Monday, December 29, 2014

Release of Cuban Five opens new chapter in Cuba-US relations


Photo by Richard Fidler

Supporters of the Cuban Five who have long campaigned for their release celebrated in meetings held throughout North America and elsewhere. Above: The Cuban Embassy in Ottawa hosted a celebration December 27 attended by many solidarity activists. For a report and photos of a similar event in Vancouver, see


The release December 17 of the remaining three of five Cubans held for 15 years in US prisons is an historic victory for the Cuban people, their government and supporters around the world.

Ramon Labañino, Geraldo Hernández and Antonio Guerrero joined Fernando González and René González, released earlier, in an emotional reception in Havana with President Raúl Castro.

The five were arrested in 1998 while working in Miami to uncover terrorist plots against the people of Cuba being masterminded by anticommunist extremists in Florida. In a 2001 report to the United Nations, the Cuban government catalogued 3,478 deaths on the island as a result of terrorism, aggression, acts of piracy and other actions. Many of these actions were attributed to operatives of the CIA.

For background information on the case of the Cuban Five, see

Announcing the release of the Cuban intelligence agents, US President Barrack Obama acknowledged that his country’s half-century attempt to defeat the Cuban Revolution had failed. He said Washington would now move toward normalizing relations with Cuba, beginning with establishment of embassies by both countries.

However, although he also spoke of easing economic and travel restrictions the US has imposed on Cuba, Obama made no promise of an end to the inhuman economic blockade of Cuba first imposed by Washington in the early years of the Cuban revolution. Ending the blockade remains a pressing task for the solidarity movement that did so much to publicize the case of the Cuban Five.

In the following article, first published in mid-November, Argentine Marxist Claudio Katz outlines some of the outstanding achievements of Cuba’s socialist revolution, highlights the challenges — now given added force by the restoration of diplomatic relations with Washington — and critically analyzes issues raised in the far-reaching economic reforms now under way in Cuba. This article has been widely circulated in Latin American media. My translation from the Spanish is based on the text as published December 2 in Cubadebate. The endnotes are mine.

Richard Fidler

* * *

The Cuban epic

By Claudio Katz*

Cuba brought the greatest ideas of social transformation to several generations of Latin Americans. Its revolution touched the youth, convulsed political organizations and shook the left.

In the Sixties Castroism broke with all the dogmas, demonstrating that a socialist process was possible on the continent. Ninety miles from Miami the conspiracies of imperialism were met with generalized nationalizations. And they were followed with heroic attempts at the regional extension of the revolution.

The Cuban decision to resist capitalist restoration after the collapse of the USSR amazed us again. The population of a small island adjacent to the imperial center confronted a suffocating international isolation and managed through fantastic efforts to maintain their independence.

The durability of this process was decisive in the change that has been registered in the South American scenario. The reinstallation of a US colony in Cuba would have blocked the resurrection of the radical processes and limited the victories achieved in opposition to neoliberalism.

In fact, it is very hard to imagine the advances made by Venezuela and Bolivia without the example of a country that knew how to confront the power of the United States. The repetition in the island of the trajectory taken by Russia or Eastern Europe would have buried for a long time all the revolutionary traditions transmitted to the continent.

More than two decades have elapsed since the collapse of the USSR and its international economic bloc (COMECON), and important transformations have been registered in Cuba. Those changes contain enormous possibilities and unquestionable dangers.

Achievements and challenges

The main lesson of late from what has occurred in Cuba is the huge capacity for popular improvement offered by a noncapitalist economic and social way of thinking. Amidst economic shortages, diplomatic isolation, military provocations, financial pressures and media aggression they have managed to preserve parameters of life expectancy, education or child mortality far superior to those in the rest of the region.

This extraordinary achievement remains incomprehensible to the apologists of capitalism. Since they are unable to present comparable examples, they simply don’t mention those achievements. Cuba has shown how hunger, generalized crime and school drop-outs can be avoided with scarce resources.

The country is now confronting serious difficulties in maintaining free provision of major services, but these limitations are quite different from the adversities that prevail in similar countries.

Cuba is not Argentina, Brazil or Mexico. Its situation must be compared with the Latin American economies situated below that scale of economic development. None of those cases can exhibit the profile of an island without unemployment, destitution or massive poverty.

In Cuba the basic needs of the population are covered. All families have access to food, education and health. The shortage of provisions or the lack of variety in articles of consumption do not include those goods that are indispensable for guaranteeing that coverage.

Cuba has an excellent level of school achievement. A recent study by the World Bank considers that its educational system maintains parameters of professional training in many respects similar to those of Finland, Singapore or Canada (Lamrani, 2014).

And it has achieved a life expectancy index that exceeds by five years that of the rest of the continent, and lower mortality rates in all age groups. It has the lowest average rate of malnutrition in Latin America and one of the highest percentages of homes connected to potable water systems (Navarro, 2014).

Furthermore, the country maintains the highest index of food security in the region and a very low poverty level (4%) compared with the average in Latin America (35%) (Vandepitte, 2011). The United Nations Development Program estimates that Cuba is one of the three countries in Latin America that qualifies as having a high level of development (UNDP, 2014)

But Cuba confronts a serious problem in sustaining those advances. The stagnation and privations that followed the collapse of the USSR have been alleviated, but they point to the need to carry out an economic turn. The entire society recognizes that this cannot be postponed, since no one has been able to recover the pattern of income that was common in the 1970s and ’80s.

The collapse of Soviet support was followed by a worsening of the US blockade (the Torricelli Act in 1992 and Helms Burton in 1996). This siege blocks trade and generates monumental costs. A ship that stops at a Cuban port cannot moor in the United States and the world’s principal market cannot admit a product with Cuban components.

Cuba has suffered periodic provocations that oblige it to pay for a costly military apparatus for its defense. The Cuban government needs to keep 600,000 men on immediate battle alert and must finance a military structure that is totally disproportionate to the size of the country (Isa Conde, 2011).

Moreover, in recent years the country has suffered major commercial and climatic setbacks. Export prices have fallen (nickel) and import costs have risen (foodstuffs). It has been beset by hurricanes, droughts and heavy flooding, especially between 1998 and 2008. These upheavals have not resulted in human tragedies, as they usually do elsewhere in the continent, but they have entailed costs in the millions. The international economic crisis has also resulted in a reduction in income from tourism despite the modest increase in visitors.

The economy has been operating for several years now with a budget deficit and the level of activity is sustained on a razor’s edge. The trade balance is as tight as its foreign funding.

Cuba has resisted the restoration of capitalism at the great sacrifice entailed by the “special period” of the 1990s. The economic impact of the collapse of the USSR was devastating. Its entire trade was linked to the COMECON countries and the sales of sugar to that bloc paid for a set of external expenditures.

The country was left with nothing and had to secure its defense and the provision of basic goods in conditions of encirclement and collapse of transportation, electricity and fuel supplies. Very few political regimes have managed to overcome setbacks of that size.

A recent study explains the strength of that resistance by the memory of the social transformations achieved in the 1960s and ’70s. And it highlights the refusal to again turn the island into a US brothel. The study draws an instructive comparison with the devastation of people’s rights suffered in the former COMECON member countries, which returned to capitalism during that period (Morris, 2014).

At the end of that experience, however, Cuba is in no condition to continue the previous road toward socialism. It is clearly impossible, in a small place in the Caribbean, to erect in solitary fashion a society of abundance and equality. The continuity of the revolution has made it possible to defend the conquests, but not to ensure the productive development and material well-being that the consolidation of socialism presupposes. If the experience of the USSR proved how difficult it is to forge that society by cutting links to the world market, it is clearly inconceivable that Cuba would cherish that idea.

The important change in the Latin American context has helped to reverse Cuba’s isolation. Hardships have been alleviated and the functioning of the economy has been normalized, especially through cooperation with Venezuela. But this relief simply helps to sustain what has already been achieved.

Three problems

The adjustments that Cuba must make are dictated by three long-range changes. First, the geopolitical reality introduced by the collapse of the USSR dislocated the entire productive structure. The country had molded its economy to the expectation of major post-capitalist advances in the world or at least in the region.

It was always thought that an effective pursuit of socialism was impossible in a single island and for that reason Cuba sought high levels of complementarity with its partners in Eastern Europe. That connection was combined with the hope for a succession of revolutionary victories in Latin America.

That political strategy explains the high degree of specialization the island developed in doctors, engineers, teachers and soldiers. Closely bound up with these activities was the construction of the values of a society that honoured its fighting heroes, the brigadistas and internationalist missions.

Success in this period was registered on many planes. Cuba brought its methods in teaching literacy, in preventive medicine and military preparation to many countries in Latin America and Africa. This legacy was shared in particular with Angola and Nicaragua in the 1970s and ’80s, with Haiti (following the earthquake) and currently with Venezuela (exchange of teachers for oil) or Bolivia (doctors and surgeons with sophisticated skills).

