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Raul Castro, Cuba and the European Union. October 18, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Communism, Cuba, European Union, Social Democracy, United States.
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Reading the Irish Times some time ago on the continent (a print edition which had everything one needed bar the entirely superfluous and candyfloss magazine section – ah the joys of European wide print distribution) I was struck by the an article carried from the LA Times-Washington Post by Manuel Roig-Franza which noted that Raul Castro had hinted at some measure of economic reform in a speech during a commemoration of the 54th anniversary of the Revolution.

R. Castro is no fool, and as has been noted here previously he and the army have to some extent tied up the commanding heights of the economy. Some of you will have noticed that while sympathetic to the aims I am not entirely thrilled by a Revolution which 54 years later has the same guys at the top, or indeed many many others aspects of the Revolution.

So it is probably inevitable that R. Castro is treading very carefully. Rumour has it that he was one of the prime movers of the nascent economic liberalisation after the Soviet Union imploded and that Fidel was an obstacle. Who knows?

But his most recent pronouncements are revealing.

He has noted that wage rates are not high enough and has spoken now of the need to open to further foreign investment in order to gain ‘capital, technology or markets’. Meanwhile he also noted the necessity to ‘preserve the role of the state and the predominance of socialist property’.

Okay.

But to be honest ‘socialist property’ is the least of the issues when one gets down to it. The routes to the future appear fairly predictable. Ten, fifteen years from now Cuba will have some form of democratic representation, the communist system will be replaced and more than likely it will swing straight into the arms of neo- (or will it be neo-neo) liberal economic ‘experts’ as we saw in Russia and other former Soviet Republics and some of the Eastern European countries. It will be cemented firmly with the US sphere of influence and that will be that. Perhaps some aspects of the Revolution will remain. Probably. But, again, who knows?

Okay, it’s fairly loathsome to quote oneself, but in the previous post on this issue I said:

There’s still time for change. There is a chance for Fidel or Raul to maintain the genuine (but hardly unheard of elsewhere) achivements of the past 57 years. A closer engagement with Europe on a political level (that would mirror the joint economic enterprise with Europe), with a clear identification with strong social democratic reforms by firstly dismantling the predominant place of the party, introducing political pluralism and so on would at least offer the chance that the previous years haven’t been wasted.

I think I was being too conservative in that suggestion. ‘A closer engagement with Europe on a political level’. Hmmm. What exactly does that mean? Well here’s a suggestion. Why not enter into some form of association with the European Union proper? Consider that in the last month or so some informal contacts with Cuba have been reestablished by the European Union under the auspices of the United Nations.

Now before going any further it’s worth noting that Mercusor and the Andean Community are merging to generate the Union of South American Nations, which is modeled directly on the EU. It is expected to be a complete union analogous to the EU by … gulp … 2019. UNASUR is a step forward and something that will have a real potential in the future. But Cuba doesn’t appear to be in the running to join UNASUR, since it is, as a minute with an atlas will demonstrate, positioned in the Caribbean and the Caribbean is a patchwork quilt of different supranational entities, most of which such as the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States are to some degree shaped by the legacy of colonialism in the area. There are others such as the Caribbean Community with which Cuba has a free trade agreement but nothing more. CARICOM is intended to achieve some measure of political unity at some unspecified point in the future and interestingly CARICOM is also involved in trying to thrash out an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU.

There is in fact some precedent here. It’s not a great one since it too is a legacy of colonialism. French Guiana happens to be a départment d’outre-mer of France and as such is part of the European Union. Another second or two with an atlas will demonstrate that French Guiana sits on the north eastern coast of South America, or why bother with the atlas when those of us with Euro notes will also find it at the foot of a note just right of the EURO/EYPO in a little box. Closer to Cuba is another part of European history, Aruba and beside there the Netherlands Antilles, both parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

So while the region itself remains devoid of clear political structures that will embrace Cuba, why not see the EU step in. And by association I’m not suggesting membership, but something that was a close relationship between the sovereign state of Cuba and the EU as an entity – perhaps analogous to the initial relationship between Turkey and the EU. In effect a step by step process of deeper engagement between the two which would have clear cut goals and outcomes which would include tackling openly a range of contentious issues from the nature of democratic representation, human rights and so on but would also acknowledge the value and validity of many of the most positive aspects of the Cuban Revolution.

