News of an outbreak of protests in Cuba leapt through agencies to media outlets around the world yesterday. Beginning in San Antonio de los Baños, protests spread in a matter of hours from the West to the East of the country and ended up surrounding the Capitol in Havana. The regime’s response was swift: exculpatory speeches, calls for civil confrontation and door-to-door repression all night long.
Table of Contents
- Hasty map of the protests in Cuba
- The regime’s response
- The reality underneath the protests in Cuba
- The exhaustion of Castro’s semi-colonial state capitalism
- What future lies for the protests in Cuba?
Hasty map of the protests in Cuba
The first images came from San Antonio de los Baños and with them the first news of spreading out from Palma Soriano -near Santiago de Cuba.
A few hours later the protest reached two small towns near Havana, Alquizar and Güira de Melena, while the calls to take to the streets ran from cell phone to cell phone in the main capitals and especially in Havana.
In the capital, a small crowd formed and advanced from the neighborhoods toward the center.
In a first moment the Spanish and North American media spread the calls of the opposition to concentrate in the Malecón and reported -without basis- that the demonstrators were chanting Patria y Vida (fatherland and life). It is true that some signs with the slogan appeared, reflecting the opposition’s attempts to steer the movement internally and capitalize it abroad politically.
However, the videos show that there were few slogans, a few shouts of Freedom!and much discontent against what one protester denounced as a government that is starving us to death. In fact the Malecón was not even the spontaneous confluence point of the protests, but rather the Capitol
The regime’s response
At 4 p.m. President Díaz Canel appeared on television to blame the U.S. for the economic collapse of the regime and for the organization of the protests in Cuba and called on supporters of the regime to take to the streets and confront the protesters.
The message was intended, on the one hand, to provide a script and mobilize en masse the classes that support the regime, and on the other hand, to launch the starting signal for the repression. The mobilization of the regime’s people was barely visible, including in the official media, showing the social exhaustion of the regime. Repression, as always, brutal and effective, once again spread throughout the country.
The reality underneath the protests in Cuba
In the message with which Díaz Canel attempted to address the protests in Cuba, however, there was more than just the mere expression of the ruling class’ desire to entrench itself in power.
Two important elements are broken: the export capacity and the capacity to invest resources, he confessed. For a regime claiming to be socialist (it was never such a thing), such public self-awareness is noteworthy, given that its two main weak points are the two defining elements of the accumulation of capital in a semi-colonial capitalism.
It is the sincerity of an accelerated decrepitude. In 2018 the Cuban state bourgeoisie began its umpteenth entrenchment in anticipation of what came next: the consequences that the Venezuelan collapse foreshadowed for its accumulation. Rationing and shortages were followed in 2020 by the shock plan and convertibility, which opened a period of savage impoverishment and misery for the workers. The retirement of Raul Castro in a Congress in which the ruling class party dedicated itself to complaining about its exploited came to highlight the unsustainability of the system established after 1959.
The Cuban ruling class with Raúl Castro at its head is even more on the defensive than it has been since the special period that followed the collapse of the aid received from COMECON in the early 1990s. So, in the midst of a situation of economic collapse and productive desolation, it rehearses a new entrenchment by bringing to the forefront the generation of bureaucrats who have the most to lose. Objective: to rush with redoubled fury in search of imperialist alliances by selling… Cuban labor at Bangladeshi wages.
… It appeals to international capital to participate in the feast of aggravated conditions of exploitation of labor…. Its complaints about the lack of incentives to work means that workers need to forget about pensions – which have been reduced to nothing by convertibility – and the few labor protections that are still in place. The scolding for spending more than we have means that a new almost total restriction of imports is coming… in a country which imports a good part of the basic goods and in which basic consumption only arrives sporadically and thanks to foreign trade.
What is this so-called reformist message that the European press likes so much that it ends up flattering Raúl Castro? Directing even more productive resources toward exports – from state-owned enterprises or foreign capital in special zones – and giving a resurgent petty bourgeoisie the opportunity to organize small businesses in more than 2,000 different new areas to take advantage of surplus labor.
Anything goes in order to revive an agonizing semi-colonial capitalism… except loosening control of most of the national capital secured by the bureaucracy through state ownership. Therein lies its limit.