Further evidence of Cuba’s specialization in relief and solidarity actions is the recent sending of a medical team to Africa to fight the Ebola epidemic. No less than the New York Times dedicated a highly favourable editorial to this action, contrasting the risks assumed by those professionals with the US reluctance to send its own missions. More shocking is the refusal of the insurance companies to cover the financing of these operations (New York Times, 2014).

The much-appreciated Cuban doctors are a product of the activist-oriented education that the revolution introduced to support the international expansion of socialism. When that objective was frustrated, the country had to confront the paradox of relying on an educated population with First World ambitions in a fragile Third World economy.

A mass of workers and professionals with high level skills and working-class consciousness are operating in an island with low-productivity manufacturing and farming industries. This divorce between the high cultural and intellectual development of the society and the extremely narrow economic base has innumerable manifestations. Receptionists in the tourist industry, for example, have better professional training than the average visitor.

This disconnect generates difficult problems for anyone who fails to find work at the pay scales consistent with his or her specialty. A taxi driver or waiter making several times the income of an engineer or doctor is the clearest evidence of this strange situation (Padura, 2010, 2012).

During the last 20 years Cuba has registered radical changes in its economy that generate a second type of structural problems. The country survived by accepting tourism, signing agreements with foreign firms and establishing a dual currency market that segments the population between those who receive remittances and those who don’t.

The appearance of this important inflow of foreign exchange brought about a very significant economic and social transformation. The bulk of the incoming dollars are not invested. They are transferred to consumption, producing a gap in purchasing power between those with dollars and those without.

Some analysts describe how this dual market has created a significant social stratification. Those on the margins of this circuit have to adjust their budgets and accept austere diets. Those with foreign currency can enjoy better clothes, computers or cellphones (Vandepitte, 2011).

This rift arose in 1993 with the establishment of a dual market that was intended to alleviate the lack of foreign currency. Its unequal impact was cushioned through taxation. To adapt the egalitarian ideal to the external adversity, the state compensated by taxing the new inequality.

A third problem besetting the Cuban economy originates in the mistaken imitation of the Russian model of complete state ownership. The acritical fascination with the USSR led in the 1970s to an inoperative extension of the state sector that had a very negative impact on agro-industrial productivity. The wave of nationalizations wiped out all the small shops and private manufacturers. In 1977 the last vestiges of self-employment were eliminated.

These measures failed to recognize that the transition to socialism is only feasible through a gradual advance of the plan over the market congruent with the efficiency achieved by the state sector in comparison with the private. Cuba repeated the Russian form of comprehensive state ownership without considering the application of the more moderate strategies adopted in Yugoslavia or Hungary.

All attempts to overcome the inconveniences created by complete state ownership were unsuccessful. Voluntary labour, the 10 million ton sugar harvest[1] or the rectification process in the late 1980s were simply palliative. And a deaf ear was turned to the questioning expressed at the time by such agencies as the CEA (the Center for American Studies).[2] The main negative effect of this statization was the decline in productivity and Cuba’s continued dependency on imported food.

These mistakes were probably due to theoretical problems (misapprehension of the transition to socialism) and bureaucratic implementation. But it is clear as well that it was not easy to reconcile the priority assigned to the continental revolutionary strategy with indulgence of the market. The first objective requires a level of idealism, heroism and fairness that clashes with commercial life. Revolutionaries have never found it easy to balance romanticism with realism. Lenin and Trotsky confronted very similar problems during the 1920s.

The current reforms

To deal with this complex scenario, the government has decided to expand the economic scope of the market in order to promote investment. After much discussion and hesitation, they began implementing the resolutions first discussed in 2008 and synthesized in the 2011 guidelines. Existing restrictions on small private activity were relaxed and the creation of businesses and employment of labour were allowed. Also, the ration book is to be abolished, there is to be a gradual liberalization of prices, and attempts will be made to eliminate the existence of the dual currency system.

Measures include greater autonomy in the management of the state enterprises. Each firm will be able to manage its budget in a decentralized way, to acquire inputs and to sell products according to its own estimates (PCC, 2011).

The immediate objective is to save foreign exchange. Unlike the former USSR or China, Cuba cannot survive as an autarchic entity. It needs dollars in order to purchase fuel and import food. Thus it has decided to rearrange the four sources of hard currency income: tourism, nickel, professional services and remittances.

To revive agriculture idle lands will be given over to small private producers and cooperatives, in the hope of repeating the expansion that China achieved in the 1980s. But Cuba faces not only a shortage of available fertile lands. It also has a high level of urbanization that hinders incentives to work in the rural sector.

The most controversial of the reforms is the introduction of a status of “available” workers among all those affected by the reorganization of the public enterprises. The lack of resources means that the harsh reality of companies operating at a deficit must be transparent, as such firms cannot be salvaged by the state. That is why the principle of an official employment guarantee is being eliminated. The idea is to create a new segment of private sector and cooperative employees that absorbs the cutbacks in the state workforce (Maiki, 2011).

The government has repeatedly postponed decisions that clash with the aspirations of the revolution and the values proclaimed for decades. But it understands that it has no other remedy. The pro-market reforms are seen as the only road toward overcoming the critical stagnation in the economy.

These changes do not in themselves imply a return to capitalism. That system presupposes private ownership of the major enterprises and banks, formation of a ruling class and generalization of exploitation. The reforms do not introduce any of those characteristics. They widen the scope for market management in the preceding framework. Concessions are made to private accumulation but within limits that tend to avoid a bourgeois restoration.

These changes have begun to be implemented in recent years. Numerous authorizations have been given for the purchase and sale of houses or automobiles and cultivable parcels of land have been distributed. Small businesses have appeared such as the “paladares” (restaurants), as well as many commercial undertakings.

There is now a climate of more private activity and planned investments in home improvements. The greater flexibility introduced in this area includes restrictions on foreign ownership and inheritance to avoid a flood of purchases from Miami. The major agreements with foreign firms are centered on renovation of the Port of Mariel and the construction of an industrial zone in that region.

A critical point is the emigration of skilled workers. After the obstacles to travelling abroad were removed there was a torrent of departures. This expatriation is particularly evident among university graduates. As long as not enough jobs are created for the mass of engineers, sociologists or doctors it will be hard to slacken this brain drain.

The general reorganization of employment has already begun with the 350,000 employees who have made the leap toward small businesses. Self-employed workers make up a minimal portion (6%) of the labour force but their number could rise considerably in the coming years.

The danger of a major wave of corruption together with the pro-market reforms is a recognized threat. More than 300 public officials have been jailed or face charges in that connection. Everyone knows how this disease bled the former USSR and is now affecting China. But the major challenge is to speed up the growth rate in an economy that has not managed to expand by more than 2 or 3% annually. Investments are scarce and international financing is not coming in (Rodríguez, 2014).

The reforms have developed so far in a framework similar to the New Economic Plan (NEP) tried in the USSR in the 1920s and in China in the pre-Deng era. They do not go beyond the limits compatible with the continuity of a socialist project. Experience has demonstrated that the leap to capitalism does not occur through mere extension of market radius. It appears when the sector of the bureaucracy that favours reconversion of the elites into ruling classes becomes predominant.

What occurred in the USSR demonstrates that this political decision is the decisive factor in the return to capitalism. In Cuba the funds needed to repeat this process of restoration are not in the hands of the state officials, but among those who receive dollars. However, the leaders define how those resources are to be used.

State ownership and cooperatives

The reform is being debated intensively in Cuba, belying the image of unanimity or silence that exists abroad. All the myths about the absence of discussions are based on ignorance of these polemics. Three different currents have developed in these debates. One highlights the advisability of preserving the pre-eminence of the state. Another favours more market mechanisms. And a self-management approach stands for expanding the cooperatives.

The actual progress of the reforms also raises hard questions about the anticipated scope for waged labour. There are calls for establishing compensatory taxes and more precise limits on such contracts (Piñeiro Harnecker, 2010).

Others point the finger at measures that would increase social inequality (creation of golf courses or exclusive residences) and initiatives to permit the purchase of properties by foreigners (Campos, 2011).

Many questions are raised by those who favour strengthening the cooperatives. They call for encouraging the formation of networks of shops in the neighborhoods and reinforcing the already existing self-managed enterprises such as the UBPCs.[3] They estimate that the economy will be revived without encouraging individualism (Isa Conde, 2011).

This model promotes self-administered firms that take advantage of the knowledge of each territory and industry. It proposes forms of social control over those undertakings by citizens and local governments (Dacal Diaz, 2013).

This approach draws on a critical balance sheet of the bureaucratic difficulties experienced by these enterprises. It notes that the UBPCs encountered impediments and had little decision-making capacity in the vertically organized schemes of the past (Miranda, 2011).

