Raul Castro’s Not-So-Innocent Slip of the Tongue about Russia

Pedro Campos

Vladimir Putin and Raul Castro. Havana, July 11, 2014. Photo: Ismael Francisco / cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES — “We support the current policy of firmness and the intelligent policies being pursued in the international arena by the Soviet Union – I mean Russia,” General Raul Castro declared during President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Havana.

This “slip of the tongue” is not as innocent as it could seem. It is common for Cuba’s official press and for many high officials of the Cuban government to refer to contemporary Russia in friendly terms, as though they were speaking of the former Soviet Union.

Referring to the collapse of the USSR and the “socialist bloc” in that same speech, Raul Castro said: “the world’s power balance was disrupted when the force that kept that balance disappeared.” “That force,” he added, “begins to recover and we’re already seeing the effects, first of all at the international level and, second of all, in Russia’s new bilateral relations.”

This means that, for the Cuban president, there is apparently no difference between that “socialist” force of old and this new “Russian” force: they are one and the same balancing factor.

The colonial mentality of dependence of many high Cuban officials continues to be marked by the role the Soviet Union played in maintaining the Cuban government and by the fact Putin comes from the old, “Soviet” bureaucratic apparatus. “Things continue like before,” our smart boys in uniform appear to be saying.

The Cuban bureaucracy’s objective need to secure foreign economic and political aid in order to sustain its centralized State system forces it to ignore or blinds it to the “nature” of the new international role played by Russia, or anyone willing to aid the “Cuban revolution” for that matter.

This is also related to the traditional view of imperialism that predominates within the Cuban government, which generally only makes mention of “US imperialism”, forgetting about Spanish, British, German and (increasingly) Chinese imperialism, to say nothing of Russia’s.

Another factor that keeps the high leadership from seeing the true nature of contemporary Russia is that many members of Cuba’s high and mid-level nomenklatura regard the changes that took place in the country of the Tsars as something akin to the transformation of “State socialism” into authoritarian State capitalism, as we can surmise from the policies of the so-called economic “reforms” impelled by Raul Castro and his military.

Little by little, the different decrees and laws passed as part of the “reform process” have slowly but surely revealed that the “changes” being implemented by the Raul Castro administration are principally aimed at strengthening the control of the top leadership over large State companies that exploit wage labor in the absence of worker control, a Cuban version of the appropriation of important State companies by the Soviet nomenklatura, in the context of a capitalist market economy.

In this “updated” model – yet another form of non-socialism – non-State forms of production (self-employment, small and midsized private companies and cooperatives) have no life of their own in terms of production and the market, but are rather subordinated and dependent on the State economy, which they are meant to support.


Incidentally, to characterize forms of production not on the basis of how they exploit the means of production and labor force (slavery, feudalism, wage labor, free or associated labor) but by whether they are part of the State or not is one of the “brilliant” contributions of our “reform” process to so-called Marxism-Leninism.

It is therefore no accident that, in Cuba, Russia should often be confused with the former Soviet Union, that the post-Perestroika government should be seen as a natural extension of the “Soviet” era, that the Cuban government-Party-State has never discussed the fall of “socialism” in the USSR and Eastern Europe in depth and that Cuba’s debts to Russia (or the former Soviet Union) should be wiped clean from the slate. Everything’s been forgotten here and there, so let’s move forward!

To give further weight to the ideas that sustain this “slip of the tongue,” the “main enemy” of the two governments continues to be the same one and, since both adhere to the pragmatic maxim to the effect that “the enemy of your enemy is your friend,” the two needn’t say much to reach an agreement and cooperate in financial, political and security issues.

The rapprochement between Russia and Cuba, in the absence of the relaxation or lifting of the US blockade/embargo, could be the lifebelt Raul Castro’s government needs to continue “selling the future” to the Cuban people and to hold the “anti-imperialist” flag high (as though Russia were not at all imperialist). It allows him not to “give in” to the “blackmail” of US imperialism with regards to the human, civil and political rights of the Cuban people. It’s a sweet deal.

