LA HABANA, Cuba. – Los líderes comunistas de Cuba aún no se ponen de acuerdo
en decir por qué ocurrió el Período Especial: si fue a partir de 1959 cuando
Fidel Castro cometió el gran error de no dejar títere con cabeza, acabando con
los pequeños propietarios y poniéndolo todo en manos del Estado; o después, con
la caída de la URSS, lo que acentuó la consabida ineficiencia del modelo
El profesor de economía Archibald Ritter, de la Universidad de Carleton, en
Ottawa, Canadá, analizó a finales de 2010, dos años después de la llegada al poder
de Raúl Castro, el gran error que el “Comandante” cometió a su llegada a La
Habana en 1959 con respecto a la industrialización instantánea, ya que esto
requería de importación de maquinaria y equipos, materias primas, bienes
intermedios, personal calificado y equipos de reparación y mantenimiento.
Fidel Castro ignoró el sector azucarero, ocasionando que la zafra, entonces de 6,7 millones de toneladas de azúcar en 1961, fuera de 3,8 millones en 1963;y dando como resultado que Cuba se volviera más dependiente que nunca de la Unión Soviética.
Un poco después, cerca ya de 1970, cometió otro gran error: se le ocurrió la
meta de los 10 millones de toneladas de azúcar, convirtiendo esa idea en una
preocupación dominante en “defensa de su honor, su prestigio, la seguridad y la
confianza en sí mismo”, como la gran campaña militar que nunca había librado.
Otro de sus grandes errores está en el invento del sistema financiero
presupuestado, que no es otra cosa que empresas que operan sin autonomía
financiera y sin contabilidad, sin recibir ingresos por las ventas de su
producción ni pagar por sus insumos con tales ingresos. Con relación a este
invento, el mismo Castro dijo el 7 de diciembre de 1970: “¿Qué es este pozo sin
fondo que se traga los recursos humanos de este país, su riqueza, los bienes
materiales que tanto necesitamos? No es otra cosa que ineficiencia,
improductividad y baja productividad”.
La lista de errores es larga, según Ritter. Un análisis breve de ellos
arroja que se agravaron a partir de 1968, cuando el régimen expropió la mayor
parte de las pequeñas empresas privadas que quedaban, tras llamarlas
“capitalistas”. De esa forma, las empresas fueron empujadas a la economía
subterránea y el robo y las ilegalidades se convirtieron en algo normal hasta ahora.
Varias décadas después el “Comandante en Jefe” decidió que no había futuro
con el azúcar. Eliminó una gran parte de las tierras sembradas de caña y se
deshizo de unos 100 000 trabajadores, sin pensar que los precios del azúcar
aumentarían un poco después, cuando ya los bateyes estaban convertidos en
Otro de los grandes errores que señala Ritter es el medio siglo de controles
monetarios sin convertibilidad por el cual responsabiliza al Che Guevara,
entonces presidente del Banco Nacional de Cuba, y al propio Fidel Castro.
Cabe aquí una pregunta imprescindible: ¿Tiene en realidad autoridad política suficiente el presidente Díaz-Canel, además de valor y amor por Cuba, para rectificar los errores de su maestro y guía? ¿O lo tienen quienes mandan en Cuba tras bambalinas, es decir, Raúl Castro y su vieja guardia militar?
Cubans confront a host of problems amid a national health emergency — and the Biden administrative is only adding to punitive sanctions with the intent to make everything worse.
Fidel Castro holds up a newspaper
headlining a plot to kill him in 1959. (Bettmann via Getty)
After months of casual indifference to conditions in Cuba, the Biden
administration reacted with purposeful swiftness to support street protests on
the island. “We stand with the Cuban people,” President Biden pronounced. A talking point was born.
“The Biden-Harris administration stands by the Cuban people,” secretary
of state Antony Blinken followed. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair
Robert Menéndez also joined to emphasize “the need for the United States to
continue to stand with the Cuban people.”
For more than a hundred and twenty years, the United States has “stood
with the Cuban people” — or, perhaps more correctly, has stood over the Cuban
people. Cuba seems always to be at the receiving end of American history. To
stand with the Cuban people has meant armed intervention, military occupation,
regime change, and political meddling — all normal events in US-Cuba relations
in the sixty years before the triumph of the Cuban revolution.
In the sixty years after the revolution, standing with the
Cuban people has meant diplomatic isolation, armed invasion, covert operations,
and economic sanctions.
It is the policy of economic sanctions — the embargo — officially
designated as an “economic denial program,” that gives the lie to
US claims of beneficent concern for the Cuban people. Sanctions developed early
into a full-blown policy protocol in pursuit of regime change, designed to
deprive Cubans of needed goods and services, to induce scarcity and foment
shortages, to inflict hardship and deepen adversity.
Nor should it be supposed that the Cuban people were the unintended “collateral
damage” of the embargo. On the contrary, the Cuban people have been the target.
Sanctions were designed from the outset to produce economic havoc as a way to
foment popular discontent, to politicize hunger in the hope that, driven by
despair and motivated by want, the Cuban people would rise up to topple the
The declassification of government records provides insight into the
calculus of sanctions as a means of regime change. The “economic denial
program” was planned to “weaken [the Cuban government] economically,” a State
Department briefing paper explained, to “promote internal dissension; erode its
internal political support . . . [and] seek to create conditions conducive to
incipient rebellion.” Sanctions promised to create “the necessary preconditions
for nationalist upheaval inside Cuba,” the Department of State Bureau of
Intelligence and Research predicted, thereupon to produce the downfall of the
Cuban government “as a result of internal stresses and in response to forces
largely, if not wholly, unattributable to the U.S.”
The “only foreseeable means of alienating internal support,” the
Department of State offered, “is through disenchantment and disaffection based
on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. . . . Every possible means should be
undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba . . . [to deny] money
and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about
hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
The embargo has remained in place for more than sixty years. At times
expanded, at other times contracted. But never lifted. The degree to which US
sanctions are implicated in current protest demonstrations in Cuba is a matter
of debate, of course. But that the embargo has contributed — to a greater or
lesser extent — to hardship in Cuba can hardly be gainsaid; that has been its
intent. And now that hardship has produced popular protests and demonstrations.
That, too, is in the “playbook” of the embargo.
But the embargo has had a far more insidious impact on the political
culture of Cuba. The Cuban government is not unaware of the United States’
desired policy outcomes from the sanctions. They understand well its subversive
reach and interventionist thrust, and have responded accordingly, if not always
Such a nakedly hostile US policy, which has been ongoing and
periodically reaffirmed over such a lengthy period of time, designed purposely
to sow chaos, has in fact served Cuban authorities well, providing a readily
available target that can be blamed for homegrown economic mismanagement and
resource misallocation. The embargo provides a refuge for blamelessness and
immunity from accountability. The tendency to attribute the consequences of
ill-conceived policies to the embargo has developed into a standing master
narrative of Cuban government.
But it is more complicated still. Not a few within the Cuban government
view popular protests warily, seeing them as a function of US policy and its
intended outcomes. It is no small irony, in fact, that the embargo has so often
served to compromise the “authenticity” of popular protest, to ensure that
protests are seen as acts in the service of regime change and depicted as a
threat to national security.
The degree to which the political intent of the embargo is imputed to
popular protest often serves to drive the official narrative. That is, protests
are depicted less as an expression of domestic discontent than as an act of US
subversion, instantly discrediting the legitimacy of protest and the credibility
of protesters. The embargo serves to plunge Cuban politics at all levels into a
Kafkaesque netherworld, where the authenticity of domestic actors is challenged
and transformed into the duplicity of foreign agents. In Cuba, the popular
adage warns, nothing appears to be what it seems.
Few dispute the validity of Cuban grievances. A long-suffering people
often subject to capricious policies and arbitrary practices, an officialdom
often appearing oblivious and unresponsive to the needs of a population
confronting deepening hardship. Shortages of food. Lack of medicines. Scarcity
of basic goods. Soaring prices. Widening social inequalities. Deepening racial
Difficulties have mounted, compounding continuously over many years, for
which there are few readily available remedies. An economy that reorganized
itself during the late 1990s and early 2000s around tourist receipts has
collapsed as a result of the pandemic. A loss of foreign exchange with ominous
implications for a country that imports 70 percent of its food supplies.
The Trump administration revived the
most punitive elements of US sanctions, limiting family remittances to $1,000 per quarter per
person, prohibiting remittances to family members of government officials and
members of the Communist Party, and prohibiting remittances in the form of
donations to Cuban nationals. The Trump administration prohibited the
processing of remittances through any entities on a “Cuba restricted list,” an
action that resulted in Western Union ceasing its operations in Cuba
in November 2020.
