The scope and meaning of the protests.
July 17, 2021
This is an article on the situation in Cuba written by Pablo Heller, a member of the Partido Obrero (Workers’ Party), a Trotskyist organization in Argentina, published on 15 July on their website Prensa Obrera. Its analyses are those of a historical Trotskyist current, with some information and perspective that should be interesting to our readership.
Speak Out Now has a different political analysis of the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban state from that of the P.O. We do not consider that the Cuban Revolution was a socialist revolution, nor that the Cuban working class ever established a direct democratic state. We think the Cuban revolution that ousted the domination of U.S. imperialism, and the resulting regime did greatly improve the life of the Cuban people. And we stand on the side of the Cuban people against the unending attacks and the embargo imposed by U.S. imperialism. We reprint this article because we think it presents an interesting analysis about the present situation in Cuba.
Recent repression of protests in Cuba has resulted in 150 detainees and one death. Some of the detainees have been released from state facilities and are now under house arrest, but others are still being held. The government has militarized the country and deployed a large battery of security forces.
What are the causes and significance of these protests?
Firstly, the U.S. blockade has suffocated the island and is a permanent source of economic and political extortion. The resulting hardships have exacerbated the coronavirus outbreak by depriving Cuba of access to medicine and basic essential items needed to face the pandemic. Coronavirus cases have spiked again in the last few weeks, and according to some reports, the health system is beginning to overflow in several localities. Additionally, the pandemic has paralyzed tourism, which was one of the main sources of foreign currency for the country.
President Miguel Díaz-Canel tried to place the blame on the American blockade for the situation, hiding the fact that the Cuban regime has been bending to the pressure of the imperialist powers by increasingly carrying out capitalist restoration.
This course was accelerated with Biden’s victory. Cuban leaders expected that the easing of tensions with the United States born under Obama’s mandate would resume after an interruption during the Trump presidency. Because of this, the Castro administration implemented a series of measures that aimed to improve business relationships and to create a flow of investments that was harmful to the general Cuban population.
As of January 1, 2021, the government began unifying the currencies it used: the Cuban convertible peso, linked to the U.S. dollar, and the Cuban peso. The parity was set at 1 dollar equivalent to 24 Cuban pesos, however, the value of the dollar in the black market doubled and then tripled. Wages are paid in the depreciated currency, making it increasingly difficult for Cuban workers to access goods. At the same time, the prices of these goods have skyrocketed at the same rate as the devaluation of the peso. The supply of products, including some basic goods, has mostly shifted to MLC (freely convertible currency) stores where only foreign currencies are accepted. The remaining stores have dwindling supplies and fewer customers, while lines have formed in the stores that sell in dollars.
The inflationary stampede brought on by monetary unification had an impact not only on imported products, such as medicines, but basic products such as food and services as well. Electricity rates, for example, increased five times. “Residential customers who used to pay 1,459 Cuban pesos (60 dollars) for 1,000 Kw per month will now have to pay 7,267 pesos (302 dollars), the equivalent of 3.5 minimum wages” (El Nuevo Herald, December 18).
Another recent reform by the Cuban government eliminated the requirement of majority State participation in joint ventures (except for the extraction of natural resources and the provision of public services). In preparation for this growth in foreign business, years ago a “special economic zone” was opened in the port of Mariel for the development of private businesses, with ample benefits in labor, tax and commercial matters, replicating what China did when it took the first steps in the process of capitalist restoration. Raul Castro, and now his presidential running mate, have been insistently pointing out that China and Vietnam are the models to be imitated and by which Cuba should be inspired.
At the same time, the Cuban leadership enabled the non-state sector to export and import, which implies an abandonment of the state control on foreign trade. The Labor Code was also modified, allowing workers to be fired without reason and extending the workday from 8 hours to 9 hours. “Currently, 30% of the Cuban labor force works in the self-employed sector. This category includes both self-employed workers and small businesses. But it is not ruled out that the number of permitted private activities and the formation of private companies with a much larger number of employees will increase. In the opinion of political scientist Samuel Farber, managers of state-owned industrial companies, who now enjoy greater autonomy, together with business factions from the Armed Forces (owners of the business emporium Gaesa), could be favored by the latter and start up their own enterprises. They are -he says- ‘the nucleus of a developing Cuban capitalist bourgeoisie that is emerging from within the communist apparatus itself’” (idem, 11/15) (Prensa Obrera, “Cuba, the impact of monetary unification”). These trends have translated to the cabinet itself, where the Minister of Tourism and the head of Gaesa have become the strong men of the regime who second Díaz-Canel.