These proposals are designed to set limits on the appetite for profits that is generated by the reintroduction of the market. They defend socialist values, limiting the opening to private initiative (Alonso, 2013).

But cooperatives in themselves do not resolve the bottlenecks confronting the economy. They provide an indispensable complement to the reforms that have been introduced in order to transform the accumulated (or consumed) currencies into investments. In the present situation the creation of this sector of small private enterprise is unavoidable. China can contribute credit and Venezuela oil, but Cuba must recycle its own sources of savings into productive activity.

Some direct questions about the reforms from purely statist perspectives are presented in another tone. They say that the current transformations open the way to capitalism, repeating the turn initiated by Gorbachev with Perestroika. They denounce the “bourgeois proposals” of the official documents, attack their “anti-socialist” content and challenge their proximity to neoliberalism (Fernández Blanco, 2011; Cobas Avivar, 2010).

This view recapitulates the old arguments of the orthodox school without explaining why complete state ownership had such a serious effect on the Cuban economy. It presupposes that the collapse of the USSR was simply due to reactionary conspiracies, and overlooks the suffocating role of the bureaucracy and the privileges it accumulated, muzzling popular dissent. This view assumes that Cuba can congeal its present situation, recycling the stagnation.

This approach warns against real dangers of unemployment and social polarization. But it does not explain how the general impoverishment could be avoided by reinforcing a process of statizations without resources. There is of course a possibility that ruling classes can gestate through the misappropriation of state funds. But the only way to counteract this is by expanding popular control.

The reintroduction of capitalism will not be consummated with the flourishing of small property. That phantom was used in the past to reinforce bureaucratic conduct and stifle individual economic initiative. There is no certainty that the expansion of trade will result in the immediate creation of great private wealth.

That sequence does constitute a risk should Cuba be faced with a major danger of collapse through simple deterioration. Cuba confronts alternative options for survival that require it to choose the lesser evil.

It is pure fatalism to assume that any NEP will end in capitalism, as occurred with Perestroika. In the period following the death of Lenin the result was completely different. Coercive statism was secured through forced collectivization. The challenge at present is to avoid both outcomes.

The critics say the reforms are being implemented by a bureaucratic caste in order to perpetuate its privileges, sacrificing the revolution. But they do not explain why this process did not occur after the collapse of the USSR. At that point there were more arguments than there are now to embrace the cause of capitalism.

This approach is in fact limited to proposing some form of compulsive planning which in the best of cases would lead to recreating a situation similar to the one that exists in North Korea. Cuba has managed to avoid the military encirclement endured by that country. Extreme statism brings more problems than solutions to the dilemmas facing the country.

Dogmatic questioning

A view that is convergent with that of the extreme statist critics postulates a dogmatic approach that sees the present course in Cuba as a ratification of capitalist restoration (Petit, 2011).

This diagnostic does not explain the criteria used to characterize that regression, nor does it present facts concerning this process. It simply notes the existence of this return as a fact that requires no further explanation. It suggests as well that imperialism supports this process, as if the island were not subject to severe US harassment.

These critics also make an analogy with China, arguing that the post-Deng capitalist course is now being reproduced in the Caribbean. These statements dispose of the matter and countenance the burial of the revolution.

Another characterization based on similar grounds attempts more consistent arguments, polemicizing with our view. It agrees in distinguishing periods or models and avoids saying simply that a restoration process is under way. It accepts our comparison with the Soviet NEP and considers that we are presenting a realistic diagnosis of the objectives of the pro-market reforms.

However, it holds that our view is purely economistic. These comparisons, it says, fail to account for the loss of a political compass. Lenin’s NEP could coincide with similar initiatives in China or Cuba but was inspired by revolutionary policies that are absent in both those countries (Yunes, 2011).

This approach, although it recognizes the existence of similar economic orientations, validates Lenin and reproves Castro. It justifies in the Bolshevik leader what it objects to in the guerrilla fighter through a simple prior estimate. The one is deified, the other disqualified, notwithstanding the equivalent role that they played in two extraordinary socialist revolutions of the 20th century. It is unclear why that differentiation would invalidate the similarities in economic programs in comparable situations.

If the Russian NEP was meritorious solely because of its Leninist baptism it would lack relevance as a model for socialist transition. If, on the contrary, it offers guidelines for combining the plan with the market, it is an approach that can be of value in particular situations. By this standard one can understand its relative application at various times in the USSR, China and Eastern Europe. To engage in such an assessment is not to resort to any economistic simplification.

Our critic denounces the bureaucracy as the main enemy of the revolution within Cuba. But that is a generic designation that does not indicate who exactly are those conspirators. He suggests that the Castro leadership fulfils that role in a way that is analogous to Gorbachev, as if the resistance during the “special period” had been led by phantoms.

Our critic charges that state officials are accumulating foreign exchange that will be used in the capitalist restructuring. No one denies that danger. But that warning does not infer the existence of a law of historical repetition that assigns to Cuba the same fate that befell the USSR.

To assess the scope of this reported regression it is necessary to present some evidence of the alleged enrichment. Otherwise, it is sheer prejudice. Over the last twenty years the Cuban leadership has displayed an exemplary austerity, and the chief manifestations of inequality involve more the recipients of foreign exchange than they do the state officials.

But if the entire problem were reduced to pointing to who is being enriched, the dilemmas of the Cuban economy would immediately be overcome by disseminating that list. The bigger problem lies in defining an agenda. Should the entry of foreign currency from abroad be prohibited? Should tourism be ended? Should foreign investments be curtailed? Should the revival of small property ownership be prevented?

Faced with these difficult problems, our critics opt for silence. They think that any definition leads to “economism” and they prefer to journey in the haze, forgetting that Cuba is confronting dramatic alternatives of subsistence. One can only conclude from their criticisms of the reforms that they favour some form of total abolition of the market (as for example existed in Albania).

Alternatively, they are suggesting a call for an immediate world revolution, which by building universal socialism would overcome all the dilemmas of isolation. However, the actual difficulties encountered by the dogmatic currents in the previous century when they attempted to achieve those socialist victories serve to illustrate the complexity of that road.

Realism and scepticism

The critics place great hopes in soviet democracy as a means of resolving the Cuban economic blockages. They point to the centrality that Trotsky assigned to that mechanism in order to overcome the problems of the Russian economy in the 1930s.

No doubt this is an important aspect, but placing undue emphasis on it cannot produce magical results. Cuba is faced with trade embargoes, military provocations, a shortage of supplies, a lack of resources and the loss of strategic allies, and these problems will not disappear (or be automatically lessened) with higher degrees of internal democracy.

Trotsky was a realistic politician and never assigned miraculous effects to democracy. He was a trenchant critic of the Stalinist counterrevolution but he advanced very specific economic proposals for Russia. He opposed forced statization and advocated that the plan be combined with the market in tune with the NEP. This approach can serve as an antecedent to the reforms now under way in Cuba (Trotsky, 1973; 1991: 55-72).

When it comes to democracy we have to be very careful with comparisons. Trotsky had to deal with Gulags and executions of Bolsheviks; such things never existed in Cuba. On the contrary, Cuba has been the epicentre of the revolutionary process with the highest level of democratization and popular participation of the 20th century. It has achieved social transformations of Cyclopean proportions with a small number of human losses. Furthermore, its regimes of exception have been very restricted in comparison with similar processes, including in the Soviet Union in the time of Lenin and Trotsky.

The dogmatists locate the Cuban pro-market reforms within the orthodox neoliberal paradigm. They think that an adjustment plan is being introduced, as opposed to the resistance that unfolded during the special period (Yunes, 2010).

The most curious aspect of this characterization is not the blindness in the face of the obvious chasm that separates Cuba’s economic policy from that of Thatcher, Merkel or Cavallo. It is the claim that this policy is in sharp contrast with the policy carried out by the same government in the previous decade. The leaders who headed up a heroic struggle against imperialism are now portrayed as implementing Washington’s recipes. How did such a transition occur?

The usual dogmatic explanation points to “Castro’s bonapartist conduct” as opposed to the “pressure of the masses.” But it is very hard to find any evidence of that relationship, since there are more than enough indications to the opposite in the official leadership in the resistance of the 1990s. Nor is it easy to demonstrate the existence of popular rejection to the later introduction of the reforms.

The critics navigate in a sea of contradictions. They question the low productivity of the economy, but suggest restrictions that would accentuate that problem. They reject isolation, but object to the alliance for survival that Cuba established in the past with the USSR. They predict the failure of reforms that have just begun without explaining why the forecasts of Cuba’s collapse came to nothing in the last two decades. With perspectives of this kind, it is impossible to measure the exceptional Cuban epic of the last 50 years.

In other sectors of progressive opinion there is greater caution in their forecasts, scarce attention to the social nature of the regime and great scepticism about the future. The tendency is to point to the weight of repression, the waning of the libertarian utopia and the consolidation of an authoritarian political system (Stefanoni, 2013).

