Revolution and Socialism in Cuba



Revolutionary dictatorship and consensus building

National revolution, democracy and dictatorship: the construction of consensus (1959-1970)

“We can never become dictators… As for me, I am a man who knows when it is necessary to leave” – “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing” (Fidel Castro).

When the Cuban revolution triumphed, in the first days of 1959, euphoria, as in the days of the great victories that everyone imagines sharing, took over society.

A wide and heterogeneous front was constituted against the bloodthirsty and corrupt dictatorship of Fulgêncio Batista.[I] . Under the leadership of the Movimento Revolucionario 26 de Julho/MR-26, and Fidel Castro, especially from 1957 onwards, students from the University of La Habana, grouped mostly around the Directorio Revolucionario dos Estudantes/DRE, participated in it. and the Federation of University Students/FEU, the liberals of Prio Socarrás[ii], the remnants affiliated to the Orthodox Party[iii], democrats from all sides, the communists of the Popular Socialist Party/PSP and even civilian cadres and officers of the armed forces linked to the regime, but dissatisfied with the excesses of the dictatorship[iv]. In the end, since 1958, even in the USA, between currents liberals[v] a movement supporting the revolution had strengthened, which certainly contributed to the suspension of military aid to Batista, decreed by the US government in the middle of that year.[vi].

The unanimity of historical processes that eliminate powerful, common enemies, seeming to dilute social, political and cultural differences. It was not the work of chance, but a difficult and skillful weaving, capable of articulating disparate interests around certain common programmatic objectives[vii].

What were they?

The reaffirmation of national independence, revoked in practice by the options and practices of the Batista dictatorship that had opened wide the country's doors to American commercial and financial interests. What's more, what offended Cuban pride, turning the country into an immense whorehouse, open to foreign tourists and all drug trafficking that can be imagined. True, and since May 1934, the infamous Platt Amendment, included in the 1902 Constitution, had been revoked, guaranteeing the right of American intervention, whenever and when the interests and lives of its citizens were considered threatened... by the US governments.

However, even within the framework of F. Roosevelt's good neighbor policy, and even afterwards, Cuba's economic dependence deepened, evidenced, among other factors, by the almost exclusive sale of its great export product, sugar. , at preferential prices, to the American market, and for the purchase of land and industrial and real estate assets by capital from the same origin. This is why the importance of the figure of the US ambassador in Havana became notorious, a crucial key to all sorts of articulations and political projects.

It was not just about achieving economic emancipation, but about recovering dignity, cubanity, the pride of belonging to a society free to choose its destinies. In this sense, the epic feat of the independence struggles (1868-1878 and 1895-1898), the historical figures involved in them, in particular José Martí, the Apostle of Independence, were triggered with almost religious reverence and anointing. It was necessary to resume the fight, frustrated by historical circumstances, of the great ancestors. The revolution against Batista would. It was his essential commitment[viii].

The other basic aspect was the restoration of democracy. Since the establishment of the dictatorship, everyone, especially Fidel Castro, has brandished the need to reinstate the 1940 constitution, considered a key reference in the resumption of the path of democracy and the reinvigoration of democratic institutions.[ix]. Not for free, José Miro Cordona and Manuel Urrutia took on important posts in the first revolutionary government, constituted in the first days of January 1959.[X], liberal democrats, committed to democratic freedoms.

Regaining independence and democracy: the strength of these two axes gave the revolutionary victory of 1959 a clear national-democratic character. Which doesn't mean they were the only ones. Much was also said, since Fidel Castro's famous speech when he was judged, in 1954, on the necessary reforms to combat the glaring social injustices existing in Cuba.[xi]. During the guerrilla struggle, in 1957-1958, commitments in this sense would be explicitly assumed by the MR-26 and by Fidel Castro and even had, in certain areas, a beginning of application, such as, for example, land reform measures, benefiting peasants who lived in the saws. However, such references and aspirations could be understood in the context of the 1940 constitution and it would be an obvious anachronism to argue that the revolution, especially in its beginnings, gave the social reform program the same emphasis that it attributed to the national question and the reestablishment of democracy in Island.

Thus, in the first days of 1959, around the reconquest of democracy and national independence, a solid political front was constituted, bringing together a large majority, either frankly favorable, or merely sympathetic, or even accepting the dominant situation as inevitable. , a kind of wave against which it was not worth resisting, for lack of means or will, or both.

However, under this apparent unity, movements and trends were underway that would soon surprise people. They would point, as soon became evident, to an emphatic affirmation of the national question, at the expense, or to the detriment, of the organization of democratic institutions. A set of circumstances and options would contribute in this sense.

First, the authoritarian dynamic inherent in nationalist movements. By the very fact of appealing to the constitution of a supreme identity, over specificities of all kinds – ethnic, social, corporate, gender, among others –, the national reference tends to demand the dilution of particularisms, considered selfish, in favor of strengthening of the national whole, figured as generous and sublime. Questioning national proposals, when they prevail, can very quickly become a question of impatriotism, disqualified as an act of national treason.

It should also be emphasized the decisive character that guerrilla warfare assumed. It is not a question of returning to the mistaken reading of the revolution made by R. Debray and endorsed, in the 60s, by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.[xii]. Undoubtedly, the Cuban revolution became victorious due to a complex contest of movements and forms of struggle, but it would be inappropriate not to recognize the decisive role that the action of the guerrilla columns, and their military victories, assumed in the final disintegration, political and moral, of the armed forces that defended the dictatorship. Not gratuitously, when victory was defined, in the first days of 1959, the revolutionary institution, ultimate, was the Rebel Army, recognized as such by the vast majority of the population and political leaders, often malgré eux-mêmes.

Now, as much as the popular guerrillas encourage the exercise of a certain political participationism, especially in the liberated areas, or in certain specific moments, when the guerrillas and the simple soldiers of the revolution are called to give their opinion, to discuss and, even, to decide the adoption of certain measures, or the carrying out of certain operations, in general, as a universal tendency, war, and the institution of the army, even rebel or revolutionary armies, tend to strengthen centralist, vertical structures and political procedures, in in short, authoritarian.