The problem is that, as a military power, Russia will not likely be in a position to offer Cuba the economic subsidies the former Soviet Union did. This could make the Cuban government restrain itself in its cooperation with Russia on “security” matters in order to continue looking for an agreement with the United States and the West.

All the while, the restructuring of the Cuban government with regards to the people – in greater need of beans and freedom than cannons and violent, imposed measures – is nowhere to be seen, as revealed by the last regulations established by Cuban customs, aimed at restricting the number of products brought into the country by Cubans, products that help many families get by and to overcome many of the daily needs faced by Cubans (and which the State is unable to meet).

What worries the State the most is that such products nourish a market that is independent of the State, a market that competes with the chain of stores operated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) – something the military government cannot tolerate.

This clearly reveals that the similarities between Putin’s authoritarian government and Cuba’s governing military, more than casual, are causal.

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32 thoughts on “Raul Castro’s Not-So-Innocent Slip of the Tongue about Russia

  • “They will do fine on their own”? So it seems that you believe that but for that pesky embargo, crops would grow in abundance in Cuba. If the embargo weren’t in place the Castros would keep the buildings from falling down. If only that embargo weren’t there, life in Cuba would be just fine. Are you nuts? Socialism doesn’t work. That’s the problem. The embargo is just an excuse.

  • Amen!

  • On the contrary, I am saying lift the embargo, and leave the Cuban people alone. They will do fine on their own. As for Iraq, the stupidity lays with those who did not recognize that the Iraqi culture is just not geared toward establishing a so called “democracy.” Lack of knowlegde of the culture of the area seems to be what we keep missing.
    And do you think that the Cuban embargo, has any effect on their leadership elite???

  • Can I ask…. so what if the U.S. eased the embargo and stopped this game that appears to enable the regime to hide behind pointed fingers? If real aid, trade and tourism flowed into Cuba from the U.S. – how would that change the everyday lives of Cubans and what impact would that have on Putin’s influence over Cuba in the long run? We theorize about this, but what do the people think and what are the pros and cons that you see in this scenario?

  • Mr. Goodrich is a set in stone anarchist who has never been to Cuba and constantly insists upon displaying his ignorance of Cubans and the lives they live under the Castro dictatorship regime. His purpose in making comments on this site is to denigrate his own country, its politics and its international activities – so why bore the rest of us about matters over which we have no control unless we are US citizens and have a vote there?

  • Sergei Khrushchev, the son of the Soviet leader Nikoli Khrushchev, was present at the Kremlin during the Cuban Missile crisis. Sergei recalled his father’s shock and horror at the letter from Castro. It was then that the Russian leadership decided to order their navy to stop and to withdraw their missiles from Cuba. More so than Kennedy’s steely resolve, it was Castro’s maniacal letter which made the Soviet leader blink.

  • At current salaries, the Cuban market is comparable to the economic power of a mid-size mid-western city in the US. Nothing to lose sleep over. Who are the “natural elite”? Sounds racists to me. By the way, Colombian women are gorgeous.

  • Where do you happen upon the factoid that “Fidel asked Kruschev to initiate nuclear strikes against the US”? Had that been the case, Cuba might still be glowing in the dark.

    Having a sugar industry with no viable market (after the Russians collapsed) and aging infrastructure is like having a 1952 Pontiac without a Fiat engine – it’s no use, unless you could sell it to an American (even then he’d want it pristine – no backyard bodywork). Fidel was right to get out of sugar.

    Other than for the domestic rum industry – which the Bacardis still want back.

  • Cuba has an untapped domestic market – not only for consumer goods but for a whole range of economic products and activities. But first it will need to divest itself of costly ‘socialist’ programs like health, education, public ownership, pensions etc. It needs a ‘realistic’ democratic government by the stakeholders and a return to advancement of the ‘natural’ elite. Sr. Bacardi for presidente.

