The Cuban Political System-

Background- Cuba was one of the most important of Spain's colonies and the last of the spanish possessions to achieve independence from Spain (in 1898). The geostrategic position of Cuba astride the caribbean and astride the sea lanes to Mexico and Central America made Cuba valuable. Also, the sheltered harbor of Havana protected the Spanish fleet (the flotilla) laden with precious metals and raw materials for Spain. The trade winds north of Cuba assisted vessels in achieving rapid rates of speed on their way to Spain. Cuban sugar production provided an important source of wealth to Spain. But by the late 19th century, an upper class tired of Spains high taxes, tired of a lack of autonomy, and desirous of trade with the United States began a war of independence from Spain (the Ten Years War, 1868-1898).

The Ten Years War was waged half-heartedly because the Cuban elite feared that the large black population would rise up and Cuba would become another Haiti. To win support of the sugar plantocracy in the Western part of the island, the insurgent forces limited the war to the eastern part of Cuba. They settled for peace after they were promised greater autonomy by Spain. But little changed and war resumed in 1895. It was a better organized effort led from without by Jose Marti. War was waged throughout the entire country and, as the pro-independence forces were about to win, the U.S. enters the war to "save" the Cubans from Spain. In reality, the U.S. had coveted Spain for decades and entered the war to obtain coaling stations, to protect the 50 million dollars of American investments in the island and to secure the caribbean for a future canal.

The U.S. marine General Leonard Wood was the first president of an independent Cuba. The U.S. occupied the island from 1898 to 1901 at which time it made Cuba a protectorate of the U.S. through the Platt Amendment. This amendment to a U.S. military appropriations bill prohibited Cuba from trading with other countries if such trade jeapordized Cuban independence. Cuba was required to provide military bases for the U.S. at specified points (the U.S. still has Guantanmo base there). The U.S. reserved the right to intervene in Cuba to "protect its independence" and the U.S. did so on numerous occasions (1906-1909; 1921-1925). The history of U.S. intervention is one of the keys to understand the Cuban revolution of 1959 and why it took the form that it did.

During the 1920's, U.S. investments in Cuba were one-fourth of all U.S. investments in Latin America! We worked closely with dictator Gerardo Machado (whose government was labelled the government of the bayonets) because he advanced and protected American investments in the island. In 1933, a generation of Cubans tired of U.S. domination and of corrupt puppet governments (whose main interest was in looting the national lottery and rewarding cronies to political posts) rose up in rebellion against the Machado regime. A left-leaning, populist government was established led by Grau San Martin and Manuel Cespedes was established. The U.S. labelled this government Communist and conspired to have an army seargeant, Fulgencio Batista, lead an overthrow of the government. The government lasted six months until it was overthrown by Batista who assumed power from 1934 to 1944. Once Batista had made his fortune, he retired to Florida.

The elections that followed Batista's departure produced a series of elected but corrupt governments between 1944 and 1952 (those of Grau San Martin and Prio Socarras). A progressive and reformist sector organized around the Ortodoxo Party (a party harkening back to the 1933 revolution that favored greater social and economic equality, less U.S. domination, and the rule of law) was about to win the elections scheduled for March of 1952. Fearing land reform, nationalization, and egalitarian reforms, the more backward sectors of Cuban society (the plantocracy linked to U.S. interests) brought back Batista. Batista staged a coup d'etat and imposed a dictatorship on Cuba that lasted until 1959. It was this government that was overthrown by the forces of the July 26th movement under Fidel Castro.

Political parties in Cuba never functioned as vehicles for honest democratic government. Corruption was rampant. Cuba since 1898 was characterized more by political corruption and instability than by stable democratic government. Because of the links of these corrupt and anti-democratic governments to the United States, to be a nationalist in Cuba was to be against U.S. dominance and control over the island nation. The U.S. was more interested in stability to protect its economic and strategic intrests in Cuba. The U.S. mafia controlled the hotels, the night clubs, gambling, and prostitution and were linked to a corrupt political class that governed. This relationship between corrupt government, lack of democracy, and U.S. influence and linkages to these regimes help to explain the Cuban Revolution.

