Debate with the Cuban delegation at the Porto Alegre Forum – Part I
Written by IWL-FI   
Friday, 30 July 2010 03:41

This article was first published in Marxist Alive n° 3, May 2001. Marxism Alive is the theoretical magazine of IWL-FI.

In this dossier we shall reproduce the most outstanding parts of the debate that took place at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre during a workshop on “Capitalist Restoration in Cuba”. This debate affected the Forum in an important way. From over four hundred workshops that took place, the one on Cuba was one of the most attended (over 200 people). There is no doubt that this was due to the great interest aroused by the topic and also because previous to the workshop there had been a public debate between Ricardo Alarcón, chairman to the National Assembly of Cuba, and Martín Hernandez, a member of this workshop.

During an interview with the press Alarcón had declared that in Cuba “we have not privatised anything” and Hernandez responded, “That is not true” and after quoting several figures he concluded by saying “the Castro administration has a two-faced attitude: they make statements in favour of socialism but they take steps towards restoration of capitalism”. Both declarations were published in bold in Zero Hora, the main newspaper of Porto Alegre on the very same day that the workshop was being held.

Over twenty representations of different countries and organisations took part in a heated debate. It is worth while noting that among those taking part, half were members of the official delegation of Cuba to the forum (six out of twelve).  

What follows is the Tapescript of the debate with the participation of Martín Hernandez.  

“This topic we are going to refer to in this workshop is very important and that is why I believe it has been an error of the organisers of the Forum not to have focused the Cuban issue in all its depth during the central conferences. I say so for different reasons. In the first place because we have the privilege of having among us several representatives of the Cuban State, such as Ricardo Alarcón, Chairman to the National Assembly of Cuba, and also there are other comrades. This has been a unique opportunity for thousands of comrades who are taking part in this event to discuss Cuba in depth. We are doing so now, in this workshop, but it is not enough. But why was it so important for this forum to discuss Cuba? Because it lies in the interest of this World Social Forum to respond to a series of issues that are of great concern to social, political and trade union militants. They are such issues as hunger, violence, housing, unemployment, exploitation. They are dramatic issues for we are witnessing the destruction of entire populations. And the Forum is taking place precisely in order to give, or at least try to give, a response to these problems confronting mankind, and with this in mind, the example of Cuba cannot fail to be analysed.  

The resolution of the problems that affect us  

Cuba used to be one of the poorest countries, one of the most miserable in Latin America. The Cuban Revolution, however, has proved that those problems, which could not be solved by the other countries of the region, and some of which – like the problem of unemployment – could not even been solved by the great powers, these very problems were beginning to reach a solution after the revolution.  

After the revolution in Cuba there was no more unemployment! After the revolution in Cuba there were no more health problems! The medical care we all want to have, one that is for all the population and not only for the privileged, has been obtained in Cuba, and what is more, tremendous headway has been made in the field of medical and pharmacological research. The same thing happened in other fields, such as housing and education. And this progress was reflected in other aspects of the life, such as is the case of sport. In this field, after the revolution, Cuba became a world power. It ha been said that this is due to the fact that the Cuban state would select the athletes, make them undergo intensive training and give them all sorts of drugs and so allow them to compete in equality of conditions with the athletes of the USA. If this were all that easy, why does not Brazil do the same thing? It would win heaps of Olympic medals. Why does not France do the same? Why is Cuba a stronger sort of power than France, Spain or England? We could also talk about illiteracy. In these last fifty years we have seen ignorance expand all over the world. Of generalized illiteracy.

Countries that had all but null rate of illiteracy, like Argentina, have now, unlike Cuba, hundreds of thousand of illiterate people. Cuba, on the other hand, used to have one of the highest rates of illiteracy, and is now almost totally literate. It is because of all these things that Cuba deserves to be a major part of this Forum. Because Cuba has achieved all this, and not thanks to a miracle, but because of a revolution. A revolution that did not stop short at defeating Batista, but advanced much beyond that and broke away from capitalism, broke away from imperialism. A revolution that expropriated them and in this way put the economy as such to serve the country. A state planned economy is what explains what seems to be a miracle.  

