitarian nature of FEC, of the oligarchic government, of all religions on which the USA is largely based.
    No , the opponents of the revolution don’t want to advocate for democracy . That would require a basic understanding of the term .

  • August 29, 2015 at 8:10 pm
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    Maybe Cuba need to experiment with the Hong Kong experience , in which a free zone would be created that well benefits the entire country, the same way Hong Kong benefited all of China

  • August 29, 2015 at 4:37 pm
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    This is the site to visit if you wish to know about the US and its problems

  • August 29, 2015 at 4:14 pm
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    Blah, blah, blah. Not another “the end is near ” prediction. I agree that any government system, left unchecked, will run itself off the rails. But the US does not suffer from a lack of self-control. On the contrary, the US is over-regulated and more likely to collapse from political correctness. However, will the preeminence of the US last forever? History says probably not. But for my lifetime and probably that of my children, I’d say we look pretty good against the “barbarian hordes” just yet.

  • August 29, 2015 at 12:18 pm
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    The historic foto of the hovel, in front of which stand a mother and her seven children, brings back terrible memories. It was typical of pre-revolutionary Cuba. During my first visit, June, July and August of 1959 this was typical of many of the neighborhoods I passed through on my way from my one-star hotel, in Centro to the home of my friends, in Arroyo Arenas. For every mansion in Playa, or middle-class apartment or home in the Vedado and Miramar, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of these hovels, surrounded by children with distended stomachs, in Marianao. Despite its many shortcomings–for as Socrates says, in Republic, “perhaps this perfect state shall never be built; still, we should try.”–the Revolution eliminated these terrible scenes. The Revolution will continue to try, but as Jefferson stated, it needs to be reinvigorated each generation!.

  • August 29, 2015 at 12:04 pm
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    I can sympathize with you, nidal. After officially retiring in 2009, I decided to take a “fun” job, working at the front desk of a hotel in Yellowstone National Park. Towards the end of my five months there, I came down with an unusual auto-immune disease. Although I managed to continue working ’til the very end of my contract–and didn’t miss a shift in all that time–on my days off I consulted medical authorities, was referred to specialists in Bozeman and then in Billings, and ran up a big tab (they eventually made a correct diagnosis and began treatment). My insurance company, however, denied my claims, stating that I had never gotten their approval (which I did–I kept documentation of all phone calls, who I spoke with, etc.), nor gone to their authorized, in-network, “providers.” As I was 2,000+ miles distant from these providers, and had called my H.M.O. and informed them of the situation at the very beginning, it was not possible to fulfill their unreasonable demands. (I was in no shape to drive back, and I doubt they would have footed the bill for a medical evacuation!) After returning home, I went round-and-round with my H.M.O., month-after-month. Eventually, I won my case, but it was only after hundreds of phone calls, dozens of letters and much grief. If medications had not alleviated (but will never cure) my condition, I doubt I would have had the stamina to do battle with these bean-counters. Moreover, once I returned back East, it was obvious that my physician’s assistant (I almost never get to see a real doctor. Besides, the conditions in H.M.O. centers group practice are so onerous that doctors, nurses and physicians cycle in-and-out of the place at dizzying speed, and a patient never has the same doctor, etc., for long) had never even read the lengthy file the folks from Mammoth Hot Springs, Bozeman and Billings had forwarded to them; hence I had to explain my recent medical history almost every time I visited. (Then again, how could I expect them, as they are suppose to see 50+ patients a day, or one patient ever five or ten minutes, with several patients being seen simultaneously in different exam rooms). This type of third-rate medical treatment is what I paid $700 to $800/month over many years, only to be hassled when I finally had to use it.

  • August 29, 2015 at 11:34 am
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    “Capitalism depends on winners and losers.” Just remember, if there are too many losers and too few winners, what incentive is there for folks to defend such a system? Fear and terror only go so far, then folks begin to feel that there is nothing to loose. The result, in a good case, revolution. In a (not so) bad case, the end of an empire. Our empire was in its heydays when our industries were in full production, and later, in the 1940’s through the 1960’s, when our productive wealth was distributed and redistributed via fairer tax policies and labor laws. Of course, for the quarter century following World War II this had something to do with our industrial base being the only one surviving unscathed, hence producing, without much competition, for the rest of the world. Just remember, when Rome was at its height, it could recruit and raise as many legions as it needed. Towards the end, when most (powerless) citizens of the empire felt they had no stake in the empire, so deracineated was the peninsular Italian population that it couldn’t even raise a single legion for the defense of the capital. In fact, most citizens welcomed the barbarian hordes! The U. S. will suffer a similar fate!

