Just mention the word Cuba to the US government and it draws forth an aggressive response. The raw nerve that has been touched is that a country espousing socialism, in its hemisphere, could have survived all attempts to bring the experiment crashing down. The wonder of wonders is that the imminent collapse gleefully anticipated with the demise of the Soviet Union, has not materialized. High technology propaganda, vicious extension of a 34-year-old economic embargo by the misnamed Cuba Democracy Act, immigration control, and at least six bills promised in the new Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives, as fairly recent efforts, have not induced collapse of the Castro-led regime.

Instead, Cuba seems to be passing the worse since the Soviet Union’s collapse, its own massive economic recession, especially since 1990, destructive acts of nature, loss and or weakness of markets in former communist states, and seems to be an economy and polity in transition. Additionally, it has made a tremendous number of friends who have been eagerly participating in assisting Cuba to make transition to a market-based economy and reinventing its socialist management and political system. Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and CARICOM as countries in this hemisphere, have undertaken concrete initiatives with Cuba, in spite of hostile US reactions. Spain, France, the Netherlands, the UK, Japan and many other strong states have been eagerly doing business with Cuba.

None of these countries would have had these kinds of relations with Cuba of the 1960s or even the 1970s. Cuba is changing or has changed and only the USA seems willing to keep it ossified. The first decade of the Cuban revolution scared many countries in this hemisphere as it attempted to export "revolution" in Latin America. This policy, motivated by a desire to protect its own revolution, backfired since the US response to shore up military dictatorship and became implacable in its hostility to Cuba and Cuban allies.

Cuba in the Past (post 1959)

As a weak state it had engaged strong-state military aid and combat troops activity well out of proportion to its size and geo-political location in Africa in the second decade of the revolution and continuing into the third decade, especially from 1975 in Algeria (1963), Angola, Ethiopia, Somalia, Congo and Mozambique. This overstretch also obliged Cuba to shift its hemispheric assistance to "progressive" governments, although its continued support to the rebels in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Grenada under the PRG received considerable military and other assistance in their struggle to maintain their "revolutionary" governments.

Nevertheless, in 1972, four Caribbean states (Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago), young in their independence from Britain, and taking advantage of Nixon’s rapproachment with China, established diplomatic relations with Cuba and entered into an air services agreement with Cuba. Generally, the Caribbean mood was support for non-alignment as explicated in Errol Barrow ‘s "friends of all, satellites of none" foreign policy objective. Barbados and Jamaica were also concerned with the presence of sizeable numbers of their nationals living and working in Cuba without direct representation. Guyana probably saw in Cuba a potential ally which would support it militarily against a Venezuela invasion. Jamaica subsequently declared for democratic socialism, Grenada had its coup, and Guyana declared the cooperative republic and then the socialist republic. The mid-1970s was a period of hope for new international economic order (NIEO) and a new world information order (NWIO).

In the 1980s, Cuba CARICOM relations had subsided even further than during the late 1970s. It took another major international event, the ending of the Cold War, importantly signified by the collapse of the Soviet Union, to encourage countries in this hemisphere to re-examine their relationships. The creation of mega trading blocs and the restructuring of industrial production ensured that countries all over the world saw markets and not ideologies as the driving force for their trading and investment relations. The 1990s thus began positively for renewed policy initiatives towards Cuba.

Democracy, USA, Cuba and the Anglophone Caribbean

Cuba was not invited to be a part of the hemispheric discussions at the Summit of the America’s meeting in Miami, in December, 1994. Cuba, having satisfied the long established USA requirements for the resumption of talks between the two countries, and having agreed on a set of immigration procedures, was nevertheless excluded from talks for which it was qualified by its geo-political situation alone. A number of facts will be examined later which will indicate the unwisdom of this move by the USA with the apparent support of CARICOM.

The USA and our own Caribbean leaders will have us believe that democracy is some ready-made consumption article available to replace or restore whatever autocratic form of government may exist. On this belief, it was restored in Haiti. On this belief, if Fidel Castro were to fall, and general elections held, supervised by the USA, of course, then democracy would be restored to Cuba. The question is, is the USA a democracy, or is it not the case that it is trying to achieve democracy? What are the requisite features of a true democracy?

