Tag Archives: Che Guevara

“IT’S OVER”: HOW I CAPTURED CHE GUEVARA. Fifty years on, Gary Prado Salmón recalls the guerrilla leader’s final hours in Bolivia.

By Clare Hargreaves

‘It’s over’: How I captured Che Guevara“, Financial Times Magazine, 6 October 2017.  (Gated paywall, but with limited access when registered.)

Courtesy of Larry Willmore and his Blog “Thought du Jour” (TdJ)
To visit the TdJ weblog, go to: http://larrywillmore.net/blog/ — To receive TdJ emails, go to: http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/thought_du_jour/join and follow instructions.

October 8th was the 50th anniversary of the capture of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in Bolivia. General Gary Prado Salmón, who was the last person to speak with Che, recalls those final hours in an interview with a Financial Times columnist.

*** I [Gary Prado] asked him [Che]: ‘Why did you come to Bolivia? One of the things you say in your book on guerrilla warfare is that if any country has a democratic government, even with some problems, it’s very difficult to foment revolution there.’ (We had a democratic government in Bolivia — President René Barrientos had been elected one year earlier — and we had a parliament, a free press and so on.) He didn’t reply, so I asked again …. He said: ‘It wasn’t just my decision, it was a decision taken on other levels.’ ‘What levels? Fidel?’ I asked. ‘Other levels,’ …. Of course, it was clear the comand had come from Cuba.

I asked him if he’d heard about the national revolution we’d had in Bolivia in 1952 and he said, ‘Yes, I was here.’ So I asked: ‘Why did you come here to offer people land when we’ve had a very profound land reform already? That’s why no peasants are joining your movement.’ He replied: ‘Yes, we were wrong about that, we had the wrong information.’
As for Che’s achievements, he committed a lot of mistakes here as a guerrilla leader. He contradicted everything he’d written in his books. That’s what led him to fail. …. He was good at theory but when the chance came to practise his ideas [in Bolivia], he was a total failure.”

Gary Prado Salmón (born 1938) was a captain in Bolivia’s elite US-trained 2nd Ranger battalion. He is author of The Defeat of Che Guevara: Military Response to Guerrilla Challenge in Bolivia (Praeger, 1990) and now teaches international relations at a private university (UTEPSA) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

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Cuba: Still Paying Homage to the Economic Absurdities of “Che” Guevara

By Arch Ritter

At the main entrance to the Calixto Garcia Hospital in Havana there still stands a large billboard that reads:

“Vale, pero millones de veces mas, la vida de un solo ser humano que todas las propiedades del hombre mas rico de la tierra.”

“The life of one single human being is worth millions of times more than all the wealth of the richest man in the world.” (Author’s translation)

The statement is a quotation attributed to Ernesto Guevara. The billboard has gone through various versions and was there at least as far back as when I saw it in 1995.

At first glance – or even after many years’ worth of glances – this may seem like a noble sentiment, poetically expressed. One is drawn into some sort of warm worshipful respect for such deep thought and for its author. Perhaps he is merely saying that a human life is worth a whole lot, which is undeniable. Perhaps this is just a poetic (and pre-numerate?) exaggeration in the manner in which the Bible says that Methusalah lived for a thousand years or Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

However, if words are to have meaning and if one thinks about it for a minute, this assertion appears more like foolishness than wisdom. Indeed from the perspective of economic logic or “applied common sense” it is absurd.

The richest man in the world was John D. Rockefeller, whose peak wealth was $318.3 billion (based on 2007 US dollars). If the life of a single human being was one million times larger, it would be valued at $318.3 Trillion. In comparison, the GDP of the US in 2007 was $13.9 Trillion (World Bank, World Development indicators 2009,  p.209) while that of Cuba in 2010 was 64.3 Billion in Moneda Nacional (ONE Anuario Estadistica Cubana 2011, Table 5.17).  Obviously if one person’s life was worth the Che Guevara number and medical investment in that single individual merited that amount of resources, then the resources available for everyone else in both the United States and Cuba would be zero.

In fact nobody’s life is worth an infinity of real resources. My own Father’s life was not judged to be worth an investment of some $5,000.00 by the Ontario medical system at the Kingston General Hospital. When he arrived at the Emergency Ward in 1989, taken there by a Medical Doctor namely my brother, it was judged by the staff that he was too old at age 82 for the more expensive treatment of the time and that a lesser treatment only was appropriate. This undoubtedly cut short his life but by how much I do not know. In my view, $5,000.00 was not a reasonable valuation of his life. But neither would have been $318.3 Trillion.

In actual fact, Cuba has used the scarce resources available for its health services “economically” and wisely. It has managed to squeeze good health results from relatively modest budgets.

Cuba has dropped numerous other economic absurdities promoted by “Che”. This includes the “New Man” approach to the mobilization of human energies and the “budgetary system of finance” (which abolished accounting and financial independence at the level of the enterprise and attempted to run the economy if it was one huge bureaucracy in which there was no knowledge of the value of what was produced nor of the costs of production.)

Perhaps it is time to reconsider all Che’s pronouncements with a critical mind.

See also The Marketing of “Che” Guevara: A Review of “Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image”, by Michael Casey

(A subsequent Blog entry will outline “Che’s Top Ten Economic Absurdities”.)

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Cuba: A Half-Century of Monetary Pathology and Citizen’s Freedom of Movement

By Arch Ritter


Article 13. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.  (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Article 30. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

In December 2009, I made a formal invitation to two Cuban citizens to visit Canada, following the official “Procedure for Inviting a Cuban National to Visit Canada” as laid out by the Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX). I paid the required Consular Fee of $CDN 256.00 for each invitation. The two Cuban citizens invited were Yoani Sanchez and Miriam Celaya. I thought naively and foolishly that while Yoani Sanchez had been denied the right to leave Cuba a number of times before December 2009 when she had been invited by official institutions, perhaps a personal invitation would be successful. I of course was wrong. The Exit Permits of course were refused. The Consulate of Cuba in Ottawa of course refused to return the $512.00.

