One Man’s View of Cuba

By Mike Rivage-Seul (Progreso Weekly)

Mike Rivage-Seul: Realizations arrived at after many trips to Cuba.
Mike Rivage-Seul: Realizations arrived at after many trips to Cuba.

HAVANA TIMES – I’m leaving for Cuba tomorrow. After many trips there, I’ve come to realize that Cuba’s way of life and adjustments to the realities of Peak Oil and climate change describe the path that the rest of us must travel in the near future. Either that or perish!

All of us are stoked. My wife, Peggy and I and 14 Berea College students are leaving for three weeks in Cuba beginning on Monday (May 5th). We’ll return on the 25th. So I probably won’t be writing here till then.

Last Wednesday night, Thursday evening, as well as Friday morning and afternoon, Dr. Cliff Durand – the co-founder of the Center for Global Justice in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico — helped us all understand what we’re getting into. Cliff has been leading delegations to Cuba for the last 25 years. He’s an honorary member of the faculty at the University of Havana.

Here are some of the salient ideas he shared:

1. One cannot understand Cuba’s revolution without understanding neo-colonialism. Neo-colonialism refers to the dynamics of control whereby “former” colonies continue to be governed by their colonial masters even after “independence.” The control remains because the now-liberated colony continues its economic relationships with its “mother country.” Of necessity, these relationships foster a dependency similar to that which characterized the original colonial relationship.

2. In other words, former colonies find it impossible to break free from domination by their colonial masters unless they also break free from the capitalist system which of necessity has local governors placing the interests of their international partners ahead of their own citizens. Put otherwise, there is an indissoluble link between revolution, independence, and capitalism’s alternative, socialism.

3. Cuba is the first country in the world to engage in a revolution as a neo-colonial state. Although after 1902 it had freed itself from the domination of Spain, it did so only to become an economic appendage of the United States. Dependency and control by the United States was the form neo-colonialism took in Cuba.

4. The Cuban Revolution of 1959, led by a trained lawyer (Fidel Castro) and a medical doctor (Che Guevara) opened the way to a new experiment in human dignity and social justice. The experiment’s adoption of socialism promised to free Cuba from the dependency international capitalism uniformly imposed on former colonies.

5. Cuba has proven resilient in the face of a 50 year economic embargo imposed by its former neo-colonial “mother country”–the United States. The economic support of the former Soviet Union made it possible for Cubans to enjoy a “middle class” way of life that made Cuba the envy of the Third World.

Dr. Cliff Durand gives lecture in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Dr. Cliff Durand gives lecture in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

6. Though characterized in the U.S. as “subsidies,” the Soviet contributions to the Cuban economy were seen in Cuba as “fair trade.” Economic relationships indexed the prices of Cuban raw materials (sugar, tobacco, nickel . . .) to those of the finished products (tractors, refrigerators, spare parts . . .). In fact, this represented an implementation of the New International Economic Order (NIEO) petitioned in 1973 by the entire former colonial world in reparation for the exploitation experienced under colonialism. (Nations of the Global South also demanded transfer of capital and technology — also provided by the USSR to Cuba.)

7. Cuban Democracy: Cuba has a parliamentary system with no political parties, which are seen as divisive. The Communist party is not an electoral organization; it sponsors no candidates. Rather it is the depository of the ideals of the Cuban revolution. In the Cuban form of democracy, elections are held at the municipal, provincial and national levels. At the national level, “Mass Organizations” (five federations of (1) workers, (2) women, (3) small farmers, (4) students, and (5) Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) nominate candidates. (Mass organizations are like 5 political parties sharing commitment to cooperation rather than competition.) All the organizations enjoy equal representation in the Cuban parliament. Forty-seven percent of the delegates there are women. The National Assembly (parliament) elects a Council of State, which then elects a president and vice-president. According to frequent independent polls, well over 80% of the Cuban population supports this system.

8. The Cuban Revolution has passed through five identifiable stages:

1960s Revolutionary Fervor: Here the revolutionary government implemented land reform, nationalization of industries and virtually the entire Cuban economy. The U.S. economic embargo (specifically intended to produce hunger, sickness, and social chaos) necessitated alliance with the Soviet Union. During this early period moral incentives worked to unite the people in a common social project. Che and Fidel enjoyed great trust on the part of Cubans.

