The 21st Century: Some Challenges for the Cuban Revolution

By Luis Suarez Salazar

[The following article is reprinted from the Cuban magazine Tricontinental, issue no. 141 (1999). The author is an associate professor in the philosophy and history faculty of Havana University, a member of the Tricontinental advisory council and former head of the Centre for American Studies.]

On January 1, 1999 the Cuban Revolution celebrated its 40th anniversary. The eve of the 21st century seems an appropriate time to summarise some of the most important challenges Cuba faces in developing its external plan for socialist transition over the next few years. This article presents an outline of these challenges, without attempting to be exhaustive and in no particular order, although proceeding from the general to the more specific. These challenges are:

1. To confront the multiple and contradictory effects of the extension of various phenomena to a global level, relying on its own strengths and the prevailing moral force of international solidarity, including what remains of socialist internationalism. Among these are ecological and socio-environmental problems (such as the greenhouse effect, climatic changes, etc.), globalisation and economic regionalisation, and ideological-cultural "worldisation". They also include the conflict-ridden and certainly prolonged transition of the nation-state into region- state or of the national state to a supranational state or to the "global village". Add to this the construction of the institutions and world order of the so-called "post post-Cold War".

All of this must be done while preserving to the greatest extent possible the principle attributes of national sovereignty, while avoiding the self-destruction of the Cuban social experiment or -- what would amount to the same thing -- allowing the Cuban social project to be subsumed by the powerful economic, political, and ideological forces of the world capitalist system. Despite that system's shortcomings and its growing crises and contradictions, the spread of the enormous and increasing powers that still preserve capitalism, as well as the growing pressures of interdependence, pose an enormous challenge to the construction of socialism in any underdeveloped country. This is even more so when it is being attempted in a country (like Cuba) located a mere 90 miles from the world's only multidimensional power -- the one which declared itself the winner in the Cold War: the United States of America.

2. To define and plan a new revolutionary utopia, socialist or -- if you prefer -- communist, that can be a catalyst for and bring into play the energies and best subjective factors (self-esteem, solidarity, heroism, patriotism, internationalism) that reside in the consciousness and collective imagination of important sectors of the Cuban people. But above all, it must capture the hearts, minds, and imaginations of new generations. On these, on their ongoing development, hang the possibilities of maintaining, developing, and protecting the influence of the socialism being built in Cuba. This socio-economic development will continue to be an essential condition for Cuba to be able to maintain its political and ideological stance, to respond to and counter the dominant world and hemispheric "order".

This new revolutionary utopia, as well as being based on a profound and considered critique of contemporary, capitalism -- especially neo-liberal, marginal, and semi-marginal capitalism -- will be obliged to distance itself explicitly from the ideas (and practice) that led to the failure of "false European socialism", as well as from the errors, inadequacies, and inefficiency of the processes of socialist transition that still exist, even in Cuba's own socialist transition. In addition to its domestic importance, this distancing will help to mobilise on Cuba's side all the social, political, moral and cultural forces that criticise both the capitalist status quo (in theory and practice), and the deformations of "primitive socialism". This will include those sectors of the political, social, and intellectual left that, despite honest positions, and for different reasons, are. not friendly toward certain aspects of the Asian socialist projects or the "survival model" that has been institutionalised in Cuba. 3. To re-establish the foundations of a [native] and viable socialist plan. This continues to be a precondition for self- sustained, sustainable, and independent development of the country. It implies, among other things, the maintenance of unity (without sterile unanimity) of the Cuban popular masses and political vanguard; sustaining and deepening the popular character of the state; perfecting the norms of internal functioning and the work of the Cuban Communist Party and of the Union of Young Communists.

It also implies completing the construction and consolidation of the popular, democratic, representative and participatory institutions created by the revolution, broadening the political and legal consciousness of the citizenry as well as improving the legal code, legislative system, electoral system, and administration of justice. All of this is linked directly or indirectly to the promotion and increasing satisfaction of all human rights.