In the moments following the revolutionary victory, with the institutions of the dictatorship dissolved, including the armed forces, the structure of the Rebel Army, commanded by Fidel Castro, emerged unchallenged. Since then, the country would be galvanized by an unavoidable militarist tendency, very present in the political vocabulary. It was symptomatic that the revolution took on a color, and it was no longer red, or black (the original colors of the MR-26), but olive green. And the leaders of the revolution became jefes, the leaders, commanders. At the top, the highest commander, supreme jefe, Fidel Castro.

In the folds of these symbols and titles, military, militarized, the dark face of the dictatorship was already being drawn.

Another aspect, no less important, reinforced the trend. The fact is that, despite having been undertaken by a plurality of forces and forms of struggle, in the very course of the process, urban forms of struggle (urban guerrilla warfare, sabotage, strike movements, etc.) suffered catastrophic defeats. The failed assault on the Batista Palace (March 1957); the crushed revolt of the naval base at Cienfuegos (September 1957); the drastic defeat of the general strike against Batista (April 1958), all these experiences, although of great importance, were nevertheless literally crushed.

The organizations, leaders and political spaces most involved in these episodes were weakened there. And, as a consequence, political personalities of the first importance were lost, removed and weakened politically, or murdered, who, eventually, could shadow, or rival, the bosses from the guerrillas: José Antonio Echeverría and other important leaders of the urban guerrillas in Havana, linked to the DRE, murdered after the March 1957 action; Frank País, key figure of the MR-26, in Santiago de Cuba, also assassinated in 1957; Faustino Perez, urban leader of the MR-26, greatly weakened since the defeat of the 1958 general strike.

Then, in 1959, the removal of commanders of the Rebel Army dissatisfied with the direction of the revolution, but powerless to redirect them (Huber Mattos, Manuel Ray, among others) and the tragic disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos, in October of that year , the most popular MR-26 guerrilla leader after Fidel Castro[xiii].

Among the great leaders, only Ernesto Che Guevara remained who, at the time, however, was a determined defender of Soviet socialism, the militarization of the revolution and the tendencies favorable to the establishment of a revolutionary dictatorship[xiv].

The process that followed, until 1970, only reinforced these trends. The counter-revolutionary attempts to destabilize the new government, from the 1961 invasion of the Bay of Pigs, passing through the rural guerrillas (Escambray), urban sabotage and bombings, until 1965, plus the attempts to assassinate the leaders, committed in in particular, against Fidel Castro; the missile crisis in October 1962; the massive migrations of malcontents, the so-called worms (worms). In such an atmosphere, it became increasingly difficult to defend intermediate positions, or to debate alternatives to extreme polarizations.[xv].

In the context of open confrontation between the US and the revolutionary nation that was rising, an exasperating dialectic of pressures, advances, blockades and retaliations undertaken by the Eisenhower and Kennedy governments to destroy the new regime was unleashed. In contrast, the unity of Cubans, humiliated and offended for decades, appeared as something almost imposed by circumstances.

Surprising the world, David faced Goliath and, reliving the biblical combat, and despite the losses, he won, or rather, he survived. The two Havana Declarations[xvi], war cries against international capitalism and imperialism and the guerrilla waves in the Americas south of the Rio Grande, at a given moment, seemed to be able to break the international isolation of revolutionary Cuba, an epic process of confrontation and wars, where the proposals were offensive, not fearing, if that were the case, the hypothesis of eventual catastrophes and apocalypses[xvii].

And so, a national-democratic revolution, plural in its origins and consequences, became unique, almost monolithic. The option for socialism also played a key role there, considering the dynamics of the Soviet model, based on the nationalization of social and economic life, on the centralized plan and on political dictatorship.[xviii]. Evidently, the fragile traditions of Cuban democratic institutions, marked by oligarchic games, rampant corruption, rigged elections and the demoralization of professional politicians, also weighed heavily.

Conditioned by these circumstances, the revolutionary dictatorship emerged, based, politically, on the single party and on the personal, uncontested leadership of the commander en jefe[xx]. Baffled by his immense talent and also by the erasure of potential rivals, the figure of the dictator was projected: Fidel Castro Ruz. The power having been palmed, he would never let it go. Even because, around it, a solid consent[xx].

The first truly epic years, from the revolutionary victory to the missile crisis, between 1959-1962, were followed, until 1970, by a difficult period: Cuba broke with its historical dependence on the US, but slipped, almost inexorably into another dependence. , from the USSR. Very quickly, the somewhat naive romantic illusions in proletarian internationalism were decanted. Che Guevara, who had embarked body and soul on these illusions, soon understood the limits and servitudes of the alliance with the USSR[xxx]. Fidel and his brother Raul took a more realistic, pragmatic view of this, and tended to see a certain degree of dependency as inevitable. The important thing would be to preserve margins of autonomy, always striving to widen them.

A great key in this sense resided in a process of expanding the revolution on a world scale, particularly in Latin America.

For this purpose, and there was still an agreement between Che and Fidel, it was a matter of doing everything possible to create two, three and other Vietnams, as Che liked to say. The founding of the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America/OSPAAAL, in Havana, in 1966, constituted, in practice, an outline of a true revolutionary international of third-world peoples. In each major region, it would be necessary to structure a specific organization. The following year, in 1967, also in Havana, the Latin American Solidarity Organization/OLAS was founded, bringing together alternative revolutionary movements in the region that were already launched, or preparing to launch popular guerrillas in the Nuestra América area.[xxiii].

However, due to the inadequacy of the forms of struggle, or because the governments of the region, aggressively supported by the USA, no longer let themselves be surprised, or because of the non-revolutionary social dynamics, or because of the combination of all these circumstances, the revolutionary projects did not succeed, they were defeated, some still in embryonic forms, aborted. The defeat of Che's own attempt in Bolivia in 1967, followed by his assassination on October 9 of that year, was a bell tolling.[xxiii].

