Commentary Magazine


Cuba's Economy

To the Editor:

An article titled “Five Years of Castro’s Cuba” [Theodore Draper, January] promises at least passing mention of the Revolution’s achievements in the fields of health, education, housing, social services, culture, and recreation. The promise is unfulfilled; Theodore Draper’s Cuba is a horror house of blunders, bayonets, and betrayals. That he omits Cuba’s accomplishments reveals his own failure to report Cuban developments fairly and truly as does his inaccurate and distorted analysis of the Revolution’s shortcomings.

Mr. Draper’s views on the relationship between the Cuban government and the peasantry is one important example of this failure. Reviewing the heavy-handed treatment dealt out to some small farmers in 1962 at the time of the food crisis in Havana, he truncates history by passing over INRA’s systematic and largely successful policy in late 1962 and 1963 of integrating the peasants into the structure of the reformed agriculture by offering higher and more rational prices for foodstuffs and more financial and other aid, rationalizing the administration of state purchasing organisms, supplying more consumer goods to rural stores, and replacing many local personnel. Shutting his eyes to these reforms, and wrongly observing that the peasants “sowed less and grew less” in 1962 (when in fact they merely sold less to INRA), Draper misleads his readers when he refers to the “deepening economic crisis” of 1963. Actually, INRA food purchases and deliveries to the cities doubled and in some cases tripled from 1962-1963. Draper also writes that “henceforth, Cuba’s industrialization will depend primarily on the classical method of ‘primitive accumulation’—squeezing its own peasantry . . .” when actual practice in the countryside has been exactly the opposite for more than a year. Cuba is accumulating capital by expanding sugar and cattle exports and production—via improvements in agricultural productivity, not by lowering rural incomes.

About Cuban state agriculture Draper is if anything less informed; the following errors appear in a single paragraph (on page 26): The Cane Cooperatives (not the “cooperatives” formed in 1959 and 1960 in non-sugar sectors with which Draper evidently confuses them) were transformed into Granjas Cañeras, not Granjas del Pueblo. INRA did not “administer them [the Cane Cooperatives] from above without in the least taking their members’ wishes into account . . . .” The Cooperatives were co-managed by INRA and a board elected by members from their own ranks, although this system of dual control often worked out badly. In this connection I might add that it was largely on the members’ own initiative that the cooperatives were changed into Granjas. On both the cooperatives and Granjas some workers were (and are) guaranteed an annual wage. When Castro said that some peasants were “allergic” to cooperatives he was not referring to the Cane Cooperatives; Draper falsely leaves the impression that Castro planned to force small cane growers into the Cooperatives, which drew their membership only from Cuba’s nearly half million rural wage workers. Members of the Cooperatives did not “flee” to the Granjas del Pueblo except in the sense that residents of New Jersey can be said to “flee” to New York in search of easier and better jobs. In the period which Draper describes, the supply of wage labor to private agriculture did not rise, but fell. Elsewhere, Draper again truncates history by failing to report that the over-centralized Granjas were somewhat decentralized in mid-1963. He also magnifies the dispute between Rafael Rodriguez and Guevara far beyond its true dimensions when he confuses fundamental differences in the philosophy of economic planning with what in fact is a minor debate over modes of budgetary control.

Shifting from agriculture to industry, Draper does not fare any better. “In practice . . . agriculture will get such a high priority that not much is expected to be left over . . . for industry,” he writes of Cuba’s new sugar policy. In fact, the financial and physical resources needed to expand agriculture are being allocated to industry—fertilizer and other chemical plants, units manufacturing pumping equipment for irrigation investments, machine shops to service harvesting machinery, and so on. The present dual emphasis on expanding sugar production and crop diversification is one way Cuban planners are giving some needed direction to the industrialization of the island. Earlier, Draper writes that “. . . blundering . . . brought the industrialization program to a standstill.” Cuba has forty-six new plants in various stages of completion; raw materials shortages have not compelled the government to abandon or halt the construction of a single one, as Draper implies. Nor can the shortages from which Cuba suffers be placed mainly at the door of “blundering” planners who are accused of failing to recognize the raw material component of new investments; about one-half of the new plants were begun before the United States severed trade ties with Cuba, at a time when inexpensive raw materials and other supplies were available.