And as a final spiteful, gratuitous gesture, the outgoing Trump
administration returned Cuba to the list of state sponsors
of terrorism. At the precise moment the Cuban people were reeling from greater
shortages, increased rationing, and declining services, the United States
imposed a new series of sanctions. It is impossible to react in any way other
than with blank incredulity to State Department spokesperson Ned Price’s
comment that Cuban humanitarian needs “are profound because of not anything the
United States has done.”
Cubans confront all at once a collapsing economy, diminished
remittances, restricted emigration opportunities, inflation, shortages of food,
scarcity of medicines, all in a time of a national health emergency — and with
the United States applying punitive sanctions with the intent of making
everything worse. Of course, the Cuban people have the right to peaceful
protest. Of course, the Cuban government must redress Cuban grievances.
Of course, the United States must end its deadly and destructive policy of subversion.
Author’s Note – This article originally appeared
in Spanish in La Joven Cuba (Young Cuba), one of the most important
critical blogs in the island, where the Internet remains the principal vehicle
for critical opinion because the government has not yet succeeded in
controlling it. The article elicited some strong reactions including that of a
former government minister who called it a provocation.
The New Economic Policy (NEP) introduced by the revolutionary government in
1921 was in fact an attempt to reduce the widespread discontent among the
Russian people with measures designed to increase production and popular access
to consumer goods. Even though the Civil War (1918-1920) caused great hardship
among the rural and urban populations, it was the politics of War Communism,
introduced by the Bolshevik government during that period, that significantly
worsened the situation. This led to a profound alienation among those who had
been the pillars of the October Revolution in 1917: the industrial workers, and
the peasantry that constituted 80 percent of the population.
In the countryside, the urban detachments, organized to confiscate from the
peasantry their agricultural surplus to feed the cities, ended up also
confiscating part of the already modest peasant diet in addition to the grain
needed to sow the next crop. The situation worsened when under the same policy
the government, based on an assumed class stratification in the countryside
that had no basis in reality, created the poor peasant committees (kombedy)
to reinforce the functions of the urban detachments. Given the arbitrary
informal and formal methods that characterized the operations of the kombedy,
these ended up being a source of corruption and abuse, frequently at the hands
of criminal elements active in them, who ended up appropriating for their own
use the grain and other kinds of goods they arbitrarily confiscated from the
Moreover, during the fall of 1920, symptoms of famine began to appear in the
Volga region. The situation became worse in 1921 after a severe drought ruined
the crops, which also affected the southern Urals. Leon Trotsky had proposed in
February 1920, to substitute the arbitrary confiscations of War Communism with
a tax in kind paid by the peasantry as an incentive to have them grow more
surplus grain. However, the party leadership rejected his proposal at that
The politics of War Communism was also applied to the urban and industrial
economy through its total nationalization, although without the democratic
control by the workers and the soviets, which the government abolished when the
civil war began and replaced with the exclusive control from above by state
administrators. Meantime, the workers were subjected to a regime of militarized
compulsory labor. For the majority of the Communist leaders, including Lenin,
the centralized and nationalized economy represented a great advance towards
socialism. That is why for Lenin, the NEP was a significant step back.
Apparently, in his conception of socialism, total nationalization played a more
important role than the democratic control of production from below.
The elimination of workplace democracy was only one aspect of the more general
clampdown on soviet democracy that the Bolshevik government launched in
response to the bloody and destructive civil war. Based on the objective
circumstances created by the war, and on the urgent need to resolve the
problems they were facing, like economic and political sabotage, the Bolshevik
leadership not only eliminated multiparty soviets of workers and peasants, but
also union democracy and independence, and introduced very serious restrictions
of other political freedoms established at the beginning of the
decade of the nineties, and especially since Raúl Castro assumed the maximum
leadership of the country in 2006–formally in 2008 – economic reform has been
one of the central concerns of the government. The logic of that
economic reform points to the Sino-Vietnamese model–which combines an
anti-democratic one-party state with a state capitalist system in the
economy–and not to the compulsory collectivization of agriculture and the
five-year plans brutally imposed on the USSR by Stalinist totalitarianism after
the NEP. The Cuban government’s decision to authorize the creation of the PYMES
(small and medium private enterprises), a decision frequently promised but not
yet implemented, would constitute a very important step towards the establishment
of state capitalism in the island. This state capitalism will very probably be
headed by the current powerful political, and especially military, leaders who
would become private capitalists.
now, the Cuban government has not specified the size that would define the
small and especially the mid-size enterprises under the PYMES concept. But we
know that several Latin American countries (like Chile and Costa Rica) have
defined the size in terms of the number of workers. Chile, for example, defines
the micro enterprises as those with less than 9 workers, the small-size with 10
to 25 workers, the medium-size with 25 to 200 workers, and the big size with
more than 200 workers. Should Cuba adopt similar criteria, its mid-size
enterprises would end up as capitalist firms ran by their corresponding
administrative hierarchies. If that happens, it is certain that the official
unions will end up “organizing” the workers in those medium size enterprises
and, as in the case of Chinese state capitalism, do nothing to defend them from
the new private owners.
political reform, there has been much less talk and nothing of great importance
has been done. As in the case of the Russian NEP, the social and economic
liberalization in Cuba has not been accompanied by political democratization
but, instead, by the intensification of the regime’s political control over the
island. Even when the government has adopted liberalizing measures in the
economy, like the new rules increasing the number of work activities permitted
in the self-employed sector, it continues to ban private activities such as the
publication of books that could be used to develop criticism or opposition to
the regime. This is how the government has consolidated its control over the
major means of communication –radio, television, newspapers and magazines –
although it has only partially accomplished that with the Internet.
government is also using its own socially liberalizing measures to reinforce
its political control. For example, at the same time that it liberalized the
rules to travel abroad, it developed a list of “regulated” people who are
forbidden to travel outside of the island based on arbitrary administrative
decisions, without even allowing for the right of appeal to the judicial system
it controls. Similar administrative practices lacking in means for judicial
review control have been applied to other areas such as the missions organized
to provide services abroad. Thus, the Cuban doctors who have decided not to
return to the island once their service abroad has concluded, have been victims
of administrative sanctions – eight years of compulsory exile – without any
possibility of lodging a judicial appeal.
pending is the implementation of the arbitrary rules and the censorship of
artistic activities of Decree 349, that allows the state to grant licenses and
censor the activities of self-employed artists. The implementation of the
decree has been postponed due to the numerous and strong protests that it
provoked. All of these administrative practices highlight the fact that the
much discussed rule of law proclaimed by the Constitution is but a lie. Let us
not forget that the Soviet constitution that Stalin introduced in 1936 was very
democratic … on the paper it was written. Even so, Cubans in the island should
appeal to their constitutionally defined rights to support their protests and
claims against the Cuban state whenever it is legally and politically
beginning of the Cuban revolutionary government there was a variety of
political voices heard within the revolutionary camp. But that disappeared in
the process of forming the united party of the revolution that established the
basis for what Raúl Castro later called the “monolithic unity” of the party and
country. That is the party and state model that emulates, along with China and
Vietnam, the Stalinist system that was consolidated in the USSR at the end of
the twenties, consecrating the “unanimity” dictated from above by the maximum
leaders, and the so-called “democratic centralism”, which in reality is a
Communist Party (CCP) is a single party that does not allow the internal
organization of tendencies or factions, and that extends its control over the
whole society through its transmission belts with the so-called mass
organizations (trade unions, women’s organization), institutions such as the
universities, as well as with the mass media that follow the “orientations”
they receive from the Department of Ideology of the Central Committee of the
CCP. These are the ways in which the one-party state controls, not necessarily
everything, but everything it considers important.
ideological defenders of the Cuban regime insist in its autochthonous origins
independent from Soviet Communism. It is true that Fidel Castro’s political
origin is different, for example, from that of Raúl Castro, who was originally
a member of the Socialist Youth associated with the PSP (Partido Socialista
Popular), the party of the pro-Moscow orthodox Communists. But Fidel
Castro developed his “caudillo” conceptions since very early on, perhaps as a
reaction to the disorder and chaos he encountered in the Cayo Confites
expedition in which he participated against the Trujillo dictatorship in the
Dominican Republic in 1947, and with the so-called Bogotazo in Colombia in
in a letter he wrote to his then good friend Luis Conte Aguero, Fidel Castro
proclaimed three principles as necessary for the integration of a true civic
movement: ideology, discipline and especially the power of the leadership. He
also insisted in the necessity for a powerful and implacable propaganda and
organizational apparatus to destroy the people involved in the creation of
tendencies, splits and cliques or who rise against the movement. This was the
ideological basis of the “elective affinity” (to paraphrase Goethe) that Fidel
Castro showed later on for Soviet Communism.
can we do? The recent demonstration of hundreds of Cubans in front of the
Ministry of Culture to protest the abuses against the members of the San Isidro
Movement and to advocate for artistic and civil liberties, marked a milestone
in the history of the Cuban Revolution. There is plenty of room to reproduce
this type of peaceful protest in the streets against police racism, against the
tolerance of domestic violence, against the growing social inequality and
against the absence of a politically transparent democracy open to all, without
the privileges sanctioned by the Constitution for the CCP. At present, this
seems to be the road to struggle for the democratization of Cuba from below,
from the inside of society itself, and not from above or from the outside.
lesson of the Russian NEP is that economic liberalization does not necessarily
signify the democratization of a country, and that it may be accompanied by the
elimination of democracy. In Cuba there has been economic and social
liberalization but without any advance on the democratic front.
