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years of
achievements of the
Cuban revolution


3 Introduction

5 50 years of resistance and development in Cuba

FRFI 207, February/March 2009

8 50 years of US attacks
FRFI 207, February/March 2009

9 From isolation to ALBA

FRFI 207, February/March 2009

11 Socialism is healthier
FRFI 208 April/May 2009

15 Brigada de la 50 anniversario de la Revolucion Cubana!

FRFI 209 June/July 2009

19 Cuban socialism shows the way for Cuban biotech and pharma
FRFI 210 August/September 2009

23 Cuban socialism: to be educated is to be free

FRFI 211 October/November 2009

26 ALBA: new dawn for Latin America

FRFI 212 December 2009/January 2010

28 Socialism is good for the environment

FRFI 214 April/May 2010

31 New dog, old tricks Obama ratchets up attack on Cuba

FRFI 215 June/July 2010

37 The drive for efficiency within socialism

FRFI 217 October/November 2010

40 The world stands with Cuba against the US blockade

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011


To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution in 2009, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! the
newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Group, commissioned a series of articles to analyse the development
of Cuban socialism one sector at a time. Over the following two years we examined Cuban health care, the
pharmaceutical industry, education, sustainable development, economic management and promotion of nationwide
debate, the impact of the US blockade, its trade and cooperation agreements with progressive Latin American and
Caribbean governments and so on.
The articles are reprinted here to provide an introductory overview of the achievements of the Cuban revolution
over the past half century. The series starts on page 5 with ‘50 years of resistance and development in Cuba’,
which provides a framework to assist us in understanding the challenges and achievements faced in Cuba’s socialist
Two articles are devoted to Cuba’s high-quality, universal health care system. On page 11, ‘Socialism is
healthier’, we describe Cuba’s achievements in health care provision at home and abroad. For example, Cuba was
the only country that met the World Health Organisation’s millennium targets for health care improvements and
it currently has more than 38,000 medical personnel working on health care missions abroad. On page 19 ‘Cuban
socialism shows the way for Cuban biotech and pharma’ explains how Cuba’s world-leading pharmaceutical and
biotechnology industry functions and describes its achievements, which include production of 80% of the
medicines consumed domestically and worldwide exports.
In ‘Cuban socialism: to be educated is to be free’ on page 23 we detail Cuba’s impressive progress in education,
both internally and internationally. Adult literacy is at 99.8%, as good as or better than the richest countries in the
world. Every Cuban has equal access to free education up to the highest level and at any age. At the same time,
Cuba’s expertise in literacy programmes has been exported all over the world. By June 2008, 3.6 million people
in 28 countries had learnt to read and write with the Cuban ‘Yo Si Puedo’ (‘Yes I Can’) method.
Cuba’s internationalism shows that relations between countries can work on the basis of solidarity and mutual
cooperation. ‘From isolation to ALBA’, on page 9, shows how this principle has guided Cuba’s foreign policy since
1959. Indeed, it is a model for ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, founded by Cuba and Venezuela
in 2005, and now joined by Antigua & Barbuda, Bolivia, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St Vincent and the
Grenadines. The significance of this regional alliance is described on page 26 in ‘ALBA: new dawn for Latin
Cuba’s remarkable record in those sectors has been achieved despite relentless attack from the United States,
including terrorism, sabotage, invasion, as described on page 8 ‘50 years of US attacks’ and a crippling economic
blockade which was overwhelmingly condemned for the 19th consecutive year in UN’s General Assembly vote
in November 2010. The pernicious impact of the blockade is described on page 40 in ‘The world stands with
Cuba against the US blockade’. Despite speculation of an easing of hostilities, the current US administration under
President Barack Obama has continued to funnel tens of millions of dollars to Cuba each year in a desperate
attempt to create an opposition.
Behind their sloganeering about ‘democracy’, the US and EU governments want to see capitalism return to
Cuba. Capitalism creates an environmental crisis that threatens the survival of our species. In opposition to this,
on page 28 in ‘Socialism is good for the environment’, we explain how Cuba leads the way in sustainable

agriculture, energy efficiency and protecting wildlife. In 2006 Cuba was recognised as the only country in the
world to have achieved sustainable development.
In 1995 the Revolutionary Communist Group founded Rock around the Blockade (RATB), a campaign in
solidarity with socialist Cuba. Since then 11 RATB solidarity brigades have travelled to Cuba. In addition to taking
thousands of pounds of material aid, the brigades give British activists the opportunity to experience Cuban
socialism first-hand. On page 15 you can read about the latest developments in Cuban society as seen though the
eyes of the 2009 brigadistas.
The September 2010 changes to the employment structures in Cuba were seized upon in the bourgeois media
worldwide as evidence that Cuba was abandoning workers’ welfare and returning to capitalism. On page 37 in ‘The
drive for efficiency within socialism’ we set these developments in context, analyse their real significance and
explain how they are intended to strengthen Cuban socialism.
By building an alternative society, based on people, not profit, Cuba provides an important example that a better
world is possible. It is not just possible, but it is being built as we write. Socialism is important to ensure the future
of humanity, a future without war, racism, imperialist plunder, exploitation, gross inequality, environmental
destruction and the needless deaths of millions of men, women and children every year. We hope this pamphlet
inspires you to get involved today, help us fight in solidarity with Cuba and make the case for socialism here in
imperialist Britain.

The articles in this pamphlet are available on the RCG website:

Produced by Rock around the Blockade, a campaign

based in Britain in solidarity with socialist Cuba
Email:, Tel: 020 7837 1688
BM RATB, London, WC1N 3XX
Visit our website:
50 years of resistance and
development in Cuba
Helen Yaffe
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 207 February/March 2009

‘I conclude wishing you and all of our compatriots, good health and much energy for the year 2009. We
shall need them both...We Cuban revolutionaries can look at our past with our heads held high and into
the future with the same confidence in our strength and our capacity to resist. Let’s congratulate ourselves
on the 50th anniversary of the victory of the Revolution’.
(Raul Castro, speech to National Assembly, 27 December 2008)

Throughout the world, individuals, communities and governments joined the Cuban people in celebrating the 50th
anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. The island is admired around the world. It has been respected for half a
century for resisting imperialist aggression and providing military support to revolutionaries overseas, for its
world-leading human development indicators resulting from its socialist welfare system, its internationalist
education and health care programmes, its biotechnology industry, its ecologically sustainable development and
its achievements in sport and culture.
Here in Britain, however, the 50th anniversary was marked by the sneering suggestion that the Revolution has
failed to liberate the Cuban people from political repression and poverty and that contemporary reforms have
been introduced in recognition of this failure – heralding the return of consumerism or even capitalism to the
island. Such commentaries in the bourgeois media are based on profound mis-characterisations of the Revolution
which obscure the way that development strategy has been formulated since 1959. These are:

1) Fidel Castro (and since 2006, Raul Castro) has been responsible for every decision and policy implemented
and different stages within the Revolution are the product of his psychological whims and driven by his
determination to maintain a monopoly on power.
2) There is no democracy and civil society is repressed.
3) All developments are ideological rather than practical measures for dealing with concrete problems.

Refusing to recognise the revolutionary process, these interpretations censor a rich history of internal debate,
conflict, and consensus in Cuba. The opinions and values of the Cuban people are diverse and this is reflected in
the coexistence of different political tendencies within their leadership. The measures introduced in each period
have depended on which tendency has been able to win the argument or secure a consensus at each stage, and the
outcome is largely determined by material conditions both on the island and internationally. Radical new measures
or retreats, U-turns or consolidations, cannot be understood in terms of individual power politics.
To move beyond these crude and politically motivated caricatures, it is essential to understand the challenge
which confronted the Cuban revolutionaries when they seized power 50 years ago. How can you achieve economic
development with equity in an underdeveloped island, without relying on capitalist mechanisms (profit, material
incentives, competition, the law of value) which undermine the collective consciousness and new social relations
integral to socialism and communism? To this complex problem were added the further obstacles of having a
small domestic market hugely reliant on international trade, the US blockade and its imposition on third countries,
military, economic and political attack, and diplomatic isolation.
For half a century, policy in Cuba has been formulated within existing limits:

political commitments – socialist welfare, state planning, the predominance of state property, anti-imperialist
economic constraints – the US blockade, trade dependency, difficulty with obtaining credit and the relative
‘backwardness’ of Cuban industry and agriculture outside pockets of advanced technology.

Policy has fluctuated between what is ideal – emphasising socialist consciousness – and what is necessary –
conceding pragmatic reforms, but always within these limits. The Cuban Revolution has developed through various
stages which reflect fluctuations in its ability to push forward socialist development, creating innovative new
social and political forms, without falling back on capitalist mechanisms to solve economic problems.
The 1990s were difficult years for the Revolution. The collapse of the socialist bloc countries between 1989
and 1991 cut off around 80% of Cuba’s trade; GDP plummeted by 35% and food shortages decreased caloric
intake by nearly 40%. The crisis was exacerbated by punitive laws tightening the US blockade in 1990, 1992, and
1996. During this ‘Special Period’ pragmatic reforms were introduced – joint ventures with foreign capital, the
legalisation of the dollar, small-scale private enterprise and financial autonomy for state enterprises – to stimulate
the economy and get vital goods to the people. Nonetheless, the Revolution did not renege on political commitment
to socialist welfare, state planning and the predominance of state property. Once the economy stabilised and
recovered, many pro-market measures were rolled back.
Material recovery was accompanied by the Battle of Ideas, a campaign of political regeneration initiated in
2000, involving hundreds of social programmes and investments to reverse the inequalities of the previous decade.
This process of the reconsolidation of socialist principles is based on the concept that education and culture create
commitment to political ideas but that these remain abstract if the standard of living is insufficient to alleviate daily
concerns for survival. However, material improvements should not be achieved by promoting market exchanges
and encouraging private enterprise, but by budgetary controls, central planning, and state investment in skills
training and education, fostering industry, exploiting natural resources, diversifying agriculture, and investing in
research and development for industrial production and the medical industry.
The many interesting developments in Cuba over these years have been closely followed and analysed in
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! These have included:

● 2003-2005, measures introduced to recentralise financial resources, providing the state with a lever to foster
productivity and efficiency gains via investments and planning, not via competition and ‘free enterprise’ (FRFI
182 and 183).
● December 2004, the initiation of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), with the signing of
trade deals between Cuba and Venezuela (FRFI 183). This built on previous cooperation in which Cuba sent
educationalists and healthcare professionals to Venezuela en masse (FRFI 177). The programme was
subsequently extended to Bolivia, Nicaragua and elsewhere in South America and simultaneously saw the
development of emergency medical contingents to countries around the world (FRFI 190).
● 2005-2006, a campaign against corruption which emphasised the concept of work as a social duty (FRFI 189
and 194)
● 2006, the Energy Revolution, focusing on economic and ecological efficiency – reducing energy consumption,
government subsidies and vulnerability to US attack (FRFI 189).
● 2007-2008 six months of elections for the Municipal, Provincial and the National Assemblies -culminating in
a new government in which 61% of representatives were born after the Revolution and 63% were new to
national government – a leadership which is both young and new, committed to the political principles of the
Revolution and ready to adapt to contemporary challenges and consciousness (FRFI 201).
● Autumn 2007, a nationwide popular consultation during which millions of Cuban citizens discussed the
country’s problems and made 1.3 million concrete proposals (FRFI 200 and 203).
● Autumn 2008, 3.4 million workers considered proposed changes to the social security law (FRFI 206).

The Cuban Revolution has demonstrated the real meaning of democracy – where the masses are active in
determining the policies which affect them individually and collectively.
Bourgeois commentators have remained largely silent on these developments, banging on about Cuba’s
material poverty even as economic growth ranged between 7.5% and 12.5% per annum from 2005 to 2007.
Ignorant, lazy or malicious critics have distorted developments in Cuba. For example, new legislation allowing
Cubans to buy computers, DVDs and mobile phones was celebrated as the embrace of consumerism, when it
owed more to the installation of a new national grid significantly increasing the electrical supply (FRFI 203). In
summer 2008, journalists cheered the end of the cap on wage bonuses as the death of egalitarianism – yet it was
actually to standardise salary policy across the economy as part of the implementation of the enterprise perfection
system of economic management, which had operated in army enterprises since 1987 (FRFI 204). When journalists
celebrated the resurgence of private ownership, it was really a campaign to hand out idle arable land in usufruct
(short-term rent free loan) for those who would produce food and sell it to the state at established prices (FRFI
205 and 206).
2008 was a difficult year for the Cuban Revolution because of:

● the fall in world prices of Cuba’s principal exports – nickel, sugar and sea food – and a rise in the cost of
importing foodstuffs and fuel
● the world recession
● the devastating impact of three hurricanes which caused $10 billion of destruction, including 530,000 homes

Despite this, Cuba’s economic growth reached 4.3%, down from the 8% planned, but far superior to the advanced
capitalist countries. Most importantly, economic growth in Cuba leads to increased social investments. Recently,
transport has been massively improved, new jobs have been created in the state sector and millions of durable
goods have been distributed under the Energy Revolution. Current priorities are to raise food production and to
make progress in solving Cuba’s outstanding housing problem, which was exacerbated by the hurricanes.

‘The more Cuba resists the more she is respected and Cuba is ready to win the respect of the entire world.’

For 50 years, the Cuban people have resisted imperialism. However, their best form of resistance has not just been
in asserting their national sovereignty, but in creating an alternative model of development which places human
beings at its centre. They have consolidated their socialist Revolution without dogmatism, without fear of criticism,
without compromise, with imagination, creativity and integrity – developing, improving and prospering.

Viva 50 years of the socialist revolution in Cuba! Forward to the next 50 years!

50 years of US attacks
Sam Vincent
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 207 February/March 2009

Since 1959, the administrations of ten US presidents have attempted to destroy the Cuban Revolution through
invasion, terrorism, sabotage and a crippling economic blockade. The cost to Cuba has been high.