Yoani Sanchez

Miriam Celaya

The lack of freedom of movement of Cuban citizens is well known. The case of Yoani Sanchez is a cause célèbre and also a public relations disaster for the Government of Cuba. A number of analysts have written eloquently on the practice of the Cuban Government to dishonor its commitment to Article 13 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights cited above. (See Ana Julia Faya: Nosotros tampoco viajamos libremente a Cuba, “Los permisos de entrada y salida del país son una violación de los derechos de los cubanos” and Haroldo Dilla Alfonso, “The (Non) Right of Cubans to Travel, Havana Times, February 01, 2011”

Sergio Diaz-Briquets has presented a comprehensive and comparative analysis of the Consular Fees charged by the Governmemt of Cuba for the acquisition of a passport, its renewal while abroad, and various other consular services (ASCE Conference 2010). He concluded that the Consular Fees are simply abusive. (See  S. Diaz-Briquets, Government-Controlled Travel Costs to Cuba and Costs of Related Consular Services: Analysis and International Comparisons )

However, the most egregious violation of the freedom of movement of Cuban citizens lies less in the exorbitant consular fees that are routinely charged to Cubans abroad for consular services and the Exit Permit controls over Cuban citizens and more in Cuba’s monetary and exchange rate system.  Cuba’s currency has been inconvertible for 50 years and the dual monetary and exchange rate system has prevailed for the last 20 years. Currency inconvertibility means that citizens can not routinely change their earnings for foreign currencies in order to travel freely. Instead, from 1961 to 1992 they have had to get permission from the Government to exchange their earnings in Moneda Nacional into a foreign currency. On the other hand, anyone on official government business or activities sanctioned by the Government could get access to foreign exchange. This meant that for the average citizen travel was highly restricted unless one could find a foreign sponsor to pay the bills.

With the dual monetary system coming into play in the early 1990s, the economic powerlessness of most Cuban citizens was further intensified. With the collapse of the value of the “old peso” (Moneda Nacional) vis-a-vis the US dollar (and then the convertible peso CUC) the purchasing power of earnings in the official economy also collapsed. At the exchange rate for Moneda Nacional to the US dollar at around 26 to 1, the average monthly income is somewhere around US$ 20.00. Cuba’s monetary system impoverishes Cuban citizens in terms of the international transferability of their earnings from work.

In order to travel abroad, Cuban citizens now have three options. First, they can work for some branch of the government, mixed or state enterprises or organizations such as Universities for which travel abroad on official business can occur. Second, they can marry a foreigner for convenience or in sincerity – Spaniards and Ecuadoreans have been predominant recently – who then provides hard currency funding for travel abroad. Or third, they can now convert their Moneda Nacional earnings into Convertible pesos at the ratio of 26 to 1 and then acquire foreign currency through various channels with the convertible pesos. For most citizens, travel abroad is essentially blocked by the monetary and exchange rate systems.

The central planning system and the generalized controls on the economy adopted in 1960-61 meant that inconvertibility would have happened in any case. However, inconvertibility occurred under the watch of Che Guevara, who at the time was President of the National Bank and Minister of Finance as well as Minister of Industries (which included Basic Industry, Light Industry, Mining, Petroleum, and the sugar mills. Guevera was the indisputable “czar” of the Cuban economy.

Monetary inconvertibility and the accompanying loss of freedom of movement is one of Che Guevara’s gifts to the Cuban people. This has been compounded by the monetary and exchange rate policies of the Fidel and Raul Castro Presidencies after about 1990, which generated the dual system and which have so far been unable to come to grips with it and establish a unified and convertible currency.

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Up-Date on Canadian-Cuban Economic Relations

By Arch Ritter 1. Canadian Tourism in Cuba Canada continues to be the largest national source of tourists in Cuba, a position that it has had consistently since 1990. Canadian tourists numbered 555,872 out of a total of 1,179.963 from January to April 30, 2011, according to Cuba’s Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas. This is almost 10 times more than the second source country, Britain. Excluded from the ONE Chart are visitors from the United States who have been increasing rapidly and at this time must be a not-too-distant second to Canada Total Canadian tourism to Cuba will likely approach 1 million for all of 2011. It seems almost rare to encounter a Canadian who has not visited Cuba. While many visit only once, many others are repeat visitors, and obviously like their visits to Cuba. Tourism is of course a major source of foreign exchange earnings for Cuba, larger than any single merchandise export but also smaller than other service exports (mainly medical services.)  Foreign exchange earnings from Canadian tourism were likely in the area of US$ 882 million for 2008, (calculated as 37.6% of total tourism earnings of U.S. $ 2,347.  million.) If one takes both Canadian tourism plus Canadian merchandise imports (mainly nickel) from Cuba into consideration, Canada contributed about U.S. $1.6 billion in 2008, a substantial proportion of Cuba’s foreign exchange availability. One partial consequence of the steadily increasing contacts between the citizens of Cuba and Canada is the expansion in Cuban immigration to Canada. This has increased slowly but steadily reaching 1,421 individuals in 2009, up from 845 in 2000. (Citizenship and Immigration Canada www.cic.gc.cahttp://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/statistics/facts2009/permanent/10.asp) Chart 1.          Principal Sources of Tourists, January to April 2011 Source: ONE, Turismo. Llegada de Visitantes Internacionales Enero – Abril 2011 2. Canadian Foreign Investment in Cuba. The first trimester of 2011 has been good for Sherritt International, the largest Canadian investment in Cuba by far, as well as for the nickel sector in Cuba. As a result mainly of a 27.5% increase in nickel prices, metals’ earnings from operations were  $57.4 million for January to March 31, 2011 and were $18.6 million higher than in the same period in 2010. Higher operations costs had a small negative impact on metals earnings, however. (Sherritt International Corporation, 2011 FIRST QUARTER REPORT, for the January to March 31, 2011, p.21) Another major Canadian investor in Cuba is Leisure Canada – headed by the legendary Canadian mining financier Walter Berukoff.  This firm is planning the construction of at least three major hotels, namely Monte Barreto in Miramar Havana, Jibacoa between Havana abnd Varadero (with a small “boutique beach”) and Cayo Largo as well as a golf course and a marina.  Perseverance has won out for Leisure Canada which succeeded in obtaining the rights – a 99 year lease presumably – to a 34,000 square meter-oceanfront property in the Miramar section of Havana.

The Monte Barreto Project

Here is some description of the projects from Leisure Canada’s publicity:

“The Monte Barreto site is located on the last significant piece of oceanfront property in Havana’s Miramar business and trade district. The property is 34,500 square metres and sits across from the new Miramar Trade Center, and adjacent to Havana’s National Aquarium. The proposed 716-room hotel project will have a significant retail and convention/entertainment component. With a planned 737-room hotel accompanying significant convention and retail space, Monte Barreto will stand as Cuba’s foremost luxury hotel catering to the world’s most sophisticated traveler. “ http://www.leisurecanada.com/monte_barreto.htm

“Jibacoa – Leisure Canada’s site spans 5.5 square kilometers of oceanfront property, which is located 65 kilometers east of Havana. The site is being developed as the first high-end destination resort in Cuba, and it will host six luxury hotels, two PGA championship golf courses, and timeshare villas.”