Cuba was isolated. And it would remain isolated.

But the USSR was aware of Cuban specificity. And he had a great interest in keeping it in the socialist camp, without transforming the Island into a people's democracy on the standards of Central Europe. Throughout a first phase, throughout the 60s, inclusively, it tended to stoically support revolutionary speeches and criticisms from Cubans, not least because, to a certain extent, they were perceived as a revitalizing tonic for the comfortable Soviet society. However, massive purchases of Cuban sugar, the supply of oil and all kinds of inputs and goods, and arms and ammunition, at low prices or free of charge, would have to have counterparts.

The formation of the Cuban Communist Party/PCC, in 1965, was already a sign, as well as the growing importance in the high posts of the State apparatus of former PSP leaders, or supporters of an unreserved alliance with the USSR[xxv]. Later, the speech in support of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the USSR and its allies, in August 1968, made by Fidel Castro, signaled for many the definitive adherence to the Soviet orbit[xxiv].

However, there would still be one last attempt to keep the chances of autonomy open: the Gran Zafra, in 1970, to which Fidel Castro committed himself, almost obsessively, in his usual voluntarism. In his view, the target of 10 million tons, once achieved, would allow the country to earn enough foreign exchange to, at the very least, establish reasonable terms of incorporation into the Soviet alliance.

The bet was lost again.

Nothing was left but the integration in the socialist camp under the terms and conditions proposed by the USSR.

Prosperity under the Soviet shadow: the consolidation of consensus (1970-1985)

“It is more important to end hunger, poverty, disease and unemployment than to hold elections. What's the use of having freedom and rights if you can't enjoy that freedom and those rights?” (Fidel Castro).

In 1972, Cuba officially joined the Mutual Economic Assistance Council/CAME, a kind of socialist common market, directed and governed by the USSR. Henceforth, as a participating country, the Island would be subordinated to the international division of labor dictated by the Soviets. The dependency would now consolidate and accentuate. But the results, at least in the short term, would not be the least bit disappointing, at least for the majority of the Cuban people.

In fact, according to ECLAC data, between 1950 and 1971, Cuba registered an average annual growth of 3,4% in gross product. Now, between 1972 and 1985, golden years of the prevalence of the integration model to the Soviet world, the average annual growth rate almost doubled, passing to a comfortable 6,0% per year[xxv].

An analysis of foreign trade data is also very illustrative, registering sustained growth in imports and exports, especially from the early 70s onwards, and it is important to underline that deficits are permanent and, in general, on the rise. In the second half of the 70s, there are still zigzags, but the deficit has increased alarmingly since then, reaching peaks of more than 2 billion dollars a year, reaching, in the late 80s, more than 2,5 billion dollars. dollars. At that time, Cuba accumulated a debt of 23.555 billion dollars[xxviii]. That is, the country was being financed by the USSR and its allies.

Thousands of Soviet technicians and from other backgrounds, but from the socialist camp, civil and military, flocked to advise and advise.

In the largely nationalized economy, or under state control, the Central Planning Board/JUCEPLAN and the Economy Management and Planning System/SDPE prevailed – the triumph of the Soviet model adapted to the realities of the tropics, or according to some critics, adapting the tropics to the logic of that model.

On the political level, a new Constitution, approved in 1976, established a rigorous system, also of the Soviet standard, headed by the Cuban Communist Party, unique, articulating Popular Organizations, the transmission belts (Councils for the Defense of the Revolution/CDRs, Unions of Workers, Youth, Women, etc.) and the so-called Popular power, elected, pyramidal, district-to-national assemblies with broad formal powers but, in practice, strictly controlled by the CCP. Thus, in the various circumscriptions, there could always be several candidates, and not necessarily linked to the PCC, but they all went through its screening, and without its approval they could not present themselves for popular suffrage.

Do not underestimate, however, the level of popular participation achieved. At the base of society, and also at intermediate levels, a series of initiatives were stimulated, guaranteeing a participationism expressive for the discussion and resolution of local and/or sectoral problems, stimulated, but controlled and framed, by mass organizations and by popular power bodies.

It is evident that questioning the premises of the revolution, or the central orientations of the State or the PCC, or even Fidel Castro's political leadership, could not be exercised there, nor would it be tolerated. If anyone dared to do so, even indirectly, he would be considered outside of, or against, the revolution. However, if one started from these postulates, if they were accepted, a wide range of critical considerations and proposals for changes in local or sectoral patterns of organization were perfectly admissible, and admitted, even generating around them, and not infrequently , broad and heated debates.

The high levels of economic development and the radical income redistribution policies made it possible to consolidate a welfare state that the profound reforms undertaken shortly after the triumph of the revolution, between 1959 and 1962, had aimed to build. The agrarian reform laws (1959 and 1960), urban reform, the construction of free education and health systems, the accelerated training of staff at all levels, produced results that raised, and still raise, respect and admiration.

The illiteracy rate of people over 10 years of age, compared to the 1953 and 1981 censuses, had dropped from 24% to 4%[xxviii]. The unemployment rate (not counting informal work and underemployment) had fallen from 20% in 1958 to 8% in 1989. The infant mortality rate was reduced from over 60 to just over 11 per thousand. live births, in about twenty years, between 1958 and 1989. In the ratio of doctors and nurses per XNUMX inhabitants, Cuba appeared in first place in the Latin American concert, far ahead of other countries[xxix].

The ratio of doctors per thousand people went from 303 to 1.076 in the same period. In the educational area, gross enrollment rates were also very high at all levels of education, with emphasis on primary and secondary education.[xxx]. At the end of the 90th century, and despite the terrible crisis of the 76s, life expectancy at birth reached XNUMX years, an honorable third place in Latin America, inferior only to the situations of Costa Rica and Barbados[xxxii]. Poverty then practically disappeared in cities and even in rural areas.[xxxi]. And the picture was confirmed by the good position assumed by Cuba in the Human Development Index/HDI and in the Human Poverty Index/HPI, internationally recognized for measuring the social conditions of populations across the planet.[xxxii].

