The policies of the Cuban revolutionary government changed substantially in the early 1970s from what they had been during the second half of the 1960s. So argues Professor Carmelo Mesa-Lago eloquently in his third book about the Cuban revolution. Three chapters form the core of the book. One focuses on changes in economics, another in government and society, and a third in foreign policy. The introductory chapter provides a brief background, including a five-stage summary of the first fifteen years of revolutionary rule. The last chapter provides a brief but very useful comparison between the Cuban experience and that of other socialist countries, and it presents a persuasive integrated analysis of Cuba’s internal and external politics and economics. Mesa-Lago’s themes are that the most radical strains of revolutionary rule in the late 1960s have been moderated substantially, and that some have been discarded. In economics, Soviet-style policies have replaced what Mesa-Lago calls the Sino-Guevaraist radical policies, highlighted most clearly by the downgrading of moral incentives and the upgrading of material incentives for work in the 1970s. In politics there has been a trend toward bureaucratized institutionalization, with relatively little genuine increase in autonomous and effectively competitive political participation. In foreign policy, there is a renewed effort to court the friendship of governments, at the expense of revolutionary solidarity, and there is a new stress on warm friendship with the Soviet Union.
Mesa-Lago has, once again, enriched our understanding of the Cuban revolutionary process. He integrates bits of evidence to shed new light on new issues. He shows that it is possible to perform effectively the intellectual role of criticism of the Cuban revolution and, at the same time, to empathize with the process under examination. Let us present one complaint and some criticism. The disadvantage of having published three books on Cuba is that Mesa-Lago has not given us an integrated analysis of the entire process, not even of its economics, which he knows best (despite the introductory and concluding chapters). The foreign policy chapter is weak for two different reasons. There is surprisingly little discussion of international economics. And the concern with tracing specific political relations that bear on US-Cuban relations has left little time for an analysis of the external impact on Cuban internal affairs (mentioned, but not well explored). The chapter on economics could have benefited from more multi-causality. Mesa-Lago explains the improved economic performance in the early 1970s as the result of adopting the Soviet economic model. It seems too miraculous that a new economic system would produce such good results as early as 1972. An alternative explanation is that good economic performance resulted in part from the rise in the price of sugar. The world price of sugar increased 61.6 percent from 1971 to 1972; the Soviet price for Cuban sugar followed suit increasing 88.9 percent from 1972 to 1973. Given the likely lag time between the reaping of greater economic efficiency effects and the implementation of the Soviet model, on the one hand, and the quite real increase in the price for Cuban sugar, on the other hand, Mesa-Lago may have emphasized the wrong cause for the right effect. Despite these criticisms, however, no one can begin to understand the far-reaching changes in Cuba in the early 1970s without the always stimulating guidance of this book.