The blockade of Cuba – a structural element of the crisis

Image: Yuting Gao


Comments on the article “Popular anger in Cuba” by Joana Salem Vasconcelos

The demonstrations that took place earlier this month in Cuba are already recognized as the biggest since 1994; and from that, a series of discussions emerged that ranged from the conjuncture problems of the island to the directions of the Revolution. Positions within the progressive camp range from a total defense of the revolt as popular and legitimate, to its complete condemnation as part of an imperialist plan to overthrow the sovereignty of the Cuban government. And it was one of those positions identified with this first group, that of the researcher Joana Salem – see at – which particularly caught our attention and with which we intend to dialogue throughout this brief commentary.

Salem, an important scholar of the agrarian question in Latin America, begins her article by highlighting the country's internal contradictions before just classifying the demonstrations as a "color revolution in the service of imperialism", but at no time is her use questioned or explained. of the adjective “popular” to characterize the revolt.

There is indeed a portion of the demonstrators who took to the streets to protest against shortages and to ask for vaccination against COVID-19, but there is no doubt that both the US government, with its multimillion-dollar campaign to spread misinformation, and the counter- Miami revolutionaries played a large role in the outbreak of the revolt, so that the adjective “popular” becomes, to say the least, questionable. Furthermore, if the protests against the government, which had a maximum of 20.000 participants, are qualified as “popular”, the demonstration in favor of the government, which in Havana alone had around 100.000 people, should also be recognized as such. And let's not forget that revolts apparently without leaders have been manipulated through social networks, making it difficult to credit the current anti-socialist demonstrations with a spontaneous character. They exploit real issues or they would have no support, however the concurrency in various cities is not random in nature and most likely is far from mere chance.

Emphasizing the reasons for the explosion of the “popular revolt”, the author lists two dissatisfactions: economic and political. According to Salem, the discontent of an economic nature stemmed from the effects of the pandemic – a drop in GDP and a stoppage in tourism – the unification of the two currencies issued by the State and the reform in the structure of the national income. All this has led to shortages of basic consumer goods such as food, electricity, gas and fuel. Thus, attributing the problem faced by the inhabitants of the island exclusively to the economic blockade imposed by the United States is seen as an error, even being classified by the author as “a form of denialism” by sectors of the left.

The analysis is problematic in many ways, starting with the fact that the main cause of popular dissatisfaction, scarcity, is the absolutely exclusive result of the US economic embargo. It is clear that the pandemic and the fall in the consumption power of the Cuban people have a significant weight, but these elements only lead to the worsening of the lack of supply on the island because this is already a recurring problem that stems from a brutal blockade of more than six decades, and which has been intensified in recent years. It is even possible to draw a direct parallel between the sanctions added by Donald Trump (and which current President Biden has shown no sign of reversing) and the outbreak of protests. One of the goals of the former US president with the tightening of the blockade was to make the Cuban energy sector unfeasible, making it difficult to import oil; the beginning of the revolt, which took place in the small town of San Antonio de Los Banõs, had as one of its main agendas the end of the long blackouts. Thus, attributing the problems faced by the island to the blockade is not a form of denialism, but just a clear understanding that there is no way to deal with the internal contradictions of the island without understanding that absolutely all of them are crossed from end to end by the criminal embargo of the U.S.

Furthermore, in addition to being recurrent, the shortage of supplies on the Caribbean island is linked to a structural problem faced by all countries that have experienced an anti-capitalist revolution. Although initially breaking with the world market, the socialist countries never formed a full alternative network and, sooner or later, re-established commercial relations with the capitalist world. This is an even harsher truth for Cuba, which in addition to being one of the few remaining socialist countries after the fall of the Soviet Union, is blocked by the most powerful imperialist country on the planet.