In describing this landscape, it is necessary to mention the probable wave of layoffs that is posed as a threat because of a scenario of bankruptcies that could emerge due to the elimination of the special regime through which public enterprises had access to a 1 to 1 parity for imports.
However, the expectations that Cuban authorities hoped for with this series of measures were not met when Biden backed out on his promises to operate a turnaround in U.S. policy. There are domestic political reasons for this. The Cuban-American community (supporting the embargo) exerts an important lobby on the White House and has a considerable electoral weight that the Democrats had to consider given the tight presidential election results.
Another reason with equal or greater weight is the development of the world capitalist crisis itself, which has led to a global investment slowdown. This is especially true for tourism, one of the links most affected by the crisis, and in which Cuba placed its greatest hopes. Capitalist bankruptcy has done its relentless work as a mole. The opening of Cuba to international capital, including the promotion of tourism, far from benefiting the Cuban economy, has accentuated its collapse. While continuing to destroy the already constrained domestic production, the policies have not even created a source of foreign exchange. The most likely outcome from these measures is the closure of companies when what is needed is a robust industrialization plan based on a modernization and reconversion of its industrial park and existing infrastructure. Instead of a development of the productive forces, the island is marching towards a regression, condemning the population to new sacrifices, hardships and privations.
Mercenaries or popular reaction
This is the basis of the protests, which expressed a genuine rejection of the regime’s actions and a feeling of weariness of popular sectors. President Miguel Diaz-Canel had to recognize this in his press conference, when he said — referring to the events — that among those mobilized there were “folks in the population who are experiencing part of the shortages and difficulties” and “revolutionaries who may be confused” (Cuba Debate, July 11). This did not prevent him from attributing the outbreak to the work of “mercenaries”. What was most revolting was a marked growth of inequality: austerity does not affect the entire population equally. As never before in Cuba, the social distance between the ruling elite and the majority have been accentuated. This can be seen through the increasing privileges given to the ruling class, who have access to US currency while forbidden to the general population. This is directly associated with capitalist restoration, whose hallmark is growing social differentiation. The accusation of “mercenaries” to which the president appealed is not enough to cover up this reality. Although Cuban authorities try to disguise it, the protest is not the result of an external conspiracy, orchestrated from Washington or Florida, but is the result of an enormous internal popular reaction.
It is worth noting that the government has accentuated the persecution against dissident sectors and currents of the left that vindicate the revolution but criticize the course being promoted by the island’s ruling elite. The consequences of this policy of hardship, austerity, and greater inequality have ended up leading to the current outbreak. In this sense, we can affirm that the protests in Cuba are part of the wave of popular rebellions that have shaken Latin America and that have come out to confront the brutal attacks on the people’s pockets.
Perspectives and challenges
The protests express a heterogeneous movement and lack a defined political direction. Of course, the political exploitation attempted by the Cuban bourgeoisie and imperialism cannot pass us by. In the mobilizations the slogan “patria y vida” (our country and life) has come forward, a counterpoint to the slogan “patria o muerte” (our country or death), emblematic of the Cuban revolution. Obviously, the enormous suffering to which the Cuban people are subjected is a favorable breeding ground for the U.S. preaching. On the other hand, there is the Cuban ruling caste, the vehicle of a capitalist restoration but under its own control, and of which it intends to be one of the main beneficiaries, and which for these reasons, clashes with imperialism.
In the midst of this clash between the bureaucracy and the direct agents of imperialism, the struggle to set up a revolutionary socialist force becomes more valid and relevant. The goal to displace the bureaucracy and for the workers to assume and take in their hands the leadership of all the economic and political threads of the country can set in motion a plan that prioritizes the popular needs while developing harmoniously the productive forces in Cuba. Under these premises, the Cuban struggle can resume its role as the head of social revolution and socialist unity of Latin America. In this perspective lies Cuba’s best defense against the blockade and any aggression of imperialism. The challenge is to give a revolutionary political direction to the protests that have just begun on the island and to prevent the movement from being dragged into a trap of harmful compromises, alien and contrary to the immediate and historic interests of the workers.
Freedom for those arrested in the mobilizations. Down with the U.S. blockade. For the right to union and political organization of the workers. For a workers’ government.