Cuban Socialism: Achievements and Failures
Cuban Revolution is a Landmark Event in the History of Latin America
The emergence of socialist Cuba, which has its achievements and failures, marked a historic shift.
Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean, discovered by Columbus in 1492. During 400 years, Cuba was a Spanish colony.
Liberation movement that began in the first half of the 19th century resulted in a 10-year war in 1868-78 years against colonialism, which has not reached its goal.
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In 1895, under the direction of X. Marty and A. Maceo Cuban people rose again to an armed struggle for freedom.
In 1898, when rebel victory was close, the United States declared war on Spain, and occupied the island.
In 1902, Cuba was formally declared an independent republic, but in fact turned into a semi-colony of American imperialism.
Time for a new socialist Cuba came after a night on January 1, 1959, when Batista and his cronies fled the country. The revolution triumphed. Fidel Castro said, “Our revolution is neither capitalist nor communist! … Capitalism sacrifices the human being, communism with its totalitarian conceptions sacrifices human rights. We agree neither with the one nor with the other … Our revolution is not red but olive green. It bears the colour of the rebel army from the Sierra Maestra”. (Binns, 1980: 1-36).
Supporting the Cuban, the USSR immediately recognized the Revolutionary Government of Cuba in January 10, 1959.
In February 1960, the Soviet-Cuban trade agreement and an agreement on granting Cuba the Soviet loan of 100 million dollars were signed. In accordance with these agreements, the USSR began to supply Cuba with oil, industrial machinery and equipment, food and raw materials, buy Cuban sugar and other goods, as well as provide it with economic and technical assistance in the development of the national economy, helping the Cuban people to overcome the effects of the U.S. economic blockade. The Soviet Union also helped Cuba in the creation of a well-trained and well-equipped army, which became an outpost of socialism in America’s shores.
Fidel Castro quickly turned the economy to the socialist way. By the middle of 1961, 41% of arable land was in the hands of government estates and cooperatives, 90% of industrial products produced by state-owned enterprises. State owned with banks most of the transport and domestic trade. The state monopoly of foreign trade was set.
In April 1961, Fidel Castro officially proclaimed Cuban Revolution as a socialist one. During the development of the revolution, the unity of all revolutionary forces of the country was formed, which resulted in the merger of “26 of July Movement”, NBTS and “the March 13 Revolutionary Directorate” in a single organization – United Revolutionary Organizations (ORU), which in 1963 were converted into a single party of the socialist revolution in Cuba. In October 1965, it was named the Communist Party of Cuba. The first secretary of the party was Fidel Castro, and, at the same time, he was the Prime Minister of the Revolutionary Government.
Ruling and the only permitted party in the country, was the Communist Party of Cuba. Fidel Castro’s government undertook agrarian reform, the nationalization of industrial assets, began a broad social reform.
The result of this process was mass emigration of dissatisfied group of people, mainly in the USA, where they created a large diaspora of opponents of Castro and his policies.
From the early 60’s to early 90’s, Cuba was an ally of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union provided Cuba with significant financial, economic and political support, actively supported Marxist rebels and Marxist regimes in Latin America (Puerto Rico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil Argentina, and Chile), Africa (Ethiopia, Angola) and Asia, as well as pursued a policy assisting humanities worldwide.
With the collapse of the USSR, Cuba suffered huge economic losses (up to half of the GDP). “Trade collapsed due to the lost Soviet subsidies, but has rebounded since the mid-1990s” (Copeland). Analysts predicted the imminent collapse of the Castro government, but by 1994 the situation was basically stabilized and the economic condition of the country in international organizations is currently being assessed as quite satisfactory.
In order to understand the Cuban socialism, it is important to recognize that the internal and external policies of Cuba are constructed taking into account confrontation of hostile superpower, from which the island is only separated by a 150 miles of the Florida Straits. It is enough 10 minutes for fighter F-16 in order to bomb Cuba. The USA can cover all Cuban airspace with such fighters, especially as air defenses on the island are not comparable with the striking force of American aviation.
The whole history of Cuba consists of coups, dictatorships shifts, and political struggle under strong external pressure from the large states.
America formally adopted laws against Cuba. The embargo is in force since 1962. “In many regards, the U.S. embargo against Cuba represents a caricature of the various American misapplications of economic sanctions: if the goal is to end the Castro regime this policy has not only failed, but has spent half a century doing so” (Gordon).
Since 1966, even a ban on visiting Cuba for U.S. citizens is in force. Moreover, Americans are barred from conducting any transaction in Cuba (or rather, spend money anyway) without special permission.
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The U.S. companies in third countries are prohibited to work with Cuban companies, third-country companies are prohibited to export products in the United States of Cuban production or products containing Cuban components.
Cuba (the most democratic country) refuses to lift the sanctions, despite the fact that not only the countries of the third world act against Cuba, but the European Union and even American businessmen who understand that when the embargo is lifted, their capabilities will be covered by entrepreneurs from other countries, already established in Cuba.