It would still have to be mentioned another dimension where the Soviet standard had also triumphed and which appeared as an expression of the advances of the social welfare state and a strong reason for national pride: mass sports, whose shows were offered free of charge, and which would project Cuba internationally, particularly in the Americas, where the country, despite having a small population, had always taken second place after the USA in the Pan American Games.

The years Soviets Thus, in Cuba, these would be years of apogee for social public policies and income distribution, expanding and consolidating the consensus achieved in the first decade of the triumphant revolution.

There were shadows, no doubt. There are no gardens without thorns. Thus, and since the disappearance of Che Guevara, and even before, a group of intellectuals, inside and outside Cuba, distanced themselves from the regime, adopting critical postures. Carlos Franqui, the dynamic director of Rádio Rebelde in the Sierra Maestra, and later editor of Revolution, one of the most prestigious newspapers of the revolution, in its epic phase, went into voluntary exile, since the mid-1960s.

Around the same time, the same would happen to Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Cuban writer laureate. Among alternative intellectuals, disenchantment grew with that revolution that had been, and had promised to be, at a certain point, another path, different from those proposed by the Soviet and Chinese communists. The phenomenon would crystallize with the Affair around Heberto Padilla, in the early 70s. An award-winning poet, internationally known even in Cuba, he began to be persecuted, arrested in March 1971 and convicted of writing… counter-revolutionary verses (sic). The worst would come later, when the poet exchanged the reconquest of freedom for an infamous self-criticism, reminding us, as observed by many intellectuals who denounced the process, the sinister Soviet years under Stalin[xxxv]. They were the first dissidents, also a term coined in the Soviet Union and very symbolic: in a society where opposition is unthinkable, those who are against do not oppose, dissent.

With a mass character, another movement would undermine the prestige of the government: the massive migration, through the port of Mariel, between April and October 1980, of around 130 thousand people. Although authorized by the government, he expressed discomfort and unmet demands. It was no use insulting those who left as worms e slag, they were a living testament that something was not right, at least for all Cubans.

There were shadows, therefore, but they did not shake the consolidated consensus.

This would even be further reinforced with the African revolutionary expeditions. In the mid-70s, Cuba would once again gain international notoriety for sending troops and advisors to a number of African countries. Of note here was the aid given to the MPLA in Angola, which began in 1975 and lasted for more than a decade, literally saving the country's newly won independence and inflicting a demoralizing political-military defeat on what was considered invincible until then. South Africa; and aid to the Ethiopian revolution, led by officers of the local army who, in a voluntarist and heretical outburst, according to all Marxist-Leninist orthodoxies, decided to proclaim a socialist revolution (1977-1978).

Fidel Castro was convinced that Africa was then the weakest link in imperialism. Autonomously, in the Angolan case, or in close alliance with the USSR, in the Ethiopian case, African interventions increased the prestige of Cuba and its top leader – not gratuitously, Fidel Castro was elected president of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1979[xxxiv].

In the Latin American context, several countries reestablished diplomatic and commercial relations with Cuba. Political leaders from all over the world followed one another in Havana. In the USA itself, there was a moment of distension, under the presidency of Jimmy Carter (1976-1980), opening up the so-called interest offices, true embassies, of both countries in the respective capitals. Even among Cuban exiles in Miami, currents of distension were emerging, stimulated by a relative liberalization of flights between the US and Cuba to facilitate reunions of families separated for decades.

Thus, and despite the shadows, the consensus that the Cuban revolution had managed to build seemed to have reached its apogee.

The years of crisis: the consensus put to the test (1986-….)

“We are with Fidel, whatever he says, we do! Always to the victory!" (A. Guillermoprieto).

There are indications that, as early as the 1980s, Cubans had already received warnings from the Soviets to the effect that subsidized prosperity on a non-refundable basis could not last indefinitely.[xxxiv]. In fact, it would still last, and largely, until the end of that decade, but the growing awareness of the disasters and the colossal waste would make, already in April 1986, another policy be tried: the rectification campaign, when Fidel Castro allowed himself to bluntly criticize, among other deviations, bureaucratism, selfishness and corruption[xxxviii]. Some officials, more committed to the Soviet model, such as Humberto Pérez, leader of the Central Planning Board/Juceplan, disappeared from the scene, playing the role of scapegoats.

The progression of Perestroika and M. Gorbachev's metamorphoses did not bode well. The Book of the Soviet Leader, Perestroika, bestseller worldwide, it was censored in Cuba. Increasingly distancing himself from the USSR, Fidel Castro began to warn the Cuban people, sometimes through public rallies, that, in the event of an eventual disintegration of the USSR, Cuba would remain firm in the socialist option.

No one, however, could have foreseen that the end of the USSR was so close, and the extent of the catastrophic effects that this would entail for the country.

It was one debacle. According to experts, it was worse than the 1929 crisis, and deeper than the crisis provoked by the break with the USA in the early 60s. The gross domestic product, which, in contrast to the results of the 80s, had grown by only 1.5% , in 1989, decreased by 2.9%, in 1990. It was negative at other times in 1991 and 1992 (-9.5% and -9.9%), to reach the worst year, in 1993 (-13.6%). The bottom of the well.

Since 1994, a slow recovery, reaching, in the 90s, good results only in 1996 (+ 7,6%). The second half of this decade, despite a slight improvement, would still be marked by a great stagnation.

With the interruption of relations with the socialist world and the dismantling of CAME, it was in the external sector that the biggest blow was registered. In the ratio of exchange prices, from a base = 100 in 1989, there was a drop to 69.9 in 1991 and to 51.5 in 1992. In 1998, the index continued at 66.8[xxxviii].

The evolution of Cuba's external accounts, from 1950 to 1998, offers another angle for analyzing the crisis. Total trade with foreign countries (exports + imports), which in 1960 had reached 1.1 billion dollars, with a balance of 28.4 million dollars, had since the beginning of the 1980s surpassed the level of 10 billion dollars, with a balance of growing negative, it is true, as already mentioned. They attested to the vigor of the Cuban socialist economy… and the beginning of the heyday of the waste party. In 1989, the level jumped to its maximum limit, 13.5 billion dollars, with a negative balance of 2.7 billion dollars. The fall was sudden. In 1993, the total exchange had dropped to 3.3 billion dollars, maintaining a negative balance of 851,5 million dollars[xxxix].

