cj> [corp-focus] Cuban Impressions


Richard Moore

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Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2001 14:21:10 -0500 (EST)

Cuban Impressions
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Our first, short visit to Cuba has left us impressed with
the accomplishments of the island-nation which for more than
40 years has stood up to global capitalism. We also returned
home with an awareness of many of the limits of the
revolution -- some brought on or exacerbated by U.S.
economic and military pressure -- and uneasy about the
difficulties Cuba faces in the coming years.

Walking into Havana's Jose Marti airport, we immediately
sensed that this was not like other places: there was no
raft of billboards urging us to drink Coke, smoke Luckies,
charge with our Mastercard or rent a Hertz. Indeed, there
are virtually no commercial advertisements in Cuba. (Nor, by
the way, is there a personality cult surrounding Fidel
Castro: we saw far, far fewer images of Castro than we
would, say, of President Daniel Moi in Kenya. The
omnipresent image in Cuba is national hero Jose Marti, the
poet and writer who helped lead the Cuban revolution of the

We saw a country with major accomplishments in healthcare,
education, daycare and other services. Cuba'a infant
mortality rates and life expectancy are comparable to those
of the United States and other rich countries, and the
country's main health problems are now those of rich
countries. "We die as wealthy people, even though we live as
poor people," one hospital director told us.

Cuba has invested in and maintains a sophisticated hospital
system, with hospitals spread throughout the country, not
just concentrated in Havana. Even more important is the
national emphasis on preventive health measures and primary
and community care. Every person has access to a community
doctor and nurse, who serve several hundred neighborhood
families and know the health profile of everyone they serve.
The women's association and other mass organizations which
are organized down to the block level also help ensure care
is delivered -- for example, making sure every pregnant
woman is receiving prenatal care. Cuba has also invested
heavily in biomedical research, giving it one of the only
genuine biomedical R&D capacities in the developing world.

We were also taken with the economic egalitarianism of the
society. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba
lost more than a third of its national income in a single
year. If the United States were to suffer anything remotely
similar, there is little doubt that the heaviest burdens
would be thrust on working people and the poor. In Cuba, the
pain has been spread equally: people have maintained their
right to healthcare and education and housing, and they were
allotted food rations that gave them a minimum level of
sustenance. Even in times of genuine food shortages, no one,
so far as we know, starved.

The country's former economic dependence on the Soviet Union
was, it should now be obvious even to those who might once
have argued otherwise, one of the great mistakes of the
revolution. Of course, this was a dependence foisted on Cuba
in no small part by the United States through its embargo
and continuous military threat.

Relatedly, Cuba erred in relying on agricultural exports
(sugar above all) produced on vast state-owned plantations,
instead of cultivating food for domestic consumption on
smaller, farmer-owned cooperatives. Over the last decade,
the country has made considerable strides in remedying this
mistake, with more autonomy granted to farmers and a new
emphasis on organic agriculture (Cuba is now a world leader
in the field). Food, however, still seems in short supply.

One of the biggest threats to Cuba's accomplishments on the
horizon is posed by the tourism industry and the dollar
economy. Cuba's greatest potential foreign exchange earner,
by far, is tourism. Tourism is certain to grow rapidly,
spectacularly so if the U.S. embargo is ever lifted.

Salaries in the peso economy are on the order of $20 to $30
a month. With subsidized or free housing, utilities, food,
healthcare, education, this is enough, or at least close to
enough, to get by.

Workers in the tourism sector are tipped in dollars. A maid
or waiter will easily make far more than $30 a month in

And so the incentive is for doctors, nurses, teachers and
others to leave their jobs and go work in the tourist

The result is both a misallocation of professional and
skilled labor, and the beginnings of social stratification.
There is no obvious solution to this problem that maintains
the fundamental achievements of the revolution.

The problem is exacerbated by remittances from
Cuban-Americans living in Miami, and the gifts of toys,
designer clothing and other items that they provide to
family in Cuba.

Walking by the hip clubs in Havana's Vedado neighborhood,
one can feel the magnetic pull of the corporate culture on
kids who have little way of understanding the very dramatic
sacrifices their society would have to make were Versace and
Nike goods to become freely available.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the
Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are
co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits
and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage
Press, 1999).

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman


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Richard K Moore
Wexford, Ireland
Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance 
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