In 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush announced the tightening of sanctions, saying that “the struggle for the triumph of freedom continues.”
In February 2008, the Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte confirmed that sanctions will not be lifted.
The USA acted using not only economic measures. Nearly 15 assassination attempts on Fidel Castro were committed, but all of then failed.
There is no need in conducting analysis in order to understand that the steps of the U.S. administration are essentially aimed at undermining the socio-political system in Cuba.
It must be honestly admitted that, currently, the Cuban economy cannot abandon the currency received by the population in the form of remittances from the United States, etc. Admission of dollars into the economy was a necessary measure. Surely, this measure has the negative effects, but, at the moment, the situation is controlled sufficiently.
It is clear that a sharp increase in dollar flow addressed directly to the public (entrepreneurs and small private landowners) will result in the appearance of the bourgeoisie layer.
A socialist state at its own expense supports for “free” a lot of services: health care, education, low-cost housing etc., while all these services are unavailable in capitalism. However, the system is not closed: the territory is invaded by multinational corporations with appropriate resources and desire of monopoly.
Realizing all this, the Cubans have learned to control the process of foreign direct investment.
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Why Cuba is still not wiped off the face of the Earth? War – it is not only technical business, but also political, informational, especially nowadays.
Cuba understands this and, therefore, leads active foreign policy. Cuba is a recognized and respected leader of the “Third World”.
Medicine is the specialty of Cuba. Thousands of doctors and teachers work in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Cuba creates credibility and sincere respect among peoples of different countries, and public does not believe anti-Cuban western propaganda. That is the reason why the occupation of the island is so easy with the military-technical point of view, and is very difficult in terms of the political one.
Herewith, ingenious Cubans do not dash aside the “ideological enemy”, and skillfully use the contradictions between capitalists. They act for the benefit of their people, while not suffering from dogmatism. This is the true Cuban socialism.
The emergence of socialist Cuba marked a historic shift in the life of the region, meant a major breakthrough in the fight of the Latin American peoples against dominance of the U.S., and destroyed the myth of the “geographic fatalism”, which served as an instrument of psychological suppression of the Latin American peoples’ will for national and social liberation.
“North Americans don’t understand… that our country is not just Cuba; our country is also humanity.” – said Fidel Castro. (Balfour).
The social situation in Cuba before the Revolution was unsatisfactory. Before the revolution, Cuba was characterized by sharp disparities. The average income per person was quite low. The populations older than 10 years were illiterate.
Nowadays, Cuba achieved considerable success in the field of social life. Cubans are proud of the social gains that they have received “because of its communist revolution” – the right to work, free medical care, education and so on. “From the earliest days of Castro’s rise to power in Cuba (on January 1, 1959), efforts to legitimize the revolution centered on delivering healthcare and education to underprivileged and underserved sectors of society, mostly in rural areas” (Werlau).
Socialist Cuba takes the first place among the countries of Latin America in the field of education, the level of development of sport and culture. “Educational achievements in Cuba since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution have, along with health care, come to symbolize the humanitarian aspect of this popular social revolution” (Griffiths).
Healthcare in Cuba is on a higher level than even in some Western European countries, and in life expectancy (76 years) Cuba is second after Japan. On the basis of achieved experience and new technological possibilities, Cuba raised important social sectors on high level that no one can thought of, and now they are considered as the priority sectors.
Cuba is the first Latin American country that eradicated illiteracy, made sport accessible to every Cuban, began to solve problems of raising the living standards of the entire population, not of some individual groups. According to journal Cuba in Transition: “Literacy rates, measured by elementary and middle school enrollment and completion rates, are among the highest in the world” (Pumar).
Poverty in Cuban society does not increase. Inequality that started during the crisis of 90’s, when Cuba was left alone surrounded by both internal and external problems, was not too deepened due to the introduction of systems of taxation for workers in the private sector and other regulatory measures.
Despite the fact that health care and education at all levels are free, more than 1.4 million pensioners monthly get their pensions, without delay and in time. Moreover, the poor are virtually absent as minimum wage and food packages at discount prices are guaranteed for them.
Thus, socialism in Cuba changed the life of population greatly. Some questionnaires were carried out. “Over 80% (21/25) of respondents answered the revolution was of great importance to them because of its achievements. Respondents mentioned the following accomplishments: education and literacy programs, guaranteed health care and family doctors, vaccinations, affordable housing and access to cultural events” (Mauricio).
This study shows that Cuba embarked on its own path of development. Cuba has written a new page in history and demonstrated that the choice is always there when there is a will, determination and real compromise with people. Now this country lives with its own life, follows the laws of its internal dynamics, organically woven into the global process.
Cuba (the Liberty Island, as it is called) is a good example of the fact that globalism is not necessary. Despite the complexity of life of Cubans (caused primarily by anti-Cuban policy of the United States), Cuba is ahead of those countries who betrayed socialism and moved to capitalism.