The aforesaid also involves maintaining and rethinking the social gains of the revolution, recognising the growing heterogeneity of the Cuban masses and creating new institutional and organisational forms to express this plurality and to realise the rights of citizens to organise autonomously toward diverse social ends without affecting indispensable national unity. It implies perfecting the efforts and representation of the social, mass, and professional organisations and making progress in the administrative decentralisation of the country and in the movement of authority and resources to the municipalities and regions. Finally it means increasing the quantity and quality of information flowing from the citizens to their representatives and vice versa.

All of this will contribute to a constant broadening of participation by the citizenry in the identification, evaluation, decision-making, and solution of all the issues that concern and affect them, including the ever more complex processes of the economy and foreign policy. Under the difficult conditions that lie ahead, what Vladimir Ilich Lenin outlined is more and more true, in the sense that it is the masses that determine the authority of the state. That authority is stronger "when the masses know everything, can judge everything, and do everything consciously".

4. To guarantee the economic self-sustainability of the Cuban social plan. This is linked, among other things, to the need for decentralisation and democratisation of economic planning and management and for progress in the socialisation of the means of production and in services. It also implies the rational and environmentally sustainable use of scarce energy resources -- fossil or alternative, domestic or imported -- that the country has at its disposal. It is related to relocation and restructuring of foreign commerce, an increase in exportable assets with greater added value, the. sale and export of services, including high quality professional services, the construction of new dynamic, competitive advantages deriving from. research and development and a balanced increase in imports, especially of capital assets with high technological component. It also involves finding a solution to the structural deficit of the balance of payments and achieving the self- sustained resolution of the country's swollen foreign debt in hard currency. It means increasing domestic savings and investments and overcoming the parallel currencies and the income differentiation this produces in Cuban society. Furthermore, it implies restructuring and resisting the productive and service apparatus, searching for new material and moral means for stimulating productivity, and, finally, increasing the effectiveness, efficiency, internal integration, productivity, and competitiveness of the Cuban economy.

5. To build a renewed and integrated security for Cuba within the exclusive and "North-centric" world system that is taking shape. This is deeply linked to everything already mentioned. However, in its external dimension this objective will continue to be affected by either the isolation or the failure of the strategy and tactics developed by US circles of power or by vengeful sectors that function within the misnamed "Cuban community in the United States". We refer here to the blockade and the plan made in the USA for the "peaceful and democratic transition of Cuba", among others.

However, there also exists a need to create new stabilising factors in the world system that today, as well as in the future (even in the hypothetical situation of a "normalisation" of relations with the United States), would allow Cuba to cope with the problems that it faces. These problems include the asymmetry of power relative to the hegemonic force in the hemisphere (USA) and the geo-economic, geopolitical, and cultural "forces of gravity" that, based on the dozens of theories from the "ripe fruit" [that Cuba would naturally fall, like a ripe fruit, into the waiting lap of the United States - ed.] to "Manifest Destiny", have fed the US elite's hopes of exercising their domination (or their hegemony) over Cuba. This is part of their constant expansionist desires with respect to their neighbours to the south and the preservation of their global power throughout the world.

This means a constant search by the Cuban authorities for better ways to expand and develop their relations with other powers belonging to the Triad (or the Pentarchy) of global power: the European Union, Japan, Russia, and the emerging People's Republic of China. In addition to the current advantages, in the future this will allow Cuba to gain potential benefits from the system of shared hegemony and multipolarity (in economics but also in the political-military sphere) that, according to some predictions, will characterise the world order and system in the next century.

Despite these possibilities, however, one can't forget that some of these powers, with their own objectives and methods, will also seek the gradual erosion of the Cuban social plan or its subordination to and dependency on the world capitalist system. This means that it is important for Cuba to continue to develop links with socialist countries or countries with a socialist orientation in Asia. Also important are Cuba's links with other intermediate powers in the First World (such as Canada), the former Second World (such as the Ukraine), and all the nations of the Third and Fourth Worlds, beginning, as we will see later, with those in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as with the African countries of the South Atlantic. Because of Cuba's proximity to its Caribbean neighbours this is the natural arena for political, economic, and cultural projection.

