Castro’s "Confession"

“I asked him [Fidel Castro]  if he believed the Cuban model was still  something worth exporting.”

— Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic Blog,  September  8, 2010

“In their ravings they pretend that Cuba is an exporter of revolutions. In  their sleepless business and usurers’ minds they believe that revolutions  can be sold and bought, rent or lent, export or import as one more  merchandise.

— Fidel Castro, February 4, 1962

“We maintain that a revolution cannot be imported or exported. A socialist  state cannot be established through artificial insemination or by the  transplant of embryos. Revolution required the proper conditions developed  within the very society, and only the people of the country can be its own  creator.”

— Fidel Castro, December 7, 1989

Is there a “Cuban model” of socialism? Apparently the rightwing thinks so;  the left disagrees.  The phrase “Cuban model” is not a common occurrence in  Cuban government circles.

What exactly is a “model”?  The Collins Dictionary of Sociology defines  “model” as a “simplification of complex reality” that avoids “complicating  factors.”  As a rule of thumb I would claim that those who know little  history [or sociology] tend to grasp for the term model when they are merely  generalizing because they do not have much more to go on.  This vague term  leaves readers with no other choice but to reinforce their preconceptions  about “the Cuban model”. A model can also imply something that others ought  to follow or copy.

Nevertheless, it is possible to discern a  number of features that have been  fairly consistent and characteristic of the Cuban revolutionary experience.

First, the Cuban revolution has stressed and continues to stress that  national sovereignty is paramount and will be defended to the death and that  no concessions will ever be made. That is certainly a central feature.  Moreover, they have managed  to survive US government dictates and  pressures.

Second, the Cuban revolution has created a political and social system that  depends on mass mobilization. The extent and degree that mass mobilization  has been used has changed over time. All the mass organizations in the  island have been structured on the basis that people are organized to  implement policy. In certain periods mass mobilization have been more used  than at other times – for example, in sugar harvest time, census taking,  health campaigns, or nomination of candidates for political office. There  are other examples that one could provide. But, should such features  constitute a “model”?

Third, the Cuban revolution has followed a fairly practical, pragmatic and  result-oriented approach in the organization of the economy. That has led a  number of scholars to point out that Cuban revolutionary economic history  could be organized in fairly distinct “periods.” Usually the outsiders,  particularly journalists and visitors who happen to have little knowledge of  economics in general assume that in the island there has been just one  economic arrangement in which everything flows from the top down and that  output, prices, etc are simply part of a so-called command economy. Such  characterization would be consistent with the movie Bananas, but it is  hardly a description of the historical process. Consequently, people are  shocked  when they are informed that in Cuba hotel chains compete with one  another on the prices offered to tourists. Outsiders do not realize that  there is a budgetary system of finance and another financial system called  cálculo económico, or a sistema empresarial. In fact, it is assumed that  “capitalist methods” are not used  or that  the opposite is true – when  outsiders assume that any item that is sold for a profit is an example of  capitalism!. Such economic ignorance is certainly quaint but leads to  simplistic views and assumptions.. The reality of the Cuban economic system  is that there are over 100 flowers blooming at the same time – to use a  Chinese metaphor. One example should suffice: there are three types of  cooperatives in the  country’s agriculture; and there are also different  types of state agricultural properties.

Fourth, the Cuban revolutionary regime has developed a “modelo medico;” that  is, a medical approach that stresses the decentralization of medicinal  services [the family doctor] as well as paying much more attention to  prevention in order to avoid expensive medical treatment. THAT model, which  also happens to be free of direct charge to the consumer, is indeed, a model  that has been emulated and copied by countries throughout the world. But the  model is not exported by the island; rather third countries import the  personnel to have it in their own nation states.

Fifth, there is a Cuban model as well in the use of highly educated  professionals who generate money for the country by providing services as  educators, technical personnel and other skilled labor abroad. The Cuban  educational methods of teaching the illiterate and achieving very high  positive results in elementary and secondary education constitute models  that UNICEF and UNESCO have considered worthy of emulation.

Sixth, the Cuban revolution certainly committed itself to as much social  equality as possible – thus a free health care, free education and free [or  fairly cheap] child care. Since 1964,, Cuba also has had a subsidized food  distribution system. But that has changed over time as well. These programs  have changed over time. Note: a portion of the Cuban military budget is self  financed; is that a model to be emulated?

There is no such a thing as a Cuban revolutionary model. The revolutionary  regime has been pragmatic and changed over time, whenever circumstance  required it, which is why it is possible to speak of different periods since  1959. Only those who are ill acquainted with the Cuban reality could come up  with the assertion that there is an all encompassing, never changing Cuban  model. Last, but not least:  The Cuban process takes inspiration from over a  century of self-definition and historical developments.  The influence of  José Martí  in particular is essential for an understanding of contemporary  Cuba. [This is a point  provided to me by Professor  John Kirk of Dalhousie  University].

 Needless to say, the United States government and its mass media and  academic institutions do preach and compel  the export of a neoliberal  “model” to the rest of the world. That model, of course, has not taken into  account the unique histories and cultures of other societies. In the  neoliberal paradigm the model fits all nations states, all cultures and all  needs. The neoliberal model in its claim to be global and universalistic  dismisses the right of self determination and sovereignty. That is, in the  final analysis,  the the core assumption of the questions made by Jeffrey  Goldberg. Fidel Castro, on the other hand, has consistently supported the  right of self determination – including the right of each country to find  its own path and way.

The following colleagues provided useful comments and suggestions: Karen  Wald, Machetera, Robert Sandels, John Kirk, Joseph Garcia, and Ned Sublette.

Nelson P Valdés is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and director of the Cuba-L Direct Project at the University of New Mexico.

This article was written for CounterPunch and Cuba-L Direct.



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Nelson P. Valdes is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.

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