The Objective of U.S. Imperialism in Seeking Cuban Detente: Economic Expediency

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[Cuba] [USSR] [U.S. Imperialism] [ULK Issue 43]
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The Objective of U.S. Imperialism in Seeking Cuban Detente: Economic Expediency

The United States and Cuba recently agreed to restore diplomatic ties after a half-century of hostility, taking steps toward ending one of the world's last Cold War standoffs. President Obama's announcement, made in coordination with President Raúl Castro, stated that these long-estranged countries would restart cooperation on a range of travel and economic issues and reestablish the American embassy in Havana that closed in 1961 after the Cuban Revolution.

While the Cuban Revolution was a blow against U.$. imperialism, which had a choke-hold on the Cuban economy, after the 1959 revolution Cuba became dependent on the state capitalist Soviet Union. By 1959 a new bourgeoisie had arisen in the Soviet Union and it had turned away from its socialist orientation toward state capitalism. Instead of building socialism in Cuba, Castro and his government ended up building a satellite colony of the USSR.(1) Amerikan refusal to associate with Cuba was a reaction to the Cuban people successfully shutting down Amerikan dominance and a concession to the many wealthy Cuban immigrants who fled to the United $tates after the revolution, rather than a serious political stance. The Amerikan imperialists have not hesitated to associate with governments and countries that are strongly anti-Amerikan when the economic benefits of the relationship are compelling.

The recent policy changes forge significant economic ties between the two countries by allowing U.$. financial institutions to open accounts with Cuban counterparts, easing restrictions on the export of U.$. agricultural and telecommunication gear to Cuba, and permitting U.$. citizens to use credit and debit cards there. The biggest boost in the short-term from the changes will come from remittances, which will now allow relatives of Cubans to send back $2,000 a month to their homeland, up from $500 at the moment. Remittances are the island's leading source of income. In cash and in kind (appliances and clothes), they account for $5.1 billion a year in income, nearly double tourism at $2.6 billion.(2)

The immediate benefits for the country are obvious. The Cuban government reported that economic growth for 2014 was around 1.4%, and an estimated 40,000-50,000 Cubans emigrated in the past year. For economic reasons, Cuba is starved for cash, and its biggest trading partner, Venezuela, is facing an economic crisis due to the recent plunge in oil prices. Analysts say the possibility of losing Venezuelan aid likely played a role in reaching an agreement with the United $tates.

Business Opportunities Abound

Restoring trade ties will benefit the U.$. economy, allowing companies to join other countries which have operated for decades in Cuba and made their own capitalist inroads, such as Canada and European Union member-states. U.$. farmers, already helped by a partial lifting of the embargo for agricultural goods, will have new export opportunities. Despite heavy regulation and strict limitations, U.$. exports of agricultural goods to Cuba grew to $547 million in 2010 from $4 million in 2001.

Groups ranging from the American Farm Bureau Federation to the U.$. Chamber of Commerce strongly support a lifting of the embargo because they see Cuba as a significant export market. Opportunities abound elsewhere, such as in telecommunication, retail, tourism, and natural resources. "Cuba needs everything we make in the United States," said the global government affairs director for Caterpillar, Inc. The company hopes to soon install a dealership in Cuba. "We've been calling for a new policy toward Cuba for 15 years." U.$. hospitality companies also are eager to do business in Cuba when they can. "The minute it's available, we'll be down there," the CEO of Choice Hotels International, Inc. was reported as saying.(3)

All this is evidence of the capitalist system in Cuba. U.$. companies want access to this market that corporations based in other capitalist countries have been enjoying for years.

From Yanqui to Soviet Social-Imperialism: Neglect of Socialist Alternatives

With the 1959 revolution, Cuba sought to dismantle the economic hegemony the United $tates had over the country. Partial nationalization of certain sectors of the economy, followed by a complete confiscation of foreign-owned property, were met with stiff U.$. opposition, as many Amerikan citizens held large investments there. On 3 January 1961, U.$. President Dwight D. Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba after Castro charged that the U.$. embassy in Havana was the center of counter-revolutionary activities in the country. In February 1962, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed an embargo on most U.$. trade with Cuba. The Cuban economy at the time was in serious danger. Industrial plants, confiscated after the revolution and now in disrepair, lacked the raw materials to keep operating. Spare parts for factory equipment and motor vehicles made in the United $tates were no longer available. Crop yields were poor, and food rationing began in March 1962. Against this backdrop, Cuba signed a $700 million trade agreement with the Soviet Union, following up on a $100 million credit and agreement to deliver a large procurement of sugar two years earlier. By mid-July of that year, thousands of Soviet military and economic advisors were making their way to the island.

