Share on Google Plus Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share on PInterest Share on Fark! Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon Tell A Friend 4 (4 Shares)  
Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite View Favorites View Stats   4 comments

OpEdNews Op Eds

Orientalism and Cuba

By (about the author)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 2 pages)
Related Topic(s): ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; , Add Tags Add to My Group(s)

Well Said 1   Interesting 1   Valuable 1  
View Ratings | Rate It

opednews.com Headlined to H4 9/14/10

Orientalism and Cuba

By Tim Anderson

Misunderstandings over Cuba run very deep, and not just amongst the enemies of socialism, or those who have had little contact with the country.

Naturally, people are influenced by the corporate media, which wages a ferocious and relentless propaganda campaign against the little independent island. As Salvador Allende told the Chilean Senate in 1960 "day by day and minute by minute .. they [the corporate media monopolies] misrepresent what is happening in Cuba".

However, we can also see elements of what Edward Said called "orientalism" a series of false assumptions about the country, conditioned by cultural prejudice.

For example, the constant moral pressures of the revolution are often misinterpreted as state "coercion," while a well coordinated and caring health system has been derided as "paternalistic" and denying "choice" in health care. These are the results of trying to understand Cuba through a set of individualistic, liberal assumptions.

Let's look at some recent misinterpretations.

The corporate media seized on Fidel Castro's comment to US journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that "The 'Cuban model' now doesn't work even for us" as an admission that Cuban socialism had failed and that Cuba would now have to take on US style capitalism. Julia Sweig, Goldberg's adviser on Cuba, said she took the comment to be an acknowledgment that "the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country." Goldberg excitedly interpreted the comment to mean that "Cuba is beginning to adopt the sort of economic ideas that America has long-demanded it adopt." Goldberg's article launched thousands of other stories.

Ahem. Neither writer had much sense of Cuban phraseology. Fidel clarified and Cuban television pointed out (by reference to an episode of The Simpsons, in which Fidel is shown as admitting the defeat of "communism") that the Cuban leader meant Cuba was constantly adapting, and that there had never been a rigid "Cuban model." What they have held onto are principles, not models.

Furthermore, and in response to Goldberg's specific question about 'exporting' a Cuban "model," Fidel was repeating an old theme "we don't export any model." Amongst the English language articles only a few, such as Steven Wilkinson's in The UK Guardian ("Cuba: from communist to co-operative?"), noted this point.

The misinterpretation of this simple phrase is a good example of the "orientalism" regarding Cuba, where a revolutionary country, constantly adapting, is portrayed by its enemies as representing a rigid model of the past. Any change or admission is seen as the fracture of a monolith; but what monolith?

A second example of this same process can be seen in stories on the restructuring of state enterprises in Cuba. The BBC reports ("Cuba to cut one million public sector jobs") that Cuba's peak trade union body the CTC says: "more than a million workers would lose their jobs .. [they] will be encouraged to become self-employed or join new private enterprises." Half a million will be laid off in the next six months. On the back of this a multitude of right and left commentators predict Cuba's reversion to capitalism.

The thinking here is that a major efficiency drive in Cuban state enterprises must mean a surrender to the logic of private corporations. Never mind that hundreds of thousands were laid off from Cuba's sugar industry, almost two decades ago, when the sugar-for-oil agreement with the Soviet bloc collapsed. In its much worse economic crisis of the 1990s, Cuba maintained its system of social guarantees, allowing foreign investment through joint ventures and a small private business sector.

On the current restructuring, if the BBC and others had read further in the 13 September CTC statement, they would have seen that the "alternative employment" seen for the laid off workers comprises "land renting and usufruct leases, cooperatives and small business." Big corporations don't get a mention; where they exist in Cuba they are under joint ventures where the state owns land and buildings and hires all the labour. Nevertheless, work bonuses are being revised in a wider range of sectors.

The CTC says state employment is to be maintained in some sectors of agriculture, in construction, teaching and industrial work. Furthermore, there is an ongoing diversification of state industry into petroleum (Cuba is developing its own reserves and is set to become an oil exporter), construction (including for expanded tourism), biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, tourism and other areas.

Change is a constant in Cuba, as one might logically expect of a self-described "revolutionary" society. However, others portray this society as a monolithic state.

Next Page  1  |  2

 

Tim Anderson is an academic and social activist based in Sydney, Australia

Share on Google Plus Submit to Twitter Add this Page to Facebook! Share on LinkedIn Pin It! Add this Page to Fark! Submit to Reddit Submit to Stumble Upon

Go To Commenting
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Writers Guidelines

Contact Author Contact Editor View Authors' Articles

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Syria: how the violence began, in Daraa

The Libyan Tragedy: lessons for the western left

Al Jazeera's attacks on Syria: some background

In Defence of the Syrian Arab Army

Syria's "false flag' terrorism, Houla and the United Nations

Hugo Chávez, Venezuela and the Corporate Media

Comments

The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

Comments: Expand   Shrink   Hide  
3 people are discussing this page, with 4 comments
To view all comments:
Expand Comments
(Or you can set your preferences to show all comments, always)

it is impossible to avoid the malice against Cuba ... by TimA on Tuesday, Sep 14, 2010 at 2:47:59 PM
That's a real problem - as you noted, there are a ... by Nikk Katzman on Tuesday, Sep 14, 2010 at 2:50:54 PM
Another OEN member and I reviewed Ramonet's Spoken... by GLloyd Rowsey on Tuesday, Sep 14, 2010 at 3:18:34 PM
submitting pieces to OEN based on Fidel's Granma w... by GLloyd Rowsey on Thursday, Sep 16, 2010 at 9:37:04 AM