Much is rightly made of the truth-squandering effect of the U.S. embargo of Cuba. With the embargo, the Cuban leadership always has an “excuse,” legitimately or not, for hardships suffered by the Cuban people. Many Cubans and Cuban-Americans believe that the Cuban leadership actually likes the embargo for this reason. I suspect that they are correct; however, we can never fully discern the truth under these circumstances.
The U.S. should put this to the test by unilaterally removing the embargo. Then perhaps some form of “normal” trade relations could take place between Cuba and the U.S. However, it should be up to Cuba, as with any other country, to choose whether and when to pursue trade in the best interest of the people.
As long as Cuba is not a democratic socialist country, but rather is a state monopoly capitalist country, its ability to represent the best interest of the people in matters of trade is highly suspect. Party leaders may (or may not) skim off revenues generated by the imported goods rather than equitably using the revenues for the people. A “free” Cuba should not in my opinion necessarily be a “free-trading” Cuba, anymore than any other country should be. Any international trade outside a social compact should be undertaken only with great care. I am not for neoliberal free trade that benefits capitalists and may actually harm the people overall by, among other things, harming the ability of a country to ensure that the basic needs of all of its people are met. Neoliberal-created or enlarged slums of desperate people the world over are evidence of free-trade’s potential harmful effects.
Food is one area where unbridled dependency on imports is highly problematic. Food is a justice and security issue of the first order. I place a lot of emphasis on the concept of “workers’ gardens” because I believe it makes sense as a matter of soil science, sustainability, and social planning to allow everyone the opportunity to grow at least some of their own food. Often-times, as with Dominican Republic food imports, free trade can foster unhealthy levels of dependency, hegemony, and other harmful effects. (See my photo and discussion of “Harina Blanquita.”) It can engender an alienated and vulnerable people fully dependent upon capitalist-provided hiring and adequate wages to buy food. (Adequate jobs and wages will not materialize for all people, leading to acts of desperation such as crime and prostitution. In times of broader capitalist crises such as recessions and depressions, ever-present capitalist desperation merely becomes more widespread.) It can effectively drive small domestic food producers out of business and into urban slums, run counter to a peasant-friendly land distribution, and contribute to a large-scale export-driven limited-commodity agricultural sector, one that in turn might be driven toward non-food production (bioenergy, for instance) or be susceptible to international land-grabs. It can put people out of work, lower traditional crop production, and make customary varied diets less accessible, leading to health problems and micronutrient deficiency even if consumption of protein and calories is adequate.
That does not mean that I am always against food trade and never for large-scale industrial agricultural production. Bread baskets of the world must be fully utilized (but much more sustainably than is currently done). Soil is a critical global resource that must be carefully stewarded to meet everyone’s basic needs. I believe a robust international entity such as a modified U.N. needs to be capable of participating in this stewarding to make sure that no one is left hungry and vulnerable. All the Caribbean islands import most of their food, and the world is full of hungry people who have to eat. However, as I discuss in A Winding Path to Workers’ Gardens/Un camino de bobina a jardines de trabajadores, to its credit, Cuba is the one island doing a good job of obtaining a high level of sustainable domestic food production, particularly with respect to fruits and vegetables. It is allowing more and more small-scale farming operations to use otherwise idle good arable land, empowering the farmers to work hard and receive material incentives for their high production. It would not be good for Cuba to lose these gains.
This illustrates another truth-squandering aspect of the Cuba-U.S. relationship–the truth-squandering effect of Cuba’s lack of political democracy and civil rights. U.S. opponents of the Cuban leadership justifiably emphasize the lack of political democracy and civil rights in Cuba, as such. Some fail to articulate the deeper impacts of this state of affairs, or presume that democracy implies capitalism. This vagueness may serve to mask underlying capitalist desires to control Cuban markets and Cuban soil. After all, China’s lack of political democracy and civil rights does not stop the U.S. from giving China most-favored nation status and the right to produce most U.S. widgets. Just as hypocrisy drives the embargo, hypocrisy sometimes drives discussion of democracy and civil rights to be skewed away from scrutinizing capitalism’s lack of economic justice and toward focusing on the undeniable hardships of the Cuban people.
Here are two YouTube videos that were referred to me by the Cuban-American critic of the Cuban government I met at Generation Y whom I mentioned in a previous post. Please see my comments below about the detrimental impact of the lack of democracy and human rights in Cuba, beyond legitimizing, in some U.S. eyes (not mine), the counter-productive embargo:
The lack of democracy and human rights in Cuba squanders so much (these points are not priority ranked):
1. Squandering of the socialist ideal: It destroys the credibility of the Cuban government with most of its own people and with those elsewhere in the world who value political democracy and human rights. Therefore, it squanders the dream of a meaningful uplifting socialism that could more fully liberate the people in Cuba and around the world. It opens up the Cuban government to heightened susceptibility to capitalist propaganda, making neutral and independent examination of the facts and comparisons in the search for truth difficult. For example, it becomes difficult to point out the horrendous conditions on nearby Hispaniola in the same conversation, and the value of apples-to-apples comparison is lost. One is so repelled with the lack of political and civil freedoms in Cuba that one may be easily lured to overlook the lack of economic justice in places outside of Cuba living under political capitalism (which I call democracy-lite, in contrast to the deep democracy which democratic socialists advocate, where the people control the economic and political systems). Just like these films illustrate about Cuba, Hispaniola has terrible problems of its own, with economic conditions forcing women into prostitution and widespread poverty with virtually no safety net, as well as alienation and high levels of criminal activity, all without the “excuse” of a U.S. embargo and with high levels of trade with the U.S. But who can hear these comparative facts over the roar of Cuban police state tactics?
