This book should be required reading for all government officials who have anything to do with Latin American affairs. It is a scholarly, dispassionate analysis in depth of selected aspects of the Cuban Revolution for the period 1959 through 1962, and for the areas studied it is the most definitive work published to date. The authors are honestly interested in understanding the Revolution, and have assembled and interpreted a vast amount of data. The conclusions presented are objective and balanced. The successes and failures of the Revolution are analyzed in non-dogmatie terms. The authors have done their work as scholars and not as partisan debaters.
One of the major problems faced by this group was the gathering and weighing of evidence. The authors are quite frank in presenting the difficulties involved. As Dudley Seers explains in his preface:
The incompleteness of the data and the impossibility of a comprehensive analysis must, however, be emphasized. The conclusions are inevitably tentative in many places, and should be so judged by the reader. Because information is incomplete and because a revolutionary situation precludes a strictly economic analysis, the margin for personal judgment is considerable.
This judgment has been exercised with care. The authors have skillfully weighed the information supplied by the Cuban government, and have subjected this (and other) evidence to cross examination. This process involved the use of materials supplied by local administrators, personal observation, statistical projection from established data, and a generous dose of common sense. The discussion does not always make for easy reading, but the results are well worth the effort involved.
In 1962 Dudley Seers (an English economist currently with the UN) did research in Cuba, and decided that a team of scholars could do a more complete job. He obtained financial support from the Cabot Foundation of Boston, and assembled a group of three other economists: Andrés Bianchi and Max Nolff from Chile, and Richard Jolly from England. Several qualities were looked for by Seers. These were: previous professional experience in undeveloped areas, especially Latin America; a working knowledge of Spanish; and a desire for objectivity. For the latter reason Cubans and Americans were not considered.
Seer’s chapter on the economic and social background provides an analysis of the chronic instability which plagued pre-1959 Cuba, and an overview of developments from 1959 to the end of 1962. He is particularly interested in structural change, and concludes that organization rather than capital is the clue to rapid development in this field. Several basic questions are raised in this regard; one of the most fundamental being:
can a tropical country with a largely uneducated labor force, taught in the past to be acquisitive, successfully build its future on highly centralized planning and an appeal to people to work largely for the common good?
The author realizes that a definitive answer cannot be given, but he does believe that if Cuba can solve some of her organizational problems the next decade may well see considerable progress in the drive to raise living standards.
Cuban agriculture is analyzed by Andrés Bianchi. His conclusions in regard to the pre-revolutionary situation are substantially the same as those reached by Lowry Nelson in 1950. The main themes of the second chapter are agrarian reform and the developing role of INRA. Bianchi concludes that the first phase of the reform (1959-1961) was marked by “rather remarkable achievements,” but that the second phase (starting in 1961) was much less successful. The author presents a balanced analysis of the decline in productivity which considers not only the institutional factors but also such elements as the drought of 1961 and the impact of increased purchasing power (the latter being an important reason for the slaughtering of breeding stock and the subsequent decline in beef production).
Richard Jolly’s chapters on education stress “statistical economic aspects,” and the direct economic effects of the new education program. The political and ideological aspects are considered separately in an appendix which contains excerpts from various text books. Jolly feels that some aspects of the education program have been unduly expensive, both in terms of immediate costs and long-range benefits. While he is generally critical of the emphasis on quantity over quality, he points out that developing countries must often pursue the former due to immediate needs.
The chapters on industry, written by Max Nolff, emphasize the notable change in consumer structure caused by the redistribution of income. The author points out that the major factors hindering industrial development are the lack of a domestic source of fuel and the balance of payments problem. He concludes, however, that if Cuba continues to receive economic and technical aid from abroad, the island may become by the end of the decade one of the most industrialized countries in Latin America. This estimate would be negated—as the author states—if Cuba became the focal point of armed conflict.
This review can only hint at the mass of information and analysis contained in the book. It is required reading for any person concerned with Latin America or U. S. foreign policy. Seers states that he expects criticism. As he expresses it:
the combination of strong feelings and lack of information creates an atmosphere in which fantasy flourishes, and those who do not write for one side or another, but who try to assess honestly what they have seen, are suspected and resented by both.
This reviewer would add: “But not by scholars who are interested in the pursuit of knowledge.”