Cuban Revolution, today and tomorrow
Miguel Ángel Ramírez Ramos Delhi
The Cuban Revolution has reached its 50th anniversary and many analysts have engaged, once again, in rewriting and expressing their viewpoints on the Caribbean nation. As one of such , attempts, the French magazine, Le Monde diplomatique, published last February an article by Janette Habel, which was reproduced by Hardnews in its March issue, entitled Castro's socialism is in crisis.
The very headline of the article states the conclusion to which readers should arrive after reading it, therefore eliminating any possible debate. She doubts whether the government in Cuba will be able to keep socialism alive in the island and takes isolated news and opinions to reach to a general conclusion which is intentionally biased. It is, indeed, a clever effort to use (and misuse) different sources, some of them progressive ones, in order to reach to a conclusion that is supposedly objective, while disguising its true reactionary intention.
A little bit of Cuban history: In January 1959, when Fidel Castro entered Havana, he claimed that in the future, contrary to most people's views, everything would be far more difficult. Time has demonstrated that he was hundred per cent right. He also asked Cubans to read, not just to believe. As it is already known worldwide, immediately after the first weeks of 1959, as the then new government implemented its first programmes and, especially, after the passing of the Land Reform Law, Washington began its efforts to subvert the new government. Most of the professionals Cuba had at the time, were encouraged to leave the island for the US, and at the same time the Eisenhower administration began to impose the 'blockade' so that the country had to reinvent itself in a complex situation and accepted the friendly support from the USSR in order to develop itself.
Let's also remember that at the beginning of the 1960s most Latin American countries, except Mexico - at the request of Washington-cut off relations with Havana in an effort to isolate it and destroy the example of the Revolution as a result of economic constraints. This historical background, particularly the grave effects of the US blockade on the Cuban economy and society, are ignored by Habel.
Cuba today: After five decades, and amid such hostile environment, many wonder how the Cuban revolution has managed to survive, while some others still hope for the end of socialism in the island. Cuba being such a small country and the only socialist one in the western hemisphere, it would be a good question to ask all the successive US administrations as to why they have
tried so hard to eliminate it and why they keep on saying that Cuba is a menace for their country and a threat to its national security. But, probably even more interesting would be to ask the western media why they are trying to create a monster out of an island which, in other circumstances, would have never deserved so much coverage or analysis by the western academicians.
The beginnings of the 1990s were probably the most difficult years in the entire Cuban history. The island had to face a de facto double blockade. Yes, it is true that the measures applied at the moment created social differences among the Cuban population with undesirable results that have to be made in order to survive in that critical juncture of our history, and also, in order to keep the main achievements of socialism alive.
Some economic considerations:
Cuba's GDP grew at 42.5 per cent from 2004 to 2007. Investment grew at 16.8 per cent, including in key sectors like agriculture 24.7 per cent, industry 7.8 per cent, transportation 7.9 per cent and services another 11.7 per cent. Export sales in products and services increased 24 per cent. There was a positive trade balance for Cuba in 2007. Notwithstanding the current international crisis, in 2008, Cuban gross domestic product grew by 4.3 per cent and the number of foreign tourists visiting the country increased to 9.3 per cent.
The year 2008 was very complex, not only for Cuba, but for most countries around the world. The article by Habel comments that Cuba was affected during the year for "the rising cost of basic foodstuffs, three destructive cyclones, the global credit crunch, faltering domestic growth..." Any complete and serious analysis on the Cuban economy can't ignore the US financial, commercial and economic blockade on Cuba which has meant losses during these 50 years worth $ 93 billion. In less than two months, Cuba was swept by three highly damaging hurricanes which meant an approximate loss of $10 billion - around 20 per cent of Cuba's GDP for 2008. The prices in the world market of some of our main exporting products decreased. Nickel price, for instance, decreased by 41 per cent as compared to 2007, 80 per cent less than its record price in 2007.
One of the most serious difficulties we had to face during the so-called 'special period' was transportation. This sector was badly affected: public transport fell by 58 per cent over the 1990-2005 period... But, the country has seen during the latest years an important recovery. In Havana city, the "number of routes connecting outlying neighbourhoods to the areas where economic activity is concentrated was doubled by the end of 2008. Public transport expanded by 16.5 per cent and freight carriage by 12.3 per cent in 2008.