But they forget that in the terrible conditions of harassment Cuba has suffered what has actually occurred is a revolution with unprecedented degrees of freedom. This level of tolerance goes beyond not only the previous experiences of Russia or China but also the bulk of the radical nationalist experiences. Underlying the problem is the legitimacy of any revolution and its defensive protections.

It is not very sensible to presume that Cuba’s achievements could have been obtained without suffering, sacrifice and error. The true assessment of the revolution is particularly important at a time when so much pressure is being exerted to convert Cuba into “a normal country.” Using that deceptive standard, one can bury everything that has been built over a half century and open the doors to recreating the inequality and crime that prevail in Latin America.

Opportunities and expectations

Some analysts have noted in recent years the existence of an atmosphere of enthusiasm with the changes under way. They argue that Cuba is experiencing a “spring” that breaks with stagnation (Burbach, 2013). Others, more direct participants in this process, point to the positive impact of the present course but warn of the need to adopt initiatives of greater democratization such as reform of the electoral system and unrestricted access to the Internet (Campos, 2011).

In the same vein, there are proposals for new ways of thinking about dissemination of information and popular control over the state structure. Also noted are the delay in implementing the changes and the insensitivity to criticism (Dacal, 2013).

Such mistakes had negative consequences in the past. The enthusiasm for change will not last forever. It is worth remembering all the opportunities for renewal of socialism that were lost in Eastern Europe. The frustration that followed the Prague Spring demoralized an entire generation and facilitated the later restoration of capitalism.

Apathy is the main danger in a society that went through the test of the special period, but the wounds left by that trauma must be healed. In the present conjuncture it is necessary to fight the despair that is generated by the need for change and the preoccupation with its consequences. The turn to the market implies the adoption of measures that very few desire and everyone understands (Guanche, 2011).

Involving citizens in the direct handling of their future is the principal antidote to the dangers in the reforms. This can be achieved by supporting socialist democracy. The vitality of this system is an effective remedy to apathy. What happened in the USSR should serve as a counter example. Since the people considered themselves outside the political system they stayed on the margin of the changes that led to the restoration of capitalism.

Cuba has levels of real democracy superior to any capitalist plutocracy. Its leaders are not elected by an elite of bankers and industrialists, nor do they emerge from the cosmetic advertising constructed by the news media. They do not rule with terror against the population or the intimidation that dominates in some police regimes in Central America. But there are innumerable manifestations of insufficiency of democracy in Cuba’s political system and its media. The reforms are the opportunity to correct those deficiencies.

If the economic changes manage to combine appropriately the cooperatives, small property and state priority, the recovery of the economy will renew optimism. The productive and commercial transformations could result in visible improvements in the standard of living of the population. The big challenge is to speed up those advances with the market while at the same time preventing the restoration of capitalism.

The immediate key to avoiding that danger is to limit social inequality through maintaining public and universal education and health systems. The exemplary nature of the leadership, combined with this support, will help in finding the way through the new crossroads facing the country.

The Cuban people have demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to cope with the difficulties, regaining confidence in the revolution. It is a country that requires great caution when it comes to making forecasts. It was often said that it would not withstand the blockade, the invasions, the shortages or the isolation, and it always emerged with elegance. I am sure they will again win the war.

November 20, 2014

* Claudio Katz is an economist, a researcher with CONICET [National Scientific and Technical Research Council], a professor in the University of Buenos Aires and a member of the EDI [Left Economists].


[1] A goal established in 1970. Although a record harvest was achieved, it fell short by more than one million tons.

[2] In Spanish, the Centro de Estudios sobre América, an academic institution established in 1964 by the Cuban government with the task, inter alia, of providing intelligence information to Cuban leaders.

[3] The Unidad Básica de Producción Cooperativa (UBPC) is a cooperatively owned agricultural production unit that originated in the 1990s to replace state farms. It was intended “to link the workers to the land, establish material incentives for increased production by tying workers’ earnings to the overall production of the UBPC, and increase managerial autonomy and participation in the management of the workplace.” (Wikipedia)


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-Guanche, Julio Cesar, (2011), “Cuba: Los distintos grupos sociales se enfrentan a los cambios en condiciones desiguales”, www.Kaosenlared, 14/6.

-Isa Conde, Narciso, “Transición del socialismo de estado al nuevo socialismo: el caso cubano”,, 6-4.

-Katz, Claudio, (2006),El porvenir del socialismo, Edición venezolana: Monte Ávila, Caracas.

-Lamrani, Salim, (2014), “Banco Mundial diz que Cuba tem o melhor sistema educativo”, www.brasildefato, 4/9.

-Maiki, Jorge, (2011), “Los retos de Cuba hoy”, /25/02.

-Miranda, Lorenzo Humberto, (2011), “Revolución, autogestión y cooperativas. Una visión desde la presente perspectiva cubana”,, 30/07.

-Morris, Emily, (2014), “Unexpeted Cuba”, New Left Review, 88, July- August.

-Navarro, Vicenç, (2014), “¿Ha fracasado el socialismo?”,, 13/9.

-New York Times, (2014), “La impresionante contribución de Cuba en la lucha contra el Ebola”, www.nytimes, 20-10.

-Padura Leonardo, (2012), “Eppur si mouve en Cuba”, Nueva Sociedad, 242, noviembre-diciembre.

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-Padura, Leonardo, (2014). “¿Crece o no crece Cuba?”, www.ipsnoticias, 26/3.

-PCC, (2011), Lineamientos de Política Económica y social del Partido y la revolución,, 9/5.

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-PNUD, (2014), Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el desarrollo, www.pagina12, 28/9.

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Quebec’s anti-tar sands campaign, newly fortified, building rapidly

By Richard Fidler

Its coffers swelled with more than $400,000 raised by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois’ crowd-funding initiative, Quebec’s anti-tar sands coalition Coule Pas Chez Nous![1] met December 6 in Montréal to debate the next phase of its campaign.

While keeping their focus on fighting pipeline projects such as TransCanada’s Energy East, Enbridge’s Line 9B and the Montréal-Portland line, the representatives of ecology groups from throughout Quebec decided to include as well opposition to the transportation of oil by trains and tanker ships.

Many proposals were advanced on how to step up the campaign in 2015 through publicizing and promoting activities by the many citizens’ organizations that are mobilizing across the province in opposition to Canada’s “petrofederalist” fixation with extracting, transporting and exporting environmentally harmful oil and gas.

In a message to the meeting, Nadeau-Dubois noted that the amount raised, while impressive, remains very modest when compared with the huge budgets being spent by the oil interests in promoting their projects.


The Energy East project — which would convey diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta to east coast ports through the existing gas pipeline to Quebec, with the addition of a further line stretching 700 km across Quebec — will boost tar-sands production. The Pembina Institute estimates it could generate an additional 32 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per year, an amount greater than what is emitted by all industries in Quebec combined. This would also be double the reductions of GHGs that Quebec must make to achieve its objectives for 2020.

The Harper government and other Energy East proponents present the project as “a true representation of nation-building at its very best,”[2] comparable with the building of the Canadian railway system 100 years or more ago. But in fact, as TransCanada executives themselves admit, the real goal is to provide a new route for export to foreign refiners. It is designed in part to circumvent the widespread opposition in British Columbia and the United States to projects to pipe tar-sands oil to the Pacific and the southern United States.

Energy East “is actually about putting unrefined oil on massive super-tankers in the St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy,” according to a report by Environmental Defence and Greenpeace, released October 29. “The pipeline would put communities across Canada at risk from major oil spills,” says the report. “A spill from the tankers would threaten ecological and economic disaster for coastal and riverside communities in Quebec, P.E.I., Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.”

Opposition to Energy East is growing rapidly in Quebec. In mid-October, thousands marched in Cacouna in opposition to the proposed tar sands export terminal. Cacouna is a nursery for the beluga whales, already endangered by industrial pollution in the St. Lawrence River. TransCanada had earlier commenced drilling for the terminal until stopped temporarily by a court order sought by environmental groups.

A federal government advisory committee released a report December 2 including the belugas in a list of endangered wildlife species. The report appeared the same day as a press conference Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard had scheduled with Alberta Premier Jim Prentice to confirm Quebec government support of Energy East. On the defensive, Couillard had to urge the company to abandon its plans for the Cacouna terminal. TransCanada then announced it was “standing down” on work in Cacouna while analyzing the environmental report.