Terrorism, sabotage and invasion

3,478 Cubans have been killed and 2,099 seriously injured by attacks launched from the United States. Covert
operations against Cuba began under President Eisenhower, just months after the Revolution. US-trained armed
gangs killed young volunteers in the national literacy campaign, sabotaged factories, farms and fuel depots and
planted bombs in cinemas and shops. There were instances of coastal villages and fishermen being machine-
gunned from speedboats, hijacking of aircraft and attacks on overseas embassies.
On 16 April 1961, 1,200 Cuban exiles invaded Cuba at Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs). They were trained and led
by CIA agents and supported by US warships and planes dropping napalm. Within 72 hours, the Cuban army had
defeated the invasion, but at the cost of 176 lives. 1,000 of the invading troops were taken into Cuban custody and
later exchanged for medical supplies.
After the failed invasion, attacks continued. In 1976 a Cuban airliner was bombed and 73 civilians killed.
This was master-minded by the CIA-trained Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, who today walk freely in Miami
under US government protection.
Millions of dollars of USAID is channelled to Cuban ‘dissidents’ on the island every year, attempting to
generate an internal opposition. This strategy was stepped up massively under the last Bush administration.

The blockade
The blockade forbids any US company, including foreign subsidiaries, from trading with Cuba. No product
containing US-made components can be sold to Cuba. No US bank can provide credit to Cuba. The blockade has
cost the island $92bn in loss of export markets and increased import prices.
In the 1990s the blockade was tightened to obstruct companies from third countries trading with Cuba: for
example, ships that dock in Cuban ports are forbidden from entering a US port for six months. Recently, under
pressure from the US government, British banks Barclays and Lloyds TSB stopped transferring their customers’
money to Cuba.
However, the US is increasingly isolated in its policy towards Cuba. In October 2008, for the 17th year in a
row, the UN General Assembly voted against the blockade by a margin of 185 countries to three (US, Israel,
Palau). Although US President Obama has talked about easing restrictions on travel to Cuba, and removing limits
on remittances sent by Cuban Americans to their relatives on the island, he has made it clear that he would not
end the blockade.
In December 2008, 47 years after being expelled because of US pressure, Cuba rejoined the Organisation of
American States at a summit in Brazil, where the blockade of Cuba was unanimously condemned. For the first
time, the US was not invited. During the summit, Raul Castro affirmed Cuba’s readiness to talk to the US, but only
on equal terms: ‘If Mr Obama wants to have a discussion, we will. It’s increasingly difficult to isolate Cuba. We
are small, but we have shown we cannot be easily dominated’.

From isolation to ALBA
Cat Wiener
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 207 February/March 2009

For 50 years, from its early years of isolation, through the turbulent 1970s and 1980s and the fall of the USSR,
the Cuban Revolution has shown both principle and pragmatism in the political alliances it has forged. Today, it
is able to stand in the forefront of the revolutionary and popular movements sweeping across Latin America.
In the bipolar world of 1959, the USSR originally saw Cuba as lying outside its ‘sphere of influence’. But in
the face of US hostility, reflected in the Bay of Pigs mercenary invasion of 1961, Cuba feared both economic
strangulation and all-out military attack by the US and entered into formal diplomatic and trade relations with the
USSR in 1960. The placing of Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuban territory in 1962 – leading to the Cuban Missile
Crisis – shook US imperialism and ensured it never dared to invade the island. Cuba became a member of the
socialist trading bloc, Comecon – allowing the Revolution to continue to develop in the face of continuing attempts
by the US to isolate it. In 1962, a complete US blockade was imposed and, at the behest of the US, Cuba was
expelled from the Organisation of American States, and all the countries of Latin America, with the exception of
Mexico, broke off diplomatic relations.
But Cuba was building new alliances according to its own revolutionary and socialist principles. In 1961,
Cuba sent aid to the Algerian liberation movement. By 1965, as the people of Angola and Guinea Bissau rose up
against Portuguese colonialism, Cuba provided fighting units, instructors and aid. In 1965, Che Guevara led Cuban
units to support the guerrilla movement in eastern Congo. Despite initially viewing Cuba’s practical support for
African liberation movements as ‘adventurist’, the USSR eventually supported the Cuban intervention in Angola
and the confrontation with the racist South African invading forces. In 1988, Angolan and Cuban troops decisively
defeated the apartheid army at Cuito Cuanavale, a victory which created the conditions for Namibian independence
and the eventual overthrow of apartheid.
Cuba gave support for revolutionary guerrilla movements throughout Latin American from 1959 into the
1970s and established anti-imperialist alliances with Salvador Allende’s government in Chile 1971-73 and with
the Sandinista government led by Ortega in Nicaragua from 1979.
Cuba also offered political asylum to many within the Black Panther Party in the US, sent doctors, medicines
and blood to Vietnam in 1974, spoke out in support of the Irish liberation struggle, supported the Palestinian
struggle and does not recognise the state of Israel. Wherever the poor and oppressed of the world were organising
against imperialism, Cuba stood shoulder to shoulder with them.
The 1980s and 1990s were years of neo-liberal counter-offensive, spearheaded by US President Reagan and
British premier Thatcher. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 suddenly deprived Cuba of its staunchest ally and 80%
of its trade and Cuba found itself isolated and vulnerable, plunged into an economic crisis. Cuba had little option
but to reduce its support for guerrilla movements and, looking to economic survival through joint business ventures
and tourism, make its peace with its Latin American neighbours and seek alliances with social democratic parties
in Europe. However, on the international stage, Cuba continued to speak out against the new world order and call
for Latin American unity against imperialism. It was the only country in the Security Council other than Yemen
to condemn the 1991 UN-backed invasion of Iraq.

Socialism for the 21st century

In the dark days of 1991, Fidel Castro stated: ‘Saving the revolution in Cuba and saving socialism in Cuba...will

be the great international service that our people can render humanity’. And so it has proved to be. In the face of
the relentless degradation imposed on Latin America with increasing intensity in the 1990s, new movements began
to emerge, the most significant of which brought to power Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and his Bolivarian Alternat-
ive for the Americas, established with Cuba and soon joined by Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica and Honduras, in
a vital new and potentially revolutionary alliance for the whole continent.

Socialism is healthier
Hannah Caller
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 208 April/May 2009

In the 50 years since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Cuba has shown what is possible when society’s priority is
not profit, but the needs of the people, and when those needs are met not through the anarchy of the market, but
through a democratically planned economy. Without socialist planning, Cuba’s staggering achievements in health
care both domestically and internationally would have been impossible. Capitalism has failed the overwhelming
mass of the people in oppressed nations, leaving millions to die every year of preventable diseases. It is now
failing increasing numbers in the advanced capitalist countries as well.
In 1978, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Alma Ata Declaration set down 38 targets for health
improvement to be met by 2000. The only country to meet these targets was Cuba. Approximately 1.2 billion
people do not have access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion people lack access to sanitation services. The
result? Half the hospital beds in the world are occupied by people suffering from water-borne illnesses. About 200
million people are infected with dysentery. Worldwide, diarrhoea and vomiting illnesses kill five to eight million
people per year, and these are leading causes of death among children under five.
Half a million women die every year from pregnancy and childbirth related problems. Globally, the annual
death rate from malaria is well over one million; 3,000 African children die every day from this largely preventable
and treatable disease. Despite the WHO pledge to cut the number of malaria deaths by half by 2010, the number
of victims continues to grow. In sub-Saharan Africa, millions are dying from HIV/AIDS.

And in Britain
If you are poor in Britain, you will live five to seven years less than if you are rich. Access to health care is now
being rationed and its quality undermined as hospitals seek to meet government targets which promote
In 2004 and 2005, there were two outbreaks of Clostridium difficile at Stoke Mandeville Hospital resulting
in the deaths of 30 people. A 2006 Healthcare Commission investigation found that the deaths were avoidable and
that senior managers were concentrating on controlling finances and meeting waiting time targets. The Commission
reported a similar story at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust where at least 90 patients died as a result
of the infection between 2004 and 2006.
Nothing changed. On 17 March this year, the Commission reported that over a three-year period there had been
between 400 and 1,200 more deaths than should be expected at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. The trust
had become obsessed with meeting targets and saving money at the expense of patient care. Three days later, yet
another Commission report decided that managerial incompetence and under-staffing had undermined patient
care at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
Privatisation of the NHS is leading to deteriorating health care for the poor, for the working class, and for those
who are of no consequence to capitalism – the elderly. Week after week sees further examples of discrimination
in the health care of elderly people, such as inadequate treatment of Alzheimer’s and of fractures arising from falls.
Yet in November 2008 the government announced the postponement of promised legislation against age
discrimination in health and social services. Cuts in health care spending that will inevitably accompany the
deepening crisis will result in an even worse service.

Socialism’s human priorities
The contrast with Cuba is stark. Cuba has established a system where health care is inseparable from politics,
education and society. The approach is encapsulated in the Cuban medical graduate’s oath:

‘We pledge to serve the revolution unconditionally wherever we are needed, with the premise that true
medicine is not that which cures but that which prevents, whether in an isolated community on our island
or in any sister country in the world, where we will always be the standard bearers of solidarity and

Che Guevara’s vision of medical solidarity as a revolutionary weapon has been put into practice through the
priority given to health in Cuba. Its achievements in critical health indicators such as infant mortality, life
expectancy, HIV infection and low birth weight infants are the best in Latin America and as good as or better than
those for the richest countries. Cuba’s infant mortality is an astounding 4.7 per 1,000 live births; it has fallen
dramatically since the Revolution in 1959 when it was 60 per 1,000.
Cuba’s planned economy allowed the country to continue its health care developments throughout the Special
Period when its economy was devastated with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tightening of the US
blockade. Between 1990 and 2003, the number of doctors increased by 76%, dentists by 46% and nurses by 16%.
Family doctor coverage expanded from 47% in 1990 to 99.2% in 2003. Over the same period the number of
maternity homes rose by 86%, elderly day care centres by 107% and homes for the disabled by 47%. In 2007, Cuba
had 6.5 doctors per 1,000 people. The figures for Western Europe are 3.1 per 1,000, and for the US, 2.4 per 1,000.

International co-operation in health

Cuba sees its international health programmes politically as tools to promote international solidarity and to spread
the influence of socialism through example. Cuba’s capacity at home is the basis for its international work. By
November 2008, Cuba had more than 70,000 doctors, allowing it to send 17,697 abroad to serve in 75 countries,
along with 20,847 other Cuban health professionals.
Cuba has medical brigades in 27 countries, including Guatemala, Haiti, Belize, Honduras, Botswana, Ghana,
Mali, Gambia, Namibia, and Timor Leste. Its programmes use Cuban doctors who are then replaced over a ten-
year period by students from the host country who have been trained by Cuba. All such students are on full
scholarships which include tuition, board, food and a living allowance. Cuban doctors abroad work under local
direction but the Ministry of Health in Cuba encourages them to work in rural areas, prioritising areas where
primary care is absent and focusing on preventative health care. Where necessary, a literacy programme runs
alongside the health programme.
Cuba’s co-operation programme with Bolivia is the largest after Venezuela with more than 1,000 Cuban
doctors; 5,000 Bolivian medical students are training in Cuba. There are also over 100 Cuban doctors in each of
Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Timor Leste, Ghana, Namibia, Gambia, Belize, and Mali. In areas served by Cuban
medical teams between 1999 and 2003, infant mortality rates showed significant falls: from 45 to 16.8 per thousand
live births in Guatemala, 121 to 61 in Gambia, and 59.4 to 33 in Haiti. Between 2003 and 2008, the Cuban medical
brigade in Timor Leste is estimated to have saved over 11,400 lives and contributed to a significant fall in infant

Disaster response contingents

The first Cuban disaster relief medical team went to earthquake-devastated Chile in 1960; relief was provided to
another 16 countries over the next 20 years. Cuba offered help to the US following Hurricane Katrina in August
2005, an offer the Bush administration ignored. Cuba’s largest disaster relief programme has been in Pakistan and
followed the earthquake that killed 75,000 people and left hundreds of thousands injured and homeless in October
2005. The first Cubans arrived within six days of the earthquake, entering areas where previously there had only
been one doctor for a population of 25,000 people. Overall, 2,500 Cuban health workers went to Pakistan. They

set up 32 field hospitals within five months of the disaster, treated over one million people, performed over 10,000
operations, and carried out almost half a million rehabilitation treatments. They outstayed all other international
agencies. 1,000 scholarships were offered to poor Pakistani students to study medicine in Cuba and a number of
Pakistanis with limb loss were flown to Cuba for rehabilitation.

Battle of Ideas
The Battle of Ideas, initiated in 2000, represents a revalidation of socialist principles. As Abel Prieto, Cuban
Minister for Culture, said in 2004:

‘What should be globalised, are not bombs or hatred, but peace, solidarity, health, education for all, culture
etc. That is why, when our physicians go to help in other countries, although their mission is to work for
medical attention, they are also bearers of our values and our ideas of solidarity. This is the essence of the
Battle of Ideas.’

The expansion of international health work and the role of the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) were
part of this. At the inauguration of ELAM in 1999, Fidel Castro said ‘This institution is an attempt at a modest
contribution by Cuba to the unity and integration of the peoples of Latin America.’ Since 2005, 1,500 students from
over 40 countries have graduated every year. Everything is free to the students for six years; in return they agree
to return to work in marginalised areas in their own countries. There are also about 100 US medical students in
Cuba on Pastors for Peace scholarships.

Cuba’s medical programmes contribute to the revolutionary process in Venezuela. In 2003, a strike by the
Venezuelan Medical Federation threatened the breakdown of medical services. Venezuela sought help, and within
months hundreds of Cuban doctors arrived and the Caracas pilot programme Barrio Adentro (‘Within the
Neighbourhood’) was extended across Venezuela. By mid-2004, 10,000 Cuban doctors were working nationwide.
When Chavez became president in 1999, only 4,000 of 35,000 Venezuelan doctors were family doctors, and most
were concentrated in the cities. Since then, the number has increased from one primary care doctor per 17,300
people to one per 3,400 and infant mortality has fallen from 21.4 per 1,000 live births to 13.9.
When Cuba began a literacy programme in Venezuela, the number of people who could not begin to learn to
write because of eyesight difficulties led the two countries to set up Operation Miracle. There were an estimated
six million people with reversible blindness in Latin America and the Caribbean, most too poor to pay for surgery.
Since July 2004, over 1,300,000 people from 32 countries have had corrective operations in Cuba and in the 59
eye hospitals Cuba has donated under the programme.
Revolutionary training
Cuba is conscious of the need to continue to train doctors, nurses and allied health workers, as well as ensuring
that they are equipped to deal with their national and international challenges. In 2004 Cuba started a new type of
medical training – the University Polyclinic Medical Training Programme; Venezuela followed in 2005. Cuba’s
revolutionary vision for this programme was to create a ‘medical university without walls’. The bulk of the
teaching occurs in clinical situations with small group teaching covering traditional subjects. This encourages
poor students from rural communities to train as doctors locally. Over 12,000 Cuban students are enrolled alongside
the 17,000 Cubans taking the traditional medical course. The course lasts six years and exposes students to the
human aspect of health care and the needs of local communities. In Venezuela, 20,000 students are enrolled, with
5,000 entering the fourth year in early 2009.
Venezuela is also starting a branch of the Latin American School of Medicine and has enrolled 800 students
from abroad. Cuba and Venezuela are now training more doctors than the whole of the US. The doctors who
graduate have no personal debt, come from the communities they will serve, are politically conscious, understand
humanity and the ravages of imperialism, and are the ideological opposite to the doctors formed under capitalism.

