Cuba's Isolation

By Lanfranco, Sam | Canadian Dimension, October-November 1991 | Go to article overview

Cuba's Isolation

Lanfranco, Sam, Canadian Dimension

SAM LANFRANCO contemplates Cuba's future in the context of the Soviet collapse and relentless US hostility.

The United States started this century with a firm grip on Cuba. In 1823 US President James Monroe declared the doctrine that the US would set the political agenda for the hemisphere. In 1985 the US wrested control over Cuba from Spain in the so-called Spanish-American-Cuban War of Independence. Cuba's fate for the first half of the century was sealed with the 1902 Reciprocal Treaty between Cuba and the United States in which the Platt Amendment, an attachment to the Cuban Constitution, gave the US the unilateral right to intervene in Cuban affairs.

The end of the century will mark the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. It also marks the breakup of the communist system in eastern European with which revolutionary Cuba has close ties. Closer to home, the Mexico-USA-Canada trade negotiations signal an era in which capitalist enterprise will be free to roam North America, free of nationalist restraints. Cuba remains the one holdout, committed to a socialist path and antagonistic to global capitalism.

This brings several questions to mind. Will the US allow Cuba to reach the year 2000 without forcing it to bend to its will? Will the US allow Latin America and the Caribbean to normalize relations with Cuba? Lastly, will US policy allow an orderly transfer of power after Fidel? Or, will the US insist on teaching Fidel, Cuba and the rest of the hemisphere a lesson, at Castro's expense and the expense of the Cuban people?

In the past three decades the US has done everything it could do to cripple the cuban Revolution. Acts of sabotage against Cuba and Castro himself, the century's longest running trade embargo, and with unceasing pressure against those who would normalize relations with Cuba remain the order of the day.

With historical hindsight there is still heated debated about the intent of the Revolution from the start of fighting in 1958, to 1960 where Cuba proclaimed it would take the socialist path. One extreme argues that pre-revolutionary Cuba was so hopelessly distorted by economic dependency and political corruption that the revolution could only succeed along a socialist path. Another argues that independent of original intent, the hostile stance by the US and the bipolar Cold War world forced Cuba's revolutionary government into the Soviet camp. Whatever, by 1960 Cuba and the United States were locked into an antagonistic relationship that has endured for 30 years.

Popularly supported revolutions owe their immediate success to nationalism and seldom to declarations about the path of development. From the start the prospects for Cuban development were hurt by US policy. In the short run Cuba was helped politically by the US posture, seen as threatening to bring back the old Cuba with its corruption, poverty and political dependency. In the long run revolutions must survive on the fruits of their efforts.

The isolation of Cuba from its traditional trading partners, initial efforts to reduce dependence of sugar, and its position as the only member of the Soviet socialist camp in the western hemisphere led to increased dependence on the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union supplied imports and foreign assistance, and bought Cuba's sugar at above world market prices. The trade embargo and sugar dominated economy made it difficult to diversify production. During the three decades, under various planning strategies, Cuban dependence on sugar exports rose from 80 per cent in 1960 to 90 per cent fifteen years later and declined to the 75 per cent level in the late 1980s. Ongoing debates and experiments about the choice of planning model and the relative treatment of material and moral incentives in socialist society have complicated Cuba's development efforts.

Since 1985, when it became clear that the Soviet Union would seriously reduce its economic support to the Cuban economy, Cuba has embarked on adjustment measures ranging from the import of hundreds of thousands of bicycles from China (to offset the loss of oil imports from the Soviet Union) to projects promoting self-reliance in the production of food products for major urban centres. …

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