Cuba and the United States
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A few observations as the next steps are taken.
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by Jim Palombo
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There’s been a good deal of discussion surrounding the developments in Cuban and U.S. relations. Of course whatever happens in terms of the openness between our two countries can only be a good thing. It’s about time that we begin to see each more as much for our similarities as differences and that we move in the direction of compromise rather than continual conflict.
This being said, and perhaps as a caution to those who are adopting the notion that Cuba will become more like the U.S., I offer the following. This is done to provide some thought as to what is actually on the table at the moment, and to also allow me to refresh some ideas as I plan my next trip to the island. In this light, I hope you find the piece interesting, and as always your comments/questions are welcomed.
First of all there appears to be a bit of a misconception as to the dimensions of the new developments. In other words, and particularly in terms of it becoming more driven by modern business/economic/capitalist motivations, the notion that Cuba is somehow capitulating to the U.S. for embargo removals is a bit skewed. Actually, Cuba’s revolutionary model, which continues to have its mix of socialist and communist elements, is a model that they intend to keep in effect. This is especially so as the tenets implicit in the model, tenets which provide an impetus for societal health and welfare to be more prominent than economic profit-making, coincide to a significant extent with those of China, much of Europe, as well as other countries in the Americas. In short, Cuba’s growth model is more in line with the rest of the world than typically realized by many in the U.S.
This is not to say that Cuba does not have an interest in the ingredients tied to venture capitalism. Quite the contrary, and again like China and the others, there is a recognition that capitalism, especially in today’s world and despite its negatives, does have significant value. This thinking is certainly in line with the realization that both sides of the human coin, i.e., economic man and social man, must be tended to. For the Cuban model it is the ability of the leadership and government to manage these two sides with a focus more on the latter than the former. Although this realization is complex in practice, especially given the nature of competition already in place across the globe, this is not hard to express in the context of considering economic measures (including taxes, business regulations and import and export restrictions) as a way to equalize, improve and maintain social/societal standards.
This brings us to an understanding of what could be termed “venture socialism.” In other words, the manner in which Cuba is attempting to integrate itself in the modern world will depend a great deal on what it can do to make its socialist frame open to accommodating capitalist principles. Obviously, and especially in recognizing that human nature hardly allows for any exact science, there is an anxiety in terms of what the motion of capitalism can bring out in the people. In essence, as none of the implied changes can happen over-night, the hope is that the citizens of the country can be encouraged to have the patience to let the changes within the new model be internalized with a focus on social-public good. In this context the potential of more commercial and product exchanges, of jobs and incomes, and of the nature of competition and profit themselves will require some slow, long-term planning. Obviously this will require a careful integration of the socialist-communist cultural instincts already in place in Cuba with those instincts that, like in the U.S., are tied to more capitalist properties.
In essence, then, the new relations with Cuba can be seen as a situation where venture capitalism is meeting venture socialism. And it could well be a circumstance – an experiment if you will – that could simultaneously benefit both us (U.S.) and them. In other words, we may both learn from what takes place in the next few years as our relationship changes.
But there is a bit of a hitch in this possibility. In short, any legitimate learning will require that we in the U.S. be able to fully understand/recognize what socialism and communism, as well as what capitalism and even democracy, actually mean. In other words, what are the principles tied to the logics of the various growth models in the world, how are they the same and how are they different? It is only from this type of analytical base that we can fully internalize what is actually at stake in what develops as Cuba and the U.S. make their way. Of course this means that the patience and long-term planning that we might expect from the Cuban people and their leadership will also have to be applied to our own country. Unfortunately, this point doesn’t seem a part of what is currently being highlighted in our public and/or leadership circles. Moreover, one can certainly question to what extent our citizenry would be able to understand this all even if it were at point.
Said another way, and as has been offered via the Campaign for an Informed Citizenry , our public has had a difficulty in coming to terms with our shortcomings related to examining and understanding the ideological elements that underpin our growth model. (For example, what are the definitions of democracy and capitalism, and to what extent do they actually complement and conflict with one another?) This situation has had an impact not only on our having difficulty in grasping the nature of our own social-problem concerns, but also has hampered our ability to legitimately understand the struggles of many other countries. Taken together, this has caused more confusion (and even anger) over what has been happening across the globe, especially as the world becomes more integrated.
So again, the developing relationship between Cuba and the U.S. is providing us both with several levels of growth possibilities, possibilities that should only help with understanding on both sides of the water. It’s a grand chance for both of us to learn from one another – and one can only hope that we take advantage of the historical opportunity.
As noted I will be traveling there as an academic and journalist in a few months to further explore possibilities. And this trip is actually a follow-up trip to my last visit, one that resulted in the considerations mentioned in the article “Quizas”, which can be referenced in the Ragazine.cc archives (April, 2010) and also at the Campaign website. In brief the article calls for the development of an ongoing, discussion model, one that would help particularly the young people of both countries to better understand and work with the mix of ideas currently on the table. In the article, the impetus for this type model (termed the Symposium on Dialogue) is stated in relationship to the opportunity at hand:
“… It is fair to reason that we are two countries laboring in the midst of our revolutionary beginnings – one has been couched within the frame and spirit of democracy, the other in the frame and spirit of communism. And by principle neither of these frames is really at odds with the other. And both revolutions have also been enormously affected by the nature of capitalism, almost in the sense of being on two sides of the same capitalist coin. With one revolution historical variables appear to be on its side – there has been substantial political, economic and military growth almost unparalleled in history. This was while the other nation in its more contemporary revolution struggled to maintain its identity – in what could be argued as a corollary to the other’s success. In any event, both sets of revolutionary principles have been influenced dramatically by the nature of market influences, and in this mix we actually appear to share a great deal.
“In fact we mutually share several very important concerns. This “mutuality” can be framed in the imagery of a large, circular intersection with a center from which several directions can be taken. In this center lay, among other things, the concerns of capitalism, socialism, communism and democracy. No doubt these concerns and all of their implications have prompted a great deal of separation and conflict over the past half century. Yet both countries, who currently sit at the “cross roads,” now have the opportunity to legitimately and openly address these concerns. Sharing information while we are both at this juncture not only will help repair our separation and differences, but also aid us in taking the best “informed” directions, moving us both toward bettering our respective futures.”
So, with this “call” in mind, the direction we take should be clear. At the same time one can hope that we proceed with the honesty and clarity this historic juncture demands. In this light, you are encouraged to take a read of the Campaign website and to make your own comparisons with what you see happening as the U.S. and Cuba delegates negotiate our futures. And when given the chance, speak-up accordingly. As for me, I’ll certainly keep you posted as to what the next trip brings – I’m expecting that the news will provide further energy for what has been expressed here.