Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dave Osler on Cuba

Dave Osler is a British leftist who is spending the summer in a language and education program in Cuba. Dave's to my left on a number of questions, but he often has interesting and provocative things to say. I wondered what he was going to write on Cuba and here's the answer.

If you stay in one of the five star hotels, Cuban is a fabulous place for a holiday. Sit down by that swimming pool and bask in the Caribbean sunshine as you light up a cigar from beyond the wilder shores of Freudian symbolism and knock back cocktails blended from the finest rum in the world. And if itÂ’s nightlife you want, thereÂ’s hot jazz and salsa clubs that stay open until four AM.

But for most ordinary Cubans, life is pretty damn tough. I saw that for myself this summer, when I spent four weeks in an ordinary home in Havana. Even such basic foodstuffs as rice are rationed. Water supplies are sporadic, and power cuts regular occurrences. The housing stock is badly run down. Many everyday items are simply unobtainable.

Yes, of course the US blockade and the economic effects of the collapse of the USSR are part - although by no means all - of the explanation. But there is no getting away from the conclusion that Cuban society is deeply polarised as a consequence.

Beyond a layer of older people who lived through the revolution in the late fifties, there are few strong supporters of the government. The younger a person is - and the darker the colour of their skin - the more likely they are to be hostile.
Read the rest here.

Especially pay attention to his conclusion
For the democratic left, then, the conclusions are clear. We should start from the position of opposing the US blockade on basic democratic grounds. Ironically from WashingtonÂ’s viewpoint, it could actually be holding back the development of an indigenous Cuban democratic opposition.

But at the same time, we need to stress that a democratic opening is essential if Cuba is to avoid the build up of discontent on the scale of 1980s Eastern Europe, and the eventual introduction of a particularly savage brand of neoliberal capitalism.
I would only add that I understand from an NPR broadcast from the time of Fidel's health crisis, that one of the most problematical parts of the blockade legislation is that it requires even a post -Castro Cuba to commit to fully pay all claims for nationalized property before trade can be resumed. This is a particularly onerous and stupid policy.

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