A public opinion survey released in mid-November by a University of Montréal research team found that only 33 percent of Québécois supported Energy East.[3] The Quebec government then announced that the province’s environmental assessment board (the BAPE, its French acronym[4]) would hold a public review of the Quebec section of the project. The Harper government has always insisted that the pipeline, because it crosses provincial boundaries, is constitutionally immune from provincial control.[5]

Couillard said the review would be subject to seven “conditions” that would allow a more complete assessment than the one to be conducted by the federal government’s National Energy Board. However, Couillard has since announced that these conditions do not include consideration of the impact on greenhouse gas emissions, although they do include an assessment of “the economic and fiscal spin-offs for Quebec.” In fact, the “seven conditions” are virtually a carbon copy of those formulated by British Columbia in reviewing the Northern Gateway project and the five formulated by Ontario in its review of Energy East.

No to fracking

Yet another blow to Quebec’s petroleum exploitation hopes was dealt December 15, when the BAPE issued a report on shale gas exploration and development commissioned by the Parti Québécois government prior to its defeat in last April’s election. The report found that exploration and production in the St. Lawrence Lowlands “would not be advantageous for Quebec because of the magnitude of the potential costs and externalities, compared to royalties that would be collected by Quebec.”

And it pointed to “other concerns,” including a lack of “plans of social acceptability” and appropriate legislation, as well as “a lack of knowledge, particularly with respect to water resources.” Fracking entails injecting water, sand and chemicals underground at very high pressure to break up shale rock formations and free natural gas.

The St. Lawrence Lowlands, where Quebec’s fracking projects are concentrated, lie between Montréal and Quebec City, an area with 2.1 million people and the province’s best arable land. Widespread anti-fracking protests by local residents led the minority PQ government to ban further shale exploration as one of its first acts in office in September 2012. However, 31 shale gas wells had already been dug in Quebec and 19 are on record as “accidentally” leaking dangerous methane.

In early November the left-wing party Québec solidaire tabled an anti-fracking petition with 34,000 names in the National Assembly, bringing to 60,000 the number of Québécois who have petitioned for a complete ban on fracking.

Premier Couillard was quick to react this time to the BAPE fracking report. Fracking, he admitted to a December 18 news conference, lacked both sufficient evidence of economic benefit and popular support — “at this time.” However, he refused to follow the example of Nova Scotia and neighboring New York State, which have imposed a moratorium on fracking: “Once you establish a moratorium, it’s a hell of a job to lift it if you need to do so some day.”

The Liberal government plans to enact a law next year to regulate oil and gas operations in Quebec, the first time the province will have specifically legislated in this field.

Energy East and fiscal federalism

Couillard has fueled Québécois scepticism about the merits of tar sands pipelines by motivating his government’s promotion of these projects as a necessary quid pro quo for the equalization payments the province receives from the federal government as a result of the disproportionately larger revenues a wealthy province like oil-rich Alberta receives from its oil and gas.

“The federal government spends $16 billion more than it collects in Quebec and … a large share of this wealth comes from exploitation of hydrocarbons in Western Canada,” he told the National Assembly in September. The Québécois “are Canadians and we must participate in the Canadian economy.”

An editorial in the nationalist daily Le Devoir called the premier to order. Alberta is radically stepping up its production of oil and it must export it, the editor noted. Frustrated in its plans to pipe the oil west and south, it has only one way out, to the east. “This puts Quebec in a strategically advantageous situation,” said the influential newspaper.

“But until recently, what has our government been doing? Has it profited from this? No, it lectures the Québécois, portraying them as equalization beggars who should be showing gratitude! As a reading of Quebec’s interests, we have seen better in the past….”

Some broader implications were noted in a December editorial in the popular Quebec monthly magazine L’Action nationale. The response to Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois’ fundraising appeal is encouraging, it said. Now we have to raise the stakes:

“Not only must the opposition’s funding resources be increased, it is necessary to expand the reasons for the protests. What is at stake in these projects is not only protection of the environment and the belugas. What’s at stake is Quebec’s self-determination. It is our capacity to orient our development and to use our strategic advantages in building a sustainable, clean economy. The alliance of Big Business with the Canadian state aims to impose on us a petrol-based federalism. It is an imposed servitude. Our territory, our way of inhabiting it, our energy and environmental choices are a log in the road of nation-building of the petro-state and Ottawa will stoop to anything to nullify any desire to oppose it in the name of our national interest.…

“Almost half of the energy consumed in Quebec is of renewable origin. We are one of the best-placed societies in the world to free ourselves from oil and conduct a policy of energy independence based on renewable energies. We could have a leading position globally in such matters. Would we renounce that by letting Ottawa and Calgary make us a satellite?”

The tar-sands exploiters seem more aware than the Quebec government of the power of these arguments. A “strategic plan” prepared for TransCanada by a public relations firm and leaked by Greenpeace to Le Devoir outlines the key elements of a projected “new communications approach” that it hopes “gives Québécois reason to affirmatively support the [Energy East] project in the face of organized opposition.” Emphasizing the need for a Quebec-centered approach, it concludes: “Québec is, after all, a distinct nation.”

Climate change and austerity, ‘même combat’

Quebec’s anti-tar sands movement is well positioned to link ecology and climate change issues with another growing citizens’ mobilization aimed at a slew of unpopular austerity measures being imposed by the new Liberal government. A November 29 demonstration of 125,000 — 25,000 in Quebec City, 100,000 in Montréal — sponsored by a broad anti-austerity coalition was an initial indication of its mobilizing potential.

“We reject the dismantling of the social state in Quebec,” said a statement by the coalition. “We reject policies that aim only at short-term profit to the detriment of the environment and development.”

Jacques Létourneau, president of the CSN, a major trade-union central participating in the coalition, put it even more bluntly in an article written shortly after the demonstration.

“[T]o see Harper and Couillard’s efforts to have dirty oil shipped from Western Canada’s oil sands through Quebec, we have to wonder if we aren’t returning to Canada’s origins, with the building of the railroad to connect the British colonies for the benefit of English capitalists.

“It’s not only the train that is central to this current capitalist strategy to unite Canada. There’s also the pipeline, at the end of which is the Saint Lawrence River. But for Quebec, it’s more like a wall. What will Quebec society gain if they succeed? Nothing, considering the hazards to the environment and how little it will do for job creation and the economy.

“Premier Couillard, who came across as a great promoter of job creation during the election campaign that brought him to power, should have taken a look at some of the many studies showing that Stephen Harper’s mania for Alberta oil has been catastrophic for eastern Canada’s economy, especially in Quebec.”

The challenge to anti-climate change advocates is to find ways to link their concerns with demands for building alternative environmentally friendly and job-intensive industries. Even now, with very limited investment in such industries, more people are employed in “green energy sector jobs” in Canada than in total tar sands employment.

Not all the social movements are on board, however. The FTQ, Quebec’s largest trade-union central, is still ambivalent about some major oil-related developments. It clings to hopes that more jobs will be created in reactivated and expanded refineries.

And other social sectors are being wooed by Energy East promotors. For instance, the massive Union des producteurs agricoles, an agribusiness-dominated monopoly that all of Quebec’s farmers are required by law to join, was recently revealed to be negotiating with TransCanada a royalties agreement for allowing its pipeline to cross Quebec’s farm lands.

Not in our name,” says the Union paysanne, a Quebec affiliate of the Via Campesina network representing small and organic farmers.[6]

NDP discomfort

Petro-politics promises to be a major issue in federal politics in 2015, an election year. Although the Parti Québécois is not opposed to the pipelines, its federal counterpart the Bloc Québécois apparently sees the issue as a wedge to win back many Quebec voters who deserted it for the NDP in 2011. BQ leader Mario Beaulieu delegated Michel Filion as his “personal representative” at the December COP20 climate talks in Lima, Peru. Filion addressed the alternative “people’s summit” in a speech highlighting the environmental risks of “transporting petroleum products by train, boat or pipeline.”

At the people’s summit, he told L’aut’journal, “I spoke of the alliance between civil society and the Bloc Québécois, which hopes to be an effective rampart against the Energy East project.”

The NDP, on the other hand, is hamstrung by leader Tom Mulcair’s enthusiastic support of Energy East and other plans to export Alberta tar-sands oil to eastern Canada. Will his Quebec caucus — a majority of the party’s MPs — crack under the pressure of mass opposition in their province? A communiqué by Montréal MP Alexandre Boulerice on November 25 indicated the discomfort of some. “I feel it is hard to lend support to such a project,” he wrote.

However, Boulerice did not directly oppose it, and instead went on at length painting NDP policy as favouring renewable sources of energy — while ignoring the party leadership’s support of the tar sands operations. And on his parliamentary web site, the quotation above is altered to read “I feel it is hard to show that this project is respectful of the principle of sustainable development.”

[1] Variously translated as “Don’t Flow Here!” or “Not in Our Yard!” The coalition comprises a number of groups including Stop Oléoduc and Alerte Pétrole, and is supported by Équiterre, Nature Québec and Greenpeace.

[2] Frank McKenna, former New Brunswick premier and now bank and oil company board member, quoted by Joyce Nelson in “Hardball tactics, powerful friends help move Energy East,” CCPA Monitor, December 2014-January 2015, pp. 35-36.

