Barack Obama’s recent visit to Cuba was described as “historic” by the international press: it had been almost 90 years since a U.S. president last went to the country, and essentially it was the first visit after the 1959 revolution.
By Alejandro Iturbe
Obama was received with full honors. Reception program even included a baseball game, very popular in both countries, between the Miami team and the Cuban team, which Raul Castro and Obama attended together.
While it is not the first time the two presidents meet (they did in the recent Summit of the Americas in Panama), some images cause impact; especially the one with Obama (head of U.S. imperialism) in the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana, having the giant iron frame of Che Guevara’s face as background, and the Cuban and American flags flying together.
What is the meaning of this visit? The answer to this question updates the debate initiated within the left when the two countries resumed diplomatic relations last year. Was it is a victory of the Revolution that forced its “historical enemy” to recognize it? Or was it a new step toward giving the country over to imperialism, taken by the Castro leadership, after having restored capitalism in the country? That is, a victory of imperialism?
The first position is held by the current we have called Castro-Chavist, followed by an important part of the world left. They believe that after the restoration of capitalism in Russia and China, Cuba represents the “last bastion of socialism”. Therefore, it remains to be the spearhead of anti-imperialist struggle. The second position is sustained by the IWL-FI and a few organizations.
We believe that this visit further clarifies a debate that was already clear. Obama stated that Cuba “no longer represents any threat” and proposed that both countries become business “partners”, ending the trade and investment embargo the U.S. has imposed on Cuba for decades. That leaves no room for doubt: it is a new step in giving over the country to imperialism and a new betrayal by Castroism.
Another important fact is that all the mainstream world press and other imperialist governments, e.g. the European, support and welcome this “closeness”. Pope Francis and the Vatican also played a central role throughout the process. Are these people betting their chips against their own interests?
Origins of the split and embargo
In order to better explain our position, we need to briefly review the modern Cuban history. This history has always been closely linked to the U.S., since the very War of Independence, in the late nineteenth century. Cuba was the last of the American Spanish colonies to become independent, accomplished with open support from the then great emerging world power .
As part of the perspective that considered Central America and the Caribbean as the United States’ “backyard”, Cuba became sort of a “summer camp” for a significant part of the U.S. bourgeoisie. In 1940, that colonial rule took form in the Dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
In 1959, the Guerrilla Army of the 26th of July Movement, led by Fidel Castro, along with his brother Raul and Che Guevara, overthrows Batista and takes power. This movement only had a democratic program, within the limits of the capitalist system.
But it began implementing some policies against the Cuban bourgeoisie, such as land reform, and others affecting U.S. companies. For that reason, the U.S. government, first with President Dwight Eisenhower and later with John F. Kennedy, begins to have an increasingly aggressive policy against the new regime, and attempts to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government. Among its actions we can mention the defeated Bay of Pigs invasion attempt, in April 1961.
In response to those attacks, the Castro government begins a process of expropriation of imperialist companies and of the Cuban bourgeoisie, who massively flees to Miami.
Cuba thus becomes the first Workers’ State in Latin America, in U.S. imperialism’s own “backyard”. As a result of this policy, and also due to the implementation of planned economy, Cuba was no longer a semi-colony. The Cuban people achieved very important accomplishments, such as the elimination of hunger and misery, and great advances in healthcare and education. As a response, in 1962 the U.S. government breaks diplomatic relations and determines a trade and investment embargo against Cuba.
We support these great achievements of the revolution, but it is also necessary to say that the Cuban leadership built a Bureaucratic State, without any real democracy for workers and the masses, according to the Stalinist model. Cuban workers have never led the Cuban government, the Cuban Communist Party bureaucracy has.
Besides, the Castro leadership kept their program within the theory of “Socialism in One Country”, proposed by Stalinism in the 1920s, against the international socialist revolution proposed by Marxism since the nineteenth century. That model ended up failing, and as anticipated by Leon Trotsky, led to the capitalist restoration in the USSR, Eastern Europe, China and Cuba.
Trade relations with the USSR started playing a key role in Cuba’s economic structure, providing cheap oil and technology, and buying the sugar production, which remained the most important branch of Cuban economy.
In regards to international policy, after a first attempt to extend the revolution supporting guerrilla movements in other countries, they have lined up completely with the USSR foreign policy of “Peaceful Coexistence” with imperialism. For that reason, they played a very negative role blocking possible advances toward the construction of new Workers’ States in similar processes to Cuba. In Nicaragua in 1979, right after the FSLN took power, Fidel Castro, who the Sandinistas considered their leadership, advised them not to push forward and build “a new Cuba in Nicaragua”. That helped increase their isolation within the American continent.