    Sadly even that won’t restore America to greatness so Cuba will have to resume its place in the ‘peonity’ of American states – like Nicaragua and Honduras. If the women were better looking, or if there was a civil war to be ‘helped with’, Colombia might be something to emulate.

  • Beats a couple of American sugar-daddies called Rocco and Hymie.

  • That 30 billion – a mere drop in the bucket to western economies is a matter of some significance to Cuba. Not having to worry, even about not paying it, is something other nations might envy. Very little press outside Cuba about this (it might give some people ‘baaad’ ideas).

    Look at poor Ukraine – $70 billion ‘stolen’ and still due for payment to the IMF, with begging and economic bondage for another $15 billion to keep debtors happy. And a proxy war being fought on somebody’s tab for American interests.

    Cuba could have it a lot worse – if it had anything worth exploiting.

  • I guess it’s a matter of Cuba’s choice of ‘imperialisms’. I’d go with an imperialism that has a good track record of not bombing their way to power.

  • When American troops left Iraq, the Iraq government was free to govern themselves as they pleased. Unfortunately, the leadership in Iraq at that time failed to form an inclusive government and the result of that stupidity is evident today. Are you suggesting by comparison that if given the freedom to choose the Cuban people are too stupid to choose a broad-based government? Lifting the embargo will come when the Castro dictatorship is over and Cuba is on a path to open elections and a free society. To lift the embargo BEFORE that happens would prevent not promote those changes.

  • That was then, this is now. Get over it. You must learn to let go of the past or you will forever be held captive to it and blinded to the new possibilities to be realized today. No one is saying that the US needs to now sell the farm…only to sit down and talk. I also think you grossly underestimate the power of influence and persuasion that America can have on Cuba throughout the nogotiation process for normalizing relations. I’m certain that you are underestimating the power of your democratic ideals when exported to Cuba on mass, post normalization too. The US has always had the power to effect meaningful political change on the island. Unfortunately, the Cuban people have been denied the inherent democractic stimulous they need for far too long.

  • John, you can go on repeating yourself but that only makes readers turn away from reading what you have to say. Griffin often does the same thing. Overkill gets truly boring for the rest of us mortals.

  • I can go on repeating this ad infinitum and as necessary .
    The purpose of U.S. foreign policy for the past 100 years or so is to maintain and extend capitalism throughout the world .
    It is decidedly not to install democratic systems and to the contrary, it is to maintain totalitarian systems.
    The U.S. has made 60 separate attempts to overthrow existing government which showed signs of democratizing their economies and some 30 interventions into killing off human rights and social movements in other countries just since the end of WWII.
    SO….Moses, Griffin and all else who are saying that the U.S.’s concern with Cuba is the lack of democracy have to totally ignore real history and revert to the lies of the USG in order to maintain their ridiculous position .
    This is the fact: neither Moses nor Griffin will take a look at books and websites that corroborate anything that runs counter to their set-in-stone thinking.
    Facts will ever be permitted by them to get in the way of their asinine opinions.
    Just saying….

  • No basis support that position!!! Fidel asked Khrushchev to initiate nuclear strikes against the US. This would have surely resulted in the complete annihilation of the island of Cuba and triggered the start of a third world war. This idea was so off-the-chart that the Soviets contacted Kennedy and pulled their missiles. Fidel single-handedly closed down the sugar industry in Cuba. Do I need to go on?

  • “Your comments are replete with quips like “rub shoulders” and “baby steps”. I agree with the comment Griffin makes that you never explain what that means.”

    Use your imagination. I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to know what I’m talking about…nor is it necessary to provide you with the minuet details requiring consideration. That’s for politicians and negotiators to prioritize and respectfully address to reach compromise.

    “You also assume that the Castros are men subject to reason and logic.”