CUBA EMPRESARIAL. EMPRENDEDORES ANTE UNA CAMBIANTE POLÍTICA PÚBLICA, by Ted Henken and Archibald Ritter, 2020, Editorial Hypermedia Del Libro of Spain. This is an up-dated Spanish-language version of the book ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE, by Archibald Ritter and Ted Henken.
The publication details of the volume are as follows:
Carmelo Mesa-Lago. Hasta ahora, este libro es el más
completo y profundo sobre la iniciativa privada en Cuba.
Cardiff Garcia. Este libro aporta una lúcida explicación a la particular
interacción entre el incipiente sector privado en Cuba y los sectores
Sergio Díaz-Briquets. Cuba empresarial es una lectura obligada para los interesados en la situación actual del país. Su publicación es oportuna no sólo por lo que revela sobre la situación económica, social y política, sino también por sus percepciones sobre la evolución futura de Cuba.
Richard Feinberg.Los autores reconocen la importancia de
las reformas de Raúl Castro, aunque las consideran insuficientes para
sacar a la economía cubana de su estancamiento.
An up-dated Spanish-language version of the book ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE, by Ted Henken and Archibald Ritter has been published on November 19, 2020 by Editorial Hypermedia Del Libro of Spain .
The publication details of the volume, entitled CUBA EMPRESARIAL: EMPRENDEDORES ANTE UNA CAMBIANTE POLÍTICA PÚBLICA, are as follows:
Paperback : 536 pages
ISBN-10 : 1948517612
ISBN-13 : 978-1948517614
Dimensions : 6 x 1.34 x 9 inches
Item Weight : 1.96 pounds
Publisher : Editorial Hypermedia Inc
Publication Date: November 19, 2020
Language: : Spanish
Nuestro nuevo libro sobre el sector empresarial de Cuba, “Entre el dicho y el hecho va un buen trecho” a la venta AHORA a un precio accesible: US $21.90;
Hasta ahora, este libro es el más completo y profundo sobre la iniciativa privada en Cuba.
Este libro aporta una lúcida explicación a la particular interacción entre el incipiente sector privado en Cuba y los sectores gubernamentales dominantes.
Cuba empresarial es una lectura obligada para los interesados en la situación actual del país. Su publicación es oportuna no sólo por lo que revela sobre la situación económica, social y política, sino también por sus percepciones sobre la evolución futura de Cuba.
Los autores reconocen la importancia de las reformas de Raúl Castro, aunque las consideran insuficientes para sacar a la economía cubana de su estancamiento.
In December 2007, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez suffered his first defeat at the polls. Although still wildly popular among the working class that had propelled him to power nearly a decade earlier, voters rejected a referendum that would have enabled him to run for re-election repeatedly.
Stung, Chavez turned to a close confidant, according to three former advisors: Fidel Castro. The aging Cuban leader had mentored Chavez years before the Venezuelan became president, when he was still best known for leading a failed coup.
Now, deepening economic ties were making Cuba ever more reliant on oil-rich Venezuela, and Castro was eager to help Chavez stay in power, these advisors say. Castro’s advice: Ensure absolute control of the military.
Easier said than done. Venezuela’s military had a history of uprisings, sometimes leading to coups of the sort that Chavez, when a lieutenant colonel in the army, had staged in 1992. A decade later, rivals waged a short-lived putsch against Chavez himself.
But if Chavez took the right steps, the Cuban instructed, he could hang on as long as Castro himself had, the advisors recalled. Cuba’s military, with Castro’s brother at the helm, controlled everything from security to key sectors of the economy.
Within months, the countries drew up two agreements, recently reviewed by Reuters, that gave Cuba deep access to Venezuela’s military – and wide latitude to spy on it and revamp it. The agreements, specifics of which are reported here for the first time, led to the imposing of strict surveillance of Venezuelan troops through a Venezuelan intelligence service now known as the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence, or DGCIM.
Under Cuban military advisors, Venezuela refashioned the intelligence unit into a service that spies on its own armed forces, instilling fear and paranoia and quashing dissent. Now known for its repressive tactics, the DGCIM is accused by soldiers, opposition lawmakers, human rights groups and many foreign governments of abuses including torture and the recent death of a detained Navy captain.
According to the documents reviewed by Reuters, the agreements, signed in May 2008, allowed Cuba’s armed forces to:
Train soldiers in Venezuela
Review and restructure parts of the Venezuelan military
Train Venezuelan intelligence agents in Havana
And change the intelligence service’s mission from spying on foreign rivals to surveilling the country’s own soldiers, officers, and even senior commanders.
The first agreement, according to the documents, would prepare Venezuelan intelligence agents to “discover and confront the subversive work of the enemy.” The second agreement authorized Cuban officials to oversee the “assimilation” and “modernization” of Venezuela’s military.
The presence of Cuban officials within Venezuela’s military has been known for years. President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s disciple and increasingly beleaguered successor, said in a 2017 speech: “We are grateful to Cuba’s revolutionary armed forces. We salute them and will always welcome them.” But neither country has ever acknowledged details of the agreements or the extent of Cuba’s involvement.
In March, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence denounced Havana’s “malign influence” on Caracas, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez downplayed the relationship. “I strongly reject repeated and false accusations,” he tweeted, “of Cuban military ‘training,’ ‘controlling’ or ‘intimidating’ in Venezuela.” Neither Venezuela’s Defense Ministry nor its Information Ministry, responsible for government communications including those of Maduro, responded to emails and phone calls for this article. Cuban officials didn’t respond to requests from Reuters for comment.
Eleven years after they were forged, the military agreements have proven crucial for Maduro’s survival as president, according to security experts, people familiar with the administration and opposition politicians. With Cuba’s help and training, the military has stood by Maduro and helped him weather an economic meltdown, widespread hunger and crime, and the emigration of more than 4 million people – more than 10 percent of Venezuela’s population in recent years.
In June, Reuters explained how a reshuffling of the armed forces, and proliferation of senior officers, has kept military leadership beholden to Maduro.
Now, the documents laying out Venezuela’s agreements with Cuba – and interviews with dozens of current and former members of the armed services, government officials and people familiar with the relationship between Caracas and Havana – show how instrumental Castro’s help has been as well.
The transformation of the DGCIM, these people say, has been particularly effective. “The most important mission for the intelligence service once was to neutralize any threat to democracy,” said Raul Salazar, a former defense minister under Chavez who opposes Maduro. “Now, with Cuba in charge, the government uses it to stay in power.”
Once Cuba began training DGCIM personnel, the intelligence service embedded agents, often dressed in black fatigues, within barracks. There, they would compile dossiers on perceived troublemakers and report any signs of disloyalty, according to more than 20 former Venezuelan military and intelligence officials. The DGCIM also began tapping the phones of officers, including senior military commanders, to listen for conspiracies.
The crackdown has led to hundreds of arrests. At least 200 military officials are currently detained, according to the opposition-led National Assembly. Citizen Control, a Venezuelan organization that studies the armed forces, says the number is over 300.
In a June 2017 report, reviewed by Reuters, the DGCIM accused a soldier, who enrolled in a university considered to be aligned with the opposition, of “ideological and political subversion.” Speaking out for the first time, the former lieutenant recounted how he was handcuffed to a chair in a continuously lit room and beaten until two vertebrae broke. “Those days had no end,” he recalled. He revealed his story to Reuters on the condition that the news agency use only his first name, Daniel, and not disclose his age.
Since its remaking, the DGCIM’s ranks have swelled – from a few hundred agents early in the Chavez administration to at least 1,500 now, according to former military officials.
