[Marxism] Domingo Amuchastegui: Raul Castro, Cuba and China - two interpretive essays
walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Oct 3 05:55:04 MDT 2006
The following essays were posted to CubaNews, taking a close look at
Raul Castro and at the relationship between Cuba and China, a topic of
regular interest, discussion and dispute here on the Marxmail list.
Most active Marxmail posters take a China-bashing position and I'm
not one of those. This is one of the best discussions on these matters
which I've seen in quite some time. Other than Ned Sublette's terrific
FIDEL LIVES commentary, this give us more to think about than anything
else I've seen since Fidel's illness.
Ned Sublette's "Fidel Lives", posted by Louis:
It's now been 56th years since of the triumph of the Chinese Revolution.
It overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek back on
October 1, 1949. It was the first modern colonial revolution which
was successful in kicking the foreign imperialist powers out and in
establishing Chinese national rule over the world's most populous
country. The following essays were written by a former Cuban foreign
ministry official who defected something over a decade ago for reasons
which I've never learned. He often writes detailed analytical essays
about Cuban politics. Unlike many of the exile-oriented writers, he
seems primarily concerned with trying to UNDERSTAND what is actually
happening in Cuba. For him, facts and clarity seems to be more important
than whatever his personal views on Cuba, its revolution and its society
I'm grateful to Cuba-L listserv for granting permission to CubaNews
to share this exceptionally interesting material. With all the talk of
Cuba going the "Chinese" way, from some who wish it would and from
others anxious over the same thing, this essay will give everyone
something to think about and a solid basis for discussion. I'd like
to hope it will engender some serious discussion about the prospects
for Cuba in the period we're now beginning since Fidel's illness.
CubaNews previously posted this author's analysis of the last nation-
wide Cuban election: Electoral processes and political elites, Cuba
in the third millennium http://www.walterlippmann.com/docs194.html
RAUL CASTRO: WHO HE IS, WHERE IS HE GOING?
By Domingo Amuchastegui
Raul Castro will be the Cuban leader who pulls Cuba out from
stagnation and cuts through the red tape on the policies, reforms,
and changes aimed at transforming the Cuban economy into a more
socialist-market oriented system where capitalist methods of
organization, management, and financial operations will tend to
become dominant. Thus, left behind will be "the other blockade"
imposed on Cuba's economic and social dynamics by Fidel Castro when,
after the discussion of the new investment law in September 1995, he
announced that "no more reforms and changes were needed."
In 1997, after the V Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (CPC)
adopted an economic program to rescue and expand the pace of reforms,
Fidel Castro became the one and only opponent of such a program,
known as perfeccionamiento epresarial, a set of ideas and actions
that represented precisely the course of action that his brother Raul
had been advocating since the growing deterioration of the alliance
with the Soviet Union after 1979. As a high-ranking official admitted
to French researcher Janette Habel in 2004, "Everybody wants economic
changes, except Fidel." [Cuba entre pressions externes et blocages
internes, Le Monde Diplomatique, June 2004]
This course of action, inspired and represented by Raúl, is not a
secret or a hidden tendency within Cuba's military and political
power structure and political class. It has considerable echo among
vast sections of the populace as well. It is something that ensures
ample recognition and support by the people for the new leader. Fidel
is not ignorant of these circumstances and is very much aware of the
expectations surrounding this "provisional" substitution.
Second Fiddle or Equal Footing
Fidel has been at the helm of the Cuban Revolution since the
beginning; he is charismatic, extremely brilliant, an excellent
orator, and has other significant attributes as a leader. These
things made Fidel Castro what he was and still is. At the same time,
they overshadowed the role of his brother Raul until today when many
people are wondering who Raul really is and what role he might now
These lines are not meant to be a biography (See for this purpose
Brian Latell´s controversial book After Fidel), but rather to bring
into a different perspective Raul Castro's political role within the
Cuban Revolution and his potential as an alternative of change in the
* Raul is an excellent guerrilla leader and organizer, something that
has been fully acknowledged even by some of his worst enemies.
* Not having the personal traits of his brother, Raul excels as a
team person, not a caudillo; he is systematic and a brilliant
organizer; he asks for advise and listens to other views; he is
highly consistent, down to earth, and pragmatic.
* When we look at some of the most solid and influential institutions
in Cuban society like the FAR (armed forces), the CPC, the
parliamentary body known as Poder Popular, these were all key
initiatives coming from Raul, fostered, supported, and protected by
him until this day. And the majority of average people are very much
aware of this.
* He has been for decades the "godfather" of most of the Union of
Young Communists (UJC) leaders promoted to party and government
positions. He has been a consistent advocate for younger leaders.