Capitalist restoration has also already taken place in Cuba
Restoration of capitalism and the collapse of the USSR in the late 80s and early 90s were a hard blow to the Cuban economy. It opened the so-called “Special Period”, full of hardship for the masses. That’s when the Castro leadership decides to move toward the restoration of capitalism in the country.
The definition of the present class character of the Cuban State has been subject of bitter controversies within the left, in the last two decades. As we said, for the Castro-Chavist current , Cuba remains the “last bastion of socialism.” Other currents, including many coming from Trotskyism, analyze that there is an ongoing restoration process, which they oppose. But they say it has not taken a “qualitative leap” yet. Therefore, Cuba remains a “bureaucratized workers’ state”.
For the IWL and a few other tendencies, capitalist restoration has already occurred and was carried out by the Castro brothers leadership itself. The main restoration milestones were:
The 1995 Foreign Investment Act that created “joint ventures” administrated by foreign capital. Investments went especially to tourism and related branches but soon extended to other sectors, such as pharmaceutical and later to oil.
State Monopoly of Foreign Trade, which was until then controlled by the Ministry of Foreign Trade, was eliminated. From that moment on, both state companies and joint ventures could freely negotiate their exports and imports.
The dollar became, in fact, the effective currency in Cuba, coexisting with two national currencies: one “convertible” in dollars and another one “non-convertible”.
Sugar cane production and trade was in fact privatized, through “Basic Units of Cooperative Production” which represented 80% of the cultivated area. Their members do not have legal ownership of the land, but obtained profits are distributed. In 1994, “free agricultural markets” started operating, whose prices were determined in the market.
As a result of these measures, the Cuban economy stopped working around state economic planning and started working by the laws of profit and market, even if in a distorted way.
Cuba ceased to be a workers’ state, and became a capitalist country in rapid process of semi-colonization. There are many foreign companies operating in the country, especially Spanish, Italian and Canadian. They control key sectors of the economy, such as tourism and the famous hotels of the Spanish chain Meliá.
In this context, the Castrist top leadership has become a partner of foreign capital, ensuring their businesses and, at the same time, getting rich with them through state companies and participation in joint ventures.
The Foreign Investment Law passed in 2014 at the National Assembly of Cuba fully confirmed this analysis. It allows foreign capital inflows and gives them huge tax facilities, such as an 8-year tax waiver and strong legal guarantees, e.g, they may not be expropriated. The law opened all sectors of the economy to foreign investment, except healthcare, education and press.
In addition, the Raul Castro administration is opening a huge “free zone” in the port of Mariel. This port, funded by the Brazilian government, is very modern and can harbor deep draft ships. It cost 1 billion dollars and is part of the Cuban bet of being part of the Asia-U.S. trade route.
As the other side of this plan, there is a process of increasing deterioration of the gains that had been obtained with the revolution in key areas such as healthcare, education, employment stability and supplies booklet. Hundreds of thousands of State employees have been laid off, condemned to survive on their own. Meanwhile, workers earn average wages of 18 dollars per month, and have no right to independent trade unions.
Debate closed within imperialist bourgeoisie
Since the restoration of capitalism in Cuba, an intense debate started within the U.S. imperialist bourgeoisie. On one side was the anti-Castro “gusana” bourgeoisie living in Miami, who had strong ties and a lot of weight within the Republican Party. They demanded that two conditions were met in order to resume relations with Cuba, liberating trade and investment: the fall of the Castro regime and the return of property expropriated by the revolution.
On the other side, several sectors mostly linked to the Democrats, but also with expression within the Republicans, realized that excellent business opportunities were being lost in a country that was geographically so close to the U.S. European countries, specially Spain, were taking advantage of those opportunities in areas such as tourism, finance, agricultural production and manufacturing sales. In fact, some used to cheat the U.S. legislation and make “camouflaged” investments under Canadian companies.
The debate today is clearly resolved: diplomatic relations have been resumed, which opens the way to allow investment and trade. It is quite possible that Obama has made a deal with important sectors of the anti-Castro bourgeoisie.
Obama himself pledged to submit to Congress a request to lift the blockade law. As proof that he will have the support of part of the opposition, Cuban descendant Marco Rubio, Senator from Florida and former Republican presidential candidate, explained that the deal includes the normalization of banking and trade links between the two countries.
Raul Castro’s insistence on ending the blockade does not mean a “triumph of socialist Cuba”. On the contrary, it is the search for a wave of U.S. imperialist investments. Those investments will deepen the process of semi-colonization the country has been through since capitalism was restored. The measures now announced are also part of a colonial integration of Cuba into “globalization”.