In addition, Cuba must redouble its multilateral diplomatic efforts in order to continue to play a role in reshaping the post-Cold War world and, above all, to block attempts by the major imperialist powers to impose their regime of limited sovereignty on the majority of the world's nations. Cuba must try to block their efforts to change de facto or de jure the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states and the prohibition of coercion or force to settle international conflicts. These principles, along with the equality of states, serve as the basis for contemporary international law. Given her unfavourable geopolitical position; their day-to-day defence is of tremendous strategic importance to Cuba.

6. Intimately linked to this, Cuba must also continue to seek -- as it has to date -- the best practical means of advancing its complex bilateral and multilateral political relations and its cultural, economic, and cooperative relationships with the states and government of Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba must explore very cautiously the best exchanges with the multiple and sometimes superimposed integrationist schemes of cooperation or free trade that are at work in Latin America and, above all, in the Caribbean.

Despite its various areas of incompatibility with the political, legal, and socioeconomic systems, with the preponderant national, international, or integrationist institutions of Latin America and the Caribbean, Cuba will have to resolve all the structural problems (lack of complementary economies, deficit in the balance of trade, defaults on debts, etc.) that affect its economic- financial relations (true integration) with the principal countries of the region. Equally, it will be necessary to develop alternatives to meet the challenges that will result from consolidation in the first years of the next century of the Free Trade Zone of the Americas, agreed at the 1994 Summit in Miami and ratified in Santiago de Chile in 1998. This came about, above all, as a result of the growing de facto integration of the majority of the economies in the northern part of the subcontinent with the US market.

In this context, the Cuban authorities will also have to keep updating their positions on the central problems on the inter- American agenda, creatively and patiently encouraging the formation of positions in answer to the neo-Monroeist regionalisation and integration in the Western Hemisphere promoted by the United States. Among these, all of the decisions and actions that block the clear trend toward the formation of a basic consensus between the hegemonic sectors of the ruling classes in both parts of the hemisphere. This consensus affects ideological and political pluralism, the founding principles of inter-American law (in particular, non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states) and tends toward the consolidation of restrictive notions about hemispheric security designed unilaterally by the United States. The institutionalisation of these concepts (to those who are not strangers to the advances that, since 1994, US diplomatic efforts have been achieving in various inter-American circles) would create serious challenges for the Cuban transition to socialism.

7. To seek ways and means to maintain and develop relations of cooperation and solidarity between Cuba and the popular and revolutionary movement in the world including in socialist countries or countries with a socialist orientation in Asia and Africa, and especially in Latin America and the Caribbean. This requires the promotion of a renewed internationalism that includes, but also transcends, proletarian internationalism, and reaches out to new and heterogeneous actors on the social stage who participate in what is known as "international civil society". In particular, this means reaching out to those who, whatever their view of socialism, promote actions against the dominant order.

This also implies the constant solution of the contradictions that emerge between the needs of national foreign policy and the plan and practice of solidarity, anti-imperialism, anti- colonialism, and anti-capitalism that has historically characterised the external plan of the Cuban revolutionaries. This is true because, as Che said, internationalism is not only a duty, but it is also an endogenous necessity for the construction of socialism. The consolidation of these values can contribute to the defeat of the return of individualism, pragmatism, and commercialism that, in today's circumstances, have taken root in the consciousness of some sectors of the Cuban masses. This will also make it possible for selfishness and competition between human beings and nations to be constantly replaced by the anti- hegemonic relations of fraternity, cooperation, and solidarity so needed by the world, the continent, and the Cuban people.

8. To achieve improved and more detailed public information about the processes and policies that the Cuban party and state develop, recognising the new language and codes -- which are not always so virtuous -- through which the messages that are sent outside the country are deciphered. This means the development of various alternative means to communicate the positions and actions of the revolution and a meticulous and careful handling of representatives of the international press. It also means the resolution of the contradictions that sometimes develop between the needs (or the virtues) of internal political, ideological, or cultural discourse and its transmission to a plurality of external receptors that function within different realities, cultures, and political situations. The latter is all the more necessary due to the growing influence of public opinion on all of the processes of international society as a result of the advances of the scientific and technological revolution in transportation and telecommun- ications.