It is interesting, however, to see that most of those who lead this Forum tell us “today it would be Utopian to try and do what Cuba did in the sixties.” All right, let us discuss. I do believe that in any country, to try and do what Cuba did as from 1959 would be a difficult task. Nobody can believe it to be easy to put an end to hunger. To carry out a socialist revolution is not an easy task. But why call it Utopian if facts have proved that it can be done? What I think is Utopian is to think that through the democratisation of the United Nations – a world organisation controlled by the imperialism – all the countries would reach the same conditions. Because the oppressed countries of the world are the immense majority while the oppressing countries are a minority.

How many imperialist powers are there? Seven or eight? The oppressed countries are over two hundred. So to dream of a democratic UN is like dreaming of a majority of the oppressed countries imposing their conditions on the oppressing countries. This is a fantastic idea. Only that it would be impossible. But Why? No imperialist power would resign its interests, and with this as a background, no matter how “democratically” everybody would vote, imperialism would never accept conditions. These “democratic” UN can vote the dissolution of the IMF, but will the IMF be dissolved in this way? They may vote that USA is not to exploit or attack any other nation. Sure they may vote that. But will USA abide by this vote? I do not think it likely. That is why this dream is so Utopian. Nothing like this has ever happened, and there are no signs that it may ever happen. Or could you mention any imperialist country that stopped being imperialist  because of a vote.

The Cuban perspective, on the other hand, is not in the least Utopian. It is hard work, drudgery. But is there any other way out of hunger and unemployment? What capitalist countries, what great powers have managed to put an end to unemployment? None. Because unemployment is inherent to capitalism. As long as there is capitalism, there will be unemployment. So I declare: if to defend the Cuban Revolution and the present day validity of that experience is Utopian, well then I am a Utopian. And yet I do not think it is. It seems to me that to defend Cuban Revolution is to be realistic. Very realistic.

A very deep change took place in Cuba

And yet, this is precisely the gist of the debate. What we can see today is that there has been a very big change in Cuba. Those great achievements we have been talking about - that can only be explained through the revolution, through the expropriation of the bourgeoisie – are now being lost. Many have already been lost. Others are wearing out. For example, the full employment that used to exist in Cuba, does not exist any more. Data from 1994 tell us that in that there were 160 000 unemployed and that over 400 000 workers have to be re-distributed.  

Both health and education – areas that have been the pride not only of the Cuban but of all the revolutionaries who defended, and still defend, the Cuban Revolution – are getting gradually more and more deteriorated. There are dramatic situations lived in Cuba today that distressthe revolutionaries who visit the island today, such as the return of prostitution in great quantity. Why does it distress us? Because this scourge of capitalism and of all class societies, this dram of the men and women forced to sell their bodies in order to survive, used to be a characteristic feature of Cuba before the revolution. I think that everybody here knows that in Batista times, Cuba used to be called the brothel of the USA. The great tycoons of the USA used to practice in Cuba something that is now developing very fast in Brazil: sex tourism. The Cuban Revolution had put an end to it. Not because prostitutes we shot, but because the thousands of women who practised prostitution no longer needed to do so. But this problem, which had disappeared with the forthcoming of the revolution, is now re-appearing very energetically in Cuba and so much is so that the very government of Cuba often speaks about the prostitutes referring to them as the “jineteras” (riding women – T.N.) And how can we explain this new situation in Cuba? I have informed repeatedly on these issues. The data are not under discussion. And, apart from that, I wish to make one thing clear. All the data I am quoting in this report – without exception – are either from the Cuban administration reports or from reports issued by Cuban organisation that back the government. That is why these facts are not under discussion. The discussion may crop up when trying to explain why these things happen.  

Excuses of the Cuban administration 

There are two arguments presented by the Cuban government and its defenders in order to justify what is now happening there. The first argument the USA blockade and the new laws o reinforce the blockade, such as the Torrcelli and the Helms Burton. The second argument, as a matter of fact it is a complement of the previous one, is the dissolution of the USSR, a fact that is said to have rocked Cuban economy as far as exports and imports are concerned. It is this reality that is said to have caused a sharp drop in the IBP, that is to say in the general production of the country.   

In my opinion, both arguments have a grain of truth. Which is this true part? Both, the blockade and the fall of the USSR have seriously affected Cuban economy. And yet, in my opinion, these arguments are nothing but half-truths for they do not explain the current situation in Cuba. In the first place, it is true that the blockade exists and that the aim of this blockade as always be to put an end to the revolution. But it has not only been the blockade. It has also been the invasion on the Bay of Pigs and CIA attempts at murdering Fidel Castro. So why do I say it is only a half-truth? Because the blockade has been going on for forty years now and it was during the blockade and in spite of the blockade that Cuba had been able to achieve all these “miracles” I have just mentioned.  

