(Published only in German by PapyRossa, Cologne, in 1997. Ernst Fidel Fürntratt-Kloep translated and censored sections including my conclusion.)
KUBA: ein “Yankee” berichtet CUBA: a “Yankee” reports
by RON RIDENOUR
I thank the many people who have assisted me in this work, in one way or another. Among them are: Jon Lee Anderson, Anna Artén, Maritza Barranco, Vilma Boneva, Miriam Clark, Dansk-Cubansk Forening, La Embajada Cubana en Dinamarca, Sigismund Escalona, Ernesto Fidel Fürntratt-Kloep, Larry Hampshire, John Haylett (Morning Star chief editor), Haralaya-Tatiana, Albert Jensen, Lois Meldrum, Jan Petersen, Grethe Porsgaard, Jean Lois Ridenour, Jimmy Santana, Gitte Schødt, Juan Tapia, Dr. Sol Inés Tena, Milt Zaslow, Rene Zeyer.
Others aided by accepting me as part of the family: the crews of Seaweed, Shark, Gold Sand, Giorita and Rose Island, and Prensa Latina, GIA-2 farm, and Sanguily sugar mill.
This book was inspired by the brave crew of the Cuban freighter Hermann: Captain Diego Sanchez Serrano, Héctor Maura Díaz, Santiago Rodríguez Maya, Héctor González Pagés, Jesús Dole Calzadilla, Jacinto Farnot Camilo, Lino de la Luz Reyes Rosell, Mario Andrés Hidalgo Olivera, Francisco Montalvo Peñalver, Osvald Santiago Vega, Angel Bertot Gutiérrez.
Che Guevara has been my main inspiration and midwife to internationalist philosophy and action. Che and the Cuban people's revolutionary "project" will always be in my heart as will Che´s motto:
"The ultimate and most important revolutionary aspiration: to see man liberated from his alienation."
CONTENTS Acknowledgements 2
Chapter 1 The First Three Decades 12
Chapter 2 The Big Stick: Malign and Hostile Neighbors 24
Chapter 3 Rectification 40
Chapter 4 Special Period 48
Chapter 5 Volunteer Work 54
Chapter 6 Popular Power Restructured 63
Chapter 7 Special Period, Stage ll 77
Chapter 8 Socialist Farm Cooperatives 81
Chapter 9 Self-Employment Law Opens Pandora´s Box 90
Chapter 10 Cuba´s Mean Streets 95
Chapter 11 Sailing with Sigi 107
Chapter 12 Worker´s Democracy: Talking Shop 117
Chapter 13 Downturn Curbed 125
Chapter 14 Emigration, a US Weapon 134
Chapter 15 Open Markets Halt Economic Decline 147
Chapter 16 Is the Media Reforming? 157
Chapter 17 1995 Economics & Politics 165
Chapter 18 King Sugar 178
Chapter 19 Welfare Network Still Soild 186
Chapter 20 1996 Politics; Rescue Posturing 198
Chapter 21 Civil Society 223
Chapter 22 1996 Economy 231
Chapter 23 Conclusions 242
Appendix l: Bibliography 259
Appendix ll: Who´s Who 261
Appendix lll: Demographics 262
Appendix lV: Tenacious Royal Palm 263
FOREWORD Cuba's revolution, its ideology and economy, the society as a whole is in crisis and transition. Contemporary reality is changing rapidly, sometimes in confusing directions. This book offers a look "behind the headlines" of life in Cuba today. It is aimed to inform and provoke readers into action against the US's blockade, while reflecting upon how socialism, or constructing the "new person", might be achieved. This is not an historical study of the entire revolution and society, but rather focuses on the years since Perestroika begun in Russia. Emphasis is on the political economy and a few areas of civil society in the phase known as the Special Period, and where might it be heading.
When I first heard of Cuba, I was an airman in the US Force, "defending" my country in faraway Japan from Communism. Cuba was then undergoing a revolutionary war. Two years after the guerrilla forces defeated the Batista army and took political power, I was in college in California reading Fidel Castro speeches and Che Guevara essays, as were millions of other youths throughout the Americas and Europe.
Liberating spirit, sharing all resources and wealth, eradictating poverty and hateful racism. Dashing personalities at the helm delivering inspirational speeches and poetic essays, stimulating energy and bonding brothers and sisters, lovers and comrades all. Echoes resounding the world over, tingling millions and millions of poor people, dreamers yearning for a universe where Don Quixote and the Little Prince are real and no one goes wanting. I was one of those impregnated.
I attended my first demonstration during the Bay of Pigs invasion. The next year, I drove through Central America to find a way into Cuba to study it first-hand. The October (1962) missile crisis thwarted that plan when I was jailed in Costa Rica for "subversive" activities, that is, identifying with Cuba. It would be 25 years before I would see the unique island, and become part of the national work force, living on the peso economy with a ration card.
After 20 years in movement activities, I emigrated from the US. Since 1980 I have lived in Denmark, Iceland, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Cuba. A journalist since 1967, I was a staff reporter and editor for several US daily and weekly newspapers and magazines, and free lanced or worked as corrrespondent for many mainstream and alternative publications in the US, Denmark, Mexico, Nicaragua and Cuba. From the summer of 1993 to the spring of 1996, I was on the staff of Cuba's foreign wire service, "Prensa Latina," and the "Morning Star" Cuba correspondent. I had worked as a "foreign technician"—advisor, revisor, writer—for Cuba's foreign language publishing house, Editorial Jose Marti, from 1988 through 1992. I also did volunteer work with the new farmers, with sugar cane cutters, micro-brigade constructors, factory workers and merchant marines, in addition to translating and distributing books. Voluntary work was an end in itself, but it was also useful for me to know the society from within, in order to best write about it.