A recent United Nations report accused the DGCIM of torture – including electric shocks, suffocation, waterboarding, sexual violence, and water and food deprivation. Under Maduro, DGCIM officers have been promoted to senior positions, including the command of his personal security detail. The repression, opposition leaders say, has cowed the armed forces. Juan Guaido, head of the National Assembly, early this year denounced Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham and declared, with the support of most Western democracies, that he was Venezuela’s rightful leader.
But opposition pleas for a military rebellion have gone unheeded. “We have failed,” said a senior opposition official involved in attempts to broker talks with military leaders. “We have nothing to offer to convince them.”
“A BASTION OF LATIN AMERICAN DIGNITY”
For Chavez, the changes foreseen by the two agreements resonated on a personal level. Castro, whom he had long admired, was the first international leader to embrace Chavez as a rising politician in the 1990s.
Venezuela’s military intelligence unit, meanwhile, was run by officers allied with the conservative elite and opposed to Chavez’s vision of transforming a country which, despite boasting the world’s biggest oil reserves, suffered rampant poverty.
When Chavez’s 1992 coup failed, officers from the unit, then known as the Directorate of Military Intelligence, or DIM, were the ones tasked with arresting him. They initially jailed him in one of the same underground cells at the DIM’s Caracas headquarters where Chavez would later detain some of his own political opponents, according to several former officials.
Months after his release from prison because of a presidential pardon, Chavez in 1994 flew to Havana, where Castro, in their first in-person meeting, greeted him at the airport.
In Chavez, Castro saw a like-minded leftist leader of the sort that had become rare since the end of the Cold War. In Venezuela’s vast oil wealth, Castro saw potential nourishment for a Cuban economy starved by the collapse of its former sponsor, the Soviet Union. With Castro looking on, Chavez in a speech at the University of Havana called Cuba, then in its fourth decade of authoritarian rule, “a bastion of Latin American dignity.” He vowed to cure the capitalist “gangrene” afflicting Venezuela.
After the visit, the two men began to speak regularly, former advisors said.
By the late 1990s, high inflation, low economic growth and increased poverty made Chavez’s Socialist message attractive to a growing number of Venezuelans. In 1998, he was elected president. Almost immediately, he deepened formal links with Cuba.
In October 2000, Castro traveled to Caracas to sign a series of economic agreements. Venezuela would give Cuba enough oil to meet half its energy needs.
Since then, Venezuela has sent at least 55,000 barrels per day to the island, or more than $21 billion worth of oil, according to government figures and average prices over the period. In exchange, Cuba sent thousands of doctors, teachers and agricultural specialists to help diversify Venezuela’s grass-roots economy.
By 2002, many of Venezuela’s elite had tired of Chavez. That April, conservative opposition leaders teamed up with military chieftains, including senior DIM officials, and detained him. But the coup, after a massive popular uprising on his behalf, failed within two days.
Back in power, and with Castro’s blessing, Chavez placed Cuban advisors within his inner circle to tighten security, according to his former advisors and several former military officials. He began a purge of the intelligence service and other top ranks of the military. He appointed Hugo Carvajal, a lieutenant colonel who had joined Chavez’s 1992 coup effort and later headed the DIM’s investigations division, to be its subdirector. Within two years, Carvajal became its director general. Carvajal began modernizing the DIM. In an email to Reuters, Carvajal said Venezuela’s central bank provided millions of U.S. dollars in cash to the DIM for new technology, including surveillance equipment and a database to centralize intelligence.
The intelligence boss would lead the service for nearly a decade. Now out of office, he has been sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department for allegedly helping Colombian guerrillas. Last April he was arrested in Spain and remains detained in response to a U.S. warrant for alleged drug trafficking.
In the email, sent through his lawyer in Spain, Carvajal denied the accusations.
In July 2007, Chavez named Gustavo Rangel, a loyalist who headed the army reserves, as defense minister.
At his swearing-in, Rangel spoke of the need for “new Venezuelan military thinking” to counter the “real enemy.” The “empire,” he said, using common Caracas shorthand for the United States, was sponsoring “subversive groups” bent on destroying the revolution.
Reuters was unable to reach Rangel, now retired, for comment.
That December, Chavez lost the referendum on term limits. On television, he vowed a “new offensive” to pursue the goal.
Defense talks with Cuba began. At a meeting in Caracas on May 26, 2008, Rangel and General Alvaro Lopez, Cuba’s vice minister of defense, signed the two agreements.
Under the first agreement, Cuba’s defense ministry would oversee a restructuring of the DIM and advise on creating “new units” inside the service. The DIM would also send groups of as many as 40 officers to Havana for up to three months of espionage training.
According to the documents, Venezuela would send resumes of training candidates for Cuba to vet. Courses included how to handle “secret collaborators,” how to conduct criminal investigations and how to select new intelligence agents.
Most of the training, according to the documents, took place at the Comandante Arides Estevez Sanchez Military Academy in western Havana. At the academy, a cluster of white four-story buildings and parade grounds, Cuban instructors told DIM agents their mission henceforth would be to infiltrate and control the military, according to five people familiar with the courses.
The second agreement created a committee known as the Coordination and Liaison Group of the Republic of Cuba, or GRUCE. The GRUCE, comprising eight Cuban “military experts,” would send Cuban advisors to Venezuela to inspect military units and train soldiers.
One former Venezuelan intelligence official recalled training he received by Cuban instructors on a farm in the eastern Venezuelan state of Anzoategui. Instructors, he told Reuters, drilled students with questions about their political beliefs. The DIM, they said, must be the “tip of the spear” in the fight against “traitors.”
Chavez, fortified by increases in government spending that boosted his popularity, won a new referendum to end term limits.
In 2011, he changed the DIM’s name to include the term “counterintelligence,” reflecting its mission to thwart sabotage from within. By then, the new DGCIM was several hundred agents stronger, former officials said.
Fresh from Cuban training, the new agents began infiltrating barracks. “We lived and trained with the troops to monitor them, keeping the bosses informed,” another former DGCIM officer told Reuters. “We had an iron grip.”
Some agents pretended to be regular soldiers. Others donned their DGCIM uniforms and regularly encouraged soldiers to report on each other. They came to be known as “the men in black,” according to several former soldiers. “I’ll hand you to the DGCIM,” a battalion commander warned would-be rebels, one soldier recalled. Stories of detentions and torture by DGCIM agents, sometimes wearing skeleton masks and balaclavas, spread through the ranks.
“YOU CAN’T FIGHT THE STATE”
Chavez, following four surgeries in Cuba, died in 2013. Castro in a newspaper column called him “the best friend the Cuban people had in their history.” Voters elected Maduro to succeeded him.
In 2014, oil prices plummeted. Maduro’s effort to spur the economy failed. Hunger and shortages hit even the armed forces. A military doctor told Reuters recently that many enlisted soldiers are underweight, subsisting primarily on pasta and lentils.
As growing numbers of troops sought to desert, the DGCIM grew more aggressive. It expanded surveillance, wiretapping senior officers.
On the top floor of its headquarters, some 40 agents in its Operational Communications Division used a platform called Genesi, according to a former member of the team.
The system, designed by Italian telecommunications firm IPS SpA, allows users to “intercept, monitor and analyze every kind of information source,” according to the company’s web site.
IPS didn’t respond to calls, emails or a letter seeking comment at its Rome headquarters. Reuters couldn’t identify an IPS office or personnel working in Venezuela.
In July 2017, Daniel, the Army lieutenant in Caracas, was summoned to his battalion commander’s office. Once a Chavez supporter, Daniel had joined the army in 2004 but under Maduro lost enthusiasm and told superiors he planned to leave. He had enrolled in law classes at a local university while still in the military and taken part in some opposition marches. Daniel’s behavior, according to the intelligence report reviewed by Reuters, was “counter-revolutionary.” The report described the university, whose name Daniel asked Reuters not to disclose, as a school for the opposition.
Upon reporting to the commander’s office, Daniel said, three uniformed counterintelligence agents confiscated his phone and said he was needed for an “interview” at DGCIM headquarters.
Daniel said agents transferred him to an underground cell and handcuffed him to a chair. Each day, a man entered and punched him repeatedly. The beatings broke two vertebrae, according to a physician’s report reviewed by Reuters. The cell was lit all hours, causing Daniel to lose track of time.
After 20 days, a military court charged him with treason, rebellion and violating military decorum. Pending a trial, he was transferred to another prison. Six months later, after entering a guilty plea, the court released Daniel on condition he remain in the country. He was expelled from the Army.
Daniel returned to law classes, but regrets pleading guilty. “I’m not sure it was the right thing to do,” he said, but noted that many who don’t enter a plea remain detained indefinitely. “You can’t fight the state.”
The surveillance has hurt even senior officers.
One case sparked national outrage, forcing the government to recognize DGCIM abuse. Rafael Acosta, a 50-year-old Navy captain, died in DGCIM custody on June 29, eight days after agents arrested him.