Cuban Economy and Society- There was a large contrast between the opulent Havana and the rural areas of Cuba. More than one-half of the Cuban population loved in Havana while the countruside remained severely underdeveloped. At the time of the Cuban revolution, cuba was 47% rural and 40% of the work force was employed in agriculture. Fewer than 10% of the farmers controlled 70% of the land. Many worked in the sugar cane fields in jobs that were seasonal and that provided employment for only 5 or 6 months of the year. The official rate of unemployment was 25%. In Havana, 87% of the dwelling units had electricity whereas fewer than 9% of dwelling units in the countryside had electricity. This is another key to understanding the Cuban Revolution and its emphasis on the development of the rural sector of Cuban society.

Immediate Antecendents to the Revolution- The Cuban Revolution is a home-grown revolution. In its origins, it was not a socialist revolution but rather a multi-class revolution made in the name of sovereignty, democracy, and greater social and economic equality. The usurpation of power by Batista just before the 1952 elections derailed what was almost certain to be a victory for reformist forces in Cuba from the Ortodoxo Party. Fidel Castro, a young lawyer from southeastern Cuba, was about to be elected to Cogress as a candidate of the Ortodoxos. A prominant figure in university politics from a wealthy family, Castro organized an attack on fort Moncada (also a prison) to obtain weapons against Batista. The attack on July 26, 1953 was a failure but it gave rise to the July 26th movement that was to be the vertical column of the Cuban revolution. Castro was imprisoned for 2.5 years and released by Batista as part of a general amnesty. In his "History Will Absolve Me" speech, part of his own defense in the trial for the events of July 26, 1953, Castro justifies the Cuban revolution as a part of the history of revolutions. He describes revolutions events indispensible to human emancipation and places the Cuban revolution alongside the other great revolutions of history.

Exiled to Mexico, Castro meets a young Argentine doctor named Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a former officer of the spanish civil war named Colonel Bayo, and others who were willing to form a nucleus that would launch an invasion of Cuba to liberate it from Batista. Arriving on the ship "Gandma" in late 1956, the majority of this group of 80+ fighters were killed or captured and Fidel moves to the mountains of the Sierra Maestra. From there he fights against Batista's forces and emerges triumphant in 1959.

1. The Communist Party played no significant role in the revolution;
2. The small band of fighters under Castro defeated the much larger army of Batista because the army would not fight. The corrupt regime collapsed from within.


As we have seen, the Cuban Rev. was not a communist revolution in its origins but it became a
communist state. Fidelismo has always been a vanguard movement revolving around the figure of
Fidel Castro. This is very un-Marxist. Fidel heads a mobilization system structured around a fairly constant set of ideas. These are:

* national independence and self-determination. This is equated with defending the revolution.
*the need to build a new man and woman, people of conscience vs. material motivations.
There is a moralism to this revolution.
*Social and economic equality and especially the shifting of resources the sectors of Cuban
society neglected most by the traditional political order in pre-Castro Cuba.

This is not a political revolution but rather a social and economic revolution as well which has
had goals far beyond that of the Mexican Revolution as a part of its transformative agenda.

Structures of Control:

Such an ambitious undertaking required a strong state apparatus, an apparatus of control.
This apparatus includes:

*Mass organizations such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution which are
neighborhood committees that serve as the eyes and ears of the revolution. These committees
also organize neighborhoods behind regime goals and serve to work out family problems at
the local levels (such as males opposing women working).
In 1967 there was the PODER LOCAL organization based on elected officials to 22,000
municipios. However, the local govts. were presided over by officials chosen by the
Communist Party. This poder local movement was abandoned in 1968 but has resurfaced in the 1990's.
*Trade Unions belong to the CTC or Confederacion de Trabajadores Cubanos. The CTC
serves as a conveyor belt from the party to the unions and the function of its leaders is to
coordinate labor behind the goals set by the communist party. The union representatives are
appointed by the govt. and although workers are consulted, the party apparatus controls.
*The Cuban Revolution has placed special emphasis on the youth of Cuba and has mobilized it
to work in such areas as agricultural production and as teachers in the literacy campaigns of
1961. The Communist Youth Leagues also serve as channels for recruitment of future officials
and members of the party. There are problems of delinquency of youth and of youthful
alienation. In the early 1970's, the law was changed to treat youths 16 or above as adults. One either works or goes to school in Cuba.
*The Federation of Cuban Women has more than 1.5 million members and is also harnessed
behind the goals of the revolution.
*The army of Cuba is one of the largest and most experienced in all of Latin America. There
is three years of compulsory military service and there is military training of the civilian
population. The army also serves as a source of labor. MINFAR (Ministerio de las Fuerzas
Armadas) has run rehabilitation camps for homosexuals and for deviant intellectuals in the past but there has been an opening of social space for homosexuals and of political space for dissenting intellectuals in recent years.