I align myself with the Cuban revolution, with its valiant efforts to humanize people and be independent of superpowers. It has accomplished more in the way of providing the essentials for all people than any other Third World country, and for many people in the most advanced capitalist world. Mother Teresa is unemployed in Cuba, despite the hard times it is undergoing. People do not look down when spoken to, do not speak in wavering voices; no one goes uncared for medically or socially; there is no public racism.
Nevertheless, I am critical of some of Cuba's political and economic methods: its top-down decision-making and paternalism, endemic poor work habits, passivity and waste, the lack of creative education and open media, and too sparse civil liberties. After years of experiencing various approaches to political direction, I am now convinced that the only way to create the new man/woman--to construct a society based on mutual respect and cooperation, to end the exploitation of man by man, as well as to motivate workers to produce well--is that those who intend such must be active participants as decision-makers, thinkers and producers. They must also be accountable for their actions and hold their leaders accountable.
I am honored to have shared at least one outlet with Wilfred Burchett, the defunct weekly "Guardian" (New York).The deceased Australian and foreign correspondent wrote about what had guided his internationalist reporter's outlook. I repeat them here, from The Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist, as indicative of my beacon as well.
"It is not a bad thing to become a journalist because you have something to say and are burning to say it. There is no substitute for looking into things on the spot... Make every possible effort to get the facts across to at least some section of the public. Do not be tied to a news organization in which you would be required to write against your own conscience and knowledge."
I have concluded that the best way to convince people to unite in solidarity is to tell the truth about the countries we wish to help become or remain sovereign. At a solidarity conference held in Havana, December 1993, nearly 300 European delegates and North American activist guests, representing 147 organizations, decided to coordinate actions opposed to the US blockade against Cuba, including caravans led by the US-based Pastors for Peace. Sergio Corrieri, president of ICAP (Cuba`s international friendship organization) and the conference host, spoke favorably of the heterogeneous beliefs of those aiding Cuba and he recognized the healthy character of having "different opinions, criteria, disagreements, which are useful for profitable interchange, as long as they are based on the non-negotiable respect for our self-determination as a nation." I write in this spirit.
(La Habana, February 1997)
PREFACE Cycling into downtown Havana by the long seafront wall, one November day in 1993, I was shocked to a standstill!
"Hollywood America Brazilian Blend"
The billboard advertized cigarettes—in dollars—on a main Havana artery. The fact that it was a billboard advertizement in US money was even more compounded by the vulgarity of its flashy Hollywood name.
This was a first, a symbol, but a symbol of what, the beginning of the end to socialism?
In the following days, one noticed several more billboards popping up in clear view of millions of Cubans, most of whom cannot buy the products because they have no way of acquiring dollars. Nor are Cubans interested in the time and temperature flashing on and off on many of these billboards, a capitalist invention that rapidly ceased functioning in this tropical, socialist island without parts.
Soon, Cuban television commenced carrying advertizements for products and services, only in dollars, on sports programs, beginning with the Caribbean Sports Games. Cuba's sports stadium now advertize products in dollars.
Cubans are either curious about this new departure from not publicizing anything, other than revolutionary politics, or they feel insulted and question why it is happening.
An unusual commentary appeared in the Young Communist Union weekly "Juventud Rebelde", when the billboards got posted. Unusual, because the writer, Osvaldo Rodríguez Martínez, took on the incipient deviating practice. Unusual also, because the article was printed.
Rodríguez concurred with government policy that the society needed hard currency and that renting space for advertizing was one way, but he postulated that it would be more thoughtful for the population, and more profitable, if foreigners could look at such signs in hotels and dollar shops, not on public streets or sports stadiums.
Furthermore, he argued, how is it possible that rather than renting the space—an estimated $500 a month could be charged—the state, or whatever organization responsible, allowed these signs as a free "courtesy" to attract foreign business. Moreover, the state and media have a rather extensive health publicity campaign in which (no) smoking is a major target.
Rodríguez predicted that another taboo would one day be broken: commercial advertizing in Cuban publications, radio and television.
Is Cuba to become dollarized?
The economy is in shambles.
An aura of crumbling permeates daily life.
Everyone complains, grumbling that nothing functions; that it takes hours and hours to get anywhere by public transportation; that the daily diet is reduced to levels of thinness; that power cuts and unavailable spare parts have caused 150,000 refrigerators, innumerable television sets and other electric appliances to burn out and remain idle; that it doesn't pay to work because wages buy so little and there is even less at legal or fair prices.
The average monthly wage is still 200 pesos. A black market bar of soap, almost the only available, sells for 40 to 80 pesos. A bottle of cheap rum goes for 60 to 100.
While some walls crumble, others are being constructed or repaired—as is the case with the houses of a couple of hundred thousand people made temporarily homeless (relocated in state-provided shelter) by several devastating storms.
Despite all the scarcity and decay, Cuba's infant mortality rate has continually declined up to this day, in late 1996.Health care and education remain free of charge for all people. No schools or hospitals have been closed. None of the combined staff of 600,000 (17 per cent of the workforce utilizing about one-fifth of state expenditure) have been fired. Instead, thousands of doctors are still graduated annually, and now number 60,000 or one per 183 inhabitants, the lowest ratio of patients per doctor in the world.
But Cuba now has haves and have nots. The latter are mainly those who can acquire dollars, by hook or crook. For the first time since the US initiated its blockade, Cubans can now possess hard currency legally (since July 26, 1993). Those with dollars have the slick side, the fine accommodation and observant services at dollar locations. It all depends on which side of the dollar you stand. So it is with the rest of the world. The big difference is, it has now struck independently maverick and socialist Cuba: the one nation that said "never" to making concessions to capitalism.
People feel insecure today.
