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Cuba vs. Globalization: Chronicle of Anti-imperialism, Solidarity and Co-operation
While Cuba was left out of the globalization project, by no means does the country dismiss the entire concept. In this paper, I highlight Cuba's approach to globalization. I discuss the ontological perspective, the social reality, and the pursuit of policy for its "Globalization of Solidarity." In fact, Cuba's approach to globalization is to use existing tools to improve the quality of life for the poor and destitute in the Global South. It sees global networks as being vital for humanity in the twenty-first century, but it also understands that these networks have been clogged with an ideology that is dangerous for much of the world and hazardous for our lived environment. I believe that by discussing Cuba's philosophical approach, and policy platforms, to globalization we can build a dialogue of knowledge, experience, and idealism aimed at improving the human condition through equity, social justice, and compassion.
Chronicle of Ironic Punishment
There is an episode of "The Simpsons" where Homer is sent to hell, and, held captive in the ironic-punishment division, he is fed an endless quantity of donuts. But in the end, he enjoys his punishment and the devil eventually scratches his head and gives up. The ironic punishment dealt to Cuba by the Western world was exclusion from globalization with barring it from the World Trade Organization, embargoes against multi-national corporations, and forbidding "assistance" from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Now at "the end of globalism" as John Ralston Saul (2005) put it, it is Cuba, in relation to other clients of the Bank and the IMF, which has made out well from the ironic punishment. While Homer enjoyed his gluttony from his punishment, Cuba weathered its castigation by stabilizing its economy, improving education and health indicators, expanding its global outreach to other countries, and bolstering trade. Cuba has also taken the helm of the non-aligned movement, is a principle architect of two United Nations human rights commissions, and is innovating new trade and solidarity movements with other so-called "developing countries."
The United States and its allies approach globalization in a certain way, and figured that excluding Cuba from it would be fitting punishment. But Cubans see globalization quite differently and act against neo-liberal benefits to their own advantage. James Wolfensohn, the former president of The Bank, stated that he thinks "Cuba has done a great job on education and health. We just have nothing to do with them in the present sense, and they should be congratulated on what they've done"(The Scotsman, 2 May 2001). Indeed the social gains Cuba has achieved on the edge of globalization are impressive in comparison to other countries in the Global South. Considering that in the early 1990s Cuba lost 87 percent of its exports and its gross domestic product (GDP) collapsed by 35 percent, many economists figured it a recipe to see the country blown off the map (Cole 1998). With the tightening of the US embargo in 1993, again in 1997, and once more in 2003, the country has managed to not just maintain, but actively strengthen, many of its domestic social programs. Cuba boasts the best doctor to patient ratio in the world, and its health indicators are on par with wealthy nations. Over 99 percent of the population is literate, and country's twenty-six universities do not charge tuition to nationals, all the while offering thousands of scholarships to foreigners. Compare this with neighbouring Haiti where 47 percent of people are illiterate and few Haitian's have access to the country's anemic higher education facilities (CIA 2008). Cuba's economy has grown by a steady 5 to 7 percent per year, and this is in large part thanks to its international commercial partnerships with 140 countries which have been formed under very different conditions than neo-liberalism (Grogg 2007).
While Cuba was forced out of globalization, many countries in the South that were "invited in" have fared poorly, and the poor of those countries have fared miserably. Case by case, country by country, the story of globalization from the point of view of the destitute has seen intentional de-investment in public services in order to repay foreign debts. Restructuring economies and restructuring lives so the South exports soybeans, flowers, and peanuts but imports milk, medicine, tourists, and TV shows at extortionist prices. Although the United States is the world's most indebted country no one seems rushed to demand payments from Washington. Yet, at the turn of the millennium the Global South was repaying its foreign debt at the rate of US $250,000 per minute (Galeano 2000). In India the economy sees children stitch soccer balls rather than go to school. In Ecuador, Honduras, and Nicaragua the export-oriented economy sees many of tomorrow's scholars go as far as grade six before setting out on a long-life of banana picking, because from the point of view of financial directors bananas are more important than public schools. In places like Haiti medical clinics are few and trained doctors fewer, loan repayments limit the imagination of financial directors to seldom invest in clinics and rarely train doctors. Within this economic climate, the 800 million souls suffering from chronic hunger are doomed to the fate of the empty plate until the free market decides to lower food prices.