The big client, ally and partner had almost disappeared from the map. In 1990, Cuba exported products to the then USSR worth 3,2 billion pesos, but in 1993 this figure had dropped to just 400 million pesos.[xl]. As for imports, they had plummeted from around 5 billion pesos in 1990 to an insignificant 86 million pesos in 1993.[xi].

While the disintegration of the regime and the end of Fidel Castro's long reign were imminent everywhere, as had been the case in Central Europe and the USSR, the government defined innovative policies, up to the challenges of the crisis , the so-called “special period in times of peace”: controlled opening to foreign capital, partial dollarization of the economy, admission of private initiative in a series of sectors, freedom for self-employment, incentives for cooperatives and private agricultural markets.

The US governments would not give rest, tightening the pegs: the Torricelli and Helms-Burton Acts of 1992 and 1996 provided for a series of additional restrictions on trade, investment, dollar remittances and even travel by US citizens to Cuba , even threatening companies from other countries, in case they tried to establish business with former US companies expropriated by the revolution in the 60s.

The Island suffered a situation comparable to a war, or a natural catastrophe of great proportions. Unemployment, scarcity of all kinds of goods, marginalization, hunger, despair, prospects of leaving the country anyway, as was the case in 1994, when social movements of discontent took shape, quickly controlled[xliii].

But the unlikely happened. Neither Fidel Castro died nor was overthrown. And the regime weathered the storm. Consensus withstood the test of the crisis[xiii].

Undoubtedly, the reactivation of revolutionary nationalist references was key to this. Never entirely abandoned, but placed on a secondary plane during the golden years of the Soviet Union, they would now return to center stage, illuminated with maximum force, to fulfill their role of uniting, cohesive and mobilizing public opinion, maintaining consensus. In no small measure, and once again, the intransigence of successive US governments and their restrictive and sectarian policies would contribute to the reestablishment of the dialectic of the ancient struggle of David and Goliath, providing the Cuban government with the best conditions for unleashing nationalist campaigns.

On the other hand, the regime was also able to maintain, in essence, social investments, equitably distributing the sacrifices imposed by circumstances. The examination of social indicators, even in the difficult 90s, shows the concern to avoid, at any cost, the degradation of essential public services[xiv]. Public opinion polls undertaken in the 90s revealed, and for good reason, the high degree of prestige of free social public services, rightly associated with the revolutionary regime, between 75% and 80% of the population[xlv].

Finally, the participationism would be stimulated again, encouraging the discussion and approval of new legal measures, implemented in the 90s, in open assemblies, controlled and led by communist militants. The results were positive. In a private survey, commissioned by the government in elections held in 1992, one can verify the considerable political support maintained by the government, around 65% of voters, despite the erosion of its prestige, due to the suffering caused by the crisis.[xlv].

At the end of the 1990s, beginning of the 2st century, the country seemed to be engaged once again in an ascending path, which has been confirmed in recent years, with the reception of 2005 million tourists in 11 (for a total population of around 11.6 million inhabitants) and a growth of XNUMX% in the same year, the highest in the entire history of socialism in Cuba.

In the economy, the big news is that the crisis generated, after all, the diversification of production, which was so desired by Che Guevara and by most revolutionaries in the 60s. Since 1995, tourism has surpassed sugar as a generator of foreign exchange. At the same time, the labor force employed with sugarcane and its harvesting and transformation has substantially decreased.

But consensus is not unanimity.

In political terms, new dissident tendencies emerged in Cuba, and also in Miami, that tried to create a third margin, between the intransigence of the US governments and their rabid allies, the so-called anti-Castro exiles, and the dictatorial nationalism of the regime, fighting to not be exploited by either side. The so-called Varela project, launched in May 2002, under the leadership of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, is the most articulate and interesting project in this field.[xlv]. It proposes the democratization of the regime, maintaining social achievements and national independence.

Dissidents would want to be recognized as opponents. But the government does not make life easy for them, repressing them in Soviet terms, alternating harsh repression and unforeseen liberalities, both marked by pure and simple arbitrariness, which orders arrest and/or release without being constrained by impediments or legal restrictions.[xlviii]. He does not even recognize the political nature of the struggle they are waging, accusing them of maggots and agents of imperialism. Like their counterparts who fought in the former USSR, the dissidents, despite having widespread support in society and abroad, have a desert ahead of them, only the future will tell if they will be able to cross it.

Fidel Castro: creature or creator of consensus

“The emotion of being in the Plaza with el Caballo in person, all together, paying attention to your thoughts; (….) All at the Plaza with Fidel! Me too, I thought, grateful to have landed in such a historic time and place. I'm everyone now, too.” (Alma Guillermoprieto)

“The people and I are dictators” (F. Batista).

Going through the 90s and still pontificating in this first decade of the XNUMXst century, the unavoidable figure of Fidel Castro deserves a specific analysis: would he have been an essential factor in building consensus around the regime in the different stages of its evolution? Or mere expression of a deeper social process?

His long career, without a doubt, more than his undeniable personal talent, is due to the metamorphoses he was able to incorporate, according to his circumstances and those of the revolution of which he became the best interpreter. In this sense, he has always sought to be attentive to the demands of society, establishing a fine tuning with it.

It began leading a nationalist and democratic revolution, condemning dictatorships on all sides, right and left, and was able to articulate a broad and heterogeneous political front with vague purposes, susceptible to mobilizing unanimity. The triumph came in 1959. The leader, acclaimed by everyone, or almost everyone, emerged as the very incarnation of a people's struggle to regain their dignity and affirm democratic freedoms.