Crime is common and ever escalating, in spite of increased police co-ordination and arrests. Aggressive attitudes are on the rise. Cyclists drive against traffic as if they owned the whole street and pavements. Bus passengers rarely obey queues and common courtesies. Bus drivers do nothing to stop kids and adults from hanging onto any external part of the bus for a free and dangerous ride. Police look the other way at many infractions, yet make periodic sweeps of unemployed, out-of-school youths for "dangerousness" deviations.
People do not respect laws nor do they know where to turn. They don't like criminals, "the resolvers of problems", but they offer goods and services otherwise unavailable. So they buy the stolen goods on the black market. They don't trust the word of authorities, because they don't follow through on promises and plans, in which ordinary people have little or no say, yet they don't want the evils of capitalism, of phony US-style elections or foreign domination.
These are extremely complicated times for Cuba, for its citizens and the leaders in the Communist Party and government. The policies that leaders say they have been forced to take, admittedly lamentable, cause inequality and class divisions. Leaders say that there is no other alternative; the realities of the new unipolar world have imposed these harsh decisions. Party and government leaders talk a lot these days about paternalism and egalitarianism as negatives festering in the population, causing them to be indolent, sloppy at work, shunning work for play or "sickness" absenteeism, and all the while demanding and acquiring social services without paying in productive ways.
Lost in this critique is how that rampant paternalism began. Nearly four decades ago, Cuba's unions urged the new revolutionary government to establish work relations on the basis of one-task-one-job-one worker. The political leadership insisted that unity required only one political party without factions, which resulted in a most limited "democratic centralism". The government "gave" social and economic benefits without demanding payment of the real costs. Cronyism and play habits resulted.
With benevolent paternalism comes appeasing social benefits handed out by an ensconced bureaucracy. The command-run society functioned with few fiscal mechanisms for the first 16 years of revoutionary development. The 1976 Constitution established a parliament, which was elected, indirectly, that year. But the National Assembly has been weak and ineffective, a rubber-stamp for the Council of State--28 men and three women (three of the 31 are black or mulatto)--all members of the Communist party, half of those on the Politbureau.
Government ministries and state firms were hierarchically managed with the top boss deciding almost everything under state planning commissions. The result has been that the ordinary person waits apathetically for "upstairs" to decide, and to deliver. Individual initiative has not been encouraged and meaningful incentives for better performance have, in practice, been scant.
Benevolent paternalism also means that leaders are unchallenged; a dubious public follows. It is impossible to know if the government can provide what is says it cannot, for example, because there are no established channels to important economic information--apparently, at times, leaders themselves act more on the basis of wishful thinking than on figures and facts--and a good deal of information is simply deemed unwise to divulge. No real tough, independent investigative reporting takes place, no deep throats have national outlets to blow the whistle.This is not an abstract question of the overused terms "democracy," "human rights," "civil liberties." This is a practical and vital matter of credibility, of whether or not the people believe their leaders and media. This is a matter of whether workers can or cannot have meaningful input into decision-making in order to inspire them to identify with the job, with the final product, with government policy, so that they will produce sufficiently and with quality.
Many people say that the real reason for some shortages or disappeared products is that government agencies are over-centralized, do not listen to workers, make unwise decisions and that the CMEA (Council of Mutual Economic Aid) countries floated a high standard of living without a productive internal base.
Waste has long been common in socialist Cuba--waste of resources through individual negligence and faulty consciousness, as well as misused management of resources, imports and products of labor due to the erroneous notion that waste could be compensated for as in the "First World" through exploitation, called "trade" by some ex- and neocolonies. Firms and institutions were not made to operate on cost accountability, not made to pay for their equipment, tools and supplies, and most people get the same wages regardless of production and are not educated in the ways of civics. Subsidized paternalism has been permitted to grow and florish, instead of making use of workers´ and common people´s initiative and creativity.
Nevertheless, people do not revolt nor publicly demonstrate. They don't because there is no alternative to point to, and the one that the West tries to impose on them is too obviously unattractive. Besides, there is no organized opposition, other than some small groups sponsored by the enmey, that is, the United States, and hostile not only towards the govenment but also towards almost everything that people have learned to value. And unapproved demonstrations are not acceptable by the state. On the few occasions when people have exerted efforts to demonstrate against policies, they could be readily identified with those groups. And patriotic Cubans—the vast majority of inhabitants—do not want to be so identified.
One can gripe at mass organizations and at workers´ assemblies today, but experience teaches that, although some of the highest leaders encourage critiques, there is a huge, well established apparatus--erratically and inefficiently controlled-- that acts on its own. These bureaucrats resist fresh thinking and changes, to the effect that things move, if at all, with unperceptible slowness. Most of the time, people just want to get the meetings over as quickly as possible.
But Cubans would not be Cuban if they did not have their jokes. Hundreds of jokes about Fidel and the state system circulate and are told by nearly everyone, by more or less serious critics and even by party people in a good mood. There is something refreshing about many of these jokes. They approach irony and self-critique. Some people who defend Fidel and the system view these jokes as negative criticism, supplying ammunition to the enemy. I see them, some of them, as realistic representations of how people feel. Regardless of one´s ideological program, people´s true feelings must be taken into account or ideology fails. Solidarity activists need to understand reailty and people´s feelings, else they become alienated from the process of struggle, and often disassociate from participating. That leaves the door open for any powerful force to determine or dictate our destiny. If we understand why things go the way they do, it is easier for us to accept defeats and continue plugging along for future victories.
One joke has it that the president of the US asks God when the US will control the whole world. God replies: "In the year 3000." The Russian president then asks God when Russia will be able to restructure and fulfill its economic plans. God replies: "In the year 4000." Finally, Fidel asks when rectification of errors and negative tendencies policies will win out and the Special Period overcome. God begins to cry and answers: "I won't live long enough to see it."