They, along with the nurses and health workers trained in the same context, are an international revolutionary
army with humanitarian weapons. Socialist planning has created this.
As the crisis deepens, the contrast between this and the contempt capitalism has for the health of the mass of
the people even in the richest countries will become more apparent. For the mass of the working class, proper
health care is possible only under socialism.

Brigada de la 50 anniversario de la
Revolucion Cubana!
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 209 June/July 2009

On 23 April, 18 Rock around the Blockade activists left London on a solidarity brigade to Cuba – ‘Brigada del 50
aniversario de la Revolucion’, organised with the Cuban Union of Young Communists (UJC). The first week was
spent in Pinar del Rio, a province devastated by three hurricanes last year; the second week was in Havana. We
found an island braced and ready to confront the current global crisis. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Cuban
Revolution has realised the hopes James Connolly once held for an Irish republic, its name ‘a rallying point for
the disaffected, a haven for the oppressed, a point of departure for the socialist, enthusiastic in the cause of human
We left Britain on the day that British chancellor Alastair Darling announced a Budget that, in the words of
The Guardian newspaper, promised ‘a brutal freeze on public spending’ more severe than that of the Thatcher
years. By the time we returned, two weeks later, the expenses scandal had exploded, exposing once again the
stinking heap of corruption which is British politics. Throughout the world, the ruling classes are scrambling to
resolve the deep economic crisis at the expense of the working class. What a contrast we saw in Cuba, which is
solving problems in the interest of all its people, through socialist planning and socialist democracy.

Confronting the crisis

Ten years to the day before the collapse of Lehman Brothers investment bank in September 2008, Fidel Castro
warned of the ‘avoidable and deep economic crisis’ threatening a world ‘which has become an enormous casino’.
Cuba will not remain immune: the collapse in the price of its main export, nickel, the reduction in tourism from
imperialist countries now in recession and restrictions on access to international credit will have a very real effect.
On 26 May, Cuban economic commentator Ariel Terrero predicted that Cuba’s foreign income could be reduced
by $1bn, while growth figures for 2009 have been revised downwards from 6% to slightly over 2%, and even this
may prove over-optimistic. On top of this, last year three hurricanes caused $10bn worth of damage and the impact
of the US blockade continues. In Havana our bus passed huge billboards reading: ‘8 hours of the US blockade =
repairs to 140 schools’; ‘3 days of the US blockade = 100 tonnes of medicine’.
Nonetheless, unlike in Britain, no-one in Cuba is being thrown out onto the streets while a bank repossesses
their home and unemployment remains under 2%. It became clear to us that it is Cuba’s planned economy, with
its ability to deploy resources rationally, based on the interests of a creative, conscious people, that will enable it
to weather the economic storm.

The challenge in agriculture

Bolstering agricultural production in Cuba is seen as essential to overcoming the crisis, in order to replace imports
and raise exports. In 2008, the country spent almost $2.5bn on food purchases from abroad, $907m more than in
One of the principal challenges is the shortage of labour power. The Cuban masses, through good quality
health care and education, have high life expectancy and low birth rates; these great revolutionary achievements,
however, exacerbate labour shortages. The rise in living standards for the Cuban masses across the board has
raised other problems too. Orlando Borrego, who participated in the Revolution and was deputy to Che Guevara
from 1959, explained: ‘The workers in the fields became doctors, artists, lawyers. So in certain agricultural sectors

we do not have qualified workers – we thought it would never happen in a socialist country, but it has. And the
Revolution has recognised this and can plan: for the past four or five years there has been a reorientation in the
universities towards solving this problem.’
Brigadistas witnessed first-hand these attempts. Founded in 1962 by Commandante Fidel, the Centro-
Politecnico Villena Revolucion is one of biggest schools of its type in the world, specialising in agronomy and
veterinary science and is a ‘national reference’ school for the country. The basis of the entire school is the linking
of theory and practice, with school units organised around farms where students work and implement practically
what they learn in the classroom.
Rafael Mendez, Villena Revolucion’s vice-principal, spoke of the school as ‘a workshop to form the youth –
the people of the future.’ Stopping in front of a large field planted with beetroot, 16-year-old student representative
Anais described it as her ‘practical classroom’. She explained that the school was entirely self-sufficient in food,
apart from rice, while also producing 300,000 litres of milk and 40 tonnes of meat for the city every year. ‘There
are not enough workers to toil the land, so students voluntarily fill the breach. This is not exploitation – it is part
of our formation as citizens.’ In their fourth year, students begin work in an enterprise where they are guaranteed
a job after graduation. Students emerge imbued with both an academic education and a conscious grasp of the
processes of social production and commitment to socialism.
All levels of Cuban society are involved in this process. In the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist
Party (PCC), Comrade Marsan explained that ‘Members of the Central Committee do voluntary labour on the
farms, once a month; they are very tough conditions to work in. With the heat in the fields at 10am it is hard work.
By 2pm I cannot wait to get on the bus and end my shift!’ In Pinar del Rio, brigadistas visited a massive state farm.
Heavily damaged by hurricanes the previous year, labour brigades had been drafted in from around Cuba to help
repair crop damage, and the farm had also received EU relief aid. Many of these large-scale socialist state farms
were broken up after the Soviet Union collapsed. However, for the brigadistas it felt like the paradigm of socialist
agriculture. The workers, trade unionists and Communist Party members were the most committed and politically
conscious we met. They totally identified social production with ownership of the Revolution. They proudly
displayed certificates received from the leadership, motivated by moral as much as material incentives.
The real success story of Cuban agriculture in recent years, however, has been in much smaller scale production
– the urban organic farming movement. In the past 12 years, urban farming has created 350,000 productive new
jobs. Production of vegetables and fresh herbs jumped a thousandfold from 1994 to 2005: from 4,000 tons to 4.2
million tons.
Brigadistas worked alongside Cubans on several organiponicos. The units are linked with science centres and
universities and the workers helped to implement new technology such as semi-protected cultivation and
wormeries. In contrast to the state farm, the profits of these co-operatives directly determine incentive payments,
and most are profitable, selling some product at fixed state prices to schools and hospitals while some is sold in
private markets at higher prices. Since last summer the government has parcelled out idle land in usufruct, a rent-
free short term loan, to 60,000 families, which will significantly increase agricultural production.
Che Guevara recognised that this form of production can introduce contradictions into socialism, as workers
identify more with their unit’s interests than with national production. However, comrade Marsan made the key

‘Our objective is to increase food. There is not a change in policy. It is just that in this economic situation
it is necessary to have different farms. We sometimes have to take one step back before we can take two
steps forward. The biggest areas of wealth are in the state farms. There is no process of privatisation.’

The Special Period, state planning and socialism

Through our meetings and discussions, we came to reaslise that national independence, the Revolution and the
planned socialist economy provide the framework within which all policies and processes are debated. When the
entire Soviet camp disappeared in 1991, US imperialism appeared triumphant, the ‘end of history’ was declared

and living standards plummeted, the Cuban people fought to defend their achievements. Yani Cruz, a long-standing
Cuban friend of RATB, declared passionately: ‘You cannot imagine the hardships. It truly was a terrible time for
our people. But we fought to defend socialism; it is socialism through which we achieved all the gains of our
revolution. The choice was between defending socialism and returning to capitalism. We chose socialism. There
is no third way.’
Ephraim Ecchevaria, an economist at a Marxist research institute in Pinar del Rio, recalled speaking at an
international meeting where an Italian communist stood up and accused the Cubans of betraying the principles of
socialism by introducing the economic measures they had. ‘He didn’t understand what was necessary: above all
else, we had to save the Revolution.’
Throughout the Special Period, not a single school, not a single maternity ward, hospital or sports facility was
closed down; quite the opposite. ‘At all times,’ according to Ephraim, ‘the economy was to be subordinated to
social objectives’. Cuban research economist at Havana University, Elda Molina, wrote about the strategy of the
revolutionary leadership in this period. ‘A significant element of the Cuban economic reform was that state
property prevailed in most key sectors. The main goals of the strategy were: to preserve the country’s
independence; to keep and improve socialism; and to create the economic and social basis to relaunch a
development programme once the crisis was over.’

Proletarian democracy
On 29 April, we met with a constitutional law teacher at a school in Pinar del Rio. ‘Bourgeois liberal parties in
the west are in crisis, people don’t trust them,’ he explained – nine days before the Daily Telegraph began
publishing details of British MPs’ expense accounts. What he understood clearly was the difference between
bourgeois and proletarian democracy. ‘In Britain, there is the supremacy of the political class. In Cuba the people
do not surrender their power.’ When brigadistas returned to Britain, popular fury at the ‘political class’ was spilling
over. But the blatant corruption and greed of these politicians is an expression, not the cause, of the bankruptcy
and lack of accountability of bourgeois democracy itself.
As brigadistas saw in practice, the Cuban Revolution has developed a real socialist democracy throughout all
levels of society, where politics is not confined to the voting booth. The law teacher explained: ‘Where does
accountability come from? The answer is in the direct mass participation of people, mass organisations and the
electoral process, not the party or state.’ All representatives of the state in Cuba are nominated by the people,
firstly in the barrios, and voted on through universal, secret ballot. The institutions through which this process is
conducted are the Assemblies of People Power, existing at local, provincial and national level. Delegates of these
people’s assemblies must be in constant communication with people, there must be a constant rendering of
accounts and the assemblies must hold referendums and consultations with the people. If people are not happy with
the work of their elected delegates, they can be recalled by constitutional law. ‘So the Cuban constitution
guarantees the sovereignty of the people, of popular power. The people don’t delegate responsibility to an elected
member; they don’t give away their power.’
We witnessed the power of the Cuban people on International Workers’ Day, 1 May, in Havana, where over
half a million people streamed by under the banner ‘United, productive and efficient!’, carrying Cuban flags and
homemade placards declaring ‘Socialism or death!’ A special moment of international solidarity was when a
Palestinian delegation marched by, taking up the brigadistas’ chants of ‘Viva Palestina!’, raising the V sign for

Communities at the base

At the base of these massive mobilisations is the local community. In Havana City, comrades spent a day working
with the ‘Principe Neighbourhood Development Workshop’ (money had been raised for this project by RATB in
Britain). Dating back to community projects established in 1992 to enhance social integration and extended across
the city, the mission of the Principe Workshop is to engage the community in ‘transforming the physical, social
and spiritual reality of the neighbourhood’. Studies of problems in the community are carried out by neighbours,

work centre representatives and political organisations such as the PCC, UJC, Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC)
and the Committees to Defend the Revolution (CDR). Plans are formulated through popular consultation. 100
community leaders run 20 craft workshops which offer training in dance, theatre, painting, tailoring and doll-
making; an acclaimed popular Cuban music project with professional musicians works with local people of all
ages, organising shows which have been taken to the streets, theatres and workplaces of Havana; there are also
classes in local cultural history. RATB brigadistas saw all of this in action and helped in clearing out an old garage
which will be the new base for the workshop. We asked some of the local members what they thought the
differences were between Cuba and Britain. One man answered:

‘Socialism gives opportunity to everyone independently of the economic resources you have, whereas in
Britain only people with more money have the opportunities…Imagine what Cuba could achieve if it had
the resources of Britain! And if Britain had the politics of Cuba, imagine what problems it could solve!’

Among the brigade’s most inspiring activities was our visit to a CDR in Pinar del Rio. We arrived in the evening
to join the local people who were already dancing in the streets at a street party organised by the CDR. A foundation
stone of the Revolution, the CDRs are grassroots institutions through which people organise their own
communities, collectively dealing with domestic problems, local issues and neighbourhood security; Cuba’s is a
participative socialism, built for and by its people and the CDRs are at the heart of this. That evening, one CDR
member spoke movingly of an occasion, 30 years ago, when his CDR had responded, after a terrible earthquake
devastated Peru, by mobilising volunteers who donated 70,000 pints of blood to support medical care in stricken

RATB brigadistas did not go to Cuba as neutral observers but as committed activists in solidarity with the Cuban
Revolution. Our two weeks of work immeasurably deepened our understanding of the richness of the process of
socialist construction and the creative ability of the workers and cadre on which it is based. It has given us the sense
of urgency necessary to build a communist movement in this country, confident that a better world is possible. One
that is right now demonstrating its superiority to capitalism in hugely difficult circumstances. As one brigadista
told a reportback meeting after her return, ‘The Cubans are clear about one thing; a new world order of communism
is necessary for the survival of the human species’.
Jesus Garcia, who works in the Institute of Philosophy in the Ministry of Science, Technology and the
Environment, told us: ‘A revolutionary situation doesn’t arise just because of contradictions in the ruling class.
The working class needs to understand that it is not just a mismanagement of capitalism. It needs to understand
what power has to be defeated at any moment, overcoming division. If we don’t steer through this crisis then it
will mean a hundred year regression or the end of humanity. We need to end capitalism.’

Rock around the Blockade sends heartfelt thanks and solidarity: to the International Relations Department of the
UJC; to our guide and translator, Lien Rodriguez; to the UJC in Pinar del Rio, including Juan Carlos, Alejandro,
Arial and Liosbel for their translations and engaging political discussions; to Orlando the bus driver and Angola
veteran; to the International Relations Department of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party,
especially to European Coordinator, Marsan, for his excellent overview of recent developments; to Kenia Serrano,
who toured Britain with RATB in 2002 and is now President of ICAP (Cuban friendship organisation), and Yani
Cruz for very political meetings; to Orlando Borrego, Che Guevara’s deputy from 1959, who assured us that
‘capitalism is condemned to disappear’ and urged us to study Marx; to Angel Arcos Bergnes, another comrade of
Che, who spoke about leading by example; to Jesus Garcia who explained how Cuban democracy functions; and
to Aleida Guevara, a revolutionary communist and daughter of Che Guevara, who welcomed us to the Che
Guevara Study Centre in Havana. Venceremos!