As far as we are concerned, however, there is no limit. For the workers, Raúl Castro and his epigones, standing on the ruins of a razed productive structure, repeat again their favorite slogan, the global anthem of a bourgeoisie against human needs: work more, consume even less.Raul Castro and the ruins of the national project of Cuban state capitalism, 4/17/2021
The exhaustion of Castro’s semi-colonial state capitalism
Nothing denounces the capitalist and semi-colonial character of the regime better than its leaders’ complaints about the protests in Cuba. Summarizing the memorial of grievances with which Díaz Canel tried yesterday to present the economic collapse as a result of the U.S. blockade, Granma published this morning that:
These restrictions [those imposed by Trump on the activity of U.S. companies on the island] led to the country being immediately cut off from several sources of foreign currency income such as tourism, travel by Cuban-Americans to our country and remittances. A plan was made to discredit the Cuban medical brigades and the collaborations of solidarity provided by Cuba, which through such collaboration brought in an important part of foreign currency, he added.
He denounced that all this caused a situation of shortage in the country, especially of food, medicines, raw materials and inputs to develop our economic and productive processes that at the same time contribute to exports.
“Two important elements are broken: the export capacity and the capacity to invest resources,” he said.Díaz-Canel live to Cuba: We will not surrender the sovereignty of our Homeland, Granma
Over 62 years of national liberation and sovereignty and it turns out that the country’s whole problem is access to the US market; that the accumulation of Cuban capital depends on remittances and visits from florida’s gusanos denigrated day in and day out by the official propaganda; and that the main export left to the Cuban state bourgeoisie were… doctors and nurses. Moreover, that without those exports of labor paid at misery prices, it cannot offer anything other than shortages of food, medicines, raw materials and supplies. Inputs that it sees necessary not to satisfy needs, no, but to be able to export other things.
That said, it’s hard to find a fuller confession of what a semi-colonial capitalism truly means.
The results have been more than visible in the strategy against Covid, another of the triggers of the current protests in Cuba. At first, by means of lockdowns, the regime managed to stop the advance of a disease that threatened to collapse the health system in record time. But the temptation was too strong. Low Covid numbers made Cuba a desirable destination for the remaining international tourism, despite vaccination remaining far away.
The Cuban state, on the other hand, was not going to devote the much-needed hard currency demanded by capital accumulation to buying vaccines. With all its propagandistic fury, including some triumphalist fake news, it set about developing four different vaccines. With two of them 6.2 million people have already been vaccinated. But it has not been enough to prevent the collapse of an extremely fragile and poorly endowed health care system.
And, as we have already seen, trying to maintain accumulation in the tourist sector at all costs without vaccinating the population is simply incompatible with preventing the virus from causing a massacre. Even the official reports of the Ministry of Health acknowledge this when they emphasize the foreign origin of the outbreaks while two pages further on they celebrate the massive arrival of Russian tourists. That the opposition in exile proposed organizing aid and a humanitarian corridor may offend the Castro bureaucracy, but it is not the cause of the protests in Cuba.
What future lies for the protests in Cuba?
It is as convenient for the rival imperialisms of Cuba’s battered capitalism as it is for the Cuban ruling class to pin the medal on themselves and attribute the inspiration for the protests in Cuba to the whining patriotic videos of gusano millionaires disguised as lumpen arriving from abroad. It is the basic ground of understanding between one and the other: whoever wins, whatever happens, there will still be a patria, they promise each other. And it is logical, patria, the fatherland, is nothing other than the alignment of the entire society with the interests of national capital, that is, the subjugation and sacrifice of the workers to… making their own exploitation more profitable.
It is normal for government and opposition to compete in patriotism. As long as the protests in Cuba accept that terrain as their own, all they can aspire to is a change in the management of their own hunger, possibly hand in hand with new imperialist alliances. There is no patria y vida, the fatherland always means hunger and death.
To get the protests in Cuba out of this real impasse, the workers need to gain their own ground. Not to dissolve into the people but to fight as workers against the regime and the opposition.
That was the path opened by the strikes in the ports of Havana and Santiago last December and January, that of state-paid fishermen in Isla Juventud and las Tunas, which spread to the coal workers later, at the beginning of the year.An avenue of struggle that we are seeing these days massively in Iran.
This is the only way for workers to raise their needs on the front line: procurement and consumption capacity, end of repression, health care, paid lockdown, pensions according to needs…. Only from the firm ground of the defense of general, universal human needs, it is possible to raise and implement today a program that will throw the regime and put a stop to the hunger that subjugates the entire population.
But only the workers can do something like this. Neither the reformists of the regime nor the opposition want anything that would hinder national capital. On the contrary, both, each one in a way convenient to their particular interests, want to revive and strengthen it. And that can only happen, no matter what, by starving and impoverishing even more the workers, as in the rest of the countries of the world. The Cuban exception is an invention. And if it is pure propaganda in everything, it is even more so with respect to the nature of national capital.
The protests in Cuba can come to nothing, can become again, as in ’94, a historical anecdote, or they can be the trigger for a struggle that really opens a way out. It depends only on an exhausted working class and its capacity to take the struggle to its own terrain.