I entirely understand, and share many of, franklittles criticisms of the EU. But… this is a multipolar world, and the EU for all its faults is one entity which still retains elements antagonistic to neo-liberalism within itself. Naturally there are aspects of history, the colonial period and suchlike to be overcome in any relationship between Cuba and the EU. But such an association could provide a new path for states evolving from the command control political/economic path, as it has with the Czech Republic, Poland, etc, etc. Although it is also clear that it some of those post-communist states which are most adamantly opposed to any such moves. And then other issues would arise. At what point could such an association be formed? It would have to be well along the path to political liberalisation. Where could it potentially go. Would Cuba even want such a thing?

Yet within such an association – however loosely – I think the best elements of the Revolution, of which there are some worth retaining, could be protected.

Is it going to happen?

Not a chance.

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Comments»

1. Eagle - October 18, 2007

It won’t set well with the readers of this blog, but I’m pretty sure the United States would perceive your suggestion as a sort of soft, but definite, violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Those other EU entities you mention were all part of those European countries before 1823.

I think Cuba’s most likely course is some form of gradual loosening, like Vietnam or China. Still, I’m curious to see how Cuba is effected when regular trade & travel is opened up again. What impact will a flood of American tourists have? What will be the response of the exiles. I get the feeling that most people here either dismiss or fail to acknowledge the exiles, but they are many and they are wealthy.

2. Garibaldy - October 18, 2007

Not sure you’re not being overly pessimistic about how Cuba will look in 15 years time. A lot of people there, particularly in their 30s and 40s, appreciate that their lives would have been much worse in health, education and material terms had it not been for the Revolution. Popular support remains strong at least among these types of people. Many in their 20s and younger feel similarly, although I suspect a larger proportion of that age group would be discontented, thinking that a better lifestyle would exist under capitalism.

There is also the issue of Venezuela. If Chavez continues in power or if the changes there persist without him (and that’s a big if), then the subsidisation of the Cuban economy can continue, easing the rate at which transition to a more mixed economy can occur. Whether the left governments in Bolivia etc persist long enough for some more permanent association to continue I’m not sure.

3. Craig - October 18, 2007

On French Guiana, I believe you are correct WBS. It’s technically part of the EU as it’s part of France. An interesting anomaly. The European Space Agency (ESA) launches its rockets from there, presumably because of its isolation…

4. Eagle - October 18, 2007

One problem Cuba has is that they have an aging population. The average Cuban is older than the average Irish person. Imagine if all travel restrictions were lifted. What would the industrious 20-year old do? Right now the population is still growing slowly because net migration is low. However, I think there will be a massive exodus of young people when the ‘walls’ fall.

I’ve never been to Cuba, so I’ve never talked with anyone there. All my experiences of Cubans are talking to exiles in northern NJ (Hudson County New Jersey is very Cuban) when I lived there. Anyway, those people always talked about how much better off the people of Puerto Rico were when compared with the people in Cuba.

5. Justin - October 18, 2007

Eagle wrote
” All my experiences of Cubans are talking to exiles in northern NJ (Hudson County New Jersey is very Cuban) when I lived there. Anyway, those people always talked about how much better off the people of Puerto Rico were when compared with the people in Cuba.”

Eagle,
You were comparing Cuba with Puerto Rico (PR) so I had a wee look at the CIA Factbook (a must-have bookmark for any Leftie) and found a more complicated picture than the one you painted. Of course there are lies, damned lies and statistics but these figures nontheless point towards adifferent comparison to that made by those Cuban exiles in NJ.