But there is also this one: Fidel is gone, and as a leader of a communist state he comes to Hell. He succeeds in persuading Satan to ask God for an audience of just two hours. After several attempts, Satan succeeds, but only ten minutes, no more. Ten minutes, an hour, two hours go by. Satan approaches the door. He hears God saying, "OK, Fidel. You are right. Just one condition. Let me be your second in command."
THE FIRST THREE DECADES "Each time a country is freed, we say it is a defeat for the world imperialist system ... The practice of proletarian internationalism is not only a duty for the peoples struggling for a better future, it is an inescapable necessity ... The development of countries now starting out on the road to liberation should be paid for by the socialist countries." (Che Guevara, Organization of Afro-Asian Solidarity, February 26, 1965.)
Reconstructing and remoulding the nation's comprador1 economy, following the revolutionary triumph, January 1, 1959, required new thinking and new partners, after the United States cut ties with the new revolutionary Cuban government. The US began its embargo in 1961, and the Soviet Union offered to underwrite Cuba´s economic development and military defense. But US aggression began even before the new government began nationalizing, in 1959-60, much of the land and industry, including foreign property for which Cuba paid or offered to pay compensation.
The shift in partners took place with dramatic rapidity. In 1958, over 70 per cent of trade was with the US. By 1963, 80 per cent was with the communist parties-led bloc.
Throughout the first half of the 20 century, sugar had accounted for 82% of the nation's exports, most of it sold to the US. The initial revolutionary goal was to reduce the emphasis on sugar cane. It constructed roads to unused nickel mines, in order to extract nickel for export, sought to mine other minerals, produce steel, grow more vegetables for consumption and export, and open markets everywhere possible; in short, to diversify.
Cuba's economic survival and development strategy has passed through five stages and is now in its sixth:
1)1959-63--Industrialization-diversification; 2) 1964-75--Toward a Ten Million Tons Sugar Harvest; 3) 1976-85--Gradual diversification with priority on sugar as the main export crop to CMEA ; 4) 1986- 90--Rectification "correcting errors and negative tendencies;" 5) 1990-93--Special Period in Time of Peace with national cutbacks and substitutes for imports, introducing controlled elements of foreign investments and mixed economy; 6) 1993-present—Special Period, stage two, a more radical market reform, with private initiative and a dual economy hoping to forge a single, healthier economy.
The book is structured on these stages, focusing on the latter three. This chapter paints a quick and crude brush stroke of the more important economic and political elements of the first three stages.
On March 17, 1959, the much-awaited Agrarian Reform law was promulgated. Latifundias could no longer operate privately. Lands over 30 caballerias (13.4 hectares each, for total of 400 hectares)--with some exceptions if efficiency warranted--were confiscated with indemnification and turned over to landless peasants or farmed as state collectives for the benefit of all. Rents and sharecropping were eliminated on the principle that land belongs to those who till it. Lands owned by Batista and his key supporters (Batistianos) were confiscated outright and given free to farm workers and squatters (up to 27 hectares per family). The first lands confiscated were Fidel´s own family, which he turned over to farmworkers.
A new state agency, INRA (National Institute of Agrarian Reform), was established to implement the law, to supply seed and resources to the new landowners and state collectives, to set prices, to plan production and offer technical aid. INRA also performed auxilliary tasks for rural development: construction of housing, roads and electric wiring, health care centers, schools and recreation facilities.
INRA's long-term goals were to diversify crops, to avoid dependency on imports, eliminate the middle man in distribution-marketing by substituting with the ACOPIO monopoly; and conduct scientific experiments for agricultural-husbandry improvements. INRA became, de facto, the inner government as it directed the economy. In 1960, it worked with the newly inauguarated Central Planning Commission (JUCEPLAN), which was set up with Soviet and Czechoslovakian economist expertize.
Antonio Nuñez Jimenez was the first head of INRA. Trained as a geographer and speleologist, he ran the vast agricultural lands now in the hands of the state until late 1961, when another leading member of the revolutionary forces, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez took over.
In the first stage, it became common to see state-administered farms trying to grow between 20 and 35 different crops. Decisions were all too often made in a rush with too little data available for good planning, and farm production was not advancing as hoped.
In October 1963, a second agrarian reform nationalized all private holdings larger than 5 caballerias (67 hectares). Many of the larger landowners had been leaving much of their land fallow because they wanted greater profits or because they opposed the socialist measures. Over 11,000 farms were expropriated and compensation was paid to most except a few belligerent counterrevolutionaries.
Before the revolution, there was very little manufacturing industry. In the revolution´s first two years, its industrial development came under a department within INRA, headed by Che Guevara. In February 1961, Che became the minister of the new Ministry of Industry. The ministry employed 150,000 workers, 60,000 of them in sugar refinery. In the first stage, the ministry invested 850 million dollars in shaping a metals industry and a total of two-hundred and eighty-seven industries (many of them new factories), including 105 sugar mill. Factories produced pencils, barbed wire, spark plugs, paper, paint, lamps, and many other products that had been imported. Cotton was also grown again, for a short time, for textiles.
On March 24, 1963, Che touched off "the great debate" about raising social consciousness aimed at increasing the quantity and quality of production and forming the integral person. His vision was that people could be morally stimulated to create a positive work ethic not based on materialistic or individualistic incentives but out of satisfaction of knowing a good job was being done and that one's duty to his country and fellow man was being fulfilled.
The "New Man" would discard egoism, selfish designs for wealth and power. People would become complete human beings when they were no longer compelled "by the physical necessity of selling (themselves) as a commodity," Che said. The end of money was foreseen, and for several months money was hardly used for many essentials. Local telephone calls, sports and cultural events and cinemas were free. The hope was that the nation could forge socialism and communism simultaneously.