Many leaders today feel themselves closely attached to him, military
and civilian alike.
* He has been, and continues to be, an ardent and very vocal advocate
for the promotion of blacks to leadership positions everywhere.
* Promotion of younger generations and blacks is enormously important
in a country where two thirds of its populace is young and black.
* He is the architect of recurrent attempts and efforts in the field
of economic reforms and changes.
This short summary should serve the purpose of stressing, beyond any
doubt, the fact that Raul has not been a second fiddle but a
first-class leader on an equal footing with his brother, each with
different characteristics. But this is not all.
Much has been said about his lack of involvement in international
affairs. This is an inaccurate assessment of the man. Not one single
issue connected to Cuba's foreign policy escapes Raul´s attention. He
was a key negotiator and player during the Cuban Missile Crisis; he
is involved in every approach to the U.S.; he has maintained close
control over intelligence operations since the 1960s and even more
today; he has played major roles in Angola and Ethiopia; he was a key
organizer and player in the Southern Africa negotiations and
agreements; he is host and interlocutor to every retired U.S. admiral
and general visiting Cuba; he is mentor, coach, and supervisor in
much of Cuba's rapprochement with China, and has a well-known
admiration for the Chinese experience.
Moreover, during the 1990s (until the end of the Clinton
administration), he said in public several times that the dangers of
a U.S. aggression against Cuba had calmed down and were less
threatening than ever before, while cooperation and normality along
border with Gitmo were prevailing, as well as with U.S. D.E.A. and
the U.S. Coast Guard, followed by closer cooperation with INTERPOL
and a number of EU and Caribbean police agencies in matters
concerning drug trafficking. Even before 9/11, he encouraged the Bush
administration publicly to engage in negotiations with Cuba while
Fidel was still alive.
Furthermore, in the course of the critical circumstances of the early
1990s, his actions and words showed a considerable degree of
self-criticism and restraint vis-à-vis the temptations of all out
repression when discontent and defiance emerged in Cojímar and Regla
(1993) and in the streets of Havana, in 1994. He criticized the
degree of violence displayed by MININT´s forces in Cojímar, sponsored
a meeting where these matters were discussed and criticized,
something that prevented any sort of violent reaction from police
forces in Regla, in late 1993. When discussing the events in the
streets of Havana, he is known for having stressed that beans and not
guns or violence would keep things under control. But the one thing
that is less known - and it becomes more important now - is that he
stressed that in view of such demonstrations of social unrest and
discontent, "he was not going to be held responsible for bringing the
tanks into the streets," clearly reflecting the understanding and
lessons drawn by the Cub an military from events at Tiennamen Square.
Where he is going
Fidel Castro might very well come out alive at this juncture, but his
age works against him. But very different from the recent past, he
will have to recognize that his time is running out fast, that his
leadership style and commanding powers cannot be passed on. What he
will probably do then is to support his brother to the best of his
abilities and remaining influence. If this should be the case, then
Raul´s course of action, control, and influence will be benefited.
Most scenarios until recently thought of Fidel passing away and Raul
taking over entirely on his own, but now the Raul scenario will come
into play but with Fidel playing along.
Under these circumstances, Raul will have to move rather fast for one
pressing reason: he is 75. His background and credentials, tend to
suggest that he will move ahead in reshaping completely the whole of
the existing power structure according to the lines of his political
project from the early 1990s (complete redistribution of the four
powers concentrated in the hands of Fidel, effective collective
leadership, greater participation of younger figures) coupled with a
greater role for institutions and a greater role for reforms, similar
to China in some ways but on the scale of Cuban economics and
There is another special dimension that needs to be highlighted: the
economic situation. Raul Castro comes into full power at a time when
the CIA's latest analysis acknowledges an eight-percent growth in its
GDP compared to 2004, meaning a $3 billion increase in its output.
>From a political standpoint, Porter Goss, former CIA director, stated
in 2005 that, "Castro's hold on power remains firm." State and
foreign direct investment have multiplied over the last two years.
And there is more to come, and not only from Venezuela and China.