Tarek Saab, Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, said Acosta was detained for participating in an unspecified “right wing” plot. Acosta’s wife, Waleswka Perez, said the accusations were untrue and accused the DGCIM of torture. On July 1, Saab said the government had charged two DGCIM agents with homicide. He gave neither a cause of death nor the circumstances in which it occurred. The charges, Saab said in a statement, followed an “impartial” investigation into the “unfortunate event.” Most DGCIM handiwork never comes to light.
In March 2018, five DGCIM agents summoned Lieutenant Colonel Igbert Marin, commander of the 302nd mechanized Army brigade, in Caracas. Marin, now 40 and the father of two young children, for most of his career was a rising star who had excelled at Venezuela’s top military academy.
His wife, Yoselyn Carrizales, told Reuters the agents took Marin to the Defense Ministry, where he was met by officials including Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and Ivan Hernandez, the current head of the DGCIM.
The officials accused Marin of scheming against the government, said Carrizales, who is acting as one of Marin’s attorneys. They said they had video evidence of Marin and eight other officers conspiring, she added, but didn’t show him the video. Marin denied the allegation, saying that the meeting in question had been merely a gathering of old academy classmates. Indignant, he told the defense minister that such accusations were counterproductive, especially at a time when most of the military was suffering from shortages of food, pay and equipment.
The minister should “leave his office, open his eyes and see how soldiers actually feel,” Marin told Padrino, according to Carrizales. Another lawyer defending Marin, Alonso Medina Roa, confirmed her account. Neither Padrino nor Hernandez could be reached for comment.
The agents took Marin and the eight other officers to DGCIM headquarters. Marin later told his attorneys that agents handcuffed him to a chair, placed a bag over his head and filled it with tear gas. His lawyers detailed the alleged abuse to Reuters. A week later, at a hearing Carrizales attended, a military court charged Marin with treason, instigating rebellion and violating decorum. Agents then took Marin away. He remained incommunicado for 78 days.
“I didn’t know if he was alive or dead,” said Carrizales.
Marin remains detained, and his wife continues to work for his release. Venezuelan officials haven’t publicly commented on the case or shown Marin’s lawyers the alleged video. No trial date has been set.
“They fear him,” Carrizales said. “He is an obvious leader within the armed forces. That’s why they arrested him.”
Cuban Studies, Volume 46, 2018, pp. 375-377, University of Pittsburgh Press
The small business sector, under many different guises, often has been, since the 1960s, at the center of Cuban economic policy. In some ways, it has been the canary in the mine. As ideological winds have shifted and economic conditions changed, it has been repressed or encouraged, morphed and gone underground, surviving, if not thriving, as part of the second or underground economy. Along the way, it has helped satisfy consumer needs not fulfilled by the inefficient state economy. This intricate, at times even colorful, trajectory has seen the 1968 Revolutionary Offensive that did away with even the smallest private businesses, modest efforts to legalize self-employment in the 1979s, the Mercados Libres Campesinos experiment of the 1980s, and the late 1980s ideological retrenchment associated with the late 1980s Rectification Process.
Of much consequence—ideologically and increasingly economically—are the policy decisions implemented since the 1990s by the regime, under the leadership of both Castro brothers. Initially as part of Special Period, various emergency measures were introduced to allow Cuba to cope with the economic crisis precipitated by the collapse of the communist bloc and the end of Soviet subsidies. These early, modest entrepreneurial openings were eventually expanded as part of the deeper institutional reforms implemented by Raúl upon assuming power in 2006, at first temporarily, and then permanently upon the resignation of his brother as head of the Cuban government.
In keeping with the historical zigzag policy pattern surrounding small businesses activities—euphemistically labeled these days as the “non-state sector”—while increasingly liberal, they have not been immune to temporary reversals. Among the more significant reforms were the approval of an increasing number of self-employment occupations, gradual expansion of the number of patrons restaurants could serve (as dictated by the allowed number of chairs in privately owned paladares), and the gradual, if uneven, relaxation of regulatory, taxing, and employment regulations. Absent has been the authorization for professionals (with minor exceptions, such as student tutoring) to privately engage in their crafts and the inability to provide wholesale markets where self-employed workers could purchase inputs for their small enterprises.
The authors of this volume, an economist and a sociologist, have combined their talents and carefully documented this ever-changing policy landscape, including the cooperative sector. They have centered their attention on post–Special Period policies and their implications, specifically to “evaluate the effects of these policy changes in terms of the generation of productive employment in the non-state sector, the efficient provision of goods and servicesby this emergent sector, and the reduction in the size and scope of the underground economy” (297).
While assessing post-1990 changes, Entrepreneurial Cuba also generated a systematic examination of the evolution of the self-employment sector in the early decades of the revolution in light of shifting ideological, political, and economic motivations. Likewise, the contextual setting is enhanced by placing Cuban self-employment within the broader global informal economy framework, particularly in Latin America, and by assessing the overall features of the second economy in socialist economies “neither regulated by the state nor included in its central plan” (41). These historical and contextual factors are of prime importance in assessing the promise and potential pitfalls the small enterprise sector confronts in a changing Cuba.
Rich in its analysis, the book is balanced and comprehensive. It is wide ranging in that it carefully evaluates the many factors impinging on the performance of the small business sector, including their legal and regulatory underpinnings. The authors also evaluate challenges in the Cuban economic model and how they have shaped the proclivity for Cuban entrepreneurs to bend the rules. Present is a treatment of the informal social and trading networks that have sustained the second economy, including the ever-present pilfering of state property and the regulatory and transactional corruption so prevalent in Cuba’s centralized economy.
While none of the above is new to students of the Cuban economy—as documented in previous studies and in countless anecdotal reports—Ritter and Henken make two major contributions. First, they summarize and analyze in a single source a vast amount of historical and contemporary information. The value of the multidisciplinary approach is most evident in the authors’ assessment of how the evolving policy environment has influenced the growth of paladares, the most important and visible segment of the nonstate sector. By focusing on this segment, the authors validate and strengthen their conclusions by drawing from experiences documented in longitudinal, qualitative case studies. The latter provide insights not readily gleaned from documentary and statistical sources by grounding the analysis in realistic appreciations of the challenges and opportunities faced by entrepreneurial Cubans. Most impressive is the capacity of Cuban entrepreneurs to adapt to a policy regime constantly shifting between encouraging and constraining their activities.
Commendable, too, is the authors’ balanced approach regarding the Cuban political environment and how it relates to the non-state sector. Without being bombastic, they are critical of the government when they need to be. One of their analytical premises is that the “growth of private employment and income represents a latent political threat to state power since it erodes the ideals of state ownership of the means of production, the central plan, and especially universal state employment” (275).
This dilemma dominates the concluding discussion of future policy options. Three scenarios are considered possible. The first entails a policy reversal with a return to Fidel’s orthodoxy. This scenario is regarded as unlikely, as Raúl’s policy discourse has discredited this option. A second scenario consists of maintaining the current course while allowing for the gradual but managed growth of the non-state sector. While this might be a viable alternative, it will have limited economic and employment generation effects unless the reform process is deepened by, for example, further liberalizing the tax and regulatory regimes and allowing for the provision of professional services.
The final scenario would be one in which reforms are accelerated, not only allowing for small business growth but also capable of accommodating the emergence of medium and large enterprises in a context where public, private, and cooperative sectors coexist (311). As Ritter and Henken recognize, this scenario is unlikely to come to fruition under the historical revolutionary leadership, it would have to entail the resolution of political antagonisms between Washington and Havana, and a reappraisal by the Cuban government of its relationship with the émigré population. Not mentioned by Ritter and Henken is that eventual political developments—not foreseen today—may facilitate the changes they anticipate under their third scenario.
In short, Entrepreneurial Cuba is a must-read for those interested in the country’s current situation. Its publication is timely not only for what it reveals regarding the country’s economic, social, and political situation but also for its insights regarding the country’s future evolution.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents,
List of Charts and Figures
Chapter I Introduction
Chapter II Cuba’s Small Enterprise Sector in International and Theoretical Perspective
Chapter III Revolutionary Trajectories, Strategic Shifts, and Small Enterprise, 1959-1989
Chapter IV Emergence and Containment During the “Special Period”, 1990-2006
Chapter V The 2006-2011 Policy Framework for Small Enterprise under the Presidency of Raul Castro
Chapter VI The Movement towards Non-Agricultural Cooperatives
Chapter VII The Underground Economy and Economic Illegalities
Chapter VIII Ethnographic Case Studies of Microenterprise, 2001 vs. 2011
Buoyed by that support and by the people’s enthusiastic response to its resistance to US imperialism, the Cuban leadership pursued its foreign-policy objectives with a revolutionary elan absent in the more cautious and conservative Soviet bloc.