Castro’s project is to turn Cuba into a “little China”, a semi-colonial receiver of important U.S. imperialist investments, a few miles off the coast of Miami. And this should be done without changing the political regime, maintaining the dictatorship of the Communist Party, but now managing a capitalist country.
And Obama responds positively in both respects. On one hand he says: “We want to be partners”, and we all know what that means for imperialism. On the other: “The destiny of Cuba must be defined by the Cubans” and “we accept the existence of two different systems”. In other words, as long as you ensure the sale of Cuba to us, we will not question the Castro dictatorship.
The left currents saluting this process as “a victory of the revolution” are helping disguise a reality that will have severe consequences for the Cuban people (actually, it already does). The IWL-FI is not among those. We believe that unfortunately it was not the decades of struggle of the Cuban people that ended the blockade, but the restoration of capitalism in the island. This agreement benefits imperialism and the new Cuban bourgeoisie, created by the Castro government.
In other parts of the world, it brings confusion on what we are fighting for and who the enemy is. After Cuba, Obama visited Argentina and met President Macri. On one hand, much of the left marched together, repudiated both presidents, and burned the Yankee flag. On the other, the city was plastered with posters saying OBAMA, WE LOVE YOU. Surrounding the signature “Presidency of the Nation” were the flags of Argentina and Cuba. This is clearly a maneuver by Macri, but unfortunately it is based on a real fact: during his visit to Cuba, the Castro also led their people to say “Obama, we love you” (or at least, “you are very nice”).
What are the current program and tasks in Cuba?
The debate we are proposing has an important second aspect. What kind of regime and government do the Castro lead today? And what should be the revolutionaries’ program in relation to them?
As we have said, even during the period of existence of the Cuban Workers’ State, the Castro and the Cuban PC had built a bureaucratic and repressive regime that prevented any kind of democratic freedom for workers and the masses. But during all those years, that regime defended the social basis of the workers’ state.
Later, it was that same regime that restored capitalism in the country, and that is now ensuring the process of imperialist penetration. As we have said, a new bourgeoisie associated with imperialist investments has been forming around the Castro top leadership. The conclusion is that the regime of the Castro brothers is now a dictatorship or totalitarian government in a capitalist country, working for the economic colonization of the island.
This conclusion might be shocking for the majority of left militants, educated in claiming and defending the only workers’ state in Latin America, and the fair prestige that the Castro brothers (especially Fidel) won for leading that revolution. We have been part of that generation and great admirers and supporters of the Cuban revolution. But as Marxists, we can not base our analysis, characterization, or policy on sentimental reasons, but on reality facts, tough as they might be.
If the analysis we have developed is correct, i.e., if Cuba has turned into a capitalist country under a fast process of economic colonization, there are essential conclusions about the program that revolutionaries must defend in the country.
First, the strategic axis of the program in Cuba is the need for a new worker and socialist revolution, to rebuild the foundations of the workers’ state destroyed by the Castro. Within this program, the fight against imperialist domination plays an important role, which will increase due to U.S. investments.
It is important to fight against the specific measures implemented to facilitate those investments, and their impact on the living standards of workers and the Cuban people. For example, the layoff of hundreds of thousands State employees, deterioration of public health, or the very low wages. Both processes lead us to clash and fight against the Castro regime and government.
Second, if we are facing a dictatorship in a capitalist country, a key component of the program for Cuba is the struggle for broader democratic freedom for workers and the masses.
For example, there are no independent unions in Cuba today, only “official” ones, which are in fact part of the State apparatus. Hence, there are no organizations able to fight for wages and living conditions for workers, such as raising the average 18-dollar per month salary. It is absurd that the Castro-Chavist left is against this right, or against the possibility of workers going on strike to fight this situation.
We also defend the right to form political parties other than the PC. Not only revolutionary parties, such as the ones that are part of the IWL, but also reformist organizations like Podemos or Syriza.
For those who accuse us of defending freedom for the bourgeoisie as well, we reply that imperialist bourgeoisie already has and will have all rights to exploit Cuban workers and make high profits in the country, through agreements made by the Castro government. It is not we who call to greet Obama or wave Yankee flags. What we advocate is that freedom should be for everyone, so that workers can better fight against capitalist exploitation and the Castro dictatorship. And this struggle can only be carried until the end by overthrowing the Castro regime.
In regard to anti-dictatorship struggle and democratic freedoms for workers and the masses, we can say that the Cuban situation is similar to the fight that took place in Egypt against Mubarak, and now against the military regime as a whole, or against Bashar al-Assad in Syria. For us, the fall of the dictatorship through mass action would be a step forward, since it would open better conditions for the strategic struggle for a new worker and socialist revolution. In doing so, we will also be putting up the true fight against Yankee imperialism, today an ally of the Castro.
Translation: Hermano Melo.