The USA, in relation to the Inter-American development Bank, although it is the overwhelming major contributor of finance capital, reserves for itself only veto power, hut it needs the support of one or two Latin American countries to effectuate this. Its two best, loyal and grateful friends are Honduras and Guatemala, and of course they are "democracies." Guatemala is the country that persistently threatens the sovereign integrity of Belize. More than that, it is a country which systematically persecutes, even until death, its indigenous population.

The massacre at Rio Negro is an example of this opprobrious behaviour where 70 women and 107 children met their deaths at the hand of the army. Indeed, the regime is generally regarded as one of the most racist and repressive regimes in the Americas, yet US regards it as a democracy more so than it regards Cuba. It holds "competitive" elections, yet the army still controls everything from supermarkets to banks to peasant agricultural production. Between 1978 and 1983 the Guatemalan armed forces and ‘voluntary’ civil defence patrols destroyed approximately 400 towns and villages, mostly of its indigenous peoples. Today, that process has not ended.

Throughout many so-called democratic Latin American countries, millions of its indigenous populations live in abject squalor in feudal conditions. They have been completely marginalised and brutalized, when necessary, for the interests of domestic and foreign capitalists. The democracies of the Caribbean are doing business with these countries under the framework of a hemispheric trade and business arrangement but Cuba could not be included. The US would be comfortable dealing with such countries since it does not treat its Amerindian population much better. How does the USA explain its relationship with China, North Korea and Vietnam?

Our leaders can wish for Cuba to have western-style competition elections but we too can learn from them about their electoral process from the bottom up and how much more effectively it would work in our framework. Maurice Bishop at the Ocho Rios of CARICOM Heads of Governments argued for a more participatory political system and that democracy should not be judged solely from the presence or absence of elections. The overall point is that our democracies are still in the making. We would like them to become more participatory and for there to be more self-governing opportunities available to all of our citizens.

The authoritarian and insulting behaviour of our governments in not consulting with their citizens — ACS, Hemispheric Relations, and NAFTA entry continue an approach which has nothing to do with democracy.

Has Cuba really changed?

Cuba has withdrawn troops and military advisers from Angola and Ethiopia, disengaged from El Salvador, been shunted out of Grenada, Nicaragua and other places, and has no military associations now, or is likely to have any in the foreseeable future.

Politically, it no longer does or can export socialism. The temper of the times renders that impossible even if Cuba wished to and it no longer does. Within Cuba itself, there has been a sternly implemented policy that anyone leader or major manager over 50 years that has had six or more years of service at that level has to be replaced by younger persons, in their thirties.

This means a leadership in all areas has emerged which is far removed from the original revolution and its leaders. Although they are products of it, they are nevertheless fully capable of transcending the emotional and ideological attachment once held to be sacrosanct. This procedure, it must be conceded, has manifestly avoided the chaos and self-destruction which followed glasnost and perestroika and the anarchy which followed the cultural revolution in China as well as the events which led to the Tiananmen massacre in China. Foxy Fidel is having success in the political transition while remaining father of the change.

Economically and managerially, the changes are astonishing and are still gathering pace. The changes can now be deemed irreversible. 1990 has been a significant point of departure from the old command economy and polity, although over a decade ago I had noted that Cuba was changing mood and direction. The pace from 1993 has been headlong toward a market-oriented economy. In August 1993,the possession and use of hard currency was legalized. Citizens were authorized to open bank accounts in hard currency. Younger and more market-oriented persons were appointed. For example, José Luis Rodriguez was appointed Minister President of the State Finance Committee.

The appointment of Roberto Robaina as Foreign Minister was significant. He could go about the Caribbean and Latin America confident that his government was moving away from a system of working with inventories to a system of national income accounting.

Cuba’s increasing participation with foreign businesses is determining the form its bureaucracy and economy take. 1993 was an extremely difficult year for the Cuban economy. Structural adjustment was forced upon it to reduce its budget deficit and provide conditions for doing business with Cuba. Since Cuba was forced out of the IMF and World Bank in the early 1960s, it has had, merci fully, to assume full responsibility for this.

Some of the measures include a newly authorised self-employment sector, initially in 135 occupations, but to be expanded to provide in excess of 350,000 such businesses. Worker-managed cooperatives on leased state lands were also permitted. Farmers’ markets were opened all over the country after October 1, 1994, and a similar arrangement in manufactured goods and services on December 1, 1994. Indeed, all sectors, including the sugar industry, was opened up for foreign investment, and in some areas, foreign majority share ownership was permissible.

