Jonny Roberts asks what is Fidel up to at the moment? And how should we direct British foreign policy towards him?
For all its special relationship and commonwealth links with North America, Britain has a particular knack for ignoring the southern half of the Americas. The term BRICs is used to describe the emerging, or as Vince Cable quite correctly pointed out this week – re-emerging, economies which are rising to break the hegemony of US and European dominance. We may hear about Russia and we certainly hear about China whilst Cameron’s coalition seems positively smitten with India but references to the B (Brazil) are few and far between. Yet the lack of coverage of South America’s political and economic climate is perhaps a convenience as much as it is with ignorance. The choice, come election time, in most Latin American nations is social democratic or socialist; the conservatives sit on a permanent sideline. Stories of economic growth being used for direct redistribution to the poorest is pretty much the last thing the pro-cuts lobby in Europe want the average hard-working, increasingly hard-suffering average Jo to hear about.
The nation which is most likely to receive the collective bile of the right is Cuba. Lets clear up a few things before I continue. Cuba is the only remaining genuinely communist nation in the world and I am in agreement that this is not a good thing. The people have lived through poor conditions, the centralised state is corrupt, totalitarian and dictatorial both sustained only by Soviet support (until 1989) and now Venezuelan support. Yet a new revolution may be about to quietly come about. Raul Castro has become critical of Cuba’s economic model and in the past year has freed up hairdressers and other small businesses to run themselves whilst 1 million workers employed by the state (as all employees were 2 years ago) are to be released to start-up new co-operatives. Mutualism has become the new buzz in Britain as all three major parties talk up ways of letting public sector employees share ownership of their institutions such as the Post Office. Yet convincing capitalism’s gigantic corporations with their hugely wealthy shareholders to throw away their stakes to employees, each with an equal share has a similar likelihood to the Pope being captured on film by OK! Magazine boozing with Keith Richards and Johnny Depp. In communist Cuba however this, if it is indeed the genuine ideological economic vision adopted by Castro, not just do-able but a wonderful possibility for a unique society that Cuba can be proud of.
Opening Cubans up to the idea of markets and competition could improve the diversification of services and products on offer and raise income for workers who would be able to share in the wealth created by this co-operative capitalism. It would also allow the state to continue to provide the impressive free education, healthcare and other benefits. Not only would be Cubans better-off financially, with more choice and continued excellent public services but the co-operative model would hold back a painful rise in inequality which curses capitalism where it is unregulated – see USA. Workers could be paid more in salary for being managers and directors etc. (a clear break from the equal wage for all citizens that communism has forced upon Cubans in work or not, much to the obvious detriment of productivity) yet profit-sharing would ensure wealth does not get stuck at the top, the gap between the richest and poorest would be locked at minimal rates.
This co-operative Cuba is a pipe dream, it will take a lot to get there and it still will not break the democratic deficit in the nation. There is of course the possibility that giving workers more control over their business decisions would lead to an increased desire to get more control over their government but that is looking even further down the line and all of this relies on Raul Castro’s willingness to cede ever more central control which is doubtful at best. For now Britons should keep an interested and open-minded eye on Cuba to see what weird and potentially wonderful society may (and I stress ‘may’, as in just maybe, possibly!) emerge.
- Cuba Resets the Revolution (nytimes.com)
- Castro quote ‘was misinterpreted’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Fidel latest to say Cuba’s communism doesn’t work (ctv.ca)
- Fidel Castro: Born Again, Even as Cuba Tastes Capitalism (politicsdaily.com)