“Even when one day the relations between Cuba and the empire are formally improved, it would not mean that the empire would cease in its idea of crushing the Cuban Revolution. And the empire does not hide it; its theoreticians and the defenders of its philosophy explain it. There are some that affirm that it is better to make certain changes in the policy toward Cuba in order to penetrate it, to weaken it, destroy it, and if possible, to do so peacefully” (quoted in Perera 2016:3).
The Obama administration is moving toward normalization gradually and cautiously, making some changes that are within the scope of the president’s authority, but not others (see “The normalization of Cuba-USA relations” 2/16/2016). One suspects that Obama is being politically savvy, moving step-by-step and gradually building popular and political support, in order to minimize the political cost resulting from the opposition of the extreme Right. But it may also be that there is considerable deliberation within the administration concerning each step, as it internally debates what changes would be most effective in promoting the political outcomes in Cuba that the administration desires.
The US approach to normalization appears to be designed to attain three outcomes in Cuba. (1) The establishing of a merchant class that has economic interests different from the working and professional classes. (2) The replacement of the socialist ethic that prevails among the Cuban people with a consumerist ethic. (3) The creation of a civil society that is anti-governmental.
(1) One of the first steps that the Obama administration took in moving toward normalization was to remove the limits on the amount of money that Cuban-Americans could send to family members in Cuba. This change occurred in the aftermath of the adoption by Cuba of a new social and economic model, which included significant increases in licenses for self-employment. The new model was adopted by Cuba as an autonomous decision and not as a concession to the international capitalist class (which Cuba defies) or a national bourgeoisie (which does not exist in socialist Cuba); it is a comprehensive effort to improve production in order to better satisfy the needs and desires of the people. Perhaps seeing the new Cuban model as providing an opening for the penetration of small-scale foreign capital, the Obama administration, in increasing the possibilities for Cuban-Americans to send money to relatives in Cuba, is facilitating the establishment and expansion of small-scale businesses such as restaurants, apartment rentals, and retail sales. The creation of small businesses by Cubans with money sent by relatives abroad has been going on for years in Cuba, but the changes in policy on both sides are strengthening this tendency, leading toward the emergence a class of persons who earn more and earn in a different way than the majority of the people, and they could eventually organize themselves as an interest group.
(2) The announced changes in the blockade especially favor the telecommunications industry. The Obama administration seeks to support Cuban expansion of its Internet and telephone infrastructure in order to facilitate greater access of the people to Internet. This coincides with the current efforts by the Cuban state telecommunications company to expand Internet and cell phone services, in response to popular desires. The Obama administration appears to be seeking to seduce the people with a more penetrating awareness of the consumer goods available in the core nations of the capitalist world-economy, undermining popular support for the Cuban socialist system. As has been expressed by the Cuban journalist Graziella Pogolotti, there is a “cultural battle” between capitalism and socialism. Capitalism, particularly in the current age of globalization, is “oriented to seeding models of conduct, life aspirations, and notions of happiness of an escapist nature before the problems of reality that concern us.” This escapist mentality implies a new form of pragmatism that is totally incompatible with socialism. “Pragmatism, simplified in its most recent expressions, contrasts with the humanism that prevails in our conception of the formation and the destiny of the human being.” And she maintains that losses in the terrain of the cultural battle can be subtle. “Without realizing it, we incorporate in our vocabulary words that are contaminated by a vision that is fundamentally different from our social project. This occurs with the indiscriminate use of the notion of competiveness, associated with a savage individualism and very different from the defense in solidarity of the person, seeking the full development of capacities for study, work and enjoyment of free time” (Pogolotti 2016). Is the purpose of human life to attain individual status, power and wealth, and to possess material things; or is the purpose of life to study in order to learn, to contribute to the good of all through work, and to genuinely enjoy leisure time? In these contrasting visions of the human person, capitalism, the Internet, and the consumer society support the former; whereas the Cuban socialist project seeks to educate the people into the latter. Consumerism has an advantage in this struggle: it is easier to seduce and manipulate than to educate. But on the other hand, socialism has on its side the fact that its ethic is grounded in the true and the right, and not in the pursuit of profit.
(3) The modifications to the blockade announced by the Obama administration on March 15, 2016, expand the people-to-people program, such that individuals now have a general authorization to travel to Cuba, and it is not necessary to travel through the people-to-people program under the auspices of an organization that sponsors educational exchanges. Under this program, individuals traveling to Cuba must have a full-time schedule of activities; and they must meet with the people, and not with government officials, or their program of activities must intend to strengthen Cuban civil society or to promote the independence of the people from the government. Thus, the change is designed to facilitate a particular kind of travel to Cuba that has the political intention of undermining the Cuban Revolution.
