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.