2. Squandering of the people’s resources: According to these films, the party elite lives well and the people live poorly. Perhaps it is exaggerated, I do not know. How could any Cuban on the street know the full truth, since, just like in China, the regular person goes to prison for demanding an accounting? How many times do we have to see this course of events play out? George Orwell pointed this one out in Animal Farm so well. For goodness sake communist party leaders and members, you cannot have credibility if you live better than the un-democratized people for whom you supposedly care and for whom you make the economic decisions.
3. Squandering of the hearts and minds of the people: It squanders the ability of Cubans to logically determine the course for their own country. It leads to mass alienation. It causes the atrophying of moral incentives to behavioral restraint and acts of human solidarity. It squanders the ability of Cubans to make a comparative decision of what economic system and planning techniques would best serve the interests of everyone, including the needy. (This in turn, as mentioned above, opens the door for propagandists who merely want capitalism.) While many sacrifices may have to be made for the common good under socialism, not every sacrifice may be necessary. Without empowering the people to govern themselves and write their own social compact, they cannot make a conscious decision of how much sacrifice and of what kind is for the greater good and how much is to feed the fat cats or because of bad ideas or stubbornness.
I am honestly struggling to find the right balance between (a) cooperatives and other decentralized associations that form much of the framework under typical theoretical democratic socialism programs; and (b) having enough central control to assure everyone’s basic needs are met. When the people cannot openly discuss and democratically control their country’s leadership, the price of (b) becomes, in actuality or perception, higher than it might otherwise be. The people have no way of evaluating whether those in the central government are telling the truth and doing a good job. They are forbidden from trying different and possibly better leadership. Therefore, social trust is squandered.
Here is part of what I commented at Generation Y on October 1, 2013. It is a thumbnail sketch of an off-the-cuff constitutional master plan to try to balance things rationally. I look forward to any criticism:
I am not a political expert or a Cuba expert, just someone whose hero is the democratic socialist George Orwell, who was not an armchair socialist either. I happen to have a strong interest in Cuba for reasons of heritage and because I believe that IF Cuba did move to political democracy with the backbone of a democratic socialist constitutional framework to assure economic justice that this would be good for Cuba and a light to the world, which desperately needs such a light now more than ever. So how does the seemingly irreconcilable logjam in Cuba and externally with the U.S. get broken? I am a deep democrat and required by my religion to be a peace-maker, so here are my thoughts in good faith. None of this is perfect but it is the best I can come up in a blog comment:
The U.S. government should in my opinion unilaterally lift the embargo (travel restrictions included, of course, using my obviously loose terminology). Meanwhile, the Cuban government should in my opinion unilaterally announce that it will allow for the Cuban people to have a majority vote on a new proposed constitution within a reasonably brief period of time (and to allow for the Cuban people in the meantime to freely discuss the proposed language for the new constitution without adverse human rights consequences). The Cuban government, albeit working through its highly imperfect and undemocratic current “elected” officials, in my opinion should develop a proposed democratic socialist constitution that (a) ensures economic justice for all of the people of Cuba (including rights to have “adequate” food, water, and shelter, education, health care, and the reciprocal right and duty, where capable, of employment) AND (b) recognizes the right to free elections and civil rights. The new proposed constitution would not take effect unless approved by a vote of the people. Once approved, unlike the U.S. constitution, it should have the potential for further single-subject amendments by the people similar to the way some states do in their constitutions.
As long as the new constitution ensures political democracy and human rights, the international community including the U.S. should honor Cuba’s ability to chart its own economic course and to stick up for the needy the best ways that it can, including in its new constitution. The concepts of democracy and freedom should not be dumbed down to U.S. democracy-lite standards. Further, this constitutional process would be far more politically-democratic than the U.S. has ever done on a national basis. The people of the U.S. have never been allowed to directly vote on the U.S. constitution. In the U.S. of 1787, when the framers of the U.S. constitution got together in Philadelphia, they were representing the powerful, all of them were white males, and most of them were racists. The state legislatures that ratified the constitution were similarly undemocratic, and in many cases even more racist. The constitution adopted was (and is) moreover highly imperfect. It reflected gross defects that have been somewhat corrected over time, albeit in part through a civil war over the inhumane “right” to own African-Americans as slaves and to treat them like cattle, to break up their families, and to rape them at will. “We the people” at that time was a narrow swath, and a large percentage of adults in the U.S. did not have any voting rights, so the representatives in the Philadelphia convention and in the state legislatures were in no way representatives of empowered people. Yet the U.S. managed to adopt a constitution that many people brag on to this day, and an entire industry of talking heads waxes daily about the founding fathers’ supposed brilliance and virtue.
I do not agree with any nation’s triumphalism, including that of the U.S. toward the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. I have recently written at my website about how it would have been better to reform and democratize socialism in places where U.S. experts such as the economist Jeffrey D. Sachs pompously promoted U.S.-style capitalism and vicious austerity. Following their ideas hurt many people, and gross inequities continue where before there was some semblance of an inclusive social contract. The right wing’s unloving economic principles do not seem to be the trend for Latin America. That seems not to be because of leftwing repression, per se, although such repression sometimes exists to a degree, following Cuba’s bad example, but because the right wing lacks answers to critical questions about how to protect the weak.
I hate injustice and alienation no matter where it occurs. I know it occurs many places in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the U.S., not just in Cuba. For example, if a woman is literally or by economics or addiction effectively forced into prostitution, that is tragic and evil, wherever it occurs. I know it occurs all over Hispaniola and the U.S., and I am deeply disturbed but not surprised to read in a comment below that it is occurring in Cuba too in relation to the tourist industry. The rights of women and children should be rigorously protected.
Please let me know what you think.