“Instead of facing the loss of the United States [sugar] market with a certain trepidation, the Cuban leaders could barely repress their joy. . . . The Eisenhower administration’s decision to suspend the sugar quota had fallen in with [Castro’s] own desire not only to get rid of the quota but to cut sugar production.” When it comes to Cuban-U.S. relations, Draper turns history on its head. Cuba denounced the suspension of the sugar quota for the economic aggression that it was. Cuba never planned to cut sugar production; Castro ordered reserve stands of cane cut in 1961 in order to release land for other crops; a glance at the 1962-65 Agricultural Plan shows that INRA planned to raise cane output by increasing yields. One of the reasons sugar received inadequate attention after the harvest of 1961 was the depressed state of the world market. All in all, a close look at Draper’s “facts” throws into doubt his whole thesis that Cuba initiated the economic and political war against the United States, not to speak of nearly his entire analysis of the performance of the Cuban social economy since the revolution.

James O’Connor
New York City

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To the Editor:

Mr. Draper’s article clarifies many puzzling aspects of Cuba’s present situation. But it is not clear to me why Russia did not assess Cuba’s restricted economic possibilities and lack of diversified raw materials before expending the very large sums which we are told they have done. Banks lending modest amounts to poor applicants are far less ready and optimistic. . . . Was the new and struggling regime in Cuba unaware, for instance, that in the late 1900’s and the early 1920’s the U.S., in response to the many young Cubans being trained at our agriculture schools, had provided the most modern equipment for the sugar cane harvest, and that this equipment was later found rusting in the fields?

The Soviet motive is unclear.

N. R. Baeck
Berkeley, California

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To the Editor:

Very little can be added to Mr. Draper’s excellent and incisive analysis of the present Cuban economic situation. Bringing into focus the blundering and amateurism of Cuban leaders and quoting their own words to prove it, Mr. Draper establishes, beyond any doubt, the destructive qualities of those men, who as Fidel Castro himself said early in 1959, need only “audacity” to make a revolution.

To show what this “audacity” means in practical economic terms, let me quote Fidel Castro again. In his October 21, 1963 speech (describing the effects of Hurricane Flora, which caused an estimated 400 million dollars damage in Cuba), the Prime Minister said: “It is possible that because of our economic cretinism we squander [‘despilfarramos’] in a year twice as much as this hurricane has destroyed.” As Mr. Draper points out, this enormous governmental waste enjoys in Cuba today complete impunity, because under the present system the Cuban people can do absolutely nothing to bring to justice the “audacious” men responsible for the economic destruction of the island.

George Volsky
Coral Gables, Florida

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To the Editor:

Mr. Draper’s analysis of the Cuban economy under Castro indicates quite obviously his prejudices regarding socialism.

Possibly Mr. Draper may have felt that under Batista, where there was a semblance of democratic procedure, the economy was in a much better position. It does after all take an American steeped in the rich brine of “free enterprise,” “laissezfaire,” and capitalism to refute any economic system that is alien to the American Way.

Mr. Draper’s jaundiced point of view fails to take into consideration the following factors regarding Castroism or the Latin American urge for self-identification: (1) the Fidelista movement could not have stayed in power five years or five months without some reservoir of a national consensus in Cuba; (2) an underdeveloped country does not have sufficient private capital to create markets, distribution points, or surplus wealth—it must under such circumstances resort to the centrist principle of utilizing government-directed industry with state funds; (3) what the majority of Latin American countries need in seeking a breakthrough past the barrier of monoculturism, is diversification of agriculture; this latter need may necessitate relocation of peasants, communalization where minifundista existed before, and temporary setbacks in increased productivity.

It is, therefore, with a certain smugness that Mr. Draper reviews the Castro economy from an affluent position. Possibly the CIA, the oligarchy of Cuba, and other “free world” institutions have a better solution for Cuba.

