Cuba: Past and Present

More than one month has passed since the July 11 protests in Cuba, which are now being eclipsed in the news by the August 15 collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan and seizure of power by the Taliban. Both countries were dominated by the US-Soviet contention of 1956-1991 and continue to live the effects of that rivalry today. There is perhaps no greater physical embodiment of the lengthy and unbroken course of US imperialism than the Guantanamo Bay naval base, built in 1903 by the US in Cuba’s historical Oriente region and used 92 years later for a detention camp shortly after the US invasion of Afghanistan.

As long recognized by socialists, the fate of the US working-class movement is closely bound up with the fate of the Cuban nation, whose hero José Martí spent 15 years in this country, coming to know the “entrails” of the “monster,” as he wrote in 1895.[1] The July 11 protests are therefore an occasion to review the historical and present situation. Our position regarding the policy of the US bourgeoisie towards Cuba is straightforward: we uphold the Cuban nation’s right to self determination against all imperialisms, and call for the immediate end to all meddling by the US state in Cuban affairs, including the blockade.

In order to understand the present situation, a few historical facts must be established: US attempts to dominate the island after the 1959 revolution must be situated in a broader history of US aggression and understood as the expression of the interests of the US bourgeoisie as a whole. Located only 90 miles from Florida, Cuba has been the object of the ambitions of the US state since the Monroe presidency in the 1820s. From 1898 onwards, Cuba was invaded and occupied by the US multiple times. The colonial Platt Amendment legally sanctioned US intervention in Cuba, which continued long after the Amendment’s formal removal from the Cuban constitution in 1934. Notably, Puerto Rico, the other former Spanish colony in the Caribbean whose struggle for independence began in the same year in 1868, remains a US colony today.

The Cuban people possess a rich history of resistance to national oppression, including wars of independence. Later, in the new era opened by the Russian Revolution, they also contributed to the world debate on the path of the exploited and oppressed towards liberation: socialism or nationalism? The politics of Antonio Mella or those of Haya de la Torre?[2]

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 was an inspiration to many around the world, including to socialists in the US during the late 1950s and early 1960s. It overthrew the Batista dictatorship that had been installed in 1952. It demonstrated the possibility of revolution in Latin America. It defeated the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion carried out during the Kennedy administration. Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement inherited the democratic and national tradition of the Provisional Government of 1933-34 and the Constitution of 1940. However, as recognized in Cuba itself, particularly since the early 1990s,[3] the Soviet-Cuban relation placed obstacles on the creation of industry and deformed the country’s development. A dependent sugar economy was created for the USSR. Cuba prioritized export agriculture in 1963 and relinquished its hopes of industrialization, maintaining its dependence. In a similar manner, Khruschev tried but failed to reduce Albania to a colony for growing citrus fruits. These decisions in Cuba ultimately set the stage for the “Special Period” crisis and the conditions today. In politics, this dependence was expressed in the construction of a new ruling party, beginning in 1961, drawn heavily from the pro-Soviet Popular Socialist Party, although with certain difficulties in 1962 and again in 1967-68.

The contemporary Cuban economy continues to be that of a dependent capitalist country. On the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, exports to Russia constituted approximately two-thirds of Cuba’s total exports. In 1992, they fell dramatically to one-third of the total and to roughly 10% in 1995, dealing a severe shock to the country. In 2003, Venezuela stepped into the void, increasing its Cuban imports by nearly 10 times, and from 2010 to 2015 it accounted for 35-45% of Cuba’s total exports.[4] Foreign-exchange earnings are needed by Cuba to import the great bulk of the country’s supply of food and intermediate goods. This fact undergirds Cuba’s reliance on tourism and remittances, shedding light on the magnitude of the economic effects of the pandemic and the Trump-Biden reversal of the 2014 Obama “thaw.” The dependence on tourism and the sector’s recent decline shrank the nation’s economy by 11%.[5] The July protests took place in these conditions. Recalling the 1994 protests in Havana, they mark one more episode in a prolonged political and ideological crisis. This crisis is reflected in the contents of constitutional changes (in 1992, 2002, and 2019) and in the series of economic reforms initiated in the 2000s under Raúl Castro. The latest of these reforms is the August 6 decree-law, adopted in the wake of the protests, legalizing mipymes (micro, small, and medium enterprises).

Many on the Left are blinded by the Cuban state’s “socialist” trappings. For example, the only comment from the YDSA’s parent organization DSA on the situation was a two-sentence tweet expressing solidarity “with the Cuban people and their revolution in this moment of unrest.” One must go beneath the appearance of things, and ask: what has been the course of this revolution? What is happening at the moment? What is the “unrest”? In a similar vein, the new Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) published a statement that simply omitted the existence of even a vague “unrest.” Our friends in these organizations forget that the capitalists will make use of the failings and shortcomings of all “socialist” movements for their own ends, regardless of efforts to downplay or overlook them. Without ceasing to oppose imperialism, it is necessary to investigate what class is in power in each country, and to recover everywhere the requirements for the socialist road, learning from the 20th century, including the struggles between different socialisms.


1. José Martí, “A Manuel Mercado”, Obras Completas, Vol. 4 Cuba, Política y Revolución IV, 1895, 2001.

2. Julio Antonio Mella, ¿Qué es el ARPA?, 1928.

3. See Julio César Guanche, “Cuba hoy. Protestas, cambios sociales, perspectivas políticas. Notes para una conferencia,” August 11, 2021 (“En los primeros años 1990 hubo conciencia de la necesidad de leer críticamente la experiencia soviética. Hacia mediados de esa década el discurso sobre la ‘autenticidad’ del modelo cubano, con base en su revolución sin dudas original, tapó ese discurso crítico. Hasta hoy es una deuda de las ciencias sociales cubanas cuestionar sus legados para Cuba. Estos son dos ejemplos: La ayuda soviética, en términos monetarios casi compensó los costos del bloqueo, pero impuso otros problemas: obstáculos conscientes a la industrialización, deformación del modelo de desarrollo …”).

4. ONEI, Series Estadísticas Sector Externo 1985-2019 Enero-Diciembre 2019.