Cuba displayed its anti-imperialism with particular vigor in Latin America, where it supported — and often organized — guerrilla groups set on overthrowing dictatorial governments. Fidel Castro’s government devoted extra attention to countries that had severed their ties with Cuba following Washington’s directives. That is, Castro’s militant foreign policy was based not only on its revolutionary ideas also but on the Cuban state’s interests.
This helps explain why Castro maintained friendly relations with corrupt and authoritarian Mexico, the only Latin American country that refused to break diplomatic relations with revolutionary Cuba. In fact, Castro’s government abstained from criticizing Mexico’s crimes, including the October 1968 Tlatelolco massacre.
Granma, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, adopted a purely “objective” journalistic posture when covering Tlatelolco, allowing it to avoid any critical analysis of the political actors behind the massacre. While the Mexican left was denouncing the murder of hundreds of demonstrators, Granma uncritically reported the “provisional” figures provided by the “official sources”: just thirty dead, fifty-three seriously injured, and fifteen hundred arrested.
Reasons of state also explain why, after a rough start, Fidel established friendly relations with Franco’s dictatorship and why the Cuban revolutionary hierarchy, from its official unions and student organizations all the way to the top, did not support the French May ‘68 movement. Not only did French President de Gaulle refuse to toe the US line against Cuba, but he had also agreed to continue trade, which had became of crucial importance to the island following the American blockade. As with Tlatelolco in Mexico, Granma limited itself to “objectively” reporting the events of May ‘68. It strictly avoided making any political inferences or conclusions.
Despite these contradictions, Castro’s early foreign policy was governed by a set of revolutionary ideas that aimed to establish systems similar to Cuba’s across Latin America. His government supported and organized foco groups on the top-down Cuban model, which produced acrimonious conflicts with the gradualist and pro-Moscow Communist parties in countries like Venezuela and Bolivia. It also caused friction with the Soviet Union itself because Castro’s militancy jeopardized the long-standing agreement between the USSR and the United States, which held that the two imperialist powers and their partners would not intervene in each other’s spheres of influence.
This tension came to a head in 1967, when Moscow began to significantly reduce its oil shipments to Cuba in hopes of pressuring the island into moderating its aggressive foreign policy. But Castro wasn’t swayed. He responded by denouncing the USSR’s friendly overtures to Venezuela and Colombia despite their anti-communist repression. He then refused to send a top Cuban political figure to the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution in November 1967. And, at the celebration of the ninth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution in January 1968, he expressly, albeit diplomatically, connected Cuba’s tightened oil rations to the slowdown of Soviet delivery. The USSR then suspended its supply of military hardware and technical assistance.
When conflict simmered between a reform-minded Communist government in Czechoslovakia and Moscow, many wondered what the Cuban response would be. For months, Granma published very little about Czechoslovakia, entirely ignoring the reformist Prague Spring and its impact on the international left. This changed, however, in mid-July, when the paper began covering the growing confrontation between Czechoslovakia and the USSR in depth.
Most likely, Castro recognized that the key dynamics of the Czech events had shifted. Originally, protesters were calling for internal reform and democratization, which Castro would not want to have publicized on the island. (Likewise, Granmadid not cover the student movements in Poland and Yugoslavia that had taken place in March and June of that year.) But by July it had become clear that a confrontation between Czechoslovakia and the USSR was coming, one that would bring the issue of national sovereignty to the fore. US imperialist aggression made this question particularly important to Castro, and the conflict brewing between Cuba and the USSR only made the issue more urgent.
Granma focused on the external USSR-Czechoslovakia conflict, excluding the internal dimension, and wrote in some detail about other Communist parties’ reactions to the developing confrontation, regardless of which side they supported. It was clear that the newspaper — and by inference Fidel Castro, his government, and the Cuban Communist Party — would not take sides. In fact, it was going out of its way to give equal space to both parties.
But this all changed when Fidel, without having said a word about the conflict, came out in support of the Soviet invasion in August. Granma immediately adopted the Soviet line and started publishing statements from Cuban mass organizations praising Fidel’s support of the invasion.Other steps, designed to appease the Soviets and incur favors, followed. Cuba cut back on its support to Latin American guerrillas, and, in the 1970s, it carried out a rapprochement with the pro-Moscow Communist parties in the region by acknowledging that armed struggle represented only one path for revolutionary struggle. In response, these parties recognized Cuba’s vanguard role in the hemisphere’s anti-imperialist struggle.
This was the beginning of what former Soviet diplomat Yuri Pavlov called the “belated honeymoon” between the USSR and Cuba, which lasted well into the 1980s. In June 1969, the Cuban representative at the International Conference of Communist Parties in Moscow joined the pro-Soviet majority in denouncing China’s “sectarian” position. In return, the Soviet Union sent a flotilla of warships to visit Cuba. An exchange of military delegations soon followed. Marshal Andrei Grechko, the Soviet defense minister, went to Havana in November 1969, and Raúl Castro, Cuba’s defense minister, traveled to Moscow in April and October 1970. The flow of Soviet arms resumed and then increased, and Fidel Castro approved the construction of a deep-water base for Soviet submarines at Cienfuegos.
Mutual state visits came soon after, and Cuba joined the Soviet-led Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) in 1972. In that period, Cuba turned to Africa as the main focus of its revolutionary foreign policy. There, unlike in Latin America, it shared Moscow’s strategic interests.
While appeasing Moscow, Castro nevertheless preserved his right to disagree with some Soviet policies, making Cuba a junior partner, rather than a satellite, of the USSR. In fact, Castro had staked out this position from the beginning. In his speech supporting the invasion of Czechoslovakia, he not only criticized Alexander Dubcek’s “liberalism” but also the USSR’s policy of peaceful coexistence with the United States. The Cuban leader sarcastically wondered if the Soviets would dispatch Warsaw Pact troops to help defend Cuba from an attack by the imperialist Yankees.
That same year, Castro initiated what he called the Revolutionary Offensive, a project aimed at totally nationalizing the island’s economy. The state had already taken over large and middle-sized businesses in 1960, but family-owned operations remained in private hands.
Within sixteen days of the announcement, the official press reported that 55,636 small businesses had been nationalized, including bodegas, barber shops, and thousands of timbiriches (“hole-in-the-wall” establishments). The Revolutionary Offensive gave Cuba the world’s highest proportion of nationalized property.
According to Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, some 31 percent of these small businesses were retail food outlets, and another 26 percent provided consumer services, like shoe and auto repair. Restaurant and snack shops represented another 21 percent; 17 percent sold clothing and shoes. The rest (5 percent) were small handicraft establishments that manufactured leather, wood products, and textiles. Half of these small businesses were exclusively owner- and family-operated and had no employees.
Shortly after nationalization, the state closed one-third of the small enterprises. The only private activity left in Cuba was small-farm agriculture, where 150,000 farmers owned 30 percent of the land in holdings of less than 165 acres each.
One of the Revolutionary Offensive’s goals was to shut down the many thousand bars in Cuba, both private- and state-owned. The regime wanted them closed not because of opposition to alcohol but because it believed the bars fostered a prerevolutionary social ambiance, antithetic to the Castro government’s militaristic, ascetic, anti-urban campaigns to forge the “New Man.”
These campaigns began in 1963, when Castro attacked homosexuality and cultural nonconformity.. Hoping to emphasize the state’s centrality to citizens’ lives, he also went after religious dissenters, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and followers of the secret Afro-Cuban Abakuá society. Members of these groups were imprisoned in the Units of Military Aid to Production (UMAP), forced labor camps established in 1965 and disbanded in 1968.
The Revolutionary Offensive’s nationalization of all small businesses was also intended to provide the state with complete control over agricultural output. Many of the expropriated merchants bought farm products at high prices, reducing the amount available for the state.
In addition, it granted the state more power over the labor force. Absenteeism and job abandonment, generated by the lack of consumer goods, had become a major problem. To combat it, the Cuban leadership drafted a law against vagrancy, which it enacted on March 28, 1971. The legislation ordered all adult men to put in a full day’s work and established a variety of punishments ranging from house arrest to internment in forced labor rehabilitation centers. Information regarding its enforcement is unknown.
The Revolutionary Offensive exemplifies Castro’s super-voluntarist, “idealist” approach to socialization. The policy equated private property in general with capitalist private property in particular, a misreading of Friedrich Engels’sSocialism: Utopian and Scientific.
