Half-Century of Cuba’s Revolution: Solidarity, 1

Half a century after revolutionary guerrillas victoriously entered Havana, state and grass roots organizations are preparing celebration activities over the entire country. Thousands of solidarity activists and supporters from around the world are joining in. Besides celebrating, many want to know what next: will Cuba go the way of China or will its socialist roots develop stronger?

I worked for Editorial Jose Marti and Prensa Latina (1987-96), and have been here on extensive visits in 2006 and currently. I have written five books about Cuba and hundreds of articles. To understand the Cuban revolution is a life study. For the present, I intend to narrate my impressions of some of its reality. A definitive description or analysis is beyond my capacity.

Ser internacionalista es sladar nuestra propia deuda con la humanidad.” — To be internationalist is to settle our own debt with humanity.

This is a billboard, the first I remember seeing upon arrival in 1987, which expresses the morality with which this revolution began and its performance in nearly half the planet. In a recent Cuban education channel broadcast made by Pastors for Peace leader Rev. Lucius Walker, he spoke of these 50 years of practicing solidarity as what Jesus Christ would have wanted the human race to emulate: constant support for the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the exploited and imprisoned. Walker wished that his country — the USA — would take up Cuba’s living example.

The revolution’s solidarity ethic started at home. From the first, racism was officially abolished everywhere. Small farmers and would-be farmers were given up to 5 caballerias (13.42 hectares per caballeria) of land to till as promised during the armed struggle against US-backed dictator Batista. The new president, Raul Castro, has just extended this by one or two caballerias for the most productive. The rest of the land, bought from private owners (national and international), was turned into large state collectives and smaller cooperatives. In recent years, almost all the collectives have been converted into more productive cooperatives, both private and state run.

Illiteracy was soon eliminated by 100,000 educated youths teaching 23% of the nation’s illiterates. Promptly, all children were attending school free of charge whereas before 44% of primary school-aged children did not attend school and only 17% of secondary school-aged children did. In these 50 years, nearly one million students have graduated from universities. Today, there are nearly 100,000 students studying full time in 65 universities, plus some 400,000 studying at university level in 3,150 localities in all 169 municipalities. Under Batista there were 20,000 students attending the three state, and one private, universities.

A nation-wide health care system was immediately underway, free of charge. Statistical results show its significance for each and every Cuban. In 1959, infant mortality was at 78.8 per 1000 births; in 2007, it was down to 5.5. Life expectancy was 62 years. Today it stands at 77. There was only one doctor for every 1,800 inhabitants in 1959, after half the six thousand doctors had fled upon the revolutionary victory and following the elimination of private practice. But only a few of the population of 5.5 million was being served. Today, with 75,000 graduated doctors since the revolution and with 11.5 million people, the rate is one to 150. However, nearly half of those doctors are on foreign missions in 68 countries, and several hundreds have fled to other countries seeking greater economic opportunities. This places a greater burden on some 30,000 doctors within the country who must care for greater numbers of patients.

Cuba produces 12 of the 13 vaccines it inoculates each child with. The nation has an exceptional and modern biotechnology industry and has developed unique medicines and vaccines, including the world’s only meningitis B vaccine.

The revolution is also renowned for its excellent sports and culture programs, for its superb athletes, musicians, film makers, detective novel authors, ballet and other dancers.

The nation’s workers and farmers were also set on a solidarity course to serve and produce not just for their benefits but for the entire nation. In the early 1960s, two forms of economic systems were experimented with. One was led by the revolutionary idealist Che Guevara, the other by Carlos Rodriguez, a leader of the Communist Party, which had not joined the armed struggle. In the efforts to create the “new man” in economic production and in the political decision-making process, there were some advances but many retardations, about which I will address in a second story.

International Solidarity

The export of “human capital”, as the state characterizes its humanitarian missions, began in 1963 in Africa and Latin America, later in the Caribbean and other parts of the world by assisting peoples health and educational needs as well helping to bring them away from the domination of exploitative imperialism. Cuba provides more medical humanitarian international aid than all the UN countries deployed through the World Health Organization.

Today, nearly 100,000 medical personnel, teachers, sports instructors, technicians and advisors are serving in 104 countries. In the medical arena alone, over 10 million people, in 68 countries, have been treated just this decade. Millions of people have been aided in a score of countries hit by natural disasters, such as, in 2006, Pakistan, a US war ally. The new Cuban created Operation Miracle has cured upwards to half a million blind patients in 25 countries just since 2004. With Venezuela’s oil profits, and Cuba’s doctors and those it is training in Venezuela, the Venezuela-Cuba plan is to cure 10 million Latin Americans within a decade. Their blindnesses are mostly caused by malnutrition, and this plan coincides with progressive programs to increase national food production through cooperatives and small farming.

Presidents Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez began discussing the creation of a regional socio-economic and political alliance based upon mutual aid and bartering soon after the right-wing coup attempt in Venezuela, in 2002. The Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America (ALBA) took root in 2005. Today, with six countries — Nicaragua, Bolivia, Honduras and Dominican Republic — several billions of dollars in joint projects are underway. This also includes inexpensively sold oil from Venezuela to these countries and the newly formed Petro Caribe alliance.

These socialist oriented programs and alliances were conceived of by Fidel when he received Chavez fresh out of jail two years after his imprisonment for leading the insurrection, in 1992.

