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A Russian oil tanker moves slowly past the sixteenth-century Spanish castle guarding the narrow entrance to Havana harbor. Castle and tanker symbolize dominion, but of very different kinds. To the Spaniards, Cuba was first and foremost a source of wealth-its own wealth and the wealth of Latin America to which it held the strategic key. To the Russians, it represents an economic loss on the order of some $350 to $400 million a year. The payoff for them is in the coin of political strategy: an extension of the frontiers of communism to the Western Hemisphere.
How real these political dividends are is a question to which, for reasons touched on later in this article, the Kremlin must revert with increasing frequency. Meanwhile the tankers come and go, bringing in more than 95 percent of Cuba's growing oil requirements-a reminder to the Cubans that if they control their destiny more surely now than they did during the four centuries of Spanish rule, the control is still far from absolute. And to control their own destiny is above all else what the leaders of this intensely nationalist régime want to do. "We have known," said Castro last year, "the bitterness of having to depend on others and how this can be turned into a weapon against us." That Cuba should pay her way in the world, as independent of the Soviet Union as of Spain or the United States, is for the militant revolutionary an objective no less important than a higher standard of living. To achieve either, and certainly to achieve both, requires of the Cuban people an initial period of heavy sacrifice.
Austerity then is the first thing that hits the Western visitor-and it is a stunning blow for one who knew Havana before the Revolution. The miniature Manhattan skyline along the seafront is still an incomparable sight as the sun goes down; the shabbiness fades into silhouette pricked out with lights, and the tropical night seems full of promise. But the promise is unlikely to be fulfilled. Behind the familiar façade the bars and nightclubs are shuttered throughout the working week; dimly lit shops reveal empty shelves; skeletal cars clank homewards among the over-crowded buses. The queues are for ice cream and cinemas. Early next morning they will form for the necessities of life.
That food and clothing should be rationed in an underdeveloped country where over 30 percent of gross national product goes to investment is hardly surprising. But it is difficult to argue on balance-of-payments grounds that pleasure needs to be so strictly rationed. Cabaret girls are homegrown; they cost no foreign exchange-and indeed could earn a little from the trickle of tourists. No, this aspect of austerity is the product not of economic policy but of a puritan reaction against the license of the past and a frenetic sense of urgency on the part of the leaders; time taken off from the building of the new society is time wasted.
The puritanism dovetails into the social and economic strategy of the régime. Castro wants to get people out of the towns, partly because he believes that spiritual regeneration comes from working the soils but also for the more practical reason that, after an abortive attempt to industrialize during the early years of the Revolution, agriculture is now recognized as the basis of the economy and needs to have labor more readily available. The last thing he wants, therefore, is to increase the attractions of the town. "More ruralism, less urbanism" is the slogan.
It is a difficult slogan to put into effect Building resources are already overstretched; there is little to spare from the construction of new schools, hospitals, farms and factories, A target of 100,000 new living units a year has been quietly abandoned, and at the present rate it will be many years before homes can be provided in the country for any significant proportion of the urban population. Meanwhile, agriculture claims the "voluntary" labor of the townspeople for limited periods at a time, ranging from a weekend to a couple of months. Thus the visitor to Havana, while he may look in vain for the sophisticated animation of the past, will be aware of a constant bustle of departure and arrival; and though he is entitled to be dubious about the voluntary character of this movement, he may well be impressed by the cheerfulness with which those caught up in it pile into their trucks and drive off to the Spartan encampments awaiting them.
Such signs of alegria, however spasmodic, prompt the question whether the Cubans have in some remarkable way contrived a form of communism without tears. Has this dreary creed been transmuted in the Caribbean crucible? At first sight a negative answer is suggested by the fact that, since the Revolution, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have abandoned their possessions and started life afresh in the United States; and there are many more waiting to follow their example. But to regard this as a massive vote against communism is an oversimplification. The Revolution was by no means committed to communism when the first wave of refugees left. They went because they saw no hope of coming to terms with the radicalism of the Revolution and were afraid of being victimized. What then are the motives of those leaving today? It is difficult to generalize, but the evidence available suggests that the majority are going primarily because they find the conditions of life too hard. They condemn the system not because it is undemocratic or indifferent to human rights (it is both), but because it fails to deliver the goods. If they could be sure of being better fed, clothed and housed, they would stay. If this analysis is anywhere near correct, it is hard to argue that communism as such is anathema to the majority of the Cuban people. To all appearances at any rate, the creed (in so far as it is understood) sits lightly.
