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date: 25 May 2019

Cuba and Integration Processes in Latin America and the Caribbean

Summary and Keywords

The uniting core of all the Cuban revolutionary government’s unfolding politics toward Latin American and Caribbean countries has been based on three foundational tenets: the staunch defense of a unified perspective that spans national to regional; the recovery of the historic principles of regional integration defended by Simón Bolívar and José Martí, and the unalterable anti-imperialist position of its international relations.

Unlike the enormous negative impacts that the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Eastern-European socialism caused Cuba, the new political and geo-economic scene of the post–Cold War turned out to be very favorable for a Cuban government that shifted to redefine its relationships with Latin America and the Caribbean. This was strengthened by the victory of progressive and leftist governments in influential countries such as Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela. The new regional circumstances have been the most propitious for the development of the integrationist vision historically supported by the Cuban Revolution.

Keywords: integration, unity, cooperation, foreign politics, anti-imperialism, Latin American politics, Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples’ of Our America, Community of Latin American and Caribbean States

The open setting in Latin America and the Caribbean, beginning after the Cold War, created very favorable conditions for the victory of unprecedented sociopolitical changes in regional history. These in turn decisively influenced the development of diverse experiences of integration, also unheard of. As a result of the convergence of global, regional, and Cuban domestic factors, which are addressed herein, Cuba shifted to take on certain leading roles within this new regional situation.

To speak of diverse visions that place a greater emphasis on economic factors—Mercado Común del Cono Sur (MERCOSUR—Southern Cone Common Market), Sistema de Integración Centroamericana (SICA), Comunidad Andina de Naciones (CAN—the Andean community)—as well as others that, like Comunidad y Mercado Común del Caribe (CARICOM—the Caribbean community), achieved levels of interaction with more radical processes, such as the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América – Tratado de Comercio de los Pueblos (ALBA-TCP—Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America – Peoples’ Trade Treaty) project. As a broad background for this heterogeneity of experiences underneath reality, regional integration cannot be seen for Latin America and the Caribbean only from the dominant stance of the economic dimension, despite its utmost importance, but from the environmental advances that are so crucial, such as those of politics and society. The axis that interlinks the entire design was singular: the need to advance at greater levels of autonomy in the face of international powers, especially the United States.

Did the defense of regional integration respond to the new historical circumstances, or did it already form a part of the original political discourse of the Cuban Revolution? What factors, of all kinds, brought about the Cuban government’s inability to unfold all the possible pro-regional integration efforts in previous times? At first glance, it was difficult to believe that a Cuban government that maintained constant support for different guerrilla movements on the continent during the Cold War would seek to integrate with their governments. All of this occurred under a global-regional backdrop of conflict marked by the geo-political triangle that tied up the island with the United States and the USSR.

Some General Considerations Regarding Regional Integration

No scientific project that addresses the topic can disregard the important weight of the economic dimension when developing any concept on regional integration. In fact, the history of studies on the topic reflects how the first approaches stem from this discipline. An exemplary article by Eduardo Conesa provides an overview of this rich history. Conesa refers to Wilhelm Ropke, highlighting him as the first author to use the term “integration” in an article published in 1939, titled “Problemas decisivos de la desintegración de la economía mundial” (Defining Problems of Global Economic Disintegration) (Conesa, 1982, p. 3).

On the other hand, the validity of concepts developed by Bela Balassa (Teoría de la integración económica [UTEHA—Theory of Economic Integration], 1964) is well recognized, as is his classic definition of the rungs to climb to advance the construction of an integration process (free trade zone, customs unions, common markets, monetary unions, economic unions), a path followed by the European Union (EU). Here we must remember that the influence of Balassa’s theoretical-conceptual model was highlighted in the work of recognized thinkers such as Raúl Prebisch, promoters since the Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL—United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) of classic integrationist structures such as Mercado Común Centroamericano (CACM—Central American Common Market, 1960) and the Pacto Andino (Andean Pact, 1969).

To this day, those who pursue those structures, SICA and CAN, have not been able to overtake the first rung defined by Balassa; they are trapped in the inertia that leads to the inability to create new visions to reconsider economic imbalances, external dependence, and the pressing necessity to negotiate, with real political will, in order to reconcile all the national interests in play. All of this goes hand in hand with the understanding that one is in an unchangeable periphery imposed by the hegemonic center, the United States (Jaguaribe, 1979, pp. 91–130).

Assuming the fact that any integration concept benefits from—and at the same time is complicated by—the existence of countless approaches, the one endorsed is by probable consensus, proposed to us as a process in which two or more nation states participate by their own sovereign will, agreeing and arranging diverse sectorial politics by common interests and generating new multi-lateral economic structures. Said process must be limited to the creation of a new supranational subject that, for its qualities and abilities, places its member countries in better conditions of competitiveness—fundamentally—in the face of the world market and international powers. It is a living phenomenon, in constant evolution, that cannot function on the margins of socioeconomic development and political dynamics, first, of the nations that comprise it, and second, of the regions where they exist.