Subsequently, he committed himself to an international, radical, alternative revolutionary process based on popular guerrillas. The adventure of Che, who embodied these new goals better than anyone else, had not yet been defeated, and already Fidel found himself tying himself, and tying Cuba, in a complex alliance with the USSR. He was then transformed once more, now appearing as a convinced Marxist-Leninist and in this position he would be a faithful ally of the Soviets, silencing criticism and approving the excesses of the great ally, such as the invasions in Czechoslovakia, in 1968, and in Afghanistan , in 1979. A large part of the people followed him in these zigzags: if Fidel is a socialist, so are we, was said on the streets, as a shrewd analyst of the “guerrillas in power” observed in the 60s[xlix]. With his powerful oratory, tedious for the most critical but engaging for the vast majority, Fidel, being driven, also seemed, at times, to lead society in directions that not everyone controlled.[l]

In the period of greater dependence on the USSR, he remained alert, however, ready to play the role of leader of third-world proposals, at a time when the very notion of the third world was fading. The African revolutionary expeditions, in Angola and Ethiopia, would take him again, in the context of the Non-Aligned Movement, of which he became president, in 1979, to the center of alternative articulations, although, formally, he had nothing, given its close links with CAME and the USSR. For the great majority, this was the best phase, when the welfare state was in full force. In addition, the African adventure made the epic chord of that daring people vibrate, investing them with a justified national pride: the small island became big in the world.

In the 1990s, faced with the crisis, Fidel was able to find heterodox paths again, although claiming socialist orthodoxy. He then reacquired the identity of a nationalist leader and used the mythical figure of Martí again, as he had done before coming to power, in the distant 50s, stimulating localist and sectoralist participationism, cutting off unwanted heads, demarcating himself from failures as if they were beyond their responsibility.

He evolved with ease in different, often hostile, areas, getting closer to former enemies and moving away from former friends, as he did, for example, with Christians, previously condemned, welcomed since the 90s, to whom they opened up the doors of the Cuban Communist Party itself, now a secular party[li]. In the wake of this metamorphosis, he received the conservative Pope John Paul II, with whom he performed, to the astonishment of the world, an improbable anti-capitalist duet, both applauded by enthusiastic crowds.

He remained in power through a severe dictatorship, not hesitating to condemn old comrades to death in obscure cases, such as Arnaldo Ochoa[liiii]. Either to long prison sentences, sometimes without any trial, or through simulacra of trials, all sorts of oppositionists, the so-called dissidents, as attested by the repeated, although poorly heard, or registered, denunciations of the international organizations that monitor respect for human rights. The scarce democratic tradition of the country was of great value there. The great majorities proved to be more interested in national glories and social welfare than in the scrupulous observance of minorities' rights to protest, an essential characteristic of democratic regimes.

Conspicuous heir to the national-statist tradition in lands of Our America, distanced himself from it, formally demarcating himself from it, but built a more powerful State than any politician of this tradition had ever imagined. And he became so intimately associated with the State that he became inseparable from it, an ambition that rare nationalist leaders have managed to achieve.

It managed, despite this, and almost always, to demonstrate a remarkable ability to seduce people, especially intellectuals, who, magnetized, often suspended their capacity for analysis, forgetting the virtues of critical thinking, and prostrated themselves before the Commander in chief like the fabled frogs before the king[iii].

Creature or creator?

Creature e creator. Consensus made him the uncontested leader, the horseback riding, reigning like a gladiator in the square, the pastas looking like tamed beasts, docile and submissive to his Word[book] which, however, did no more than say what they really wanted to hear. In this symbiosis, people and leader lost what is most important in the exercise of human faculties: autonomy, transmitting the misleading appearance that consensus was an exclusive construction of Fidel Castro. His enemies, paradoxically, would add to this fame by referring to him in an obsessive, resentful way, immersed, despite themselves, in the classic problematic of renegades.[lv].

Through so much transformation, man has become a symbol, almost disembodied, although he most vividly embodies the revolution that he has always sought to monopolize and which he helped to forge as a revolutionary dictatorship. And thus became a beloved dictator. For his glory, and the misery of the people, the revolution and himself.

*Daniel Aaron Reis is a professor of Contemporary History at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). Author, among other books, of The Revolution that changed the world – Russia, 1917 (Companhia das Letras).


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[I] The figure of Fulgêncio Batista deserves a specific mention. Leadership with popular roots, army sergeant, mestizo, emerged in the 1933 revolution that overthrew another dictatorship, Gerardo Machado (1927-1933). He rose dramatically, politically and militarily. A charismatic figure, he would dominate Cuban political life until 1959, sometimes as a strong man, “maker of presidents” (1934-1940), sometimes as democratically elected president (1940-1944), when he had a liberal constitution approved that recognized the social rights of citizens. workers, governing, at one point, with two communist ministers; sometimes as eminence grise and main military leader (1944-1952). He returned to power through a coup, a typically Latin American barracks, in 1952. His promises of democratic restoration (elections in 1954 and 1958) never went beyond a simulacrum repudiated by all political forces, thus slipping the government, and progressively towards an undisguised dictatorship. For the vision constructed by the revolutionaries about the Batista dictatorship, before the victory, the best source is C. Franqui, 1976

[ii] Prio Socarrás was elected president between 1948-1952. His government, immersed in corruption scandals, would strongly contribute to demoralize democratic references, providing pretexts for the Batista coup, in 1952. It is said that the financing for the purchase of the small yacht came from the Socarrás scheme Granma (Affectionate diminutive of Grand Mother, grandma), which led the revolutionaries, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, to the December 1956 landing, when the saga of the Sierra Maestra guerrillas began.

[iii] Formed from a dissidence of the Authentic Party, the Orthodox Party, led by Eduardo Chibás (who committed suicide in 1951), constituted an important opposition force to Batista. From the ranks of the Orthodox Youth, the figure of Fidel Castro would emerge, who was a candidate for deputy for the party in the 1952 elections, revoked with the Batista coup, and many of those affiliated with the MR-26.