“The coming century for us is the century of hope, the century of the resurrection of the Bolivarian dream, the dream of Marti, the Latin American dream.”

President Raul Castro cited his brother’s words in his speech, this December 15th, at a ceremony in Venezuela. In honor of ALBA’s accomplishments and is future agenda. Raul concluded with: “The dreams of yesterday begin to become reality.”

Other important aspects of Cuba’s generous solidarity are its military assistance to other peoples in maintaining or acquiring their sovereignty. This is especially the case in Angola and with important side affects for Namibia and South Africa. Between 1975 and 1990, Cuba sent 300,000 soldier volunteers to Angola to help defeat the invading apartheid government of South Africa, backed by the US. They sought to impose brutal counterrevolutionary groups in power, who would do the empire’s biding.

Raul Castro referred to Cuba’s African role at the December summit meeting of 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations meeting in Brazil. Once the future of Angolan sovereignty became guaranteed, the liberation of Namibia was assured, and this added significantly to the internal struggle for black South Africans’ liberation soon following the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. Mandela came to Havana to express his gratitude for Cuba’s solidarity.

This unique summit in Brazil was especially important for Cuba. Of the various Latin American alliances, Rio Group is an important political forum and it embraced Cuba as a member. Fidel Castro was not able to attend but because of the historic role he played as Cuba’s key leader — and elected president between 1976 until 2007 when, due to ill health, he stepped down and his brother won the elections — he received the strongest applause of all from the forum. The historic role played by Cuba in promoting Latin American sovereignty and integration and the concise and sharp speeches of President Raul Castro occupied Brazil’s, Mexico’s and most of Latin Americas front pages during the summit.

The joyous mood of Latin America’s leaders expressed the new liberating wind blowing throughout this continent. Their message is: it will not be stilled by the empire now entering into decay.

Beyond exporting solidarity and its key role in continental integration, Cuba offers extensive and advanced educational opportunities free of charge to tens of thousands of foreign students in Cuba. In recent years, an entire medical school (ELAM) is dedicated to educating foreign students from some 30 countries, including poor US citizens.

However, there are many Cubans who are not so happy about its nation supplying the world’s most extensive solidarity policies. There is an increasing gap between the new rich and the new poor within the double economy — one in pesos and one in convertible currency. The low-cost subsidized rationed goods are too sparse to meet the very basic needs of daily life. Most earn their livings in pesos and this creates divisions in the population, and even animosity within the medical profession since doctors at home earn only pesos while the foreign mission “volunteers” earn pecuniary rewards that affords many to return home with luxurious hardware and other goods not possible to obtain on the peso economy.

Cuba is the home of my heart, all the more reason to be truthful of its warts. One cannot truly love a people nor have confidence in them if one hides from real problems and shortcomings. That is the subject of the next piece.

Ron Ridenour is an anti-war activist and author of 12 books. His latest is The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert, Punto Press. Read other articles by Ron, or visit Ron's website.

35 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. brady said on December 24th, 2008 at 11:25pm #

    These elections in Cuba? How were the candidates chosen?
    I and my wife have been to Cuba twice and we love it.
    But the tv had a station which showed nothing but Castros
    propaganda. Also, Freedom of the Press? What are you trying to hide?
    Without freedom, what is there???? Deception…..

  2. Ramsefall said on December 25th, 2008 at 6:56am #


    thanks for the article and your perspective. While I’ve been wanting to see Cuba for almost two decades, which is easy to do from any Latin American country, I prefer to avoid the outrageous fine imposed by this worthless US government upon my re-entry which is nearly guaranteed with the new passport chip technology. Some day soon, however.

    Cuba’s revolution owes much of its ideology to its oppressive northern neighbor — cause and effect. Its focus on education, training, health care, biotechnology/pharmaceuticals, and the arts has resulted in a society which is comparatively much healthier than that of the US. Infant mortality rates, for instance, are lower than in the US, while literacy rates are higher. Hell, most Cubans likely have a more accurate understanding of US history than Usonians, definitely better at geography. With the numerous positive aspects of Cuban society, I still wonder why its people are limited to eating rice, beans, and bread. Perhaps this info is inaccurate?

    The recent Latin American summit (without US/European attendees) has made its leaders’ support of Cuba clear. Evo Morales made what I believe to be the clearest plan of attack come January depending on what Obama does/doesn’t do regarding Cuba. Obama must do two things upon entry, 1) end the internationally opposed embargo, 2) close Gitmo, period. It’s an easy stroke of the pen to begin redeeming the US government’s oppressive behavior of 50+ years. If both of these issues are not immediately addressed, then it’s my hope that all Latin American nations will expel their US Ambassadors, as Morales suggested. What a resonating message that would send to Obama. With the solidarity movement building in Latin America, Obama will be facing a decision that could greatly impact the progress of his administration in the region — while the region would continue to slip through Washington’s tight grasp. It’s not their back yard any longer. Regardless, it’s good to see the region’s support for its Caribbean neighbor.

    Will Raul continue to boycott capitalism as his brother did? Or will the island begin to adopt billboards that could eventually liter the island to the same degree as the rest of the world? Disgusting. I trust that capitalism will continue to be opposed.

    Best to you.