A tremendous number of countries have rushed to establish economic and trading relations with Cuba. At the end of 1994, there were nearly 400 foreign companies established in Cuba, 165 joint ventures with foreign capital from 38 countries, and since 1990 foreign investments topped US $1.5 billion. Spain, Canada, France, Italy, Mexico and the UK were among the main countries dealing meaningfully with Cuba. Should not the Caribbean countries have been ahead of these?

Cuban development and the Caribbean

We cannot hide from the effects of Cuban development. Six new hotels will be built in six years by Amanecer Holding. Cuba has in excess of 22,600 hotel rooms. Contracts have been signed for a further 7,400 rooms, with 1,500 scheduled to start this year. This is a real challenge to our stop-over tourism industry and a real investment opportunity for our people. Cuba has even joined the cruise ship competition with its own cruise liner operating between Jamaica, Mexico and Cuba. Cuba seems to he moving while we are standing still. Even with the US embargo, hundreds of US firms have established agreements for the day when that embargo will be lifted with the Cuban government and companies, and have used clever devices to be participants in current investment activities. How much more foolish we would be to await this day!

Cuba has been winning significant markets for its pharmaceuticals, several of which are of world market standards already. Medical equipment is finding good markets. A variety of beneficial arrangements have been made for the disposal of Cuban sugar in a variety of markets in return for a number of goods (including petroleum products) and services. A partner is being sought to complete and run the nuclear power plant in Cuba. When it becomes operational, it should give a considerable boost to Cuba’s manufacturing drive and reduce considerably its dependence on petroleum products. Cuba has a purchasing power in excess of US$ 2 billion in hard currency and our producers and service providers can exploit this possibility, but not if we wait any longer.

Prices of goods and services were sharply increased in May, 1994 to reduce the deficit and compete with the illegal market which was also putting considerable pressure on the peso in relation to the US dollar. Electricity attracted a new flat rate charge; rail fares were increased by 60 per cent; a small charge was imposed on water use; and cigarette prices were massively increased. However, in keeping with the social responsibility of government, areas left untouched by these price increases were  and education - no typical structural adjustment cuts here.

For better or for worse, the initial administrative response has been the expansion of ministries to 27 and institutes to live. This was in order to create new economic ministries replacing state committees - economy and planning; foreign investment and economic cooperation; finance and prices; and tourism. Maybe this is necessary in the transitional phases leading to a market-determined system. It is not exactly the downscaling promised although this now involves significantly fewer persons than the cumbersome state committees of the past.


All in all the CARICOM/Cuba Commission was probably based upon such assessments and the Heads of Government are to be congratulated in persevering with their efforts to make it work perfectly. US opposition has been strong but a distinction should always be made between President Clinton’s actual policies and those of’ the new Republican party dominated Congress. Jesse Helms and his cohort of congressional support in both Houses will continue to be nuisances and threaten Caribbean exclusion from material benefits from the US as a donor government and free trade arrangements with the USA.

However, other processes are likely to overwhelm such backwardness -the meaningful operationalisation of the Association of Caribbean States (which includes Cuba), and the coming into being of the Western Hemisphere Free Trade Are in the year 2005. The Republicans had promised such an Enterprise itself and it is hard to imagine, Helms and Diaz-Ballart notwithstanding, any setback to Caribbean expectations in this regard. Our diplomacy should be well-coordinated and powerful to meet all challenges in the near future. Let us make sure we get this aspect of our Caribbean cooperation and collaboration in perfect condition.

Full diplomatic accreditation and powers, on behalf of all CARICOM countries, perhaps individually given since there is no sovereign Caribbean, must be granted to the Secretary-General and recruited staff. A process must be established for speedy approval of the activities of this Unit by the Cabinets of individual governments, transcending the unanimity rule. Fulsome financial resources to cover the cost of all aspects of the work at this CARICOM level must he guaranteed, perhaps by a Caribbean-wide levy as had been suggested by Tom Adams. We simply have to transcend dilettantism and supplant it with complete professionalism and flexibility necessary in a 21st century institution. Dr. Edwin Carrington was correct. The decision to set up the Commission was perhaps the boldest move Caribbean governments have undertaken up to this point. It may very well prove to have been our most decisive as it will set in train a series of supportive activities which will ensure that the Anglophone Caribbean will not only survive but also succeed, together, in the 21st century.

(Dr. Neville C. Duncan is Political Scientist, UWI, Cave Hill, Barbados)


Into the 21st Century

*Neville Duncan