ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 44

Castroika and reviving legacy of Fidel Castro

By Professor Patrick Mendis

When President Ranasinghe Premadasa introduced the Janasaviya poverty alleviation programme in 1988, it was designed to make a structural adjustment in rural and urban sectors and to improve the lives of Sri Lanka's underclass. The poverty alleviation programme has the Keynesian approach to economic development through the consumption and investment components. In an article, I termed this structural change as "Premestroika" to resonate the restructuring of the former Soviet Union under President Mikhail Gorbachev's Perestroika and Glasnost (openness) policies.

After meeting with Fidel Castro in 2004 and a number of field trips with American students in Cuba, I observed a new transformation in this Caribbean island of 11 million people. By overthrowing the Batista regime and his capitalistic and authoritarian rule, Fidel Castro launched a Marxian approach to human progress through the education and healthcare delivery systems. It was a successful socialist experiment in the developing world for a long time.

With the championing of such socialist policies, Castro was the role model to many but the glamour of his policies begun to fade as he aged. With the collapse of the former Soviet Union and its patron, Gorbachev, Cuba could not sustain its subsidized economy. The socialist revolution had a new twist: A silent restructuring process of Castroika.

Despite the U.S. economic sanctions, many other Western countries including Canada have developed economic relations and business partnerships with the socialist regime. Cuba's hotel and hospitality industry is now on partnerships with foreign companies. Hence, the dolarization of Cuba is undermining the Peso economy. The gradual freedom for micro-entrepreneurship has also unleashed the taste of capitalism. The birth of Castroika began to blossom especially with the historic visit by Pope John Paul in 1998 when Cubans gained new religious freedom and a window for openness.

In his each passing day, the aging Fidel Castro may be emerging as a born-again "faithful" (Fidel meant faithful) in associating with his former Catholic identity. Interestingly, during our meeting, he expounded on spirituality and the affinity for religious necessity in human progress. It appeared that Castro has had an enlightening experience for an internal transformation and restructuring.

Life with socialism
When President Fidel Castro attended the Non-Aligned Summit in Colombo in 1976, I was on the roadside watching him from distance. It was a euphoric moment for a teenager from the rural countryside. Some 28 years later, I was with him as a close encounter of the second kind. He invited a group of faculty members from the University of Pittsburgh's Semester at Sea (SAS) Programme when the ship arrived in Havana. I served as a visiting professor of economics and public policy at SAS. Naturally, my euphoria was rekindled. It was indeed an exhilarating experience.

During my formative years in rural Polonnaruwa, I experienced the socialism under the Bandaranaike regime — waiting in long-lines early in the morning for a loaf of bread, rationed food items, and clothes at cooperative stores. We grew a number of subsistence crops for daily food requirements — rice, cassava (we called manioc), potato, tomato, coconut, mango, papaya, guava, jackfruit, and other vegetables — in our three-acre land as part of the self-sufficiency and import-substitution strategies.
For my faculty colleagues, it was a few moments of euphoria for different reasons. I had an experience of socialism to connect with the Cuban experiment. For them, it was a rare opportunity to converse with Castro and to watch him up-and-close. For me, Castro was a charming speaker, a skillful politician, and an indisputably charismatic and likable leader — despite the fact our worldviews differ on a number of issues.

Glocalization of Cuba

With my Cuban encounter and my own cross-cultural living, I began to see a more of the "glocalization" in Cuba than globalization. Castroika is a unique process of glocalization, an interplay of global and local forces to restructure the Cuban society. In my book, Glocalization: The Human Side of Globalization as If the Washington Consensus Mattered (2007), I presented my observation as a silent glocalization, which is taking place around each of us and throughout the world.

Cuba is one of these case studies of glocalization. As I travelled with SAS, I observed a number of other case studies: The urban poverty in Brazil, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa, the Maasai culture in Tanzania, the yuppieness in India, the Asian holocaust in Cambodia, the Niketown in Vietnam, the Confucian character in China and South Korea, and the Japanization of Buddhism. All of which are experiencing glocalization, not necessarily globalization as we know it.

As Fidel Castro fades away day-by-day, the unfulfilled "socialist dream" may well be a Castroika-type "Cuban dream" which is more likely to be shaped by the way Cuba's response to global forces — a glocalization of Cuba. The speed of such transformation for a Cuban dream will largely depend on the level of freedom in Havana and the power of Cuban Diaspora in the United States.

(The writer teaches in the MA in Diplomacy Programme at Norwich University, USA. He is the author of Glocalization: The Human Side of Globalization as If the Washington Consensus Mattered. See more information at: He endowed two scholarships at his alma mater at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura in 1993 and subsequently established a number of tsunami scholarships and a Peace Prize for Compassionate Minds in Sri Lanka through the sales of this and the previous edition of his books.)

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