AGE OF POPULATION

Median Age
Cuba 36.3 years
PR 35.1 years

% of poulation 65 years and over.
Cuba 13.1%
PR 13.1%

UNEMPLOYMENT RATE
Cuba 1.9% (2006 est)
PR 12% (2002)

ECONOMY
GDP Real Growth Rate
Cuba 11.1% (2006 est)
PR 0.5% (2006 est)

GDP Per Capita
$4,100 (2006 est)
$19,300 (2006 est)

Inflation rate (consumer prices)
Cuba 5% (2006 est)
6.5% (2003 est)

Of course, bare-bones statistics only begin to tell the story. Moreover, we could usefully compare Cuban figures in relation to heath and educational outcomes with Haiti or even parts of the mainland USA.

6. chekov - October 18, 2007

“Anyway, those people always talked about how much better off the people of Puerto Rico were when compared with the people in Cuba.”

I’m not at all a fan of Castro, but back in the late 1990′s I travelled from Jamaica to Cuba and I remember distinctly being shocked at the difference in development – only it was an oppposite difference to Eagle’s above, like travelling from the third world to a slightly crumbling first world – stuff like proper roads and even public buildings were totally non-existant in Jamaica.

Motto of the story is that while there are lies, damned lies and statistics, they’re still normally way better than anecdotes!

7. Justin - October 18, 2007

Sorry made a mistake
Cuban population 65 and over should read 10.7%, according to the CIA.
Forgot to mention
LITERACY (15 years old and over)
Cuba 99.85%
PR 94.1%

INFANT MORTALITY RATE
Cuba 6.04 deaths per 1,000 live births
PR 7.81 deaths per 1,000 live births

8. WorldbyStorm - October 18, 2007

P.J. O’Rourke, a much more interesting writer than some give him credit simply because he’s on the libertarian right (see an article he did on Kosovo) once said the blockades should end and capitalists should be assisted ashore by marines from dinghys. He was joking, sort of. But, I’m fairly certain that that dynamic will emerge in the future.

Eagle, that’s an interesting thought about the Monroe doctrine. Would it really swing into effect were the EU to establish closer ties? This isn’t, I should emphasis, about irritating the US, but simply attempting to ensure the optimum outcomes over the next twenty/thirty years. I think an EU/Cuba dynamic could assist that much better than a US/Cuba one, although clearly the latter would also exist. In a way what I guess I’m getting at is that the EU could become a guarantor of the best and assist in changing the not so good.

Incidentally, I’ve pointed up what I think Cuba would have to engage with as regards its own polity, but I also think that there might be interesting ramifications for the EU in terms of energy and enthusiasm for a transition to the market economy from a society with a socialist perspective of sorts and one where much broader support was retained for the best aspects of that socialism.

9. Eagle - October 18, 2007

Justin

The most meaningful statistic to the average person is the one about GDP per capita.

The average Cuban is much worse off in monetary terms than the average Puerto Rican.

Just a curiosity, but where does the CIA get its numbers and if from the Cuban government are we sure that these are accurate numbers? Is there a free press in Cuba?

10. Wednesday - October 19, 2007

The most meaningful statistic to the average person is the one about GDP per capita.

The average Cuban is much worse off in monetary terms than the average Puerto Rican.

How much of that GDP actually trickles down to the average Puerto Rican, though? The reason PR isn’t more of a basket case is entirely due to its tax-free status, which has encouraged a lot of businesses to set up there. But they aren’t necessarily benefitting the Puerto Rican people so much. Keep in mind this statistic, also from the CIA Factbook:

Equatorial Guinea
GDP per capita: $50,200 (2005 est.)

As for the CIA’s sources I’d be inclined to doubt they just ask the various governments to provide them – but if you’re going to cast doubt on some of them, you can’t then turn around and argue on the basis of others.

WBS, it’s ironic that some of the best stuff on Kosovo has been done by righties (see for example paleoconservative Justin Raimondo at antiwar.com). Of course this is mostly due to it being Clinton’s war; if one of the Bushes, John McCain or Bob Dole (all of whom supported the war) had started it, most of them – although probably not Raimondo – would have been its most enthusiastic cheerleaders.

