For the first time in more than forty years, the Presidency of Cuba is held by someone whose surname isn’t Castro. On 19th April, Miguel Diaz-Canel took over the reigns as head of state from Raúl Castro, Fidel’s younger brother. This takes place during a period of tumultuous change which raises questions over the future of the Cuban revolution.
The revolution saw a guerrilla movement led by Fidel Castro overthrow the corrupt Batista dictatorship on New Year’s Day 1959. The stated vision was not socialism but a genuinely independent and democratic Cuba. However, the new regime was pushed towards nationalising key resources in order to improve the lives of ordinary people. This provoked the ire of US imperialism, leading to an economic blockade and failed military attempts to end the revolution. In this context, the Cuban revolutionaries turned towards the Soviet Union, with the ruling part renaming itself the Cuban Communist Party in 1965.
The revolution lifted the mass of Cubans out of grinding poverty, making education and healthcare available to most for the first time. Despite the regime’s relative isolation in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, these gains remain today – for example, Cuba has a higher life expectancy than the US and has independently made important medical breakthroughs.
However, relative poverty and goods shortages are a daily reality for ordinary Cubans. US imperialism and its economic blockade bear primary responsibility for this, but the Cuban government itself must also shoulder some of the blame. While the revolution has popular support, the top-down, bureaucratic structure of the regime – transposed from the guerrilla army onto the state – has choked the planned economy. The regime has also counselled other revolutionary movements against breaking from capitalism, for fear of provoking a reaction from the US, solidifying the government’s isolation.
Despite their protestations, sections of the Cuban bureaucracy, including Raúl Castro and Diaz-Canel, now aim for a managed reintroduction of capitalism while maintaining their own control of the state, following the example of the Chinese regime. The crisis facing Cuba’s Venezuelan ally and the thawing of diplomatic relations with the US under Obama may hurry them in that direction. A return to capitalism, however, would not lift living standards in Cuba to those of Miami but push them down towards the poorest parts of Latin America. To defend the revolution, Cuban workers and youth must organise independently to demand popular, democratic control over the economy and society as a whole.
By Daniel Waldron