The blockade is not something that cropped up in these last 7 or 8 years. And as to the dissolution of the USSR, there is no doubt as to the fact that it affected Cuban economy so much that the IBP started declining at an average of 18% a year. It would be logical, therefore, especially in a planned economy, that the population as a whole would be affected by this situation and that many achievements could be lost. But what is the problem that drives me to say that this, too, is a half-truth? The problem is that this sliding down of the IBP that might explain the current situation in Cuba has stopped a long time ago. In these last five years there has been a steady growth of the Cuban economy. I shall quote some figures. In 1995 economy grew once more by about 2.5%; In 1997 this growth reached nearly 8%; in ’99 it reached 6.2%.  

So here we have to start the discussion. If there is a steady growth of economy, the living standard of the population, the workers’ home economy, is sliding all the time? This would hardly surprise us in a capitalist country. In Brazil, for example, there may be a considerable growth of the economy and the theoreticians of the bourgeoisie would say, “We’re very well off”. This is what happened in the years of the “miracle”. But the workers looked into their pockets and said, “Where is that growth of economy?” In a state like Cuba it was logical for the people’s economy to slide down when there was a decrease of the general economy of the country, but also the contrary would follow logically. When there is a growth of economy as a whole, when the IBP grows, there should be a beginning of a process of recovering the jeopardised achievements. And this is precisely what is not happening. And this is what we have to discuss. There must be a clear explanation, an objective explanation to an equally objective fact.  

The role of the foreign capital

Which is, in my opinion, the explanation? I am going to back-up my estimation by reading a series of regulations existing in Cuba for the past years. In 1995, Cuban government passed a law known as the Law of Foreign Investments. Article 10 of this bill states as follows: “…foreign investments may be authorise in all sectors, except health service, education of the population and armed institutions…”

I repeat once more: there is a law that allows foreign investments in all these sectors. What are the conditions? Article 3 of that law determines: “foreign investments on national territory will benefit from full protection and security and cannot be expropriated except if such an action is carried out for reasons of public utility or social interest…” In this case, that is to say, in case it proved necessary to expropriate, the law states that the firm is o be paid “an indemnity in freely exchangeable currency for a commercial value determined in common agreement.”  

And now let us have a look at a third problem, which is, in my opinion, the most serious one: article 3 of the same law says that “the state guarantees the foreign investor the right to free transference abroad of any benefits obtained from the exploitation of his investment, in freely exchangeable currency, tax free and free of any other payment”.  

In other words, this law authorised foreign firms to send abroad any benefits they may obtain and that such a transaction is tax free and that there is no obligation of re-investing that benefit in the country. But the worst is still to come. Article 29 determines that foreign investors “…are entitled – in accordance with statutory provisions – to export their produce directly and to import – also directly – all that may be necessary for such aim to be reached.” What does this mean? Formerly there used to be a monopoly of the foreign trade exerted by the Cuban state. It was the state who imported and who exported and in this way controlled the currency. This new law has put an end to this. This new law allows any firm to import and export, independently from the State. But why did I read these articles? Because if this law is enforced, this is the explanation of the reason for which there is a growth of economy that does not act to the advantage of people’s economy.  

It has been said that this type of measures, aimed at encouraging foreign investments, are justified as since the dissolution of the USSR. So far, so good, but there is a problem. These steps appeared for the first time ten years before the dissolution of the USR. The dissolution of the USSR took place in after 1992 and the first law of foreign investments in Cuba is dated 1982 and the law I have read, date in 1995 - is nothing but a perfected version of the decree 50 of the year 1982 aiming at exactly the same thing.  

The 1982 decree, I must insist, was passed ten years before the dissolution of the USSR and even five years before the Perestroika. Decree 50 aimed at foreign investments in a sector of strategic importance for Cuban economy: tourism. As from 1002 it was made extensive to other areas, among them, to the pharmaceutical industry. And it is here that I wish to pose another question. The Chairman of the National Assembly of Cuba, Ricardo Alarcon, who spoke at yesterday’s plenary meeting, said that there was no privatisation in Cuba, and yet facts prove something altogether different. And furthermore, in 1991,the Assembly he leads passed the reform of the Constitution. And the central aim of this reform was to introduce the right to private property of the means of production, so that in the year 93, there is a possibility even for foreign banks to operate.  