There, Engels distinguished modern capitalism, in which individual capitalists appropriate the products of social and collective activity, from socialism, where both production and its appropriation are socialized. Accordingly, productive property involving collective work is the proper object of socialization, not the individual or family productive unit, let alone personal property.
Besides this confusion, the Cuban government was in no position to take over the distribution of goods and services from small businesses — the nationalization program reinforced, instead of ameliorated, the shortage of consumer goods.
The Ten Million Ton Sugar Crop campaign, planned for January 1969 to July 1970, is another example of Castro’s voluntarist orientation. This extravagant effort never achieved its goal. Instead, it diverted scarce production and transportation inputs, causing serious disruptions to the island’s economy.
As historian Lillian Guerra pointed out, the campaign represented far more than an exercise in voluntarism or “idealism.” It aimed not only “to revive the ‘júbilo popular’ (mass euphoria) of the early sixties and thereby restore the unconditional standards of support for government policies” but, more importantly, “to prove the value of labor discipline and enforce it simultaneously.”
Likewise, as Mesa-Lago pointed out, Castro used the Revolutionary Offensive to mobilize as much of the labor force as possible for production, particularly in agriculture, in order to reinforce labor discipline, save inputs, and exhort workers to increase productivity and do unpaid work. In April 1968, the official union confederation recruited a quarter of a million workers to perform farm labor without pay for twelve hours per day over three to four weeks. Some 2.5 million days were “donated” by workers who spent fourteen weeks on coffee plantations.
These campaigns were all launched in response to that decade’s economic crisis, one that became qualitatively worse with the criminal economic blockade established by the United States in the early sixties. But the bureaucratic and chaotic top-down administration of the economy generated that crisis.
As Andrés Vilariño, a Cuban government economist pointed out, investment inefficiency was one of the principal causes of declining economic productivity in the sixties. For example, expensive imported machinery sat in warehouses and ports for so long, most of it rusted over. Meanwhile, the inadequate supply of consumer goods, combined with the lack of worker control of the production process and the absence of independent unions, engendered a sense of apathy among Cuban workers. The lack of transparency in decision making, not to mention the inaccurate economic information coming from a lower management class fearful of reprisals for reporting bad news, produced bad planning and waste, often aggravated by Fidel Castro’s capricious interventions and micromanagement.
In one telling case, he tried to introduce a new breed of cattle, the F1 hybrid, against the advice of British experts that he himself had brought to Cuba. The project wasted millions of dollars.
In 1968, Castro shifted the repression already being deployed on his government’s enemies (even critics from the pro-revolutionary left). First, the government eliminated some of the most excessive forms of punishment, closing, for example, the UMAP agricultural labor camps. Second, government policing efforts zeroed in on any political and cultural expression that deviated from the official party line.
A case in point was the old Communist leader Aníbal Escalante. In 1962, he was purged from the government and party and then jailed for his sectarian attempt to accumulate power by excluding revolutionaries who did not belong to the old pro-Moscow Communist Party from government positions. In 1968, he was again purged and jailed, this time on charges of having formed a “micro-faction” within the Cuban Communist Party critical of Castro’s economic policies. He was also accused of meeting with Eastern European diplomats in order to gain their support. For Fidel — and his brother Raúl, assigned to officially charge Escalante — this “micro-faction” jeopardized their efforts to impose a single line in the party.
The affair demonstrates the disproportion between the supposed offense and the punishment. Not only were many of Escalante’s criticisms of Castro’s economic policies correct — especially with regard to the disastrous ten million ton sugar-crop campaign — but no evidence ever indicated that Escalante and his small group were conspiring to remove or overthrow the Cuban government with or without the support of Eastern European diplomats. The group may have been “unpatriotic,” as the government charged, but its activities were peaceful and therefore subject to public political debate. Instead, the regime, following the Stalinist tradition, turned it into a criminal case.
Castro had thirty-five of the thirty-seven members of Escalante’s group tried by a so-called War Council (Consejo de Guerra), which the government assembled specially to impose stiff sentences. Escalante was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, and thirty-four of his associates were sentenced to terms ranging from one to twelve years. The two remaining members belonged to the armed forces and were therefore referred to the Revolutionary Armed Forces’ prosecutor for processing.
By adopting these separate paths, the government implicitly recognized most of Escalante’s group as civilians, who were supposed to be processed differently from, and under less onerous rules than, the military. Despite this implicit difference, they faced a War Council, where they earned harsher sentences than they might have received otherwise.
Castro also turned his attention to Cuban dissenters in the cultural realm. In January, 1968, the government opened the Havana Cultural Congress, inviting more than five hundred intellectuals from seventy countries to attend, including prominent left-wing social scientists and historians such as Ralph Miliband and E. J. Hobsbawm, well-known Caribbean and Latin American literary figures like Aimé Cesaire, Julio Cortázar, and Mario Benedetti, famous European writers such as Michel Leiris, Jorge Semprún, and Arnold Wesker, as well as left-wing politicos such as several leaders of the North American SDS and SNCC. The congress, which focused on the topic of political, economic, and cultural anti-imperialism, was ostensibly carried out in an open manner. According to independent observers, all the presentations and resolutions that participants proposed were included without any interference.
Thanks to this apparent openness, neither the foreign guests nor many of the invited Cuban intellectuals suspected that an important group of black Cuban intellectuals and artists — among them Rogelio Martínez Furé, Nancy Morejón, Sara Gómez, Pedro Pérez-Sarduy, Nicolás Guillén Landrián, and Walterio Carbonell — had been excluded.
According to the Black Cuban author Carlos Moore, the group had been meeting to discuss the Cuban government’s lack of action against racism, a problem that the revolutionary leaders claimed to have solved with the abolition of racial segregation in the early sixties. In response to a rumor that these intellectuals had drafted a position paper on race and culture in Cuba for the congress, Minister of Education José Llanusa Gobel called them in for a private meeting a couple of days before the event began. After listening to their critiques, Llanusa accused them of being “seditious” and told them that the “revolution” would not allow them to “divide” the Cuban people along racial lines. He explained that the very idea of their “black manifesto” was a provocation for which they would have to recant or face the consequences.
He then barred them from the congress. In addition, each member was subjected to various degrees of punishment. The worst was meted to those unwilling to recant, such as Nicolás Guillén Landrián, the nephew of the national poet laureate and then-president of the Cuban writers and artists union. After the congress, he was repeatedly arrested and later left Cuba as an exile.
Walterio Carbonell, one of the group’s leaders, also refused to recant. A Cuban exponent of Black Power politics, he had originally belonged to the old pro-Moscow Cuban Communist Party. Ironically, he had been expelled from that organization for supporting Fidel Castro’s attack on the Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953. After the revolution, he served as Cuba’s ambassador to the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN). In 1961, he published his Critique: How Cuba’s National Culture Emerged, where he argued that black Cubans had played a major role in the war of independence and the establishment of the republic — a fact that the prerevolutionary white racist culture and institutions had erased. Moreover, he claimed that the black Cuban experience was at the heart of the Cuban Revolution’s radicalism — accordingly, the struggle against racism strengthened rather than weakened the revolution.
Thanks to these arguments, Carbonell endured various forms of detention between 1968 and 1974, including compulsory labor. According to Lillian Guerra, after he was released in 1974, he continued to defend his ideas, so he was interned in various psychiatric hospitals and subjected to electroshock and drug therapy for another two to three years. After that, Carbonell spent his remaining years as a little-known researcher at the National Library.
Unlike Carbonell’s cases, the repression case of Cuban poet and journalist Heberto Padilla became well known very quickly. In 1968, Padilla won was awarded the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba’s (UNEAC) most prestigious prize for his book of poems Fuera del Juego (Outside the Game). But the government objected to Padilla’s critical, nonconformist spirit and condemned the work, forcing UNEAC to change its line on it as well.
Ostracized and unable to publish in Cuba, Padilla was arrested for daring to read several of his new poems in public and trying to publish a new novel. He was compelled to confess, in Stalinist fashion, his political sins in 1971. This provoked an international scandal, and a large group of well-known intellectuals sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Julio Cortazar, protested. In response, the regime banned and withdrew from the country’s libraries the works of any Latin American and European intellectual who objected to Padilla’s treatment.
In 1968, the government began using repressive to enforce a monolithic cultural line. This shift created the foundation of what was later called the Quinquenio Gris, the five-year period from 1971 to 1976 in which the Castro regime brutally repressed nonconformist expression. In 1971, the National Congress of Education and Culture viciously attacked gay artists and intellectuals, banned gays from representing Cuba abroad in artistic, political, and diplomatic missions, and branded the Afro-Cuban Abakuá brotherhood a “focus of criminality” and “juvenile delinquency.” Over those five years, the government imposed “parameters” on professionals in the fields of education and culture in order to scrutinize their sexual preferences, religious practices, and relationships with people abroad, among other political and personal issues.