[3] The survey also found that 80% of Canadians think there is solid evidence that average temperatures on Earth have increased over the last 40 years, and of these 61% (71% in Quebec) attribute it to human causes.

[4] Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement.

[5] However, environment is a shared jurisdiction of both federal and provincial governments.

[6] Union paysanne, Des agriculteurs disent non au pipeline de TransCanada.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bolivia to host 2015 meeting of social movements to fight climate change

Protesta. La marcha de los pueblos recorre las céntricas calles de Lima.

Climate activists march in Lima during People’s Summit.

In wake of UN’s COP20 failure, ALBA summit backs proposal to draft alternative plan

Meeting in Havana December 14, the 13th summit of ALBA leaders endorsed a Bolivian proposal to host an international assembly of social movements in 2015 to discuss and adopt a united strategy for fighting climate change.

The decision by the Bolivarian Alliance for the peoples of Our America – Trade Treaty of the Peoples (ALBA-TCP) coincided with release of the final agreement adopted by the United Nations COP20 climate talks at Lima, Peru. The UN agreement, reached by representatives of 195 countries after two extra days of haggling, has been universally condemned by environmental activists for the failure, once again, to take meaningful actions to prevent catastrophic climate warming.

The “Lima Call for Climate Action” fails to commit governments to firm plans on how they will reduce emissions and provides no mechanism for international assessment and enforcement of such plans. Activists warn that its proposed individual state pledges, called “Intended National Determined Contributions” (INDCs), will be too weak to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times – a guarantee of increasingly severe heatwaves, rainfall, flooding and rising sea levels. Major provisions of the agreement are summarized here.

The COP20 outcome is “unacceptable for the people and Mother Earth and represents a roadmap to global burning,” said Pablo Solón, former Bolivian ambassador and now director of Focus on the Global South. For other reactions, see “Lima agreement fails humanity and the earth.”

Addressing the ALBA Summit in Havana, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales proposed that “faced with the failure in Lima” the environment ministers of the ALBA member countries[1] should work to organize a “world encounter of social movements” that would develop “a proposal to save life and humanity.”

The Bolivian proposal was adopted in number 29 of the 43 points in the final Summit agreement. The date of the proposed world encounter has yet to be determined.

Bolivia played a prominent role in the UN’s Lima conference. In a major speech to the COP20 delegates — excerpts translated below — Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, urged adoption of a new international climate agreement that would reflect basic principles upheld by South America’s indigenous peoples. He showed how adherence to each of these ethical standards entailed a rejection of “predatory and insatiable capitalism” with its dynamic of “accumulating and concentrating wealth in the hands of a few… generators of poverty and marginalization.”

“Either we change global capitalist society” said Morales, “or it will annihilate the world’s peoples and nature itself.”

And he denounced the “more than 30 years of pretence, futile negotiations with no result” of the UN climate negotiations. Participation by the developing countries, he said, seemed only to legitimate what had become “a simulacrum of dialogue,” a “staging of environmentalism” characterized by “a great deal of hypocrisy, racism and neocolonialism.”

In the climate talks at Lima, Bolivia’s delegation argued for what it termed an alternative to the carbon-market UN program known as REDD+ — “Reduction of Emissions for Deforestation and Degradation of Forests” — which essentially allows polluters to continue polluting if they buy “carbon credits” from developing countries. What this program entails is explained in this Democracy Now interview with Pablo Solón at the summit.

Prior to the summit, a strong “call to action to reject REDD+ and Extractive Industries, to confront capitalism and defend life and territories” was issued by a large number of Latin American and other environmental organizations.

Bolivia’s proposal of a “joint mitigation and adaptation [JMA] approach for the integral and sustainable management of forests” would create an international program of “ex-ante financing, technological support and capacity building” to promote “integral and sustainable managements of forests, ecosystems and environmental functions taking into account the holistic views of indigenous peoples, local communities and local resource users about environment and Mother Earth, and the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.”

However, the JMA was proposed not as a substitute for the REDD program, but as a voluntary alternative to it.

Bolivia also proposed, apparently without success, an alternative method of measuring carbon footprints that would reflect the differentiated responsibility of developed and developing countries for climate change; support for communal projects to strength food security and biodiversity; and the integration of measurable indicators of poverty, sustainable development and ecosystem management into global climate accords. These proposals, while popular in the workshops, were ignored in the final agreement.

Simultaneous with the COP20 summit was a People’s Summit on Climate Change that drew the participation of thousands of environmental activists from around the world. A mass “March of the Peoples” was held on December 10. It reportedly stretched some three kilometers in length through the streets of Lima.

The People’s summit issued a strong statement December 11 with a clear anti-capitalist content. Unfortunately, I have been unable so far to locate an official English translation.

Here are major excerpts from the address of Evo Morales at the COP20 summit. He spoke not only as Bolivia’s president but also in the name of the G77+China bloc, which was chaired by Bolivia in 2014. My translation from the Spanish.

– Richard Fidler

* * *

Environmental Destruction is a Result of the Capitalist System

Climate change is one of the most serious global challenges of our time. And we note that the developing countries continue to be the countries that most suffer the adverse effects of climate change and the growing frequency and intensity of extreme natural disasters, although they are historically the countries that are least responsible for climate change.

Climate change threatens not only the development perspectives of the developing countries and their attainment of sustainable development but also the very existence and survival of the countries, societies and ecosystems of Mother Earth.

We declare that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the essential international and intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change. That response must fully respect the principles, provisions and final objective of the Convention, in particular the principles of equality, equity and common but differentiated responsibilities….

And we highlight the creation of the new UN climate change provisions on adaptation, financing and technology, proposals from the G77+China with an holistic vision of climate change that includes mitigation and adaptation in compliance with the law and the development of the peoples….

Sisters and brothers, I request your patience and tolerance now while I express the profound vision and position of the Plurinational State of Bolivia regarding the ethics and politics concerning climate change…. We can achieve a climate agreement based on the protection of life and Mother Earth, and not on the market, profit and capitalism.

In what is today the territory of Peru there was many years ago a great civilization that extended throughout the continent, a great indigenous civilization with much learning, and which has left us with a great legacy. Today, with COP20 being conducted in Lima, I ask that we orient our decisions by taking into account the learning of our indigenous peoples of Abya Yala….

Let us create a climate agreement using the philosophy and values of those peoples, a new climate agreement based on an anticolonialist vision. We indigenous peoples of the world meet and discuss things until we reach a consensus; we can spend days and nights dialoguing and discussing, but our goal is to reach an agreement among all of us.

We don’t manipulate, we don’t cheat and we don’t confuse things. To reach agreement we give ourselves the necessary time to talk and to listen. Everything is transparent.

And our indigenous grandparents have taught us that a just society has to be based on three principles: “Ama Sua,” “Ama Llulla,” Ama Quella” — do not steal, do not lie, and do not be lazy.

I ask that using those principles and values of our ancestors we develop a new climate agreement beginning with “Ama Sua”: We are not robbers; we must not steal what belongs to others.

Recently the intergovernmental UN panel of climate change experts in its latest report concluded that if we do not want an increase in temperature by more than 2 degrees centigrade we cannot emit more than one thousand gigatons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere by the year 2050.

And if we don’t want the temperature to increase by more than 1.5 degrees centigrade, that quantity must be much less, approximately 630 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

The atmospheric space that exists in the planet must be shared with all, respecting the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities.

But there are some greedy countries that want to consume by themselves what remains of the atmospheric space. Those countries have been stealing from us since colonial times and they want to continue stealing. They are stealing our future, the future of our children and grandchildren, and they are robbing us of the possibility that we can develop in a sustainable way.

And if a developing country, with the obligation to feed and provide a more dignified life to its people, emits greenhouse gases, they begin to point accusing fingers at us. Yes, they want to sanction and punish those who take a little to eat and feed their people, but not to punish themselves, they who have stolen huge amounts in order to grow rich and feather their own nests.

There is a very large group of countries that have historically abused the atmosphere and who are committing ecocide on Mother Earth.

But we also have to say, in all honesty, that there are countries that are pursuing the same commercialist and consumerist road, with patterns of consumption and production based on predatory and insatiable capitalism, accumulating and concentrating wealth in the hands of a few, with a fondness for opulence — generators of poverty and marginalization….

Sisters and brothers, we cannot have a climate agreement that condemns Mother Earth and humanity to death in order to favor Capital, the enrichment of a few and predatory consumerist growth. We are here to develop a climate agreement for life, and not for business and capitalist commercialism.

Secondly, “we are not liars,” Ama Llulla. We cannot continue negotiating a new climate agreement in which countries lie to each other, in which they say they are going to do something about climate change but in reality they do not want to do anything, in which they say one thing but in reality they are thinking of doing something else, or in which they do not say what they are thinking and what they are doing.

