In today’s environment the fact that Havana was once a Cold War city is important only in terms of its legacy which is quite clear.
In the Cuban case, the large infusions of Soviet military and economic assistance, weapons, and technology ensured the continuance of the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
And, in reality, it was this revolution and associated policies which most transformed Havana’s urban environment.
Absent rapprochement with the United States, and without the sustaining resources of the Soviet Union, the goals and objectives of the revolutionary government would clearly have been compromised.
It is now increasingly unclear as to whether Cuba will be able to hold on to the gains of the Revolution which are its Cold War heritage.
Many trends indicate that Havana is beginning to reflect its pre-revolutionary identity.
As Havana faces more severe challenges than those of 1959 without the prospect of a strong and willing sponsor, it is questionable as to whether there is sufficient domestic will, given a choice, to put up with the hardships necessary to sustain the achievements of the revolution.
There are also questions about whether external actors like the United States will allow Cuba to make its way as a socialist remnant in today’s world capitalist system. This possibility seems doubtful.
Cubans reason that their case is not comparable to that of Eastern Europe. They argue that their grandfathers were capitalists and that they are familiar with — and ready to play by — the rules of the game.
They go on to express their understanding that the global environment has changed since 1960 and to assert their recognition that they must now compete within the dominant, capitalist framework.
They believe that they can function and succeed in a capitalist world if they are granted free entry to markets.
The influence of American domestic politics on United States policy toward Cuba, however, hinders that possibility.
In actuality, despite American statements regarding the importance of economic liberalism, the one remaining superpower is reluctant to allow Cuba equal access to capitalist markets unless and until Castro holds free and fair elections resulting in a democratically elected government.
The United States does not recognize the exceptionalism with which some Cubans regard their concept of ‘democracy’.
It has become clear that Cuba will not move toward a multiparty system in the immediate future, even in the event of Castro’s death.
In fact, American preparations for a democratic Cuba are reminiscent in some ways of US ignorance regarding the average Cuban’s support for the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
While there is certainly a great deal of opposition in Cuba, there remains substantial support for the revolutionary project which many equate not with Soviet socialism, but with Cuban nationalism.
Recently announced changes in US policy regarding remittances and travel are probably not enough to facilitate change in Cuba.
In any event, the US seems content to reason that a mixed economy will in time liberalize the politics of a country like China while it will not do the same in Cuba.
In the postwar New World Order, therefore, Cuba’s choices continue to be Cold War choices.
It seems impossible for Havana to effect a compromise between the Marxist and capitalist theories of economic progress which divided the global landscape over the last half of the twentieth century.
In the end, it is probable that capitalism will win out.
The conflict between capitalism and socialism which is shaping Havana’s future identity is increasingly reflected in the struggle to preserve the city’s historical heritage.
In present day Havana, the successes of the Revolution are no longer drawing people away from the city toward the possibility of a better life in the countryside, financed, in part, by the Soviet Union.
Instead, the Cuban legacy from the Cold War — the absence of Soviet patronage and the American embargo — are luring people back from rural areas, small towns, and secondary cities to the capital where migrants hope that they can hold on to some of the redistributional gains of the last fifty years which they now perceive as their entitlement.
Many wish to benefit from the increasing capitalist presence within Cuba, even though there is also a desire to reap the revolutionary rewards that were largely financed by the Soviet Union.
Importantly, however, any continuing benefits may be much divorced from the Cold War reality or legacy since it is likely that they will, in the end, be financed primarily by the foreign exchange and joint-partnerships which reflect the forces of capitalism.
Some say that global investment in Havana is so widespread that “US firms should not expect that much of the economic pie will be left for them five years from now — or even two.”
At any rate, it looks like neither of the Cold War superpowers will dominate Havana’s landscape.
Instead, the expectation of many habaneros is that the revolution, Cold War patronage, and Cold War enmity may be unintentional facilitators for a nationalist, yet capitalist, Cuba.
Video by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe.