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Cuba: A functioning alternative to globalization

THE REPUBLIC OF CUBA was the first place I ever visited where most of the people look just like me and other Africadians - black, white, brown, mixed. It's special to me for that reason, but also because, as a Cuban says in Rosemary Sullivan's exquisite Cuba: Grace Under Pressure (McArthur, $50), the nation is "an alternative to what is happening in the world... There is less selfishness and more community effort (here)."

Isaac Saney, a professor in the transition-year program at Halifax's Dalhousie University, feels similarly. A native African-Nova Scotian raised in Trinidad, Saney's passion for Cuba and its attempt to forge its own way to communal prosperity and social justice is shiningly clear in his non-fiction, first book, Cuba: A Revolution in Motion (Fernwood, $19.95).

In 240 pages of researched, intensively analytical prose, Saney examines Cuban history, its government, its record on gender and racial equality, its legal system, its relations with the United States, and the "lessons" its development approach may teach other nations. This book is of urgent importance in a world dominated by an imperial superpower that, currently, seems to respect only its own rules, not those of international justice - or trade - and whose endless, reckless wars on drugs and terrorism endanger us all.

Indeed, it's a miracle that Cuba, constantly bullied by the next-door U.S, has survived, since 1959, as a separate state, and that it's still, despite the 1991 collapse of its Soviet backers, "socialist."

Saney seeks to understand how Cuba has maintained its special status as a "lone island of anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism and socialism in the so-called "age of globalization" and to explain the refreshed relevance of the Cuban Revolution "in the face of an unprecedented economic contraction."

One reason, says Saney, for Cuba's steady-as-she-goes progress, is "its unique democracy." Though "invariably portrayed as a . . . veritable 'gulag' . . . controlled by one man, Fidel Castro," Saney holds the government rests on "Poder Popular" - people's power: Cuba is "an island-wide parliament," providing, to cite Castro, "the democracy of the humble, by the humble and for the humble." Saney contrasts this mode with "capitalist democracy," wherein sovereignty "rests not with the people but with entrenched and powerful interests who utilize their control over (the government) to perpetuate their domination."

The erection of Cuban government on "workers' parliaments" assists efforts to end sexism and racism. Saney notes, "in terms of political representation of women, Cuba ranks first in the Americas," and it boasts subsidized "day care, maternity leave, abortion and family planning." Women dominate the nation's economy.

Blacks, suppressed by the pre-1959 governments, are now valorized: Castro himself declared Cubans "a Latin-African people." Moreover, as Saney stresses, "Cuba was the only country to send troops to combat South African aggression," thus "accelerating" apartheid's end.

Despite such commitments, Cuba remains, as Saney documents, a place where machismo and racism still exist. But here the government combats both relentlessly.

A law school graduate, Saney studies closely Cuban revolutionary law, explaining its occasional use of executions as the result of Cuba's "de facto state of war" with the U.S.

Documenting the history of U.S.-Cuban relations, Saney tells the secret plans, in the 1960s, for the U.S. to unleash "a wave of violent terrorism" against its own citizens, and blame it on Cuba so as to provoke a war. (This truth foreshadows 9/11 conspiracy theories.)

Saney concludes his text with the assertion that "the struggle to affirm Cuba's independence and sovereignty is inextricably bound up with the socialist project," a fact allowing Cuba to lead Latin America and much of the Third World in quality of life and economic growth.

For the rest of us, as Saney's text shows, the lesson of Cuba is that the global-capitalist society is not the only one available. There is room for independent paths chosen by aroused and informed citizens in true command of their own - I mean, yes, their own - governments.

*George Elliott Clarke teaches world literature at the University of Toronto and was the recipient of the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry in 2001. His poetry has appeared in different editions of Shunpiking Magazine's Supplements on Black History and African Nova Scotian Heritage.

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