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Two views on Cuba’s leadership transition

November 13, 2006

The following is an exchange on Cuba between John Riddell of Socialist Voice and Mike Gonzalez of the U.K. Socialist Workers Party.

Why Socialists Defend Cuba: A Reply to Mike Gonzalez

By John Riddell

Writing in the September issue of Socialist Review (“Cuba’s Dynastic Succession”), Mike Gonzalez deplores the fact that Fidel Castro was succeeded as Cuban head of state by his brother Raul.

The grounds for his indignation are unclear. All states make provision in advance for orderly replacement of an incapacitated head of government, and family ties among political leaders are hardly uncommon. Raul’s “vice-presidential” status was discussed and decided in Cuba many years ago.

Anti-Imperialist Continuity

It is more useful to focus on the political content of Cuba’s transition in leadership. Gonzalez indicates this rightly in reporting that Raul Castro’s “recent speech about imminent U.S. aggression was delivered in the same tone and language as his more voluble older brother.” In other words, Cuba’s course of combative opposition to U.S. imperialism and to neo-liberal attacks on the economic sovereignty of Third World peoples will continue.

This continuity was ratified not only by the unity of Cuba’s Communist Party leadership but by meetings held in neighbourhoods and workplaces across the country. The international big-business media, always eager to attack Cuba’s policies, unearthed no ground swell of unease regarding the transition.

This context shows the real meaning of the Condoleezza Rice statement quoted by Gonzalez that the U.S. has “no intention of imposing a new regime.” The U.S. government has in fact repeatedly legislated and meticulously planned for forcing through regime change in Cuba. Facing an unfavorable political climate in Cuba, Rice was signaling to Washington’s supporters, “Now is not the time.”

Mike Gonzalez criticizes Cuba’s political and social order as being essentially no better than capitalism: “the key decisions [are] the province of an unaccountable group at the top.” I disagree with that view and look forward to an exchange on it on another occasion.

Tightened Embargo

The main task facing socialists outside Cuba is posed on a different plane. We must assess Cuba’s role in world politics and decide, in that framework, on our course of action toward the embattled island.

Here Gonzalez is less helpful. He notes that “the U.S. continues its crippling economic embargo” but also reports “persistent moves by sections of the U.S. Congress to remove the embargo.” That’s significant, but how should socialists in imperialist countries respond? He does not say.

Ending the U.S. embargo would be a historic victory for Cuba and the world’s peoples. But there’s no sign that U.S. policy is headed that way. Quite the contrary.

Far from loosening the embargo, Washington has in recent years tightened it dramatically. To take one example, the U.S. forbids its residents from visiting the revolutionary island, with narrow exemptions. In 2003, enforcement of this policy was radically tightened, and the number of U.S. visitors to Cuba has fallen by 80%.

Embargo Has Worldwide Reach

Gonzalez says that the Cuba embargo poses no barriers to investors based outside the U.S. That is not so. The Helms-Burton Act of 1996 extends the embargo internationally, in effect forcing non-U.S. enterprises to choose between economic dealings with Cuba and with the incomparably larger U.S. economy.

These provisions, a blatant violation of the sovereignty of Washington’s “allies,” are now being applied much more aggressively. For example, in the last 12 months, locally owned banks in the UK, Canada, Switzerland, France, Spain, etc. have blocked Cuban currency transactions or permitted U.S. confiscation of Cuban funds confided to their care.

The U.S. has adopted 458 pages of regulations regarding how Cuban society is to be transformed according to the banana-republic model and Cuban wealth handed over to imperialist interests. How this is to be achieved is not stated, but military intervention is clearly the only conceivable means.

In an ominous move, the U.S. in August appointed a special CIA mission manager for Cuba and Venezuela reporting directly to George Bush, Junior. The only other countries singled out for such treatment are Iran and North Korea.

In this context, it seems prudent for Cuba to have organized its leadership transition in a manner that maximized continuity and unity in the face of the enemy.

Would all this end under a Democratic Party presidency? Not likely. The U.S. aggression against Cuba was considerably heightened during Clinton’s term of office and has been a constant under ten presidents, among them four Democrats.

What We Defend in Cuba

And here, I hope, Mike Gonzalez and I will find common ground. Whatever their views on Cuba’s political order, socialists around the world have an elementary duty to unite in active defense of Cuba against these imperialist assaults.

We should also give thought to what drives the imperialist fury against Cuba and what it is in Cuba that we are defending.

Socialists defended Iraq’s right to self-determination under Saddam Hussein, and that’s the very minimum we should do for Cuba.

But Cuba is very different from Saddam’s Iraq: more than self-determination is at stake. For almost half a century, Cuba has followed a course of militant opposition to imperialism. In the Iraq, Lebanon, and threatened Iran conflicts, Cuba is our steadfast ally. The Cuban people have given anti-imperialist governments in Venezuela and Bolivia generous assistance. Indeed, whatever its faults and shortcomings, the Cuban revolution’s prolonged vitality and achievement stand out in world history.