The reasons for this acquiescent attitude are to be sought in the Cuban character. It is sometimes said that the Cubans are individualists to the point of not bothering about abstract social principles or political theory; and there may be something in this. But to the outside observer the most striking characteristic of the Cuban is the human warmth which enables him to fit easily into the life of his community. The Cuban may not love his neighbor as himself, but he makes a better shot at it than most. A social conscience of a kind exists: the concept of social justice gets more than lip service from some at least of those whose material interests it threatens, however much they may disagree with the methods used to introduce it. Moreover, the gregarious instinct of the Cuban makes regimentation less irksome than it would otherwise be, The communal activities of the mass organizations-membership is hard to avoid-are not wholly unenjoyable. Add to this a sense of humor which the authorities are wise enough not to stifle (jokes against the régime are permitted in the theatre, for instance); an absence, within the limits of decorum, of any such sexual repression as is imposed by the Chinese Revolution; a benign climate; a natural resilience in adversity; and a new sense of national pride and dignity, The net result is a state of morale which, without being buoyant, does not sag too badly either. Deprived of so much, the Cubans are like unspoiled children, taking inordinate pleasure in simple things.
But while it can be said that Cuban communism presents a less unattractive face than communism elsewhere, there are no good grounds for believing that it is fundamentally different in character or that the human material is in any way unique. The "new man" who will give of his best without the stimulus of material incentive is likely to prove no less of a chimera in Cuba than elsewhere. The acquisitive instinct of Homo Cubanus is dormant because there is nothing to acquire. To suppose that it will die out altogether before the long-promised increase in consumer goods requires an act of faith of which few people are capable.
There is no early prospect of this being put to the test The Cuban economy is still in a straitjacket. But the impression prevails that it is slowly gathering the strength to break out. There are two short-term goals, which may to some extent prove incompatible. One is a 10-million-ton sugar harvest as from 1970. The other is diversification of agriculture-a bid to break free from the monoculture of sugar. Castro has committed the honor of the Revolution so deeply to the target of 10 million tons that most laymen believe it will somehow be attained; the experts have their doubts but concede that 8 or 8½ million is a possibility-a big jump from the estimated 4.8 million of the current year. As for diversification, the standard tour laid on for visitors gives some idea of the possibilities, but statistics are in short supply. Marine resources are being tapped on a scale never attempted before; planned production of fish for 1970 is 175,000 tons, as compared with 25,000 toes before the Revolution. With 8 million head of cattle and a huge program of artificial insemination based on the crossbreeding of the traditional Brahmin with the imported Holstein, dairy and meat production can be expected to go ahead fast Cuba is well on the way to self-sufficiency in rice, with prospects of an exportable surplus. Egg production is soaring. There are extensive new citrus plantations and they seem to be prospering. Coffee has been planted on every available square inch of land in and around Havana, though its prospects are questionable. Extensive and intensive cultivation is generously supplied with fertilizer, backed by an expanding system of irrigation and roads, and in certain sectors it is highly mechanized. Success will bring out the figures but failures are liable to go unrecorded. If things go at all as planned, sugar in the mid-1970s will account for considerably less than 50 percent of the total value of agricultural production, At present it accounts for about 70 percent.
What level of productivity do these plans assume? What indeed is the current level? Nobody says. Perhaps nobody knows. It is certainly low, but to admit this is to question the value of moral incentives; and these, to the detriment of the Cuban economy, are now sacrosanct. The régime no doubt can point to some remarkable outbursts of energy. Appeals to patriotism, the blood of the martyrs, the competitive instinct and the challenge of the OAS boycott do undoubtedly work, but fitfully; only a small minority of Cubans have shown themselves capable of the sustained effort which is needed to realize the potential of their fertile country. Moreover, these dedicated few are not necessarily the ones best qualified by education and experience to carry the rest of the country on their backs. Revolutionary zeal having always been regarded as the prime qualification for Party membership, the Party has now woken up to the fact that its general educational level is appallingly low and that it is incapable of providing the trained cadres required to stimulate production. So they are going back to school. Meanwhile, much energy continues to be misdirected and ill- coördinated, and the level of productivity obstinately refuses to rise.