The late Cuban architect Mario Coyula Cowley insisted that the Quinquenio Grishad in fact been the Trinquenio Amargo (the “bitter fifteen years”), because it had really started in the second half of the sixties. The hope that Castro would have supported Czech national self-determination and the upheavals of revolutionary 1968 to chart an independent, more democratic course for the Cuban Revolution was quickly lost.
Traditionally in Cuba, the first son is named after his father or his grandfather. When Fidel Angel Castro Diaz-Balart was born in 1949, he was given the names of both: Fidel after his father, then a little-known but politically ambitious lawyer, and Angel for his grandfather, a penniless Spanish immigrant who had become a wealthy landowner in eastern Cuba.
Mirta Francisca de la Caridad Díaz-Balart y Gutiérrez (born September 30, 1928) and Fidel Castro Ruz,
Fidel, Mirta and FidelitoFidelito, 1959
Fulgencio Batista, Dictator, 1952-1958.
Batista was from the same area of Cuba as the Diaz-Balart and Castro families – Banes and Biran in what is now Holguin Province. The families were friends. It is said that Batista was at the 1948 wedding of Mirta and Fidel, though I have not seen evidence of that. It is also said that Batista gave the couple a wedding gift of $1000.00 for their honeymoon in the United States. However, I have no proof of this neither. In any case, with the divorce of Fidel and Mirta and the Revolution, the Castro’s and Diaz-Balarts became bitter enemies. Indeed the US-Cuba conflict has been pretty much all in the family. (Arch Ritter)
As Fidel Angel grew up, people just called him affectionately “Fidelito”. The diminutive nickname stuck, even after his father had become one of the most recognisable faces of the 20th Century, a Cold War icon who divided opinion around the world, and Fidelito himself a respected nuclear physicist.
Despite his fame and notoriety, Fidel Castro remained intensely private about his family until his death in 2016.
It was preparing for the revolution in the early days that he made his first decisive act over his son. Already divorced from Fidelito’s mother, Mirta Diaz-Balart, Fidel arranged for his young son to visit him in exile in Mexico where he was planning the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship in Havana. Taking a typically uncompromising position on something that mattered to him, Fidel simply refused to send the boy home to his mother.
Tough act to follow
It wouldn’t be the last time Fidel Castro flexed his iron will over family affairs, ensuring that his son would eventually be educated in the Soviet Union rather than reside with his mother in Spain or the US.
It might be hard to recall today just how significant a figure Fidel Castro was at the height of his power and, as such, what it must have been like to be his son.
With Fidelito’s death on Friday, comparisons have been made to being the child of a superstar actor or musician. But the reality goes much further because in Cuba, Fidel was everything. He was often the first voice people heard in the morning when they turned on their radios and the last one they heard at night before going to bed. He was involved in every aspect of Cuban life – political, economic and cultural – and he was revered by some almost as a God, if not a kind of prophet.
It was never expected of Fidelito that he would try to fill those enormous guerrilla boots, but the stresses of the constant comparison must have been difficult to live with. Even when he had become a successful nuclear physicist, he couldn’t shake off Fidel’s shadow. His father even once sacked him as head of the island’s nuclear programme for “incompetence”, showing he was prepared to wield the axe against his own family if needed when it came to putting the revolution first.
Then there were the other family connections. Never was a family more ideologically split than the Castro Diaz-Balarts.
After his parents divorced, Fidelito’s mother, Mirta, moved to Spain. Her brother, Rafael Diaz-Balart, whom Fidel Castro detested, had been a politician in Batista’s government. Today, his sons Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart have both been US lawmakers for Florida, representing staunchly anti-Castro positions on Cuba. They have not spoken publicly about the loss of their cousin. They are Fidelito’s cousins but neither man has offered their condolences so far, at least not in public.
The Castro clan is, at times, as complex as the family whose lives it somehow echoed in Washington: the Kennedys.
Similarly beset with the pressures and responsibilities of office from a young age, and the years marked with the occasional family tragedy, the two eldest sons, Fidelito and John Jr Kennedy, might have found they had much in common if they’d ever had the chance to drink a rum and smoke a cigar together.
After his long training in the USSR, Fidelito grew into a highly skilled man, fluent in English, Russian, French and Spanish. He was considered one of the best scientists in his field. His tragic end – taking his own life after efforts were made to treat him for clinical depression – comes just over a year after the death of his iconic father.
Suicide is still a taboo subject in Cuba. Once even considered “anti-revolutionary”, it is much more common than generally reported on the island.
Perhaps in the final analysis, Fidelito Castro will be remembered as someone who had tried his best to make his own name, despite the evident weight of the one he was given.
Culture and the Cuban State examines the politics of culture in communist Cuba. It focuses on cultural policy, censorship, and the political participation of artists, writers and academics such as Tania Bruguera, Jesús Díaz, Rafael Hernández, Kcho, Reynier Leyva Novo, Leonardo Padura, and José Toirac. The cultural field is important for the reproduction of the regime in place, given its pretense and ambition to be eternally “revolutionary” and to lead a genuine “cultural revolution”. Cultural actors must be mobilized and handled with care, given their presumed disposition to speak their mind and to cherish their autonomy.
This book argues that cultural actors also seek recognition by the main (for a long time the only) sponsor and patron of the art in Cuba: the “curator state”. The “curator state” is also a “gatekeeper state,” arbitrarily and selectively opening and closing the space for public expression and for access to foreign currencies and the global market. The time when everything was either mandatory or forbidden is over in Cuba. The regime seems to have learned from egregious mistakes that led to a massive exodus of artists, writers and academics. In a country where things change so everything could stay the same, the controlled opening in the cultural field, playing on the actors’ ambition and fear, illuminates a broader phenomenon: the evolving rules of the political game in the longest standing dictatorship of the hemisphere.
Yvon Grenier is professor of political science at St. Francis Xavier University.
Table of Contents:
List of Acronyms
Chapter 1: Revolution and Cultural Will
Chapter 2: Don’t Cross This Line
Chapter 3: Jesus Diaz, the Unintentional Deviationist
Chapter 4: The Curator State
Chapter 5: How to Write From Mantilla, Of the Small Heresies of Leonardo Padura
Chapter 6: Faking Criticism
Yvon Grenier, a sharp-eyed observer of culture and politics in Latin America, provides an illuminating analysis of the complex relations between Cuba’s intellectuals and the Castro regime. Exceeding the revolutionary rhetoric which has impressed much of the research on Cuba in the past, Grenier looks seriously and rigorously into the state’s cultural policy over time, showing how changes in that policy from repression to liberalization and back have not altered the fundamental position of Cuba’s artists, writers and political scientists, a position marked by fear, censorship, self-censorship, and the need to perform intellectual acrobatics. A must-read for anyone concerned with the fate of creative imagination and critical thinking in authoritarian states. Michael Keren, University of Calgary
Everywhere in the world intellectuals, writers, and academics are a different breed who seek participation and recognition from their public and peers as well as their state. In his analysis of Cuba’s cultural policy during the Cuban revolution, Yvon Grenier carefully shows that in a communist state that quest is particularly difficult and dangerous. In Cuba, a line was drawn early on between those who work within the revolutionary parameters and gain acceptance, though at times managing to be quite critical (dissonance) and those who work outside of it, meeting rejection and ostracism (dissidence). Yet, through his analysis of the hardships, vicissitudes, and circumstances of the lives of important Cuban intellectuals (such as Jesús Díaz, Tania Bruguera, and Leonardo Padura), Grenier further shows that where the line lies can be rather unclear, leading to some crossing it unwittingly while others place their stories in another century and another place to avoid it. Grenier shows that the political control of the cultural life in a one party state like Cuba results not only in censorship but also in self-censorship. For everyone who cares about the quality of intellectual life in Cuba and elsewhere, this is a book not to be missed. Silvia Pedraza, University of Michigan
This book is a path-breaking work that convincingly turns the conventional wisdom about the ‘cultural policy’ of the Cuban Revolution on its head. Most compelling and original is the author’s nimble analysis that distinguishes between a set of unwritten but untouchable “primary parameters” and another set of “secondary” and contextually permeable parameters that such cultural actors must constantly negotiate in order to avoid being dealt “out of the game” of Cuban culture as played on the island under the Revolution. The strongest contribution of the book is to change the focus on cultural freedom in Cuba from one that focuses exclusively on the state to one that focuses equally on the ways Cuban writers, artists, and intellectuals negotiate with the state, in search not only of greater creative freedom but also (and ironically) state recognition and promotion. Ted A. Henken, Baruch College