Neo-liberal globalization has seen development as a disaster for the poor, and a good way of maintaining inequity for the advantage of the elite. Former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin recently had enough of this and had to say something. Martin, also a former Finance Minister, business tycoon, and advisor to the IMF, said that "the rich countries cannot claim any longer that they have a moral hold on virtue" (The Globe and Mail, 21 July 2008). Martin's words are a big step towards realizing that the development discourse did not work out. As Cuba sees it, over 400 years of "development" by way of colonialism and imperialism has not turned out well for the Global South, but more recently, neo-liberalism's promise of rising livelihoods for all humanity through efficiency, technology, and communication can be thrown out for rot. Instead, in light of the continually growing global social inequality, it is well recognized that neo-liberalism was a project of moving resources, communication, and political power more securely into the hands of the elite.
In considering this point of view, if we are to build a dialogue on globalization, what should we discuss? Should we build a research dialogue just for the sake of furthering knowledge? Should we envision future promises of hope through advancements in technology, communication, and the efficiency of transport? Should we continue to bear witness to the immeasurable suffering because we haven't learned to share our food, medicine, water, and dessert? Rather, shouldn't we build a dialogue on how to improve the human condition by making the world a safer place for those who suffer injustice? Some may consider this more of a political project rather than a purely academic pursuit, but if the pursuit of knowledge is done in order to improve humanity then certainly we can justify a dialogue that actively seeks to reduce social inequality as a means of improving humanity. Both Appadurai (2000) and de Sousa Santos (Santos, Nunes and Meneses 2007) said that finding commonalities in a global dialogue on globalization can be difficult thanks to rigid epistemological or institutional frameworks. However, as Paul Farmer (2003) points out, no culture is content to suffer through poverty, and overcoming the worldwide absence of badly needed resources for the poor should be seen as universal grounds to build a dialogue on how humanity has fared through globalization.
If we are to pursue such a dialogue, and I think that we should, we need knowledge, experience, and idealism. We need knowledge of the apertures globalization has created for improving the human condition; specifically in how communication and technology can work to build understanding and heal injustices. We need experience of resisting the vices of inequity, and building a society where the quality of life has improved by people working to take care of other people. A great deal of development studies literature focuses on grassroots organizations and community-level initiatives, and incidentally overlooks building social capital through the public good and through the state. And here is where Cuba offers tremendous know-how in overcoming economic catastrophe, improving livelihoods at home and sharing its gains with those who need it the most, regardless of where in the world they are. As well, we need idealism. In this state of horrendous global inequality the thought of global health care provision, global food security, global education, and global environmental stewardship may be utopian, but it is badly needed. Neo-liberal technocracy has insisted that we look out for number one; strength lies with the ego and weakness is a symptom of solidarity. As Galeano (2000) put it, "the system feeds neither the body nor the heart: many are condemned to starve for a lack of bread and many more for a lack of embraces." Surely within globalization, as a worldwide network of communication and technology, there is room for sharing bread and time for making embraces.
While Cuba was left out of the globalization project, by no means does the country dismiss the entire concept. In this paper, I highlight Cuba's approach to globalization. I discuss the ontological perspective, the social reality, and the pursuit of policy for a globalization of solidarity. In fact, Cuba's approach to globalization is one aiming to use existing tools to improve the quality of life for the poor and destitute in the Global South. It sees global networks as being vital for humanity in the twenty-first century, but it also understands that these networks have been clogged with an ideology that is dangerous for much of the world and the lived environment. I believe that by discussing Cuba's take on globalization we can build a dialogue of knowledge, experience, and idealism aimed at improving the human condition through equity, social justice, and compassion.