  3. Max Shields said on December 25th, 2008 at 11:39am #

    It is impossible to critize Cuba without a clear understanding of the tactics the US employs to infiltrate and overwhelm the population with death squads. This tactic is prounced in Latin America and particularly Central America.

    That Cuba has accomplished what it has puts the lie to US propaganda. Cuba has thrived as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is much to learn from that collapse. First, it proves that the remittance (false) economy that Cuba lived under within the Soviet sphere of influence did more to undermine a vibrant economy in Cuba. Secondly, Cuba experienced (and we are about to) a form of forced “peak oil”. What they did to overcome this is truly a study in the resourcefulness of the human species at its best.

    Cuba’s experiment is a model to Latin America which is why it has been the greatest threat to US hegemony in the Western hemisphere and why the embargo persists in spite the significant change in the “balance of power”.

    One issue I have is that Castro, et al did not decentralize enough and nurture local leaders. A democracy built on that grass-roots leadership would be the ultimate state of affairs.

  4. Ron Brydges said on December 25th, 2008 at 1:55pm #

    I add my name to those who support the Cuban revolution and it’s many achievements. It will always remain a wonder as to what additional achievements may have been realized with a U.S. normalization of relations.

    I congratulate Cuba for its internal solidarity and its amazing record of internationalism. Cuban Socialism remains an inspiration for all.

    Let it be that it does not change its socialist path.

    Ron Brydges

  5. Steve Marquardt said on December 26th, 2008 at 6:30am #

    Sounds good, but why have more than half a million people fled — often at the risk of their lives — from this island paradise?

  6. Tree said on December 26th, 2008 at 7:11am #

    Good question. I’d love to know the answer, too. Why oh why would anyone risk death on the high seas to escape such a Socialist dream?

    Oh well, I guess as long as you’re not gay or speak out against the government, Cuba is a paradise, right?

  7. DRL said on December 26th, 2008 at 10:09am #

    Ramsefall: “With the numerous positive aspects of Cuban society, I still wonder why its people are limited to eating rice, beans, and bread. Perhaps this info is inaccurate?”

    That isn’t quite accurate. You might enjoy watching the following video: The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil [53′] . The title is somewhat misleading. ‘Peak Oil’ refers to the rapid changes Cubans had to make when, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost all its oil imports. With an agriculture dependent on oil, Cuba had to ‘think quick’ to modify its food-growing methods or face mass starvation. The film describes how Cubans worked together to get themselves over that hurdle. Well worth watching, as it has lessons for all of us.

    Factoid: contrary to common belief, rice and beans, particularly the combination of the two, are actually very nutritious, providing inexpensive, low fat protein.

    Max Shields: “One issue I have is that Castro, et al did not decentralize enough and nurture local leaders. A democracy built on that grass-roots leadership would be the ultimate state of affairs”.

    This is one of the great myths western media maintain for the benefit of you know who.

    Excerpt from a review of a book by Canadian author Arnold August entitled ‘Democracy in Cuba’; review by Louis Proyect of Columbia University:

    […] In the 1980s, long before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban leadership had become concerned about problems of bureaucracy that might threaten the roots of socialism itself. In order to root these problems out, they made a decision to shift as much decision-making power as possible to the masses themselves, many of whom are not Communist Party members. This led to the adoption of electoral reforms in 1992-93 and, more importantly, calls by the Cuban leadership for more popular participation […] Full article, here: .

    Note particularly the grassroots process by which candidates are nominated.

    James Petras and others have argued that Cubans are frustrated by a lack of top-down consultation with regard to spending and budget allocation, but the fact remains that Cubans have a definite voice in the way in which they’re governed.

  8. DRL said on December 26th, 2008 at 10:15am #

    Oh, heck, my links were edited out. Pity there’s no preview function, here.

    The movie, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil: http://tiniuri.com/?f=yZi

    Review of Arnold August’s book, Democracy in Cuba: http://tiniuri.com/?f=CZi

  9. Max Shields said on December 26th, 2008 at 11:52am #

    Tree “Good question. I’d love to know the answer, too. Why oh why would anyone risk death on the high seas to escape such a Socialist dream?”

    There have been waves of Cubans who have migrated from that island. I think the answers are varied depending upon the time each “group” left. Certainly the early waves were extensions of the former power elite who realized it was best to high tail it out of Dodge.

    But I think the question is perhaps similar to the reasons why Europeans came to America. The primary reason was the increased population and resource shortage. Point, highly unlikey they came here for “freedom” in the lofty sense.

    It is wrong to think of any place as a paradise (certainly, so long as there are colonizing homo sapiens about). We are creatures who migrate for generally base/basic reasons.

    Cuba was captive of empire – Soviet in this case. And as such it was not able to adapt to its environment as it has since been able to. Perhaps the number of Cubans who have left are just about right for the Cuban island carrying capacity.

    I think the latter makes a whole lot more sense in the grand scheme than these wild swings of paradics and wretchednes hyperbole.

  10. Max Shields said on December 26th, 2008 at 11:53am #

    Thank you for the reference. I’ll take a look.

    My conjecture is based on a simple observation – Raul is president.

  11. Tree said on December 26th, 2008 at 12:02pm #

    I tend to agree with you Max.

    This really bothers me, “The revolution’s solidarity ethic started at home. From the first, racism was officially abolished everywhere.”
    Oh, really? Just like that racism was gone? I can’t help but wonder what massive controls were placed on individuals in order to achieve this.
    It was the same in Soviet Russia, but when Communism “fell” so did the idea of no racism, no anti-semitism and other -isms.

