In response to questions from President Obama concerning what they would need to expand, three of the five spoke of access to international markets. Although they did not say so directly, perhaps out of courtesy to the President, the most important market is that of the United States, access to which remains blocked by the blockade. The medical doctor spoke of scientific collaboration with the United States, which also has been restricted by the blockade.
Obama interpreted the Cuban entrepreneurs as representing the potential for Cuba to develop businesses, relying on the energy and intelligence of its people. That’s true. But the initial steps to enable this were not taken by the Obama administration in 2015, as Obama implied in his remarks, but by the Cuban government in 2012. And they are part of the new approach to socialism in Latin America, which its leaders have called “Socialism for the Twenty-First Century.” The new form of socialism has many things in common with twentieth century socialism, including commitment to the principles of the self-determination and sovereignty of nations, the protection of social and economic rights, and the strong role of the state in directing social and economic development. But the new form of socialism is characterized by multiple forms of property: state ownership of principle industries, joint ventures with foreign capital, cooperatives, self-employment and privately owned small businesses.
Consistent with this tendency in the new Latin American socialism, Cuba today has five forms of property: (1) state property, the largest sector; (2) self-employment, which has always existed in socialist Cuba, but has been significantly expanded as a result of the new social and economic model of 2012; (3) small-scale businesses, virtually non-existent from 1959 to 2012, is now emerging; (4) joint ventures with foreign capital, developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union and expanded in the new model of 2012; and (5) cooperatives, developed in the 1960s in the agricultural sector, and expanded to other sectors of the economy following 2012. In the Cuban economy, the state plays an important role in two ways. First, the state is the author of the development plan, and it guides and directs the economy. The state role as the author and guide of economic development is one of the fundamental principles of socialism (see “The twelve practices of socialism” 1/14/2016). In socialism, economic and social development is not left to the rule of the market or to the capitalist class or its particular interests; rather, the economy is ruled by the state, which, through popularly elected delegates, represents the interests of the popular sectors (workers, farmers, cooperativists, professionals, self-employed, small business owners, students and women) that form the overwhelming majority of the population. Secondly, the state owns and manages the principle and largest industries, in order to guarantee that they are managed in a form that is consistent with the needs of the people and the sovereignty of the nation. The strong state role in these two forms ensures that social and economic development occurs in a form that protects the social and economic rights of all, distributes goods and service in a more equitable form, protects the environment, and seeks to maintain the sovereignty of the nation in front of the structures of the neocolonial world-system and the aggressions of the neocolonial powers (see “The characteristics of neocolonialism” 9/16/2013).
Cuban journalist Cristina Escobar observes that Obama’s agenda is to support Cuban private property while continuing to impose restrictions on trade involving Cuban state property, as has been revealed in his commentaries as well as in the politically motivated and selective form in which the Obama administration is dismantling the blockade (see “What does Obama intend for Cuba?”). She maintains that the lifting of the blockade ought to pertain equally to the Cuban private and state sectors. She notes that the state sector is central to the Cuban economy, as a result of its sovereign commitment to socialism. If Obama wants to support the Cuban people, she maintains, he should take steps to remove obstacles to the development of the state-owned economic enterprises.
In promoting the expansion of the private sector and the middle class, Obama hopes that this class will become a larger sector of the economy and that some businesses will become larger, and that this expanding class will constitute itself a political force that will promote changes in Cuba, changes that promote its particular interests. The Obama plan for Cuba is not designed to promote the interests of the popular sectors in the United States. After the blockade is lifted, the people of the United States will be able to purchase Cuban goods and services and sell goods and services to Cuba. But it will make no difference to US producers, providers, and purchasers if their Cuban trading partners are employed in the private sector or the state sector. The Obama plan, however, certainly is designed to promote the interests of US corporations and small-scale investors, because one of the changes that could occur, especially in a process of change that is promoted by a rising Cuban merchant class with growing ties to US capital, is that there will be less restrictions and regulations with respect to foreign investment in Cuba, large and small.
It is also the case that the Obama vision for the future of Cuba is based on a limited understanding of both the United States and Cuba. Obama believes that the United States has been “built on entrepreneurship and on market-based principles,” which “has produced wealth that's unmatched in the history of the world.” In fact, however, the ascent of the United States was made possible by the capacity of US economic enterprises to advantageously position themselves with respect to global patterns of trade that were established by conquest, colonialism and slavery; as well as on the foundation of US territorial conquest and its own system of slavery. The US model could not possibly be used by a colonized and underdeveloped nation. Even if an underdeveloped nation could somehow marshal the necessary military power for conquest, there are no more nations and peoples to conquer. Global conquest has reached its geographical limits. Therefore, underdeveloped nations must develop their own models for development, based on their own histories, cultures, needs, and neocolonial situation. And they have been doing so for more than a century. But when they do so, inasmuch as their models invariably reflect a plan to develop autonomously, they invoke the aggressions of the global powers, of which the US blockade of Cuba is merely one example.
Having not grasped the situation of nations like Cuba, Obama cannot not see that the Cuban socialist model is a reasonable and informed response to the neocolonial situation. Analyzing Cuban policies from the perspective of a neocolonial power, he does not see the intelligence of the Cuban model, and he assumes that the development of the Cuban economy will require internal changes in Cuba.
And so, after centuries of colonialism and neocolonialism, including sixty-two years of US military and political interventions and a fifty-three-year blockade, the president of the United States arrives in Cuba to say that its socialist model is itself partly to blame for the Cuban condition of underdevelopment. Fortunately, the people of Cuba have sufficient cultural and political formation to analyze his comments from a Cuban perspective. And fortunately as well, the Cuban people have sufficient maturity to treat President Obama with courtesy and respect, sensitive to the fact that his understanding has been shaped by the US political-economic-cultural system, and grateful for the limited changes that he has undertaken.
The Obama plan for Cuba brings to mind John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, which Kennedy proclaimed as a “revolution of the middle class.” The Alliance for Progress hoped to reform Latin America by promoting expansion of national industry and the middle class. But the plan failed. It required the subordination of the expanding national industrial bourgeoisie to US capital, undermining its claim to represent an independent nationalist development, and thus delegitimizing its spokespersons in the eyes of the people (see “The Alliance for Progress” 9/26/2013). A lesson can be drawn from the failure of the Alliance for Progress: a reform driven by US interests will be limited in its capacity to promote the social and economic development of underdeveloped countries, which require autonomous development, driven by national interests and needs. When such reformist projects conceived by the core powers fail to promote economic and social development, political opposition emerges. A social and economic development plan shaped by the particular interests of the core nations cannot promote the political stability of the world-system or greater equality among nations.
More viable plans for social and economic development are emerging in Latin America, formulated from the perspective of the neocolonial situation. However, the leading governments in this process of change have been and continue to be under attack by the Obama administration.
Key words: Obama, Cuba, private sector, middle class, entrepreneurship