*The top level of the party is the 8 member Politburo and Secretariat. Raul and
Fidel Castro are the key decision makers. Below this is the Central Committee which is a
collection of leaders from significant social groups (the CC numbered some 148 full and 77
alternate members in 1980).
* Below the top levels (above), there are the provincial party organizations and the "nucleos"
or local party cells which encompass the PCC rank and file.

The Cuban Constitution of 1976 vest supreme legislative authority on the National Assembly
which in turn elects a Council of State from its own ranks. The Council of State acts on behalf
of the Assembly when it is not in session. The head of the Council of state up to now has
always been Fidel Castro. The head of the Council of State selects the Council of Ministers
which serves as a cabinet which is chosen by the head of the Council of State subject to the
approval of the National Assembly. The Council of State overlaps with the Politburo and of
the Council's 31 members in 1980, 19 were full or alternate members of the Politburo. In
essence, Fidel is the dominant figure of both the Party and the State.

Phases of the Revolution-
I. Revolutionary consolidation and alliance building occurred between 1959 and 1962. Based
on the experience of Guatemala in 1954, Cuba in 1933, and Castro's visit to the U.S. in
1959, Castro was convinced that the U.S. would destroy the Cuban Revolution. To achieve
his radical nationalist program, he had to find ways of neutralizing the U.S. to keep the
revolution alive. There was no blueprint to this revolution but the whole thing was improvised
as the revolution proceeded.

The radical reforms brought about the opposition of the middle class reformers who once
supported fidel Castro. They turned against him and began to work with the U.S. for his
overthrow. They were committed to a political revolution and not a socio-economic
revolution. They were the Maderos of the Cuban revolution. The Agrarian Reform Law of
1959, the summary execution of top agents of Batista, the nationalization in 1960 of key
sectors of the Cuban economy in response to U.S. orders to U.S. oil refineries in Cuba not to
refine soviet oil--these brought him into conflict with the reformist element of the revolution.

The soviets feared deep involvement in Cuba. They were working on improving relations with
the U.S. (camp David) and they feared the U.S. would intervene as it did in Guatemala. Also
Cuba lacked revolutionary credentials and they considered the revolution as a "pre-socialist,
bourgeois democratic, anti-imperialist, agrarian revolution."

But Fidel's abandonment of the anti-communists as well as the shooting down of a U-2 spy
plan over the USSR in May of 1960 reduced Soviet inhibitions. On May 7, 1960, diplomatic
relations were established with Cuba and arms shipments were on their way one moth later.
The U.S. elimination of the sugar quota propelled Cuba into a closer relationship with the
the soviets were still suspicious of Fidel because there was no ruling communist party. Such a
party was not established until 1965 but did not hold a party congress until 1975.

The invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 (April) had the effect of solidifying Cuba's
relationship with the soviets. In Dec. of 1961, Castro announces that he is a Marxist Leninist.
But nothing showed more the dependency of Castro on the USSR than the Cuban Missile
Crisis of October of 1962. Letters now show that Fidel favored the use of nuclear power by the soviets to maintain the Cuban revolution. These letters were released by Fidel in late 1990.

II. 1963-1968: Development at Home and Confrontation Abroad

Cuba scholar Edward Gonzalez argues that Fidel's major pre-occupation was with maintaining soviets commitment to Cuba and that he used an aggressive foreign policy to this, one which involved efforts to expand the Cuban revolution in Latin America and to aid revolutionary movements around the world. The Sino-Soviet split made it possible for Fidel to exploit this tension as the USSR's failure to aid Cuban revolutionary efforts would play into the hands of the Chinese. BUT WHAT GONZALEZ OVERLOOKS IS THE EXTENT TO WHICH THESE EFFORTS BY CASTRO WERE DEFENSIVE. BY MAINTAINING THE U.S. PUTTING OUT FOREST FIRES THROUGHOUT THE CONTINENT, HE PROTECTED HIS REVOLUTION. ALSO, CASTRO AND GUEVARA HAD A GENUINE COMMITMENT TO THE CONTINENTAL STRUGGLE IN THE TRADITION OF BOLIVAR.

