The US economic recovery plan of the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, conceived at the depths of the Great Depression, included the signing of commercial agreements with Latin America governments, with the intention of increasing access to foreign markets for the industrial and agricultural products of the United States (see “FDR and US mediation in Cuba” 8/7/2014). The Reciprocal Agreement between Cuba and the United States of 1934 reduced the tariffs on thirty-five articles exported from Cuba to the United States and 400 articles proceeding from the United States to Cuba (Instituto de Cuba 1998:336-39).
The agreement deepened Cuba’s peripheral role as an exporter of sugar. It increased the Cuban percentage of US imports of sugar, facilitating a recovery for Cuban sugar producers. However, the recovery was merely partial, because the Cuban share was still only half of what it had been in the period 1925-29, before US sugar producers began to lobby the US government to reduce the Cuban share, in response to the effects of the Great Depression. The Cuban recovery, moreover, had limited advantages for Cuba, for it was on the base of the historic peripheral role of sugar exportation; sugar comprised four-fifths of Cuban exports (Instituto de Cuba 1998:339-41; see “The peripheralization of Cuba” 6/16/2014).
In addition, the 1934 reciprocal trade agreement deepened dependency on the United States. By the end of the 1930s, Cuban trade with the United States reached three-fourths of Cuban foreign commerce (Instituto de Cuba 1998:341).
Furthermore, the 1934 trade agreement, by reducing tariffs for US manufactured goods, failed to defend the development of Cuban national industry. Federico Chang notes that, in this respect, Cuba was different from other Latin American countries of the period, which had a “solidly defined policy of import-substitution,” seeking to develop national industry. He notes that the Cuban oligarchy delivered “without reserve” the Cuban internal market, thus demonstrating its “complete subordination to the United States”. Its “most abject servility” was revealed in its declarations that “praised the negotiations with the US government as ‘beneficial for the country’” (Chang 1998:338-39, 342).
Similarly, Francisco López Segrera (1972:274) maintains that the 1934 commercial agreement frustrated possibilities for industrial development, reinforcing the position of Cuba as a consumer of manufactured products and producer of sugar. The agreement represented the mutual interests of US imperialism and the Cuban sugar oligarchy. The agreement deepened the core-peripheral relation between the United States and Cuba, in spite of the formal political independence of the island, thus exemplifying the process of neocolonialism.
Since the times of José Martí, the Cuban revolutionary movement sought to break the core-peripheral relation and the neocolonial structures that sustained it. But in the era of Batista, the revolutionary movement was unable to overcome its divisions, in spite of its considerable advances in theory and practice during the 1920s and 1930s. At the same time, Batista astutely combined repression of the revolutionary movement with concessions to the masses, adopting rhetoric that “integrated the revolutionary and nationalist protest into a counterrevolutionary and anti-nationalist neo-populism, disguised as democracy and worker concessions” (López Segrera 1972:274). Thus, neocolonialism in Cuba was moving toward its full expression: superexploitation of labor; access to sugar at low prices; access to needed markets for surplus manufactured goods; maintenance of the system through repression of the revolutionary movements that seek to transform it; and the pretense of democracy.
The characteristics of neocolonial Cuba during the era of Batista are integral to the world-system today: super-exploitation of labor; cheap raw materials; markets for the surplus manufactured goods of the core; the pretense to democracy; and revolutionary movements in the neocolonies, seeking to break the neocolonial relation. Our task today is to expose the fictions of neocolonialism: a “free market” and free-trade agreements create not economic liberty but structures of economic and financial domination; representative government, rather than empowering the people, creates structures that facilitate the manipulation of the people. The unmasking of the fictions of the neocolonial world-system is a necessary precondition for the taking of power by the people, itself a necessary precondition for the survival of humanity. The taking of power by the people is well underway in Latin America, a process that began in 1995. We in the North have the duty to join in this emerging world revolution by humanity in defense of itself.
Chang Pon, Federico. 1998. “Reajustes para la estabilización del sistema neocolonial” in Instituto de Historia de Cuba. 1998. La neocolonia. La Habana: Editora Política.
López Segrera, Francisco. 1972. Cuba: Capitalismo Dependiente y Subdesarrollo (1510-1959). La Habana: Casa de las Américas.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Cuban Revolution, neocolonial republic, Batista