Although it may appear to some that the Cuban government, in cooperating with the United States in its selective dismantling of the blockade, is assisting US efforts to undermine the revolution. But Cuba sees these issues from a different vantage point. (1) Cuba believes that the emergence of a merchant class is not in itself inconsistent with socialism, because socialism is today understood as rule by the popular sectors, including industrial workers, agricultural workers, farmers, students, professionals, and small merchants. (2) Cuba sees access to the Internet as a right in today’s world, and the government is responding to the desire of the people to have it, independent of anything the United States may be planning. Cuba hopes that the socialization into socialist values in schools, the mass media and the family provide an interpretative frame of reference for the world of the Internet, although it recognizes that there is a danger of the erosion of socialist values. (3) Cuba welcomes all US tourists and visitors, as long as they do not violate Cuban laws. Cuba is confident that US visitors to Cuba will see that the nation is far better than it has been portrayed in the US media of communication. Moreover, in cooperating with the United States in the step-by-step dismantling of the blockade, Cuba continues to insist on the total elimination of the block. Cuba views the specific changes of the Obama administration as the initial steps in a transition to a new kind of relation, which would continual to be conflictual, but which would be more civilized.
The Obama administration, on the other hand, seeks to accomplish political change in Cuba. It maintains that the Cuban people should be free to elect their leaders and express their ideas and that Cuban civil society should flourish. The President and high officials in the administration appear to be unaware that the Cuban people do elect their leaders in a structure of “popular power” that does not require the candidates, who are nominated by the people in neighborhood assemblies, to raise enormous sums to finance political campaigns. And they ignore the fact that Cuba has a highly active civil society, composed of mass organizations (of neighborhoods, workers, farmers, students and women) and other organizations of professionals and persons in support of particular causes, in which people freely express their views. These non-governmental organizations are not anti-governmental, because the Cuban government, ruled by the National Assembly of Popular Power, does the best that it can in a context of limited resources to respond to the needs and political will of the people as expressed by the people’s organizations. What the Obama administration is proposing is not greater democracy in Cuba, but the substitution of representative democracy for popular democracy, with the assumption that only political structures developed on the model of the United States or Western Europe qualify as democratic, dismissing the development of an alternative political culture and democratic political system by Cuban popular social movements since 1868. (See “Cuba, United States, and human rights” 4/9/2015; “The arrogance of power” 8/15/2015).
The profound differences between the United States and Cuba with respect to democracy and human rights are a result of the fact that for the United States, democracy and human rights has become an ideology that is used to justify its military and political interventions in the world, necessary for the maintenance of its consumer society; whereas in Cuba, there has emerged since 1868 a political culture that seeks to defend democracy and to deepen its meaning, in response to the systemic negation of democracy in the Spanish colony of Cuba and in the US-controlled neocolonial republic of Cuba.
The new policy of Obama toward Cuba is imperialist. As we have seen in previous posts, US imperialism has been characterized by policies that seek to ensure markets for surplus goods as well as cheap sources of labor and raw materials. Imperialist policies involve political interference in the internal affairs of other nations, in order to guarantee that these nations do not adopt economic policies that promote an autonomous economic development that is not subordinated to the interests of an imperialist power. As we have seen, imperialism has been integral to the development of the neocolonial world-system (see “Imperialism as basic to foreign policy” 10/10/2013; “Obama and the imperialist web” 3/11/2016; and “The characteristics of neocolonialism” 9/16/2013.
The Cuban Revolution has sought to break free from imperialism and neocolonialism and to develop a truly independent nation. In response, the United States has tried to destroy the Cuban Revolution, at first through backing an invasion by Cuban exiles and supporting terrorist activities in Cuba, and then through the imposition of the blockade, although there also was a modest revival of US-supported terrorist activities in the 1990s. The United States has been motivated in part by the desire to restore access to the markets and raw materials of Cuba, but principally because the Cuban Revolution is a dangerous example to the world. With the blockade condemned by the world, the United States now seeks to take a different approach to destroying the Cuban Revolution. For its part, Cuba at the present time, seizing the opportunity provided by overwhelming international support and the US admission of failure, diplomatically and respectfully maintains that a mutually beneficial commerce and interchange can be developed on a basis of respect for sovereignty, a proposal that is fundamentally incompatible with imperialism and the neocolonial world-system. Thus, the United States and Cuba remain in conflict, but they have a common interest in developing different rules of engagement.
The imperialist intentions of the Obama administration are well understood in Cuba. Nonetheless, Cuba welcomes the end of the blockade, whatever be the motivations behind the change, because the blockade is a denial of the rights of Cuba to be a sovereign nation, and because the ending of it would enable progress in improving the material standard of living for the people. Cuba understands that an ideological and political battle, in the context of a new post-blockade situation with different rules of engagement, is on the horizon. They are accustomed to such battles. They do not take it lightly, but they are confident (see ““Cuban students prepare for battle” 9/17/2015).
I recall a conversation many years ago with a Cuban economics professor. I suggested the possibility that the continuation of the blockade would be better for Cuba, because the elimination of the blockade would make possible greater US ideological penetration. He did not think so. “A cultural invasion is not a nuclear attack. We have the capacity to defend ourselves,” he declared.
Perera Robio, Alina. 2016. “¡Viva Cuba libre!” in Juventud Rebelde (March 15, 2016).
Pogolotti, Graziella. 2016. “Cuba y Estados Unidos” in Juventud Rebelde (March 13, 2016).
The quotations of Fidel and Graziella Pogolotti were translated from the Spanish by Charles McKelvey.
Key words: Obama, Cuba, blockade, embargo, normalization