Agreements that do not ensure the environmental integrity of Mother Earth, the integrity of our marvellous human community, are not ethical. Agreements that think only of business and do not promote life are lying. We cannot let the powerful with interests in Capital and not in life impose on us a new climate agreement that condemns humanity and Mother Earth to death.

The third principle, “we are not lazy,” Ama Quella. The developed countries do not want to increase their emissions reduction goals, and still less do they want to implement their commitments under the framework Convention in terms of adaptation, provision of financing and technology, and development of capacities.

Even worse, there are some countries that are promoting a new climate agreement in which all efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are voluntary, that is, that each makes undertakings that are most convenient to them, disowning their historic responsibility as developed countries and condemning humanity to increases in temperature by more than 3 or even 4 degrees centigrade in the next 30 years.

If the developed countries had fulfilled their emissions reduction undertakings and taken the actions anticipated in the Convention, you can be sure that we would not be hearing at this stage the “apocalyptic” forecasts about climate change. But there are countries that are unwilling to face up to the obligation to carry out domestic reductions in their countries that compromise their economic development, and that are unwilling to support the developing countries and deal with climate change.

There are countries that instead of fulfilling their obligations under the convention do whatever they can to ensure that it is the others that do what they had to do or will have to do in the future. And that is why I ask them to comply with the rules of the indigenous countries: Ama Sua, Ama Llulla, Ama Quella.

We do not steal atmospheric space and the right to development that corresponds to other countries, particularly the poor countries. We do not lie, and we do not cheat; we fulfill the agreements to which we have subscribed. We are not lazy and we make agreements with ambitious promises that require us to ensure the integrity of our Mother Earth, and that incorporate all the elements of mitigation, adaptation, financing, technology and capital development.

Sisters and brothers of COP20, we sometimes debate in this class of conferences only the effects, and not the origin, of global warming. We have had more than 30 years of pretence, futile negotiations with no result….

Today we find ourselves on the threshold of the destruction of Mother Earth, faced with the disappearance of the human species. The developed countries of the North, responsible for the destruction of nature, have brought us to a barren land to legitimize their supposed commitment to humanity. We, the developing countries, have served as a source of legitimation for a unilateral and sterile dialogue.

We have served as a pretext for the powerful to continue doing the same thing, which has settled into a simulacrum of dialogue and deliberation. There is in this entire staging of environmentalism a great deal of hypocrisy, racism and neocolonialism.

Climate change has become once again the safety valve to avoid discussing substantive questions like the voracious model of capitalist development that is putting an end to humanity…. We are losing time because the dialogue is not between equals; it is an unsuccessful monologue….

We must now say to you, nothing has changed in those 30 years….

On behalf of my people, I can only say that we feel betrayed once again faced with this simulacrum of international agreements that are never enough. Our peoples are tired of all this deception, they are tired of suffering the increase in temperature, the melting of our mountain snow caps, of the heavy rains, the cruel flooding and the heartbreaking droughts, which each time make us poorer.

We have to get at the fundamental roots of the problem of climate change. We don’t want more protocols; we want more structural solutions, overcoming capitalism, saving the peoples of the world…. What is the use of reducing gas and toxic emissions by 1 or 2 degrees if the next generation will end up baking in suffocating heat?

Basically the problem is the supposedly civilizing model that is based on a greedy financial architecture in which wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, producing poverty for the majority of humanity.

I want to tell you, sisters and brothers, that unless we change the centre of gravity of all the financial, economic, political, ecological and social distortions confronting our century and the planet, the search for a consensual agreement will be nothing more than a chimera.

A second root of the problem of climate change is the war politics of the great powers and the huge budget devoted to it. With only a fifth of the money spent on the military by the five major military powers of the world we would be able to resolve 50 percent of our environmental problems….

And the third root of climate change has to do with the exaggerated industrialization, disproportionate consumption and pillaging of resources that could alleviate the major ills of humanity. The economic model upholding the financial architecture and war politics has as its nucleus the politics of the free market, that is, the voracious capitalist policy that pays no attention to anything other than profit, luxury, and consumerism…. People are treated as things, and Mother Earth as a commodity.

Proposals to preserve the Life of Humanity and of Mother Earth

What are we doing now? Governments and businesses of the major world powers responsible for the climate catastrophe have shown they are unable to slow down this planetary tragedy that is jeopardizing humanity and nature as a whole. Their power and profits are fueled by the irreparable destruction of the environment….

Stopping climate change cannot be left to those who profit from the destruction of nature. That is why we the peoples must directly accept our own responsibility for the continuation of life and society by taking control of governments, and using that power to pressure and force government and businesses alike to take drastic and immediate measures to stop us from falling into this abyss of nature’s destruction.

To defend our life and the existence of future generations it is absolutely necessary that the world’s peoples, the hard-working society suffering daily the effects of climate change, take control of states, politics, the economy and use it to preserve humanity and the planet….

We have to put the brakes to capitalist accumulation, the endless accumulation of commodities. We need another civilization, another society, another mentality, other values, another culture that prioritizes the satisfaction of human needs, not profit, that believes in human beings and Mother Nature, not the “money god.”…

Either we change global capitalist society or it annihilates the world’s peoples and nature itself.

The environment is a common heritage of all the peoples of the world, of the ancient peoples, of the present peoples and the peoples who are to come….

The environment is a common resource…. And that is why it must be administered by us as a community. Nature itself is a community, since it benefits everyone and affects everyone. Our ancient indigenous peoples knew this and that is why they lived as a community. …

Sisters and brothers, community is the only way to live in equilibrium with nature. Community is salvation of the environment, of life, and accordingly of human beings. Community is life, capitalism is death. Community is harmony with Mother Earth and capitalism is destruction of Mother Earth.

Finally, it is really important to consider how we are to create institutions to judge those who pollute our planet, who injure our Mother Earth. Humanity needs to create an International Tribunal of Climate Justice, so that justice may be done.

Sisters and brothers, that in a nutshell is the experience that the indigenous peoples provide for the good of all humanity.

Thank you very much.


See also: How Bolivia is leading the global fight against climate disaster.

[1] ALBA comprises nine Latin American and Caribbean countries: Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Surinam and Venezuela. Haiti, Iran, Syria, Honduras and El Salvador are observer states. The Summit admitted two new members to the Alliance: Grenada and St. Kitts-Nevis.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Revolutionary politics 101

Pablo Iglesia of Spain’s Podemos on radical politics and what it takes to build mass movements

Introduction by Jacobin

Spain’s newest political party is also its most popular. With roots in the 2011 indignados movement (also called the 15-M movement), Podemos emerged in January with a petition launched by a few dozen intellectuals. In May’s European Parliament elections, just months after its formation, the leftist party captured 8 percent of the vote. It is now the second largest political party in Spain by membership and the largest in the polls. Even the Financial Times admits, “the new party appears to be on course to shatter Spain’s established two-party system.”

At a meeting held early this year in Valladolid, Spain, Podemos General Secretary Pablo Iglesias offered his thoughts on how the Left can win. Below is an excerpt from that talk. The transcript and translation were prepared for Jacobin by Enrique Diaz-Alvarez.

[For articles on Podemos and left politics in the Spanish state, see this collection in Links, international journal of socialist renewal: For a video of Iglesias’ comment, click on the hyperlink “offered,” above.]

Pablo Iglesias in Bolivia

Pablo Iglesias visited Bolivia in September during that country’s national election. Among other events, he spoke to a mass meeting hosted by Vice-President Álvaro García Linera in the amphitheatre of Bolivia’s Central Bank. For an account, see “We are here to learn from Bolivia” (in Spanish).

The Left Can Win

By Pablo Iglesias

I know very well that the key to understanding the history of the past five hundred years is the emergence of specific social categories, called “classes.” And I am going to tell you an anecdote. When the 15-M movement first started, at the Puerta del Sol, some students from my department, the department of political science, very political students — they had read Marx, they had read Lenin — they participated for the first time in their lives with normal people.

They despaired: “They don’t understand anything! We tell them, you are a worker, even if you don’t know it!” People would look at them as if they were from another planet. And the students went home very depressed, saying, “They don’t understand anything.”

[I’d reply to them], “Can’t you see that the problem is you? That politics has nothing to do with being right, that politics is about succeeding?” One can have the best analysis, understand the keys to political developments since the sixteenth century, know that historical materialism is the key to understanding social processes. And what are you going to do — scream that to people? “You are workers and you don’t even know it!”

The enemy wants nothing more than to laugh at you. You can wear a t-shirt with the hammer and sickle. You can even carry a huge flag, and then go back home with your flag, all while the enemy laughs at you. Because the people, the workers, they prefer the enemy to you. They believe him. They understand him when he speaks. They don’t understand you. And maybe you are right! Maybe you can ask your children to write that on your tombstone: “He was always right — but no one ever knew.”