The View from Havana
Cuba's Minister of the Economy and Planning, Dr. José Luis Rodríquez García (2003), sees globalization bringing advances in technology and communication which hold enormous potential for improving the human condition. However the purposeful and unethical foundation of inequality that supports this process has not furthered social equity, social justice, or human rights on a global scale. Rodríguez García argues that social equality lies in ensuring that all people have access to conditions of social justice. Certainly globalization has seen the acquisition of resources and technology for some but it has come at the cost of many living in interminable vulnerability. Albeit troubling that vast numbers of the human population live without access to important and necessary advancements in technology, there is a larger ethical concern of social justice, as Rodríquez García understands it. This is to say that overcoming the inequity of neo-liberal globalization can not occur through the simple reallocation of advanced technology and communication networks. Rather, technology and communication must work to ensure that all of humanity can be born into conditions of food security, good health, and safety.
Globalization has yet to produce these conditions. It has encouraged economic inequity between rich and poor nation-states and between the rich and poor of those nation-states. One on hand, globalization has furthered the flight of national capital from poorer nations, and on the other hand it has encouraged the privatization of once public services of mostly all nations. The combined effect leaves nations in the Global South weak to overcome conditions of poverty, health, and food security. Here it is assumed that the private sector, wealthy nations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will step in to save the day. The view from Cuba is that this process reinforces conditions of poverty rather than overcome them. Philanthropy and charity often reflect the interests of the donors, either to clear a guilty conscious or to firmly take economic and ideological holds on other countries. Cuba argues that beating underdevelopment must come from within regions themselves and the nation-state must act as a representative body for the needs and desires of the local population. Globalization has weakened nation-states and put capital in the hands of the elites in the North and many nation-states fail to represent and support their populations in the Global South. Not surprisingly then, many scholars have quit looking toward the national good as a way of harnessing globalization.
Inequity is worsening, so too is the condition of health and well-being for the destitute poor. Rodríquez García (2003) reminds us that 854 million adults are illiterate in the world today. Child mortality is, on average, 55 deaths per 1,000 for children under one year of age. In Canada it is 6 per 1,000 and in Sierra Leone, possibly the worst case scenario, 283 per 1,000 children don't see their first birthday. Other statistics, or best guesses, reveal that more than half of humanity goes day to day on less than $2. Two billion people are without clean water, and many can not even call to complain about it as two billion people are without telephones. The South spends more on tending to its debts to the North than it spends on health care (Perkins 2007). And 34,000 children under the age of five perish each day because they have nothing to eat, or because mosquitoes and dirty water do them in. A truly global dialogue must include this part of humanity regardless of gender, age, race, language, or culture. Unbridled poverty is a universal condition for all cultures and regions, and real improvements to health, education, and well-being must be considered part of the dialogue; not products from it.
Cuba, a Southern nation but free of usurious debt repayment, sees its fellow members in the non-aligned movement as helpless in some cases where foreign debt repayment not only bleeds economic resources, but also human resources out of the Global South. Debt servicing takes up 54 percent of Latin America's economy. Between 1992 and 1999 the region spent $913 billion dollars just in servicing debt while it grew from $413 billion in 1992 to $713 billion by 2001. With so much capital going to rich nations, the economies in the Global South do not build infrastructure and do not build capacity for health care workers, teachers, and scientists. Instead, these trained professionals follow the flow of capital to the North. It is part of the reason why there are more Malawian nurses in Manchester than all of Malawi.
Cuba rails against the ethics of this global framework that gives a lot to a few, and little to most. The flight of capital, the flight people, the maintenance of social inequality is, as I render it from engaging literature in Cuba, not a natural occurrence but a socially-constructed condition. And it is a condition based on an ethical framework of individualism, self-interest, and the misguided assumption that there is true equity in the free market (Rodríquez García 2003). Tolerating a global system of self interest has roots in some of Adam Smith's ideas. Smith sees the liberalized market as the best regulator of society as it satisfies the pursuit of individual self-interests. And today, as Rodríquez García puts it, the raising of self-interest to a social virtue has been confused with the idea of social equity. While not everyone has the right to the alphabet, the doctor, and the dinner plate, everyone on the planet has the chance to make money, albeit $2 a day. From the wheat king in Saskatchewan to the banana farmer in Honduras; from selling Champagne in Manhattan to selling chewing gum in-between cars in Sao Paulo; from investment bankers robbing the blind of their savings to street gangs robbing everyone blind.