Che placed emphasis on voluntary work, and a few micro-brigades--small volunteer worker units-- eventually built some housing. Many people also volunteered to cut sugar cane, and soon school children engaged in voluntary agriculturework as part of their studies.
Che concocted an economic strategy he called "budgetary calculation." Centralized planning and decision-making was key to his approach that emphasized using economic analysis of costs with standards for consumption, raw materials, products produced, and inventory. Che hoped that enterprises would be geared to specialize in manufacturing without managing capital, in this way avoiding monetarism, greed and individualistic tendencies. The Ministry of Finances furnished the money for management.
Yet this approach precluded, in practice, a significant decision-making role for the workers on the work site and in national policies, an essential ingredient to forming the "new man." With greater centralization, government-appointed administrators hired more subordinates, and adminstrators acquired more power and importance in decision-making, along with JUCEPLAN planners.
Che began to see that greater production required the means of production to be in the hands of workers and not exclusively for enterprise management and national planners to control. This was a theme that he began to write about in a few articles, such as "Socialism and Man in Cuba," first written as a letter to Carlos Quijano, editor of Marcha (a weekly in Uruguay, which published the article March 12, 1965).
Carlos Rodríguez had been a leader of the Popular Socialist Party (PSP), which was closest to Soviet economic and political thinking. Although the PSP had not supported the July 26 Movement, which Fidel led in guerrilla warfare that resulted in the January 1, 1959 victory, Rodríguez was an exception. He had supported their armed struggle approach, both in the mountains and cities.
As head of INRA, Rodríguez adopted an economic strategy that he called "auto finance", which emphasized material incentives, with moral emulation in the background, and mini-plans in which economic units had more determining role than in Che´s "budgetary calculation." For a few years, both strategies ran parallelly on an experimental basis.
After producing an unusually good sugar harvest (zafra ) in 1961, 6.8 million tons (MT), the sugar industry was neglected by government units in favor of diversification and production fell to 4.8MT in 1962, and then to an historic low of 3.9MT in 1963. Nature did not help matters either. The draught of 1961 was debilitating, followed by Hurricane Flora in 1963, which killed 1200 people and damaged many crops.
José Luis Rodríguez, a key economist with Cuba's World Economic Research Center (CIEM) when I interviewed him, in 1989 (now Minister of Economy and Planification), explained that the "strategy of industrialization did not flourish because of an insufficiently integrated infrastructure. The country also lacked an educated and skilled managerial and labor force, had a shortage of electric energy and was forced to convert to new equipment and parts, and necessarily expensive investments in defense."
Nevertheless, in this short-lived, chaotic and romantic first stage, the economy grew slightly over 1958-9, an annual average of 0.7%, and great social progress was accomplished for the population as a whole. Several ministries stood for social and educational development. Although INRA was mainly the key economic organism, it also constructed hundreds of schools and medical centers in rural areas. It built 1,400 countryside stores in a short time span, 10,000 housing units, several roads and three new rural towns.
When the literacy campaign was underway, during 1961, all private schools were nationalized, and education was henceforth free for all. This broke up economic privilege and racial discrimination, while also angering the Catholic Church hierarchy.
The Ministry of Public Works spent 100 million dollars in the first period, building 270 rural schools and 45 new or expanded hospitals. The Ministry of Social Welfare built nursery schools and old age homes, neither of which had ever existed before. Health care was now free for all persons. Polio was eliminated in 1963; diptheria, tetanus, typhoid, and malaria soon followed suit once the massive vaccination programs wiped out many diseases and infectuous mosquitos. The first of scores of solidarity medical missions sent abroad was formed in 1962, this time to assist Algerians.
Although social progress was dynamic, limited finances and economic production could not support this growth.The valiant efforts to diversify the economy wasn´t working quickly enough. Economic assistance from the Soviet Union and CMEA formed much of the basis for Cuba´s development.
In late 1963, the revolution´s leaders decided to reorient the economy to priortize sugar production, the historically proven crop that Cuba could rely upon and one that the new allies could most use. Long-term contracts were negotiated with CMEA at good prices (.06 cents a pound). With this guarantee, annual increments in sugar production were planned between 1965 and 1970. Ten million tons were forecast for 1970. The Soviet Union and other CMEA countries would buy seven million tons in 1970, and China and the capitalist market would buy the rest, leaving several hundred thousand tons for national consumption.
During the second economic development stage, a third method of economic strategy was put into play in 1965. It became popularly known as the fidelista model, because Fidel took charge of mixing Che´s centralized planning and Rodríguez' mini-plans, combining material and moral incentives. Fidel took over INRA directly and, de facto, the Ministry of Agriculture. He abolished the Ministry of Finance, weakened JUCEPLAN, and blasted the growing bureaucracy in the style of Che.
For the 1965 crop, Fidel offered major bonuses to 5000 of the most productive workers. Bonuses included vacations to socialist countries and to Cuban resorts, and durable domestic goods. That year´s harvest rose significantly, 6.1MT, over the 4.5MT in 1964.
The 10MT sugar plan was a "matter of honor", Fidel said. One billion dollars was invested in the sugar industry over the next six years. Most other industries were neglected. Adults going to night school and students training in technical skills dropped out to work the zafras. Volunteer labor came from schools, social services and most industries.
The new economic strategy with the goal of producing ten million tons of sugar in 1970 "looked good," José Luis Rodríguez told me. "The Soviet Union offered us a stable market with preferential and just prices. In exchange for sugar and nickel, we received oil, wheat, machinery, vehicles, plant technology and even some convertible currency."
Nevertheless, the plan was simply too ambitious, and the infrastructure was inadequate.
