Cuba leads the fight against global capitalism

January 31, 2001

By Marce Cameron and Sarah Peart

"The world economic order works for 20% of the population but it leaves out, demeans and degrades the remaining 80%. We simply cannot accept to enter the next century as the backward, poor and exploited rearguard; the victim of racism and xenophobia, prevented from accessing knowledge and suffering the alienation of our cultures due to the foreign consumer-oriented message globalised by the media." — Cuban President Fidel Castro opening the summit of the South in Havana, April 2000.

Cuba is a small Third World country that has come to symbolise defiance. The Cuban Revolution, under siege from the most powerful country in the world, continues to inspire hope in millions of people through its revolutionary example and its practical leadership in the fight against capitalist globalisation.

Cuba leads the Third World in demanding an end to the cruel and unjust economic order that bleeds wealth from the poor countries. Many years before the November 1999 Seattle protests focused world attention on the issue of Third World debt, Cuba as early as 1985 suggested that the poor countries unite and simply refuse to pay the debt.

Rather, as Fidel Castro pointed out, it is the rich countries that owe the Third World for centuries of slavery, colonial plunder and imperialist exploitation.

International solidarity

Cuba is a poor country with few resources. But what the Cuban people lack in material wealth they make up for in generosity.

Three hundred thousand Cubans volunteered to fight in Angola at the request of the Angolan government between 1975 and 1990. Fighting alongside Angolan troops, the Cubans were decisive in turning back the invading army of the white supremacist regime of South Africa, a victory which hastened the end of the racist apartheid system.

Hundreds of thousands of Cuban volunteers have also served in other Third World countries as doctors, teachers and technicians — more doctors, even, than the World Health Organisation. They usually work in remote areas where local doctors refuse to work.

Cuba has offered to send 500 doctors free of charge to East Timor, and this year Cuba's medical schools will enrol blacks, Hispanics and native Americans along with white youth from poor families who cannot afford to study medicine in the US.

Compare the sheer scale of Cuba's generous international solidarity with the barbaric, selfish policies of capitalist countries like Australia, which turn away refugees or lock them up in concentration camps! Far from sending hundreds of doctors to East Timor, Australia has aided their genocide for 25 years and is now stealing the oil that rightfully belongs to the East Timorese.


In 1959 the Cuban people rose up in arms and overthrew the brutal US-backed Batista dictatorship.

Before the revolution Cuba was just another colony of the US corporations. It was a playground for the rich. Malnourished children with swollen bellies roamed the streets below the glitter of gambling houses and brothels. The rural areas were without schools, doctors, electricity or paved roads while one fifth of the population were illiterate.

The revolution delivered justice where the corrupt politicians had delivered promises. Rents were reduced to 10% of family income. Land was seized from the big land-owners and given to the peasant farmers. The whites-only beaches and bars were opened to black Cubans for the first time. Thousands of youth left for the countryside with lanterns and textbooks to teach a million people how to read and write.

In 1960 most foreign and Cuban corporations were nationalised and placed under the workers' self-management. Production for private profit was replaced by production for social needs. This laid the foundation for Cuba's extraordinary social advances in the following decades.

With a per capita gross domestic product only about one sixteenth that of Australia, Cuba has achieved social indicators that match those of Australia and other rich, highly industrialised countries. Average life expectancy in Cuba is 74 years (up from 55 in 1958). Infant mortality is 6.2 per 1000 births, the lowest for any Third World country, and lower than in the United States.

Special period

In 1991 with the turn by the bureaucratic elite that ran the Soviet Union toward restoring the capitalist private profit system overthrown by the October 1917 Russian Revolution, Cuba lost its main source of oil, markets for its products, supplies of essential raw materials and spare parts. At the same time the US tightened its economic blockade against Cuba.

Cubans call the last 10 years the "special period". They have been years of great hardship, sacrifice and struggle. In 1994, one of the most difficult years, Cubans received only one bar of soap through the ration system.

In the early 1990s Cuba's economy contracted by 35%. No government that did not have the support of the big majority of people could have survived such a blow without confronting widespread social unrest like the riots and demonstrations that brought down the Suharto regime in Indonesia in 1998.

The Cubans are a rebellious people, yet they have overcome these years of extreme hardship without a single incident involving police breaking up demonstrations with clubs, tear-gas or water-cannon. There has been no political crisis in Cuba because the revolution has continued to enjoy the support of the overwhelming majority of people. It is their revolution.

Cuba is not held hostage to the dictates of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. During the last ten years of economic austerity, not a single school, university, hospital or child care centre has been closed. Eight new hospitals and 78 new child care centres have been opened during the special period.

Nobody has been thrown out onto the streets, and the state continues to distribute scarce resources through the ration system so that nobody goes hungry. Those without work are protected by social security while free, high quality education and medical care accessible to all have been maintained.

Not only have the hardships been shared as equitably as possible and the most vulnerable protected, but millions of people through their mass organisations and Cuba's Poder Popular ("People's Power") system of government have played an active role in suggesting, deciding on and implementing the recovery program at all levels of society.

Involving the working people in drawing up government policy has been possible only because the decisive sectors of the Cuban economy are owned by the revolutionary state, not by private corporations.

Mass participation in government administration has been especially important because many of the measures that have had to be implemented have involved concessions to the market and foreign capitalists: the expansion of tourism, the legislation of the US dollar and others. These unavoidable market concessions have had unpleasant consequences such as the growth of inequality and the sad return of prostitution.


The key lesson we can learn from Cuba's example is the need for anti-capitalist revolution. Against all odds, Cuba has shown what can be done when the people have power.

Cuba is living proof that society can be organised in a more rational and humane way than capitalism, that people aren't naturally greedy or selfish, and that it's possible to build a new society founded on human solidarity.

The Cuban people through their revolution have boldly taken the first steps towards this new, socialist society. We need to be part of the world-wide movement in solidarity with Cuba to demand an end to the cruel US blockade.

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