Cuba - the candle that yet burns


THIS ARTICLE is a continuation of the one published in the Weekly Worker 78, entitled ‘Cuba - revolution in danger’. I should add that the reference to “Cuba’s peculiar isolated bureaucratic socialism” was an editorial insertion and not my view. Cuba is not simply a tropical reproduction of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. At the end of that article I wrote that I would try to examine reasons for Cuba’s continued survival after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

One reason might be the social gains from the 1959 revolution. For example Cubans have a life expectancy of 76 (the same as US citizens), while for Haitians it is 56. When I visited health centres, hospitals and the like, Cuban officials repeatedly stressed that priority was given to healthcare and other social concerns, in spite of the effects of the US blockade.

On the other hand, the shortage of consumer goods probably counteracts official statements about social gains, at least to some degree. The Cuban authorities cited the results of a survey by a US polling agency which revealed that 90% of Cubans approved of the social system in which they lived. Personally, I found no signs of political dissidence on the island, but my knowledge of Spanish is limited.

Perhaps a stronger reason for the endurance of the system is nationalism. Cuba was a colony of Spain right up to the end of the 19th century. This was followed by several years of military occupation by the USA and then a political and economic relationship with the giant to the north which can fairly be called neo-colonialism.

Just after the arrival of the New Year, Yaremi, a Cuban teacher of English, turned to me and said: “Today is the birthday of my country.” (Fulgencio Batista, the US Mafia’s friend, was overthrown by Fidel Castro on January 1 1959). Clearly, for Yaremi and many Cubans, the triumph of the revolution was the point when Cuba stopped belonging to somebody else.

In my view Cuba’s distinctive socialist system is under threat but will not undergo the sort of meltdown experienced elsewhere. The USA would be extremely unwise to attempt an invasion, and a repetition of the Bay of Pigs incursion by Cuban exiles would also fail.

A major threat to Cuba’s social and economic system is posed by something far more insidious. This is tourism. The tourist trade is being officially encouraged in Cuba as a means of making up for some of the economic damage caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Tourism has given a powerful impetus to black market trading and prostitution. I could not walk around central Havana without being accosted by Cubans of all ages trying to beg for or sell something.

A by-product is the erosion of social equality. Some Cubans have access to US dollars, which are now legal tender, and they can use these to gain access to goods not available with the peso.

I believe that as many people as possible should become involved with solidarity organisations like the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. At least as important as making revolution at home is the task of assisting the survival of revolutions abroad - and the Cuban example is a flame that still flickers against the odds, like a candle still burning in spite of a howling gale.

Steve Kay