In 1961, Che had predicted that 8.5MT could possibly be produced by 1970, if the country could acquire the proper equipment and renovate the industry´s infrastructure. Fidel hoped that a new nationally invented combine could mechanize much of the sugar harvest, thus saving manpower and accomplish greater harvests. However, the Minister of Sugar, Orlando Borrego, a man close to Che, told Fidel that only five percent of the planned 1970 harvest could be cut by the new combine, because it was still only in development in 1968. Borrego also warned that mills and equipment were too old and broken down for such a gigantic harvest. The minister was fired in 1968 for his "pessimism".
The 1970 harvest continued for eight months instead of the usual five or six. Although far short of its goal, the harvest set an historic record of 8.5MT by the time it was ended on July 23. Fidel admitted the zafra defeat in his speech on July 26, 1970, celebrating the 17th anniversary of the July 26 Movement attack on dictator Batista´s Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba.
The Minister of Labor at the time, Jorge Risquet, reported that the harvest cost the economy three times its value. He blamed absenteeism--reported to be at 29% nationally--and "problems of widespread passive resistance".
Because so many resources and energy went into the gigantic sugar harvest plan, production in almost all other areas, including food and light industries, declined drastically over the next three years. Social discontent also plagued economic production and revolutionary consciousness.
The 1968 "revolutionary offensive" had shut down the last of private businesses, 58,012 small enterprises, including bars and restaurants. The small business vendors and private service workers had performed functions that the state now assumed, but was incapable of fulfilling adequately. There was less offer than before and, for a time, very little to drink. These measures led to increased crime that the Ministry of Interior checked by massive arrests. Harsh sentences were handed down, including the rarely used death penalty for some crimes.
With the 1970 sugar setback, it was time to try something different, as Fidel insinuated in his cogitative July 26, 1970 speech:
"You cannot hold a man responsible for anything unless he is in a position where he can decide things...Often men with no authority to make decisions are the ones who have to confront the problems...There should be a manger, naturally—for there must always be someone accountable--but we must begin to establish a collective body in the management of each plant...Why should a manager have to be absolutely in charge? Why shouldn't we begin to introduce representatives of the factory's workers into its management?"
The disappointing economic reality and a crime problem with social unrest influenced the Communist party´s top leadership to scrap the ideal of creating socialism and communism simultaneously, and they began studying a new economic strategy and a more participatory political structure.
In preparation for what became the third stage of economic development, a realistic attitude now dictated shifting back to more industrialization, phasing out the fidelista economic model and systematically offering material incentives for production generally.Volunteer labor was cut back to concentrate on "Red Sundays", clean-up and productive tasks closer to home that included some housing micro-brigades.
In 1972, Cuba joined CMEA. This meant adopting the Soviet four-stage transition from capitalism to communism: transition to socialism, socialism, transition to communism, communism. Cuba's leadership now sought a more orderly, totally state-controlled production process based on five year plans coordinated with CMEA, which sent European technicians to help plan and direct many activities at various levels, especially in the sugar and metallurgy industries, in the armed forces and education. Sugar, citrus fruits, and nickel were indexed to prices of oil imports, binding Cuba even more to socialist state trade.
Joining CMEA guaranteed regular increases in food and goods consumption with preferential prices for products, development credits, compensation for commercial imbalances, technical and military aid that allowed the government to afford high investments in social expenditures. Cuba extended health and education systems, which became the envy of Third World nations and CMEA countries, which began to send many people to the island for health treatment. Cuba neglected, however, emphasizing nutritional self-sufficiency and soon was importing nearly two-thirds of its foodstuff from CMEA.
In foreign policy, however, Cuba continued to retain significant independence. In contrast to the Soviet geopolitical outlook, Cuba rejected "peaceful coexistence" as a strategy and held fast to revolutionary armed struggle as a necessity to overthrow oppressive governments and to combat imperialist aggression. It aided the Vietnamese and several African governments in their defensive wars against outside interventions.
Che had left Cuba in the spring of 1965 to aid revolutionary forces in the Congo. Fidel read Che´s farewell letter at a rally. The next that Cubans would hear about Che from Fidel was at the October 18, 1967 ceremony, when Fidel announced his comrade´s death upon his October 8 capture in Boliva. Cuba´s foreign policy was then aimed at creating "two, three, many Vietnams," as Che had told Third World revolutionaries in an April 1967 message.
In March 1967, Fidel criticized leaders of Venezuela´s Commuist party for their ambiguous attitude toward the national guerrilla struggle led by the party´s former head, Douglas Bravo. In August, Fidel publically criticized the Soviet Union for its associations with reactionary governments in Latin America.
Cuba named the year 1967 for "Heroic Vietnam," followed by the year of the "Hero Guerrilla." The figures of Ho Chi Minh, Che, and Fidel became code names for popular liberation rebellion around the world. But when the Prague Spring experiment of "socialism with a human face" was crushed by Soviet intervention, Fidel supported the Soviet Union´s takeover of Czechoslavkia.
Fidel´s August 23, 1968 speech did criticize the Novotny government--an indirect critique of Soviet Stalinization--a critique that other CMEA nations dared not take. Nevertheless, Fidel was setting a new tone when he said that Soviet intervention was necessary. "We must learn to face the political realities, and not give way to romantic and idealistic dreams."
With the Cuban revolutionary third stage, its dreams of creating socialism were codified with an explicitly socialist constitution and a formal parliamentary structure. The idea was to give "the masses" a forum to express popular imput, other than the periodic encounters with Fidel--known as "direct democracy"--the results of which were determined by that one man's will, mood and capacity to follow through with suggested needs or desires.
Early in the revolution, mass organizations had been created in this direct fashion, as was the case with the first militias and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), in late 1960. When Fidel returned from his trip to a United Nations meeting in New York, he was speaking to a rally, on September 28, 1960, when two small bombs exploded near the crowd. Fidel interrupted what he was saying to announce:
"We´re going to have a committee of revolutionary vigilance on every block, so the people can watch, so that there´s no imperialist, no sellout to the imperialists who can move an inch."