    I am wary of anyone who idealizes an ideology, as well as the ideology itself.

  12. Max Shields said on December 26th, 2008 at 12:54pm #


    Power of Community – I faciliate da local discussion on it. While it is the basis (in part) of my first comment here, it does not demostrate the power structure of Cuba in its entirety.

    I think what Cubans did during that period and what seems to stil be occurring is what I just said two post up: they are adapting to the capacity of the island in a sustainable way. That’s good, important, and we and others need to learn from it. Biologists have known this for a very long time as well as archeologists.

    Humans are part of the natural order. When they colonize an area they overwhelm it, as the Europeans did when they colonized Americas. The indiginous people here had adapted. Europe had a couple of major differences which made the European colonists eager to exploit the new resources before them. And they did with a furry and continue to drawdown the natural resources – mostly the energy producing resources to depletion. What Cuba experienced through the collapse of the Soviet Union, we are about to.

    What the Cubans did when the Soviet Union collapsed thus cutting off Cuba’s cheap oil/energy supply was to first, nearly starve, then they began to adapt using ancient farming methods that had been on the backburner in the universities. Their society de-industrialized and by doing that became much more efficient users of energy. This is something, again, we need to learn from.

    But this is not socialism. This is simply human beings adapting as all creatures either due or perish.

    Bottom up democracy is still something that may or may not happen in Cuba. If they do what the Chinese have done, we’ll have lost a great experiment. If , once Fidel and Raul are gone, they self-organize into a living decentralized democracy (afterall they’re state is small enough they can do just about anything if the North doesn’t intrude) it will be a small triumph (IMO). I see Venezuela with some of the pieces in place; but top-down leadership will need to fade over time to achieve what they seem to be promising themselves.

  13. DRL said on December 26th, 2008 at 2:40pm #

    Tree: If I may say, you’re grasping at straws. Racism and other -isms are not the point. Racism is the product of the application of artificial, strategic pressures on societies.

    Historically, incitation to racism and religious bigotry have proved to be the most efficient means by which to galvanize populations, such that they contribute body and soul to wars of acquisition.

    Back to the topic at hand. You and Max Shields wonder why Cubans have wanted to flee socialist Cuba. Shields suggests, rightly, that members of the Batista regime and their supporters no longer felt welcome.

    It’s time to recognize, though, that since 1959, Cuba has been plagued by countless US special ops and NGOs whose declared goal has been the overthrow of the Castro government. $Millions have been poured into anti-Castro US operations groups. Castro has outlived numerous attempts on his life. Meanwhile, many Cubans have been taken in by the lure of the consumerist lifestyle in the US, and have sought to emigrate, but in point of fact most Cubans are satisfied with their government.

    Tree, this isn’t a question of -isms or ‘dictatorship’ as our governments would have us believe, but a genuine, if sometimes flawed, yet wholesome effort, to create an egalitarian society. And this against considerable odds.

  14. Tree said on December 26th, 2008 at 2:57pm #

    Are you denying the many Cubans who have attempted to escape Cuba since the revolution?

    I’m well aware of the many reasons for racism. However, I find your theory to be one of convenience and one I certainly don’t agree with.

    You can’t have an egalitarian society when people are imprisioned because they are gay; or speak out against their government.

    I’m definitely not grasping at straws, if anyone is it’s the commenters here who are glossing over the facts in order to fit their own desire for an egalitarian society. It’s very naive and a bit sad, I think.

  15. DRL said on December 26th, 2008 at 3:06pm #

    Max Shields, I see Putin, Chavez, Castro, Morales and, with any luck, Opec members as being the last remaining entities in possession of the means to address the present financial meltdown with any sense of measure.

  16. DRL said on December 26th, 2008 at 3:31pm #

    Tree, I recommend that you read the following not once but twice:

    Unconventional Warfare in the 21st Century: U.S. Surrogates, Terrorists and Narcotraffickers http://tinyurl.com/7sej3p

    Otherwise known as full spectrum dominance, ‘al-qaeda’ surrogates et al on speed.

    So that you might realize what we’re dealing with.

    Take a look at declared US policy and what it’s about.

  17. bozh said on December 26th, 2008 at 5:26pm #

    people flee communist countries mostly cuz they hate egalitarianism.
    but majority of people love it. cuz everybody is equal.
    some people can’t live w. bread alone; they like to see their neighbors fed adequately, have higher education, and health care.
    for me, give me three meals a day, roof over my head; just one pair of pants, shorts, shoes.
    it is very good for biota and global warming; which is what i do now.
    and if it wasn’n for my old wife, i wld get rid of tv, car, telephone, newspaper.
    i wld neve buy processed food nor ever enter mcdonald nor watch any professional sports. and i wld love it. that’s paradise amigos.
    i pee in an old pot or in the garden, i wash my bum; i blow my nose w. fingers; i don’t throw out even a toothpick.
    all that and i sing also; mostly my own songs. thnx

  18. uzramma said on December 26th, 2008 at 7:43pm #

    we in India want to hear more, and more regularly, about Cuba and Venezuela… we have a lot to learn