In 1994 it is declared that no productive sector, with the exception of health and education, is free from receiving foreign investment. In this very year the end of the state monopoly of the foreign trade is declared. Coming back to year ’93. In that year there is a beginning of a new type of economy in the Cuban countryside, and the famous UBPC (Basic Units of Cooperative Production) What has changed? Formerly, the State was the owner of the land so farmers handed in the crops to the State who, based on a plan, proceeded to distribute the production. Now, those basic units of production mean that the State is still the owner of the land, but hands it over to private licence holders, and these are the owners of the produce.  

As you know, Cuba is a country based on the monoculture of sugar cane. Well now, in 1994, 80% of the land intended for sugar cane production belonged to the UBPC. That means that 80% of the land was exploited according to capitalist criteria, for not only the produce is property of private owners, but also an important part of it goes to the new Farming Markets where price is determined according to the laws of demand and supply.  

In the old times we used to discuss with the different trends on the left about the nature of the Cuban State. For example I am part of a trend that believes that the Cuban State was a Workers’ State, while others spoke of a peoples’ economy and others of a socialist state. They were different opinions. We all agreed, however, that the State was entirely different from capitalist states. Why was there this unity on the left to consider that Cuba was not a capitalist state? Because we all agreed that the means of production, the factories, the land, etc did not belong to a social class, the bourgeoisie; it was State property. But apart from that there was an instrument, one that also existed in the other States where bourgeoisie had been expropriated; it was central planning. Moreover, in Cuba there was a body for planning, the Central Planning Board (Junta Central de Planificación) responsible for planning what was being produced, how it was to be produced and how it was to be distributed. And the third question that I spoke about before is the monopoly of the foreign trade.  

What exits in Cuba now is restoration of capitalism

Well, comrades, I have at hand some figures presented by the Cuban government, by the economists who work for the government, and according to these figures, those three things do not exist any longer. There is no more planned economy. There is no more state monopoly of foreign trade. And there is no more state owned economy. This latter exists only in part and is dwindling. That is why I believe that what has happened in Cuba – against what Alarcón said yesterday – was the restoration of capitalism. A restoration that did not happen from an invasion by the “gusanos”[1]. It was brought about by the Cuban government itself. Of course, there is a contradiction. The whole Cuban leadership says something completely different. That! We shall never forsake socialism”. But these declarations are not backed by facts, and that is not surprising, for in all those countries where capitalism has been restored this restoration was perpetrated in the name of socialism.  

For example: when Perestroika began in the former USSR, Gorbachov used to say exactly what Fidel is saying now. In his book, “Perestroika, new ideas for my country and for the world” he declares: “Our aim is to strengthen socialism… what West has to offer us in economic terms is unacceptable for us”. And while he was saying this, he got busy restoring capitalism.  

It is my opinion that what we have in Cuba now is restoration of capitalism. Of course it is a debatable point, but those who think that this is not restoration will have to tell me what it is. For example, there are those comrades who are seriously studying the issue and they say that what is happening in Cuba now is what has happened in the first years of Russian Revolution, in the times of Lenin, when the NEP (New Economic Policy) was applied. Now this is an important discussion. I shall not have enough time to go into it at length, but I do wish to say just one thing on this issue.  

The NEP meant (and that is what the Bolshevik leadership said) concessions granted to capitalism in order to develop certain areas that the new Workers’ State could not manage to develop. That is the way it was. But what is the qualitative difference between this and what is now happening in Cuba? The difference is that these concessions were made within the framework of central planning which was never forsaken, and within the framework of the state monopoly of the foreign trade. In other words, what was then done was to use capitalist mechanisms to serve the development of the new Workers State. The results were proof of that. We could quote statistics. For example, what grew in times of the NEP - in spite of the concessions to capitalism – was state-owned property. That means that the difference between that experience and this one is qualitative.  

Why does the blockade continue?

Another great debate. During the preceding lectures, various comrades pointed out to the following: if it were true that capitalism is being restored in Cuba, how come that the blockade is still up, and what is more, how come the Helms Burton law has been passed? There are two points to tackle here. Is it true that imperialism keeps on attacking and is trying to destroy the Cuban state? This is also a half truth. It is true that the American blockade goes on. This is true. But the USA is not the only imperialist power. European imperialism is not attacking the Cuban State. Spain, for example, is the first investor in Cuba. Can we say that Spain is attacking Cuba? Can we say that European Union is attacking Cuba? Can we say that the capitalist countries of Latin America are attacking Cuba? Can we say that the Venezuelan bourgeoisie or the Mexican bourgeoisie are doing so? Of course, hinging around this point there is another discussion that has been posed to me on other opportunities.  