Initially organized as organs of vigilance, the CDRs evolved into neighborhood committees that encouraged people to clean up the neighborhood, arranged garbage collections and repairs of electric power wires, collected materials to be recycled, organized vaccination campaigns for children, and distributed supplies to victims of natural catastrophes. However, their vigilance role also led some CDR individuals to snitch on neighbors for no good reason other than personal spite, thereby creating unfounded suspicions.
Another mass organization, the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), was established at the same time as the CDRs. The Federation has been led by Vilma Espin, a former urban resistance fighter who married Raul Castro. All Cuban women over 15 automatically become members, but the focus has on housewives, who help others acquire basic domestic skills, improve hygiene and health-care, and assist vaccination campaigns.
Youth groups also had been organized: Pioneers for elementary school children and the Young Communist League (UJC). The Federation of Secondary Education Students (FEEM) and the Federation of Universtity Students (FEU) had existed and were now taken over by Communist youth.
The leadership had waited 17 years before institutionalizing the revolutionary political structure into a parliamentary system, because leaders had been fearful of losing the spontaneity of "direct democracy", and needed to solidify the nation in front of continual US aggressions.
Che had addressed this matter in his article, "Socialism and Man in Cuba." Che characterized their form of rule in the early period as an, "almost intuitive method of sounding out general reactions to the great problems we confront. In this Fidel is a master. His own special way of fusing himself with the people can be appreciated only by seeing him in action...this close dialectical unity between the individual (Fidel) and the mass in which both are interrelated..."
Che also realized that this direct method of decision-making could not continue forever and in the same
article suggested that, "a more structured connection with the mass is needed...We are looking for something new that will permit a complete identification between the government and the community in its entirety...the greatest brake has been our fear lest any appearance of formality might separate us from the masses and from the individual, might make us lose sight of the ultimate and most important revolutionary aspiration: to see man liberated from his alientation. "
What the leadership came up with in 1975-6 had its beginning in 1965 when the new Communist party was forged, amalgamating the July 26 Movement, the pro-Soviet PSP, and the university student-based Revolutionary Directorate. Both the party and the government executive have since been led by Fidel. A decade passed before the party held its first congress. In 1975, the appointed party delegates approved, on the national plain, the experiment in municipal government underway since 1974 in Matanzas province. The party decided to restructure the entire country based on a new constitution and a three-tier Popular Power government.
Tens of thousands of meetings were held for people to air their complaints about the previous years' setbacks and to discuss the upcoming referendum on the constitution. Some 16,000 modifications of the constitutional draft were suggested; hundreds were adopted by planners. On February 15, 1976, the constitution was voted for by 97.7% of the 98% of eligible voters who went to the polls--that is, all those over 16 years of age, other than criminals.
The constitution proclaimed the National Assembly as "the people's supreme power and represents and expresses the sovereign will of all the working people...the only organ in the Republic invested with constituent and legislative authority...(it is) composed of deputies elected by Municipal Assemblies of the People's Power."
The national assembly selects the Council of State and the president, who recommends the Council of Ministers to the assembly. Though the national assembly passes all laws, it only meets for two annual sessions over a two to three-day period, and the deputies hold down regular jobs. The Council of State rules on a day-to-day basis, and makes decree-laws, which it proposes to the assembly in the next session. Every decree law has been unanimously approved by the assembly since its first session.
Voters nominate two to eight candidates at local precinct meetings for municipal government. They later vote for one person, whose qualifications are based on one´s character and volunteer work. No politics are discussed, nor is money or campaigning involved. Thousands of municipal delegates, in 169 municipalities, are voted for every two and one-half years. They, in turn, select delegates to govern the 14 provinces for two and one-half years and national deputies, serving for five years. The mass organizations and Communist party also play a role in the provincial and national candidate selection process. (Constitutional reforms took place in 1992, discussed in chapter 6).
In the first municipal elections, 76.7% of the voters attended the nominating meetings, and 95.2% voted for candidates. Participants in the nominating process increased to over 90% in future elections and between 97 and 99% of voters take to the polls.
Although elections are not partisan, the Communist party, as the only political and ideological force, dominates policy making. Article 5 of the constitution states: "The Communist party of Cuba, the organized Marxist-Leninist vanguard of the working class, is the highest leading force of the society and the state, which organizes and guides the common effort toward the goals of the construction of socialism and the progress toward a communist society." And in the preamble, Fidel Castro is ratified "to carry forward the triumphant Revolution."
National Electoral Commission statistics show that, over the years, between eight and 18% of municipal delegates have been women, while between 22% and one-third of upper level representatives have been women. No exact figures on race exist but estimates are that between one-third and 40% of the upper branch representatives are black or mulatto. Half the population or more have African ancestors. Nearly all members of the National Assembly are either members of the Communist party or the Young Communist League, and approximately 70% of municipal delegates are members of one or the other. Combined membership of the two organizations is over 1.1 million, about ten percent of the people.
Institutionalization of the revolution also involved most organisms. More emphasis was placed on the nuclear family, which was enunciated in the Family Code of 1975. The role of unions increased after 23 national unions were reconstructed at the 1973 Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC) congress. They were now functionally separated from the Communist party, although not politically. Guarantees of equal rights for all regardless of age, "race, color, sex or national origin" were also codified. Violations of these rights are punishable by jail sentences and fines. There are also guarantees for social security, pensions, free health care and education.