In attempting to export the revolution, Castro ran into difficulty with other Latin American
Communist Parties which he denounced as being anti-revolutionary. He sought to establish his
own Organization of Latin american solidarity (OLAS) to promote Latin American revolution.

In the area of the domestic economy, many serious errors were made by the revolutionary
-Thousands of Cuban technicians had left Cuba. Castro had a population that was more
politically manageable but one which lacked technical skills.
-Aggressive efforts to diversify the economy by reducing sugar production were based on
faulty planning and ideology more than anything else. This damaged the Cuban economy.
-Castro returned the economy to sugar production to generate foreign exchange and to
centralized administration and centralized budgeting. The Govt. emphasized moral incentives
over material incentives not just out of ideological motivation, as it is often assumed, but out of
the unavailability to provide material incentives. The soviets favored material incentives over

Up until 1970, Fidel was a maverick within the structure of the international communist
movement and he tried as much as possible to maintain independence from the soviets.

III. 1968 to 1985: Accommodation to the USSR.

The Cuban revolution was sovietized especially during this period due to:
-The failure of the export of the revolution.
-The increased reliance on the soviets following the campaign in 1970 to produce 10 million
tons of sugar. The failure of the massive campaigns to increase sugar production led to
demoralization and to a worker absenteeism rate of 20%.

After 1970
*Cuba becomes and unconditional defender of the USSR in the international arena. *Cuba
adopts a posture of moderation towards latin America and seeks to move out of the isolation
imposed by the US.
*There were some modest efforts to increase democratization within Cuba but what
followed was a greater measure of institutionalization of the Revolution. THIS MEANT LESS
*Centralization of govt. as well as increased dogmatism in ideological matters.
*The end to grandiose economic schemes, emphasis on material incentives, the efficient use of
capital, and increased labor productivity.

Old soviet styled leaders like Osvaldo Dorticos and Carlos Rafael Rodriguez began to exert
influence over planning and foreign affairs. The institutional base for the increased soviet
ECONOMIC, AND TECHNICAL COOPERATION. In 1973 alone there were 1500
Cubans studying in the USSR and this number was greater than the total for 1961-1972.
Soviet technicians were sent to explore for oil and in the use of MIG-23s for defense. Cuba
was integrated into COMECON.

*The army was professionalized.
*anti-social elements among youth were disciplined.

Despite these trends, there were several constants which remained. One was the predominant
position of Fidel who has named his brother Raul to be his successor. The other was the
maintenance of control by the state apparatus which, in turn, is controlled by the party
apparatus. In short, Cuba had become a soviet styled state.

III. Cuba in the Gorbachev Era: Post 1985.

The rise of Gorbachev and the programs of Glasnost and Perestroika raised fundamental
problems of the Cuban government.
-Gorbachev denounced the economic model upon which the Cuban revolution was based.
-Decentralization and democratization raised questions about both the style of Cuban
leadership (revolving around Fidel) and the type of control that it entails.
-The jettisoning of the Eastern European satellites as liabilities and the focusing on the internal
needs of the USSR led the soviets to reduce their economic assistance to the Cubans at the rate of 4 to 5 billion dollars per year (including 13 million barrels of oil provided to Cuba at below world market prices).

-Thirty percent of the USSR's sugar needs and 20 percent of their nickel and cobalt came
from Cuba in the late 1980's. 40% of the citrus marketed in the USSR came from Cuba. The soviets would have had to pay 1.5 to 2 billion dollars for the same products on the western market per year.
-Cubans gave blood donations for Armenia and provided doctors for the treatment of children after Chernobyl.
So soviet aid was not a one way street but, on balance, the soviets gave more than they received.

The Cubans adjusted to the changes in the USSR and Eastern Europe by adopting austere
rationing and reducing energy use. They sought western Europe and Latin American support for joint-ventures in non-traditional exports (such as high-tech pharmaceuticals, coffee processing, tourism, industrial shrimp farming). The Cuban came to view the Russians as incapable of offering technologies that would create capital goods competitive on the world market.

In the Gorbachev era, Fidel argued that the USSR was not the same as Cuba in its culture and it is not 90 miles from the U.S. He stated that Cuba would not adopt Perestroika (economic reknewal) and Glasnost(political transparancy or openess). In 1986, cuba defaulted on its debt payments to the Paris Club (the debt exceeded 3 billion dollars to the West). He launched a rectification campaign in 1986of austerity that, while defined as an effort to streamline and make more efficient the bureaucracy, was also an assertion of his power and control.

