Thursday, December 29, 2011

Roger Betancourt on the Psychology of Colonialism for Developing States--the Case of Cuba

Roger Betancourt, a Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Maryland (B.A. in Economics from Georgetown University (Washington DC) and Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Wisconsin (Madison), has just posted a fascinating paper,"Why Cuba Remained a Colony While Latin America Became independent: Implications for the Current 'Transition'?

Paper Abstract:
From the 1790’s to the 1820’s most Latin American countries started struggles that led to independence while Cuba remained a colony long afterwards. We will show how unique economic conditions, a transformation in the nature of slavery and the economic and political incentives associated with the Spanish special relation together led to the delay of independence for Cuba. Ironically, we will show how present unique economic conditions, current social cleavages and economic and political incentives associated with the US special relation together raise the probability of a similar delay in a transition to a democratic market economy. Awareness of the existence of these factors may help prevent or at least shorten such delay.

(From Tipos Cubanos, Bibliopolis)

Betancourt suggests a psychology of colonialism that provides important insights in the way in which the political cultures of former colonial states are shaped.  But that shaping is critical not so much with respect to the relationship between former colony and their former colonial overlords, a subject the complexities of which are well understood.  Instead, Betancourt suggests the way in which that political culture and its consequences for relationships can be displaced onto colonial substitutes.  More importantly, perhaps, Betancourt intimates the power power of the colonial relationship for shaping the foreign policies of post colonial states.  In Cuba's case, it involves entanglements with quasi colonial powers in quasi colonial relationships--the United States, the Soviet Union, and now, to some extent, the United States again.   The power of the dynamics of the colonial relationship carries forward in the political cultures of post colonial states.  As a consequence, these states might have a greater cultural tendency to seek in their post colonial relationships with powerful states, something of the hierarchy, subordination and rebelliousness that characterized their colonial political experiences. This displacement can have substantially negative effects on the development of these states, and make it much harder for them to escape the orbit of the cultures of colonial relationships with other, and usually more powerful, states.    

The Introduction to the paper (pp. 2-3) follows:
Most Latin American countries became independent from Spain at the beginning of the 19th century. These events were made official through declarations of independence for areas similar but not identical to current geographical arrangements or for larger territories, comprising several current countries that later separated into the countries we know today. These declarations took place between 1804 (Haiti) and 1825 (Bolivia and Uruguay). Cuba, on the other hand, became independent officially in 1902.

In the first section of this essay I will highlight Cuba’s incentives to remain a colony. They arose as the confluence of three factors that affected Cuba differently from other Latin American countries between the 1790s and the 1820s. These factors were unique economic conditions associated with Cuba’s sugar exports, the transformation of slavery during this period associated with the Industrial Revolution, and the evolution of economic and political incentives granted by the Spanish Crown which is associated with the so-called special relation between Cuba and Spain. Subsequently, in Section 2, I will provide a succinct discussion of the immediate implications of remaining a colony after Cuba’s main window of opportunity for independence ends.

One of the ironies of the current situation in Cuba is that it represents a critical historical juncture, just like independence did about 200 years ago, and the factors affecting the evolution of the economy and the political system can also be thought of in terms of incentives, i.e., incentives to remain a nondemocratic ‘mixed’ market economy. These factors also fall into three distinct but related categories: unique economic conditions, social cleavages arising from previous history, and the special relation between Cuba and the United States. The third section of the paper discusses these factors in detail and their implications for the current situation.

While I don’t believe that history is necessarily destiny, one way of avoiding this outcome is to be aware of the lessons offered by historical processes.
Betancourt points to a convergence of interests among elites as the foundation on which a colonial political culture could emerge that spoke to democratic issues even as it cemented effective systems of subordination.   
(Rescued East African slaves, 1869, From Allen Gathman, Capture of the slave-ship Cora, Seven Score and Ten, Sept. 30, 2010 ("the slave trade was continuing illegally, though few slaves were reaching the U.S. Many were landed in Cuba, however. British and American warships patrolled the coast of Africa in an effort to intercept slavers. " Ibid.))
Summing up the political and economic incentives afforded Cuba’s criollo class by the democratization associated with the special relation, the powerful economic incentives of the sugar boom, and the potential damage to both of these incentives of an independence movement abolishing slavery and/or the slave trade together led to a fateful outcome where Cuba did not pursue independence and remained a colony.

. . . . .

The international environment cemented this process and Cuba’s status as a colony . . . For example, the US issued the Monroe doctrine in 1823; its intellectual author, John Quincy Adams, spoke of a Cuba policy in gravitational terms of eventual attraction to the US. Britain began its own special relation with the US by agreeing to the doctrine and not challenging Spain’s right to its remaining colonies. Even Bolívar was willing to settle for Cuba and Puerto Rico in the hands of Spain as long as the latter recognized Colombia and accepted peace. Varela rejected Cuba’s annexation to Colombia or Mexico from his US exile. (Ibid. 10-11).