But even Adam Smith said that there were limits. The free market could get carried away, and a public good needed to be present in order to curb excessive hoarding, or runaway spending. But somehow, in the look-out-for-number-one ethics of neo-liberal globalization, that check and balance has been forgotten. And today, in the pursuit of wealth there is nothing to stop us from feeding cars corn, while feeding the poor nothing. Nor is there anything in place to say that the right to a doctor in London should not come at the cost of having no access to a doctor in South Africa. As Galeano (2000) puts it, "no judge can send a global system to jail for killing by hunger, but a crime is a crime even when it's carried out as the most normal thing in the world. 'Bread is life to the destitute, and to deprive them of it is murder,' says Ecclesiasticus, and as theologian Leonardo Boff points out, the market celebrates more human sacrifices than the Aztecs did at the Great Temple."
These sacrifices occur from the inability of nation-states, and citizens of those nation-states to have self-determination for the next generation. As Cuba sees it, this idea of globalizations leaves the needs of the destitute silent, and it is how the system and its beneficiaries come to accept the destruction of the environment and of human health. The hundreds of millions of people who live with illiteracy and hunger, and who endure violence from militaries or tribalism is of a great enough magnitude that it seriously endangers the human condition. While there has arguably never been more awareness of the lived-in poverty and insecurity of the Global South, there is a dearth of idealism and creativity to suggest empowering the public good with services, security, and dialogue. Because of this, there is a sense that there is no alternative to the current ethics of globalization, and that solutions must be found within the current framework that readily produces imperialism, environmental destruction, and the expropriation of natural and human resources.
For Cuba, the root problem with globalization is not the advancements in technology or communication. It is not even so much about the condition of inequity, but it is about the ethics that created and maintained that inequity. The culture of individualism, or egoism as it has been referred, has reached a point where Adam Smith himself would call foul. The control and extraction of global resources for the interests of a tiny minority is producing dire consequences on a global scale. Illiterate farmers growing coffee in Colombia is good news for the breakfast crowd, but bad news for building Colombia's human resource and social services capacity. Ship breakers in Bangladesh, help with the recycling of old ships, but rarely live past twenty-nine years of age. When African doctors come to the North to be away from decrepit working conditions, those conditions do not leave with them, and the poor and destitute sick of that continent are left to struggle. These are products of the ethics of egoism in globalization, and, as the Cubans see it, not conditions of human nature.
We know from ethicists like Lévinas (Lévinas and Hand 1989) that it is ethics that shapes a society rather than society creating ethics. Lévinas reminds us that beauties and sorrows created by humanity can be changed, also by humanity, if we embrace face-to-face dialogue with all those involved. It is an important point, because while the magnitude of poverty, inequity, and injustice is on a scale we have never-before seen, we must realize that they are products of a global society, and they can be changed with that society.
Perhaps globalization came on too quick. Perhaps the architects, technocrats, and bureaucrats got caught up in the hype and forgot to focus on the ethical checks. But there is room to repair and build a better society despite the injustices and inequities we have brought upon ourselves. It has happened in the past, when unbridled wealth, controlled by an elite led to social chaos, but then with the right leadership and consciousness, social equity, peace, and sustainability persevered. It happened in the early Norse cultures, in Japan during the Tokugawa era, and in Maori cultures in New Zealand (Diamond 2005). The organization of society is fluid, and while globalization has organized society through egoism, there are apertures for dialogue at our disposable to make globalization viable as a movement that fortifies our international links to establish co-operation and solidarity for today and tomorrow.
Chronicle of Globalization as Solidarity
Literature from Cuba on globalization builds a consistent theme that human needs need to come before economic goals. What good is a healthy economy without healthy people? Cuba dismisses the neo-liberal promise of eventual economic equity after the market balances itself out. Cubans achieved many social gains by not holding out for the rising tide to raise all boats, and they believe that other nations should forget this promise from neo-liberal economists. Instead, the mechanisms of globalization should be harnessed to so that it becomes a movement to fortify international links in order "to establish a new type of co-operation and solidarity."