  • August 29, 2015 at 9:27 am
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    You clearly take issue with the US system. I would like to think that if I were that unhappy where I lived, I would actively work to change my government where I could or I would leave to live in a place that better suits me. Instead, as I read your comment, it appears that you are completely immersed in the system, collecting both a government disability check and some measure of supplemental insurance. Clearly, if these are your sole sources of income, I would guess that you are not living far above the poverty line, hence, the disgruntled tone of your comments. Capitalism depends on winners and losers. It seems as if you are not one of the winners.

  • August 28, 2015 at 4:56 pm
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    Cuba as well as every other country, needs to provide the climate and opportunity for meaninful employment for youth. How to do this I am not qualified to say. Some things that might help: helping youth to be self-employed, eliminating government red tape, reasonable taxes that people percieve as fair, the civil service actually being civil and providing service.

  • August 28, 2015 at 2:40 pm
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    The countries of Central America are all capitalist but suffer from the same lack of development as Cuba. Cuba-if it becomes capitalist–will face the same problems as now. Any country which is dependent on the export of raw materials and tourism is not going to develop its productive capacity. For Cuba to advance, it will need to be part of a socialist federation of the Caribbean. But “socialism in one country” was never going to work.

  • August 28, 2015 at 1:59 pm
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    Capitalism versus socialism is a endless debate , If Cuba is to adapt capitalism as we know it today it will be equivalent of going from the frying pan into the fire .
    Capitalism in the United States of America is nothing more than a hypocrisy , one of the tenants in capitalism is make it or break it , in other words either you succeed or move aside with no assistance from the Government , when the Great Depression happened it was the capitalist who stuck there hand out begging for money and to add insult to injury the government of the United States give them all the cash they want
    One of my own experience in the capitalist system is the purchase of income compensation insurance , in case of injury and loss of ability to earn an income they will pay me 60% of my income tax free , I believed the lies they where pushing all over the place , they were saying by the time I retire there will be no social security left for anyone . As it happened an accident made me disabled , I tried to collect , the first thing I had to go through is a mountain of paperwork , the second thing I was told read the fine print , to collect on this policy I will have to get disability from the government , apparently all what they will pay is the difference between what I should receive from the government and what I used to earn , in the end I receive $50 a month from what I was promised , some of you would say you should have read the fine print, let me tell you something it’s about 30+- pages of legal mumbo jumbo practically half inch publication , way above the average understanding of the law , apparently just about all income compensation schemes have the similar fine print , Examples of capitalist squeezing every last dollar they can get their hands on from the government is all over the place , certain multi-billion dollar companies without mentioning names , wall have there employees work just enough hours to qualify for government assistance , this way they would avoid having to provide health insurance , last year multinational companies received 175 billion dollar refund from the Tax Service , presidential election cost about 4 billion , you could see it nothing more than pocket change , they can afford to buy any politician they want at any given time , at the same time politicians who refused to play the game will get ruined .
    The powerless 99.9 % majority versus the .1% the control our lives ,this is what it means to live under a capitalist system , In go back to my point , capitalists in the United States are nothing more than welfare Queens ,
    In my case after my injury I’ve became a parasites on the system , in their case taking money from the government is bailout , hand full of dollars a month vs billions in bailout ,
    It seems that change is coming to Cuba unavoidable , I hope that Cuba will not repeat the same mistakes of who preceded them in such a change , in which the rule of law was not maintained , example I give is what happen in Russia , in which a handful of people decide to grab all what they can get her hands on and leave the rest of society behind .
    Socialism equivalent to Germany’s have proven to be successful , right now German economy is just about the best on the planet , they lost two world wars and they came back on top, Now that says something , In the case of the embargo on Cuba, I see no one mentioning how far did the US undermine Cuban economy, for example they will go around the world blackmailing companies that do business with Cuba.
    The question that I ask myself is it the physical Cuba and a population of 11 million that they fear ? or the idea of socialism ?
    Is it the fear that socialism might succeed and get imported in to the United States?
    What we have here is a bunch of merciless greedy money hoarders who will stop at nothing to keep what they have .

  • August 28, 2015 at 8:52 am
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    Excellent rebuttal Griffin. It’s a shame that the Castro sycophants who frequently comment here at HT will likely not respond to you. I have come to believe that when confronted by the hard facts of record outmigration, shortages of basic foodstuffs, and low yield agricultural outputs, these commenters deflect to anti-US attacks and comparisons to Haiti. For once I would love to read a comment that can explain why there are so few cows in Cuba without mentioning gun crime in the US as a deflection. Sadly, I suspect that as your rebuttal to Ravsberg post so ably shows, the path to political and economic prosperity in Cuba is ‘blockaded’ by the current leadership. All other obstacles are merely distractions.

  • August 27, 2015 at 7:03 pm
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    Very well written. The way forward is for a viable middle class to emerge. Economic success is needed for democratic institutions to take hold and flourish. Serfdom is not conducive to self rule.

