[Marxism] Raul Castro seeks alternatives to Venezuela (The Japan Times)
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Sat Jul 19 10:20:18 MDT 2008
The Japan Times
Raul Castro seeks alternatives to Venezuela
By LUIZ ALBERTO MONIZ BANDEIRA
BRASILIA - Raul Castro has begun a gradual process of changing Cuba's
economy and international relations. Within Cuba, he hopes to
legitimize his government by improving standards of living.
Outside of Cuba, he does not want to be held captive by Cuba's one
international supporter: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Castro believes in giving farm workers greater incentives. He has
authorized the sale of farm machinery and tools -centralized until
now - directly to farmers, as well as handing over idle land to
private cooperatives and other organizations that request them.
He also canceled the debts of some small producers and raised
the prices paid by the state for milk and meat.
In another measure intended to improve the lives of ordinary Cubans,
he has removed restrictions on acquiring computers, microwave ovens
and other appliances. Cuban officials stress that the purpose of
these changes is to increase efficiency, "not alter the socialist
But, like China and Vietnam, the government will have to embrace the
market more openly if it is really to improve living conditions. Only
with foreign investment and economic liberalization - a process that
has already begun in some measure - can Cuba hope to offer its 11.2
million people more consumer goods and comfort, improve the social
welfare system, and rehabilitate the country's infrastructure.
This is essential not only in order to build a "better socialism," as
Castro has promised, but especially to legitimize the continuity of
the regime established by his brother Fidel's revolution. For now,
Cuba is politically stable. The evolution of its internal situation
leaves no doubt about the consolidation of Raul Castro's authority.
There is somewhat greater freedom of expression, with debates and
criticism of several aspects of Cuba's socialist model, such as low
salaries and the dual monetary system, which has caused income
inequality by favoring those who work in tourism and for foreign
But greater political liberalization is unlikely in the short or
medium term. Cuba's government argues that America's financial and
political support for the opposition impedes that.
Nevertheless, with Felipe Perez Roque as minister of foreign affairs,
Cuba continues to conduct a pragmatic foreign policy. Venezuela and
China have become Cuba's main economic and commercial partners, and
may continue to be so.
But Raul Castro wants to avoid dependence on one or two countries
alone. His objective is to diversify Cuba's foreign relations and
prevent problems that any change in these countries could cause his
regime - a constant imperative since the collapse of the Soviet
As a result, relations with Latin America's giants, Brazil and
Mexico, are being put on a more normal footing and relations with
Spain are being improved. Moreover, negotiations with the European
Union have resumed, greater understanding with the Vatican is being
fostered, and Castro himself has publicly suggested the possibility
of dialogue with the United States.
Although Venezuela provides between $1.5 and $2 billion annually to
Cuba, Castro regards Chavez as something of a headache, owing to his
rhetoric and his confrontational attitude with several countries.
Chavez is simply not the right person to help Cuba normalize its
international relations. Moreover, Venezuela has its own economic
problems, despite its enormous dollar reserves.
Shortages of medicines and basic foodstuffs such as milk, sugar,
eggs, beef, and chicken abound as a consequence of price controls and
mounting inflation. This reminds Castro of the economic dislocations
that led the Soviet Union to slash its aid to Cuba in the years
before it collapsed.
Venezuela's problems make collaboration and support from Brazil - the
Southern Hemisphere's largest industrial power - even more important.
During President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's visit to Havana in
January 2008, Brazil and Cuba signed several economic and commercial
agreements. Indeed, Brazil doubled its loans to Cuba for the purchase
of foodstuffs and medicines, to $200 million, and has arranged
projects to rehabilitate Cuba's infrastructure with the participation
of Brazilian companies.
Other agreements include a project in which Brazil's state energy
company, Petrobras, and Cuba's Cupet will extract oil in the Gulf of
Mexico, and another that involves technological aid from the
Brazilian company Pessquisa Agropecurria for the development of soya
production in Cuba.
As these initiatives suggest, rapprochement with Brazil and Mercosur
appears to be Cuba's best international alternative as Raul Castro
seeks to avoid falling into America's economic orbit.
Luiz Alberto Moniz Bandeira, a former professor at the University of
Brasilia, is the author of more than 20 books. © 2008 Project
Los Angeles, California
"Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"
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