11. Justin - October 19, 2007

The last poster’s point about GDP is well made. If you want to know how much the ordinary worker earns, GDP is a singularly inept measurement- which is why the Financial Times routinely uses it in its analyses of various countries. GDP is most inept when trying to measure the wealth of an average worker in a deepely unequal society (e.g. USA, Ireland) . I tried to find stats that break the wealth for PR and Cuba down into quintiles (e.g., wealth received and owned by the top and bottom twenty per cent of the populations) but couldn’t find them. Perhaps someone could point me in the right direction.

A further point that Eagle might consider is that services such as health and education in Cuba are free at the point of demand. Less so in Puerto Rico.

In realtion to freedom of the press, might I point Eagle to Canadian Communist Stephen Gowans’ blogspot, What’s Left. http://gowans.wordpress.com/

In an article entitled “Whose Rights?”, Gowans makes the point that,
“Western discourse on human rights emphasizes civil and political liberties, it ignores economic rights altogether – the right to a job, to participate in enterprise management, to free health care, to free education at all levels, and freedom from foreign economic domination – rights developed to a significant degree in the communist countries, and to an admirable degree in some economically nationalist Third World countries (Iraq, for example, before human development and social welfare were undermined by war, sanctions and finally abolished by the US occupation authority.)”
http://gowans.blogspot.com/2007/02/whose-rights.html

Gowans pursues the argument with admirable clarity.

12. Eagle - October 19, 2007

Justin,

You’re right. I don’t believe there is (or should be) a right to “participate in enterprise management” or a right to “free health care” or a right to “free education at all levels” or “freedom from foreign economic domination” (whatever that is). Each of those “rights” sounds more like an excuse for the government to dominate my life.

Those civil and political liberties you mention above limit the power of government whereas the “economic rights” you mention represent a transfer of power from the individual to the government. I’m opposed to such transfers in Ireland, although at least the people have voted for such. I can freely argue against such state control.

That is not the case where a country is run by an unelected, unaccountable cabal, supported by a vast network of mid-level back-side kissing yes-men. That was the situation throughout E. Europe until the sheer dead weight of the system caused it to topple over. And, although I know little about it, I find it hard to imagine Cuba is much different.

13. Eagle - October 19, 2007

Would it [Monroe Doctrine] really swing into effect were the EU to establish closer ties? This isn’t, I should emphasis, about irritating the US, but simply attempting to ensure the optimum outcomes over the next twenty/thirty years.

Obviously I’m only guessing and it would depend on the extent to which the EU is simply looking at establishing a trading relationship or something closer to the Aruba, Guyana model you mentioned. My point was that anything close to looking like the latter could look like a new European ‘colony’ in the W. Hemisphere.

I think an EU/Cuba dynamic could assist that much better than a US/Cuba one, although clearly the latter would also exist. In a way what I guess I’m getting at is that the EU could become a guarantor of the best and assist in changing the not so good.

If Cuba liberalizes along the lines of E. Europe, there will be no stopping a big US role there. It might not even be all that formal initially at the Federal level, but money will pour in for tourism development and, if things break right for Cuba, investors in non-tourism enterprises will also enter the market.

I’m not clear what role the EU would have other than as (I would expect) a similar, but smaller investment/development partner. Would the EU look to freeze out American investment? If yes, I think the Monroe Doctrine will definitely be brought to play.

14. Eagle - October 19, 2007

As for the CIA’s sources I’d be inclined to doubt they just ask the various governments to provide them – but if you’re going to cast doubt on some of them, you can’t then turn around and argue on the basis of others.

I doubt the statistics for Cuba more than those for Puerto Rico, where there is a free press that can openly question government provided data and where non-government economists can issue their own data. Is that the case in Cuba?