Cuban socialism shows the way for
biotech and pharma
Charles Chinweizu
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 210 August/September 2009

With far fewer resources, socialist planning has achieved results to match those of the biggest capitalist powers
and has, in some instances, even exceeded them. Without prior expertise, and beginning in the 1961-1965 period,
Cuba began to develop a pharmaceutical and biotechnological industry that now rivals those of the advanced
industrial capitalist countries. This is the result of the priorities and planning to meet society’s needs.
This industry has been developed despite the US blockade, with the support of the socialist bloc, and with the
prime objective of enabling Cuba to develop its socioeconomic prospects and improve the health of its population.
Cuba has also helped to develop the biotechnological industries of India (prime manufacturer of generics for the
‘third world’), China and Malaysia, boosting the sovereignty of these underdeveloped countries via ‘south south’
technology transfer.

Health crisis
A health crisis is engulfing the underdeveloped countries of the world. Ten million children under five died in 2006;
two million die within the first 24 hours, four million within the first month of life.
Despite the hysteria over the Influenza A(H1N1) virus, vastly more people die every week from seasonal
influenza (9,600) than have died from swine flu (800 deaths by 24 July 2009).
90% of deaths from infectious disease are caused by six infections – tuberculosis, pneumonia, diarrhoea,
measles, malaria and AIDS – which are most prevalent in less developed countries. The number living with
HIV/AIDS grew to 33 million in 2007; 70% get no antiretroviral drug (ARV) therapy. Despite the relatively low
cost, only 8% of HIV-positive children and 11% of women in ‘low and middle income’ countries were receiving
ARV medication in 2005. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 67% of all people living with HIV and for 72% of AIDS
deaths in 2007. There were 2.5 million AIDS-related deaths in 2007. Measles kills 0.9 million people and malaria
2.7 million annually. Bacterial pneumonia kills more children under five (two million) than any other disease –
more than HIV, malaria and measles combined. 73% of the 151 million cases of childhood pneumonia each year
are concentrated in 15 countries, mainly in Africa.
1.7 million people die annually from TB, a curable disease. XDR-TB (Extensive Drug Resistant TB), a new
particularly virulent strain, is so dangerous that patients die even before doctors receive results of tests and leaves
patients, including those living with HIV, virtually untreatable using current anti-TB drugs. Southern Africa is the
epicentre of the HIV/AIDS and TB pandemic. XDR-TB has now developed in 37 countries since 2003.
Cancer rates will double between 2002 and 2020 with 60% of new cases in underdeveloped countries. Diabetes
has risen from 30 million to 230 million cases between 1986 and 2006, again with most new cases in
underdeveloped countries. Vaccination provides one of the best means for preventing, rather than treating,
infectious disease. Lack of access to health care, especially medicines and vaccinations, is the main cause of these
easily preventable deaths, but medicines are kept out of the reach of the poor by high drug prices, intellectual
property rights and all the other schemes of imperialism, hidden behind a bogus philanthropy egged on by
exasperatingly vacuous liberals.

Structure of Cuban biotech industry

In stark contrast, in another underdeveloped nation, Cuba, health care provision for all its citizens is among the

best in the world, as reflected in its infant mortality rates and life expectancies. Cuba has developed a
pharmaceutical and biotechnological industry that has provided its national health care system with over 160
products. Cuba’s biotech industry is wholly state owned (funding is determined by national need and peer review
– a defining feature of Cuban biotechnology). There are no private hospitals and no private profit; all
pharmaceuticals are publicly owned and all investment comes from the state. Cuba earns at least $400 million a
year from its total pharmaceutical and biotechnology exports, possibly its fourth biggest export earner. All profits
are reinvested in the biotechnology sector. Cuba produces approximately 80% of the drugs and medicines used
by its 11 million people – the strategy is straightforward: the government develops the drugs and vaccines
according to the demands of Cubans. It then tests them and dispenses them across the population through a network
of neighbourhood family doctors, polyclinics and hospitals.
Cuba’s extensive commitment to biotechnology began soon after the start of the revolution. Like the Soviet
Union, the Cuban government believed that science would benefit the health and socioeconomic prospects of the
people. In 1960, Fidel Castro said ‘the future of our homeland must be that of men of science’. But the blockade
of Cuba by the US made it impossible for Cuba to import the drugs its impoverished citizens needed, especially
as Cuba was not rich in oil and mineral resources. At Castro’s insistence, Cuba therefore decided to establish a
National Centre for Scientific Research (CNIC), which opened in 1965, followed by the Centre for Molecular
Immunology (CIM), the Finlay Institute and finally by the Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology
(CIGB), which are now a part of the ‘Scientific Cluster’ of western Havana – a complex of 53 applied research
centres and their industrial offshoots – that makes up the bulk of Cuba’s biotechnology industry. There are 14
such ‘scientific clusters’. In total, the country has more than 120 scientific research centres, employing about
30,000 people. Hence biotech is not concentrated in the capital Havana, avoiding the creation of inequalities in
Cuban society.
Most research and development (R&D) centres also have their own production plants and marketing arms for
both domestic distribution and export. However, the R&D centres consult and collaborate with each other and share
resources. Interdisciplinary cooperation by Cuban scientists is encouraged and establishing links with foreign
research centres is a policy of the Cuban government. Scientific research, innovation and product development,
production and marketing are all integrated under the same roof, or at least in the same institution, preventing
unnecessary waste of time and duplication of work, a common feature of science in capitalist countries. This is
only possible due to state monopoly of industry in Cuba and control of the R&D centres whose projects and
priorities are not determined by short-term profits.
In 1981, the government stepped up its biotechnology initiative – its scientists developed the leukocyte
interferon (for the treatment of several forms of cancer and HIV/AIDS) from human blood in six weeks flat.
Cuban scientists first discovered it was far more efficient to produce interferon via genetic engineering than by
extracting it from blood, so it was first made this way in Cuba, and is now the common method in the labs of the
developed capitalist countries. Even during the worst period of economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet bloc,
Cuba invested over $1 billion between 1992 and 1996 (1.5% Gross National Product) in the ‘Scientific Pole’, and
sent its scientists to labs in Latin America, Sweden, Spain, and Germany to continue research collaborations. New
scientific disciplines, such as bio-informatics and computational sciences are constantly being developed to obtain
results that directly impact upon Cuban society (Tirso Pons et al, ‘Computational biology in Cuba’, 2007,

Concrete accomplishments of Cuban biotech

Cuba can count among its many attainments: a genetically engineered cholera vaccine; a cholesterol-lowering
drug derived from sugar cane; bone implants for reconstructive surgery that are made from coral; an extensive array
of recombinant proteins (recombinant means material produced when segments of DNA from different sources
are joined to give new combinations of genetic material) such as interleukin-2 (for cancer treatment); synthetic
peptides; monoclonal antibodies (MAbs, for cancer therapy); alpha and gamma interferon; streptokinase (world’s
most advanced anti-coagulant for breaking up blood clots in heart attack victims designed and produced in Cuba);

erythropoietin (a hormone that regulates red blood cell production), and several animal and human vaccines. These

● a Hepatitis B vaccine that has virtually eliminated the disease in Cuba (it afflicts an estimated 300 million
people worldwide)
● the world’s only effective Meningitis B vaccine
● a Hib (Haemophilia influenza type b) vaccine – the first fully synthetic vaccine to succeed in all clinical trials
● a vaccine against a specific type of cancer that has been licensed for use in the US, despite the blockade.

Cuba developed the first synthetic vaccine for the prevention of pneumonia and meningitis, which is much cheaper
than what is offered by Western pharmaceutical companies. The Finlay Institute alone has developed seven
vaccines for Cuba’s health system, including against typhoid, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and Meningitis
B and C.
Cuba has developed antigens enabling it to routinely screen blood products for HIV and hepatitis viruses,
pregnant women for neural tube defects in the foetus, and newborns for certain biochemical birth defects and
sickle cell anaemia. Cuba also has in development recombinant vaccines against HIV, Hepatitis C, and Dengue
Most of Cuba’s vaccines are produced using recombinant (genetic engineering) technology. Advantages of
recombinant vaccines are that the vector can be chosen to be not only safe but also easy to grow and store, reducing
production cost. The only recombinant vaccine for the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccine currently in use in humans
is Cuban. Although the US and France also manufacture a Hepatitis B vaccine, according to Baretta, former head
of Canadian pharmaceutical firm Aventis Pasteur, ‘What they [Cuba] have done there is truly remarkable. Their
work on hepatitis is likely to become the standard for the rest of the industry.’ (Financial Times, 14 June 2002).
Cuba’s record boasts 26 inventions with more than 100 international patents already granted since the
Revolution. By 2009 Cuba was also exporting its products to over 58 countries around the world, earning vital
foreign currency for the blockaded island; but, as Cuban chemical engineer Sonia Gonzalez said, ‘All the products
we produce are applied in the first place in our own country. Our national health care system provides these
vaccines free to our people... We believe it is an important programme for the nation.’
But although the US has granted Cuba 26 patents, the blockade has so far prevented Cuba from selling any of
its products there. Each year in the US, there are 1,700-3,400 cases of meningococcal meningitis, now increasingly
resistant to most common antibiotics. In 1986 a vaccine with proven effectiveness against Serogroup B (and
subsequent trials have shown effective against subtypes A and C) was developed in Cuba by the Finlay Institute.
Since then, 55 million doses have been administered in Cuba and other countries and it is registered for use in 15
countries, but not the US. From January to March 2009, at least 1,500 people died of the deadly brain disease
meningitis in two countries of Africa’s ‘meningitis belt’. There are no vaccines for the strain (Serogroup A) found
in Africa.
Traditional vaccines are preventative, but Cuba has also led the way in the production of therapeutic vaccines
which produce an immune response to treat patients with pre-existing conditions. According to Cuban government
predictions, cancerous diseases in general will become the first cause of death in Cuba by 2010 and it is rapidly
developing more advanced therapeutic cancer vaccines. Cuba has developed an asthma vaccine, stem cell treatment
for diabetic ulcers on the feet (which usually lead to amputation), the world’s first halal vaccine for meningitis,
and there are at least 40 products in development at the CIGB. Cuba’s biotech industry concentrates on the diseases
affecting the poorest countries of the world. The US and Britain’s biotech and pharmaceutical industries
concentrate on areas of profitability. Setting aside the gutter attacks from Cuba’s enemies on its ‘knock-off drugs’,
or Bush’s assertion that Cuba was developing biochemical weapons, there have been more sophisticated attacks
on Cuba’s quality management and control, despite the fact that Cuba’s biotech industry and companies have been
successfully evaluated by the World Health Organisation and other international bodies up to ISO 9001 quality
and GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) standards.

None of this would be possible without socialism, which is the driving force for these developments since the
start of the revolution. Meningitis B now accounts for 90% of cases in Britain; current vaccination protects against
Hib meningitis, Meningitis C and pneumococcal meningitis but there is no Meningitis B vaccine in Britain. Cuba
has the Meningitis B vaccine – why don’t we?

End the blockade of Cuba!

Cuban socialism: to be educated is
to be free
Rebecca Rensten and Helen Yaffe
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 211 October/November 2009

For 50 years since the Revolution of 1959, Cuba has shown what can be accomplished in the fields of education
and culture by a society that puts people before profit, promoting cooperation not competition. Its democratic
planned economy has made possible remarkable achievements that have benefited the entire Cuban population and,
through Cuba’s internationalism, millions of poor people around the world.
Education in Cuba is regarded as a human right and a duty for all citizens: for better child care and family life;
for handling the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood; for improving health, diet and hygiene; to satisfy
cultural needs and produce well-rounded individuals; for providing the political understanding to withstand cultural
imperialism and brainwashing; for reducing privilege and relative poverty, and the social exclusion, crime and anti-
social behaviour that stems from them. Within Cuba’s planned economy, education acquires three functions;
education as culture, political education and education for production;* combined, these functions create a varied
and well-rounded education system that has succeeded where capitalist provision is failing, leaving millions
uneducated and unemployed.

Educated for capitalism

Back in 1779, US President Thomas Jefferson proposed a two-track system for the ‘labouring and the learned’ with
the aim of ‘raking a few geniuses from the rubbish’. The separation in schooling was established to instil obedience,
patriotism and passivity in the working class, and so it remains today in Britain as well as in the US.
The plethora of titles under which Britain’s education system is organised, such as beacon colleges,
comprehensive schools, academies, selective schools, independent schools, public (private) schools, do not
disguise the fact that education perpetuates the class divide. Private or ‘independent’ schools provide better
facilities and attention, and significantly increase the likelihood of success in educational qualifications,
employment and wealth. Research by Halifax Financial Services calculates average annual fees for private
education at £10,239, but the national average median income of UK households in 2007/08 was £20,436. Clearly
only a minority can afford these luxuries. Success and power or poverty and lack of education are largely
determined from birth in Britain. Even within state schools pupils are often streamed according to test results –
beginning the process of social stratification. As students become workers they are allocated a position according
to the demand for labour within the capitalist production process.

Education in Cuba
Pre-revolutionary Cuba exemplified the class divide in education. In the 1950s there were only 82 high schools
and two universities nationwide. 90,000 students were enrolled in private schools. 60% of the population lacked
schooling and 41.7% of the population was illiterate. Only 3.5% had received high school education and just 1%
had university education.
Inequality in education was regarded as a legacy of colonialism, slavery and imperialist domination by the
Movement for the 26 July (M26J), the revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro in the struggle against the
Batista dictatorship from 1952. In the late 19th century, Cuba’s national independence hero, Jose Marti, stated:
‘To be educated is to be free’. The slogan was adopted by the M26J whose revolutionary programme declared:
‘We believe that true democracy can be attained only with citizens who are free, equal, educated and have dignified

and productive jobs.’ The link between democratic participation, education and production could only be realised
under a socialist system.
From January 1959, the revolutionary government took steps to create a free and more productive education
system. The 1960 literacy campaign recruited 300,000 young Cuban volunteers to live in the poorest rural areas
teaching peasants and rural workers to read and write. Within a year every Cuban had achieved basic literacy. 37
schools were built in the first year of the revolution, compared to one school built in the previous 57 years.