In this era of politically restructuring, the third stage of economic development got underway with a new planning approach called Direction and Planning System of Economy (Sistema de Direccíon y Planificacíon de la Economia-SDPE). In 1975, new methods of bookkeeping and semi-autonomous management were introduced, reestablishing the use and importance of money. Capitalistic methods of profit-making, pricing and wages, and interest were introduced, but without profit for capitalists. A part of profits was returned to the individual work center, which invested some in improvements and some in the "collective incentive fund," which went for bonuses, child-care centers, worker housing and dinning halls.
Greater priority was given in the '70s to train economists and new professionals. Although more authority was granted to individual state enterprises, many of the administrators and directors were not trained in those fields. They were appointed to their posts for past deeds and out of friendship ties. Managers did not question, as a rulem decisions from above, and they often obscured deficiencies. A good deal of chaotic administration continued with waste and inefficiency as results.
Raul Castro blasted the SDPE system in a 1979 speech, saying that enterprises permitted "deliberate go-slows so as not to surpass the norms, which are already low and poorly applied in practice, so they won't be changed because they are being more than met...(enterprises also allowed) unjustified absences from work...working no more than four or six hours...rampant cronyism: 'you do me a favor and I'll do you one,' and pilfering on the side."
Bureaucratic centralism--an ever-escalating phenomenon that Che had seen as the most dangerous, subtle enemy of the revolution--was so entrenched that when things floundered people could only hope that "Comrade Fidel (would) take over the situation and pull our chestnuts out of the fire," Raul said.
A dozen years after the closure of the last private markets, the government relented to mounting complaints about the totally state-controlled food and consumer production and distribution process, and allowed some small-scale private enterprises to function, although without employees. Handicraft and repair work had been assumed exclusively by state agencies. In 1982, a new law allowed for a few to work privately, mostly pensioned persons performing individual services such as knife sharpening and shoe shinning. By the end of the decade, 29,000 self-employed were licensed.
The biggest change was the supply-demand farmers' market, approved in 1980. Only private farmers could partake, and do so without middle men. They were permitted to sell surplus products after meeting state quotas, which the government distributed to the population through the ration system (which had been established in March of 1962 to assure that everyone could acquire the most essential foodstuffs, toiletries and clothing items at low, subsidized prices). Most farmers, however, had no real way of producing as well as transporting and selling their crops in city market places. This dilemma influenced many farmers to clandestinely hire market vendors and moonlighting chauffeurs, who were usually regularly employed by state firms, so that the farmers could concentrate on production. Many of these middle men became rich, as did a few farmers.
A short-lived housing law, passed in 1984, permitted private construction of housing and even private sales and rentals.The new farmer market entrepreneurs and thieves could now build large and comfortable homes at inflationary prices. This angered ordinary people who did not have access to capital.
Free farmer market sales amounted to just two percent of total food consumed. Most people could not afford to buy more than a few items. Although people complained about the prices and the luxury lifestyle of the new rich, most liked the possibility of being able to browse through the markets where there was usually a greater variety of better quality foods than at the state stores.
The state competed by opening an official parallel market, selling some consumer items and durable household equipment at a low profit. In addition to durable goods offered at moderate but profitable prices to everyone, distinguished workers were granted certificate bonuses allowing them to buy a few goods on time plans at just above cost.
In this stage, the state also sought to overcome economic dependency on CMEA, and many Latin American and Western European governments, as well as Japan and Canada, grew tired of US blockade pressure and began trading with Cuba. (Canada and Mexico had never complied with the US blockade, in large part). In the early 1980s dollar trade with Western firms accounted for 40% of the national total. With the rush for hard currency, consumer goods and better technology, however, Cuba soon became deeply indebted. The debt quadrupled to six billion dollars in a decade. The nation couldn't export enough to make ends meet and the Paris Club cut off credits. By 1987, 88.5 percent of Cuba's trade was once again with CMEA.
Many social advancements took place in this era. The family doctor program was launched in 1984. The perspective was to provide a personal doctor for every rural and mountain family, and eventually for all. (Just over a decade later, 95% of Cubans are covered by 30,000 doctors, who live in a combination house-clinic in neighborhoods they serve.) The family doctor program emphasizes preventative care, with some treatment. Doctors also partake in counseling and social work, helping people to reduce or give up vices such as smoking and alcoholism. All Cubans are also connected to nearby polyclinics and hospitals.
Genetic-biotechnology research and production got underway in the 1970s, soon placing Cuba in the ranks of the most developed nations and the only Third World country to have this advanced medical technology. Dr. Carlos Miyares Cao discovered that the human placenta can be used to help grow skin pigmentation, effective against vitiligo with a 84% success rate and without harmful side-affects. Cuban scientists began making vaccines and would soon be discovering new ones against diseases for which no vaccine existed.
Another achievement of the third period was sending a Cuban cosmonaut into outerspace. Fighter pilot Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, son of a Guantanamero farmer, became the 100th astronaut to fly outside the earth's atmosphere. He was the first black person and first person from the Third World to do so. He flew in a Soviet space ship with Yuri Romanenka, departing from the USSR on October 18, 1980.
Despite difficulties and discrepancies, Cuba experienced constant growth in this stage. The first half (1976-80) netted an average 3.4% annual growth (Global Social Product). In the free marketing era, growth increased between 7.2 and 7.9%, depending on statistical approaches.
Everyone had a job with a month paid vacation. People danced in the streets and were fed 3000 calories a day on the ration card. In fact, one-quarter had become obese and family doctors started morning exercise programs in the parks, and in elderly and child-care centers.
After two five-year plans, Fidel delivered angry critiques at the state of the economy, whose growth was largely based on competition that was deteriorating socialist values. Fidel had been in the minority on some economic issues, including the farmers market, during much of the third stage. His criticisms were adopted by the majority of the party´s day-to-day leadership, the Politbureau, and the 200-member, platform-making central committee. And another reform period called "rectification" was launched.