Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[BRIEF NOTE] Social Justice in Cuba?

The International News Alliance hosts a translated version of Rafael Rojas' El Pais article "Is Cuba a fair country?"

For decades, the regime's intellectuals have presented socialism and the revolution as the crystallization of a Cuban tradition of political thought, dating from the republicanism of the 19th century and continued by the nationalists or communists of the 20th, which set the values of equality and justice ahead of those of liberty and democracy.

But some Cuban historians, within and outside the island, have criticized this official stance on three main points: the nationalist "exceptionalism" that informs it; the unilateral and exclusive vision of Cuban intellectual history that it transmits; and the underestimation of liberal and democratic values in Cuban tradition. The Castro regime's philosophy is by now pretty threadbare. However, the myth that Cuba is a fair country, a land of social justice, persists in the Latin American imagination.

The exhaustion of the regime's approach to justice stems largely from its theoretical poverty. The intellectual class of the island, while bombarded by the regime's incessant talk of equality and justice, remains ignorant of the theoretical revolution associated with writers such as John Rawls, who died in 2002. I refer to books such as Theory of Justice (1971) and Political Liberalism (1993), where Rawls observes how, in the decades between the heyday and fall of the socialist camp, the liberal concept of justice evolved from that of impartiality to that of equity.

The different contemporary currents of the philosophy of justice - libertarians, utilitarians, liberals, conservatives, socialists, communists, feminists, eco-marxists - have lately been defining their positions with an eye to the legacy of Rawls. All the present theoreticians of law start from Rawls' work, agreeing with him on a point that is indigestible for the Castro regime: political power, like income or services, belongs to the sphere of justice, and must also be shared.

Rojas goes on to question whether the Cuban revolution has left any lasting results.

[S]ome voices in the Cuban diaspora have begun to question the myth of Cuba as a "fair country." Their writings show us an island with growing class and regional inequalities, inequitable access to public services, and a restratification of society.

Some data in recent studies point to the outlines of the new Cuban social segmentation. About 80 percent of the population earn less than 300 pesos a month, though the state helps a great deal. But at least 1.5 percent, mostly white and connected to the government or foreign firms, earn from 1,000 to 6,000 pesos.

Social restratification has also affected regional imbalances. The human development level in cities that are more or less integrated in Cuba's rather small piece of the international market, such as Havana or Matanzas,is greater than in many other areas, such as Pinar del Rio or Camagüey, and far greater than in traditionally backward regions in the southeast, such as Las Tunas or Guantánamo. The southeast contains the 36 poorest municipalities in the island, some of which have living standard indicators typical of any other Caribbean country, and generate copious emigration to the western provinces.

This sort of spatial inequality is common in every economy, even planned ones: Estonia was always richer than Tajikistan. As to the utility of the Cuban revolution, three questions come quickly to my mind.

1. What would have likely happened to Cuba absent the social revolution of the 1960s? Would Cuba have become a normal upper-middle-income country with serious, perhaps a Caribbean version of Brazil or Argentina? Or was this impossible?

2. Are there no other ways that Cuba could have enjoyed this success? Costa Rica, as a democratic middle-income country, has managed to achieve comparable gains in human development without the cost of dictatorship. Was the Costa Rican path possible in Cuba?

3. Was what happened worth the cost and the risk? More than a million Cubans have emigrated since the Revolution from a country that used to receive immigrants by the hundreds of thousands, while during the Cuban missile crisis Castro reportedly willing to sacrifice Cuba to further the cause of global revolution would be furthered. Were the benefits of the revolution worth the risks taken by Castro?
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