Rodríquez García says that globalization has tried to transform social services into property subject to market transactions, convert citizens into consumers, and treat inalienable necessities as demand. For Cuba, health, education, employment, housing, social security and assistance, and access to basic food, are fundamental rights of all citizens, who exercise them by means of a system that provides them free and universal access. The Cuban experience demonstrates that a system like that is possible even with relatively modest economic resources and that alternatives do exist to the inequity neo-liberal globalization engenders.
Indeed Cuba's experience is not typical to other places in the Global South, and its experience from the margins of globalization put it in a unique position of offering both experience and idealism on how to build equity within the society. With the success of the 1959 revolution, Cuba underwent incredible social transformations in a relatively short time frame. They conquered illiteracy within three years, and went through the epidemiological transition within twenty years, that is to say that most of the population now dies from long-term chronic ailments rather than from diseases of poverty. Cuba has been heavily criticized at times for poor economic performance, and Cuban leaders themselves have often openly declared that the country's economic situation has a long way to go. But they stand confident in saying that despite economic challenges, internal dissent and pressure from abroad, Cuba would not return to a state of unbridled inequality, and it would not sell off its human and natural resources to others, and no Cuban would be without health care or education. Considering the complete economic failure of the 1990s, and considering that all of the country's major health and education indicators improved during this time, Cuba stands as a fitting example that a commitment to social justice can take place at a national level, and they are convinced that this can also take shape on a global scale.
Consciousness of Solidarity
Architects of the Cuban revolution realized that social transformation could not successfully take shape just through bureaucratic adjustments, nor simply through political idealism. It involves involving people, as willing actors, in the process of transformation and decision-making, and to do so they must be made aware of the plight of inequality, their relation to it, and what they can do to make a difference. In the early days of the revolution literacy campaigns were not just about ABCs, they involved consciousness building between urban Cubans and rural Cubans about their differences, disparities, and commonalities. For example, in the campaign of literacy, young teenagers from Havana journeyed to far-reaching parts of the country in order to teach Cubans of all ages how to read. This experience brought two groups of people, who would have never otherwise have had the chance to meet, face-to-face.
In medicine, with half of all Cuban doctors leaving for Miami after the revolution, the goal was not so much about getting doctors to all Cubans, but allowing Cubans to become doctors themselves. Cuba opened medical schools across the country and worked to recruit students from rural and urban areas alike. By the 1970s many medical students had been children in rural areas with barely any social services, and they were pioneers to return home with black bag and valise in hand. Today, Havana has extended free medical education to students from thirty different countries so that they can return to practice medicine in their home communities.
The early period of the Revolution saw a rising of consciousness of national disparities by building capacity within the population. Today, in Cuba, consciousness of globalization is built in much the same way. There is not one single centre for work on globalization, although the ministry of the economy is perhaps the most active in research and writing. Through higher education, especially in social work and medicine, Cubans study how globalization affects the human condition, not just within their region but around the world. In medical school students learn about the restructuring of public health care systems in other countries. Social workers learn about how globalization affects "the condition of man" from economic and labour practices to climate change. Much like the early days of the Revolution, awareness and consciousness of disparity, now focusing on a global scale, was embraced in larger projects of social development. Here we can see the benefits of universal public education system building understanding on globalization; something that Appadurai (2000) advocates.
Consciousness of the issues is important, and so too is dialogue and critique of neo-liberal globalization. Here Cuba has taken a leading role in organizing conferences on globalization, "man and the environment" and international forums on the condition of humanity. Unlike Social Forums where there is often little agenda other than standing against globalization, the Cuban forums engage government officials, academics, and the international community with a more concrete agenda of how to actually improve the human condition with interventions throughout the global South. There is an assumption that despite the regional and cultural diversity of the planet there is a shared interest in overcoming underdevelopment regardless of the people or the place.
At a policy-level Cuba is the co-architect of Alternativo Boliviano (ALBA), along with Venezuela. ALBA is a trade agreement to bolster the economy of the Caribbean and Andean countries with the set purpose of overcoming poverty, not through economic growth, but by using economic growth to build capacity within communities. Indeed this is a step away from the common-call of Social Forums that stand in stark opposition to globalization. ALBA inherently uses some of the tools and tactics of globalization (free trade, international dialogue, and investment in technology) in order to strengthen social well-being.