International prices of key Cuban exports like nickel, cobalt, and
sugar have been extremely favorable. Nickel exports were more than
$800 million, more than remittances (this according to the Council on
Foreign Relations). Very well-known experts on Latin American and
Cuban affairs like Phil Peters (Lexington Institute), John Kirk
(leading Canadian academic), and Daniel Erickson (Inter-American
Dialogue), have recently stressed how the Cuban economy is "humming
along." Finally, an eye-witness, Mark Frank, Reuters senior
correspondent in Havana for many years, recently concluded that,
"Despite uncertainty swirling around ill leader Fidel Castro, Cuba's
long-ailing economy has recently begun to get healthier, helped by
deals with allies China and oil-rich Venezuela." Foreign
businesspeople in Havana, have said, "There has been no run on
deposits or their financial paper, no change in currency, our business
has been absolutely secure. They are obviously very well prepared for
any political changes." At the same, similar sources stated, "This is
the best thing and exactly what foreign businesses want: a succession
plan is underway and there is stability. The message is clear: there
is one government, and they are in control."
Such numbers, analyses, and statements, are irrefutable proof that
the economic environment in which Raul Castro is taking over could
not be better; it clearly favors his plans and projects.
One unavoidable comparison comes to mind. Raul Castro might very well
be the interim figure leading to broader changes within the Cuban
system, playing a similar role to that of Den Siao ping after the
passing away of Chairman Mao Zedong. In any case, his contribution in
reshaping and articulating a new continuity will be decisive.
CUBA IS NOT CHINA: SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES
By Domingo Amuchastegui
As we approach the end of Fidel Castro's era, especially after his
failing health, much has been discussed about the kind of changes or
reforms that Raul Castro and the younger leadership might make. It
has been a common assumption - for the sake of simplicity - to assert
the thesis that such changes or reforms would follow in the footsteps
of the Chinese experience. Obviously, there is some truth in that
assumption, but there are also numerous differences and conditions
that should be considered in comparing China and Cuba.
The works of Edward Gonzalez, Frank Mora, William Ratliff, and more
recently of Cuban dissident Oscar Espinosa Chepe (The Miami Herald,
08/11/06), have highlighted some relevant issues when comparing both
countries. Still, there are several areas of disagreement and others
issues that have not been explored. The purpose of this essay is to
examine various reasons for the current alliance between both nations
and to discuss their similarities and differences.
REASONS FOR AN ALLIANCE
What can China find in the small island of Cuba that makes it so
interesting for some members of China's Military Commission and
Politburo to visit the Caribbean nation and to persuade President Hu
to declare China's support of Cuba's stand in unusually strong terms?
First, there is what can be described as "the mirror effect." In the
eyes of Chinese foreign policy makers, Cuba is to the U.S. what
Taiwan is to China [tit-for-tat]As the issue of Taiwan has become
more tense and aggravating for Chinese policies, Beijing has
increased its relations with Cuba. This has been a dominant trend
since the early 1990s, but especially in recent years following
Taiwan's increased hostility toward China backed by the Bush
A second important dimension in Beijing's current alliance with Cuba
is that Cuba is located in the heart of the Caribbean where Taiwan
has been able to retain diplomatic recognition from a considerable
number of the region's states. Cuba's political influence throughout
the region is extremely valuable to China's long-term policy of
eroding Taiwan's standing. First, Cuba is an important political
actor with strong ties to influential political forces and
governments from which China benefits; second, Cuba has throughout
the region the most positive and constructive image derived from its
alliance with China, an image aimed at undermining Taiwan's fading
regional leverage. These two factors today are increasingly
reinforced by the alliance between Venezuela and Cuba, which is a
third factor that has augmented China's interest in Cuba.
Economic considerations are no less important. Nickel, cobalt, and
oil are vital to China's economy. Because Cuba is a source for all
three commodities, China is willing to grant Cuba exceptional
privileges in terms of financial arrangements, insurance backing,
rescheduling of Cuba's debt, and long-term investments in mining,
oil, biotechnology, and tourism. China is also prepared to engage in
an undisclosed range of military cooperation that has included scores
of high-level military delegations visiting their respective nations.
There is also another special advantage to China: to prove how great
their experience is in saving a collapsing socialist economy as was
the case with Cuba in the early 1990s. This is not only relevant to
the past, present, and future of socialist economies - and China's
views and experiences on the matter- but also in sending a clear
message to Third World economies, where Beijing exerts considerable
influence. If China's "recipe" works in the Cuban case, then its
relevance will be even greater.
The reasons for Cuba's rapprochement with China since the early 1990s
were, of course, those of an economic and military nature as stated
above. However, there are very explicit limits in both areas as to
what Cuba may get from its Chinese ally. But there is a much more
sophisticated reasoning behind Cuba's alliance with China and that is
the value to Cuba of China's position as a permanent member of the UN
Security Council. This is considered to be crucial to Havana's
conflict with the United States. There is also China's role as one of
the most advanced world powers. An alliance with such a power is
valuable beyond what the former Soviet Union had to offer Cuba. The
Soviet alliance was fruitless in terms of financing and investments
and technologically speaking it was largely a disaster. The USSR
could not be compared to the United States and it was a collapsing
economy. China is precisely the opposite and offers Cuba a host of
opportunities that were never there in its relationship with Moscow.