With the break-up of the USSR, the Cuban economy went into a downward tailspin because Cuba lost 80 to 85% of its trade that was with the soviet block. There was a severe crisis especially in the years 1992, 1993, and 1994. Food rationing increased. Cuba lost access to subsidized petroleum which was sold to them at below world prices and which they then sold at world market prices. With the tigthening of credit from the western world after 1986 (when Cuba defaulted on more than 3 billion dollars worth of debt), Cuba now had access neither to its traditional sources of revenues nor to the West. astro declared a "special period" of austerity. To save energy, there were rolling blackouts and bicycles replaced automobiles as modes of transport. As the peso dropped in value, the blackmarket in dollars soared. This situation led the government to adopt a series of economic changes that has had a significant impact on Cuban society and its economy.

In 1996, the Cuban government legalized the dollar as currency in order to control to black market and to gain acces to dollars. Petty capitalism (self-employment) was allowed. State agricultural units were turned over time into co-ops whose members could keep part of what they produce to sell on the market. Tourism has been promoted to gain access to dollars and other hard currencies. These changes have led to distortions and contradictions of various kinds.

With the legalization of the dollar and of petty self-employment (such as home-based eating places known as paladares), Cubans with relatives in Miami (and thus with access to dollars) became wealthier than Cuban professionals (many of whom are paid $20.00 per month). The most fervent supporters of the revolution face more material deprivations than those who are less supportive of the revolution. Government efforts to keep tourist areas off-limits to the population led to the accusation of "tourist apartheid" on the part of cubans who resent any part of their homeland to be decalred off-limits by "their" revolution. with the increase in tourism, in the context of an economic crisis, prostitution increased significantly. In order to save money, a whole generation of middle level bureaucrats accustomed to the perquisites of state employment were dismissed. This led to great resentment on the part of these people who had dedicated their entire lives to government service and who now, in middle age or older, had to find alternative ways to survive in an economy of scarcity.

The generation of people in their twenties had lost revolutionary fervor and many are either apolitical or hostile to the revolution. The discontent with the existing situation during the special period and the call for increasing sacrifices has led to a call for opening up political spaces to civil society. While the leadership of the Cuban government calls for continuation of the socialist path, dissident groups have called for a democratic opening in Cuba. At the same time, the Cuban government has opened spaces in some limited areas. For example, Catholics can now be members of the Communist Party and Fidel Castro himself has allowed a more public role to the Catholic church. In Janaury of 1998, the Pope visited Cuba and was well-received by the government.The Pope called for Cuba opening up to the world and for the world opening up to Cuba. He also called for a lifting of the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.

While there is a growing conflict between Cuban dissidents and the Cuban government, there has been a broadening of the political space for dissidents. The government has resisted and jailed those that want to form their own political party. Others, such as Elizardo Sanchez, are closely monitored but they have been able to articulate their position that there must be a democratic transition in Cuba. Sanchez met with Latin American leaders at his home in mid-November of 1999 at the insistence of some of the leaders attending the Summit of the Americas held in Havana.The situation is this: as Cuba opens up to the world in its political and trade relations, the Cuban government is under more pressure to accomodate to political pluralism. To a much greater degree than before, the Cuban government has made this accomodation. But the government's view is that Cuba has its own form of democracy and shows little tolerance for groups or individuals that in the government's judgement are bent on undoing the Cuban revolution.

As of the end of 1999, the current situation can be summarized as follows:

The challenge that Cuba faces, is how to maintain the achievements of the revolution and its commitment to social and economic equality while inserting itself into a global economy that is governed by capitalist relations. Young people feel a sense of stagnation (no hay salida or there is no exit from the present situation is what they often say). Meanwhile the government of Cuba plunges on with Fidel proclaiming "Socialismo o Muerte (Socialism or Death)" while the United States continues to follow an anachronistic policy of economic boycott to please a domestic constituency: the Cuban exile community.

The problem is that while relations with the United States is of utmost importance to Cuba, Cuba is of little importance to the United States in the global scale of things. Cuba is even less important now that there is no soviet threat of global communist threat. While most of the world looks for change from both protagonists, the Cuban government and the U.S. government, the protagonists dig-in. It is that causes drift and the sense of deja vu to Cuban reality and to U.S. policy towards Cuba.