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Cuban Revolution: Premature Epitaph Author(s): James Petras Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 27, No.

14 (Apr. 4, 1992), p. 695 Published by: Economic and Political Weekly Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4397759 Accessed: 24/10/2008 01:01
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Cuban Revolution: Premature Epitaph


James Petras

WhileCubansare living a dramaticmoment of decliningliving standardsand.unparalleled demandsfor economic austerity,it is not likely to provokethe kind of political changes wishedfor in Washington Miami: a catastrophic and collapse and the returnof the emigre propertyelite.
AFTER a recent visit to Cuba involving interviews and discussions with researchers, academics, regime critics and cabinet ministers, as well as observations and informal conversations with people in the street, the predictipn of an imminent collapse of Cuban socialism emanating from Miamni and Washington are, to say the least, premature. Cuba is not about to follow in the footsteps of eastern Europe and Russia. Cuban communism is not threatened by a popular revolution or a military coup. IThe reasons why an eastern European style revolt is not likely in Cuba are historical and related to current Cuban policy. In Cuba, unlike eastern Europe, nationalist legitimacy is in Havana with the regime,'notin Miami with the opposition: most Cubans on the islansdperceive the Castro government as upholding nationalist traditions and view Miami exiles as beholden to US policy-makers. In January of this year the anniversary of Jose Marti's birth drew a qjuarterof a million people in tHavana, affirming their ties to a historic figure identilied as the father of the Cuban nation, despite the growing economic hardship. While shortages of most consumer itemshas become acute, the hardshipsare generally equitably shared by most Cubans. People are not homeless or panhandling and the unemployed from plant closures receive 70 per cent of their pay. Basic food rations are distributed at low prices in an orderly fashion at specified outlets without long lines. This is in striking contrast to what Russians referto as the mafia networks which have seized control of distribution, charging exorbitantprices, creating artificial shortages and provoking severe hardships and even hunger among low income groups, pensioners and female headed households. While Cubans constantly complain of the inefficiencies of Cuban bureaucratssometimes bitterly-they are not about to trade them in for the swindlers who parade as 'entrepreneurs'in the recently liberalised eastern countries: access to basic goods is preferableto an abundance
Economnicand Political Weekly

of consumer goods which are beyond the means of the average wage earner. Among the more influential factors miilitating against an anti-communist political movement is the widespread belief in Cuba that the market reforms in Russia and eastern Europe have led to a socio-economic debacle. Cubans have closely followed the spiralling unemployment rates, the declining purchasing power of wage earners,the closing of factories and the rising prices of essential food items in the ex-communist countries with great interest and many have concluded that the chaos and suffering there is worse than the current hardships in Cuba. The paradox is that Cuba, being a late-comerto structuraladjustment, wants to avoid the disintegrationand anarchyto which their former trading partners are falling victim. Few Cubans possess the masochistic impulses to endure the Sachs shock therapy which kills the patient to cure an illness. Nonetheless, far-reaching changes are under way in Cuba in political and economic thinking and policy. While the
material costs of Cuba's rupture with the

on the island. Cuban leaders now stress their linkages with Latin America-and have signed a number of major commercial undertakings with Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico concerning pharmaceuticals and refining and joint investment in tourism. In the political realm, the Fourth Party Congress of the Cuban Communist Party approved a resolution calling for competitive direct elections to the National Assembly. Cuban intellectuals freely debate the pros and cons of the new development strategy, inviting foreign investors, particularly the tourist programme, designed to earn foreign exchange. Basque and Spanish capitalistsare investing 300 million in new hotels and restaurants in the Island of Youth. The controversy for Cubans is the emergence of a dual economy: a peso economy with scarce goods and a dollar economy of plenty (rental cars, luxury resorts and accessible luxury goods and scarce food items). Cubans ask whether the necessary new market openings will erode socialist and nationalist values. While it is true that Cubans are living a dramatic moment of declining living standards and unparalleled demands for economic austerity, it is also the case that it is unlikely to provoke the kind of politicalchanges wished for in Washington and Miami: a catastrophic collapse and the return of the emigre property elite. By focusing on an imaginary Big Fall and a highly publicised transformation along the lines of free marketdoctrine, US observers miss the more subtle but deepgoing changes that are actually taking place in Cuba. While Che Guevara is still the symbol of the continuity of the Cuban revolution, new foreign investment codes as generous as any in the Caribbean have been put in place. While MarxismLeninism is the official discourse, most researchcentres havesigned joint research, teaching and faculty/student exchange programmes with US, European and Latin American academic institutions, in some cases funded by privatefoundations. While Cuba strives for food selfsufficiency an equally high priority is 'increasing its insertion in the world market'.As the chief architect of the new policy bluntly put it, "what is not efficient is not socialist". Over the long run, these structural adjustments will have a profound effect in reshaping the Cuban economy, society and political discourse. In the end, these less dramatic shifts in policy may, over time, however, have a more enduring effect on the. Cuban revolution than all the menacing gestures from Washington and/or the apocalyptic prophecies from Miami.
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east are very substantial, particularly in the short run, most Cuban intellectuals argue that there are strategic benefits. They point to a radical re-thinking of Cuba's views toward the world market, strategiesof development and its relationship to Latin American\economic integration. More important, the economic crisis is forcing Cubans to conserve on energy use (petroleum supply has declined from 13 million tons in 1989 to less than 6 million tons in 1991), to diversify their agricultural production from sugar to local food stuffs, and to encouragegreater flexibility in reconverting industries toward production with a smaller import content. Declines in chemical imports have forced Cubans to rely on natural fertilisers and biological control of pests. In a word, the rupture with dependency on Russia has forced the Cubans to discard the Soviet model and to rely on greater and better use of domestic resourcesand to rewardgreater innovative thinking

April 4, 1992