Although in reality the first reference to the topic brings us to the experience provided by the EU, it is necessary to determine the profound differences that must appear in regards to other possible integrations in underdeveloped areas, exacerbated in the cases of Latin America and the Caribbean, with the existence of the aforementioned center-periphery relationship determined by the United States’ regional hegemony. (Espiñeira González, 2009; Alberti, O’Connell, & Paradiso, 2008).

In addition to that general conceptual framework, integration is recognized as essentially a multidimensional process, in which, at least initially, the economic, political, legal-diplomatic, and environmental factors should interact. Without the existence of closed, definitive formulas, the case can be made that the new supranational entities resort to agreements in seemingly secondary spheres such as cultural, scientific, technical, labor, and even military matters. It is also worth mentioning the role that the regional organizations play in a group of instruments and mechanisms such as cooperation, collaboration, and political negotiation, all highly present in the integrationist dynamics in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Favored by the existence of common languages or affinities throughout history, as well as shared cultural and educational traditions, it cannot be thought of as a true process of integration that deals exclusively with political and economic elites from the included nations, but as a robust interrelation among peoples that balances the process, enlivening such essential social participation. This perspective is the only one that guarantees a very important requirement for these processes: the defined treatment of asymmetries, a problem that not even the EU has been able to avoid.

However, in the cases of Latin America and the Caribbean, any integration exercise must provide solutions to a group of topics; among those, continental unity is important. In the 1960s, during those integrationist efforts promoted by CEPAL, unity was a completely unknown topic, and historical discrepancies among countries, especially the presence of so many border and interstate conflicts that have plagued our region, were ignored (Mercado Jarrín, 1988; Orozco, 2001).

To speak of continental unity and conflicts among countries is to bring to the analysis the political dimension of integration, without which, as will be seen, it is not possible to further any integration process in the region. The starting point is in the unification ideology of Simón Bolívar. The Liberator neither conceived of nor defined his principles on the perspective of integrationism as we understand it today, but on regional unity. For Bolívar, it became vital to build a platform of unity in Hispano-America, and so he summoned the 1826 Congreso Anfictiónico de Panamá (Congress of Panama). In his call for regional unity, Bolivar said:

I will tell you what can put us in a mind to expel the Spanish and found a free government. It is union, unquestionably, moreover this union will not come to us by divine means, but by sensitive effects and well-directed efforts . . .

When events are not assured, when the state is week, and when businesses are remote, all men waver; opinions divide, passions agitate, and enemies encourage [these passions] to thus triumph easily . . .

(Bolívar, 2011, p. 125)1

Understand that for Bolívar, the most important aspect in that historic situation was to call on regional unity from a political-military perspective, and with a clear and early geopolitical vision of the dynamics underway, in particular, the intentions of powers such as the United States and Great Britain to occupy the enormous vacuum left by the defeated colonial metropolis.

Germán de la Reza, a recognized scholar of all related to the Congreso Anfictiónico de Panamá (1826) and its historic lineage, offers the following general assessment of that fact:

The Bolivarian areopagus is presented, most of all, as an instance of protection of the recently acquired sovereignties from three points of view. The first refers to the conversion of Hispano-America into an international actor open to protecting the interests of its small States. The second consists of the reinforcement of the strategic-military capacity of the region, both for ending hostilities with Spain as well as for avoiding further foreign aggressions. The third searches to preserve the republican regime, “uniform” throughout Hispano-America.

(de la Reza, 2003)2

However, regarding the failure of that first major unifying effort, even de la Reza concludes that

the Confederation appears as a superior task in its time in various ways: with respect to the spaces of governability, although very narrow in each country; the administrative economic methods, incapable for several decades of articulating the economic life of the new republics; and the perception of Hispano-American elites, concentrated on the task of forming a new State often by means of the dynamic of competition and rivalry with the neighboring republic.

(de la Reza, 2003)3

However, if we recognize the strong imbrication that exists between integration and unity, its practical effects, validating especially the multidimensionality that the first of these concepts carries, it must be inferred that for historic, economic, and geo-political reasons, the conceptual physiognomy of the topic would not be complete if the anti-imperialist essence, carried in Bolivarian ideology from its beginnings, is not recognized. This essence unfurled with figures such as José Martí, Fidel Castro, and Hugo Chávez, resulted in recent years in the different national approaches offered by the leftist and progressive governments established in the early 21st century in our region.

We are not concerned with entering into a theoretical debate or recovering the many and well-known phrases of Bolívar, Martí, Fidel, or Chávez that show the existence of an anti-imperialist school of thought, because they are so well-known. Nor do we review here the long list of conflicts and confrontations that comprises inter-American relations. Instead, we project the very core of the original integrationist ideology and how it was recovered and interpreted in recent years, to understand the denial of that “external” factor’s presence for a process of integration/unity that is seen and perceived in and from the regional community.

