Cuba on the BBC

This World: Cuba with Simon Reeve Aired at 21:00-22:00 on the 11th of December 2012

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  1. The CMR Twitterverse was alive with comments and retweets discussing the BBC programme The World: Cuba with Simon Reeve's multiple flaws, shortcomings and crass assumptions.
  2. According to the BBC's description on the iPlayer, "Simon Reeve heads to Cuba to find a communist country in the middle of a capitalist revolution and asks if the new economic openness could lead to political liberalisation".  The programme didn't address political liberalisation, but it was very concerned with "openness", or, more correctly (neo)liberalisation as an ideal for Cuba.  It followed traces of this with much glee.
  3. Since the revolution in 1959, Cuba has divided opinion.  But, not always in the simplistic communism = bad/capitalism = good way presented by the BBC documentary.  Although, there has been some of that, particularly in the cold war tinged rhetoric of the US government, many observers and academics look at it in a more nuanced light. I'm no apologist for a regime that has seen violations of civil rights, a policy of sending those classified as counter-revolutionary (including political dissidents, conscientious objectors, and LGBT people) to work camps called Unidades Militares para la Ayuda de Producción [Military Units to Aid Production] up to 1968, lack of freedom of press, suppressed writers who did not conform to the party line, and an undemocratic system that has seen power concentrated in the hands of few.  
    Yet, it is also a system that has built up an impressive educational system (99.8% literacy) supported by a strong book culture, created a world class health system, created an egalitarian society free of racial tensions, and has managed to resist aggressive US embargoes and attacks over a protracted period. 

  4. It has not presented an ideal model on all fronts, however, there is much to commend on this small island of 11 million.  It should not be looked upon as a failed experiment, but one that has developed unique (albeit sometimes deeply flawed) approaches to governance. It is not just a country that has come late to capitalism and is happy to embrace all aspects of that system as a necessarily good thing. Now, that it appears to be adopting certain aspects of free market capitalism further (this is not a new policy but a gradual development - see here for a report on Spanish investments since the 1990s), it is not a case of glibly welcome Cuba aboard a smooth running (neoliberal/late capitalist ) economic order.  Since the collapse of Lehman brothers in 2007, we cannot presume to say that capitalism is in anyway a functioning system, nor can it be unproblematically stated that the recent economic reforms are a dramatic surge by Cuba to embrace capitalism. 
  5. The BBC documentary did not acknowledge the current state of the economic system in the UK, which has just entered into triple dip recession, nor the more uneven pattern of "openness" that is taking place in Cuba.
  6. Reeve's working assumption appeared to be that all countries naturally aspire to a Western model of capitalism, despite the systemic problems evident from its current woeful state.  A more nuanced view is clear from the comments and discussion that took place amongst the CMR staff and others who live tweeted the programme, and was reflected in what was a lively exchange.
  7. Reeve traveled around Cuba meeting people who were to be read as exemplary new Cuban entrepreneurs.  He met with a trained doctor selling plumbing supplies to supplement his income. His low income was estimated and there was some confusions as to whether he worked as a physiotherapist or a trauma doctor.
  8. Reeve visited a rice farm, where the farmer was given control over production.  Much was made about how dependent Cuba is on imports and how poorly state controlled sugar farming had gone. The history of sugar farming was dismissed as an example of over-centralised state control of the means of production as opposed to the more complicated industry that developed from the triangular slave trade and a dependency on Soviet exchange.
  9. He then spoke to restaurant and hotel owners, praising their initiative and delighting in accessing exclusive areas.
  10. Finally, he interviewed people selling their apartments,
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