Nationalism in Cuban Politics

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

HAVANA TIMES — Nationalism has always been the ace in the hole of Cuban political culture, which is logical: that’s the typical reaction of a small society facing immense external challenges.

This has endured since the times of Spanish colonialism (which deployed the most powerful colonial army on the island in its history) to the period of intervention by the United States, whose imperialist vocation for the island has always been a love-hate relationship.

Likewise, when the revolution came to power in 1959, this raised the matter of nationalism to an unprecedented level: it was seen as the repository of a secular patriotic demand.

In subsequent years, when there was no revolution, nationalism was institutionalized and used as an ideological resource inherent in the system of governance.

Moreover, since everything was done with the invaluable assistance of hostility on the part of the United States, all of the complexity of the issue was reduced to one maxim against American interference: Anti-Plattism.

If I’ve been taught by anything over my travels through the worlds of ideas, it’s to flee from the misleading places of “isms.” They conceal more than they explain.

They are refuges of insecurities and protection for the mediocre. This too happens with the issue of Plattism and anti-Plattism, two archaic terms that refer to the beginning of last century but still weigh on our discussion as if it they were two irreconcilable absolutes.

It’s generally assumed that Plattism is the political position that accepts the United States acting as a legitimate actor in internal Cuban politics. Anti-Plattism, in turn, is the non-acceptance of that premise.

These positions have existed and still exist, with varying degrees of intensity, both within and outside the island. And if in our transnational society there are people who effectively believe in these, they have the right to present their points of view, as do their antagonists.

I fear, however, that the distinction is of limited usefulness for several reasons.

The first speaks of intensities. While there may be extreme positions on the issue, in real life what predominates are gradual characteristics. Look at, for example, the case of the embargo/blockade.

In terms of formal logic, and to adherents of the above definition, those who justify the blockade are adopting a Plattist position because they assume that through it the US can realize legitimate interference.

Yet in practice the reasons why many people support the embargo are very diverse, and these refer to the validity of its origins or the fact that in the face of the unappealable arrogance of the authoritarian Cuban state, it is legitimate to use external support such as this.
The opposite also occurs. There are some people who oppose the embargo but have conducted substantial studies that show the benefits that Cuba has historically obtained from contacts with the United States.

And in that history of unequal relations there have been many disagreements and instances of interference. Who are these people? Are they half anti-Plattists and hald Plattists, or what percentage are they of one with respect to the other?

Photo: Caridad

When Carlos Manuel de Cespedes advocated a US invasion to get rid of the Spanish nightmare, was the father of the Cuban nation himself being an early Plattist?

The principal problem does not rest in that discussion, which the collaborators of the Cuban government — consciously or not — raised as a defining turning point of sin and virtue. It is not possible to continue reducing the quality of Cuban nationalism to the confrontation between the Cuba (its government and its political elite) with the US government.

It does not matter how dazzling the anti-imperialist discourse is. It’s very difficult to invoke the nationalist legitimacy of a national elite whose representation isn’t verified; of a government that has hijacked the key principle of the nation: popular sovereignty.

The nationalism that the Cuban government invokes today is a conservative and authoritarian nationalism. They are drawing on a perfect oxymoron, one of anti-national nationalism.

The “pure and simple” opposition to American interference isn’t a solution per se to the national problem. What has occurred and is still occurring is that significant quantities of radical anti-American nationalism have historically generated anti-national positions as damaging as Plattism.

If we want a political projection for the future, we cannot criticize only a part of it while avoiding criticism of the other.

Frankly speaking, the post-revolutionary political elite has always done its best to keep the conflict alive with the US as an internal resource for governance, which — given the disparity of forces — has also been a tremendously irresponsible anti-national act.

On several occasions, the heat of this conflict placed the country on the edge of a holocaust, as happened when Fidel Castro — without democratic consultation — called on the Soviets to initiate a nuclear first strike, or when he asked, also without consultation, for the positioning of foreign bases and troops in the country.

Photo: Caridad

We must not forget that in order to supposedly “build socialism” they filled the state with Russian advisors in a true act of “ideological deviation” that conspired and acted against the best values of national culture.