Some Notes on the Original Political Discourse of the Cuban Revolution and Its Impact on Latin America and the Caribbean

The Cuban Revolution has been, especially on a hemispheric level, a topic that has incited the most dissimilar approaches from the most varied disciplines in the social sciences. It addresses an event that not only marked a before and after for the island’s history, but for the entire continent. The reasons are well known. One such was stated by Luis Suárez Salazar:

For the first time in Latin American and Caribbean history, a united and armed people, under the leadership of a political-military vanguard, by means of the growing development of the rural armed guerilla struggle as a fundamental although not unique form of conflict, destroyed the spine of the pro-imperialist upper-class state (the Army), achieved a political revolution and, in the midst of its direct conflict with North American imperialism, resolved in a constant process and without stages the agrarian, democratic, national, and imperialist responsibilities, and set forth on the construction of socialism.

(Suárez Salazar, 2006, pp. 221–222)4

The other reason is the fact that this radical political process was achieved by a country that, because of its geographic location and history, directly affects “the area of vital security and hegemony not shared by the United States” (Valdés Paz, 1990, p. 112).5

Accepting the reasons that offer that the Cuban Revolution determined levels of “exceptionality” would imply recognizing, uniquely, the deep historic, political, and social foundations on which the sociopolitical Cuban process was built, leading it first to achieve victory under conditions unachievable for others, and later to establish itself and radicalize as no other social revolution on the continent was able to; to resist limits that exceeded all logic; and to initiate, in recent years, a process of autonomous transformations under the times and speeds decided by the historic leaders of the Revolution and now by a new generation in power.

The immediate geographic environment of the Cuban Revolution, the so-called Caribbean Basin from the U.S. strategic perspective, was a continuous setting of armed movements of varying magnitudes but with common traits, the struggle against local oligarchies, foreign corporations—primarily from the United States—and military dictatorships promoted and sustained by Washington administrations. The Cuban Revolution neither “invented” nor initiated the option of the irregular armed conflict—that is, guerrilla conflict. That conflict strategy, in which the dominant power is confronted by an emerging one, has only been successful when social support is utilized, when a majority of society understands that it needs that alternative to change a political and socioeconomic situation that is decidedly not in their favor. This is what occurred in Cuba.

The decade that ended with the Cuban Revolution’s victory was plagued with events during which the ruling oligarchic power, represented in good measure by military dictatorships and always supported by the United States government, sought every solution within its reach to prevent a revolutionary victory. Thus, we must understand the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitán (Colombia, 1949); the defeat of the revolutionary government of Jacobo Arbenz (Guatemala, 1954); and the negotiations among the different Venezuelan oligarchic groups (Pacto de Punto Fijo, 1958), after the inevitable defeat of the rejected dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez (Karl, 1988).

A recognized Cuban legal and diplomatic authority, Dr. Miguel A. D’Estéfano Pisani wrote:

The Revolution, and with it foreign politics, has completely broken the two contradictions that colored colonial Cuba first and the dependent republic afterward: 1) exclusive relations with other countries, and 2) contradictory relations therein, first with Spain and later with the United States.

(D’Estéfano Pisani, 2002)6

Having as a point of departure transformations of such magnitude, one must consider how difficult it is to find another country that, under such particular and hostile circumstances as those that it faced, worked with such intensity as Cuba has not ceased to do in the multiplicity of spheres that its international relations comprise. Before the revolutionary victory, in addition to the role that then-President Batista played—especially with his constant communication with the U.S. ambassador at that time—the country’s international relations were essentially limited to the diplomatic sphere. In this sense, they were diplomatic relations that worked for the processes corresponding to a country dependent on the United States by all accounts and an active member of the so-called Inter-American System. It was completely irrelevant that it was a country governed by military members of a coup d’état, because this placed it among the norms and not the exceptions in the politics of the Caribbean Basin. Additionally, the Cuban diplomatic system also worked dependent on those conditions. Thus, Valdés Paz summarizes that previous history:

The legal statutes prior to the Revolution’s victory did not establish any precise definition on the formation of foreign policy. The 1940 Constitution and the Statutes enacted by (Fulgencio) Batista in 1952 did not proceed by the formal declarations of sovereignty. Only the Organic Law of the Executive Branch signaled the existence and function of a Secretary of State, whose structure was reduced to authorities for the attention of relations with the United States and with international organizations, some embassies and a consular system of the same type.

(Valdés Paz, 1990, p. 120)7

Considering that I agree with the validity of the Cuban Revolution as a historic process that has not ended, it is valid to remember a revision of the concept offered by the Cuban sociologist Aurelio Alonso:

The amount of continuity and the amount of rupture can become a matter of accounting and, personally, I am not interested in looking for answers by quantifying. In the choosing of a socialist process, I find continuity with the purpose of reaching “all matters of justice” in a republic “with all and for the good of all.” With the adoption of models based on the institutional design that generated the soviet experience, I see a hindrance, an obstacle, and possibly a motive for further ruptures: for another revolution—within the Revolution—if we do not manage to make sufficient reforms, structural and functional, economic and institutional, within the Revolution, and if we are not capable of implementing effective participation of the people in the process and in the society we hold up.