Cayo Largo – This small limestone quay, located 50 kilometers south of the main island of Cuba, possesses the most spectacular white sand beaches in all of the Caribbean. Cayo Largo is also rated as one of the world’s best diving sites. Leisure Canada’s project will involve the construction of 900 rooms, and a central pedestrian village that will offer retail and amenity experiences currently not offered on the island.

Another Canadian enterprise Standing Feather International spear-headed by Vincent McComber from the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve outside Montreal, is planning a 36-hole golf course, a beachfront hotel, spas, shopping centres – and, in a first for the island, villas owned privately by foreigners. This will be in a joint venture arrangement. If the foreign ownership of villas is accepted, it will constitute a major change for Cuba.   3. Cuba-Canada Trade Canadian trade with Cuba has begun to recover from the sharp contraction of 2008-2009 that reflected the impacts of the world recession on commodity prices, notably nickel, and on Cuba’s reduced foreign exchange earnings and lower capacity to purchase imports. Cuba’s exports to Canada continue to far exceed Canada’s exports to Cuba largely because of the importation into Canada of nickel concentrate from the Sherritt operation for refining in Fort Saskatchewan Alberta.  

Perhaps Raul Likes Golf


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“Shifting Realities in ‘Special Period. Cuba”, LATIN AMERICAN RESEARCH REVIEW, volume 45 number 3, 2010

By Arch Ritter

Just Published: “Shifting Realities in ‘Special Period’ Cuba”

Archibald R. M. Ritter, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image. By Michael Casey. New York: Vintage Books, 2009. Pp. 388. $15.95 paper. ISBN: 9780307279309.

The Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States, and the Next Revolution. By Daniel P. Erikson. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008. Pp. xiii + 352. $28.00 cloth. ISBN: 9781596914346.

Political Disaffection in Cuba’s Revolution and Exodus. By Sylvia Pedraza. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xix + 359. paper. ISBN: 9780521687294.

Looking Forward: Comparative Perspectives on Cuba’s Transition. Edited by Marifeli Pérez-Stable. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007. Pp. xx + 332. $27.00 paper. ISBN: 9780268038915.

Cuba in the Shadow of Change: Daily Life in the Twilight of the Revolution. By Amelia Rosenberg Weinreb. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009. Pp. 272. $69.95 cloth. ISBN: 9780813033693.

Cuban Currency: The Dollar and Special Period Fiction. By Esther Whitfield. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Pp. 217. $22.50 paper. ISBN: 9780816650378.

Revolutionary Cuba’s Golden Age ended in 1988-1990 when the former Soviet Union adopted world prices in its trade with Cuba, ceased new lending, and discontinued its subsidization of the Cuban economy. The result was the economic meltdown of 1989-1994. In1992, President Fidel Castro labeled the new époque the “Special Period in Time of Peace,” a title that has lasted almost two decades as of 2010. Many outside observers have imagined that Cuba would in time follow the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in making a transition toward a more market-oriented economic system and perhaps a Western style of pluralistic democracy. This has not happened. The modest economic changes of the early1990s have not led to sustained reform. Political reform has been almost undetectable. At times, rapid change has seemed inevitable and imminent. But at others, it has appeared that gerontocratic paralysis might endure well into the 2010s. Change will undoubtedly occur, but its trajectory, timing, and character are difficult if not impossible to predict. When a process of transition does arrive, it will likely be unexpected, confused, and erratic, and will probably not fit the patterns of Eastern Europe, China, or Vietnam.

The books included in this review focus mainly on changing realities during the Special Period and the nature of prospective change. They constitute a valuable contribution to our understanding of a range of dimensions of Cuba’s existence in this era which in fact is not “special” but is instead the “real world”.

The collection edited by Marifeli Pérez-Stable assumes that a transition will occur and asks what useful insights may be gleaned from the experiences of other Latin, Eastern European, Asian, and Western European countries. The analyses included in the collection constitute the best exploration of the key aspects of Cuba’s possible alternative futures yet available. Then Daniel P. Erikson examines the U.S.-Cuban relationship together with domestic U.S. policies toward Cuba during the Special Period, concluding with a chapter on “The Next Revolution.” His popular historical analysis also is probably the best available as well as most readable review of this tragically dysfunctional relationship.

The culture of the silent majority or “shadow public” is the focus of Amelia Weinreb. This sociological-anthropological analysis of Cuba’s silent majority fills a major vacuum in works on Cuba over the last 20 years, focusing as it does on the character, aspirations and behavior of a group that has been almost ignored even though it probably constitutes a majority of the population of Cuba. Sylvia Pedraza examines Cuba’s evolving domestic political situation and the consequences for emigration over the last half century, including the two decades of the Special Period. Her work is probably the seminal analysis of the motivations underlying and patterns of Cuba’s continuing emigration hemorrhage.

Michael Casey examines how the Cuban government has capitalized on Che Guevara’s “brand”—epitomized by the iconic photograph by Alberto Korda—and how Che’s image has been commercialized for both political and financial motivations, using property and trademark law, and the marketing mechanisms of the international capitalist system. While perhaps outside the common purview of mainstream social science research on Cuba, Casey’s examination of the Korda-Che image provides a novel and convincing examination of how the Cuban political regime has sought to commercialize the central martyr of the Revolution. Finally, Esther Whitfield explores cultural and literary changes in Cuba’s world of fiction during the Special Period. Her work is also ground-breaking in examining the impacts of the economic realities of the two-currency pathology on the incentive structure and orientation of Cuban writers of fiction.

Marifeli Pérez-Stable has assembled an all-star cast of authors to produce yet another fine contribution to our understanding of Cuba and its current situation.[1] Looking Forward aims to investigate the alternatives facing Cuba after a possible regime change or “poof moment”—as Jorge Domínguez puts it (7 and 61) —when such change might occur, as if by magic. The authors were asked to examine their particular areas of expertise for insights from other democratizing processes, the particular relevance of the conditions of the Special Period, and the “plausible and/or desirable alternatives . . . for a Cuba in transition” (7). Given the concision and richness of the twelve essays in this book, it is difficult if not impossible to outline and critique them in the detail that each of them merits in a brief review. All are substantively first-rate.