There are comrades who have said: one thing is American imperialism and something else is the European governments. Not as far as I see it. Can the European imperialism, Spain, France, England or Germany bring any benefit for Cuba? Can the admittance of European capital be more progressive than that o the American? I don’t think so. European imperialism is trying to re-colonise Cuba and just to see what the future of Cuba may be if this takes place, it is enough to have a look and see how they treat their colonies. Let us ask the comrades from India how they fared when they were a European colony. Let us ask the comrades from North Africa, or – not to go all that far – our Latin American brothers, what was the role of Spain. Let us ask the former Portuguese colonies, Brazil included, about their experience.  

Second problem: Don’t the USA carry on with their old policy as if nothing had happened? No, they don’t. There is a powerful American bourgeoisie who is battling to put an end to the blockade and so to be able to do good business in Cuba. An American –Cuban Trade council has been formed, and is controlled by sectors of American bourgeoisie, that struggles against the blockade. And why is there no end to the blockade? Because in the USA there is a contradiction with the old “gusano” bourgeoisie, the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie that that fled from the revolution and that is now against the end of the blockade.  

Why? Because this sector of the bourgeoisie is not interested in just restoration. What they are interested in is in recovering their old property and that is why they managed to have the Helms Burton Law passed. The Cuban bourgeoisie living in Florida – which is part of the American bourgeoisie – will not be contended with the restoration of capitalism in Cuba; they insist on recovering their former property and that is why they have a contradiction with the other sectors of American bourgeoisie who are expecting to do business with Cuba, such as the case of the powerful pharmaceutical industry which has recently – with Clinton’s authorisation – staged up a fair in Cuba, getting ready for the end of the blockade.  

The question of democracy in Cuba

Finally, comrades, I would like to refer to another topic: the question of democracy. When I talk of democracy, I am not talking of electoral agenda. I am talking of something altogether different. I am talking of democracy within those who defend the revolution. Those who struggle against bourgeoisie and imperialism. At this Forum, I took part in a conference where a representative of United Left of Spain, Manuel Monerero, posed the following in relation to Cuba: “I shall not criticise Cuba as long as Cuba is being attacked by imperialism”. I simply can’t agree with this criterion that when a certain country is suffering an attack, nobody can criticise its leadership. It is a terrible way of thinking. Because Cuba – and not only Cuba, for at the moment we might as well talk about Poland or Russia – has been under attack since the very moment when the bourgeoisie was expropriated. Cuba has been under attack for the past forty years. The former USRR had been under attack since 1917. If we fix the criterion that the leadership of an attacked country cannot be criticised, then this country is doomed to defeat. It is not a problem of mine, of whether I can or cannot criticise. It is a problem inside the country. I mean that what is now happening in Cuba should be subject to discussion not only in this Forum, but also - and in the first place - in Cuba itself.   

And what I want to know is whether this type of discussion is possible in any part of Cuba. Is it possible? I am not talking of the gusanos. I am talking of those who – correctly or incorrectly – are defending the revolution. And to keep on with the topic of democracy. It is now being said – and rightly so – that Cuba has been isolated. The question is why was Cuba isolated if the Central American revolution hinged around it. And here we have to call things by their name. Cuban government battled against the Sandinist leadership to ensure that Nicaragua should not become a new Cuba. Of course the government had its arguments to defend this position. But was there ever a democratic debate on this issue? Has the old standpoint of Che Guevara on this point been discussed? Because Guevara had a different standpoint. He insisted on saying that, in order to defend Cuban revolution, Latin American revolution had to be made. That is the gist of his famous demand: “for two, for three, for many more Vietnams”. 

It was not a coincidence that he should have died in Bolivia. So just let me repeat the question: did the Cuban workers and students have the opportunity of discussing two or three alternatives? And we ought to ask ourselves this very same question for the present moment. Among those who today defend the Cuban revolution inside Cuba, there are many who say exactly the same thing, but I have to ask once again: do they have a chance of discussing in absolute freedom the different paths Cuba can follow?


[1] Gusano=worm. Deceptive name given to the followers of Batista. Cubans exiled in Miami.

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