At this juncture, the virtuous interaction of Cuba, its institutions, and its citizens with so-called "electronic superhighways" and with "cyberspace" create challenges intimately linked to the growing spread of information within Cuban society. These include the creation of norms that guarantee the ethical and socially useful employment of these media, and the formalisation and enjoyment of the citizen's right to receive and transmit information about the realities that surround him. Despite the dangers, real, or virtual, these "interactive horizontal communications" can also contribute to the external plan of the Cuban Revolution.

9. To continue to advance in all of the endogenous and exogenous processes linked to normalisation of relations between the Cuban communities overseas and their country of origin. This means perfecting the redefinition and formalisation of the constitutional concepts of nationality and citizenship as well as Cuba's regulations on emigration and immigration. This is equally necessary because the authorities, without damaging the indispensable domestic political consensus, should maintain and look for new content in the dialogue concerning the nation and emigration, as well as maintaining the contacts that they have developed with the so-called "moderate exile sectors". This could contribute to strengthening the power of the "silent majority" among the Cuban immigrants in the United States.

Nevertheless, the aforesaid doesn't negate the fact that, objectively, some of the participants in this dialogue have a more or less explicit political agenda that does not coincide with the interests and aspirations of the majority of the Cuban people. Nor does it negate the fact that some of the international actors that are important to Cuba -- in particular, certain European and Latin American governments-have granted audiences to exile organisations and have urged the Cuban government to establish similar contacts. This is part of the search for what they inadequately call "a political and negotiated solution to the Cuban conflict" or for "national and family reunification". The latter was one of the messages that the Catholic Church most fervently delivered before, during, and after the historic visit to Cuba by His Holiness John Paul II.

One of the dilemmas that Cuba's external plan will have to continue to resolve is how to keep these facts in mind without damaging the positive relations that exist with those governments or those political or ideological forces that respect the political order of the country and are resistant to the most aggressive aspects of US strategy.

10. The final point, although no less important, is the challenge to promote the development of Cuban social and political thought. This should come about as much through recapturing its best roots as through interaction with advances in social studies -- including the new and multiple interpretations of Marxism -- that can lead to more profound diagnosis and planning about the world and the continent as well as the reality of Cuba itself. This demands preparation of the means and creation of the climate and avenues necessary for the development and diffusion of explicit ideas and arguments about the different responses that exist both inside and outside Cuba to the complex problems that humanity, the continent, and the island will have to face in the next century.

The so-called "world of knowledge" does not just encompass the development of the natural and technical sciences. It also includes new empirical knowledge, new theories, and new methodologies linked to the development of all of the social and human sciences. Today more than ever, we see the validity of the words of Cuba's late foreign minister Raul Roa Garcia (known here as "the Minister of Dignity") when he said:

"In no field are the criteria, perspectives, and proposed solutions so numerous and so varied as in the field of social sciences. The scientific spirit and intolerance are incompatible. The scientific spirit is nourished by and takes root in freedom of investigation and criticism. Intolerance, the outward extension of the exclusive domination exercised within us by dogmatic faith, intoxicates intelligence, twists sensibility, and frustrates scientific activity, which is the liberating impulse, toward the conquest and possession of the truth. In the insatiable desire to capture the truth and dissect it that impassions the life of the mind, even errors have value. To paraphrase Shakespeare: there is no mistake so great that it doesn't contain a grain of truth."

Listing some of the principle challenges and threats that the foreseeable future holds for Cuba does not discount the tremendous endogenous strengths of all kinds that have accumulated during 40 years of revolution. These -- in particular the sustained national consensus that has been forged on the socialist plan and the profound changes that have been produced in the political culture and capabilities of the Cuban people -- are what make possible the "miracle" -- as Comandante Fidel Castro called it -- of having guaranteed the survival and the development of the revolution in 1990s. The success with which Cuba will be able to confront the challenges of the future depends greatly on the preservation and enrichment of these strengths, and on overcoming the erosion of ethics and values that has developed in some sectors of Cuban society.