ALBA is still in its infancy, and already strong opposition to the program has emerged, in Colombia, Peru, and the United States to be precise. However, Cuba has already demonstrated "globalization as solidarity" and "globalization as humanity" through its own foreign policies. As solidarity, I refer to its numerous health and education campaigns operating in seventy-two countries around the world. Cuba currently has 41,000 people working in collaborations aimed at building capacity in health, education, and sport. And 31,000 workers are in the health sector, and an additional 12,000 foreign students are receiving free medical education in Cuba. Many of these international campaigns have been in place for at least ten years. The goal is to give other poor countries the internal capacity to have some means of health and education by emboldening human resources from within the communities themselves. The Cubans are quite clear to say that this is not aid, nor charity, but a program of co-operation between the host country and Cuba to improve access to health care resources and to embolden education from within poor regions. In some cases the host country pays a modest price for Cuban services, but in most cases this only covers the basic expenses of operating the programs. While neo-liberal globalization has seen the movement of trained professionals away from poor regions of the Global South, Cuba's globalization as solidarity sees the movement of health care workers to poor and desperate regions from which others flee. It is an example of idealism to show that it is possible to have people taking care of other people when they need them the most.
And this holds true to globalization as humanity. To this I refer to the emergency response brigade established in 2005 from Cuban doctors and medical students who requested to go to New Orleans to help with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. While the United States rejected the offer of the Henry Reeve Brigade, Guatemala, Pakistan, and East Timor have all been in receipt of its services. In October 2005, Cuba sent 178 doctors to Pakistan immediately following the massive earthquake there. The brigade stayed for one year, and when they left over 2,200 health care workers were part of the delegation, and they treated over one million patients and established thirty-six field hospitals (Spiegel et al 2008). Here is another example of Cuba using the transportation tools and networks of globalization to offer impressive humanitarian relief to any corner of the world. This is not a testimony to the rejection of globalization, but an example of how a different set of ethics can use certain attributes of it to further humanitarian relief and social justice.
To build dialogue with Cuba on globalization a few keywords come to mind, but in two different categories. There are the keywords of today, and the hopeful keywords of tomorrow. Today the Cuban approach to globalization can be summed up by keywords such as: imperialism, environmental destruction, and social inequality. It is how the current state of affairs is playing out. But in the future, under an ethics that seeks social justice and social equity, the keywords could include co-operation, solidarity, and humanity. The seeds are planted for these keywords to take hold, if only we can build, perhaps through dialogue, the collective consciousness to realize their potential.
Chronicle of Hope and Futility
From taking a look at history, it is certainly clear that every successful revolution has used the infrastructure, organization, iconography, and placemats of the previous ruling elite. In Cuba the national flag, heroes, and anthem did not change with the Revolution, but access to resources did. If we can comprehend that ethics govern society rather than society producing ethics, we can see that the inequitable and unjustifiable course of neo-liberal globalization can be changed. The benefits of technology, communication, and understanding can be approached with the virtue of solidarity over individualism, co-operation over ego. The Cuban case shows us that it does not abhor globalization, but that it has simply approached the concept critically and has applied its own unique sense of goals to the existing infrastructure.
By no means should Cuba stand as a carbon-copy model for every developing nation to repeat. The Cuban story has emerged from a very unique position at the margins of globalization. What can be taken away from the Cuban experience is a working knowledge that globalization is a social product that can be manipulated with the appropriate social and political support that seeks to overcome overwhelming poverty and depravation. Cuba is also a working example of solidarity and humanity, working through its own foreign policy, to reach the marginalized in order to bring relief and start the process of reversing the devastating effects of taken resources and anemic human resources. Finally, Cuba offers idealism to say that it is possible to take globalization in a different direction. It may not be possible or even desirable to abandon globalization but it is possible to bring mounds more humanity, social justice, and compassion into it.
Who can say how this idealism can take shape? But what can be said is that with dialogue aimed at social equity, so that we overcome technocracy, apathy, and nihilism, with inspiration, compassion, and idealism, we might just be able to remind ourselves that another, healthier, safer world is possible.
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