Michael Winter
Downey, California

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Mr. Draper writes:

Mr. O’Connor is making progress slowly. He published an article in The Second Coming magazine of July 1961 in which he gave Castro credit for “a remarkable performance” in agricultural production, with happy peasants who were “at last getting enough to eat, all year,” etc. At that very time, as the present agricultural chieftain, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, has admitted, the Castro regime’s agricultural policy was producing a state of “rebelliousness” among the Cuban peasantry. I notice that, in his letter, Mr. O’Connor no longer claims that Castro’s record in 1961 was so “remarkable.” He even implies that there was something to be desired until “late 1962 and 1963.” Perhaps in another two or three years, he will come around to the recognition that the latter period was not so “successful,” either. For someone who was so absurdly gullible in 1961, not so long ago, Mr. O’Connor might benefit from a little more caution and modesty now.

There is another thing about Mr. O’Connor’s indignation that half depresses, half amuses me. Like most academic Fidelistas in the U.S., he lives in a world of illusion which his heroes in Cuba can no longer wholly afford. They grimly admit what he blithely denies. Here are some glaring examples:

  1. Did the peasants sow less in 1961-62? (I did not say in 1962 only.) Carlos Rafael Rodriguez wrote that the “serious errors” committed in the second half of 1961 and first two months of 1962 caused “a considerable reduction in the sowing [‘las siembras’] and marketing of products, which were felt throughout all of 1962 but principally in the months of March and November” (Cuba Socialista, May 1963, pp. 12-13).
  2. The Granjas del Pueblo (literally, “people’s farms,” the Cuban euphemism for state-owned and operated farms) and the Granjas Cañeras are the same in kind. The latter are merely granjas devoted to sugar-cane production, or as the same Carlos Rafael Rodriguez put it, they “are the same thing with two different contents” (Obra Revolucionaria, August 31, 1962, p. 11). Moreover, I rather carefully used the general term “granjas,” not “Granjas del Pueblo,” and Mr. O’Connor had to misstate what I wrote in order to criticize me and confuse the entire issue.
  3. Did INRA administer the cooperatives from above, etc.? The same Carlos Rafael Rodriguez stated on June 22, 1962, at the National School of Revolutionary Instruction that “the cooperative member has been someone who is not reckoned with, who is assigned tasks without being told why they are done . . . is not given an accounting of what was to have been a cooperative, collective project,” and more of the same. He used virtually the same language two months later (Obra Revolucionaria, August 31, 1962, p. 9).
  4. Despite Mr. O’Connor, one of the chief distinctions between the Granjas and the former cooperatives was that all workers in the Granjas were guaranteed an annual wage whereas the cooperative members theoretically worked for themselves and did not get a state-guaranteed annual wage.
  5. Castro said that the Cuban peasant “is allergic to the Cooperative” at a time when cooperatives were largely cane cooperatives (Revolutión, Nov. 11, 1961). He used the term “cooperative” in general; there is no hint in his words of excluding the cane cooperatives; this is a gratuitous and groundless invention on Mr. O’Connor’s part.

These five examples are enough to convince me that Mr. O’Connor cannot be taken seriously because he has exhibited ignorance of the Cuban sources on which I based my article. If he knew of them, his remarks are even more incomprehensible. I deliberately based myself on the testimony of the top Cuban leaders themselves. I quoted very liberally and paraphrased very closely. Thus, most of Mr. O’Connor’s quarrels are really with the Cuban leaders, not with me. To cite one case: in the first example, I virtually used Rodriguez’s own words but did not put them in quotation marks; I thereby unintentionally set a trap for Mr. O’Connor who fell into it by rashly denying them. His assurances that the dispute between Rodriguez and Guevara is trivial, that the Cuban leaders did not cut sugar production willingly and willfully, that Cuban industry is getting the resources needed for agricultural expansion, and all the rest, are as worthless as his unlucky fairy tale of 1961 and his arrogant indiscretions in the five examples given above. A speech by Minister of Industries Guevara on February 25, 1964, has already confirmed my judgment that in practice “agriculture will get such a high priority that not much is expected to be left over, at least in the foreseeable future, for industry.” As for why I devoted so much attention to Castro’s economics, Mr. O’Connor is referred to the editorial note accompanying my article.

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