Why this blog?

22 12 2010

Myself (left) and Fire Brigades Union colleague Dave Chappell at the José Martí Memorial in the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana

 

Cuba is a country that many people find interesting. It is unique. Its political and economic system and its cultural mix mean that it is unlike anywhere else.

The survival of the revolutionary government has been remarkable. People have been predicting its imminent demise for 52 years. These predictions reached a crescendo during the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite the unprecedented peace-time drop in production and economic performance that this caused, the Cuban regime survived and by the beginning of the next decade, the economy began to recover and improve.

When Fidel Castro ceded the presidency to his brother Raúl, first temporarily in 2006 and then permanently in 2008, again the revolutionary government’s opponents in the western media predicted its imminent collapse. Again they were proved wrong.

However, although the revolutionary government has survived, it is not currently prospering. The economy suffers from low productivity, low wages and widespread corruption and black market activity. Cuba’s economy is highly dysfunctional. It has an impressive record in producing university graduates and doctors, but produces little in the way of manufactured goods; and does not produce enough food to feed its population, leading to reliance on expensive imports, which the country is struggling to pay for.

The successful development of tourism has meant a regular influx of foreign tourists to the country and Cuban exiles in the USA and elsewhere regularly visit. This means that the younger generation of Cubans has much more knowledge of life elsewhere than previous generations have had and many have become impatient for improvements in living standards and for greater access to consumer goods. In addition, those with access to the tourist trade or with family overseas are often able to afford a lifestyle far superior to those in essential jobs, such as teachers, nurses etc. This has led to strains.

The Cuban Government is well aware of its problems and has been devoting much thought and energy to producing solutions to them. This has currently resulted in a programme of consultation with the Cuban people, through the Communist Party (PCC), the trade unions, youth organisations, the Women’s Federation  etc., on a programme of possible economic changes, to be discussed at a Congress of the PCC in April 2011.

The changes under discussion include the elimination of the ration book system; the end of the dual currency system; and reducing the number of people employed by the state.

I therefore think that spending the first quarter of 2011 in Cuba means that I will be there during an interesting period. Also, unlike the few foreigners who do write and blog from Cuba, I will not be based in Havana, but in Santiago de Cuba, in the east of the country. Consequently, I like to think that my observations on daily life and occurrences may be different to what people are able to read elsewhere and be of some interest to people concerned about Cuba.

Inevitably, any writing about Cuba, however much the author tries to be objective, is clouded by the author’s own beliefs and prejudices. My own position is that I would describe myself as a critical supporter of the Cuban Revolution. The overthrow of Batista in 1959 was a tremendous achievement. I believe that the revolutionary government genuinely set out to create a fairer society, one in which illiteracy, poverty and health inequalities were eradicated.

The immediate campaign of hostility from the USA, involving an economic blockade and the encouragement of terrorism, led to a siege mentality within the island. This has led to restrictions on individual freedom, as it would in any country that feared itself to be under attack from a powerful neighbour.

The harsh economic realities of the present world order in addition to that US hostility have meant that the revolution and its leadership have not been able to create the type of society that they have wanted to. People make history, but not in the circumstances of their own choosing.

However, I still believe that the leadership of the Cuban Government wants to build that fair society. I wish them every success in doing so. The alternative would be to replicate the kind of capitalist society that can easily be seen elsewhere in the region, where a wealthy elite live in gated communities whilst millions of their fellow citizens live in abject poverty in shanty towns, plagued by crime, leading to hundreds of young men losing their lives each year in drug-related gang warfare. I believe that the Cuban people deserve better.

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