(Espacio Laical, 2012)8

For the Cuban political leadership, the concepts of Revolution and unity must be understood as inextricably linked—one might further say conditioned—as long as the historical perspective that only the maintenance of a national united majority can guarantee that a revolutionary process manages to establish and sustain itself. Hence the relevance of recovering the following summary of ideas:

The Cuban Revolution constituted the precision of a process marked by successive frustrations and reaffirmations in the configuration of a truly sovereign nation; the victory of a revolution that was considered one-hundred years in the making.

(Zanetti Lecuona, 2005, p. 47)9

This consciousness of their role as a historic subject led to the revolutionary vanguard, headed up by Fidel Castro and to the intellectuals linked to it, to seek out the foundations of the revolutionary process in the tradition of the Cuban people’s struggle:

Our Revolution, with its style, with its essential characteristics, has very deep roots in the history of our homeland. This is why we say, and why it is necessary that we clearly understand all the revolutionaries, that our Revolution is one Revolution, and that that Revolution began on October 10, 1868.

(Alemán, 2013, p. 169)10

The great lesson learned by the historic leadership of the Cuban Revolution was precisely that the lack of unity or its ruptures, in decisive moments of national history, hindered the scope of the sociopolitical processes of change that were attempted.

A feature in the foundational Cuban revolutionary political discourse is the inextricable interconnection between national unity and regional unity. From their historical presentation during the Reuniones de Consultas assembled by the Organization of American States (OAS), which led to Cuba’s exclusion from that body, the then-ambassador of the Cuban revolutionary government, Dr. Raúl Roa García, restated the following idea:

The Revolution that the people brought about, on the arm of Fidel Castro, is as Cuban as the Sierra Maestra, as American as the Andes and as universal as the highest human values that it defines. It did not stem from the texts of Rousseau, Jefferson, or Marx: it developed over a century, within the heart of the Cuban people, and it honors, at this juncture in time, José Martí’s endeavor that was cut short. Thus the connection with Bolívar and Juárez, and thus its porosity to the new trends of ideas and aspirations that feed the living body of history.

(Roa García, 1977, p. 34)11

Consequently, that interaction between national unity and regional unity also develops following revolutionary political discourse and Cuba’s strategy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. Additionally, the continuity and defense of that strategy nowadays is projected with the realism of the historic experience, amassed in the important concept of the search for unity in diversity. This is a concept that entails understanding the many differences that distinguish nations in the region but that must be considered as a complicating factor that must be resolved in normal everyday life, and not during ruptures.

However, it is worth asking what unity is being called on in times of political ruptures, and considering Cuba’s support of the majority in the guerrilla movements on the continent. What integrationist ideology of the Cuban Revolution could be spoken of in those years of upheaval?

The answer appears as a constant in the discourses of Cuban leaders, summed up in the search for unity in the anti-imperialist struggle. Therefore, in moments in which integration projects were launched in Central America and the Área Andina (Central American Common Market and Andean Pact), Cuba was in direct conflict with their member governments, and doubtless it would have been unthinkable to place it in any integration attempt with anyone in the region. The circumstance was interpreted by Roberto Regalado:

The continental reach of the Cuban Revolution is manifested in three overlapping and interrelated spheres of a binding nature. The two determining factors in this trilogy are the confrontation with North American imperialism and the support for the peoples’ struggles in Latin America and the Caribbean. The secondary element in this equation is the relationship with governments of the region, because it depends on to what extent those governments are subjected to imperialism or respond to popular interests.

(Regalado, 2008, p. 2)12

The Long Road Prior to Current Circumstances

With the revolutionary victory in January 1959 in Cuba, and after a brief period of welcome to the island’s new government by the majority of countries in the region, a process of diplomatic confrontations began that would lead to Cuba’s exclusion from the Inter-American System. In political isolation in the hemisphere—with the exceptions of Mexico and the then-unnoticeable Canada—the whole of the sanctions against Cuba came by way of the economic, financial, and commercial blockade ordered by the United States. Such circumstances warranted a search for alternative markets, with the USSR and Eastern European socialist countries being the only ones willing to offer Cuba those denied resources and trade opportunities.

This is not to suggest that Cuba lost the Latin American and Caribbean markets because they did not occupy a vital space in the Cuban economy. The loss of those options is related to the substitution of the traditional economic hegemony by another of a contrary ideological type to the entire hemisphere and beyond the region, which complicated and marked a total restructuring of the Cuban economy, trade, and finances.

The effects on Latin American and Caribbean countries varied. On the one hand, some countries, such as Panama, facilitated Cuban trade with subsidiaries of U.S. companies. On the other hand, the imposition of the U.S. blockade reverberated positively in other countries. The Dominican Republic inherited the important Cuban sugar quota, and the considerable U.S. tourism that had gone to the island had to seek out new tourist destinations; this benefitted the development of other sites such as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and English-speaking Caribbean islands.