Education as culture
The Constitution of Cuba establishes that the government: ‘orients, foments and promotes education, culture and
science in all their manifestations and specifically espouses the freedom of artistic creation, the defence of Cuban
cultural identity, and the conservation of the nation’s cultural heritage’. This concept of cultural education and
education as culture is overseen by the Ministry of Culture and there are cultural centres, music clubs, book groups,
chess clubs and free after-school educational activities in every municipality throughout the island.
In 2003, Fidel Castro said: ‘I qualify what is currently taking place in Cuban education in search of higher
objectives as a profound revolution. It is the total transformation of society itself, one of whose fruits will be a
general integrated culture accessible to all citizens. The very material future of our people is to be based on
knowledge and culture.’ He was referring to measures introduced under the Battle of Ideas, a campaign initiated
in 2001 to consolidate socialist principles and improve material conditions in Cuba.

Political education
In December 1961, ‘Schools of Revolutionary Instruction’ were set up to emphasise the importance of theoretical
education alongside practical work. Political education was integrated into schools at every level. As well as
teaching Marxist theory and Cuban history, high school students study other countries’ histories and political
systems. Emphasis is given to Cuba’s national heroes, with the revolutionary writings of Jose Marti being studied
by every child. This education in international affairs provides the ideological basis for Cuba’s remarkable
proletarian internationalism – the solidarity it expresses for people around the world.

Education for production

After the adoption of the planned socialist economy, production was no longer a means to exploit the working class
for profit but to meet people’s immediate needs and to fund new social programmes for universal benefit. Work
is understood as a social duty, not for private enrichment. An individual raising their skills level leads to
improvements in living standards for everyone. Education and training are integrated into workplaces and
Che Guevara noted that under capitalism students don’t take qualifications in relation to society’s needs or what
job roles are available. Often careers are chosen for the earning capacity of the qualifications. In pre-revolutionary
Cuba, there were many qualified lawyers but few geologists, chemists or engineers; the kind of skills necessary
to develop the economy, which was dominated by the US. Under socialism, Che insisted, careers should be studied
according to the national development strategy and the needs of the nation. He emphasised cooperation not
competition in education and training.
Today in Cuba every graduate has the opportunity to work because their qualifications are in direct proportion
to the amount of employees in the specific field that are needed. Students entering universities list subjects they
would like to study in order of preference. Whether they get their first choice depends on the need for people
qualified in that area, compared with the number of applicants. Course places are allocated according to grades
and student performance. It is unrealistic and impractical for everybody to be able to study their first choice and
would lead to unemployment as it does under capitalism.
The Cuban education system also enshrines the principle of the importance of engaging in manual and
intellectual labour. Many students attend boarding schools in the countryside where their time is divided between
academic study and agricultural or other manual work. Students frequently volunteer to carry out extra productive

work, because they realise that their contribution helps to fund these institutions and other social investments.
With the Battle of Ideas in 2001, the government opened emergency training schools to combat deficiencies
in five areas: social work, primary teaching, nursing, cultural education and IT instruction. The campaign
incorporated thousands of young people who had been marginalised from the revolutionary process, being outside
education and employment, as a result of the economic crisis generated by the collapse of the Soviet bloc. It also
responded to the demand to improve standards of social provision; improvements made possible by economic
recovery from the Special Period. The first new training school was opened in Cojimar, near Havana, to teach social
work intensively for three months (soon expanded to a year). Students could then choose to enrol on a university
course, on the condition that they practised social work on Saturdays during the course. Six hundred students
enrolled immediately. Hundreds of similar schools were set up throughout Cuba and by 2004, 21,000 social
workers and 10,135 primary school teachers had graduated on the scheme.
By 2007 there were more than 7,000 projects initiated as part of the Battle of Ideas: more new schools were
built to continue reducing class sizes, hundreds of adult education and technical training courses were started,
including a television-based ‘university for all’ programme, it was ensured that every classroom on the island had
access to a TV and video player, computers were put in every school, and a national network of video and computer
clubs was created.
Between 2002/3 and 2008/9 the number of classroom teaching staff was increased by nearly 60,000 to 270,053.
Of those, 81,975 are primary school teachers, which explains how it is possible that 94% of primary school pupils
are in groups of less than 20. The Cuban average retention and graduation rate for high school students is 97.5%,
compared to 52% in the 50 biggest US cities and 25% in Detroit. The number of Cubans who complete all
educational levels went up from just over 500,000 in 2002/3 to 640,000 in 2007/8. The increase was most
significant in higher education, or university level, up from 18,412 in 2002/3 to 44,738 in 2007/8. Since 1987
over 2,100,000 Cubans have graduated from computer courses at the Youth Computing and Electronics Clubs
which are now open in all 167 municipalities, including 39 in the mountains. Government expenditure on education
rose from 6.9% of GDP in 2000 to 12% in 2008 and adult literacy is 99.8%. Education is free and available for

Education for humanity

Through Cuba’s outstanding internationalism, its educational achievements have benefitted poor people around
the world. The Revolution’s educational assistance overseas began with a literacy campaign in Angola, 1978 to
1981. In 1980, Cuban teachers joined the Literacy Crusade in Nicaragua. Building on the success of its teaching
method, they developed a literacy programme for adaptation into different languages and by communities around
the world. By June 2008, the ‘Yes, I can’ (Yo Si Puedo) Cuban method was being applied in 28 countries
coordinated by Cuban specialists. Over 3,600,000 people from 23 countries, from New Zealand to Nigeria and
Guatemala to Equatorial New Guinea, had learned to read and write using the programme and another 330,000
illiterate people in 17 countries were being taught by Cubans. Over a dozen different versions of the programme
have been devised including in Quechua and Aymara (for Bolivia), Creole (for Haiti), Tetum (for Timor L’Este)
and Swahili (several countries in Africa). This contribution was recognised by UNESCO in 2006 which awarded
Cuba for their international literacy work. Cuba also provides free education on the island to tens of thousands of
students from Africa and Latin America.
The Cuban education system is constantly evaluated and improved. These amazing achievements in education
are not coincidental; socialism in Cuba is evident in these overwhelming successes which are down to a system
that values its people now, while also planning for and investing in future generations. Socialism is the only
sustainable way of securing a genuine education and good standard of living for everyone. Education ensures that
socialist Cuba stays free.

* See Helen Yaffe, Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution, Palgrave Macmillan 2009.

ALBA: new dawn for Latin America
Helen Yaffe
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 212 December 2009/January 2010

The Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) was initiated in 2004 with a set of trade and cooperation
agreements between Cuba and Venezuela. Its immediate origins lie in the famous barter trade between the two
countries which began in 2000. Cuba sent thousands of educators and medical personnel to Venezuela, which in
turn sold 53,000 barrels of oil a day at below world market prices to Cuba. This was followed in 2001 by an
agricultural cooperation deal. In December that year, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez first proposed a
‘Bolivarian Alternative’, to counter the neo-liberal Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), known in Spanish
as ALCA. ALBA means ‘dawn’ in Spanish.
Between 2006 and 2009, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Honduras (under Zelaya), St Vincent & the
Grenadines, Antigua & Barbuda and Ecuador joined ALBA (with Paraguay intending to join at the end of 2009),
and the ‘Alternative’ was consolidated as an ‘Alliance’; a ‘trade treaty of the people’. ALBA’s institutional
framework is established, with secretariats, work commissions, councils, bi-national corporations and so on. It
provides cooperation agreements between governments, without imposing changes to domestic institutions or
social-relations, whilst providing ideological and material support for radical internal reforms. Principally, ALBA
is building a barrier to US domination and European capital penetration, buttressing the most radical governments
(Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador) while offering other countries in the region concrete examples of the
benefits of trade relations based on south-south cooperation and the potential for welfare-based development.
By April 2009, there were 100 ALBA-projects underway, promoting non-market, non-profit based exchanges
with the aim of keeping resources and surpluses in the region. ALBA projects use member-states’ resource
strengths to promote domestic development focused on eradicating poverty and breaking traditional patterns of
economic dependence, exacerbated by neo-liberalism. This bloc has the potential to become increasingly important
in the context of the global financial crisis, highly unstable world commodity prices and recession in the most
developed capitalist countries with devastating consequences around the world. The Bank of ALBA, inaugurated
in December 2008, operates without loan conditions and with the consensus of members. Early in 2010 a new
virtual currency, the SUCRE, will be introduced for exchanges within ALBA, undermining the leverage of the US
dollar and international financial institutions.
ALBA is inspired by the welfare-based development model of socialist Cuba, with its medical and educational
internationalism. ALBA in turn has removed from Cuba the obligation to completely insert itself into the
international capitalist economy. It has provided the Revolution with an alternative export strategy that is consistent
with its socialist principles, reaps the benefits of the Revolution’s investments in education and healthcare and is
not obstructed by the US blockade.
The April 2009 ALBA Declaration of Cumana, Capitalism Threatens Life on the Planet says: ‘it is necessary
to develop and model an alternative to the capitalist system. A system based on: solidarity and complementarities,
not competition; a system in harmony with our mother earth and not plundering of human resources…in summary,
a system that recovers the human condition of our societies and peoples and does not reduce them to mere
consumers or merchandise.’
Although at present the economic impact of ALBA is limited, its regional political and social implications are
already significant. The emergence of an independent, alternative alliance in a region rich in hydrocarbons, metals
and agricultural land is seen as a threat to US domination and European capital investment in the region. ALBA’s

relations with Brazil and Argentina are increasingly fraternal, as it draws them towards its operation principles
(trade between Brazil and Argentina is no longer carried out in the US dollar, but by a system of payment in local
currencies), and unites with them in a defensive bloc against the Colombian regime, which will host seven US
military bases relocated there after the expulsion of the US from La Manta base in Ecuador.
The future consolidation and expansion of ALBA will take place in the context not only of growing US hostility
but also of a global recession. Whatever the difficulties, socialists and progressive people everywhere should
celebrate the example and achievements of ALBA. Three Latin American countries have eradicated illiteracy in
the last five years (as Cuba did in 1961): Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, while Ecuador will achieve this
historical goal soon. This is testimony to the revolutionary solidarity promoted by ALBA.

Socialism is good for the
David Hetfield
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 214 April/May 2010

The World Wide Fund for Nature Living Planet Report 2006 pointed to Cuba as the only nation in the world to
have achieved sustainable development, which it described as having a United Nations human development index
score of 0.8 or more, with a measure of human demand on the biosphere of 1.8 global hectares per person or less.
That Cuba is able to achieve sustainable development is because it is socialist. State ownership and central
planning, along with a grassroots system of participatory democracy, facilitate a rational allocation of resources
for the benefit of the population’s collective interests. That Cuba stands alone in this achievement supports Marx’s
contention that socialism is needed to overcome human alienation from nature under capitalism.
Achieving sustainable development is not just a case of using organic farming and renewable energy; it is
dependent on the productive and social system. Marx showed that labour and nature are the sources of wealth and
that under capitalism both nature and the worker are exploited in the interests of capital accumulation. In capitalist
production, nature is seen as a free gift to capital. Driven by the profit motive, the capitalist is only interested in
the unlimited expansion of capital. Natural resources like land, water, raw materials and hydrocarbons are only
of interest to the capitalists in so far as they can be turned into profit. It is the logic of the system of capitalist
production, not specific policy decisions which makes capitalism unsustainable. Marx observed, in Britain, both
a loss in soil fertility and workers living in overcrowded polluted cities, with precarious livelihoods. Today we see
catastrophic global warming and fuel shortages, with the mass of humanity living in permanent underdevelopment,
whilst a small majority live unsustainable consumerist lifestyles.
Cuban socialism demonstrates that countries can recover from over-exploitation and underdevelopment, and
that societies can be organised without the profit motive and obscene inequalities, but with human welfare and
environmental sustainability at the core of their development. Between 1900 and 1959, as a semi-colony of the
US, Cuba’s forest and plant cover was reduced from 52% to 14% as land was concentrated in the hands of a few
private domestic and foreign companies. In 1959, in the first year of the Cuban Revolution, the first reforestation
programme was implemented. In the first decades of the Revolution, with trade and cooperation with the socialist
bloc, Cuba largely continued with monoculture farming, in sugar and tobacco, relying on large-scale machinery,
oil supplies, petroleum-based pesticides and fertilisers supplied from the Soviet Union. Whilst the favourable
terms of trade allowed Cuba to develop a relatively high level of industrialisation and continually improve its
healthcare and education, it relied on the socialist bloc for 80% of its trade and 57% of its food. With the fall of
the socialist bloc between 1989 and 1991, all this disappeared, leaving critical scarcities in fuel, food, agricultural
inputs, materials, medicines, machinery, and spare parts. Along with the US tightening the blockade, this caused
GDP to shrink 35% by 1993. Cuba had to turn to its own resources to survive.
Cuba entered its ‘Special Period’ of economic crisis. Economic reforms were introduced including concessions
to the ‘free market’, however, free universal welfare provision, state planning and the predominance of state
property were maintained. Tourism was encouraged to generate hard currency for necessary imports, but with
measures to reduce its environmental impact. Where workplaces were closed, workers were offered alternative jobs
or retraining on their former income.
Even at the start of the Special Period, rather than just being concerned with production, Cuba demonstrated
its commitment to the environment at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (see Castro’s speech
‘Tomorrow will be too late’, That year Cuba amended its

constitution to recognise the importance of ‘sustainable and social development to make human life more rational
and to ensure the survival, well-being and security of present and future generations’, stating ‘it is the duty of
citizens to contribute to the protection of the waters, atmosphere and conservation of the soil, flora, fauna and
nature’s rich potential’.

Agriculture and food production

As a result of the economic crisis, average calorie intake fell by 40%. In capitalist countries, food shortages cause
price hikes ensuring hunger hits the poorest sections of society. However, in Cuba, the basic ‘ration’ (food quota)
secured some food for everyone. Nonetheless, it was essential to increase food production. Some large state farms
were transformed into co-operatives, where large machinery was replaced by human and animal labour. To
encourage greater efficiency and productivity, co-operative workers and small farmers were allowed to sell surplus
food after meeting their state quotas. In cities, unused plots of land were turned into urban farms (organoponicos)
and gardens, increasing food production, providing employment for 30,000 people in Havana alone, reducing
transport costs of food, and allowing a more efficient recycling of nutrients. In Havana, these now supply 100%
of the city’s fruit and vegetables and are supplemented by urban patios, which number 60,000 in Havana. Idle land
is being distributed in usufruct (rent-free, short-term loan) to those who want to produce organic food. Average
daily calorie intake has returned to its 1980s levels.
State-run biotechnology and agricultural institutions develop organic methods like crop-rotating, the use of
biofertiliser, such as compost, and the use of vermicomposting (worm farms) to replace chemical fertilisers, and
replacing synthetic pesticides with unique biopesticides and the specialised use of pests to combat crop-attacking
pests. They develop permaculture methods, interplanting complimentary crops, making it easier to avoid pests and
maintain soil fertility. They have developed pasture techniques to increase milk productivity and help recycle
nutrients. These specialists work closely with the farmers, learning from each other and overcoming the artificial
gap between manual and mental labour. Cuban agronomists have taught agroecological farming methods to farmers
in Haiti and across Central and South America. By 2003, the Agriculture Ministry had reduced diesel fuel use by
50%, and chemical fertiliser and synthetic pesticide use by over 90% from 1989.