This political culture hangs like a specter over contemporary Cuban politics, limiting its options even as it seeks a way out from under the constraints of its own history.  Betancourt suggests that the current period in Cuban history presents similarities to those of that critical juncture between the 1790s and 1820s, with prospects for oil production replacing those of the sugar boom of the 19th century.

Economic conditions in Cuba at this time are somewhat unique. It is well known that they include current difficulties and a likely oil boom in the medium term. What is not well known is the extent of current difficulties or the potential of the oil boom as well as their impact on the political system.

Similarly, the existence of social cleavages between black and white Cubans as well as between Diaspora and non-Diaspora ones are well known. What is not well known, or at least more controversial, is how they affect the operations of the economy and the political system.

Finally, the nature of interactions between Cuba and the United States is easily characterized as a ‘special relation’. What is less easy to characterize, or at least more controversial, is the range of incentives provided by this relation with respect to the operations of the economy and the political system. (Ibid. 15).
Betancourt concludes that the confluence of interests, both within and outside Cuba, also might well contribute to the maintenance of a status quo, at least for the medium term.  These interests favor stability, harmonious society, and the position of Cuba as a subaltern in the laerger context of big power relations. These are roles well suited historically, to all of the principal actors, and made easier because they represent a reversion to an ancient form of political culture in the bones of these societies. 
Chinese President Hu Jintao (R) meets US President Barack Obama as part of the G20 Summit in Seoul, November 11, 2010. [Photo/Agencies]
(From China delivers new aid, credit, debt relief The Cuban Triangle, photo: Granma, Nov. 19, 2008("In addition to cooperation agreements already signed, the visit brought concrete benefits: an $8 million donation of aid, a $70 million credit for hospital repair and reconstruction, an agreement for a five-year deferment of payment for credits extended in 1998, and an agreement to defer until 2018 payment for trade credits extended in 1994-1995."))

  From Ian James, Jorge Rueda, Leaders at Americas talks: world economy top worry, Beaumont Enterprises, Dec. 3, 2011
("Cuba's President Raul Castro, passes his arm around the shoulder of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff prior to the group photo for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, CELAC, in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Dec. 2, 2011.") Photo: Ricardo Mazalan / AP) 

Betancourt concludes:
Summing up, Cuba is again at a critical historical juncture. In this one the current economic situation is forcing the introduction of significant reforms that improve civil liberties associated with economic activities without much change in political rights. Prospects of an oil bonanza materializing in the next few years, however, lessen the need for further economic reforms and increase the incentives to repress political rights.

Racial differences provide a persistent social cleavage accentuated by a more recent one between the Diaspora and the non-Diaspora. Ironically, blacks are likely to feature prominently in the leadership of a move toward a democratic market economy. Unfortunately, incentives toward remaining a nondemocratic ‘mixed’ market economy suggest that this path toward ameliorating racial discrimination is unlikely to arise out of the current ‘transition’.

Meanwhile the antagonistic special relation with the US provides a convenient setting for evolving to a nondemocratic ‘mixed’ market economy. Just as it happened 200 years ago, the choices made at this critical juncture are likely to affect outcomes long afterwards. In the current juncture, however, one notable outcome of the joint operation of these three factors is delay in the enjoyment of the political rights and civil liberties associated with democracy by Cuban citizens. (Ibid., 20-21).
(Raúl Castro looking at a copy of the Lineamientos, From Miguel Iturria Savón, De extremas y omisiones, Ancla Insular, Dec. 9, 2010)

And indeed, the confluence of internal and external factors suggests a state of affairs similar to those that confronted Cuba in the 19th century at the time it bargained away political independence for prosperity and security within the orbit of a larger power. It is possible that Cuba will make that same choice again.  But this time, stability will be obtained in the shadow of a more complicated external situation.  In the place of the United States and Spain, Cuba will be establishing a complicated and dependent set of relationships among at least four states--the United States (antagonist), Spain (gateway to Europe), Brazil (rising power and protector), Venezuela (joint venturer), and China (emerging power and financier).There will be great changes within Cuba.  But they are likely to conform to the international architecture that has been emerging in the first decade of the 20th century, and that permits a stability producing management of the internal organization of the Cuban state.  The result will likely be a move toward greater economic benefits for the people, but political citizenship will remain narrowly confined to the Cuban Communist Party and its apparatus. That siuts a United States in need of a small adversary, for its own internal consumption, Brazil and Venezuela as a means of leveraging their own foreign policies against and in conjunction with the Americans, and the Chinese, as they extend their spheres of influence within the stability producing managerialism of the "go out" policy developed in the later part of the leadership of Deng Xiaoping and now central to Chinese foreign policy. 

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