Why Cuba and Spain Need Each Other Again
The loss of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines is known in Spanish contemporary history as El Desastre (The Disaster), the event which concluded Spain’s era as a colonial power and inaugurated a time of pessimism and despair personalized by the generations of 1898 and 1914, two generations of Spanish intellectuals who anticipated the clash of social classes, which led to the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939. The Spanish American War was the easiest of the wars ever fought by the United States. The event marked the decadency of a country that never experienced a revolution and experienced a 19th century of civil confrontations and wars, a period of decadency that perhaps took off with the independence of a majority of Latin American nations in 1812.
Spain and Cuba need each other because of their common history, language, culture and tremendous synergies. Spain and Cuba could inaugurate bilateral partnerships between developed and developing nations in the 21st century that go well beyond trade and foreign aid.
Spain and Cuba should join forces in a supranational state we have named Reypública. Reypública is indeed the union of a Reino (Kingdom) and a República (República).
Cuba experienced a revolution led by the Castro brothers and Ernesto Che Guevara in the late 1950s. Spain could be on the verge of its unique revolution, labeled the Elegant Revolutionby Rafael Sanchez Mazas in 1930. In an op-ed published by conservative newspaper “ABC” on December 9, 1930, Sanchez Mazas, co-founder of fascist movement Falange and subsequently minister under Franco rule, ridiculed Spain’s philosopher José Ortega y Gasset’s idea of a Great Council (Junta Magna) consisting of between 150 and 200 individuals representative of the Spanish intellectual elites. The Great Council would lead Spain forward, once constituted, in a move that would have eventually avoided the Spanish Civil War.
Lucas Mallada is a Spanish regenerationist who wrote The Future Spanish Revolution in 1898. Mallada regretted the loss of the last colonies as follows:
¿Y qué dirán cuando regresen a la madre patria esos doscientos mil hombres procedentes de la plebe, en cuanto de nuevo se diseminen por todos los pueblos de la Península? Exagerando, lo mismo que nuestros desdichados gobernantes, la gravedad y la importancia de la independencia cubana, repetirán todos los días que España perdió sus más preciados tesoros porque la fuerza de sus brazos era insuficiente para destruir la fuerza de las ideas contraria a nuestra dominación.
Towards 1905 in his final years of life Mallada addressed a number of letters to the then future King of Spain the Borbon Alfonso XIII, who at the time was only eighteen, the well-known Cartas Aragonesas (Aragonese Letters) that included his following thoughts regarding El Desastre:
Más que la pérdida de tales provincias, más que la afrenta de tamaña desgracia, colosal e irreparable en verdad, arrastró al pesimismo a muchos españoles la falta de grandes y acertados gobernantes. Después de la catástrofe, la Nación en masa quería volver los ojos hacia sus ídolos; pero no los encontraba.
Cuba is at the end of a cycle that could see the transition of its communist regime into a social democracy. In fact Cuba is at a stage similar to that of Spain in the early 1970s. Francisco Franco, dictator of Spain between 1939 and 1939, successfully led the national side against the republicans during the Spanish Civil War. His three-year campaign concluded victoriously on July 1939.
Alfred G. Cuzán, a faculty member of the Department of Government at the University of West Florida, compares and contrasts Franco’s Spain and Castro’s Cuba (Franco’s Spain and Castro’s Cuba: Parallels and Contrasts presented at the fifth Annual Meeting of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at Florida International University on October 29, 2003) as “two dictatorial regimes separated by the Atlantic Ocean in space and a generation in time,” adding:
Located at opposite ends of the conventional left-right ideological spectrum and founded by men very different in ideology, style, and temperament, these two regimes are, as one would expect, a far cry from each other. Yet, they also exhibit surprising similarities.
When comparing Franco with Castro, Cuzán points out that “each dictator described his regime as a true democracy, and painted foreign hostility to him or his regime as an attack on national sovereignty and dignity.” Both regimes, according to the Florida scholar, were anti-democratic and anti-liberal, suppressed labor organizations and repressed opposition. Hundreds of thousands fled the countries in the aftermath of the regime change, and hundreds of thousands were imprisoned by both regimes. In both cases, “the dictatorship maintained a permanent division between victors and vanquished, or revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries.” In both regimes, the official party, whether Falange in Spain or the Communist Party in Cuba, enlisted a minority of the population (between three and ten percent) in order to tighten the ties that held together sectors of the population such as workers, women, or the youth. Both regimes “imposed stultifying controls on academic life and on intellectual, artistic and cultural activities” as well as “rigorous press censorship.” As a result, according to the Florida scholar, some of the most talented Spaniards and Cubans fled into exile. The similarities go on.
Franco instaurated a rough dictatorship that concluded when he passed away in November 1975. The then Prince of Spain Juan Carlos I de Borbón led the transition from dictatorship to a liberal social democracy. Richard Gunther and José Ramón Montero published The Politics of Modern Spain in 2009. The authors argue that:
The so-called “Spanish model” of democratic transition includes several key features: negotiation between reformist sectors of the outgoing non-democratic regime and representatives of opposition groups; the use of the institutions and procedures of the Franco regime to initiate the regime-transformation process; moderate but sustained pace of progress towards democratizacion; inclusion in the decision-making process of representatives of all key political forces; private, face-to-face deliberations at crucial stages; and limiting the number of participants in face-to-face negotiaitons to a manageable few.
