REVIEWS: CUBA UNDER TECHNICAL SCRUTINY

Reading Time: 6 minutes

DUDLEY SEERS (ed), CUBA, THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL REVOLUTION, Chapel Hill, 1964.

If one were to believe the American news media, the Inter-American Press Society, and the Cuban exile groups, there would scarcely be any doubts as to the utter failure of the Cuban revolution in all its major aspects. The professional mythmakers of the Western world know very well what odds they are playing. They also know that, when a whole continent is at stake, the wagers must be high. Hence the faults and errors of the Cuban Revolution must be magnified out of all proportion, the economic situation must be pictured as chaotic, and an atmosphere of hate and hysteria roust be carefully nurtured in the American and Latin American public. With Jules Dubois as their pontiff and Theodore Draper as their foremost ideologist, these groups systematically indulge in the never ending game of fairytaling.

In order to dispel the atmosphere of mythmaking and outright ignorance about the Cuban situation Dudley Seers, the distinguished British economist who has pioneered much new work on the economies of Caribbean countries, went to Cuba in order to study at first hand “the economic and social revolution” taking place there. Associated with him was a team of three other economists: Andres Bianchi, Richard Jolly and Max Nolff.

Having spent five weeks each in Cuba, and’ not caught in either the hysterical opposition of the antagonists of the revolution or the blind adulation of its supporters, these economists have given an appraisal of the revolution in what is, in my opinion, a true scholarly spirit. To the best of my knowledge this book is the most complete and trustworthy analysis of the Cuban Revolution as it has developed to the present day.

Since the Cuban Revolution seems to be generating as much emotion as did the Spanish Civil War thirty odd years ago, it may be no surprise if its authors are attacked because of their conclusions about the achievements of the government led by Fidel Castro. But, as the Puerto Rican saying goes, “no se puede tapar el cielo con la mano” (you cannot shut out the sun with your hand).

This book studies the economic and social revolution carried out in Cuba from three different standpoints: Agriculture (Bianchi), Education (Jolly), and Industry (Nolfi). A long chapter by Dudley Seers serves as an introduction to the studies mentioned.

Professor Dudley Seers starts at the outset by emphasizing that Cuba, a country “traditionally dependent upon sugar exports, is attempting to achieve a very rapid rate of social change and economic growth”, and it is trying to do this by “using techniques of highly centralized planning”. Or, to put it another way, Cuba is attempting to bring the whole range of economic and social choices to be made into a single national frame of decision. For the whole of the New World, this constitutes a departure from the traditional approach and especially for the small Caribbean countries (of which Cuba is merely the largest) it cannot but be regarded as an interesting experiment. Clearly this conception of the requirements offers an alternative to the techniques of economic development and social change now employed in the Americas; though, it remains to be seen whether by giving the population a sense of participation and cultural security as well as rapid material improvements it can displace the now increasingly discredited Puerto Rican model of “industrialization by invitation”.

Whether it succeeds or fails the Cuban Revolution will have further important consequences for the countries of the Hemisphere – both within and between them – and the authors in this study, have successfully brought this point home to us.

An assessment of pre-revolutionary Cuba serves as the background for the analysis of present day reality. The authors carefully document the situation of a stagnant economy based upon a single crop, the depressed economic and social condition of the Cuban peasant, the high rate of illiteracy, the concentration of land in the hands of a few owners, the inordinate Cuban dependence upon the United States. Or, as Professor Seers indicates:

”The Cuban economy was so wedded to the United States economy that the country was in many ways an appendage of it – though without enjoying. as a poor state in the United States does, federal social service or access to United States sources of employment. Such lack of independence would have hampered any policy or diversification however imaginative.” (p. 20)