  19. anotherview said on December 26th, 2008 at 10:20pm #

    Well, the communist utopia on Marxist principles and ideology never fully materialized in Cuba, while instead this island nation drifts internally to the attraction and dynamics of capitalism. The hot socialist air from Mr. Ridenour may warm the ideologic brain cells of some readers, but this condition falls way short of creation of national wealth for benefiting the whole economy. To his credit, Mr. Ridenour ruefully notes the growing economic inequality in Cuba even after half a century of communist rule there. From my reading of Marx, the fall of capitalism will come in time, and inevitably. Unfortunately, his followers became impatient for the evolution to occur, with its transformation of existing social and economic structures to first a socialist program and then to the final communist utopia, where all would experience satisfaction of their needs while the various injustices and inequalities of capitalism would have no influence on daily human existence, simply because the means of production would fall under the control of the workers themselves. Boy scouts like Che Guevara, who sought to induce revolution early elsewhere, often by deadly violence, essentially shouted their impatience at the slowness of the historical trek to utopia. Further, the idealism inherent in ideology fractures and tempers and compromises in the face of daily existence. The example of Cuba presents no exception. For better or worse, the world has become enmeshed in the growing economic phenomenon of global capitalism. Yes, Cuba may hold itself back from openly entering this system, for now, but let us say it outright: Cuba only awaits the passing of its Fidel Castro, before the nation largely accepts the capitalist model, and joins the international community, in the name of saving its people from further social and economic misery. Let me say in closing that otherwise ruthless capitalism requires regulation, to give it a human face, and nobody should expect Cuba to give up its concern for economic justice.

  20. Ramsefall said on December 27th, 2008 at 7:59am #


    thanks for the link, I’ll take a looksy.

    As for beans and rice, which I eat regularly, they are certainly a nutritious staple base, but not my argument. My question stems from a lack of variety in the Cuban diet, which has essentially been limited for the majority of Cubans. It’d be interesting to see if that’s what the Castros are limited to…but I already know the answer, they’re not.

    A Colombian friend of mine and her Uruguayan husband had dinner at a banquet with Fidel in Havanna some 15 years ago, and to our surprise, they didn’t serve beans and rice despite its importance on the island.

    As someone who admires Fidel’s struggle and consistent rebellion against the Empire, my criticism of the country and its leader is curtailed. Establishing that, why have so many Cubans escaped who continue to protest Fidel from places like Miami? As Max points out, supporters of Batista and opposition to Fidel, essentially waging their own propaganda from afar…flee the island to battle the island so to speak. It’s the same sort of opposition we have seen in Venezuela, with CIA and NGO orchestration. The proportion of Cubans who are anti-Fidel revolutionaries are insignificant compared to those who support him — what are we talking about 10% vs 90%, no contest. The other variable has been capitalism’s lure and the ‘illusion’ of the American Dream; those easily encouraged people who are attracted to wanting Nike on their feet as they enter McDonald’s.

    Despite the two principle reasons for emigration from Cuba, the large majority of Cubans are unwaivering nationalists who support Fidel’s anti-empire revolution and their socialist society. Most Usonians can’t imagine people being driven by and attracted to things like free higher education and personal development in the arts; singing, dancing, playing music, drawing, sculpting, etc. I’m talking about the capitalist pigs who have to have their newest model of plasma tvs, or cell phones, or laptops, or what have you to offer in this empty society of stuff. People who are addicted to stuff can’t conceptualize other motives for people in a very different society like Cuba. Considering the dearth of accurate news circulating the U.S. of Amnesia about Cuba and it’s no wonder people are confused. Steve and Tree…

    I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, ¡Que vivan los pueblos libres y soberanos! (It was actually Fidel and Che who repeated it so often)

    Best to all.

  21. DRL said on December 27th, 2008 at 1:17pm #

    Max Shields: “Bottom up democracy is still something that may or may not happen in Cuba”.

    It’s pretty clear that bottom up democracy is already well in place in Cuba [see the links I provided].

    What is in question is whether existing Cuban democratic structures will survive the post-Castro era.

  22. Ramsefall said on December 27th, 2008 at 2:06pm #


    to what extent bottom-up democracy is in place on the island remains to be seen in spite of August’s testament, the phenomena is too recent to make any sort of accurate and educated speculation.

    Accounting for that, IF public participation is reduced to mere elections for politicians, as opposed to persistent participation in social policy, then the democracy of which you refer to will be no more effective or beneficial than in the US. As much as we’d like to see Cuba enjoy more abundance associated with better living conditions for the majority, this delicate transition of power from revolutionary legend to younger brother is still too fledgling. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens, much of which may hinge on Obama’s initial moves and the rest of Latin America’s reaction to them.

    Aside from that, to clarify I’m sure you meant to say post-Fidel Castro, as we’re still in the era of Castro and may be for another generation or more. A lot could take place between now and then.

    Best to you.

  23. Max Shields said on December 27th, 2008 at 2:25pm #

    The kind of egalitarianism that is promised by socialism is really a cart before the horse. A cooperative society is not forced or created because there is a “revolution”. The means and ends are consequential.

    There is a level of maturity that is a prerequisite to such cooperation.

    I suggest we work to eliminate privatized monopolies and assure access to the commons through a common heritage property tax. Instead of talking about “redistribution of wealth” here is a real means to assure that public wealth is captured and returned to all. Such a “tax” or “rent” would be on the use of natural resources. It would provide the economic means to assure the elimination of poverty and to begin the process of ending war and most conflicts.