Cuba’s economic isolation was only reduced when relations were reestablished with certain governments, such as what occurred with Argentina under Héctor Cámpora in the early 1970s, quickly cut off by the military coup. In regards to the region, Cuba’s isolation from Latin America was mitigated by a small amount of trade with Spain and Japan. As Joaquín Roy said, “In 1975, trade with Spain represented 6.5% of the entire Cuban market, a figure only surpassed by Japan in the developed world” (Roy, 1995, p. 152).13

For these economic relations that remained outside the ideological orbit of the Cuban government, it is worth mentioning the following comment by Lourdes Regueiro:

Any analysis on Cuban foreign policy, including what refers to the foreign economic sector, must begin with recognizing that it is rooted in the principles of independence, self-determination, respect for sovereignty, anti-imperialism, internationalism, solidarity, and the defense of socialism. Even national sectoral interests are subject to those principles. The guiding idea that the interests are subjected to the principles is fundamental to understanding Cuba’s positions in various international forums, in which it could seem that their focus on certain topics is incongruous with the logic of national interest to gain better economic improvements. The resulting conduct with this precept has been a feature of the practice of Cuban foreign politics that confounds more than a few.

(Regueiro, 2012, p. 2)14

In simply searching for a better explanation of what has occurred, we assume conventionally the existence of three well-defined periods. The first, from the Revolution’s victory to the early 1970s, a time when two important events stand out: the official incorporation of Cuba to the Consejo de Ayuda Mutua Económica (COMECON—Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) in 1972 and the unstoppable advancement of the decolonization process in the English-speaking Caribbean, with the founding in 1973 of the CARICOM. The second period spans from this date until approximately 1986, which marks the moment of final demise of the European Socialist System, creating in Cuba the so-called “proceso de rectificación de errores” (process of rectification of errors) and leading to the search for areas of economic inclusion with Latin America. The third period began in 1986 and includes the first decade of the 21st century.

1962–1986: Integrationist Socialist Architecture and the Establishment of the Bases of New Relations With Latin America and the Caribbean

The central reference regarding the first period mentioned could be summed up in the fact that the Cuban government remained inevitably subjected to a bipolar conflict that placed it in 1962 on the brink of nuclear war. The supply of Soviet petroleum; imported arms from all socialist regions; and, finally, all the essential supplies required by the country led the government to accept definitively in the early 1970s the need to enter into the integration structure conceived by that bloc of nations, the COMECON.

For Cuba, the 1970s are well known for the process of institutionalization that the country undertook. Two Congresos del Partido Comunista (Congresses of the Communist Party; 1975 and 1980), the approval of a new Constitution of the Republic, and the definition of Poder Popular (People’s Power) as a form of government, with its corresponding National Assembly, were essential aspects during those years. However, the economy underwent a radical structural transformation marked by the full entrance into the socialist economy of the USSR system. Structures such as the Junta Central de Planificación (JUCEPLAN—Central Planning Committee), the Sistema Nacional de Dirección y Planificación de la Economía (SNDPE—National System of Economic Leadership and Planning), and the Comisión Intergubernamental Cubano-Soviética (Cuban-Soviet Intergovernmental Commission), in order to develop the Económica Científico-Técnica (Science and Technology Economy) collaboration, established their foundations on Cuba’s full inclusion in COMECON. According to Silvia Pérez:

The idea of the COMECON in terms of member states of relatively lesser development, those whose condition is recognized as such and with those that establish real collaborative relationships, whose strategic goal is—according to the Programa Complejo de Integración Económica—to achieve an even playing field of economic development levels in the framework of a suitable international division of labor.

(Pérez, 1983, p. 136)15

A look at what was COMECON, immersed in the topics that concern us, leads to an understanding of it as a project sui generis of integration within the parameters of the Soviet socialist model of the time. It was a project that integrated the economies of its member nations, but unlike the known classic frameworks of integration, it worked more as a mechanism for survival in the face of a conflicting global economic system, creating an international socialist division of artificial and marginal labor.

However, unlike what one could think, this first period welcomed an event that was based on both the new relations thought up by the revolutionary Cuban leadership with Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the construction of pathways for integration from the Cuban perspective. That event was the decision to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, taken on in 1972 by four important English-speaking Caribbean nations, recently independent: Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago. It was a decision that eroded the majority anti-Cuban consensus in the hemisphere and allowed the unfolding of the Cuban Revolution’s integrationist ideology. With the English-speaking Caribbean, with CARICOM, Cuba found the space it needed to display its goal of international cooperation. An approach to that paradigm is collected in the following definition:

Cooperation is the act of sharing a task, to make something with others in a coordinated fashion, in agreement with a labor plan, voluntarily, based on the mutual interest or benefit and that is established both among equals as well as among those who are different.

(ANUIES, 1999, cited by Santiesteban, Monjes, & Ferrán, 2017, p. 2)16

In practice, the development of international cooperation for the Cuban government has been based on a perspective neither skewed nor determined by ideologies, but by concepts of relationships of people to people. That has been the foundation for international medical and educational assistance and in other areas close to the people and, ultimately, to involved governments.

