Cuba’s Imposed Glasnost

On the Emerging Normalization of Relations between the United States and Cuba

cuba20141221aThe December 17 joint announcement by Barack Obama and Raúl Castro Ruiz, presidents of the United States and Cuba, respectively, on the immediate steps being taken to normalize relations between the two countries has stunned the world.

After more than 50 years of Cold War conflict, which included a failed invasion, a nuclear superpower standoff, and decades of covert warfare, espionage and economic blockade, both the U.S. and Cuba are now talking about the establishing of embassies, loosened restrictions on travel and money transfers, and increasing access to the Internet for the majority of Cuban citizens.

While complete normalization will require action by the Congress, the White House is pushing the limits of existing law as far as possible.

This tectonic shift in U.S. policy comes in the wake of a major prisoner exchange, which saw the remaining three members of the “Cuban Five,” intelligence agents who were imprisoned in 2001 for infiltrating groups run by fascist exiles based in the southern states, swapped for a high-level CIA operative responsible for exposing some of Havana’s most effective operatives in America.

In addition, Cuba agreed to release Alan Gross, a U.S. State Department operative and USAID contractor who was jailed for smuggling surveillance-avoidance technology to internal dissidents while posing as a tourist, on ostensibly humanitarian grounds. Both the Cuban government and the Gross family favored an exchange along the lines of what took place, but it took months of negotiations, facilitated by Canada and the Vatican, to finalize the agreement.

Predictably, the announcement of normalizing relations provoked different responses among the various sectors of the exploiting and oppressing classes. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has long seen the reopening of economic ties as a golden opportunity, praised the steps taken by the White House, saying that “open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced today will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish.”

The moves toward normalization also generated equally predictable responses from the radical reactionaries in the Republican Party. Leading the charge were the representatives of the Cuban exile community in Florida, Senator Marco Rubio and Congresswoman Ilena Ros-Lehtenin, who continue to make the rounds on the media denouncing the agreement as “immoral and illegal,” claiming the U.S. gained “nothing” from the negotiations, and declaring Obama to be the “worst negotiator” Washington has seen since the days of Jimmy Carter. They were quickly joined by other Congressional Republicans, including Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and Speaker of the House John Boehner, and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who speaks for the exiles in the New York/New Jersey area.

This gusano (worm, parasite; a term used by Cubans to describe the exiles) caucus has already threatened to block any effort to end the 53-year-old blockade, and to stop funding for a new embassy and other diplomatic efforts aimed at continuing the normalization process.

This agreement is the latest in a series of policy initiatives taken by the Obama White House to help frame his legacy as his term of office draws to a close, including a carbon emissions deal with China, protection of Alaska’s Bristol Bay from oil and gas exploration, scaling back federal enforcement of anti-marijuana laws, and a new slave-labor bracero program under the guise of “immigration reform.”

Under the Gun
A Cuban family travels along a highway outside of Havana. The billboard reads that 70 percent of the country’s population was born after the U.S. imposed the embargo and blockade.

A Cuban family travels along a highway outside of Havana. The billboard reads that 70 percent of the country’s population was born after the U.S. imposed the embargo and blockade.

Cuba and its government have found themselves in the crosshairs of American imperialism since the overthrow of the bloody Batista regime in 1959. Before the Revolution, the island country was a playground for the exploiting and oppressing classes of New York and Washington, and a wellspring of superprofits for multinational corporations like United Fruit, Coca-Cola, Texaco and General Motors. Capitalists and CEOs mingled with prominent politicians, well-heeled mobsters and Hollywood celebrities, while the poor and working people of Cuba were subjected to starvation wages, violent police repression and the worst kinds of humiliation.

In the almost 56 years since the Revolution, the lives of Cuban workers and poor peasants have improved significantly as a result of the social-welfare programs implemented by the Havana government as part of their “socialist” system. The country’s health care and biotech industries are the envy of the world, while every year dozens of new doctors from around the world are trained in Cuba’s medical schools. Through its ties with Venezuela and other South American countries, Havana has been able to make up for much of the shortfall that resulted from the collapse of the former USSR in 1991.

At the same time, the effects of the post-Soviet “special period” continue to linger and plague the country. The resurrection of Cuba’s tourism industry and the allowing of more privately-owned small businesses has not alleviate these effects, but rather has expanded the gap between the country’s poor and working people, on one side, and the expanding class of private petty bourgeois, on the other. But the response of the Castro government has been to accelerate the restoration of private capitalism and open the doors of the economy to capitalist speculators.

Many Cuban workers, and even some elements of the petty bourgeoisie, continue to believe that the rehabilitation of ties between Washington and Havana will not lead to a counterrevolution, that Castro will defend “socialism” and keep the radical reactionaries (especially the gusano exiles) at bay. Even Fidel’s daughter has stated as such to the world media.