    This shift away from taxation of labor and capital to land (all natural resources) would revolutionize our current preditory and privatized system of wealth concentration. It can be done locally, starting at the state level and then cities and towns.

    This is based on classical economics – as opposed to the Milton Freidman neo-classical form that drives the US empire.

    Until the day, and I hope it is very soon, that Americans can even begin to appreciate the maturation process, the importance of elders in the community, rebuild our communities…until that day, we have no right to even utter the word egalitarian.

    We can begin that NOW. We don’t need to wait for the “revolution”.

  24. bozh said on December 27th, 2008 at 3:40pm #

    i don’t know how many, if any, socialists promise egalitarianism.
    for one thing, people may for centuries or evem millennia respect more a doctor, singer, writer, educator than laborers/farmers/shepards.
    if egalitarianism establishes self in millennia to come by some natural factors and change in thinking, socialists wld take some credit for that.
    i am a socialist. and i am for free education for all people who want it. healthcare for all; end to warfare; enlightening education; prosecution of those who misinform (probably monetary fine) knowingly.
    rivers, forests, and governance wld not be in private hands.
    a worker will own his share of a plant. thnx
    lying wld for the first time be considered a crime just like any felony. thnx

  25. Deadbeat said on December 27th, 2008 at 3:56pm #

    Max says …

    I suggest we work to eliminate privatized monopolies and assure access to the commons through a common heritage property tax. Instead of talking about “redistribution of wealth” here is a real means to assure that public wealth is captured and returned to all. Such a “tax” or “rent” would be on the use of natural resources. It would provide the economic means to assure the elimination of poverty and to begin the process of ending war and most conflicts.

    Can you provide an explanation how your vision would be practically implemented. The reason I ask is that much of the need that is wanting in the U.S. (IMO) are vital services that may not require large land use. I’m thinking health & medical care, the arts, and education. Clearly housing is a problem but there seem to be a lot of unaffordable housing that is available for people to use.

    If you can provide me with a more concrete example then perhaps I can better understand your perspective.


  26. Max Shields said on December 27th, 2008 at 9:08pm #


    Your question can be answered in a number of ways, but I’ll stick for the moment with the practical as you requested.

    Land (and this goes for all natural resources) is finite and its value is based on society’s investment in a particular area. So, where people settle in large numbers and invest in infrastructure, transit, sewage, schools, services such police and fire depts, etc. is the most valued land area. Urban centers are by this definition is where the most valued land resides. The further you move from urban centers the value of land decreases. So a single block in Manhattan is worth many times more than most of the land outside of the city.

    The problem is our tax structures are regressive, and tax labor and capital with property tax. Most states do not allow municipalities to tax land over property improvements. If you reverse this you will begin to capture the wealth in the urban center. A simple reversal whereby taxation is levied higher on the land footprint over the building will eliminate slums, blight and vacancies (land speculation). The result is sufficient revenues to pay for community/city needs.

    Here’s an example in history: a hundred years ago, San Fransisco suffered a sever eath quake that destroyed the entire city. They had nothing to tax to build the city to where it is today EXCEPT: land. They were able to build one of the world’s most efficently built cities (only Manhattan is more dense in the USA) with open space, etc.

    This land tax is being used by Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Singapour and other countries and cities. Ireland and Britain have made use of it. It is a means by which citizens capture the common wealth – wealth we today (and in the past) have handed over to private ownership (note how the railroads were built and the land give-away that made incredible wealth for a few).

    If we used land value tax in New Orleans today the story would be quite different and more like that of San Francisco. The reason is that when you tax land your revenue is indigenous as opposed to the feds sending in money which never gets in the right hands and simply disappears and leaves the area.

    On a broader scale this shift to “land” provides the basis for all of our needs. Michael Hudson has written extensively on what should have happened in Russia after the Soviet collapse. Instead of using the “shock doctrine” that Jeffry Sachs prescribed, they simply kept the land (natural resources) public and tax their use they would avoided the concentration of wealth in a tiny hand of billionaires.

    Harrisburg, PA was one of the countries most distressed cities 2 decades ago. They shifted from building improvements to land and completely reversed their course to one of the most outstanding municipalities in the country. Over 260 empirical studies bear this out. It works. Environmentalists support it. Farmers support it. It creates affordable housing – homes and rents. It is the most progressive form of taxation: Period.

    We could do away with all pension plans and replace it with one tax – a tax on the use of natural resources. It would pay for all of the infrastructure needed and debt.

  27. Ramsefall said on December 28th, 2008 at 9:24am #


    thanks for the concrete examples of this taxation strategy you laid out for deadbeat.

    I think that your comparison with the result of railroad land give-aways and the isolated wealth created by such favoritism substantiates the case for this functionally proven “alternative” system. Communal organization, which I know you support, is where the shift from regressive to progressive tax planning programs for ALL resources will have to occur; bottom-up activism.

    The entire world economic structure of natural resource exploitation for monetary gain must soon become a thing of the past, when we’ll finally be able to look back and collectively ask ourselves, “What the %$#@ were we thinking all that time?” Resources should be the common heritage of the people, and the responsible management thereof will be community-dependent, eliminating privatization and the inherent absence of regulation or oversight. The solution is based on common sense and simple math, complexities lie in its implementation.