1970s Adoption of Soviet-Style Central Planning: Here Cuba followed the example of the Soviet Union, the most prominent model of socialism available. More specifically, it adopted the agricultural methods of the Green Revolution with its heavy dependence on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. The entire agricultural system was organized into state farms. (This was later admitted to have been a major mistake).

1985 Rectification: In the face of excessive bureaucracy and inefficiencies, the entire Cuban population participated in a national dialog to suggest remedies. The process was interrupted by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Overnight Cuba lost 80% of its trading partners. A decade-long period mirroring the experiences of the world’s “Great Depression” (1929-’45) set in for Cuba.

1990s “Special Period”: Contrary to the experience following the collapse of socialism throughout Eastern Europe, and despite the extreme hardships of its Great Depression, Cuba did not experience a general uprising aimed at regime change. Neither did the government eliminate social programs to deal with the crisis. Instead it strengthened its social safety net and set a goal of “equal distribution of scarcity. ” In the face of extreme impoverishment, the government introduced reforms including:

1. First moving to a dollarization of the Cuban economy and then to the establishment of a convertible currency (CUC)

2. Opening the country to foreign investment

3. Opening itself to trade on the world market

Cliff DuRand
Cliff DuRand

Meanwhile ordinary Cubans coped by increasingly living off remittances from relatives the United States; stealing from government sources and selling the stolen goods on the black market; and engaging in jineterismo (prostitution) — which had been eliminated by the Revolution.

U.S. response to the Cuban crisis was its attempt to intensify its catastrophe by aggravating scarcities to induce desperation on the part of ordinary people. The Torricelli and Helms-Burton Acts sought to punish U.S. trading partners for any commerce with Cuba. These responses transformed the Trade Embargo of 1961 into a virtual blockade of Cuba.

2007- 2022 Renovation of Socialism: In this process of nation-wide and on-going consultation, more than 163,000 meetings involving 9 million participants (in a population of 11 million) have produced millions of proposals which have been reduced to 313 policy guidelines aimed at reduction of state payrolls, increasing opportunities for self-employment, and rooting out corruption.

The most important reform is the establishment of urban co-operatives in 2012. With this new economic structure, the emphasis in decision making changed from a “top down” model to one of local participation. Co-operatives get their start-up money from Cuban banks, contributions of members, and remittances. The co-ops must:

1. Have at least 3 members with each member having one vote
2. Be self-governing independent of the state
3. Respond to market dynamics
4. Do business with state and private entities

In summary, Dr. Durand observed that socialism is not as good as capitalism at producing consumer goods that inflate gross national product statistics. However, socialism is far better at producing social goods shared by all (not primarily by the wealthy). These social benefits include extended life spans, low infant mortality, universal health care, free education from pre-school through the university, and happiness in general (as measured in identical calculations in Cuba and the United States).

As you can see, Dr. Durand’s presentations were informative, stimulating and challenging. We’re all looking forward to finding out more during our coming three week trip to Cuba.

I’ll report back at the end of May.
Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Recently retired, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 36 years where he directed Berea’s Peace and Social Justice Studies Program.Mike blogs at

(From OpEdNews)

7 thoughts on “One Man’s View of Cuba

  • Incidentally, the author comes from a college where the tuition (and often room-and-board) are totally free, and all accepted students economically disadvantaged. It has been around for more than 150 years, and was originally established to educate both disadvantaged whites and freedmen from Appalachia. It has a long list of distinguished alumni. For further particulars, see Berea College’s Wikipedia article.