Subsequently, there has been an intimate alliance with Venezuela, the new provider of subsidies, and at one point they began to speak — once again without consultation — of supranational federations and the national leadership of Chavez.

All of this time the country has been led to an unprecedented level of vulnerability due to political adventurism and economic incompetence by an elite who doesn’t know what to do but at the same time won’t allow others’ initiative.

Twenty years ago we experienced the bitterness of so-called “Special Period.” Today calculations are being made concerning another possible collapse as a result of the disappearance of Venezuelan subsidies.

I think the Cuban nation will need to pay another quota of suffering owing to authoritarian and conservative nationalism. Is this defending and improving the nation?

Also, authoritarian nationalism leads to a kind of Plattism in reverse. I can illustrate this by an incident that still calls for an apology by those who were guilty: the 2003 firing squad executions of three young men, without the most minimum legal guarantees, after thay hijacked a boat as part of an alleged imperialist conspiracy.

Shortly after, the Cuban government only jailed other Cubans who committed the same offense under even more aggravated circumstances, because it had come to an agreement with the US government to ensure their repatriation.

This meant that Washington had decided on the life or death of Cubans using Fidel Castro himself as an intermediary. Again I wonder: Is this defending and improving the nation? Weren’t those young men part of the nation?

If “nationalism” — in the positive sense of the word — is defending the national society, then we are speaking of ensuring first and foremost a prosperous and socially just community, where citizens have full access to their social, civil and political rights on a pluralistic basis.

And of course, this does not allow for external interference, except those acts that are part of the ceding of sovereignty to global forces of interaction, especially when we consider that Cuban society today is transnational, and 20 percent of the population lives outside the island, mostly in the land of the “historic enemy” of the Cuban nation.

My eternal friend Lichi Diego once wrote (though I don’t remember where) that Cubans drag with them the drama of not letting the past pass. We keep pedaling in the same place, tired from the Plattist/anti-Plattist dilemma that is killing the country.

Let’s let the past go, and look to a future in which the homeland, as Marti said, is humanity.

(*) Published originally in Spanish by



6 thoughts on “Nationalism in Cuban Politics

  • I agree with most of what you say. To start with the funding for Radio and TV Marti, that should have been half a billion overall not yearly (my mistake). Secondly it isn’t the general public who are the problem. Opinion polls show that the vast majority (even Republicans) want a change or policy and want the government to meet with Cuban leaders But I think you ignore a large section of the military and political establishment which is obsessed with Cuba and to a great extent finances the Cuban-American opposition to change. See this article based on the wikileaks diplomatic material and also compare the number of occasions any American President has pronounced on Cuba and compare with the same on Mexico. However you are absolutely right that the absense of a large financial gain and the general apathy keeps the current policy in place. Where there has been ie with the grain lobby the current policy got blown out of the water.

    When steps have been made to normalize the relationship by the signing of the immigration agreement and the agreement on hijacking it has been hugely successful. And the greatest beneficiaries have often been the Cuban-American community – allowing them to visit relatives and send back remittances. In fact they are the most likely to gain from the opening of trade with the island.

  • Dear Dani…….. you need information:

    USA not only was but still is working for castro regime in an active way….. first USA did put pressure on Batista with a ammunitions, oil-gas, financial blockade and a propaganda campaign that painted Batista like the devil and Castro like Gabriel archangel ……… Batista, understanding that not only he was fighting the Cuban people represented by several popular organizations, part of his army the communists but also USA, left the power without fight. Second USA made all possible to hinder Cubans intents to get rid castro and still does that not only making physical opposition but legal opposition and legislative opposition too…… starting with Pig Bay bluff US history of fake opposition on Castro has been scandalous suspicious ……. there is a “provisional” law that every US president must sign year after year that says: “Cubans nationals or Cuban Americans found heading toward Cuba from US territory with the intention of waging war against Cuba’s regime will be prosecuted and condemn up to 10 years jail, $250.000 fines and all military devices and transports vehicles will be confiscated”….. no US president, democrat or republican, has left this law without sign every single year since the promulgation….. US confiscated war material have cost to Cuban nation several million dollars, many freedom fighters are in US jail for this reason, ….. There are hundreds of declassified documents that proves all this at ….. declassified US documents shows that USA knew since the very beginning that URSS would not take furthers actions if USA decided to invade Cuba during and after Missile Crisis……. USA always opened the escape valve of mass emigration each time castro had a hard internal situation……. the mainly beneficiated of castro existence is USA and particularly Florida State….. I believe it is not necessary to repeat all huge economical benefits the economical dead of Cuba brought to USA and the economical problems a free and economical prosperous Cuba will bring to USA
    Castro knows what USA wants and then he knows what to do to keep USA as a semi-enemy and a semi-ally ….. and he did…… he gave USA all USA wanted……. USA wanted to stop the construction of Juragua nuclear plant …. He gave it….. USA wanted Cuba recognized 12 miles nautical territory…. He did it……. USA wanted Cabinda oil camps (Rockefeller property) well kept and undisturbed under Angola war…….. castro sent the Cuban army to custody the camps………
    Only propaganda agents or castro regime blind supporters can close the eyes to so evident facts.