    Thanks for your rationale, always welcome.

    Best to you.

  28. Max Shields said on December 28th, 2008 at 12:21pm #


    Common heritage – you get it!!

    I was a little messy with my last post, but you picked up the central point. Looks like you’ve got a good handle on this kind of economics.

    Earth Rights Institute has been moving forward on the common heritage front – http://www.earthrights.net/docs/greentax.html.

    I’ve given a couple of examples of what has happened when we shift from property improvement to land. The results are astounding and they’ve happened consistently.

    Land is non-elastic in economic terms – you can’t move it. That fact ensures that a shift to land eliminates speculation and the kind of economic bubbles that have been inherent primarily with capitalism.

    I was not clear on the pension mention above. What I meant was that we could eliminate all other pension plans (including social security) if we replaced our tax to a rent on natural resource usage. We could rebuild our infrastructure (move it to green) through such a tax. We could build mass transit just by capturing the wealth of the land around rail tracks and tansit centers. This is not theory.

    Today, we see it in partial effect in Pennsylvania with their split tax, allowing municipalities to tax land more than property improvement. It is this approach which can be implemented to turnaround urban centers.

    NYC is a case study of what happens in a large urban center during the Great Depression when applying land value tax. NYC is the only city in the country to actually grow during that time. Manhattan is once again using it to eliminate increased land speculation.

    The larger picture would relieve much of the world of poverty. Resources would be more sustainably used.

    Such a shift eliminates the concentration of wealth by making land (and essential incredient in creating human wealth) a common asset. This is the key. Neoclassical economists took land and subsumed it under capital. This has meant the massive concentration of wealth into the hands of a few and the mis-use of non-renewable resources.

    Land value tax is a green tax and facilitates the reduction of sprawl while creating strong vibrant city centers where energy is most efficient used. It promotes building stock reuse rather than tear down approach of urban designers in the 1960s.

    The USA has produced some great artists, but arguably its greatest thinker is Henry George. It is George’s ability to observe and synthesize that has made many consider him one of the top ten thinkers of all time.

    Born in Scranton, PA, he influenced the Mayor of San Fransisco to use land to rebuild after the Great Earth Quake. (Tolstoy’s last book – Resurrection is dedicated to Henry George.) George’s personal story is truly incredible and yet, today, while most planners and economists know him, our universities still do not teach his works – start with Progress and Poverty an incredible work of both economic thinking and art.

  29. Max Shields said on December 28th, 2008 at 12:36pm #

    While such a rent on “land” is not a silver bullet it drives a fundamental principle – that land is central to most of social, economic and justice problems. These issues cannot be addressed, whether it is Zionist attacking Gaza or US empire’s colonization and occupation (and endless war) until we deal directly with land. That is central to our understanding of energy and how energy is central to “civiliation” and empire.

    Land = all natural resources. Controlling energy sources has been the premise for nearly all wars. The US got into WWII when it attacked Japan’s access to oil. Germany fought twice and lost to assure access to Russian oil and gas.

    The US hegemony has its historical underpinnings in the peak of US oil and the need to capture and control ME oil (as well as elsewhere).

    When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a land grab (mostly of copper, oil and natural gas) creating the worst case of a concentration of wealth and massive poverty in Russia. Again, had Russia held back on privatizing nature’s gifts it would have had a healthy economy rather than the kind of mess that followed. The latter was accomplished with the use of so-called shock doctrine as it was used in Latin America and elsewhere.

    All of this is connected. Understanding the few fundamental principles gives us the solutions. That we don’t, is because the narrative is controlled by the power elite who claim, for instance, that Japan got the US into WWII by bombing Pearl Harbor when it was the US who provoked the Japanese. It is this power elite that keeps Henry George’s work out of the hands of our economic students teaching them the ways of the Chicago School or neo-classical economics. And so the narrative continues, controlled by the power structure, the structure that put Barack Obama into the White House and he will in kind keep the narrative propaganda as the dominant story line.

  30. Ramsefall said on December 28th, 2008 at 10:51pm #

    Well, Mr. Shields, you’ve laid it out clearly, obviously studied-up on the topic.

    Of course it’s all connected, as you point out, and the ruling elite are still the ruling elite. Being back Stateside for a few holiday weeks, I was in a discussion with some friends about the underlying problem, aside from our low, collective — while possibly increasing — consciousness. A consensus was reached that we’re still being controlled by the Kings…ancient blood lines that are all linked to previous rulers and empires, powers that still hold the reigns today.

    While we dare not mention the word conspiracy around Mr. Koontz, it’s safe to say that the elite’s power has been maintained through centuries of a consensus among the elite that attaining absolute power/control IS in their best interest. Hence, our discriminant monetary economic system designed to favor those who own/control, and create inherent public debt. The system leads to none other than greedy exploitation of people and their bountiful resources.

    The people’s common heritage won’t be easily swayed from the kings who control them, it may well take a systemic collapse to realize that their system is unsustainable, that it poisons our environment and creates inequality about the masses.

    I’ll read more on George, thanks.

    Best to you.

  31. Max Shields said on December 29th, 2008 at 1:39pm #

    Ramsefall, I agree that the history of empire goes back several millenium. But the “king” rule ended with the extension of empire in the 18th century. That’s when corporations took over. They are in fact the new monarchy but structured radically different.