In opening, Pérez-Stable assumes that “a medium-term democratic transition is likely in Cuba though not certain” (19). She explores first the transitions of Eastern and Central Europe and Latin America for insights into the Cuban case, and second, the possible roles in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba of the Communist Party, the National Assembly, and the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution, Cuba’s veterans’ organization. Her central conclusion is that a hybrid regime is most probable, in which elements of marketization and some liberalization combine with continued authoritarianism.

In his examination of military-civil relations, Jorge Domínguez is reasonably optimistic that further downsizing of the Cuban military will occur with the normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations. He also argues that the military will be compatible with democratization under the last three of the four scenarios that he explores: 1. a dynastic succession with continued Communist Party monopoly and a market economy opening; 2. with removal of the external threat, the military could focus on internal security only; 3. the previous scenario, but with a stronger military to maintain public order in the face of serious domestic security threats; and 4. the second scenario again but with a major continuing role for professional armed forces for international peace-keeping. (61-70).

Gustavo Arnavat analyzes the legal and constitutional dimensions of moving toward representative democracy and a market economy, and argues that major constitutional amendments or a new constitution approved by referendum will be necessary.

Damián Fernández presents a thought-provoking and sobering analysis of the role of civil society, emphasizing the difficulty of political reengagement and the development of attitudes supporting participatory citizenship. Mala Htun puts forward a well-balanced discussion of Cuba’s achievements and lingering problems in the same area of transition politics, and of the impacts of the Special Period on women and gender equality. She concludes that “[a]chieving gender justice . . . requires greater economic growth and political reforms” (137). Alejandro de la Fuente also outlines the achievements of Cuba since 1959 and some of the setbacks for Afro-Cubans since 1990; these include a smaller share of remittances and relatively less employment in tourism and high-end self-employment. His main conclusion is that special antidiscrimination policies will be necessary in the transition to a market economy. Jorge Pérez-Lopez contributes a fine analysis of the economic policy reforms needed for transition. In his first-rate essay, Carmelo Mesa-Lago carefully reviews the impacts of the Special Period on social welfare—education, health, social services, poverty, and income equality—and outlines the range of policy approaches needed if Cuba is to maintain social justice while providing incentives to economic improvement.

Corruption has been a curse for Cuba since Independence. It has evolved in unique ways there since 1990, and has tended to escalate seriously in Eastern European transitions, as Dan Erikson shows in his contribution to Looking Forward. The politically complex and difficult role of Cuban émigrés in any future transition is addressed by Lisandro Pérez, though perhaps not with due emphasis on how Cuban-Americans are likely to contribute to institutional development, trade linkages, investment projects, return migration, and tourism. Rafael Rojas provides an insightful exploration of the psychological and political transformations that must occur in this same area, in which polarized and implacable enemies— each claiming ownership of historical interpretation—must become loyal adversaries, competing yet cooperating within democratic rules. Finally, William LeoGrande provides a superb survey of U.S.-Cuban relations during the Special Period and of U.S. relations with former adversaries, so as to address the future dealings of the two neighbors.

In its entirety, this fine volume sets a high standard that will be difficult to surpass. What one would also like to see, however, is another chapter on how Cuba might get to and through a transition to achieve genuine democracy and a mixed-market economy. One might also question the editor’s decision against the citation of sources so as to reach a broader, less academic audience. This book should indeed reach a wide public, but the absence of the citations hardly seems necessary for that purpose.

In a market well supplied with books and reports on U.S.-Cuba relations, Erikson’s The Cuba Wars is perceptive, objective, and engaging. His work is based on general political analysis from his vantage point at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington; on interviews with many key players on Cuban issues in Miami, the U.S. Congress, the policy community, and academics; and on his own knowledge of Cuba, attained in many visits to the island in the past decade. For those who have lived through the U.S.-Cuba relationship over the last decade or the last 50 years, Erikson’s discussion will be enjoyable as well as insightful. His narrative style is captivating and brings again to life various events at the center of U.S.-Cuban interaction: events such as the Elián González affair, the tenure of James Cason as chief of the U.S. Interests Section, Cuba’s shooting down of an aircraft operated by Brothers to the Rescue, the conviction of Cuban spy Ana Belén Montes, the “Five Cuban Heroes,” and the eviction of Cubans from a hotel in Mexico City by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control. Erikson’s discussions of the Chávez/Venezuela-Castro/Cuba relationship, the Cuban-American Community in Miami, and the pressures promoting and obstructing a greater role for market mechanisms in Cuba are all captivating and substantive. His vignettes of congressmen and women with important roles in policymaking with respect to Cuba are fascinating. If I have any quibbles with the book, it is with the title which seems over-amplified, as there has not been a war between the two countries. The “Next Revolution” referred to in the title is not impossible, but I would think that a difficult but orderly evolution toward Western-style participatory democracy, and a more centrist form of economic organization, are more probable.[2]

In Cuba in the Shadows, Amelia Rosenberg Weinreb (Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin) explores and analyzes the lives, behavior, and views of “ordinary Cubans.”[3] These Cubans are familiar to those who have come to know Cuba during the Special Period. They probably constitute a large majority of the population. These “unsatisfied citizen-consumers,” as Weinreb calls them (2 and 168.), strive to survive with some access to basic “modern” goods, above and beyond what the ration book provides in an amount insufficient for life maintenance since 1990. These modern goods perhaps include some luxuries, but they also include basics such as toilet paper and women’s hygiene products that are available only in the “dollar stores” or tiendas de recaudación de divisas (stores for the collection of foreign exchange). This “silent majority” has remained under-analyzed and largely ignored by scholars, perhaps—as Weinreb suggests—because they do not seem to merit special attention relative to indigenous peoples, the poor, or labor unions, or perhaps because they do not fit the orientations of New Social Movement and Structuralist Marxist approaches.

Weinreb’s ethnographic participant observation succeeds in producing an analysis from about as deep within Cuban realities as it is possible for an outsider to get. Her success can be attributed in part to her research assistants and neighborhood ambassadors, namely her three young children, Maya, Max, and Boaz, who helped to establish rapport, friendship, and shared parenting bonds with Cubans who empathized and wanted to help a young mother. This “family fieldwork” provides a unique window into Cuban society and the lives of Cubans.