However, railway transport was severely affected. The island's capability to move goods around the country faced a dramatic drop. Railway freight alone declined from 13 million tonnes to five million tonnes at its lowest point, while one-half of all haulage trucks were decommissioned. The transport recovery programme, worth two billion dollars, got underway in 2005 and is due to end in 2010, according to documented estimates.
Regarding salaries, several measures have been applied to increase wages, but there is a tendency to simplify the salary question in Cuba without taking into consideration free education, free and universal health services, social security, subsidised entrance to sport and cultural facilities, etc. which certainly represent much more than nominal wages.
Social issues: The Cuban educational system has faced major transformations during the last 50 years. Although it was badly affected during the 1990s, the implementation of the "educational revolution" as part of the programmes of the "battle of ideas" has changed the situation. At the primary education level the number of students per classroom was reduced to 20 and at the secondary level to 15; the most important lessons are taught by the best teachers, and then recorded so that it can be watched by other students.
Computer lessons are taught since primary level so that children can take advantage of new technologies. In recent years, 7,000 teachers and professors, some of them already retired, rejoined the educational system after a call from the Education Ministry to reduce the lack of experienced professionals for the classrooms. Apart from them, 9,000 teachers and professors, who have the requisites to apply for retirement, are still working as professors so as to support the government's effort in education taking into consideration. (Facts derived from President Raul Castro's speech at the National Assembly, 2008.)
More than 70 per cent of the Cuban population were born after 1959, which means they have lived under the US blockade their whole lives. Most of today's university students were very young when the socialist world disappeared and, obviously, they cannot recall the successful and fruitful years before the "special period". The Cuban youth have to be trained in several areas, and prepared for their future. I could even say that they have better opportunities than generations born during the 1970s or 80s.
If we consider that people's thinking is the result of people's life, the younger generation can't think or behave exactly like the way their predecessors did. Habel wanted to create an edge by saying that Cuban youth are not "Fidelistas" just because they are young, without considering that the youth, as well as elder people's opinions, are based on ideals that go beyond a generation and are based on political education and their struggle to survive the same enemy that has not changed in 50 years.
We, today, as Fidel was in 1953, when he attacked the Moncada Garrison, continue being followers of Jose Marti, our National Hero who died more than a century ago. Yes, we are Fidelistas, because he has represented and has promoted the most cherished aspirations of the Cuban nation.
As time is our master, I would sum up why the Cuban youths continue being Fidelistas and want socialism to stay: No illiteracy since 1962, 10th grade average educational level, free education, including at the university level and compulsory until 9th grade. All children in schools, no beggars, free healthcare system, 78 years of life expectancy, 4.7 out of 10,000 infant mortality rate, 13 universal vaccinations for the whole population that makes Cuba one of the healthiest nations of the western hemisphere. Despite being a poor nation, more than 65 per cent of the technical forces are women, and Cuba stands at 48 in the global Human Development Index.
A booming cultural scenario in all its manifestations that make Cuba one of the Meccas of art and culture in the western hemisphere. A sense of pride in the history of their nation against all odds, particularly US imperialist aggressions and blockade that Habel curiously forgets. Cuba has 'graduated' more than 75,000 doctors and close to 30,000 are working around the world carrying out solidarity missions that academicians like Habel never highlight.
The article should have said that socialism in Cuba is not the aim of one single person, but the pursuit of a whole nation which has found in it the liberation that mankind needs from capitalism, despite whatever small mistakes may have been committed in the course of this young nation with a young Revolution.
Final words: Cuba is not a paradise on Earth, certainly, we have never said so. Since there must be some justice around the world, we suggest that foreign academicians willing to analyse our political system should do it without preconceived notions which makes them difficult to understand our nation. I would also invite them to take into account the opinion of the Cuban people, the main beneficiaries and main protagonists of the Revolution, instead of just picking up words uttered by some intellectuals and inserting their views in a different context that changes the image of the current Cuban reality.
Cuba stands for justice within and outside the island. Cuba's government has been brave enough to recognise its mistakes and learn from them. But what about the other governments around the world? Have they done what we have done? Have they ever been so severely criticised as Habel does when it comes to Cuba?
The writer is the ambassador of Cuba in India