The USSR wa s a losing horse. According to every prediction, China is
the fastest growing power in the world and the Cuban leadership is
ready to make the most of it.
SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES
The two countries represent radical revolutions based on the
peasantry but with overwhelming support among a wider range of social
groupings (working class, lower middle class, intellectuals), with
strong leaders experimenting with very different and traumatic
programs from Flourishing 100 Flowers and A Thousand Schools of
Competing Thought to Palabras a Los Intelectuales, Great Leap,
Ofensiva Revolucionaria, Crear Dos, Tres, Muchos Viet Nams, Cultural
Revolution, and a host of failed economic projects. More recently, we
could draw some parallels between the Four Modernizations from the
late 1970s in China to Perfeccionamiento Empresarial in Cuba since
the early 1980s, opening different avenues to what the Chinese have
called a "market socialist economy." The Chinese Revolution exerted a
significant influence throughout the world and the Cuban Revolution
has also had a similar influence. Indeed, many will agree that in
some ways Cuba has had the greater influence. The two countries were
also allies of the for mer Soviet Union and at times openly defied
and clashed with Moscow's leaders.
But the list of differences between China and Cuba is enormous:
1. China is an economy of unprecedented scale with an ever growing
market. Cuba is a small island economy of very limited scale.
2. China lies thousands of miles away from the United States while
Cuba is just 90 miles away from U.S. shores.
3. Chinese society, values, traditions, demographics, and its ethnic
and religious minorities, is very different from that of the more
homogenous Cuban society with its own values and traditions.
4. The levels of interdependence and conflict between China and the
United States are entirely different from those existing between Cuba
and the United States. China is a big power on the path to become a
superpower. Cuba is not.
5. Chinese overseas are closely intertwined with their motherland.
Levels of conflict and hostility are minimal while cooperation is
enormous, even among many of those in Taiwan. The Chinese KMT in
Taiwan is no longer a dominant force. Its influence on overseas
Chinese is minimal compared to that of Beijing. The amount of
capital, markets, and technologies in the hands of overseas Chinese
is huge and highly connected with that of the PRCH and plays a very
big role in its extraordinary economic development. Chinese in the
United States are not a belligerent lobby against relations and
cooperation with the PRCH.
6. None of the characteristics stated above can be found among the
Cuban political and economic elites who control the Cuban exile
community with a disproportionate overrepresentation in Congress (two
senators and three representatives), in the State of Florida, and
within the political machines of the Republican Party. Although the
Cuban community has been changing in its composition and attitudes
since the 1980s and 1990s due to the changing nature of recent Cuban
immigrants, one can still find a majority who are absolutely hostile
and - as shown in the various studies conducted by Florida
International University's Cuban Research Institute - close to 50% of
Cubans in Miami would welcome an American military invasion of Cuba
as the ideal outcome. Policy makers in Havana pay careful attention
to the conflict with the United States and its local Cuban allies in
7. China's Communist Party and armed forces were very different from
their counterparts in Cuba. Factionalism prevailed for many years
among a strong pro-Soviet faction (Wang Ming), the more nationalist
led by Mao and Chu Teh, and the more sophisticated influenced by the
French Communist Party symbolized by Zhou, Chen Yi, and Deng. Such
factional episodes affecting the CPCh as those in the 1920s, Sunyi,
the struggle led by Marshal Peng Te-huai, the open civil war that
took place in the course of the Cultural Revolution, and the internal
clashes as to how to deal with Tiananmen Square incident, are not
found in Cuba, where Fidel Castro's leadership role was, is, and will
remain essentially unquestioned and overwhelmingly dominant.
8. Many times, Castro has stressed in private many of the differences
mentioned here as a fundamental reason not to embark on a blind
imitation of the Chinese experience. He may be right in some
respects, but basically the argument has had the effect of freezing
movement along the path of reform. There is also a fear of losing
control and power as a result of such changes or of following the
Chinese path to market socialism.
9. Nevertheless, the Chinese experience, together with the current
alliance between the two countries, will be the most inspiring source
for redesigning the Cuban system for the simple reason that it is the
best way to avoid a Tiananmen Square. Upon this assumption lies much
of the cohesiveness and consensus of the Cuban leadership. For Cuba,
taking the Chinese path to market socialism will be different than
the Chinese experience and will proceed at a different pace - a very
much adjusted version in Cuban terms. It will not take place
overnight, before or after Castro passes away.
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