1986–2010: The Transition From Relations With the Socialist World Toward Open International Relations

The second period began to come about when, within the USSR, events were already unraveling that would lead to its later fall and that of its network of nations. The second half of the 1980s gave way to reconciliation scenarios with Latin America, based on the process of democratization that the region experienced in the second half of the decade. Important among these is President Fidel Castro’s invitation to different presidential inaugurations. Mexico, Brazil, and Venezuela were some of the countries he visited, creating contacts that allowed for important trade relations in the future (the relationship with Carlos Salinas de Gortari) and even the opening of a fledgling but long-lasting commercial exchange with Brazil (José Sarney) (“Balance preliminar,” 1989, pp. 16–20, 24–25).

Also worth mentioning is the invitation to Cuba to participate in the Ibero-American Summits begun in July 1991 in Guadalajara, Mexico. That event marked the beginning of the official Cuban presence in multilateral political forums in the region.

Already immersed in the deep economic crisis that Cuba inherited with the fall of the USSR and its socialist system—the country lost more than 70% of its buying power, which fell from $8,139 million in 1989 to $2,200 million in 1992 (Granma, 1992)—the Cuban government revived its efforts for international involvement, with Latin America and the Caribbean as its logical natural setting for entry. However, shortly thereafter, those who were willing to open relations with Cuba suffered the pressures and sanctions from the United States. The Torricelli (1992) and Helms-Burton (1996) Laws not only closed off spaces and opportunities for any business with Cuba but also placed well-defined sanctions on all those who ran the risk (Domínguez & Prevost, 2008, pp. 101–102, 104–110).

However, in that critical situation, the English-speaking Caribbean again defended its autonomy. In 1993, the Comisión Conjunta Cuba/CARICOM was created. In 1995, Cuba was invited, as a founding member, to the Association of Caribbean States. And in 2000, the Consejo de Ministros del Grupo África/Caribe/Pacífico (Africa/Caribbean/Pacific Council of Ministers) approved full incorporation of Cuba, after modifications so that the country could be included, despite not having maintained cooperation agreements with the European Union. In 2002 in Havana, the First Cuban-CARICOM Summit took place in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the historic reestablishment of relations with the island taken on by the governments of Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago.

In another context, based on the ineffectiveness of the Asociación Latinoamericana de Libre Comercio (ALALC—Latin American Free Trade Association), this was replaced, under the terms of the same Treaty of Montevideo that created it, by the Asociación Latinoamericana de Integración (ALADI—Latin American Integration Association) in 1980. Cuba agreed with this integration mechanism in 1994, facilitated because its goals were more suitable to the rules under which the Cuban government operated. According to Milagros:

In the LAIA [Latin American Integration Association], the processes of liberalization are more gradual and lax, preserving from former integration the tools for sectoral integration, which is more evident on a bilateral level than a regional one. Said tools are protected in the Partial Scope and Economic Partnership Agreements.

(Milagros & Reinosa, 2004, p. 63)17

Such conditions, tied to the Cuban government’s political will to advance in its regional influence, led to the signing of numerous bilateral agreements, which were expanded when proceeding through the initial Partial Scope and Economic Partnership Agreements, in addition to others of a multilateral nature such as those reached with CARICOM. (ALADI, 2015, p. 41) Later, an important Economic Partnership Agreement was added, signed by Cuba and MERCOSUR (2007), achieved with the help of President Fidel Castro at the Summit of that regional bloc which occurred in Rosario, Argentina, in July 2006 (“Cuba y el Mercosur,” 2014).


The Cuban agreements with LAIA and MERCORSUR were important for Cuba’s reintegration into hemispheric projects, as was Cuba’s full membership in Rio Group, but two other projects warrant special attention because they demonstrate not just Cuban participation in regional integration but more importantly its leadership role, embodied in the creation of two new bodies, the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America–Peoples Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Cuban leadership in the development of ALBA flows from the fact that this regional project emerged from the signing of the Joint Declaration of Cuba-Venezuela in December 2004 in Havana by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. What began economic, social, and political cooperation between the two countries quickly morphed into a broader project of ALBA as a political alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the neoliberal trade pact that was promoted by the United States from 1994 onward. By 2005, Castro and Chavez, together with other Latin American leaders like Luis Inacio da Silva (Lula) of Brazil and Nestor Kirchner of Argentina, became vocal opponents of the FTAA, and soon after the FTAA was scrapped. By contrast, ALBA became a reality. Using Venezuelan oil and Cuban human capital in the form of medical personnel, teachers, and technicians to develop a wide range of social programs in the ALBA member countries, which grew to include Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and several Caribbean nations, including Dominica and Saint Lucia. Especially in its early years, the social programs, especially literacy and health campaigns, had excellent results in Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua (Kirk & Erisman, 2009). These achievements would not have been possible without Cuban personnel and techniques refined in the Cuban health and education system (Marimón Torres & Martinez Cruz, 2010). It should also be noted that Cuba’s commitment to ALBA is just part of a worldwide humanitarian commitment that involves approximately 55,000 health workers in 60 countries, which garnered recognition from the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization, and the United States government when Cuban teams went to fight Ebola in western Africa (John Kerry, 2014).