Weinreb’s focus is a “shadow public,” somewhat analogous to the shadow economy, as the following explains:

[U]nsatisfied citizen-consumers . . . share interests, characteristics, a social imagery and practice, but their political silence, underground economic activity, and secret identity as prospective migrants casts a shadow over them. They are therefore a shadow public, an un-coalesced but powerful group that engages in resistance to state domination but without a public sphere, and only in ways that will allow them to remain invisible while maintaining or improving their families’ economic welfare. (168)

The roots of the shadow economy of course predate the Revolution, indeed going back to the colonial period and its unofficial economy of smuggling and contraband, as reflected in the expression obedezco pero no cumplo (I obey but do not comply). However, the expansion and pervasiveness of today’s shadow economy were generated by the character of central planning itself, and by the circumstances of the Special Period, as analyzed in chapter 1. Chapters 2 and 3 examine how citizens strive to maintain private space and personal control within the context of the state’s domination of personal life and economic activity. Chapters 4-6 explore a range of survival strategies. Chapter 4 focuses on the concepts and practices encapsulated by the terms resolver, luchar, conseguir, and inventar, each with unique connotations in the context of the Special Period. The significance of material things—and the lack thereof—are investigated in chapter 5. Chapter 6 treats the importance of access to foreign exchange or “convertible pesos.” Weinreb here presents a Cuban class system that puts the “red bourgeoisie” at the top, followed by artists with privileged access to travel and foreign exchange earnings, “dollar dogs” or cuenta propistas (own-account workers) with access to tourist expenditures or remittances from relatives or friends abroad, “unsatisfied citizen consumers,” and finally, at the bottom, the “peso poor” who lack access to foreign exchange and additional earnings. The final chapters examine the broad-based phenomenon of feeling trapped and the dream of escape via emigration. Chapter 8 explores “off-stage” expressions of dissatisfaction, criticism, and resistance, which remain purposely hidden, unorganized, and outside public space. This state of affairs may be changing, however, with the Damas en Blanco and bloggers courageously breaking into the public arena, spearheaded by Yoani Sánchez. Finally, chapter 9 draws together the strands of Weinreb’s analysis and explores the relevance of the concepts of shadow public and unsatisfied citizen-consumer in the broader context of Latin America.

Weinreb succeeds admirably in describing and analyzing Cuba’s silent majority, those “ordinary outlaws” who are decent, hard-working, entrepreneurial, and ethical, yet must defend themselves and their survival through a myriad of economic illegalities within the framework of a dysfunctional economic system. These people live within the doble moral, effectively cowed into acquiescence by a political system whose main escape valve is criticism, innocuous at first, but then increasingly bitter, followed by emigration. The shadow public perhaps constitutes a potential “shadow opposition,” but seems to be easily contained and controlled by the governments of the Castro brothers. One might conclude from Weinreb’s work that this population—currently disengaged and thinking incessantly about emigration—is ripe for public reengagement and that in time there may occur a surprisingly rapid mobilization for change.

Weinreb’s analysis raises some additional questions. Under what circumstances might a shadow opposition become organized, finding a strong voice to become a real opposition? Will the new citizen-journalists of Cuba’s blogging community—plus critics such as Vladimiro Roca, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Marta Beatriz Roque, Elizardo Sánchez, the Damas en Blanco, and some Catholic organizations—be able to break the control of the Communist Party and the current leadership? Will normalization of relations with the United States and the ending of the “external threat”—a siege mentality long used as a pretext for denying basic political liberties—further erode control of the Party and create new political alignments within Cuba?

Like the flag raised by Máximo Gómez in Cuba’s struggle for independence but sewn by Victoria Pedraza, her grandaunt, Sylvia Pedraza (Sociology, University of Michigan) intends her book to be a contribution to Cuban history. Political Disaffection in Cuba’s Revolution and Exodus,  Pedraza’s magnum opus so far,  is indeed a splendid contribution. It examines the political, social, and economic history of Revolutionary Cuba, exploring its impact on citizens and on emigration decisions and patterns from 1959 to midway through the first decade of the present century. The scope of the work of course goes beyond the Special Period, whose emigrants are the most recent product of a series of four waves from Revolutionary Cuba, following those of 1959-1962, 1962-1979, and 1979-1989.[4] These emigrations serve as organizing periods for Pedraza, who offers a careful reading of the history of the Revolution, using participation and observation from within the Cuban-American community and among Cubans on the island, 120 in-depth structured interviews with a representative selection of émigrés from 1959 to 2004, personal documents of émigrés, and census and polling information. Of special interest in this engaging and moving mix (which few academics manage to achieve) are Pedraza’s personal odyssey and insights as a child of the Revolution, quasi-Peter Pan émigré, and returnee with the Antonio Maceo Brigade in 1979. The account of her reunification with an extended family that she had not seen since leaving Cuba is particularly poignant.

In Che’s Afterlife, Michael Casey follows Korda’s famous photograph of a Christ-like Ernesto “Che” Guevara into the consciousness of people around the world. This image is a well-defended and trademarked icon (copyright VA-1-276-975) owned by Korda’s daughter, Diana Díaz, and used in collaboration with the government of Cuba. For some, it is a quasi-spiritual symbol of hope for a better future; for others, a symbol of undefined but earnest youthful rebellion; and for still others, an abhorrent symbol of authoritarianism. Casey, a Dow Jones Newswire bureau chief in Buenos Aires, has written an intriguing history of the image’s trajectory over the last half century. He brings together research into the lives of both Korda and Guevara, a command of the history of Revolutionary Cuba, knowledge of countries where the Guevara mythology is important, an understanding of copyright law, and original investigative interviewing and reporting.

Casey begins with the instant when the photo was taken on 5 March 1960. He sketches Che’s role in the new government—notably as chief of La Cabaña prison and overseer of the swift executions of prisoners—his secretive and disastrous Congo operation, and his guerrilla campaign in Bolivia, putting the launch of Che as icon and of the “Heroic Revolutionary” brand at the 18 October 1967 memorial ceremony at the Plaza de la Revolución. Casey also presents an account of Korda’s activities in Havana, the first publications of his photograph, and the cultural ferment of the early years of the Revolution, followed by the disillusionment of many in the mid-1960s. He traces the peregrinations of Korda’s Che through Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Miami, as well as in the student ferment of 1968 from Paris to Berkeley. His later chapters focus on the use of Che’s image as a brand by the government of Cuba; here, it no longer signifies a heroic guerrilla promoting revolution, but has instead become an advertisement, selling Cuba in the international tourist marketplace. The essence of the image ia now “the idea of revolutionary nostalgia” (306). After some thirty-seven years during which the photograph was freely available for use by anyone, copyright ownership now applies and control is exercised through legal means when necessary.

Casey takes us on a fascinating journey through the life and afterlife of Che and through a half century of international social and political history, using Che’s image as a prism. His book should find a wide readership, of all political stripes, who have an interest in Cuba or in major political and social movements. Those with interests in marketing, branding, and copyright law will also find this volume illuminating.