The dilemma for Castro is painful. To achieve his cherished objective of independence of Soviet economic aid, he must jettison his principles and introduce the kind of concessions to the profit motive which are now an established feature of the Soviet and East European economies and of which he has been so openly critical. The signs are that he would rather postpone the day when Cuba can balance her account with the Soviet Union. But can the Russians afford Castro's principles? Alternatively, can they afford to let him down? The dilemma is painful for them too. It looks at present as if they will settle for further subsidies provided Castro ceases to sabotage Soviet policy in Latin America by seeking to discredit the Moscow- oriented communist parties. A bargain on these lines could easily come unstuck, however.
It would be wrong to suggest that, having balanced her account with the Soviet Union, Cuba would promptly divest herself of communism as if it were a cloak donned purely to obtain Soviet aid. For one thing, Cuba will still need the Soviet Union as a market for her sugar-and indeed as her principal trading partner. But this is not the real point. The real point is that, however heretical the postures which Castro occasionally strikes, Cuban communism is no disguise. It may be highly eclectic, but Castro at least would claim that it is a purer form than any to be found elsewhere. The Party apparatus is forbiddingly orthodox, and the system as a whole is as totalitarian as any Stalinist could wish. The limits of dissent are narrowly drawn and the machinery for dealing with those who transgress them is more efficiently maintained than most machinery in Cuba.
This is an aspect which needs to be examined more closely. The visitor to the Isle of Pines will be shown four gruesome circular buildings constructed in the 1930s to serve as what then passed for a model prison; they are now awaiting demolition to make way for a school, The guide will describe in some detail how the prison came to be used for the brutal taming of the political opponents of Machado and Batista. He will be less explicit about the fact that until early 1967 the same prison was crammed with Castro's own political detainees. These were not set free, Their continued presence was evidently found to be incompatible with plans for turning the Isle of Pines into a kind of laboratory for social experiments, and they were transferred to the main island. The number of political prisoners now in Cuba is a matter of guesswork; Castro admitted to 20,000 in 1965. All that can be said in extenuation is that they are believed to have been more humanely treated since the present Minister of the Interior was appointed some 18 months ago. Indeed, the régime would hotly deny a retributive element in their attitude, and in this they may be sincere. The attitude tends rather to be clinical: critics and opponents of the régime (the line between them is not too finely drawn) are regarded as suffering from a contagious political disease; they require isolation and treatment.
What then is Castro's prescription for a healthy society? Plenty of hard work for everybody is an important ingredient, but in accordance with the best communist doctrine it must be neither wholly intellectual nor wholly manual. Mechanization of agriculture is to reduce the need for purely manual labor, and the system is to be so contrived that every man and woman will be able to deploy to the full his or her physical and mental capabilities.
Castro also prescribes a strong dose of egalitarianism. He is not content with the drastic redistribution of wealth which has already taken place. About a year ago he announced that it was the policy of the régime to equalize salaries, working from the bottom upwards, not from the top downwards. He admitted, however, that this was a very long-term goal. Meanwhile, in response to inflationary pressures, such adjustments as are being made to the salary structure tend to be downwards. Less, therefore, has been heard lately of the equalization of incomes, more of the gradual withdrawal of money from the internal economy. Many things are free already: education, of course, and basic medical services (you can pay for better treatment); most housing; weddings and funerals; admission to sporting events; and, for an ever-growing proportion of the workers, the midday meal. The ultimate goal is stated to be a moneyless society in which everybody would be provided with the comforts and amenities as well as the necessities of life. Each is to receive according to his need, but it is tacitly accepted that some needs are more equal than others and nobody has yet attempted to explain where the line is to be drawn between private and public needs. Castro will no doubt continue to "need" his helicopter, his fleet of cars and his numerous houses scattered up and down the country. Indeed it may legitimately be claimed that these are not a rich man's diversion; they are the tools of his trade, just as a car is a tool of a doctor's trade.
It will be clear that the egalitarian ideal is no more likely to be achieved in Cuba than elsewhere. Nevertheless, the area of unearned privilege has been heavily reduced over the past ten years and is likely to continue to shrink under the pressures of the educational system. Education at present is compulsory only at the primary level, though a fairly high proportion of students continues through secondary. The régime contemplates nothing less than universal education up to and including university level. The three existing universities have been condemned as citadels of privilege and are to be abolished as such. They will be converted into institutes of advanced research while facilities for university-level studies, heavily slanted toward science and technology, will be provided at the main centers of work throughout the country-a system of apprenticeship on a national scale combining study with productive work. How this is to be achieved in terms of teachers, buildings and equipment has not been made clear, but nothing could be more egalitarian than the intention. The entire population is to pass through the same educational mill.
