Notes on a trip to Cuba — Part Two
People over buildings, housing over business
Sure, Cuba could use a large influx of money to fix up their beautiful, old buildings. But, they really don’t need real estate speculation and an influx of mega corporations. Capital that is independent of the will of the people, that is self serving or only private property serving. Sewer socialism, as it was once called in the US, says that the basic public needs of people must not only be met first, but must come first, and Cuba has built their economy on this model
And as much at some of the epic old houses of Havana need a facelift, building capital must not come at the expense of economic security of everyday Cubans. But, how, if not at that cost? What is the crux of this alternate model? Capital flight from Cuba, via the US economic embargo and other capitalist measures of attempted punishment have made things difficult, but how will they overcome in a post USSR/Venezuelan oil world, and overcome in a real, sustainable way? What is the new model, the new sewer socialism for building infrastructure?
Private business under socialism! What a thing! So, in Cuba, here is roughly how it goes as of right now since the economic reforms of a couple of years ago.. Businesses still have to be over half government owned. A percentage of profit going to the state, like taxes. But, what does government regulation look like for a business majority owned by the government?
The idea then is for this to be a vehicle to create jobs, towards full employment and wages that don’t have to be paid solely by the state. To create more tax revenue as well for infrastructure and programs
Also, maybe, more of a consumer class. Keynesian style, with money to spend. Cooperative models of employee ownership and management, with some loans and capitalization from the government and revenue to back it up.
Hybrid in nature, a potential way forward to things discussed in previous posts?
There both does and does not appear to be a “free culture” in Cuba per se. There is very much a traditionalist state focus on the past, but also an unstoppable, thriving modern art scene as well. This is led by the F.A.C., the Fabrico De Artes de Cubano, which has state sanctioning. While somewhat beholden to the state and not apt to criticize it, you are not also beholden to a profit seeking corporation, either, putting money over art.
Lots of music at the F.A.C., music everywhere, all music and visual art of course, but I’m a music guy. And not just traditional music there like elsewhere, but rock, avant garde classical, jazz and more. And paid for by the state! The musicians salaries at least. The true patron of the arts, as it should be, not just corporations and the wealthy.
Music that is not just influenced by the US, but also not a bubble outside the US and the modern world, either. More thriving than most art space that I’ve been to in the US.
“The Entrepreneurial Spirit”
I’ve seen, on my trip, far more “entrepreneurial spirit” in Cuba than in West Virginia. In a state socialist county. Let that sink in. State socialism isn’t necessarily anti-business, it is just a different formation of business that is for the community, not just individuals.
Is it fear of globalist/NAFTA style US competition in West Virginia and the lack thereof in Cuba that affects these things? Is it lack of capital and views of it in the US, and the state supply in Cuba? Such as traditional bank funding in West Virginia being harder for the average person to access than state monies in Cuba?
Is it the prevalence and official support of the worker cooperative model and lack of state support here? Does the West Virginia mono economy history, of which Cuba broke free, make this harder for the “entrepreneurial spirit” to thrive? The sugar plantations left years ago, unlike the ghost of coal. That ghost then may be the hinderance to progress.
One wonders: Is the resistance to tourism and tourism jobs specifically in Appalachia based on low wages and the capitalist tourism model? Or, also white privilege and the inability to see itself in the same economic light as other places? A harsh awakening to their modern, class based economic situation. Tourism does pay better under state social and is more sustainable economically. Time will tell with Appalachia.
Where are the churches?
I am stunned but have almost overlooked the lack of churches in Havana! It is nice, as an American normally surrounded by churches, gas stations and banks!
Most that do still exist are now museums, big, old Catholic Cathedrals and the like, residual from the colonial era of Cuba. But, this is what is fitting, at best, for colonial institutions! After the Rev, the government did crackdown on churches, reactionary instruments of capital that they are, although restrictions like this have now been loosened. Catholicism is now mostly for tourists.
What of Santeria and more native religious traditions? Well, they are kind of making a comeback, Santeria specifically! Seeing a group all in white, in Santeria fashion, is not an uncommon sight in Havana in 2017 at all.
Car Friendly Cuba
Revolutionary Cuba was born at the end of the 1950’s, the boon of a global car culture. A former American gangster paradise, propped up by USSR and now Venezuela oil, a subsidiary fossil fuel economy.
Not in such a direct and detrimental way, like the now troubled Venezuela, as Cuba did promote and create a much more sustainable medical industry to drive their economy. But, reliant enough on oil that when the USSR collapsed in the early 1990’s, that is caused grave danger to the car friendly island Cuban economy.
Havana runs on cabs. For tourists, of course, but locals as well. Sure, there are a few buses and cooperative taxi style small buses, a few bikes, and always walking, etc. But, cars do by and large power the Havana transit system specifically.
A sea of cars: Old cars, classic cars, European and Chinese cars and even a few (shhhh…) new US cars, but all cars nonetheless. With smoke and smog and the smell of diesel everywhere, mixed with heat and ocean. No elaborate socialist subway system for a city of 2 million people. No trains, no light rail or streetcar, and maybe not the capital for these things like in the US, as the US and our corporations saw no need for these investments in a tourist plantation economy pre-Rev.
Just cars. On wide, sprawling European/Spanish style boulevards and small, crooked alleyways. And people in these cars, too! Tourists, locals, young and old.
Car friendly Cuba, for now and for better or worse. Maybe someday not…
Does Cuba need, do the people need or want more bike infrastructure, more public transit and all these things (cooperatively ran of course!) ?
I cannot say, but back to the question of capital (as it always goes back to) and how this capital get to the people and the state and from where and how to build such things?
The Cult of Personality
The cult of personality of Revolutionary Cuba exists more in the mind of US leftists and rightwingers than it does in everyday Cubans. Cuba is gearing up for the future. For development and redevelopment, good or ill. With both hope and fear.
Che Guevara shirts are for tourists, no one here has time for that. And Havana has no statues of Fidel.
Counting band tee shirts
Nirvana — 5
Metallica — 3
Red Hot Chili Peppers — 2
That’s it. Big names only here. The only US band shirts I’ve seen. Personally happy that Nirvana is #1, whatever that means, over (gross) Metallica and the Chili Peppers. Odd mix, though.
Black American Tourists in Cuba
Is Cuba a specifically a hot spot for African American tourists? More so than Europe, than Canada, other part of Latin American, etc. I saw many Black Americans here, from New York, from North Carolina, from wherever…where there are flights to Cuba and those wanting to travel.
Race relations do seem and feel different here, more open, mixed and free. Does that have anything to do with anything, this history of racial openness and equality, the land of Assata Shakur, Robert Williams, of jazz, etc. Or is it just tourism in general, the love of good food, good music. Or a fuck you trip to Trump’s America? I can say all of these things played into my own personal decision to come. Politics and travel blurring. Cuba is not Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, with their histories of race issues and their current neo liberal tourism governments and economies. Cuba is Cuba, standing alone as itself. A beacon for some and just now open for others.