Energy efficiency
The Revolution had raised access to electricity from 56% to 96% of the population, but inefficient equipment and
lack of fuel led to frequent blackouts. 2006 was nominated the year of energy, when Fidel Castro said ‘We are not
waiting for fuel to fall from the sky, because we have discovered, fortunately, something much more important:
energy conservation, which is like finding a great oil deposit.’
Efficiency in electricity generation was made by installing hundreds of small distributed generators, which are
more efficient than large power stations and cause smaller transmission losses. 40% of Cuba’s electricity now
comes from these generators, causing less disruption from mechanical breakdowns and natural disasters. Electricity
is also generated from natural gas produced as a by-product of Cuba’s off-shore oil industry, with the aim of
producing 20% of the country’s electricity this way. In 2004 and 2005 there were over 400 days of large-scale
blackouts greater than 100 megawatts that lasted over an hour; in 2006 there were three days and in 2007 none.
Within two years of the Energy Revolution, the country consumed 34% less kerosene, 37% less liquefied petroleum
gas and saved 872,000 tons of oil in energy saving measures.
As part of the Energy Revolution, thousands of social workers, most of them teenagers, visited every household
in Cuba, distributing ten million energy saving light bulbs to a population of 11 million people, discussing energy
conservation and noting which electrical appliances were in use. All incandescent light bulbs were replaced within
six months. Over six million rice cookers and pressure cookers replaced kerosene and gas cookers. Energy efficient
appliances were sold at low prices with long-term payment facilities. This included two million refrigerators, one
million fans, 182,000 air conditioners and 260,000 water pumps. To encourage efficient use, the electricity subsidy
was reduced for high use. In 2007/8 average per capita consumption was less than a tenth of US usage.
In electricity generation, Cuba uses a variety of renewables:

● Biomass, mainly from waste products of sugar cane, but also using rice, coconut husk, forest debris and coffee
● Hydroelectric, which is small in scale and largely used for local needs.
● Biogas, produced from the decomposition of organic waste, which is used for domestic cooking and electricity
generation, and leaves useful by-products such as fertiliser and food for fish and poultry.
● Solar energy, both solar thermal for heating water and using photo-voltaic cells to generate electricity,
particularly in rural areas where it supplies homes, medical clinics and schools with electricity. Cuba now
manufactures solar heaters and is expanding another plant that produces solar panels.
● Wind farms have been established in Ciego de Avila, Holguin and Isla de la Juventud, designed to be
dismantled at short notice in case of hurricanes.
Cuban social workers have also distributed over two million energy efficient light bulbs in Haiti. Cuban
technicians and scientists have installed solar panels and advised on energy efficiency in Venezuela, Bolivia,
Honduras, South Africa, Mali, Nigeria and Lesotho. They have been invited by the Chilean government to teach
people how to make biogas digesters and to Peru to make solar driers for industrial timber factories, as well as
helping to build small hydroelectric stations in Ecuador.
Cuba is one of the most vocal critics of biofuel production to power cars. Fidel Castro condemned as immoral
the use of land for biofuel exports, not food, where people lack food security, and the destruction of forests to ‘feed
the insatiable demand for fuels needed by a civilisation based on their irrational use. The only result possible is
an increase in the cost of food and thus, the worsening of the social situation in the South countries’ (April 2007).
In 2007-2008 food prices rose by 83%, a suppressed World Bank report stated that price increases of 75% were
caused by biofuel production replacing food production. One-quarter of all the maize and other grain crops grown
in the US is used for biofuel production. EU companies have taken millions of acres of land out of food production
in Africa, Central America and Asia to grow biofuels for transport.

Co-operation for the environment and development

The Centre of Investigation in Structures and Materials (CIDEM) research institute at Cuba’s Santa Clara
University develops eco-materials for use in small scale localised production of housing. It has developed lime
pozzalana cement, which generates approximately half the amount of CO2 emissions of normal cement production,
as well as light but strong micro-concrete roofing tiles; low-energy fired clay bricks using bio-waste products as
fuel; and laminated bamboo sheeting. The researchers go into the communities to train people, then the local
people and government organise production.
Wildlife and biodiversity are also protected in Cuba. In 2006 National Geographic magazine stated Cuba’s
environment is ‘largely pristine’; land is set aside for protection. Cuba’s coastal areas and mangroves are an
important refuge for hundreds of species of fish and marine animals, many of which have been wiped out elsewhere
in the Caribbean. Recently, Cuba responded to the UN Climate Change Conference call for 140 billion trees to be
planted worldwide, by mobilising mass organisations including the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution
and the Federation of Cuban Women, so that now forest cover has risen to 24.3%.
Cuba’s internationalist solidarity and its building of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) with
Venezuela, joined by Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Honduras (under Zelaya), Ecuador, St Vincent and the
Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda, with its policy of humanitarian, economic and social cooperation through
non-market, non-profit-based exchanges show the only sustainable and workable basis to deal with the effects of
climate change.
Socialism is good for the environment.

New dog, old tricks
Obama ratchets up attack on Cuba
Helen Yaffe
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 215 June/July 2010

In spring 2010, Cuba came under renewed attack as politicians and the corporate media worldwide portrayed the
revolutionary government as a repressive dictatorship struggling to stem a growing tide of discontent. This
offensive is orchestrated by the Obama administration which is continuing the 50-year war against Cuban
socialism. The strategy is simple but effective: demonise the enemy to win public consent for an intensification
of conflict. The backdrop to the current campaign is the global capitalist crisis, Raul Castro’s defence of the
socialist system and the growing influence of Cuba in Latin America and around the world. In the face of this
intensification of hostility, Cuba and its supporters have continued to fight back and expose the lies, distortions
and hypocrisy.1 HELEN YAFFE provides a framework for understanding the escalation of the attack on Cuban
The capitalist system is undergoing its most severe structural crisis for 80 years. Meanwhile, socialist Cuba
continues to demonstrate the viability and benefits of socialism; state planning and the rational allocation of
resources, free from financial speculation or the dictates of capital. Despite 50 years of the US blockade; despite
the punitive fines recently imposed on companies around the world for trading with Cuba; despite $10 billion of
damage caused by the hurricanes in late 2008; despite the reduction of tourist revenues due to the global recession;
despite the fall in export prices and the rise in import prices – despite all this, Cuba continues to experience modest
economic growth, to increase social investment and to extend its medical and educational internationalism.
The ‘transition’ from Fidel to Raul Castro has failed to materialise into the ‘liberalisation’ process that the
bourgeois media anticipated. Raul Castro has initiated measures to consolidate the strength and efficiency of the
Cuban state, in much the same way as he had done at the head of the Cuban military, which, under his leadership
became a mass civilian defence force. Since the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, the US military has considered the
cost of an invasion to be too high. Cuba’s stability, development and internationalism, particularly against a
backdrop of capitalist crisis and the bankruptcy of the neo-liberal model, provide it with growing influence among
underdeveloped nations.
In 2009, 41 heads of state and government visited Cuba, including 18 from Latin America and the Caribbean,
most signing cooperation or trade agreements. In October 2009, for the eighteenth consecutive year, the UN
General Assembly voted to condemn the US blockade, with 187 countries in favour, three against and two
abstentions. In Obama’s first encounter with the governments of the Americas in April 2009, Cuba’s reinstatement
in the Organisation of American States, from which it is was expelled in 1962, was demanded as proof of his
claim to want to establish new relations with the region.
Most significantly, Cuba has inspired and established the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA).
Initiated with a set of trade and cooperation agreements between Cuba and Venezuela in 2004, ALBA was extended
to seven other countries by mid-2009 (the 28 June 2009 military coup in Honduras removed that country). ALBA
is building a barrier to US and European imperialism, providing examples of welfare-based development and the
benefits of trade relations based on South-South cooperation. ALBA has allowed Cuba to limit its dependence on
the international capitalist economy. Although the economic impact of ALBA remains limited, US government
officials have expressed alarm at the influence of Cuba and Venezuela in the region.
This is the context of the renewed attacks on Cuba, alongside attempts to destabilise and discredit the
governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the military coup in Honduras, the US takeover of seven military

bases in Colombia and the re-establishment in 2008 of the US Fourth Fleet to patrol the Caribbean and South
American waters for the first time since 1950. Three events in Cuba in the last six months demonstrate that
Obama’s administration is intensifying the war against Cuban socialism: the December 2009 arrest in Havana of
a US Agency for International Development (USAID) agent, hunger strikes by prisoners Orlando Zapata Tamayo
and Guillermo Farinas, and protests by the so-called ‘Ladies in White’.

Private contracts for mercenaries

On 4 December 2009, entrepreneur and mercenary Alan Gross was arrested in Havana on a $500,000 mission to
promote subversion in Cuba. He was contracted by the private US company Development Alternatives Inc., which
in 2008 had won a $6 million contract with USAID to ‘advance democracy’ in Cuba. The Bush administration had
secured a 500% increase in funding for such projects, providing a total budget of $45 million. With revelations
about the inefficiency and corruption of the tiny opposition groups inside Cuba – ‘groups had come under fire for
wasting the money on Godiva chocolates and cashmere sweaters’ (Washington Post, 21 May 2010) – USAID
turned to professional contractors (posing as tourists) to take communications equipment, satellite phones and
laptops with internet access into Cuba to promote subversion. Gross had previous contracts with USAID to provide
satellite internet services to private organisations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At the time of Gross’s arrest in Havana, he had travelled to Cuba as a tourist five times in nine months. His
target was Cuba’s tiny Jewish community of 1,500, which has good relations with the revolutionary government.
The Washington Post noted that: ‘Most Jewish community centres already had desktop computers and email’.
There simply is not enough opposition in Cuba for this money to be productive and counter-revolutionaries have
no roots in ‘civil society’. ‘Dissent’ in its real sense, is not only legal, but often actively encouraged in Cuba
through national debates, popular consultations and discussions in places of work, study or residence. However,
it is illegal under Cuban law to give or receive goods under the US programmes designed to overturn the
Revolution, or to bring satellite equipment into Cuba without a permit. Gross remains in prison.

Hunger strikers – who benefits?

On 8 December 2009, Orlando Zapata Tamayo began a hunger strike which ended on 23 February 2010 with his
death aged 42 years; the first such incident in nearly four decades. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was
‘deeply distressed by his death’ and denounced the oppression of political prisoners in Cuba. The EU demanded
the ‘unconditional release of all political prisoners’. In June 2008, the EU, led by Spain, had relaxed sanctions
imposed on Cuba through its Common Position in 1996, but Zapata’s death was followed by strong condemnation
and the strengthening of sanctions. The news made the front pages of many newspapers and websites, particularly
in the US and Spain. Most media outlets referred to Zapata as one of 75 ‘dissidents’ arrested in March 2003 ‘in a
crackdown against opposition activists’ (BBC News, 24 February 2010). John and Emily Kirk monitored over 80
articles in the US mainstream press in three months and found:

‘Vocal denunciations of the abuse of human rights in Cuba were sprinkled among the many articles dealing
with Zapata. The term “prisoner of conscience” was liberally used to describe his plight, and he was
presented as a political activist who was protesting inhuman treatment in prison. In the media rush to show
him as a person imprisoned for his political beliefs, little attention was paid to his long criminal record,
involving domestic violence (2003), possession of a weapon and assault, including the use of a machete
to fracture the cranium of Leonardo Simon (2000), fraud (2000), and public disorder (2002).’2

Zapata had accrued a serious criminal record between 1990 and his arrest in March 2003, the same month as
75 opposition activists (see below and FRFI 175: Unlike them, Zapata’s name was
not included in the UN Human Rights Commission list of political prisoners in Cuba in 2003. He was sentenced
to three years as a common criminal in May 2004. Zapata had never carried out any anti-government activities
prior to this. His mother, Reyna Luisa Tamayo, approached opposition groups after his imprisonment in 2004.

Subsequently, Amnesty International (AI) adopted Zapata among the 55 ‘prisoners of conscience’ they recognise
in Cuba. AI recognises that these others were convicted of ‘having received funds or materials from the US
government to carry out activities that the authorities consider subversive and damaging to Cuba.’ (AI press
release, 18 March 2008). French commentator Salim Lamrani states: ‘Here AI cannot escape an obvious
contradiction: on the one hand AI characterises them as “prisoners of conscience” and on the other hand it admits
they committed the serious crime of accepting “money or materials from the US government”.’3
Zapata’s violent conduct in prison resulted in new charges which increased his sentence to 25 years. He went
on hunger strike demanding a stove, telephone and television in his cell. He was treated in hospitals in Camaguey
and Havana, initially in open wards before being moved to intensive therapy units, and attended by psychologists.
Supporters of the counter-revolution in Cuba persuaded Zapata’s mother to give an interview the day after his death
in which she said: ‘They finally murdered my son’. Later, she called for the world to impose sanctions on Cuba.
In response, on 1 March 2010, Cuban national news showed footage of Zapata’s mother thanking Cuban medical
personnel: ‘thank you very much. We have full confidence; we can see your concern and everything that is being
done to save him.’ She referred to ‘the best doctors, trying to save his life.’ The Cuban medics had a kidney for
transplant standing by. Raul Castro said the Cuban government regretted the death, but denounced those who
made political capital out of it.
In 2009 there were 122 suicides in prisons in France and 60 in England and Wales. How many of their families
receive media attention, or official statements from their governments? In the absence of torture, disappearances
and extrajudicial executions in Cuba, enemies of the Revolution have to resort to exploiting the suicide of an
unstable and violent man as a weapon against Cuban socialism.
Even the race card was played by Cuba’s enemies as Zapata was described as an ‘old black worker’
(Cubaencuentro website), ‘a black, opposition Palestinian’ (El Mundo, Spain), ‘a Negro construction worker and
victim of Marxist collectivism’ (El Heraldo, Ecuador). A placard in the US read: ‘A black man asked for change
and became US president. A black man asked for change and Castro put him in jail.’ What unprecedented and
hypocritical concern for the black working class, from a country where black people account for 12% of the
population, but 44% of its prisoners, and where more than one in ten black men in their 20s and early 30s are in
prison. The US government is pressing for the execution of Mumia Abu Jamal, a black journalist, militant anti-
racist and supporter of Cuba, who has been on death row for 27 years.
The day following Zapata’s death, another man, Guillermo Farinas Hernandez, initiated a hunger strike at his
own home in Cuba. He has been hospitalised since 11 March (alive at the time of writing), demanding the release
of 26 allegedly ill ‘political prisoners’. Farinas also has a record of non-political violent crime. In 1995 he assaulted,
battered and threatened to kill a women doctor, director of a hospital. Sentenced to three years and a 600 peso fine,
he initiated his first hunger strike and joined the counter-revolution. In 2002, an old woman he attacked with a
walking stick needed emergency surgery. Sentenced to five to ten years, Farinas began a second hunger strike. His
third hunger strike was to demand a television in the hospital wing where he was recovering from dehydration
caused by the second. In December 2003, Cuban authorities released him because of his medical condition, but
in 2006 Farinas initiated another hunger strike to demand internet access from his home. This was to assist his work
as a reporter for the CIA radio station, Radio Martí (see below). Farinas works closely with the US Interest Section
and other European diplomats who direct subversion in Cuba, receiving instructions, money and supplies. If
Farinas’ current hunger strike ends in death, he will become another martyr for the imperialist attack on Cuba.