  • Dani, you are terribly misinformed. Annual funding for Radio and TV Marti has never exceeded $30 million. Worse yet, it is currently being investigated as the where even that relatively paltry sum is being spent. Because annual audits of these broadcast operations are not adding up to that amount. Second, the American establishment is “obsessed”. Hardly, most Americans are woefully ignorant with regards to Cuban geography, culture and government policy. For this reason, as you mentioned, a small minority of unforgiving Cuban emigres can continue to influence government policy towards Cuba. If indeed, Americans were “obsessed” with Cuba as you suggest, the relationship with Cuba would improve post haste. For example, if the five Cuban spies imprisioned in the US were from say France, there is no way the miscarriage of justice would have taken place let alone lasted nearly 14 years. For giggles, pick any major US newspaper on any given day and do a word search for Cuba. The actor Cuba Gooding Jr. will come up more often that the country. See my point?

    Final point: $1.2 billion lost to American business as a result of the embargo? Annual corporate revenues for US businesses for 2012 are estimated to slightly exceed $17 trillion (. That means that the embargo, using your estimate will cost American businesses less than 0.0007% percent of total revenues. Cuba is less than a rounding error to US business income. ‘Nuff said.

  • I disagree. The opposite is true. The American establishment is obsessed with destroying Cuba despite the cost. The embargo is estimated to be $1.2 billion a year to American business. It also finances Radio and TV Marti to the tune of half a billion dollars a year even though it is easily blocked by Cuba. Successive American Presidents feel they have to comment every human rights issue, whereas most other countries are ignored. They also have the humiliation of being outvoted massively each time the issue comes before the United Nations. It seems that they care about Cuba quite a lot.

    Many observers say that this is down to pressure on government from Cuban exiles. But Cuban exiles are a tiny minority of Americans and even amongst the exiles there is differing attitudes to the Cuban government, so I don’t think they are that much of a force. But American governments have always provided a huge amount of financing to militant exile groups, who in turn sponsor politicians who then provide these groups with further finance.

    It is similar to what happened in Vietnam or to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It is a big power not able to lose face even though a change of policy would just be sensible.

  • HaHaHa…….. certainly dear Moses you are absolutely right!!!!!!
    This friendly -enemy status USA and castro regime maintain is not other that the endless wish of castro to be notorious…… but USA only notes castro regime when receiving economical presents or when seeing castro regime in troubles that can cause the end of the present delivering chain castro started in order to keep USA being a friendly -enemy…….. otherwise you never hear nothing about US-Castro regime “conflict” but in Miami by the hand of local castro agents and local anti-castro fighters.
    The real conflict is between castro regime and Cubans.

  • Often Cuban pundits will compare the Cuba-US conflict to a David and Goliath scenario. This is hardly the case. David, in those passages, was not the least bit concerned about his victory over Goliath. He reasoned that his previous victories over the lion and the bear were proof enough that eventually the giant would fall. On the other hand, Goliath, for pride of country, was completely focused on David. Your analysis, however, sees David as completely focused on Goliath. Moreover, the US, unlike the biblical Goliath, could not care less about Cuba.(OK, maybe a little bit) But outside of Miami, the word “Cubans” just means a very good cigar.

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