I also wonder how you measure GDP in a command economy. That’s why I’m curious about the CIA’s data. I don’t really mistrust anything that the Puerto Rican government is publishing because glaring errors would be caught by the press and others.

15. Eagle - October 19, 2007

Wednesday,

Paleoconservatives were opposed to US intervention in all of the Balkan wars, the first Gulf War and this second Iraq War. Pat Buchanan – probably the leading Paleoconservative – has been arguing against US involvement abroad for a long time. He wants US forces out of Korea (& Okinawa), Europe and wants the US to stop taking sides in conflicts far from America’s shores. He’s certainly no fan of American support for Israel.

Maybe you should find a copy of Where The Right Went Wrong?

I’ve always liked Buchanan and even voted for him in 2000. He’s often accused of being anti-Semitic, but I don’t believe he really is anti-Semitic.

16. Wednesday - October 19, 2007

I doubt the statistics for Cuba more than those for Puerto Rico, where there is a free press that can openly question government provided data and where non-government economists can issue their own data.

My point was that you seemed to accept the statistics for Cuban GDP per capita.

Paleoconservatives were opposed to US intervention in all of the Balkan wars, the first Gulf War and this second Iraq War.

Which is why I said Raimondo probably wouldn’t have supported Kosovo even if it had been a Republican war. But many other conservatives probably would have.

17. JC - October 19, 2007

I think I was being too conservative in that suggestion. ‘A closer engagement with Europe on a political level’. Hmmm. What exactly does that mean? Well here’s a suggestion. Why not enter into some form of association with the European Union proper? Consider that in the last month or so some informal contacts with Cuba have been reestablished by the European Union under the auspices of the United Nations.

Indeed, and if it were a reasonably functioning democracy like say Argentina I’d be all for it. However it isn’t, and there is little sign that it is developing in such a way.

Anyway, something tells me the Poles, Czechs and the like might have some difficulty with the EU opening arms to the last intellectual bastion of their previous oppressors.

18. Justin - October 19, 2007

Eagle wrote
“Those civil and political liberties you mention above limit the power of government whereas the “economic rights” you mention represent a transfer of power from the individual to the government”

Not quite a transfer from individuals to government but from massive unelected cross-governmental tyrannies to government. Libertarian rightists have produced some admirable material – Justin Raimondo’s Antiwar.com is a case in point- but when it comes to the economy they live in an early 19th century fantasy-world in which rugged indivdualists aim their pichforks at Big Government to protect the family farm. In the real world the family farm has been eaten up by agri-business and citizens have more to fear from Massive Marketing [see http://www.consumertrap.com/%5D,for example, than from Big Government (except when government sends workers off to war.)

The neo-cons take up those bits of the libertarian rhetoric which are useful in their relentless attacks on workers rights.

Which brings me to rights.The center for social and economic rights says it beter than I can:

All the world’s great religious and moral traditions, philosophers, and revolutionaries, recognize that human beings deserve to live in freedom, justice, dignity and economic security. The International Bill of Rights grew out of these traditions, and calls for all governments to make sure their citizens have human rights — civil, political, social, cultural and economic. Referring to economic, social and cultural issues as “rights” uses the legal framework developed under international law, and gives individuals legitimate claims against state and non-state actors for protection and guarantees.

During the Cold War and trickle-down economics theory, ESCR were frequently mis-labled as “benefits,” meaning individuals had no basic claim to things like food and shelter. After the Covenant came into force in 1976, jurisprudence around economic and social rights began to develop and great progress following the formation of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

Economic and social rights require governments and other powerful actors to ensure that people have access to basic needs, and that people have a voice in decisions affecting their well-being. Poverty and injustice are neither inevitable nor natural, but arise from deliberate decisions and policies, and the human rights legal framework provides a way to hold public officials accountable for development policies and priorities.
http://cesr.org/basic

19. Eagle - October 19, 2007

Justin

We’re probably reaching the stage where not much of use can be said, the argument is heading towards philosophy. What is “economic security”? I don’t much about the International Bill of Rights – I’m not an “internationalist – but I’ll read up on it if I can find time. I see that Cuba is not a signatory, for whatever that’s worth.