    You will always continue to assume that they are not subject to reason and logic, however you have no basis in fact to support that position specific to the Castros. Unless your government sits down and attempts to respectfully negotiate the normalization of relations with the Castro government, you really can’t be absolute about the outcome. Nobody can, including me.

  • Your comments are replete with quips like “rub shoulders” and “baby steps”. I agree with the comment Griffin makes that you never explain what that means. You also assume that the Castros are men subject to reason and logic. If that were the case, Fidel would not have stayed in power nearly 50 years. There is a third alternative to ending the embargo or simply maintaining the status quo. There is the possibility of increasing the enforcement of current sanctions and imposing additional barriers. The Castros have not been good for Cuba. They should not be enabled to continue their repression by easing the pressure. They should prompted to step down so that Cubans can decide for themselves what future they would like for themselves.

  • Well guess what:

    “Russia to reopen Cuban mega-base to spy on America”


    “Moscow and Havana have reportedly reached an agreement on reopening the SIGINT facility in Lourdes, Cuba – once Russia’s largest foreign base of this kind – which was shut down in 2001 due to financial problems and under US pressure.

    When operational, the facility was manned by thousands of military and intelligence personnel, whose task was to intercept signals coming from and to the US territory and to provide communication for the Russian vessels in the western hemisphere.

    Russia considered reopening the Lourdes base since 2004 and has sealed a deal with Cuba last week during the visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to the island nation, reports Kommersant business daily citing multiple sources.”

  • Moses, I appreciate your position too. But you said it yourself…the current policies of the US government aimed at Cuba have had little effect, and if anything, they continue to provide the Cuban government with an escape goat for their failures. In my opinion it’s only logical that closer relations with Cuba will naturally impart democratic ideals from the ground up, helping to move both the people, and inevitably, the Cuban government to open themselves up to other possibilities. You can’t rub shoulders with the largest economic and democratic nation on the planet without there being many positive and far reaching residual effects. Effects that would be far more positive than anything the embargo and travel ban has been able to generate in over 5 decades. Negotiation would still be key to achieving success at each stage…again, nothing for free. Everything will still need to be earned, but through baby-steps. Adopting a new policy of incremental change for Cuba will be much more palatable and agreeable with the current Cuban government. The end game remains the same…it will just take time and patience, but it will happen.

  • It is not the embargo which is preventing the Cuban people from deciding what path their country should take. The Castro dictatorship has decided that the Cuban people will have no say. Lift the dictatoship and let the people be free.

    As for Iraq, the US did rid them of a brutal dictatoship and establish a multi-party liberal democracy. Alas, the Iraqi culture was not prepared for the responsibility of running a democracy, and the dictatorships which border the country sent terrorists to destroy it.

    Fortunately, Cuba has no similar conditions. There exists no Al Qaeda or Shia militias poised to bomb the other side. In Cuba, there is a ruling elite and the long suffering people. Let the people be free and they will take care of themselves just fine.

  • “Move Cuba toward democracy?” !!!!!!! Like we moved Iraq towards democracy ?????? Why don’t we lift the senseless embargo and the Cuban people decided which direction their nation desires to move????
    Wow, what a novel idea, the freedom to chose your own path.

  • (continued) Russia has severe internal problems, declining population (nobody wants to immigrate to Russia), a GDP that is lower than that of Canada but with 140 million people compared with 35 million in Canada and a low expectancy of life for males due to smoking and alcoholism and none of its experienced neighbours like or trust it. Putins obvious ambition is to be a world power and to control other countries just as the USSR did, hence his wish to have a naval base in Cuba and an air force agreement with Argentina – which is in a very weak economic position because it has reneged on paying its debts.

  • Excellent article Pedro Campos. i think you have put your finger on the problem for Cuba in anticipating that Russia may become the Castro Regime’s next sugar daddy when you write that Russia will not likely be in a position to offer Cuba the economic subsidies that the Soviet Union did.