Cuba’s role in ALBA clearly came at the initiative of Fidel Castro, but when he was forced to step aside for health reasons, President Raul Castro embraced the project with equal commitment. The Alliance continues today, with thousands of Cubans working in social programs in the member countries, but ALBA’s overall effectiveness has been undermined by Venezuela’s well-known economic and political challenges. However, even with Venezuela’s challenges, the project of PetroCaribe of providing subsidized oil to the majority of Anglo-Caribbean states remains in place. PetroCaribe, together with the ongoing ALBA projects of social solidarity, promotes economic partnership to regulate imbalances and is enforced by unique Cuba-driven criteria of cooperation and solidarity between peoples and governments.

Also important to Cuba’s strategy of autonomous regional development was the formation in 2010 in Cancun, Mexico, of CELAC. Coming on the heels of the formation of ALBA and then the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in 2008, these organizations represented the creation of important Western Hemisphere state-to-state organizations that explicitly excluded membership of the United States, a serious challenge to previous projects dominated by the United States, namely the Organization of American States (OAS), the Rio Pact, and more recently, the Summits of the Americas. Cuba was an active participant in the formation of CELAC, including the hosting of the second summit of CELAC in Havana in January 2013, including the presence of LAC presidents and the secretary-general of the OAS (Serbin, 2018). CELAC helped to facilitate the full integration of Cuba into hemispheric affairs, and the strong statements from CELAC opposing the continued U.S. efforts to isolate Cuba likely contributed to the Obama administration’s decision in 2014 to further engage the Cuban government.


The first major contribution from Cuba to regional integration is its active, professional, and successful diplomacy. It is the cornerstone for successful development of the integrationist policies of a small country that has faced and survived a conflict with the most powerful country on the planet, its closest neighbor, to further complicate the problem. It is a country that faced a long process of regional exclusion and isolation, which managed to change the terms to the extent that it is clear that one of the deciding factors for the historic decision of December 17, 2014, was that Latin America and the Caribbean had already reinstated Cuba in their community, and the United States was left alone.

The dynamism of Cuba’s foreign policy in the region was facilitated by the fact that the country ceased to be perceived as a threat to its neighbors. The change was not so radical when placed in the context of Cuba’s previous support of armed revolutionary movements. From being, in days past, the great regional support of those forces, the Cuban government shifted to act as mediator and facilitator in both open and concluded processes of present-day negotiations.

The current political developments in the region, dominated by the triumph of right-wing political leaders in Columbia, Brazil, and Argentina, have at least temporary stalled the forward movement of regional integration independent of the United States, but the Cuban government, together with progressive political forces in the region, have established a clear strategy for such regional autonomy and have created structures such as ALBA and CELAC that can be recharged when progressive forces in the region regain the initiative.


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(1.) Original: “Yo diré a usted lo que puede ponernos en actitud de expulsar a los españoles, y de fundar un gobierno libre. Es la unión, ciertamente, más ésta unión no nos vendrá por prodigios divinos, sino por efectos sensibles y esfuerzos bien dirigidos . . .”

“Cuando los sucesos no están asegurados, cuando el estado es débil, y cuando las empresas son remotas, todos los hombres vacilan; las opiniones se dividen, las pasiones las agitan y los enemigos las animan para triunfar por este fácil medio . . .

(2.) Original: “El areópago bolivariano se presenta, ante todo, como una instancia de protección de las soberanías recientemente adquiridas desde una triple perspectiva. La primera se refiere a la conversión de Hispanoamérica en un actor internacional susceptible de proteger los intereses de sus pequeños Estados. La segunda consiste en el refuerzo de la capacidad estratégico-militar de la región, tanto para la conclusión de las hostilidades con España, como para evitar en lo sucesivo las agresiones extranjeras. El tercero busca preservar el régimen republicano, ‘uniforme’ en toda Hispanoamérica.”

(3.) Original: “La Confederación aparece como una tarea superior a su época en varios sentidos: respecto a los espacios de gobernabilidad, aún muy estrechos en cada país; a los medios económico administrativos, incapaces por varias décadas de articular la vida económica de las nuevas repúblicas; y a la percepción de las élites hispanoamericanas, concentradas en la tarea de formar al nuevo Estado a menudo a través de la dinámica del contrapunto y la rivalidad con la república vecina.”

(4.) Original: “Por primera vez en la historia latinoamericana y caribeña, un pueblo unido y armado, bajo la dirección de una vanguardia político-militar, mediante el ascendente desarrollo de la lucha armada guerrillera rural como forma fundamental aunque no única de lucha, destruyó la columna vertebral del estado burgués pro-imperialista (el Ejército), realizó una revolución política y, en medio de su frontal enfrentamiento con el imperialismo norteamericano, solucionó en un proceso permanente y sin etapas las tareas agrarias, democráticas, nacionales y antiimperialistas, y emprendió la construcción del socialismo . . .”

(5.) Original: “El área de seguridad vital y de hegemonía no compartida de Estados Unidos.”