  • August 27, 2015 at 4:58 pm
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    A very well written response Griffin which sensibly avoids sinking into the usual morass of considering that the only option for Cuba is to revert from the Castro dictatorship to that of Batista with the US wagging the tail of the dog.
    You put your finger on the source of Cuba’s problems by discussing Spanish colonialism which left an awful trail wherever it was imposed.
    Clearly, Cuba can only commence on the pursuit of getting from here to there when the current dictatorship has ended.
    My view remains that 2018 is going to be a critical year. If then the current Maduro government in Venezuela falls (which it will if the election is reasonably fair) and Raul Castro ends his term as President (and Head of the military), there is potential for a political stir if the Raul Castro family determine to flex their political and economic muscle in competition with that official government troika of Diaz-Canel, Murillo and Rodriguez.
    Whereas there is at the moment much discussion in the media about “change”, there is no perceptible change in the day to day lives of the Cuban people. Even if my view about 2018 is correct and if real change commences, it will take 10 to 15 years to filter through to any substantial improvements. But what matters is that then there will be real cause for hope as living standards slowly improve. Currently hope being perpetual, it has floated elusively in the imagination of the people without gelling into any reality.
    Although recognising that agriculture has a key role to play, I will refrain from expressing my views about the best policies to pursue to make Cuban agriculture both highly productive, productive and a substantial employer. Doing so would take considerable space.

  • August 27, 2015 at 1:42 pm
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    The analysis presented is incomplete. One cannot examine the state of development in Cuba today by focussing on only the period since independence from Spain. Cuba had been ruled as a colony of Spain for 400 years prior to independence. The social, political, legal, religious and economic conditions of that colonial era continued to influence the development of Cuba up to this day.

    As a colony, Cuba was exploited as a source of resources: sugar, coffee, leather, timber & etc. Cuba is still a resource exporting country, although the inability to produce these resources as word prices continues to depress the economy. Slaves were imported from Africa, an institution which continues to shape the racial relations on the island. The institution lives on today in the export of contracted labour from Cuba to other nations, in conditions which may have described as slavery.

    The Spanish Colonial system ran on institutionalized corruption. Public offices were purchased and then used by the official as a means of extracting bribes and graft from the people. No court case could be heard without many levels of bribes being paid. That corruption continued in the Republican era is no surprise, and it should be no surprise it has continued in the Castro era. The means of attaining public office has changed, but the abuse of official power for personal gain has continued.

    Once again, we must correct the error Ravsberg wrote, that Cuba is “resource poor”. In fact, Cuba has an abundance of mineral riches, nickel, cobalt and related minerals in particular, but also iron & copper. Cuba also has some oil, heavy crude, but with modern investment could be a source of energy & income.

    Finally, Cuba has rich waters and fertile soils. Cuba used to be a net exporter of food & could be again, if the land was well managed. Cuba went from an era of large colonial plantations, to large corporate farms (with many small independent small farmers too, by the way), to the collectivized farms of the state-socialist era. Do what Fidel once promised when he was in the Sierra Maestra: give farmers their own piece of land to work and let them sell their produce & meat on the open market. Do that & Cuba will feed itself again.

    During the Spanish colonial era, “the Law” was chaotic collections of royal edicts passed down by the Spanish monarch. Many were mutually exclusive and contradictory. The US military governor, Leonard Wood, attempted to unravel that mess but gave up in futility. The rule of law, which is the true meaning of “republic” never took hold during the Republican era, and so it’s no wonder the concept was thrown out the window by the Revolutionary government.

    Politically, at no time during the colonial era did Cuban born residents of the island have any rights or say in their government. It was appointed from Spain. During the Republican era, the people had the right to vote and free elections, but the cultural traditions of Cubans were unprepared for the give and take of democratic system. Instead, once in power an elected politicians soon reverted to the traditional practices of corruption, suppression of dissent and consolidation of power. It’s worth noting that Machado & Batista were both elected to office and for a while were considered “reformers” by the majority of Cuban people, before turning into dictators. Castro never submitted himself to a free election, but he did ride into power as a reformer and with great popular support. Yet, once again, he reverted to the traditional Cuban form of dictator.

    So ultimately, the false choice of brutal capitalism vs incapable socialism (and let’s be honest, it is rather brutal, too!) are not the only choices available for Cuba. They could chose a path of moderate social democracy or moderate liberal democratic capitalism; something like Canada, or Sweden or Denmark, for example. Those countries managed to go from poor rural based monarchies to wealthy modern industrial economies, with publicly funded basic social programs. There is no reason why Cuba could not also make that transition. But to do so will take a significant shift in the cultural traditions of the past 500 years.

    What they need to make it happen are simple enough: freedom, human rights, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, an acceptance of dissent and difference of opinion, and an end to public corruption. Obviously, the current rulers of Cuba are steadfast opposed to all of those ingredients of a modern, prosperous & decent society.

    So how does Cuba get there from here?

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