By projecting current trends against the general background of the social philosophy described above, it is possible to hazard a guess at the kind of place Cuba will be in five years time. Barring assassination or any catastrophic setback to his economic plans, Fidel Castro will still be in control-mellower perhaps as he approaches his 50th year but still with fire in his belly. Individual freedom will remain strictly subordinate to Castro's conception of the common weal. Privilege inherited from the past will not have entirely disappeared but will be vestigial-the family car will have disintegrated, the family house will be five years shabbier and less functional, the bank balance depleted. Money will still be in circulation, but there will be few non-essentials to spend it on, and the scale of goods and services provided free by the state will have increased.
Food and clothing will still be rationed, but the rations will be bigger. The housing situation will not have improved appreciably, but there will be many more schools. In general the standard of living will compare favorably with the Latin American average but will be low in relation to Cuba's natural wealth. The technical know-how thrown up by the educational system will still be too thinly spread to compensate for the inhibiting effect on productivity of continued reliance on moral incentives, which are liable to grow weaker as the Revolution fades into history. Demographically, there will have been a slight but noticeable shift from town to country, where new agricultural settlements of a permanent kind will have begun to emerge; but most of the labor for short-term agricultural operations will still be drawn from the towns and accommodated in temporary encampments. Mechanization will account for perhaps 50 percent of the sugar harvest, but the remainder, with coffee and citrus, will continue to make heavy demands on manpower and there will be no problem of unemployment.
It will be a society free of financial corruption in the ordinary sense: there is no doubt that this has been effectively eradicated. But if there is no change in the present curiously permissive attitude toward the use of friends in authority for the cutting of official corners, Cuba will still be suffering from a traditional Latin American weakness-and one which could ultimately prove fatal to the dreams of an egalitarian society. There will be few social tensions, but a sense of frustration may well have developed among young people who can find no outlet for their aptitudes in an educational system which ignores the humanities. The new-found sense of nationhood and self-respect will have matured and there will be less aggressiveness in Cuba's external relations. She will still be in communion with Moscow and the bulk of her trade will be with the Soviet Union-and more nearly in balance. Commerce with capitalist countries will, however, have increased, both in absolute and relative terms.
It is presumably not inconceivable that these countries might include the United States. From Washington's standpoint, no doubt, Cuba would have to mend her ways first-particularly in the matter of subversion in Latin America. From Havana's standpoint the U.S. Government would have to mend its ways too-get out of Viet Nam for a start and stop being "imperialist." But anti-Americanism, in the sense of a passionate rejection of everything American, does not appear to be endemic in Cuba. The occasional American visitor (doctor, scientist or journalist) is treated with courtesy and friendly consideration. If, in the course of his Latin American mission, Governor Rockefeller's plane had been hijacked to Cuba, there would have been no demonstration against him-not only because the Cuban Government is not prone to allow that kind of thing, but also because the Cubans have good manners, a strong tradition of hospitality and, whether they like it or not, an affinity with the United States deriving from long historical ties. Public opinion would almost certainly welcome any move by the Cuban leaders toward a rapprochement with the United States. But it is precisely among the leaders that anti-Americanism tends to be most bitter, particularly among those members of the Government who in their day-to-day business discover exactly where the shoe pinches as a result of the OAS boycott Ministers who, for example, have to take the painful decision to scrap an entire sugar mill because a few thousand dollars' worth of spare parts are unobtainable are not likely to be in a conciliatory mood.
There can be no doubt that the OAS policy of economic denial, known here as the "blockade," has retarded, though it cannot entirely prevent, Cuba's economic development. More important still-and is this perhaps its main justification now?-it has made more difficult the export of revolution; trade channels can be used for subversive purposes. Viewed in this light the duration of the quarantine must depend largely on Cuba. But it is important to recognize that, so long as the boycott continues, there will persist in this island a sort of siege mentality; and this undoubtedly makes it easier for the régime to organize, as they are now doing, the economic life of the country on a military basis designed to secure the maximum effort during the critical year or two to come. It also provides the Government with a ready-made excuse for economic failures.
To do them justice, it is not an excuse which is used indiscriminately and out of context The leaders are often disarmingly frank about the shortcomings of their own stewardship as well as the shortcomings of the rank and file. In a speech last May, Castro described the 1969 sugar harvest as "an agony for the nation" and he went on to list the reasons for its failure: fundamental problems which will require a gigantic effort to solve. A response to this challenge shows signs of gathering momentum. It may be just in time.