Cuba occupies the 51st place by the Human Development Index among 187 countries. In the Caribbean region, only Puerto Rico, Barbados and the Bahamas have a better quality of life.
More than 15% of the production of the Cuban industry belongs to the state. Foreign capital is less than 10%, though this property is framed not directly, but through joint ventures with the Cuban government. Multinationals that operate in Cuba, are put in a very rigid framework. They are not allowed to buy land. They are also forbidden to pay Cuban workers directly. This can be only done through government institutions. They also cannot sell produced goods to the domestic market of Cuba.
In the terms of Cuba situation, all mentioned above factors are exactly an achievement.
Herewith, in contrast to, for example, North Korea, Cubans can almost freely communicate with foreigners, with the American family, have access the Internet, etc.
Cuba also supports organic farming at the state level.
Another important factor that makes Cuba significant in today’s world is that real and symbolic role, which this country has played in strengthening the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.
Medicine in Cuba is so important that achievements in this field must be researched separately. Millionaires, famous politicians and athletes are treated in Cuba.
A famous revolutionary Che Guevara is considered to be the father of Cuban health care system. Once he owned low-cost clinic in Argentina. He introduced reforms that eventually turned the country into a health leader throughout Latin America. The recipe of such considerable success was very simple: no matter what happens in the country, the using of allocated money for health care system is strictly prohibited. Even after 1991 (termination of aid from Soviet Union), when the situation was economically very difficult, nobody in the government hinted on reducing of medical costs.
Such medical reform resulted in the huge achievements. “Areas of success include control of infectious diseases, reduction in infant mortality, establishment of a research and biotechnology industry, and progress in control of chronic diseases, among others” (Cooper). In 1958, Cuba had only 3,000 doctors. Now, there are 350,000 people (doctors, nurses and hospital staff) per 11 million inhabitants in health care system of Cuba. Infant mortality rate is only 7 per thousand (in Russia, for comparison, 18). The average lifetime of Cuban population is almost 80 years, while during the rule of Batista, people lived nearly 60 years.
Eye microsurgery is developing now. Cuban doctors treat successfully the breast cancer. Institute for Molecular Engineering was set up for this purpose. Cuban doctors have even learned how to transplant the brain cells in order to treat Parkinson’s disease. They also created highly complex vaccines in the Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology.
Analyzing all the information mentioned above, it becomes clear that socialism in Cuba is of great importance not only for the locals, but for the peoples of Latin America as well.
Unfortunately, socialism in Cuba has its failures as well. According to Havana Times.org: “Detractors of the Cuban revolution (and socialism in general) love to repeat that socialism has failed, that the Cuban economy is a disaster and innumerable other lies to try and justify the frank betrayal of their peoples” (Legon).
Together with all achievements of socialism such as elimination of illiteracy, free health care system, some drawbacks can be pointed out, for instance, existence of poverty in a regressive and suppressive regime. According to The Indian Economist, “It left little room for dissidence and allowed for uninhibited abuse of human rights” (Spolia).
Despite all the scientific achievements in the field of medicine, Cuba does not have enough antibiotics, medical instruments, and disposable syringes. This is all for the same reason – the U.S. embargo.
Socialism is quite a young direction and it has its mistakes as well. Revolutionaries are often lack of the knowledge and skills in order to undertake the development of the methods different from the standard ones. These methods are entirely dependent on the society that creates them. The problems of productions of material good, which lead to the disorientation of the general population, are of the great importance. According to “Socialism and man in Cuba”: “There are no artists of great authority who also have great revolutionary authority. The members of the party must take this task in hand and seek the achievement of the main goal: to educate the people” (Guevara, 1989: 7-29).
However, all these questions are much easier to solve than those, which were solved after the revolution.
Cuban Revolution is a landmark event in the history of Latin America. Cuban Revolution was the first Latin American revolution, which has managed to solve anti-imperialist and anti-oligarchic problems to the end, and get back on the path of socialism building. The Cuban Revolution has shown that the revolutionary movement in the continent rose to a higher stage, in which the role of the working class is immeasurably increased. Achievements of the Cuban revolution are a source of inspiration for many countries liberated from the chains of colonialism.
The lesson of the Cuban revolution is that its victory was possible primarily due to the fact that in the first democratic stage, it was reached unity of all revolutionary and democratic forces, from the working class and ending with certain circles of the national bourgeoisie. At the same time, however, many facts show that more extensive social circles in Latin America are beginning to see the strength of the proletariat, which aims to unite all truly revolutionary, democratic and patriotic segments of the Latin American peoples. Mark Burton said, “…Cuba is in effect a laboratory of socialism where the real dilemmas, advances and reverses of socialist construction are being explored…” (Burton).
Glorious Cuban Revolution marks the event of extreme importance in the unrestrained development of the democratic process, which by virtue of historical necessity leads to socialism.