Does the Cuban Revolution Exist Today?

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

Cuban student. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – Ever since the 1990s, when Cuba seemed to sink into a great economic depression, at least a dozen chronicles (books written by travelers who discover something and then describe it in subtle terms) have been written about the end of what is called the “Cuban Revolution”.

Maybe the first of these (a real burlesque show called “Castro’s Final Hour”), was written by Andres Oppenheimer, and the latest one that I know about (which I have yet to read) was written by a Chilean intellectual, Patricio Fernandez, and is called “Cuba: A journey to the end of the Revolution.

The thing that ties all of these books together -from my point of view mistaken-, is their shared assessment which identifies the political regime with the Revolution, that is to say, the product with the process. As a result, they speak about both in the present, which I believe is a serious conceptual and practical problem, because the Cuban Revolution has been dead for decades, and it wouldn’t make sense to identify some of its ashes with the event itself.

It’s an issue that is relevant now, at a time when the uprising led by Fidel Castro is celebrating its 60th anniversary, and some people are celebrating the event with great joy, while others are sadly afflicted about it, while many others discover that something like this actually happened before they were born. 

Revolutions (regardless of their stripes) are events that hold important hopes and dreams, and that’s why they are considered to last a long time, because the elite need it to consolidate their new orders.

For example, in Mexico, the corporate (corrupt and repressive) regime continued to refer to the Revolution for over 80 years. And they only changed their tone when the Institutional Revolutionary Party lost power and the North American Free Trade Agreement delivered a great blow to Mexican society on the whole.

Bolivian military who persecuted and assassinated Che Guevara, did so using the vital energy of a revolution that had broken out a quarter of a century beforehand and ended up being bled dry by the IMF, in the mid-50s.

But, as Marx advised us, you can’t take historic agents of change for their word. Revolutions die a long time before their leaders and heirs claim, but because it is still used in their speeches and collective imagination, their ghosts continue to lurk in our everyday lives.

The Cuban Revolution not only lurks, but also perversely insists on appearing, which leads us to ask about the real longevity of this phenomenon, or, better yet, when it actually ended.

A first response to this question (which I have always adhered to) refers this end to the culmination of changes that encouraged its followers to attack the sky. And if that’s the case, 1965 seems like a good point.

By then, the previous dictatorship had been overthrown, the main redistributive measures had been created, the national State against US intervention had been consolidated and, as a result, it’s no coincidence that the first signs of institutionalizing appeared in 1965.

However, it seems that later years were buzzing with voluntarism (and voluntarism is a component of every revolution) which gradually disappeared in the first half of the ‘70s, in the face of repeated economic failures and a shift in Latin America’s guerrilla’s focus.

In the early ‘70s, Cuban leaders only had military nationalism and the socialist experience in Chile in their hand, which had nothing to do with Castro’s objectives. And with regard to the economy, they only had one option but with a very high price to pay: Soviet subsidies.

They chose the latter, they received huge sums of money and resources, they created a totalitarian regime without any cracks, and proclaimed a new constitution in 1976 that was just like the one Stalin published, 40 years before.

Many people believe (for more reasons than they need) that the real end was this turning point, greatly lacking in revolutionary features. However, we must recognize that Cuba experienced its greatest social achievements (health, education, social security, virtually wiping out poverty, full employment) as of this date, so if you want to assess this issue by its results, the Revolution was revived during this subsidized utopia (according to some observers).

When foreign support suddenly vanished in 1990, Cuba’s economy fell by 40% in three years, and society lived one of the worst moments of poverty in the continent.

Emigrating to the US since the ‘60s, Cubans tried getting out of there with more energy than ever and the island began to show absolute indicators for population decline.

The US blockade/embargo was felt even more and became a central argument in a discourse that called upon brave resistance and localized the key to the country’s salvation in the Revolution. Cuban leaders molded their discourse in such a way that they transformed the national harm they had done into a source of revolutionary virtue.

The Revolution had made a come-back, an old Fidel Castro seemed to tell us, but was being revitalized with an alliance of Leftist governments headed by a populist leader, Hugo Chavez, who was hell-bent on carrying out a revolution across the entire continent and he had enough money to pay for it.

But, nothing stands in the way of biology. Fidel Castro had to resign himself to a sick person’s bed, where he ended his days by digressing and talking about devalued issues, and Chavez died just before his project could reap its fruits, as global oil prices dwindled.

With the Revolution’s founder retired, the revolutionary allegory lost it’s last trace of glamour. His successor, Raul Castro, had always been an excellent little brother, and now, without his brother, he was still just little. 

There aren’t any more international feats, or Olympic medals almost won, or transcendental speeches, or charisma. Changes being made are directed at opening up spaces for the private economy, to benefit the post-revolutionary elite and their heirs, and historic accomplishments are being put into question because the economy isn’t growing.

International policies aren’t after bigger things either but are instead centered around conditioned loans and political alliances of a questionable moral nature which are putting the country back in Russia’s orbit, like in the ‘70s. 

Today, Cuba is a country without economic solvency, in the process of losing its population (its generous human resources only enrich receiving countries), without political democracy, with a slim repertoire of freedoms and backward in values.

Without any structural changes, or social achievements, or glamour, it’s hard for us to still think that something called the “Cuban Revolution” continues to exist. But, it’s not impossible, and (against all well-founded reason), many people will continue to invoke a living revolution that will allegedly give us a future.

Some will do this out of convenience, others, out of self-compassion, and many others, well just out of habit.

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4 thoughts on “Does the Cuban Revolution Exist Today?

  • A revolution against what ? After 60 years, 2 generations, the Cuban system is the status quo.

  • It would be interesting to know — and I believe that ‘public opinion’ surveys have been carried out in Cuba on other issues – just what the Cuban people think of the various institutions that the Revolution established. That is, what do they consider its achievements, worth preserving, and what would they like to see change.

    For instance, Cuba is, compared to many Latin/Caribbean countries, relatively crime-free. It has, compared to many other countries, a good education system. It has a comprehensive social-welfare system, including health care, which many people would say is a good thing.

    Where its education system and social-welfare provision fall short, at least some of the blame can be put on its poor economic performance.

    I suspect many Cubans are proud of their country’s ability to defy the Collossus of the North, and perhaps of its international projects in the field of health care.

    On the other hand, in the civilized world, the one-party state, the government monopoly of information, the denial fo the right to assembly, the concentration of most economic decisions in the hands of the state … these would seem, to this outsider at least, to be things worth changing.

    However … it would be interesting to have some idea of the diversity of opinions among Cubans themselves.

  • I think the author is right that many people comingle an event with a process, and that the “revolution,” for many, has been dead for quite some time. For others, the “revolution” is still alive in their memory and imagination, and still others call any social engineering changes imposed by the tyrannical regime a “revolutionary change.” They have exhausted the meaning of the term. Perhaps we can stipulate that the term “revolution” means something like to “revolve and find solutions.” For example, the Copernican Revolution transformed our understanding of the solar system from a geocentric to a heliocentric perspective, but it also has allowed us to solve other puzzles as well. The regime certainly has revolved and continuous to revolve/recycle a great deal of failures embellished in a meaningless jargon, but regrettably it has not found many solutions to the real needs of its people.

  • The theme for this year’s ASCE conference will be: Cuba: Growth or Stagnation – Is the Revolution dead?

    Start preparing your paper proposals. An invitation for papers should be issued within the next month. It will be posted in the Havana Times.

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