  • Haven’t been on your so-called “Potemkin tour” since the Venceremos Brigade, in 1969-70, and even then a group of us went to Habana Saturdays and Sundays on our own. On my many trips since then, I’ve always traveled independently, either with family, with my oldest daughter, or by myself. This last trip I didn’t speak English for two months. My most ammusing experience this last trip was during my final two weeks in Cuba. I was staying at a hotel in the far western suburbs of Habana when a delegation from a U.S. church checked in. I didn’t let on that I was a compatriot, thus had the opportunity of eavesdroping on their conversations over the next few days. I was tempted to tell them how they were being bamboozled by the Cuban church group they were helping, but resisted the temptation. I had as much much fun as Mark Twain, in “Life on the Mississippi,” when he pretended to be a “greenhorn” to the River on a subsequent trip down the Mississippi in the late 19th Century, decades after his youthful experiences as a riverboat pilot during the 1850’s and early 1860’s. At the end of his trip, in New Orleans, however, Twain let loose a phrase which revealed to the steamboat captain and pilot that he was well versed in the River. On the other hand, I kept my silence, smiled, and recorded the foibles of man–and woman–in my journal!

  • Same old Castroist-Marxistesque rethoric Cubans have been suffering for more than 50 years. Expired, refuted by reality, inmoral, hipocritical, stinking rethoric not worth the paper it’s printed on.

    ¡Gracias Fidel!

  • What differentiates the Cuban Revolution (and the Chinese Revolution, for that matter) from the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Eastern European revolutions after WWII) is its ability to experiment, change and adapt. In the 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s, 2000’s, now and onward, mistakes have been made, but when these are realized, the Cubans are flexible and pragmatic enough to recognize this and to try no policies, implement new practices. That the Revolution survived the 1990’s is proof of the success of this flexibility. Now, with an ever-growing list of Latin American nations who have elected leftist government, Cuba is not as lonely as it was in the 1990’s. The Revolution looks forward to new triumphs. This will be accomplished through cooperation with Cubans both within the island and members of the Cuban diasphora, plus outside investment from Latin America, Europe and Asia. Since patriotic Cubans are well aware of the nature of U.S. Imperialism, they will not fall victim to its enticements or threats (as revealed in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, the economic ruin brought about by repressive regimes like that ot General Pinochet, as adised by the Chicago School, etc., not to mention the current chaos and economic implosiouns in Eastern Europe). That the Cuban Revoltion has made many mistakes is obvious; but these mistakes were made with the best of intentions. Although the “road to hell is paved with good intentions,” so too is the road to the New Jerusalem! !Adelante, Cubanos!

  • Put down the Koolaid, Mike. Nobody in Cuba still believes that crap. I guess it takes an American liberal arts college professor to swallow such a load of nonsense and propaganda.

    Do yourself a favour & break away from the Potemkin tour you will be visiting Cuba on. Discover the real Cuba and open your eyes.

  • What a load of crap! Dr. Durand’s observations have mistaken Cuban resignation with Cuban happiness. Americans, whether justifiably so or not, continue to believe in far greater numbers that through social activism, their voices will be heard and that a difference can be made. The results of the 2008 presidential election are an example of a motivated public doing what had never been done before to produce a result never seen before. Social activism, can, at its fervent best, mitigate the appearance of happiness. Someone seeking change and believing that change is possible is less likely to seem happy with the status quo. In Cuba, because Cubans have largely accepted the Castro-style totalitarian system as a permanent reality, the only healthy state of mind left is resignation. Resignation often smiles and therefore seems happy but underneath the Cuban humor is a hotbed of discontent. Dr, Durand seems to have overdosed on the Castro Kool-Aid and clearly ignores the Cuban reaction to long lines, shortages, high prices, low salaries, and limited consumer choices. Actually talking to Cubans would help.

  • The Cuba revolution was not communist. The Cuban revolution went through two stages: the victory over Batista and the subsequent seizing of power by Fidel with the help of the communist party.
    Since then it has been a Stalinist inspired state capitalist system that has proven its ineffectiveness by destroying the economical and agricultural base of the country.
    Three stages are clear in the destruction:
    – the expropriation and consumption of internal wealth
    – the subsidies by the Soviet Union
    – the subsidies by the Chavez – Maduro system
    During none of these three stages and in spite of boasts and propaganda the regime has succeeded in producing enough economical wealth to pay for the consumption in Cuba.
    During all stages of the Castro regime it maintained a repressive system that denied the Cuban people human rights and political rights.
    There is no “local participation”, just central control and local subservience.

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