    The similarity is the concentration of control over land. What they know is that all wealth comes from land – rights, licenses, patents, closure of the commons. You can trace closure of the commons to what has happened in modern times.

    Latin America has struggled time and again with the distribution of land among the peasant farmers. This has failed time and again. Re-distribution is not the issue, in my opinion; in fact it exaserbates the problem of fairness and equity.

    Land (natural resources) should not be “owned” by anyone. Privatizing the commons whether in the hands of a few land-owners or millions of peasants leads us to the same ends. Humans did not, as we know, make land. On the other hand, we create value based on location and investment. Farmland is relatively low in value, while dense highly developed areas with significant infrastructure is high in value.

    Capturing that value and returning it to the public domain is, in fact the fairest way to distribution.

    Realizing that all wealth and the monopolization of wealth comes from land allows us to create a fair and just society. It can be done if it is presented as a reform of property tax.

    We all know the airwaves are part of the commons, it is licensed out to corporations and they control what we hear, see and the political dialog (and the marketing of that dialog) to the rest of us. Airwaves should never be allowed to be monopolized through privatized licensing. Just, that alone, would utterly change the political landscape.

    The culture of cooperation can happen but first, we need legal and structural changes. Land is where we can begin.


  32. Max Shields said on December 29th, 2008 at 1:51pm #

    Without overstating this, I would say that what is happening in Gaza is fundamentally about land in the broad economic sense. Domination and fear comes from control of land, not the other way around. The former are motivators to conquer “others” in this case the Palestinians. Fear is simply used to create the fever for war, a pitch essential to justify the immorality of killing.

    Genocide is not based in racism, racism is founded in the desire to control and that can best be done through the ancient devise of divide and rule. Racism is not about “race” it is about ensuring that those in power are not threatened and so their greatest potential threat (from within) is conquered by creating scapegoats. In the US we saw this early on when free blacks and poor whites rose up in rebellion. The power structure quickly ended those alliances by injecting “racism” which divided whites from blacks.

    In Israel, the Palestinians are regarded in much the same way as African Americans have been, not because of color or “inferiority” but because they have a natural bond to the poorer non-Pal, or non-black.

    But at bottom, is the root cause, control of land. Until we get that “we” will be playing endless games and achieving nothing. As long as we believe that racism exists in us rather than simply a tool leverage to a larger “prize” we will be forever at the mercy of the power elite.

  33. ron ridenour said on January 15th, 2009 at 4:29pm #

    To commentators,

    Glad to hear so many voices. Sorry I haven´t answered. I´ve been in Cuba two months and internet is so slow and so costly. Now in Mexico I respond to some.


    Complicated system. There is only one political party by law–the Communist Party—and it may not enter in elections. At the municipal level only individuals enter as candidates, up to eight. There is no money or announcents or advertisements nor debate. A candidate simply posts a short biography of him/herself with a photo. No issues are discussed. One votes on one´s belief in the merits of the individual.
    On the provincial and national assembly levels, candidates are chosen by municipal elected delegates and mass organizations. Again no money or ads or debates. The national government is not voted upon but is chosen by the national assembly delegates. The top leaders in the State Council then chose the ministers.


    There is little debate and no analysis that is not official in the mass media. A few magazines and some websites (try HavanaTimes.org? exist with some critique and analysis by professional people: Caminos, Temas, La Gaceta.

    I ll return.

  34. ron ridenour said on January 15th, 2009 at 4:38pm #

    Fleeing the paradise

    Yes, some 1.5 to 2 million people have left to live in other lands. Many return for visits bringing their families some of their wages; other send some of wages as remittances. In the latter years most people who have left Cuba do so for better wages. Most people I know in Cuba either have a member of the family living abroad or want one or more to do so simply so that they can eat and live better than their meager wages allow.

    The average wage is 400=450 national pesos, the minimum is 225. One cannot buy many vegetable or no meats on that. There are few staples left on the subsidized rations: beans and rice are the main ones and that is why most people eat them and little else. One cannot buy shampoo or household items on the ration card and there are few items of need sold in peso stores. Even bicycles are sold only in convertible currency=cucs.
    Most food stuff is still imported. Cuba-s revolution has not found an effectived solution to growing adequate food, although more is being grown now. But the most energetic growers are those who can earn lots of money. Raul is not boycotting capitalism, on the contrary. I fear that the nation will go more the way of China, and it is certainly entering into the Asian giant-s debt.

    Yes, prolific commentator Max Shields, you are right: there is little bottom up democracy. While the Cuban government has been solidarity with its people and many millions more in 100`countries, it has not had confidence in the working class!masses to allow them to use power and make major decisions==but no government in any country ever has.

    I-ll return.

  35. ron ridenour said on January 15th, 2009 at 4:43pm #

    I wrote that racism was officially abolished everywhere. I did not write that racism disappeared. While color prejudices remain, and few black people are in the very top positions, racism is not nearly as rampant as it is in most capitalist countries.

    Thank you for the Peak Oil video.
    I end by saying that while I write critically of what I see that does not fulfill the goals of a socialist revolution, I support the country for its 50 years of resistance, for its people-s warmth, and for the true courage of so many of its people and leaders.
    We in the rich west should be so lucky as to have such leaders as Fidel, Che, Camilo many others.