[iv] One of the many expressions of dissatisfaction with the dictatorship, among the officers of the Cuban armed forces, was evident in the revolt at the naval base of Cienfuegos, crushed by the force of the dictatorship, on September 5, 1957.

[v] The term Liberal, in the US political context, refers to democratic currents, not necessarily affiliated to the Democratic Party, that are hostile to dictatorships and sympathize, even eventually with financial support, with anti-dictatorial movements, particularly in America south of Rio Big.

[vi] Pleasant, high-impact reports, published in newspapers and magazines with wide circulation in the US, would play an important role in mobilizing a public opinion favorable to the Cuban revolutionaries in the US. Cf. A. Palma, 2006.

[vii] The articulations towards the constitution of broad political fronts can be registered since September 1956, when the MR-26 and the DRE signed a Pact of Unity and Action. Later, in November 1957, there was the so-called Miami Pact, which would be repudiated by the MR-26 for having been made without express authorization from the organization's management. Finally, on July 20, 1958, there was the Pact of Caracas, including from the liberals to the communists of the PSP. A new pact of unity and action would be signed by Che Guevara with representatives of the PSP and the DRE in December 1958. Cf. KS Karol, 1970 and C. Franqui, 1976

[viii] LAM Bandeira, 1998, among many others, well emphasized the fundamental weight of national question in the process of the Cuban revolution. As we will see, the issue will be raised again with great force, and effectiveness, after the breakup of the USSR. Cf. also CABarão, 2005 and J. Habel, 1989

[ix] The legal appeal filed by Fidel Castro to the Cuban Supreme Court in the sense that Batista's coup was considered illegal, in light of the precepts of the 1940 Constitution, became known. The appeal was denied, but the action, a cause celebre, had wide repercussions and consolidated, among those who fought against the dictatorship, the proposal of respect for democratic constitutional legality.

[X] Urrutia was a judge, and gained notoriety by deciding for the freedom of MR-26 militants, considering that their fight against the dictatorship was “legal”. Since March 1958, MR-26 had announced that, after victory, he would be the president of a future provisional government. He resigned in July 1959, upset with the radicalization of the revolution. Cf. KS Karol, 1970

[xi] See Fidel Castro, 2005

[xii] Cf. R. Debray, 1974 ed. and E. Guevara, 1973. In this reading, there was an excessive glorification of the guerrillas installed in the Sierra Maestra, as if the victory of the revolution had depended almost exclusively on them. The famous metaphor employed by R. Debray, of oil stain, spreading across the Island from the guerrilla focus of the Sierra Maestra, became emblematic and played an important role in the catastrophic defeat of the guerrilla attempts undertaken in Our America in the 60s and 70s. Cf. D. Rollemberg, 2001

[xiii] Cf. C. Franqui, 2006, who insists, almost obsessively, on the disappearance of potentially rival leaders as a favorable circumstance for Fidel Castro's personal dictatorship.

[xiv] Mention should also be made of the figure of Raul Castro. However, it should be underlined that, although there has been, since the guerrillas in the Sierra, a great investment in making it a great boss, even becoming, a few years ago, the designated successor of Fidel Castro, Raul never went beyond the your brother's brother.

[xv] An entire literature supporting and defending the Cuban revolution, and its centralist and dictatorial characteristics, considered inevitable, will insist on the argument that the blockade and actions taken by successive US governments were decisive conditions for the revolution to assume these configurations. Cf. CABarão, 2005; Emir Sader, 1992; Eder Sader, 1986; LF Ayerbe, 2004. An interesting and controversial debate on these issues can be found in CE Carvalho, 1988.

[xvi] The Havana Declaration was passed on September 2, 1960, and condemned the exploitation of man by man and the exploitation of peoples by financial capital. The II Declaration of Havana was approved on February 4, 1962 and prescribed that the duty of every revolutionary is to make the revolution. Due to its importance and forcefulness, it was called by some the Communist Manifesto of the 2006th century. Cf. M. Lowy, XNUMX.

[xvii] F. Castro, when commenting on the missile crisis, and criticizing the Soviets' attitude of retreating in the face of pressure and President Kenneky's ultimatum, admitted that he was willing to go to the last consequences in 1962, even if for that Cuba had to disappear from the map . Cf. I. Ramonet, 2006 and A.Palma, 2006. The official and authoritative denunciation of varied and multiple counter-revolutionary actions can be found in Comissión de Historia de los Organos de la Seguridad del Estado, 1989

[xviii] The influence of Ernesto Guevara, seconded by Raul Castro, and the PSP communists, very active in the formation of the Cuban Communist Party, was remarkable at this time.

[xx] In a slow process, from the top, in stages, the main revolutionary organizations merged into the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations/ORI, then into the Unified Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution/PURSC, and finally into the Communist Party of Cuba/PCC, in 1965 .

[xx] The concept of consent, in the sense in which it is used to understand the complex relationships between societies and authoritarian or dictatorial regimes, designates the formation of an agreement to accept the existing regime by society, explicit or implicit, comprising active support, welcoming sympathy, benevolent neutrality , indifference or, at the limit, the feeling of absolute impotence. They are very different nuances and, depending on the circumstances, can evolve in different directions, but they all contribute, at a given moment, to the support of a political regime, or to the weakening of an eventual struggle against it. Repression, and political police action in particular, can induce or strengthen consensus, but should never be understood as decisive for its formation. For the use and discussion of the concept, with different angles and meanings, cf., in this collective work, the texts of D. Musiedlak: Le fascisme italien : entre consentement et consensus; M. Ferro: “Yat-il “trop de démocratie” en USSR?”; and P. Dogiliani: Consenso e organizzazione Del consensus nell'Italia fascista.

[xxx] The speech given in Algiers, in 1965, very critical of the USSR and the relations established between the socialist countries was symbolic, almost a rupture, and deeply displeased Fidel Castro. Cf. for the diverse appreciation of this key pronouncement the best biographies of Che: JL Anderson, 1997, J. Castañeda, 1997 and PI Taibo II, 2001

[xxiii] In Asia, the socialist governments of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam/DRV, the National Liberation Front/FLN in South Vietnam and the Democratic Republic of Korea, which would be the strongholds of a regional organization, have not taken the project forward, probably fearing backlash. negative views of the USSR and China, powerful neighbors and allies. In Africa, and despite Che's presence in the Congo, revolutionary regional organizational forms were not structured either.