I must confess that when I agreed to include Cuban Currency: the Dollar and Special Period Fiction in this review, I thought it was an analysis of Cuba’s monetary system, not having read the title carefully. To my initial trepidation, Esther Whitfield focuses instead on literature, but in the context of Cuba’s dual-currency pathology. Her survey of recent fiction has turned out to be a delight, even for an economist with little direct knowledge of Cuban literature.

Whitfield’s central argument is that the Special Period generated a boom in cultural exports, including literature, due to the opening of Cuba’s economy and society, the subsequent expansion of international tourism and the popularity of all things Cuban, the decriminalization of the use of the dollar, its adoption as a legal currency, and its quick ascent to supremacy over the “old peso.” Special Period literature then became market-driven—like many other activities in Cuba—with authors’ incomes dependent on foreign sales and hard-currency contracts, rather than on Cuba’s literary bureaucracy and membership in the writers’ union. The dominance of the foreign market was further strengthened by the shrinkage of the domestic peso market for books because of declining incomes. This new foreign-market orientation was formalized by legislation in 1993 that permitted authors to negotiate their own contracts with foreign publishing houses and to repatriate their royalties under a relatively generous tax regime. Like other Cuban citizens, authors responded quickly to these new incentives. Special Period fiction is set in a “real Cuba” of interest to foreigners, namely in the Cuba of a behavior-warping dual-currency system, urban decay, dysfunctional Soviet-style economy, and political gerontocracy, together with a vibrant Afro-Latin culture and time-immemorial tropical eroticism. Ironically, the international boom in Cuban fiction during the sunset of the Revolution was a sequel to the literary boom of the 1960s, which was set in the confidence and vigor of the youthful Revolution.

Whitfield begins with an analysis of the circumstances of the Special Period that pushed authors into an external orientation. She then focuses on the works of Zoé Valdés, especially her award-winning I Gave You All I Had (1966), published in exile in Paris, which allows Whitfield to trace the central role played by a U.S. one dollar bill and its symbolic relevance for the culture of the Special Period. Short stories are the subject of the next chapter, with particular attention to the work of Ronáldo Menéndez. His story, entitled “Money,” is also set in the world of the doble moneda and doble moral, but criticizes the reliance on foreign markets and worries about the jineterización (translated imperfectly as “prostituting”) of the writer-publisher relationship and possible debasement of “true” Cuban literature. Whitfield goes on to examine the work of Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, notably the five books of his Ciclo Centro Habana. Gutiérrez writes for a foreign readership, but also critiques it, placing the reader in the position of voyeur into the “lives of sexual disorder, moral depravity and economic despair” of Havana (98). In her final chapter Whitfield meditates on artists’ depictions of Cuba’s urban decay and on critical analyses of such depictions.

Whitfield has produced a fine analysis of how economic circumstances generated new problems and new possibilities for Cuban authors, who have risen to the challenge and produced a literature of broad international appeal. Whitfield’s writing is engaging, her knowledge seems profound, and her subject is enchanting. However, I am not a competent critic of Cuban literature or literary criticism, and cannot tender a confident evaluation of its value for scholars in these fields. Her book, linking socio-politico-economic circumstances of the Special Period to Cuban literature, will nevertheless interest a broad range of social scientists, as well as the more literary-minded.

Is the international market for Cuban fiction as transitory as one might expect or hope that the Special Period itself may be? Perhaps. It may be that when Cuba escapes the Special Period and becomes a “normal country” with a normal monetary system, the special interest in its literary portrayal may diminish. However, the difficulties of economic and political reform are likely to continue for some time, and are likely to take various twists and turns that will hold our interest for some time to come. I hope that Cuba’s fiction writers are there to illuminate the process for a world readership.

[1] Full disclosure: I served as an evaluator for Marifeli Perez-Stable’s edited collection Looking Forward for the University of Notre Dame Press.
[2] One minor detail: Fidel Castro’s hometown was not Bayamo but Birán, not far from Cueto and Mayarí, both immortalized in the song “Chan Chan” by the Buena Vista Social Club.
[3] I also served as a reader for the Universities Press of Florida for the original manuscript of this volume. I was as impressed with it then as I am now.
[4] The emigrations of 1979-1989 were sparked in part by the return visits of Cuban Americans, who turned out not to be gusanos (worms)—the dehumanizing  label given to them by the Cuban government—but instead mariposas (butterflies), as they were relabeled with typical Cuban humor.


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Fidel’s Phenomenal Economic Fiascoes: the Top Ten

Fidel Castro recently clarified an allegedly erroneous quotation and stated something to the effect that “Yes the Cuban Model does indeed work”. It would have been difficult for Fidel to do a “Mea Culpa” and agree that half a century of his own management of the Cuban economy had been erroneous and counter-productive.

However, as the grand economic “strategizer” as well as the micro-manager of many issues that captured his attention President Fidel Castro was responsible for a long list of economic blunders. Here is my listing of Fidel’s most serious fiascoes.

Next week I will try and produce a listing of Cuba’s Greatest Achievements under President Castro. Unfortunately I find this more difficult than to identify the failures.

Top Ten Economic Fiascoes

Fiasco # 10     The Instant Industrialization Strategy, 1961-1963:

Fiasco #9        The 10 Million Ton Sugar Harvest Strategy, 1964-1970

Fiasco #8        The “New Man”

Fiasco #7        The “Budgetary System of Finance”

Fiasco #6        The “Revolutionary Offensive” and the Nationalization of Almost Everything

Fiasco #5        Revolucion Energetica

Fiasco #4 Shutting Down Half the Sugar Sector

Fiasvco #3 A Half Century of Monetary Controls and Non-Convertibility

Fiasco #2        Suppression of Workers’ Rights

Fiasco #1        Abolition of Freedom of Expression

Fiasco # 10     The Instant Industrialization Strategy, 1961-1963:

Cuba’s first development strategy, installed by the Castro Government in 1961, called for “Instant Industrialization”, the rapid installation of a wide range of import-substituting industries, such as metallurgy, heavy engineering and machinery, chemical products, transport equipment and even automobile assembly.

The program proved unviable as it was import-intensive, requiring imported machinery and equipment, raw materials, intermediate goods, managerial personnel, and repair and maintenance equipment. Because the sugar sector was ignored, the harvest fell from 6.7 million tons in 1961 to 3.8 in 1963 generating a balance of payments crisis. The end result was that Cuba became more dependent than ever on sugar exports, on imported inputs of many kinds and on a new hegemonic partner, the Soviet Union.