When you study successful transformational movements, you see that the key to success is to establish a certain identity between your analysis and what the majority feels. And that is very hard. It implies riding out contradictions.

Do you think I have any ideological problem with a forty-eight hour or a seventy-two-hour wildcat strike? Not in the least! The problem is that organizing a strike has nothing to do with how badly you or I want to do it. It has to do with union strength, and both you and I are insignificant there.

You and I may wish that earth were a paradise for all mankind. We can wish whatever we want, and put it on a t-shirt. But politics is about strength, it is not about wishes or what we say in assemblies. In this country there are only two unions with the ability to organize a general strike: the CCOO and the UGT. Do I like that? No. But it is what it is, and organizing a general strike is very difficult.

I’ve manned the picket lines in front of the bus depots in Madrid. The people there, at dawn, you know where they had to go? To work. They were no scabs. But they would be fired from their jobs, because at their jobs there were no unions to defend them. Because the workers who can defend themselves, like those in the shipyards, in the mines, they have strong unions. But the kids that work as telemarketers, or at pizza joints, or the girls working in retail, they cannot defend themselves.

They are going to be canned the day after the strike, and you are not going to be there, and I am not going to be there, and no union is going to be there guaranteeing them that they’re going to sit down with the boss and tell him: you’d better not fire this person for exercising their right to strike, because you are going to pay a price for it. That doesn’t happen, no matter how enthusiastic we may be.

Politics is not what you or I would like it to be. It is what it is, and it is terrible. Terrible. And that’s why we must talk about popular unity, and be humble. Sometimes you have to talk to people who don’t like your language, with whom the concepts you use to explain don’t resonate. What does that tell us? That we have been defeated for many years. Losing all the time implies just that: that people’s “common sense” is different [from what we think is right]. But that is not news. Revolutionaries have always known that. The key is to succeed in making “common sense” go in a direction of change.

César Rendueles, a very smart guy, says most people are against capitalism, and they don’t know it. Most people defend feminism and they haven’t read Judith Butler or Simone de Beauvoir. Whenever you see a father doing the dishes or playing with his daughter, or a grandfather teaching his grandkid to share his toys, there is more social transformation in that than in all the red flags you can bring to a demonstration. And if we fail to understand that those things can serve as unifiers, they will keep laughing at us.

That’s how the enemy wants us. He want us small, speaking a language no one understands, in a minority, hiding behind our traditional symbols. He is delighted with that, because he knows that as long as we are like that, we are not dangerous.

We can have a really radical discourse, say we want to do a general wildcat strike, talk about the people in arms, brandish symbols, carry portraits of the great revolutionaries to our demonstrations — they are delighted with that! They laugh at us. However, when you gather together hundreds, thousands of people, when you start convincing the majority, even those who voted for the enemy — that’s when they start to be afraid. And that is called “politics.” That is what we need to learn.

There was a fellow here who talked about the Soviets in 1905. There was that bald guy – a genius. He understood the concrete analysis of a concrete situation. In a time of war, in 1917, when the regime had crashed in Russia, he said a very simple thing to the Russians, whether they were soldiers, peasants, or workers. He said: “bread and peace.”

And when he said “Bread and Peace,” which is what everyone wanted — for the war to be over and to have enough to eat — many Russians who had no idea whether they were “left” or “right,” but did know that they were hungry, they said: “The bald guy is right.” And the bald guy did very well. He didn’t talk to the Russians about “dialectical materialism,” he talked to them about “bread and peace.” And that is one of the main lessons of the twentieth century.

Trying to transform society by mimicking history, mimicking symbols, is ridiculous. There is no repeating other countries’ experiences, past historical events. The key is to analyze processes, history’s lessons. And to understand that at each point in time, “bread and peace,” if it is not connected to what people think and feel, is just repeating, as farce, a tragic victory from the past.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Campaign against Alberta tar sands given massive boost by Quebec public

Quebec’s movement against climate disaster has been given a major boost by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the former student leader who just received the Governor General’s Literary Award for his book on the 2012 student strike.

Nadeau-Dubois announced Sunday night, during his appearance on the popular television program Tout le monde en parle, that he was giving the $25,000 prize money to a Gabriel Nadeau-DuboisQuebec organization campaigning against the projects to pipe dirty tar sands oil across Canada and through Quebec. At the same time, he launched a web site aimed at doubling that amount. By 11:00 p.m. Quebec time the site had already raised $80,000. (At the time of this post, the total had reached $150,000!)

The anti-tar sands organization in question is a coalition of Quebec groups, including Stop Oléoduc, Alerte Pétrole, and supported by Équiterre, Nature Québec and Greenpeace.

The funds raised will be used to encourage and facilitate citizen mobilizations, Nadeau-Dubois told the Montréal daily Le Devoir. “We have a collective choice to make in Quebec. The Northern Gateway pipeline to British Columbia has been blocked, the Keystone XL project is stalled in the United States, so the pressure is very strong to get the pipelines going through Quebec.”

He added:

“Yes, the issues include protection of the territory, protection of our water sources, our rivers, but there is also a global issue. If we allow the passage of this pipeline [Energy East] through Quebec, it means we are agreeing to participate, as Québécois, in the expansion of the tar sands industry. However, if we say no, we are making a tangible move in the fight against climate change.”

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois explained the reasons behind his decision in the following article, published today in Le Devoir. My translation.

Richard Fidler

* * *

“I give this award to those who defend the true country”

By Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, Winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award 2014, M.A. student in Sociology, Université du Québec à Montréal

Last week, the Canada Council gave me the Governor General’s Literary Award for my essay Tenir têt. This honour is accompanied by a grant of $25,000. I had not expected this award and once the surprise was over, I was struck by a strange feeling, a mixture of pride and embarrassment.

I was very touched by this reward, but less delighted by the monarchist countersignature that goes with it. My independentist convictions, my progressive sensibility, tenir-tete-sitemy conception of democracy, and perhaps the habit of seeing the present representatives of power spurning my values predisposed me to refuse this award. At first, that’s what I thought I should do.

But thinking about it, I changed my mind. There is no need to confuse the name with the thing. This prize is chosen by a jury of peers composed of women and men from the world of arts and letters. Awarded by a public institution, the Canada Council for the Arts, it reminds us of society’s attachment to culture, thinking and literature, which are among the essential conditions of liberty. It is an important reminder in a period when the executive power scorns intellectuals, the state apparatus muzzles science, the Prime Minster recommends using sociology with moderation.

Subservience is always an imposed ignorance, and democracy is necessarily a shared knowledge. My essay, Tenir tête, which describes the student strike of 2012, is based on that conviction.

The list of winners of this award is intimidating. And it is inspiring. In 1968, Fernand Dumont received the same award. He decided to accept it, but he hastened to deliver his cheque to René Lévesque. Why? Because the politician was fighting to make reality the ideas that Dumont’s books defended. Last year, the young indigenous poet Katherena Vermette accepted the honour as well, explaining that she would use it to defend the self-determination of the First Nations.

I too think that it is not enough to honour ideas, they must above all be implemented. Instead of symbolically refusing the award, I decided to see it as an opportunity to move things forward in a material way.


Quebec is now at a crossroads. The Conservative government, supported by the other two federalist parties, supports the Canadian oil companies that want to transform the country into a highway for Alberta’s dirty petroleum. These pipeline projects, above all Energy East, would impose inordinate risks on our environment in return for the trivial economic benefits we would get. What is now at risk is the integrity of the entire St. Lawrence valley, the heart of our pays réel [true country].

The Quebec Liberal government’s weakness and indecisiveness on these issues is explained primarily by its blind acceptance of Canadian petro-federalism. As his recent statements indicate, Philippe Couillard is passively supporting the insane project of involving Canada as a whole in the interests of the West’s oil companies, in contempt of the peoples who live there. As for me, I am convinced that, hand in hand with the First Nations, we must not give up on remaining maîtres chez nous (masters in our own house).

Every day frightening reports by scientists warn us against the economic disaster represented by the warming of the planet, a major contributor being this dirty petroleum. In Ottawa, they refuse to listen to these scholars. They refuse to subject their desire for easy profits to the principle of reality. Petro-federalism lives in denial, the deliberate ignorance of the consequences of its acts. It is government by the irresponsible.

With all due respect to those who want to sell Quebec for a mess of pottage, more and more people are opposing this dispossession. In recent months, citizens everywhere have been organizing in the campaign “Coule pas chez nous! [Not in our yard!], to remind the federal government and the provincial leaders that we have the means to choose another path toward our collective prosperity: the path of economic and political self-determination.

I have therefore decided to give the $25,000 accompanying this award to the “Coule pas chez nous!” campaign. Beginning today, I urge everyone to join with me to double this amount by making a donation on the web site Join me in helping those who are defending the collective interests of Quebec.

November 24, 2014