[xxiii] Cf. E.Che Guevara, 1997 and the biographies cited in note 21 above. For the guerrilla saga, cf. also A.Guillermoprieto, 2001

[xxv] In parallel, the supporters of a cuban alternative. From this point of view, the banning of the magazine was symbolic. Critical thinking, stronghold of Cuban revolutionary thought alternativeIn 1970.

[xxiv] Among many others, it is the opinion defended by R. Gott, 2006, chapter 7, pp 266-268. In 1968, the Cuban government decreed a generalized nationalization of small services and businesses, an important step towards the Soviet model of economic organization. Cf. ditto, p. 267. In 1970, out of a total of 2.408.800 employed persons, a little less than 350 worked in private activities. Cf Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean/ECLAC, 2000, table A.48.

[xxv] Cf. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean/ECLAC, 2000, p. 13.

[xxviii] Same, pp 64-69

[xxviii] It should be noted, without detracting from the undeniable advances promoted by revolutionary policies, that the data demonstrate the peculiar situation of Cuba even before the revolution, considering its Latin American neighbors. In effect, an illiteracy rate of less than 25%, at the end of the 50s, for Latin America as a whole, was a far from negligible result. At the end of the XNUMXth century, Cuba was second only to Argentina and Barbados in terms of illiteracy.

[xxix] Cf. ECLAC, idem, table A.54

[xxx] Cf. ECLAC, idem, table A.54

[xxxii] In Brazil, then, life expectancy was no more than 67.9 years. Cf. ECLAC, table A.54

[xxxi] Cf. ECLAC, op. cit., pp 70-71

[xxxii] The HDI combines three dimensions: life expectancy, educational standard and gross domestic product per inhabitant. The HPI measures the degree of deprivation, combining three variables: mortality before age 40, illiteracy among adults and lack of basic services (health, clean water, and underweight children under 5). Cf. ECLAC, table A.54

[xxxv] All over the world, and especially in Europe, many intellectuals, until then admirers of Cuba, mobilized to protest and write petitions for the release of Padilla, and denouncing the forged process of self-criticism. They were then called by Fidel Castro a “mafia of bourgeois pseudo-leftist intellectuals”…Cf. R. Gott, 2006, pp 279-280

[xxxiv] There are controversies about the real margins of Cuban autonomy in the organization of African expeditions. However, at least in the Angolan case, opponents and sympathizers recognize that the Cuban government then exercised, and expanded, its margins of autonomy in relation to the Soviets. At the end of the 80s, in new confrontations, such as the famous battle of Cuito Canavale, in 1988, the Cubans would again defeat the South Africans, dealing a mortal blow to the prestige of the racist regime. For opponents, cf. R. Gott, 2006 and D. Alarcón Ramirez, 1997. Among the sympathetic ones, GG Márques' epic account of the 1976 deed, the Operation Carlota, 1997

[xxxiv] Cf., among many others, R. Gott, 2006, p. 307

[xxxviii] See I. Ramonet, 2006, p. 583

[xxxviii] Cf. ECLAC, op. cit. table A.1

[xxxix] Cf. ditto, ditto, table A.32

[xl] Cf. ditto, ditto, table A.33

[xi] Cf. ditto, ditto, table A.34

[xliii] The calls returned to the center of the scene balseros, who were trying to leave Cuba with the means on board. Literary works have sensitively portrayed the depth of the crisis. Among many others, cf. PJ Gutierrez, 2002 and 2005

[xiii] For an optimistic interpretation (which was confirmed) on Cuba's chances of overcoming the crisis, cf. FL Segrera, 1995

[xiv] Cf. ECLAC, op. cit., 2000, Statistical Annexes, pp 576 et seq.

[xlv] Cf. R. Gott, 2006, p 397, note 47

[xlv] Cf. ditto, ditto, p. 397, note 57

[xlv] Cf. Reporters sans frontières, 2004, p. 152. Father Félix Varela, who lived in the XNUMXth century, was a nationalist, defender of Cuban independence and popular education projects. So far, it has not been possible to characterize it as worm.

[xlviii] Cf. Reporters sans frontières, op. cit.: The arbitrary exercise of power vis-à-vis the Cuban people, pp. 162 et seq.; Partial list of people arrested for political and socio-political reasons, pp 171 et seq. and Biographical files of imprisoned journalists, p. 188 et seq. The book also reproduces analyzes by various NGOs, including Amnesty International, with extremely serious accusations against the arbitrary power of the Cuban revolutionary power against the dissidents still rejected today as oppositionists or political prisoners.

[xlix] KS Karol, 1970. He was one of the rare intellectuals who, compared to Fidel, knew how to preserve a critical spirit.

[l] Cf. A. Guillermoprieto, 2004

[li] For the turnaround concerning Christians, cf. F. Betto, 1985

[liiii] The Ochoa affair, as it became known, unfolded in 1988. In a very summary trial, permeated with the well-known self-criticism, which lasted about a month, one of the most brilliant generals in the Cuban army was executed along with three other companions. The official version is in Politics, 1989.

[iii] Cf., among many others, the works of pure hagiography, elaborated by I. Ramonet, 2006 and C. Furiati, 2003. In their wild praise, they melancholy recall the same thing that intellectuals from all over the world did in relation to Stalin, in the 30s, or in relation to Mao Dze Dong, in the 60s. T.Szulc, 1986 and KSKarol, 1970, were among the few who did not surrender to the magnetism of the Maximum Leader, managing to preserve standards of critical objectivity.

[book] The gladiator metaphor is by Alma Guillermoprieto, 2004

[lv] Cf. C. Franqui, 2006 and D. Alarcón Ramirez (Benigno), 1997. In the same vein, cf. S. Raffy, 2003.

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