The strategy was aborted in 1964.

Fiasco #9        The 10 Million Ton Sugar Harvest Strategy

The failure of the “Instant Industrialization” strategy led to an emphasis on sugar production for export with a guaranteed Socialist Bloc market for 5 million tons per year at a price well above the world price – from 1965 to 1970. The over-riding preoccupation became the 10 million ton goal, which according to President Castro was necessary for “defending the honor, the prestige, the safety and self-confidence of the country” (February 9, 1970.)

Fidel seemed happiest when conducting a campaign military style as he did during the effort to produce 10 million tons of sugar.

If it had been implemented in a measured way, a strategy to increase export earnings from sugar would have been reasonable. However, as 1970 approached, the implementation of the 10 million ton target became increasingly forced. Other sectors of the economy were sacrificed as labor, transport capacity, industrial inputs, energy, raw materials and national attention all focused on sugar.

This strategy was aborted in 1970.

Fiasco #8        The “New Man”

In order to mobilize human energies for the 10 million ton harvest a radical “Guevaraist” approach was adopted involving the construction of the so- called  “New Man.” The idea behind this was a vision of the Cuban Nation as a guerrilla column marching behind Fidel – somewhat like his marches down the Malecon in 2000-2006 – single-mindedly pursuing a common objective, willingly sacrificing individual interests for the common good and with the esprit de corps, discipline and dedication of an idealized guerrilla band. To promote this revolutionary altruism, the government used public exhortation and political education, “moral incentives” instead of material incentives and proselytizing and enforcement by the Party and other “mass organs” of society.

By 1970, it was apparent that people could not be expected to sacrifice their own and their family’s material well-being and survival for some objective decreed and enforced by the Party. The approach was dropped in 1970.

Fiasco #7        The “Budgetary System of Finance”

In a simultaneous experiment, a so-called “budgetary system of finance” was installed under which enterprises were to operate without financial autonomy and without accounting, neither receiving the revenues from sales of their output nor paying for their inputs with such revenues – somewhat like University Departments.

Without a rational structure of prices, and without knowledge of their true costs or the value of their output, neither enterprises nor the planning authorities could have an idea of the genuine efficiencies of enterprises, of sectors of the economy, or of resource-use anywhere. The result of this was disastrous inefficiency.  In President Castro’s words:

“..What is this bottomless pit that swallows up this country’s human resources, the country’s wealth, the material goods that we need so badly? It’s nothing but inefficiency, non-productivity and low productivity.” (Castro, December 7, 1970)

This system was also terminated in 1970.

Fiasco #6        The “Revolutionary Offensive” and the Nationalization of Almost Everything

In the “Revolutionary Offensive” of 1968, Fidel Castro’s government expropriated most of the remaining small enterprise sector on the grounds that it was capitalistic, exploitative, and deformed people’s characters, making them individualistic instead of altruistic “New Men”. The result was true living standards were impaired, product quality, quantity and diversity deteriorated, enterprises were pushed into the underground economy,  theft from state sector and illegalities become the norm and citizen’s entrepreneurship was suppressed. This policy was changed in 1993, then contained by tight regulation, licensing and taxation after 1985,.

Again in September 2010, the government of Raul Castro appears ready to expand the small enterprise sector in hopes that it will absorb most of the 500,000 workers to be laid off from the state sector.

Fiasco #5        “Revolucion Energetica”

President Castro’s “Revolucion Energetica” included some valuable elements such as conservation measures, re-investment in the power grid and the installation of back-up generators for important facilities such as health centres. A questionable feature of the plan is the replacement of large-scale thermal-electric plants with numerous small generators dispersed around the island. But the use of the small-scale generators likely constitutes a major error for the following reasons:

  • The economies of large scale electricity generation are lost;
  • Synchronizing the supply of electricity generated from numerous locations to meet the minute-by-minute changes in electricity demand is complicated and costly;
  • Problems and costs of maintaining the numerous dispersed generators are  high;
  • Logistical control and management costs escalate as the national grid is replaced with regional systems.
  • Expensive diesel fuel is used rather than lower cost heavy oil:
  • Diesel fuel has to be transported by truck to the generators around the island;
  • Investments for the storage of diesel fuel in numerous supply depots are necessary;
  • Problems of pilferage of diesel fuel may be significant, and costs of security and protection may be high.

No other country in the world has adopted this method of generating electricity, suggesting that it does not make sense economically.

The energy master-plan also ignores a possible role of the sugar sector in producing ethanol and contributing to energy supplies. The experience of Brazil indicates that at higher petroleum prices, ethanol from sugar cane becomes economically viable. The shut-down of some 70 out of Cuba’s 156 sugar mills in 2003, the moth-balling of another 40 and the contraction of the whole sugar agro-industrial service cluster is also a major loss for electricity generation.

Fiasco #4        Shutting Down Half of the Sugar Sector

In 2002, Castro decided that there was no future in sugar production, a decision prompted by low sugar prices at the time and undoubtedly the continuing difficulties in the sector. He decreed the shut-down of 71 of 156 sugar mills, taking some 33% of areas under sugar cane out of production and displacing about 100,000 workers. It was hoped that land-use would shift to non-sugar crops, that remaining mills would become more productive, and that displaced labour would be reabsorbed elsewhere.

In any case, sugar production has continued to decline which is unfortunate given high prices in recent years. There has not been a shift into ethanol production. The physical plant has continued to deteriorate. The cluster of activities surrounding sugar must be near collapse.  The sugar communities are left without an economic base and some face the prospect of becoming ghost towns.

Fiasco #3        A Half Century of Monetary Controls and Non-Convertibility

Responsibility for Fiasco #3 is shared in part with Che Guevara, who as President of the Banco Nacianal de Cuba, presided over imposition of monetary controls and implementation of the policies that made Cuba’s peso non-convertible for half a century.

Cuba’s monetary system has been and is a serious obstacle to the freedom of Cuban citizens. Citizens’ incomes have had purchasing power outside the country only when permitted to be exchanged for a foreign convertible currency and then only at a discount for some decades. As is well known, the official exchange rate for Cuban citizens has been in the area of  22 pesos (Moneda Nacional) to US $1.00, so that the purchasing power of the average monthly salary – 415 pesos in 2008 (Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas, 2009, Table 7.4) is about US$20.00.

Fiasco #2        Suppression of Workers’ Rights

Thanks to the regime implanted by President Castro, Cuban workers do not have the right to undertake independent collective bargaining or to strike. Unions are not independent organizations representing worker interests but are official government unions. Independent unions and any attempts to establish them are illegal.