What gives Cuba this astounding power of resistance? Labeling Cuba “capitalist” leaves that critical question unanswered.

Whatever the institutions and revolutionary acquisitions that give Cuba this unique resilience and extended anti-imperialist role in the world class struggle, they must be identified and defended. And more: they must be hailed as evidence of the capacity of the working masses to build a new world.

Note: For a fuller discussion of Washington’s plans to subjugate Cuba, see Ricardo Alarcón, “Washington’s Regime Change Plan for Cuba.”1 on the Socialist Voice website.

For Washington’s regime-change plan, see
Cuba’s Dynastic Succession

By Mike Gonzalez, Socialist Review, September 2006

For the first time in 47 years Fidel Castro is not formally in control of the Cuban state.

Recent photographs show the man of legendary energy in slippers and pyjamas, recovering from an operation whose purposes remain the object of unsubstantiated rumours. And the same absence of concrete facts to work with informs the great debate about who will follow Fidel.

It is astonishing that the left should accept dynastic succession as a practice. It was intolerable in Eastern Europe – why should it pass without criticism in Cuba? In fact, Fidel has already passed the mantle of head of state to his brother Raul Castro. For several days, Raul made no public statement to verify the announcement, but his recent speech about imminent US aggression was delivered in the same tone and language as his more voluble older brother.

Raul was with his brother from the assault on the Moncada barracks on 26 July 1953 onwards. It was Raul who brokered the rapprochement of Fidel’s 26 July Movement with the Cuban Communists and was the critical go-between with Moscow in those early days. Since 1959 he has been in charge of the army, a critical pillar of a society in which military and political control were and are exercised by a single small interlinked group dominated by Fidel.

Over the years the membership of that small ruling group has changed. But those changes did not come about through elections or public debate. Nominations were sometimes rubber stamped by a National Assembly or occasional congresses of the Communist Party, but the key decisions remained the province of an unaccountable group at the top. Raul was part of that group, and there is no sign that he intends to do anything other than protect it.

The 26 July Movement worked with a military conception of political organisation – the party organs transmitted instructions and decisions downwards for implementation. This has remained the structure of power ever since.

That is not to say that there have not been significant changes in Cuba. The collapse of Eastern Europe left Cuba isolated and in crisis, deprived of markets for its exports and providers of almost all its consumer goods. The crisis was resolved by a new economic strategy – opening Cuba’s economy to foreign investment.

World market

The US continues its crippling economic embargo – first imposed a few months after the revolution of 1959. For Spanish, Italian and other investors, however, there are no such barriers. They enthusiastically put their money into the burgeoning tourist trade. In 1995 stringent laws limiting the participation of foreign capital to a 49 percent stake in any enterprise were changed to allow foreign investors to control 100 percent of any enterprise. Cuba’s laws protecting labour were also amended to make it a more attractive prospect.Cuba has become an active participant in the world market, despite the US embargo. Carlos Lage, the minister of the economy, is clearly a man of a different stripe. No beard or olive green uniforms for him – his suit suggests he is more at ease in international economic forums. Raul, meanwhile, still wears his uniform, though his personality has nothing of his brother’s charisma.Yet these two men are the linchpins of the Cuban regime without Fidel. They suggest the future that has been prepared – openness to the market combined with a control as rigid and centralised as in the previous decades. Liberalisation is strictly economic. Political dissidence is silenced, and there remains as little control from below over the shape and direction of Cuban society as ever.

The difference internally is that the economic inequalities which were concealed or denied are now visible and inescapable. The Mercedes-Benz franchises, the new clothing stores, the obvious presence of a wealthy class, tell a very clear story. The irony is that there are now persistent moves by sections of the US Congress to remove the embargo, because they are anxious at the loss of business opportunities for US capital in oil, agriculture and tourism as well as consumer and industrial goods.

Condoleezza Rice, oddly enough, has insisted that there is no intention of imposing a new regime – but there is every intention of opening Cuban markets to the multinationals. Democracy comes a very poor second to that concern. The Miami Cubans, or some of them at least, would love to imagine a return to the corrupt but highly profitable pre-1959 Cuba. That is out of the question.

How can the Cuban people regain control over their own society? There is no simple answer other than to continue to organise and fight for the right to organise freely and democratically in defence of their own interests. This was denied under Fidel, and it was undermined by all the previous US-supported regimes. To talk of succession, in whatever terms, is to continue to deny them that right, and with it the possibility of an authentic socialist democracy.

“Cuba’s Dynastic Succession,”  by Mike Gonzalez, first appeared in the September 2006 issue of Socialist Review, and is reprinted with permission.
“Why Socialists Defend Cuba,” by John Riddell, appeared in the November 2006 issue of Socialist Review, where it was shortened for reasons of space.

This exchange was first published in Socialist Voice, November 13, 2006.

From → Cuba, Latin America

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