I’m curious as to whether it lists out those rights you listed above, free education to all levels, etc.

I had a quick look at The Consumer Trap and, well, I’m not impressed. There’s a basic assumption that people are stupid. I’m not saying that marketing doesn’t work, but I believe most adults understand marketing and know they’re being sold. Although people like Consumer-Trap-guy don’t like it, the average adult is actually getting better value for money now than 120 years ago when the traveling snake oil salesman had a much more gullible target market.

And, his peak oil analysis sounds fine, but if oil’s running out why not just let it run out? If oil disappears then, so will the car (which he seems to have a real problem with). It will happen gradually in small shocks delivered by the market as oil rises in price. Vast areas of the United States will become unlivable again, but maybe 2m people shouldn’t be living in cities built in the desert?

I’m not sure what you mean by “massive unelected cross-governmental tyrannies”, but the only real power over my life is the government. I can resist corporate influence at little cost, but I can’t resist government because ultimately the state has the power and the authority to use violence to force me to comply with its edicts.

20. Eagle - October 19, 2007

By the way, the first quick scan I did on the origins of the International Bill of Rights turned up a paper on how the original ideas behind the original Universal Declaration of Human Rights came from Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno. I didn’t know that, but I find it kind of interesting.

21. Justin - October 19, 2007

Yes, Eagle, there comes a time when discussion ends up at irreconciable philosophical differences. Just one further point. Government may be the only real power over your life, but can the same be said for everyone else? Large sections of the population face economic ruin every day, live in free market slums
[ http://newleftreview.org/A2496 ] are employed in dangerous and ruthlessly exploitative free market enterprises. I could be mistaken, but I’m not sure if “big government” as defined in libertarian philosophy is a pressing concern for these people.

For an interesting take on “free enterprise” and “getting government off our backs”, see http://www.pslweb.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7421

22. Eagle - October 19, 2007

Justin,

Just to let you know, I’m not a libertarian. I don’t necessarily disagree with the government stepping in to help people out at times, but I also think that government involvement suffers from serious mission creep – where the definition of “need” changes and what should be temporary becomes permanent. I also think government should be as local as possible, which is a whole other discussion.

The average “poor” person in Ireland today has far more in terms of material goods and real wealth than did the average citizen even 30-40 years ago. Yet, these people are probably worse off than most of those who would have been considered “poor” at that time. Why? There’s a poverty in their lives that can’t be helped by money or by creating some vast civil service-run entity to look after them.

One other thing about the International Bill of Rights (see the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) that I like is its pretty hard core focus on the importance of family. I think most western governments are clearly in breach of these articles, but all they do is change the definition of “family”. And, what do you know? Problem solved.

The International Bill of Rights means whatever you want it to mean.

23. Eagle - October 19, 2007

I should also add that a week or two ago I said I had no time whatsoever for all this corporate welfare. Having said that, I think this guy’s regurgitating some half truths (the military is MUCH smaller today than it was in 1990) and all the Fed did in August was add liquidity to the market. In other words, the Fed did what it is supposed to do.

I know this guy’s probably after some form of socialist revolution, but seeing as his views are shared by an insignificant minority in the US it’s hard to say that the Fed did anything too outrageous. Very few Americans want to see banks fail or the banking system grind to a halt.

In fact, the ECB acted similarly and before the Fed, I believe.

24. Andy Newman - October 20, 2007

I think this does underplay the influence of Venezuela on Cuba, not only at the state level, but through the thousands of Cuband now working in Venezuela, and going home taking their experiences with them.

The viability of Cuba as a socialist government is tied to the fate of Venezuela.

25. WorldbyStorm - October 21, 2007

That’s an interesting point Andy, but does that mean that you see the influence of those Cubans who return from Venezuela to push it in a democratised socialists path (i.e. from a Cuban perspective ‘rightwards’)?


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