But similar assurances were given by officials and supporters of the old Soviet Union and Eastern European “people’s democracies,” even while the leaders of the “official” Communist parties were jockeying for a place in the “New World Order” and seizing control of whatever crumbling nationalized industries they could. The result was that the working class, having trusted their “comrade leaders,” was left disarmed and disorganized in the face of Washington’s assault.

Allowing Cuba’s government and military officials, factory managers, and fledgling private capitalists, to pick apart the economy for their own gain, blindly trusting the Castro government to “defend socialism” while it “negotiates” with Great Power imperialism on how to integrate into the world capitalist economy, refusing to organize and fight for genuine workers’ power and workers’ control against all those who threaten the successes of the 1959 Revolution — this is the path of destruction for our Cuban brothers and sisters.

If Washington and Wall Street are allowed to succeed, then the future of the Cuban working class will look almost no different from its past, with the next generation forced to work for slave wages in the hotels, casinos and resorts built for American and European tourists, or shackled to the massive farmlands and orchards “reclaimed” by Wall Street.

Defend the Revolution!
Cuban workers in the cities and countryside are the key to defending the gains of the 1959 Revolution. But that defense can only be secured through the overthrow of the petty-bourgeois “socialists” in charge in Havana and the establishment of a working people’s republic.

Cuban workers in the cities and countryside are the key to defending the gains of the 1959 Revolution. But that defense can only be secured through the overthrow of the petty-bourgeois “socialists” in charge in Havana and the establishment of a working people’s republic.

The 1959 Cuban Revolution was a genuinely progressive popular uprising that managed to cast off the shackles of American imperialist domination and sought to improve the lives of all Cubans. That alone makes the Revolution something that all workers can sympathize with and generally support — to say nothing about defending it against the intrigue and provocations of Great Power imperialism and its agents.

At the same time, we would be dishonest if we did not say that we disagree with those who say that “Cuban socialism” has anything to do with the building of a genuine working people’s republic, which is the first step on the path to a worldwide classless, communist society. Havana’s “socialism” directly and primarily benefits the same class of bureaucrats, managers, independent professionals, state agents and small business owners (the petty bourgeoisie) that is now sizing up the nationalized and collectivized enterprises for division among themselves.

The only path for Cuban workers who want to defend the social gains they won as a result of the Revolution is through their own organization and action. As the experience of the former USSR demonstrated a generation ago, relying on a faction of the Communist Party or CTC union federation leadership to carry out the tasks that only workers themselves can accomplish is the prelude to betrayal.

Of course, there will be many individuals from the party and the union apparatus that honestly believe in communism and will fight for it. However, until they are able to be broken away from those seeking a better deal with the help of imperialism, these honest elements will be used as a “Marxist-Leninist” cover for counterrevolution.

For working-class communists, the most important step to take now is to organize as a politically distinct and autonomous movement. In the local Committees in Defense of the Revolution, CTC workplace branches and even in the basic units of the Cuban Communist Party, proletarian communists need to find each other and unite — openly, if possible; clandestinely, if necessary — to begin building a workers’ defense against counterrevolution. Whether this initial organization is a fraction within the existing “official” organizations or completely independent will have to be judged by our brothers and sisters on the ground.

To begin to address this growing crisis before the whole of the Cuban working class, there will be a need for open assemblies where all working people can speak and debate about the most important questions resulting from the new change in relations with American imperialism. In every factory and shop, on every farm and every village square, in every neighborhood and city, these workers’ assemblies should become the very heart and soul of the Revolution, especially its desire to continue to march forward.

With large sections of the working class actively engaged in debating these necessary questions, the question of program will be pushed forward as new political currents emerge. It is vitally necessary that working-class communists establish their own program in this struggle: a program based around mass workers’ assemblies to discuss and decide on important issues, workplace committees to administer and control the economy, and workers’ councils to coordinate public services and defense of the Revolution.

In short, Cuban communists should advance a program for establishing a genuine working people’s republic that removes power from the officials that have controlled the fate of the country since 1959 and places it in the hands of the entire working class of both city and countryside.

While the headlong rush into a new kind of glasnost and perestroika by Washington and the Castro government may appear to be unstoppable, the battle to defend the gains of the Cuban Revolution has only begun! This struggle can only end in one of two ways: either the Cuban petty bourgeoisie, through its regime in Havana, succeeds in reversing all of the social progress that came from the Revolution as part of its re-integration into the imperialist order, while making themselves rich off the scraps of the economy, or the working people of Cuba organize and unite to not only defend their gains, but also to expand their struggle into one that goes well beyond the narrow limits of “Cuban socialism” and toward the creation of a working people’s republic.

The Workers Party in America stands with our brothers and sisters, our fellow workers in Cuba, who wish to fight for their rights, their livelihoods and their common future, and we wholeheartedly support their struggle, most of all through the battle against “our own” exploiting and oppressing classes, and for a workers’ republic and the victory of world communism.

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