‘Ladies in White’
75 opposition activists arrested in March 2003 were tried and imprisoned for breaking the laws of the Cuban
constitution – receiving payment from a foreign power to destabilise the government. They were not incarcerated
for ‘dissenting’ ideas or ideologies. Ex-CIA agent Philip Agee described them as ‘central to current US government
efforts to overthrow the Cuban government and destroy the work of the revolution’ (Counter Punch, 9 August
2003). Although more than 20 of the prisoners have since been released due to ill health, the bourgeois media
continues to refer to the 75 ‘dissidents’ in prison. As Arnold August points out, under the US Penal Code (Section

2381, under Chapter 115 ‘Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities’) any US citizen who ‘adheres to’ or gives
‘aid and comfort...within the United States or elsewhere’ to a country that US authorities consider to be an enemy
‘is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title
but not less than $10,000.’ Likewise, the constitutions of the European countries which arrogantly denounce Cuba,
severely punish citizens for acting in the interests of foreign powers or against the national interest.
Since 2003, female relatives and supporters of the ‘dissidents’ have held monthly parades after Sunday mass
through Miramar, an area in Havana where the foreign embassies are concentrated. Calling themselves ‘Ladies in
White’, their presentation is an insulting attempt to simulate the Argentinian Madres de la Plaza (Mothers of the
Square, who demand information about the 30,000 people ‘disappeared’ from 1976 to 1983 under the brutal US-
backed dictatorship). For seven years, this parade has proceeded without incident, despite the ‘Ladies’
spokeswomen, Laura Pollan, admitting that they receive thousands of dollars from Rescate Juridico, a US-based
opposition group presided over by Miami-Mafia boss and Cuban exile Santiago Alvarez. In November 2006,
Alvarez was sentenced to nearly four years’ imprisonment in the US for his part in a conspiracy to stockpile
weapons for use against Cuba.
On 9 December 2009, when the ‘Ladies’ paraded through a residential area of Havana they were surrounded
by local residents, mainly women, who danced and sang revolutionary chants in a carnival-like atmosphere (see v=FdiAx-HtLM0). This was a total rejection of the ‘Ladies’ collaboration with
US and European imperialism. In March 2010, the ‘Ladies’ planned a month of action to raise their international
profile. On Wednesday 17 March, they entered the Parraga neighbourhood to provoke a confrontation for the
benefit of the international press and the diplomats who accompany them. Among their regular entourage is
Michael Upton, deputy head of the British Embassy in Havana, along with representatives of the US Interest
Section and the German and Swedish Embassies, an activity in contravention of the United Nations Declaration
on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States (Resolution 36/103, 91st
Plenary meeting, 9 December 1981). Local residents took to the streets again to oppose the mercenaries. The
scenario was repeated twice over the next two weeks, supplying footage for the bourgeois media, which spat out
superlatives to describe the ‘repression’ they claimed the women were subjected to, as plainclothes and uniformed
police stepped in to protect the mercenaries from the Cuban people, herding them onto a bus to take them home.
Meanwhile, in late March, thousands of Cuban exiles and counter-revolutionaries, dressed in white and led
by celebrities, paraded through several US cities and in Madrid. In Miami, the event was headed by pop star Gloria
Estefan and joined by Luis Posada Carriles, another beneficiary of Alvarez’s sponsorship, who, despite 73
outstanding first-degree murder charges against him for blowing up a Cuban civilian aeroplane in 1976 and an
extradition order from Venezuela, enjoys freedom of movement in the US. In Los Angeles, the protest led by actor
Andy Garcia soon degenerated when a man overlooking the rally was attacked for waving a Cuban flag nearby
with an image of Che Guevara.

New dog, old tricks

Obama may be a new dog, but the attacks on Cuba are old tricks, as Eva Golinger commented: ‘the same tactics
of espionage, infiltration and subversion are still being actively employed against one of Washington’s oldest
adversaries.’ (13 December 2009). Salim Lamrani cites evidence of the official US policy to generate and finance
an international opposition in Cuba: Section 1705 of the Torricelli Law of 1992 (‘the United States will provide
assistance to non-governmental organizations suitable for support to individuals and organizations which promote
democratic and non-violent change in Cuba’.), Section 109 of the Helms-Burton Law of 1996 (‘The President [of
the United States] is authorized to offer assistance and to offer all kinds of support to individuals and non-
governmental independent organizations to organize forces with a view towards constructing a democracy in
Cuba’), and the two reports of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba of May 2004 and July 2006 (2004,
$36 million in financing to ‘support the democratic opposition and the strengthening of the emerging civil society’;
2006, $31 million to finance internal opposition, plus $20 million annually for the following years ‘until the
dictatorship ceases to exist’). A communiqué from the US Interest Section in Havana said: ‘The US policy, for a

long time now, is that of providing humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people, particularly the families of
political prisoners. We also allow private organizations to do the same.’4
Since 1959, the US government has promoted and financed subversive radio broadcasts against Cuba with
clandestine radio stations located in Miami. Radio Marti began broadcasting in May 1985, falsifying and distorting
information and jamming national radio space in violation of the International Telecommunications Union and the
International Space Laws. Since 1983, Radio and TV Martí (broadcasting since 1990) have received some $700
million of taxpayer’s money (Angel Rodriguez, ACN, 19 May 2010), leading to numerous scandals and
imprisonment for corruption. In 2009, the two stations had 170 employees and a budget of $34.8 million. The US
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has now recommended that they be relocated from Miami to Washington
to join the propaganda apparatus of Voice of America. The Committee said Radio and TV Marti ‘have been
broadcasting for decades against Cuba, with low journalistic level, negligible audience and lack of support of the
Congress. The fact that Radio and TV Marti haven’t been able to penetrate the Cuban society or influence its
government is disappointing.’
USAID disseminates dirty propaganda against Cuba and finances ‘independent journalists’ on the island to
influence international opinion. CubaNet was one of the first websites established in 1994 to generate internet
propaganda against Cuba. With access to recently declassified documents, Eva Golinger (Cuba Debate, 15 May
2010) reveals that in 1999 CubaNet signed a one-year contract with USAID worth $98,000, ‘to support a
programme to expand a website on the internet for independent journalists within Cuba’. USAID funds to CubaNet
increased to $245,000 in 2000, $500,000 in 2003 (the year of the imprisonment of the 75 mercenaries), and
$360,000 in 2007 – phenomenal sums allocated to subvert a country where the average wage is around $20 a
month. In April 2005, a document authorised ‘private funds’, which do not come from USAID or other US
agencies, to be sent to Cuba to ‘advance the objectives’ of the Cooperation Agreement between USAID and
CubaNet. The website was to continue disseminating reports to the US and international mainstream media, in clear
violation of US law which prohibits the use of government-financed propaganda as media ‘information’.
In 2010, USAID has a budget of $20 million to finance groups within and outside Cuba to promote
Washington’s agenda. The new star of the Cuban opposition, Yoanni Sanchez is a blogger, recipient of international
prizes and world rankings. Her return to Cuba from a comfortable exile in Switzerland in 2004 coincided with the
first Plan Bush for regime change and, as Salim Lamrani pointed out in a revealing interview with Sanchez, her
objectives coincide with those of imperialism.5

Whose human rights?

In late 2009, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published New Castro, Same Cuba, a report condemning the Cuban
government as abusive and repressive. Tim Anderson notes that unlike the National Endowment for Democracy,
set up by the US government, or France-based Reporters Without Borders, funded directly by the US State
Department for some of its anti-Cuba campaigns, HRW claims autonomy. However, most of HRW funds are from
foundations which are funded by US corporations. They often tie their contributions to particular projects. In
2009, more than 90% of HRW’s $100 million budget was ‘restricted’ in this way. ‘In other words, HRW offers a
privatised, wealthy, US-based selection of rights issues’ (Tim Anderson, http://links.
In Honduras, the brutal and illegitimate regime established after the military coup of June 2009, with support
from the Obama administration, has murdered over 150 political and social activists. Five journalists were killed
in March alone. Six months ago in Colombia about 2,000 bodies were found in one of the largest mass grave in
history. Evidence points to them being victims of state terrorism. The international corporate media has wasted
little ink on these stories. These victims were not champions of capitalism, private property and market forces, so
they are to be quietly forgotten – along with the 50,000 murdered, 30,000 ‘disappeared’ and 400,000 incarcerated
under Operation Condor established in the mid-1970s between US-backed military dictatorships to wipe out the
left in South America.
The US, British and EU governments are silent about the human rights of the million Iraqi civilians killed by
imperialist war and occupation since 2003 or the thousands killed in Afghanistan since 2001. What about the

Palestinians in Gaza; 1,400 murdered by Israeli bombs between December 2008 and January 2009, and the
survivors blockaded and under siege. Do the thousands incarcerated and tortured in the CIA’s secret prisons and
concentration camps around the world have human rights?
No country in the world has suffered more state-sponsored terrorism than Cuba. Terrorism and sabotage against
the Revolution have killed more than 3,400 Cubans. With astonishing hypocrisy, the US government has for nearly
12 years incarcerated the Cuban Five who were working to prevent terrorist attacks against their people (see FRFI
209 ( or
Obama’s concern about the human rights of the Cuban people does not stretch to lifting the illegal US blockade,
which fits the definition of ‘genocidal’ under the Geneva Conventions, and has cost the country more than the
equivalent of two Marshall Plans (Atilio Boron, Cubainformacion, spring 2010). In May 2010, Hillary Clinton
declared that Fidel and Raul Castro do not want the US blockade to be lifted because they would no longer be able
to blame the US for their country’s problems. President of the Cuban National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon replied:
‘It’s very simple for her to ask Congress to lift the blockade’, and suggested they do so for one year to see what
No nation makes more effort than Cuba to save lives around the world, or provide the right to education and
knowledge. Cuba has nearly 40,000 medical professionals providing free health care to poor people around the
world. Its educators bring literacy to millions of people. Its emergency brigades have recently saved thousands of
lives in Haiti, Pakistan and Central America. Thousands of poor people receive free medical training in Cuba.
These are human rights which the Cubans have fought hard to establish and which they will fight hard to preserve
and extend. The more Cuba resists, the more it is respected, and Cuba is ready to win the respect of the world!

1. This article draws from excellent material circulated on websites such as Rebelion (, Cuba Debate
( and Cuba Informacion (, and from commentators outside Cuba, including
Salim Lamrani, John and Emily Kirk, Eva Golinger and Arnold August.
2. John M Kirk and Emily J Kirk, ‘Human Rights in Cuba and Honduras, 2010: The Spring of Discontent’, Cuba Analysis,
19 May 2010.
3. Salim Lamrani, 18 March 2010,
4. Salim Lamrani, interview with Yoanni Sanchez, 17 April 2010.
5. The excellent interview can be found in English via /2010/05/cuban-counter-revolutionary-

Cuba: the drive for efficiency
within socialism
Helen Yaffe
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 217 October/November 2010

‘Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society – after deductions have been made –
exactly what he gives to it.’ (Karl Marx, 1875)

‘Wages today are clearly insufficient to satisfy all needs and have thus ceased to play a role in ensuring
the socialist principle that each should contribute according to their capacity and receive according to their
work…the Party and government have been studying these and other complex and difficult problems in
depth, problems which must be addressed comprehensibly and through a differentiated approach in each
concrete case.’ (Raul Castro, 2007)

The announcement by the Cuban Trade Union Confederation (CTC) on 13 September 2010 about plans to reduce
the state sector workforce by half a million was greeted with jeering international headlines. Cuba is rarely of
interest to the bourgeois press unless it believes there is some crisis to celebrate or that new measures can be
interpreted as evidence of a shift from socialism to capitalism.
Media coverage has been based on a set of misleading assertions that:
1. This is ‘a dramatic shift for the communist government as it urgently tries to salvage the flailing economy’
(Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, 17 September 2010);
2. Workers will be ‘laid off’, abandoned by the Cuban state as it moves from paternalism to market efficiency
under Raul Castro, ‘reform that makes Margaret Thatcher look like a leftist radical’ (Editorial, Financial
Times, 17 September 2010);
3. The changes confirm the failure of the socialist ‘model’ under the idealist Fidel Castro, and undercut ‘half a
century of thundering revolutionary certitude about Cuban socialism’ (Rory Carroll, The Guardian, 9
September 2010).