(6.) Original: “La Revolución, y con ella nuestra política exterior, ha roto totalmente las dos contradicciones que matizaron la Cuba colonial primero y la república dependiente después: (1) las relaciones excluyentes con otros países, y (2) las relaciones contradictorias en sí mismas, primero con España y luego con los Estados Unidos.”

(7.) Original: “El ordenamiento jurídico anterior al triunfo de la Revolución, no establecía ninguna definición precisa sobre la formación de la política exterior. La Constitución de 1940 y los Estatutos dictados por (Fulgencio) Batista en 1952, no pasaban por las declaraciones formales de soberanía. Sólo la Ley Orgánica del Poder Ejecutivo señalaba la existencia y funciones de una Secretaría de Estado, cuya estructura se reducía a órganos para la atención de las relaciones con los Estados Unidos y con organizaciones internacionales, algunas embajadas y un sistema consular del mismo signo.”

(8.) Original: “Cuánto hay de continuidad y cuánto hay de ruptura, puede convertirse en un tema de contabilidad, y personalmente no me animo a buscar respuestas cuantificando. En la elección de un curso socialista encuentro continuidad con el propósito de alcanzar “toda la justicia” en una república “con todos y para el bien de todos.” En la adopción de patrones basados en el diseño institucional que generó la experiencia soviética, veo una rémora, un obstáculo, y posiblemente un motivo para segundas rupturas: para otra revolución –dentro de la Revolución—si no llegamos a hacer suficientes reformas, estructurales y funcionales, económicas e institucionales, dentro de la Revolución, y si no somos capaces de implementar la participación efectiva del pueblo en el proceso y en la sociedad que levantemos.”

(9.) Original: “La Revolución Cubana constituyó la concreción de un proceso marcado por sucesivas frustraciones y reafirmaciones en la conformación de una nación verdaderamente soberana; el triunfo de una revolución que se consideraba centenaria.”

(10.) Original: “Nuestra Revolución, con su estilo, con sus características esenciales, tiene raíces muy profundas en la historia de nuestra patria. Por eso decimos, y por eso es necesario que lo comprendamos con claridad todos los revolucionarios, que nuestra Revolución es una Revolución, y que esa Revolución comenzó el 10 de Octubre de 1868.”

(11.) Original: “La Revolución que trajo el pueblo, del brazo de Fidel Castro, es tan cubana como la Sierra Maestra, tan americana como los Andes y tan universal como los cimeros valores humanos que enmarca. No brotó de los textos de Rousseau, Jefferson o de Marx: se gestó durante un siglo, en las entrañas mismas del pueblo cubano, y corona, a la altura del tiempo, la trunca empresa de José Martí. De ahí los entronques con Bolívar y Juárez, y de ahí su porosidad a las nuevas corrientes de ideas y aspiraciones que alimentan el cuerpo vivo de la historia.”

(12.) Original: “La proyección continental de la Revolución Cubana se manifiesta en tres ámbitos superpuestos e interrelacionados de forma indisoluble. Los dos factores determinantes en esa trilogía son el enfrentamiento al imperialismo norteamericano y el apoyo a las luchas de los pueblos de América Latina y el Caribe. El elemento secundario de esa ecuación es la relación con los gobiernos del área, porque depende de en qué medida esos gobiernos se subordinan al imperialismo o responden a los intereses populares.”

(13.) Original: “1975 el comercio con España representaba el 6,5% de todo el comercio cubano, una cifra sólo superada por Japón en el mundo desarrollado.”

(14.) Original: “Cualquier análisis sobre la política exterior cubana, incluyendo lo referido al sector externo de la economía, tiene que partir del reconocimiento de que la misma se asienta en los principios de independencia, autodeterminación, respeto a la soberanía, antiimperialismo, internacionalismo, solidaridad y defensa del socialismo. A esos principios se supeditan incluso los intereses nacionales sectoriales. La idea rectora de que los intereses se subordinan a los principios es fundamental para comprender las posiciones de Cuba en diversos foros internacionales, en los que pudiera parecer que sus enfoques sobre determinados temas es incongruente con la lógica del interés nacional de obtener mayores beneficios económicos. La actuación consecuente con este precepto ha sido un distintivo del ejercicio de la política exterior cubana que a no pocos desconcierta.”

(15.) Original: “La concepción del CAME en cuanto a los países miembros de menor desarrollo relativo, a los que se reconoce su condición de tales y con los que se establecen relaciones de colaboración reales, cuyo objetivo estratégico es -según expresa el Programa Complejo de Integración Económica- lograr la igualación de los niveles de desarrollo económico en el marco de una adecuada división internacional del trabajo10.”

(16.) Original: “La cooperación es la acción de compartir una tarea, hacer algo con otros en forma coordinada, de acuerdo con un plan de trabajo, voluntario, fundamentado en el interés o beneficio mutuo y que se establece tanto entre iguales como entre desiguales.”

(17.) Original: “En ALADI, los procesos de liberalización son más graduales y laxos, preserva de la vieja integración los instrumentos para la integración sectorial lo que se da más en el nivel bilateral que en el regional. Dichos instrumentos se amparan en los Acuerdos de Alcance Parcial y de Complementación Económica.”