  • You and I have been down this road before. You seem to believe that the Castros can be caressed, cajoled or even coerced into democratizing Cuba. There is no historical precedent for this outcome. Despots like these respond only to force. They will not go softly into the night. I fully appreciate your position however. I just don’t think it will work. Before you pass a stone, I admit that what the US has tried so far hasn’t worked either, at least not yet. The embargo has caused minor problems for the Cuban people completely bypassing the Castros. In the meantime the embargo has served as the Castros’ ‘whipping boy’ for all that ails Cuba. I also disagree that China and Russia are a threat in supplanting US influence in Cuba should one day relations between our two countries normalize. Because of the Cuban exile community in south Florida, the US retains the best hand at the table.

  • You keep repeating that line, but you have never explained how exactly it would work. By giving the Castro’s everything they want without condition, the US would have even less ability to move Cuba toward democracy.

  • I am glad Cuba continues to have friendly relations with Russia, there is no other countervailing power, BRIC is very unstable and heterogeneous with respect to the US. If Dilma is not re-elected role of Brazil cound change.

  • Cuba’s policy is quite obviously and necessarily: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend ” in a world almost completely controlled by the Imperial U.S.
    That there are vast differences in the national thinking of both countries should be very obvious .
    Cuba is already a state controlled totalitarian nation and so has that much in common with Russia and Putin’s particular way of thinking and this does make Putin a natural and likely ally.
    If the U.S. would prefer that the Cubans NOT ally themselves with the Russians, the USG need only call off their economic war on the people of Cuba and normalize relations.
    Absent that unlikely event, the Cubans will continue to do what it takes to survive the U.S. assault on the revolution even to the extent of dealing with some unsavory characters.
    THAT said, you enemies of the revolution might want to check into modern U.S. history and see the great number of Duvaliers, Batistas , Somozas, Suhartos, Sauds the government of the US considered close friends, not to survive as Cuba does but to maintain or install totalitarian societies. .

  • “The Castros have turned Cuba into a “beggar nation”. To that end, being beholding to a megalomaniac like Putin is not a position to be envied.”

    Agreed. But if the US government would simply accept the Cuban government “as is” initially, the US could play a much stronger role in evolving Cuba’s future over time. Inevitably, the US government and the American people at large could play a much stronger role in moving Cuba towards democracy if actively involved in direct promotion and negotiation. I would hate to think that the US government will sit idly by and miss yet another opportunity to end the decades long stalemate, only to see Cuba cosy up to Russia again (and China) in a big way. If that happens, it will be virtually impossible for the US to have any chance of making progress with Cuba.

    You’re right when you say that Cuba is a “beggar nation”. I don’t expect the US to give Cuba anything for free. But the potential for Cuba to “earn their keep” in the protection of the US sphere of influence and economic framework is entirely possible and to the benefit of both nations…if only to thwart the attempts of Russia and China to help maintain the current political structure in Cuba. The US has a role to play, but stuck on the sidelines, they can only watch as others lend their support for something other than what the US has always wanted for Cuba.

  • Anyone who has spent any real time in Cuba understands the awkward mix of Cuban and Russian cultures. Despite the fact that there are quite a few Cubans named Ivan, Yuri, and Tatiana, there is little commingling of music, food, or artistic expression. This reflects the marriage of convenience that existed between Fidel and his Soviet counterparts during the Cold War. There was no love lost at the collapse of the Soviet bloc and Fidel did not hold his tongue criticizing the decisions made by Yeltsin and Gorbachev. So this new alliance is likely more of the same. Given the common enemy of both is the US, this kind of alliance is only useful as it relates to the US. Moreover, because of the economic and military imbalance between the two countries, Cuba is in no position to negotiate for its benefit. The Castros have turned Cuba into a “beggar nation”. To that end, being beholding to a megalomaniac like Putin is not a position to be envied.

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