Alfonso XIII, himself a Borbon, was the grandfather of Juan Carlos I, who could contribute with his vision to Cuba’s successful transition into democracy exporting the Spanish model as stated by Gunther and Montero. Cuba could teach Spain how to conduct a peaceful revolution into a new post-political regime. Gunther and Montero go on to introduce the term caudillo to describe what Franco was not in actuality:
A caudillo is a charismatic figure who dramatically appears on the scene to restore order and provide leadership following a time of chaos. El Cid (who conquered and expelled the Moors from Valencia in the 11th century) was the very model of a caudillo. Francisco Franco claimed the title of caudillo, even though he was short and squat, spoke with a high-pitched voice, and looked somewhat silly when bedecked with the paraphernalia of a conquering military hero.
Cuba is second in the world for expenditure on education, which amounts to 13% of its gross domestic product. In the meantime, Spain only spends 4.4% of its gross domestic product in education, which puts it at a very modest 92th position worldwide. Spain’s university system is one of Europe’s worst. Furthermore, Spaniards continue to be language-handicapped, with a poor record of English skills and a disincentive to improve.
The most recent and successful reunification took place in the 20 years that followed the Wall of Berlin in 1989. West and East Germany shared not only a common history, culture and language. They shared a border and income levels that were not disparate, in the three to one ratio in purchasing power parity.
Many academics have discussed a possible reunification of South and North Korea. The main difficulty is that the income ratio is in the range of twenty to one. Spain and Cuba have an income ratio of only three to one, similar to that of the two Germanies at the time of reunification. Cuba has one fourth of Spain’s population.
A union of Spain and Cuba could bring about phenomenal spillover effects for Central America and the Caribbean, one of the forgotten areas of the World. The four poor countries of Central America including Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala could potentially benefit. Spain could focus all of its entire development aid in the area and trigger a sort of Marshall Plan, devoting a yearly amount of one percent of its GDP for the next ten years to bolster and enhance economic activity through investment in infrastructure and education in the area. Everyone would benefit. It is indeed a win-win scenario. In the best years of the Soviet Regime, Cuba received up to four billion dollars of subsidies from the former Soviet Union. In the new scheme Cuba would receive the equivalent of up to ten percent of its gross domestic product as foreign aid, translated into domestic investment were Cuba to join Reypública.
If pensions are frozen in Spain over the next 10 years, retirees could have a phenomenal incentive to move to Cuba, immediately tripling the purchasing power of their hard-earned euros, similar to the flow of Britons from the United Kingdom to Spain in the early 2000s. Cuba’s consolidated healthcare sector could enforce the comfort of Spain’s seniors. The flow of Spaniards and Europeans into the Caribbean could boost the economies of the area. Europeans would not only buy second homes, but would also require services. In addition there would be an increase of internal security and military cooperation that would reduce country risk, increasing the necessary flow of foreign investment into the area.
Cuba could also temporarily solve Europe’s immigration issues. At a time when immigrants are well needed and the ongoing crisis in the Arab World is undermining the ability of the European Union to attract well needed labor in countries like Germany, Cubans could well integrate in Europe provided its very high academic standards and Western-like lifestyle and mentality.
Spain’s strengths in the tourism sector could be exported to Cuba. Cuba could become the tourism superpower of the Americas, attracting Americans as well as Europeans. At a time when Spanish corporations are entering the United States, Cuba could become a unique logistics platform from which to access North America.
Cuba would add more than 3,000 kilometers of coastline to Spain’s successful model of sun and beach (sol y playa) which represents 70% of the revenues directly related to tourism, which amount to over 10% of the country’s gross domestic product.
Spain and Cuba share much more than a common past, culture, history and language. They share the need to leave old regimes behind. The model of the Western Nation-State is in deep crisis and in serious need to be reinvented. Oligarchy and caciquism are widespread in today’s Spain and have led to frequent episodes of corruption in municipalities during the real estate bubble. The distrust between citizens and its political elites is at an all time high. In a country where civil society remains asleep, the average citizen should incorporate a degree of ambition. This ambition should bring about relevant changes in the direction of the country and the destination pursued.
We must leave colonialism behind. We must remember the atrocities committed by Europeans on African and Latin American soil. Learning the lessons of history should never make any generation hostage thereof. We must look at the future with passion and enthusiasm. We must build forward looking stories able to recuperate the vision and the ambition of the great men and women of the twentieth century, who reacted at a time of global devastation.
At the time Cuba earned a well-deserved independence, the sentiment of attachment to Spain was widespread particularly in urban areas of the island. For almost four centuries Cuba was part of Spain. For centuries to come Cuba should be part of Reypública. The move could open up unheard of scenarios in the usual and limited debate that perpetuates the two options: Castros-led communist regime versus U.S.-led transition to a capitalistic democracy under American influence.
The experience is well worth trying. A success story could inaugurate a new stage of cooperation between developed and developing nations and a supranational era able to lead to a borderless World, the World of World Government and Global Standards.