Nor does the enumeration of these challenges ignore the multiple factors that weigh in Cuba's favour in the world system, in the inter-American subsystem and in world public opinion, as well as in heterogeneous "international civil society". In fact, despite some internal misunderstandings, Cuba's interactions with the many non-governmental or non-state institutions (such as NGOs and new social movements) have made it possible to advance the development of multifaceted solidarity with Cuba and the formation of new transnational identities. These are heirs of the transnational identities that formed with the stimulus of the now-vanished Communist working class and national liberation movement. These new identities (women, business, academic, labour union, generational, etc.), could doubtless be made more use of in the achievement of the domestic and foreign objectives of the socialist transition and, in particular, in defence of the sovereignty and self-determination of the Cuban people.

To this is added the growing resistance to US hegemony that can be seen in the international and inter-American community and the increasing defence of the principles of sovereignty and self- determination that can be seen in some international organisations. An additional factor is the ever more generalised criticism of the negative social, economic, ecological, and political consequences of the neo-liberal structural adjustment programs instituted in recent years. Also important are the justifiable concerns of underdeveloped nations about the growing breaches, asymmetry, and dependency in relation to the First World and other transnational powers, stemming from the contradictory tendencies of "globalisation" and, in particular, the constant crises suffered since 1994 by the ever more interconnected and speculative international financial system.

For the many state, sub-state, and supra-state forces that resist and seek national, regional, sub-regional, and international options in the face of the disastrous effects of these processes, the actions and positions of the Cuban leadership, popular masses, and socio-political plan despite their errors, inadequacies, and difficulties continue to be a "model of resistance" faced with the unjust dominant world, hemispheric, and societal "orders". Some of these forces also view the Cuban socialist transition as a "social laboratory". Cuban successes and failures can teach useful lessons for the development of alternative plans and programs to deal with underdevelopment and dependent capitalism.

In addition, it is necessary to clarify that the challenges, threats, strengths, and opportunities that the foreseeable future holds for the external plan of the Cuban revolution do not exclude an analysis of the various scenarios that might develop under the world capitalist system or under its subsystem in the hemisphere. Both are threatened by profound crisis and contradictions. The way in which these resolve themselves can increase or diminish -- depending on the situation -- the challenges and dangers or, the opportunities and strengths for Cuba.

Furthermore, none of these variables are predetermined by "fate". The actions taken by the Cuban political leadership and the popular masses, as well as by the organisations that function within Cuban "socialist civil society", can enhance the strengths and opportunities and neutralise the challenges. They can also do the reverse: transform an opportunity, inadequately attended to, into a difficult challenge or a threat. The general director of UNESCO, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, has called this phenomenon the ethics of time: "We already have the diagnosis and, in many cases, the cure. To postpone taking corrective measures, as difficult as they may be, can lead to a point of no return. The potential irreversibility is an ethical imperative. If we do not act today, tomorrow may be too late."

This underlines that for the Cuban socialist plan to face the present and work out its future, in addition to analysing critically and self-critically its present and its past, it must also summon all the internal and external forces interested in preserving self-determination and independence for the Cuban people. Although the organisation and mobilisation of all the best forces of the country and the world is an essentially political task, it is also linked, in the present historical circumstances, to the need for up-dating, producing, and reproducing the ideology of the present phase of the Cuban Revolution.

This is true not only because historical experience demonstrates that no socio-economic system can function without ideological stimulus that helps guarantee its legitimacy and the cohesion and mobilisation of the social body, as well as projecting an image of the future (a utopia) of the movement of society, of the origin, current position, and future destination of every one of its institutions, social sectors, and individual citizens, but also because for Cuba and its external plan the production and reproduction of this revolutionary ideology continues, and will continue to be an unavoidable condition for fruitful and dynamic interaction with the complex world of the 21st century.

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