While an improvement over the neo-colonial status it held under the United $tates, the new alliance Cuba had forged with the Soviet Union was hardly symbiotic in nature. This strings-attached relationship also affected Castro's drive to diversify Cuba's economy through industrialization, which ultimately proved unsuccessful. Historically, Cuba's most valuable crop has been sugarcane. Under U.$. tutelage, more than half of the cultivated land was devoted to this crop for export to U.$. markets. Little changed after the revolution, and sugar accounted for almost two-thirds of all export revenues. This heavy dependence on a single crop continued to hinder Cuba's economy. Cuba needed sugar to carry out its trade agreements with the Soviet Union and its allies, and as a result, agricultural diversification and the ability to feed its own people suffered. Cuba's economy remained stagnant, and became heavily dependent on Soviet aid. With the eventual collapse of the Soviet bloc, Cuba was severely wounded economically.

Furthermore, the material aid given to Cuba was inferior in quality, and was not geared towards the needs and climatic conditions of the Caribbean country. Castro's early advocacy of violent revolution throughout Latin America put it at odds with and weakened Cuba's relations with the Soviet Union. The Soviets in turn would curtail economic aid whenever the Cuban government stepped too far out of line, as was the case when Cuba opposed its and the Soviet bloc countries' invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. After a round of economic arm-twisting, Castro took a more neutral stance.

Unlike the socialist veneer of Soviet-revisionist economic cooperation, communist China's line at the time in regard to socialist financial and material aid had its basis in mutual cooperation and advised that it should be tailored to the needs of both countries with an aim towards economic self-sufficiency. In no way should it be conditional and carry high interest, which perpetuates the cycle of indebtedness in the recipient country. Material aid should be of first-rate quality and not technologically outdated. It should also suit their material conditions. Soviet agricultural implements exported to Cuba, for instance, did much damage to sugarcane fields.

Socialist Principles?

In his latest speech on the subject of normalization of relations, President Raúl Castro stated that Cuba "will not give up its socialist principles." Despite his assertion, we contend that he and Fidel had already done so by 1961. They embraced the fallacy that you cannot get production without incentive, instituting many Soviet-styled agrarian and industrial measures such as the implementation of work incentives and wage differentials to better boost production quotas. Looking to Mao Zedong's implementation of moral incentives to reward the workforce in China for overachievements in production could have been a viable alternative to this. The class struggle was also sidelined with their focus on economic output as a gauge of their country's success in building socialism, which constitutes a failure to do away with the theory of productive forces — a policy which has led many a socialist revolution to its revisionist perdition.

This is a critical reason why the Cultural Revolution in China represents the furthest advance towards communism in history: capitalist theories and practices will not just disappear under socialism and must be actively combatted. Otherwise a new bourgeoisie will arise from within former proletarian forces and attempt to take power against the interests of the masses. This happened in the Soviet Union, and their treatment of Cuba demonstrates clearly the state capitalists ignoring the needs of the Cuban people.

Since Raúl Castro took over from his brother Fidel in 2008, the Cuban government has undertaken a series of tentative economic reforms to move the country away from the state capitalist framework to a full-fledged capitalist system.

Keeping Solidarity with Cuba in Perspective

Having endured centuries of repeated imperialist encroachment, Cuba has managed to attain a degree of independence and sovereignty over its affairs. We support Cuba's right to self-determination, and applaud the Cuban government's notable success in providing educational and medical services to all segments of Cuban society. Cuba's anti-imperialist stance on a range of issues remains strong, and in a confrontation with imperialism, Cuba deserves our backing. Yet Cuba is not socialist, and the Cuban people know that their government at this point in its history is not a revolutionary government, but a pragmatic one. It is our hope that the people of Cuba will experience a blossoming of revolutionary consciousness and organize for their rights in the coming years as capitalist encroachment places their country in the cross-hairs of further economic exploitation.


Notes:
1. For more history of Cuba see Chapter 5 of MIM Theory 4: A Spiral Trajectory: the Failure and Success of Communist Development.
2. "Cubans Differ Over Impact, Focus on Economy," Wall Street Journal, 19 December 2014.
3. "U.S. Firms Examine New Ties," Wall Street Journal, 18 December 2014.

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