The state of the Cuban economy

In 1990, Cuba entered the Special Period of economic crisis resulting from the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Cuba’s
principal trading partner; Cuban GDP fell by one third. Despite this, the Cuban government ensured a basic
standard of living for its people and socialist welfare was preserved and extended. From 2000 material conditions
began to improve. GDP growth was 11.5% in 2005, 12.1% in 2006, and 7.3% in 2007 (Economist Intelligence Unit
[EIU] statistics – these are lower than Cuban government statistics). In 2008, growth began to slow to 4.3%,
reflecting the global economic crisis and the cost of three devastating hurricanes which struck in late 2008, falling
to 1.4% in 2009, but still significantly higher than the regional average and that of the imperialist countries. GDP
is expected to rise to 2% in 2010 and 3.7% in 2011, despite the fiscal adjustments underway and effects of a long-
term drought on Cuban agriculture.
With the rising cost of Cuban imports, as international food and fuel prices soared, and the fall in value of
Cuba’s principal exports, as nickel prices plummeted and tourism slowed, Cuba’s foreign debt and fiscal deficit
rose. Efficiency and rationalisation measures have been introduced to tackle this problem and the fiscal deficit has
been narrowed from 6.7% of GDP in 2008 to 4.8% in 2009 and is set to fall to 3.5% of GDP in 2010 and 3.1% in
2011 (EIU, September 2010). In 2010, while the government pays off overdue debts to foreign companies,

domestic expenditure and investments will be limited, but will subsequently pick up with officially guaranteed
loans from China, Venezuela and Brazil. Foreign Direct Investment is expected to rise from $550m in 2009 to
$720m in 2011. Cuba’s international reserves have also increased. The EIU foresees ‘improved productivity should
begin to lift real incomes, supporting firm domestic demand...[and] industrial production should grow more
strongly in 2011’. The government is implementing policies to rationalise and stabilise the economy, in preparation
for future advances.
The state of the Cuban economy cannot be assessed without considering the ongoing costs of the US blockade,
which is now estimated to have cost the island some $236.2bn and to have damaged every sector of the Cuban
economy, including healthcare, education and culture.

The Cuban workforce

The type of major adjustment currently proposed in the employment structure could not be risked in a period of
vulnerability. Since 2007, the Cuban government has promoted debate and discussion at all levels of society in an
effort to achieve national consensus about the need for such changes. Rather than a knee-jerk reaction to economic
problems, it is likely that employment changes were in fact postponed until the present period in which prospects
are improving and certain preconditions have been established.
Cuba’s workforce is around 5.2 million, of whom 800,000, or 15.4%, already work in the non-state sector. Most
of these are in agricultural cooperatives whose production features in the central plan; they sell a proportion to the
state. Just 140,000 Cubans or 2.7% of the total workforce are self-employed. Official unemployment is low at
1.7%, but this figure excludes those who work in the informal economy, where earnings are often higher and no
tax is paid, and those who have no work to do but remain on payrolls, receiving a reduced salary.
The CTC statement said: ‘It is known that there are more than one million people working in surplus posts in
the budgeted and enterprise sectors. Our state cannot and should not continue maintaining enterprises, productive,
service and budgeted entities, with inflated payrolls, and losses that hurt the economy.’ The first stage of restructuring
will take place within government ministries. Trade union representatives are meeting with management to
determine which posts are expendable. In some areas, where there are labour shortages, no workers will be removed.
The 500,000 workers who will be transferred from the state-sector by March 2011 will be given various options:
take up employment in agriculture, construction or industry, join cooperatives or enter self-employment. 178
activities are now open to self-employment. They include electricians, plumbers, musical instrument tuners, arts and
crafts makers, spectacle repairers and so on. The revolutionary government’s commitment to extend free access to
university education has generated shortages in numerous skilled and semi-skilled trades. In 83 of these trades
existing regulations, that only family members or cohabitants can be employed, will be removed.
However, for all the media chatter about the market economy, only a small minority of Cuban workers will
be self-employed. Their income will be progressively taxed, they will pay social security and be carefully regulated.
The result will be to increase both government income and the provision of goods and services in certain
areas, leading to price reductions and falling incomes for those operating in the informal sector. This, along with
a continued rise in state-sector salaries, will reduce the relative benefit for individuals operating outside the formal
sector. Accompanying the employment changes is a restructuring of the education system to decrease the number
of university students and increase technical training and manual skills.
While the intention is to forge the concept of work as a social duty, the government will not abandon those
unable to contribute. In August 2010, Raul Castro announced: ‘No one will be abandoned to their fate. The socialist
state will offer the support necessary for a dignified life through a system of social assistance to those who really
are not able to work.’

The drive for efficiency within socialism

Since the mid-2000s a series of measures have been introduced to improve efficiency within socialism: the
recentralisation of finances, de-dollarisation, the raising of salaries and pensions, an energy efficiency campaign,
the nationwide implementation of an enterprise management system to improve efficiency, the distribution of idle

land in usufruct (rent-free loan), the reduction in imports and the tightening of regulatory and auditing controls.
The changes in the employment structure are the latest measures in this process.
A principal complaint from Cubans during the nationwide popular consultation of 2007 was the existence of
the dual currency and its impact on society. However, this cannot be resolved without an increase in domestic
production, productivity and efficiency. These are also the preconditions to reducing imports, improving the balance
of payments and foreign debt, raising salaries, controlling inflation and reducing dependence on the ‘ration book’
(a basic basket of goods provided to all Cubans by the state at highly subsidised prices), which is a major drain on
government resources. The current developments cannot be understood from a purely ideological or political
perspective. They have to be understood as pragmatic measures introduced by the revolutionary leadership as part
of its search for the solution to the problem of building socialism from a position of underdevelopment, in a trade-
dependent island, blockaded and attacked. They are not disguised as theoretical advances or political improvements.
Representing the Cuban people, the socialist government must ensure free universal access to healthcare,
education and culture – constitutional rights in Cuba. In this regard its record is outstanding. Socialism is a stage
of transition between capitalism and communism, it is a dialectical process in which there are many complex
issues to resolve: the balance of responsibility for provision between the individual and the state; how such class
antagonisms as remain under socialism are mediated; ensuring discipline with resources and at work; how the
wealth of socialist society should be distributed; and how much control and centralisation is appropriate. These
questions are being addressed in Cuba in the face of a brutal blockade and terrorist attacks. When Raul Castro
insists on the need to end the ‘paternalistic’ state in Cuba he is not alluding to health and education services, he is
referring to ‘the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world in which you can live without working’ (Raul
Castro, 1 August 2010).
Che Guevara insisted on the concept of work as a social duty and advocated salary cuts to those who failed
to contribute adequately. Without great strides in productivity and economic efficiency, socialism and communism
would not be possible, he believed. ‘We should think about productivity without fear that it makes workers
unemployed. Yes, it is true that workers are made unemployed; but every excess worker in a factory means social
unemployment…the worker stuck in a job where he has to divide his work with another worker adds nothing to
society’ (Che Guevara, 1962). Similarly, in 1986 Fidel Castro warned against ‘speaking about the standard of
living as if it was divorced from productivity, from economic and social development, as if it was divorced from
the development needs of a country in the Third World, even a socialist one’.
It is neither right nor practicable that a significant number of individuals in Cuba benefit from the socialist state
provision without contributing to it. This was recognised by Fidel Castro, while still President of the Council of
State, in November 2005, who lambasted Cuba’s ‘new rich’; a small percentage of the population with access to
hard currency, who benefited from free universal welfare and education provision while refusing to contribute
anything to society. ‘There are several dozens of thousands of parasites who produce nothing’, he said. Fidel
highlighted the problem of widespread pilfering of state resources, generated by low salaries and scarce material
goods: ‘The Special Period aggravated it, because in this period we saw the growth of much inequality and certain
people were able to accumulate a lot of money’.
Highlighting the value of state subsidies for fuel, Fidel asserted: ‘No one knows the cost of electricity, no one
knows the cost of petrol, no one knows its market value.’ Introducing efficiency saving and anti-corruption
measures he set Cuba on the path to achieving what he called ‘the dream of everyone being able to live on their
salary or on their adequate pension’. The long-term plan he revealed was to eliminate the ration book, undermining
the parasitic layer in Cuban society, those who can work but won’t. The state would reduce its subsidy on energy
consumption, inducing awareness of consumption levels and saving. ‘Subsidies and free services will be
considered only in essentials. Medical services will be free, so will education and the like’.
The current changes to the employment structure intend to provide the infrastructure in which all Cubans can
contribute towards socialist development. No one will be abandoned, and the measure does not represent an
ideological preference for ‘liberalisation’, neither is it a rupture with the socialist revolution nor with its leader Fidel

The world stands with Cuba against
the US blockade
Murray Andrews
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 218 December 2010/January 2011

On 26 October, for the 19th consecutive year, Cuba delivered a resolution to the UN General Assembly on ‘The
necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America
against Cuba’. Murray Andrews reports on the impact of the blockade and the UN vote.
The US blockade began in July 1960 with the forced reduction of Cuban sugar exports to the US, for which
a set ‘quota’ had been established. The Soviet Union stepped in to purchase the surplus sugar and Cuba began
nationalising US properties on the island. As the Cuban Revolution radicalised, the US stepped up its attacks
using terrorism, sabotage, invasion, political isolation and the economic and trade blockade. By 1963 the US
government had frozen Cuban assets in the US.
The blockade aims to undermine the revolution by strangling the Cuban economy. Under the Torricelli (1992)
and Helms-Burton (1996) laws, passed by Congress, the US widened the remit of the blockade to cover third
parties: countries and companies that operate in the US and that trade with Cuba. Calculated at today’s prices, the
US blockade has cost Cuba a total of over $236 billion. In addition to impeding Cuban trade, the blockade obstructs
Cuba’s access to foreign funding and prohibits its use of the US dollar in international transactions.
The blockade has a severe impact on many sectors of the Cuban economy. In the public health sector, for
example, Cuba encounters difficulties in purchasing medical equipment and products, having to pay more and wait
longer for their importation. The costs incurred in the last couple of years alone demonstrate how Cuba is forced
to pay for the US blockade.
Between May 2009 and April 2010 Cuba lost $15.2 million because, unable to purchase items available in the
US, it paid extra to import them from far-off countries. Cuba cannot purchase the medicine Erwinia L-asparaginasa,
sold commercially as Elspar, as the company which produces it refuses to trade with Cuba because of the blockade.
The human impact is severe: denying Cuban children who suffer from lymphoblastic leukaemia the medicines they
need. Likewise, Cuba is unable to purchase high-tech medical equipment like gamma radiation chambers produced
by Toshiba which, while not a US company, refuses to trade with Cuba because of the blockade. Despite these
obstacles, Cuba has built a world-leading health care system and has thousands of Cuban medical professionals
assisting poor people around the world.
In 2008-09, 6,000 hectares of rice could not be planted because delays caused by the blockade meant that
pesticides and fertilisers did not arrive on time. Consequently, the shortfall of 12,400 tonnes of rice for consumption
cost Cuba an extra $7.5 million to import. Between April 2008 and March 2009, the fishing industry lost $5.4
million dollars in extra tariffs, transport and other costs. From May 2008 to April 2009, Cuba spent $40 million
on importing products for education. 8.7% of this was due to transport costs from Asia which would have been
reduced to 3.9% if they had been imported from the US.
Internet access is limited because the US administration refuses to give Cuba access to underwater broadband
cables. Cuba is forced to access slow, expensive and unreliable satellite connections to the internet. Websites such
as Sourceforge, Windows Live and Cisco Systems cannot be used in Cuba. This creates problems for universities
and other research centres as software updates are unavailable and internet access is limited. To resolve this
problem, Venezuela is laying a fibre-optic submarine cable for Cuba. Costs have escalated and the launch date has
been postponed to 2011, again because of the blockade. Venezuelan engineer Carlos Orfila explained, ‘because
of certain national and economic borders through which the United States attempts to impose its conditions, the

length of the cable had to be extended by about 100 kilometres’.
The US blockade has intensified during ten successive US governments and continues under President Barack
Obama, despite cosmetic reforms to roll back President Bush’s 2004 measures restricting Cuban exiles from
visiting their families on the island. In April 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton alleged that ‘the Castros do
not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalisation with the United States, because they
would lose all of their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years’. On 2 September 2010,
Obama signed a presidential memorandum to continue the blockade of Cuba for another year.
During deliberations on the Cuban Resolution at the UN in October, US ambassador Ronald D Godard stated
that: ‘It is the view of the United States that a new era in US-Cuban relations cannot be fully realised until the
Cuban people enjoy the internationally recognised political and economic freedoms that this body has done so
much to defend in other countries around the world.’ A powerful response to the US representative came from the
Nicaraguan delegation, which recognised the ‘political and economic freedoms’ defended by US imperialism
when the US Reagan administration engaged in the ‘dirty war’ against the Sandinista government. Other countries
which have felt the jackboot of US imperialism and which spoke in support of Cuba’s Resolution included Bolivia,
Angola, Laos, Vietnam and the DPRK.
Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez tore apart the US case for the blockade, powerfully rebutting the
slanders of US imperialism. He stated: ‘the pretexts for the blockade have changed over time. First, for allegedly
belonging to the Chinese-Soviet axis; then the supposed export of revolution to Latin America; then the presence
of Cuban troops in Africa to help defeat the apartheid system, preserve Angolan independence and achieve it in
Namibia. Later, the manipulation of human rights ...We are willing to discuss human rights violations. We could
start with the concentration camp in Guantanamo’. Rodriguez highlighted US funding of counter-revolutionary
and mercenary groups attacking Cuba. In the recent period alone, USAID has funnelled $15.6 million to
mercenaries on the island, while illegal radio and TV propaganda broadcasts to the island continue, and terrorists
Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, among others, walk freely in Miami.
The results of the vote demonstrate the international condemnation of the US blockade. All 192 UN member
states voted, 187 in favour, three abstentions and two against: the US and Israel, which Fidel Castro labelled ‘its
inseparable ally in genocidal actions’. Despite the robust condemnation, the US blockade will continue because
the US has a UN veto.
We should be clear: the US strategy is not an ‘embargo’, a legal barrier to impede trade; it is a ‘blockade’, an
act of war against an entire country. It is a genocidal act as defined by Article II, Section C of Geneva Convention
of 1948 on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: ‘Deliberately inflicting on the group
conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part’. The hypocrisy of the
imperialists, with their sloganeering about ‘human rights’ or ‘democracy’ in socialist Cuba, has been shown up yet
again in the UN. The world knows that the US has been engaged in genocide against Cuba for more than 50 years.

Produced by Rock around the Blockade, a campaign
based in Britain in solidarity with socialist Cuba
Email:, Tel: 020 7837 1688
BM RATB, London, WC1N 3XX
Visit our website:


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