Cuba - revolution in danger

Steve Kay has just returned from Cuba. Here he gives his first impressions of a now isolated revolution in danger

I WENT to Cuba as part of a delegation organised by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. My interest in visiting the island was awakened by the ‘rafters’ crisis in the summer of 1994, when Cubans tried to flee to the USA to escape the island’s poverty and economic crisis. I decided that I wanted to take a look for myself, rather than rely on the bourgeois media, and extend whatever solidarity one person can offer.

The first point to make about Cuba is that it is not simply a kind of Caribbean extension of the Soviet bloc countries. Perhaps it was to some degree, but Cuba is more than that - otherwise the switching off of the Soviet life support system in 1991 would have switched off Cuba as well, at least in its present form. One of the slogans painted on Cuban walls is “Cuba dura” (Cuba endures). A Caribbean island of 11 million people - so far from god, so near to the United States - is continuing to hold out, while the mighty Soviet Union has collapsed.

Nevertheless, Cuba is plagued by serious problems. During my stay on the island I went to a talk given by a professor of economics at Havana University, Augustin Hernandez. He said that the breaking of the economic tie with the Soviet Union reduced Cuba’s gross domestic product by about three quarters. This shows the heavy dependence Cuba had come to have on a country thousands of miles away. In spite of attempts at industrialisation, sugar cane remains the key factor in the Cuban economy, and it was the Soviet Union’s heavy purchases of Cuban sugar, without reference to world market conditions, which helped Cuba to endure the economic blockade led by an implacably hostile USA since the early 1960s. In return for its sugar, Cuba received oil and petrol from the USSR.

Soviet-Cuban relations were worsening during the last few years of the USSR’s existence, when Fidel Castro and the Cuban leadership showed a reluctance to imitate glasnost and perestroika and other things dear to the heart of Mikhail Gorbachev.

But Cuba’s economic dependence on the USSR was not so easily set aside, and after the Soviet Union’s collapse Russian president Boris Yeltsin has no ideological motive whatsoever to give support to Cuba. He does have a motive to curry favour with the USA, and dropping Cuba is one way to do it.

The current impoverishment of Cuban society is obvious, with severe shortages, power cuts, rationing of foodstuffs and other signs of a society under siege. Cubans do not appear to be starving, but the typical diet seemed to be a monotonous round of beans and rice. I was told by one Cuban that most people had some recourse to the black market just to obtain foodstuffs not available with ration cards. The average Cuban might perhaps eat meat once a week, and not fresh meat at that.

Nonetheless, Cuba’s peculiar isolated bureaucratic socialism is hanging on grimly, in spite of privations. In a future article, I will deal with the reasons why this is the case, and discuss the dangers that the outside world poses to Cuba - dangers less obvious than, say, an invasion by US troops or the CIA-backed counterrevolutionaries of Miami.