Cuba has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is a member of the International Labor Organization.  The basic United Nations Declarations support freedom of association for labor. The International Labor Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work includes, as the first fundamental right of labor, “freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining”

The central function of independent labor unions is to provide countervailing power to oligopolistic or monopolistic employers in wage determination and in the setting of the terms and conditions of work. Unions have been successful in western countries in raising wages, improving the equity of income distribution and improving work conditions.

In the Cuban case, workers have confronted a monopolistic employer – the state – that also controls their unions which are in effect “company unions.” By controlling the unions and containing their wage demands, wages have been held down. The absence of independent unions has permitted the government to implement counterproductive economic policies year after year and has muted the urgency of undertaking economic reforms.

Fiasco #1        Abolition of Freedom of Expression

An important requirement for the sustained effectiveness of an economic system is the ability to freely, openly and continuously analyze and criticize its functioning.  Open analysis and criticism in a context of free generation and diffusion of information provide a necessary spur for self-correction, exposing illegalities, flawed policies and errors.  Free analysis and criticism is vital in order to bring illicit actions to light, to correct errors on the part of all institutions and enterprises as well as policy makers and to help generate improved policy design and implementation. This in turn requires freedom of expression and freedom of association, embedded in an independent press, publications systems and media, independent universities and research institutes, and freely-functioning opposition political parties.

Unfortunately this has been lacking, thanks to the Castro regime.  The media and the politicians have largely performed a cheerleader role, unless issues have been opened up for discussion by the President and the Party.

The near-absence of checks and balances on the policy-making machinery of the state also contributes to obscuring over-riding real priorities and to prolonging and amplifying error.  The National Assembly is dominated by the Communist Party, meets for very short periods of time – four to six days a year – and has a large work load, so that it is unable to serve as a mechanism for undertaking serious analysis and debate of economic or other matters. The cost for Cuba of this situation over the years has been enormous.  It is unfortunate that Cuba lacks the concept and reality of a “Loyal Opposition” within –the electoral system and in civil society.  These are vital for economic efficiency, not to mention, of course, for authentic participatory democracy.

NOTE: For additional articles on various aspects of Fidel Castro’s presidency, see:

Fidel Castro: The Cowardice of Autocracy

Cuba’s Achievements under the Presidency of Fidel Castro: The Top Ten

Fidel’s No-Good Very Bad Day

The “FIDEL” Models Never Worked; Soviet and Venezuelan Subsidization Did

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The Marketing of “Che” Guevara: A Review of “Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image”, by Michael Casey

Review of Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image. By Michael Casey. New York: Vintage Books, 2009. Pp. 388. $15.95 paper. ISBN: 9780307279309.

Michael Casey, from Perth, Western Australia, and recently the Dow Jones Newswires Bureau Chief in Buenos Aires, has written an excellent book on the commercialization of Che Guevara. In Che’s Afterlife, Michael Casey follows Korda’s famous photograph of a Christ-like Ernesto “Che” Guevara into the consciousness of people around the world. This image is a well-defended and trademarked icon (copyright VA-1-276-975) owned by Korda’s daughter, Diana Díaz, and used in collaboration with the government of Cuba.

Korda’s “Che”

For some, the Korda image of “Che” is a quasi-spiritual symbol of hope for a better future. For others – those sporting the Che T-shirts for example – it is a symbol of undefined but earnest youthful rebellion. But for still others, it is an abhorrent symbol of the kangaroo justice meted out in La Cabana fortress – converted to a prison – in East Havana where Che as commander of the prison presided for 11 months over the summary trials and executions of somewhere around some 220 prisoners or of many more.

For me, Che may be all of the above and more. But he is also the economic czar who damaged the Cuban economy immensely. First, as President of the Central Bank, he presided over the loss of convertibility of the Cuban peso which has continued for half a century. Convertibility of the Cuban peso now appears far from current realities.  Second, as Minister of Industry he  amalgamated five sub-units into a behemoth Ministry responsible for running some 1,800 work units with 150,800 employees. Attempting to run so many enterprises from office towers in Havana was a central planning folly of immense proportions. Third, he was the prime mover of the attempt to use the “New Man” concept as a means of mobilizing the work efforts of Cuban citizens in the second half of the 1960s and also the author also of the so-called “budgetary system of finance” that abolished accounting and the financial autonomy of productive enterprises. Implementation of these approaches was in President Castro’s hands, not Guevara’s. These two dimensions of running the economy from 1965 to 1970 compounded the problems and dislocations of the attempt to produce 10 million tons of sugar. These three interlinked dimensions of running the economy met with such disastrous results that they were reversed in 1971. Cuba then moved to Soviet economic orthodoxy – plus Soviet loans and hidden subsidization – which produced surprisingly better results.

Casey has written an intriguing history of the image’s trajectory over the last half century. He brings together research into the lives of both Korda and Guevara, a command of the history of Revolutionary Cuba, knowledge of countries where the Guevara mythology is important, an understanding of copyright law, and original investigative interviewing and reporting.

Casey begins his narrative with the instant when the photo was taken on 5 March 1960. He sketches Che’s role in the new government—notably as chief of La Cabaña prison and overseer of the swift executions of prisoners—his secretive and disastrous Congo operation, and his guerrilla campaign in Bolivia, putting the launch of Che as icon and of the “Heroic Revolutionary” brand at the 18 October 1967 memorial ceremony at the Plaza de la Revolución.

Casey also presents an account of Korda’s activities in Havana, the first publications of his photograph, and the cultural ferment of the early years of the Revolution, followed by the disillusionment of many in the mid-1960s.

Alberto Korda

He traces the peregrinations of Korda’s “Che” through Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Miami, as well as in the student ferment of 1968 from Paris to Berkeley. His later chapters focus on the use of Che’s image as a brand by the government of Cuba; here, it no longer signifies a heroic guerrilla promoting revolution, but has instead become an advertisement, selling Cuba in the international tourist marketplace. The essence of the image ia now “the idea of revolutionary nostalgia” (306). After some thirty-seven years during which the photograph was freely available for use by anyone, copyright ownership now applies and control is exercised through legal means when necessary.

Casey takes us on a fascinating journey through the life and afterlife of Che and through a half century of international social and political history, using Che’s image as a prism. His book should find a wide readership, of all political stripes, who have an interest in Cuba or in major political and social movements. Those with interests in marketing, branding, and copyright law will also find this volume illuminating.

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