Observing Salem's analysis on the other hand, the establishment of a direct correlation between “popular anger” and the drop in GDP, the pandemic and the tourism crisis seems somewhat debatable. Cuba suffers from the drop in tourism and depends on remittances from Cubans from abroad, especially US residents. However, there is no binding correlation between the seriousness of a social issue and popular revolt. Several countries in Central America and the Caribbean did not face “popular revolts”, and countries of more significant economic and geographic dimensions, such as Chile and Colombia, exhibited a degree of savagery on the part of their governments that never happened in Cuba (not forgetting the recent repression to the anti-Bolsonaro demonstration in Recife). US propaganda about political prisoners in Cuba and human rights violations is an insult coming from the country that strangled George Floyd.

On the contrary, Dias-Canel recognized the problems, sought dialogue and took to the streets. Just as Fidel did personally in the refugee crisis in 1994. The opposition sector that limits itself to peaceful means encounters a high level of political debate on the part of the Government, which leads one to believe that precisely because the Cuban Revolution provided an educational level , culturally and socially superior to most Latin American and Caribbean countries, is that it is possible for the population to criticize aspects of the bureaucratization of popular power channels, lack of dialogue with grassroots organizations, etc.

Entering into this aspect of the political crisis identified by Salem, supposedly caused by the immobilization and breakdown of popular power channels in the political structures of Cuban socialism, we think that there is no way to understand it without once again resorting to the fact that the island is constantly under pressure by fierce US imperialism. The United States has never accepted that a national revolution of a socialist character took place in its backyard, right under its noses, and as the sixty years of economic embargo and the current military occupation of Guantánamo Bay demonstrate, it is ready to take extreme measures – which are even condemned by the international community – to recover its neocolonial dominion over the Cuban territory and people. Thus, at a time when there is a portion of the population in the streets hoisting US flags and asking for military intervention, widely supported by the imperialist media, by the government of the greatest power in the world and by the descendants of the Cuban oligarchy that fled from the Revolution to Miami, the Joana Salem's suggestion that the internal political crisis can be resolved by opening channels of dialogue on the part of the Cuban government does not seem like a good idea.

Nicaragua followed exactly the script demanded by the left: after gaining power by arms in 1979, the Sandinista Revolution returned it to the bourgeoisie by vote in 1990, in an election in the midst of a civil war financed by the US. At the same time, it maintained the “market economy” and its population never reached the material and cultural standards of life of Cuba. He had to go through years of neoliberalism and social regression. Furthermore, the history of internal revolts in socialist countries demonstrates that they have not yet led to the deepening of socialist democracy: they were defeated or led back to capitalism because it is not possible to pass to higher forms of democracy and communist organization of production in a single country. Many analysts lack the reading of the totality, as it is in the set of international relations that we perceive the blockade as the determining aspect in the Cuban social and economic configuration.

Blocked socialism was not just a Cuban reality, but a structural condition of the socialist experience of the 1990th century. It was supported due to the existence of a socialist economic field, even though it was harassed by the “cold war” of the greatest power on the planet and which aimed until the end to destroy the Soviet Union. However, Cuba, due to its resistance and obstinacy in keeping the welfare of its people as a priority, resisted the Soviet collapse, the special period in the XNUMXs and the intensification of the war that the US wages against it until today.

In short, it is necessary to understand Cuba as a critical zone, of constant tension between extremely unequal forces economically and militarily, and which therefore does not operate in the same political logic as the rest of the world.

Thus, instead of suggesting changes in Cuba's domestic policy, which will certainly be important in the future, for now we must fight towards solidarity with the Cuban people, defense of the Revolution and, above all, an end to the US genocidal blockade. Without an end to the blockade and other violence to which Cuba is subjected by US imperialism, there is no economic or political measure taken internally that will be able to contain issues related to shortages – which is the primary cause of the so-called “popular anger” ”. The island will only have a chance to deal with its internal contradictions if its national and popular sovereignty is not constantly threatened. In the words of Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba's foreign minister, “It is neither legal nor ethical for a powerful country to subject a small nation, for decades, to incessant economic warfare with the aim of imposing an alien political system and a government on it. designated by him [...] just like the virus, the blockade suffocates and kills, and it needs to stop”.

*Alice Rossi is a graduate student in history at USP.

* Lincoln Secco is a professor of contemporary history at USP. Author, among other books by History of the PT (Studio).


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