Volume 45 Number 176,
January-March 2014
Migrants in Socialism: A Debate on Cuban Development
Edel J. Fresneda *
Date received: January 10, 2013. Date accepted: June 14, 2013

This brief essay introduces the concepts that characterize recent Cuban emigration as a result of features inherent to productive heterogeneity. It explains how the relative limits on consumption in a welfare environment of manifested, as well as how unequal exchanges affect this process. This text draws conclusions on the role of migration and compensation for structural inequalities, implicitly concluding that economic emigration is a consequence of the structural distortions of socialist productive heterogeneity.

Keywords: Socialist productive heterogeneity, relative limits on consumption, compensation for structural inequalities, migration, Cuba.

The organizational and productive systems in Cuba differ from the models that predominate throughout the continent. However, the nation is similar in terms of its insertion into global commerce, which has taken place under unprecedented standards of unequal exchange. This is the premise from which this essay begins, seeking to elucidate the internal characteristics and aspects of international insertion that distinguish the Cuban case and how these can be related to the features of its external migratory flows.

This objective first requires a theoretical reconstruction of the main features and specifics of the island, which can be summarized under the concept of socialist productive heterogeneity.1 This involves reevaluating (and updating) the most common interpretations set forth by the social sciences throughout these years with regards to these factors.


Traditional forms of production that persist in peripheral countries are the result of the exogenous conditions that analogously interact and influence endogenous processes. The latter reinforce the peculiarities inherent in the norms and processes of sociopolitical interaction in each society. Both directions reflect a vicious cycle that is expressed in how difficult it is for these traditional forms to relate and interact advantageously and therefore lead to qualitative advances in development in spaces of global interactions. As a result, structural heterogeneity, the vicious cycles that are created and maintained and regulated subordination and/or dependence due to the mechanisms of interaction between countries are the result/cause of the prevalence of these traditional forms.

The current political logic that predominates in peripheral countries is generally and implicitly characterized by: development and the closing of social gaps, the scope of public policy and effectiveness in achieving human development. This is true in such a way that external conditions, but even more specifically, unequal exchange (the advantages of central countries in production, innovation and technology) condition processes of reproduction or expansion of growth based on “globalized” forms of interaction, such as extra-territorial investment in economic sectors without a clear economic benefit (a relative social responsibility) whose supreme aim is profits for companies, bringing about contradictions that affect different social groups and the environment.

With regards to this topic, Furtado (1993) ascertains that the stagnation (or the vicious cycle) of development arises with relation to the interaction of forces intervening in international exchanges, conditioning the formation of relative prices in a situation of relationships that assumes the perpetuation of domestic underdevelopment and an incapacity to overcome this in stages. These forces have a historical genesis and explain the process that influences the loss of dynamism in determined realms of underdeveloped Latin American societies. In this sense, there are various derivations of the subjection that is manifest from these units to the more general spaces for interaction: technological dependence (exogenous factor), the behavior of demand (internal factor), cultural dependency associated to technology with consumption norms linked to external patterns, and more.

Among the evidence demonstrating the evolution of the endogenous processes and features of growth are the following: the type of structural heterogeneity (with special attention paid to the differences in productive chains both forwards and backwards), the role of technology and its usage in productive systems and the type of good produced and commercialized under a determined state of development of productive forces, with special attention paid to progress in the capacities of the labor force. Whether these factors have a vicious or virtuous cycle, or whether their trajectories are distorted or positive, is closely linked to the effects and consequences of unequal international commercial exchange and the strategies implemented domestically to achieve a positive interaction and qualitative advancement in development. In summary, when the relationship between these is negative, according to Hirschman, the resulting situation is a balance between multiple vicious cycles (Hirschman, 1970: 5). The description of these interactions between internal and external factors allows us to analyze the specifics of an economic-social formation (Kay, 1989).

For a variety of reasons, in Cuba, traditional forms of production have persisted, as well as the nation's disadvantaged position in the exchange of international commodities. This has taken place alongside sui generis processes promoting social and human development, in the presence of logical endogenous policies that have disrupted global capitalism up to the modern day. Simultaneously, these productive environments co-exist with low linkage and innovation and knowledge capital that is not fully taken advantage of but that has acquired the potential to promote research and development, which is not fully integrated or used in the island’s development. As a result, the relationship between migration and development in Cuba shows evidence of current development problems, whose epistemological approach acquires a crucial connotation, not only to address the tricky and unique case of Cuban socialism, but also, by extension, some of the peculiarities of development for peripheral nations, including contradictions between exogenous and endogenous factors and the influence of each environment in the development of a more general unit of space for interaction.

Some of the questions worthy of discussion are related to the development problems the island faces, which have an impact on systemic migration, such as: why is there emigration from an environment of human development? What are the conditions that have led to a gradually more clear export of the labor force? Finally, is emigration essentially the result of the hegemony of contemporary political and endogenous logic and/or, on the contrary, or in addition, the consequence of historic factors in the productive environment of the island and the absence of qualitative changes in its condition as a peripheral nation?

To answer the more general question of this article, which regards the relationship between migration and development on the island, we refer to its historical development in the time period when emigration increased: 1959 to the present day. This period is especially relevant because it coincides with the rise of development policies and strategies whose most explicit result has been the achievement of human capital or development. Under this logic, it is understood that the human development (pnud, 1990) present on the island was achieved with a path of rising productive chains, although tacitly distorted, which means the country has not managed to achieve qualitative endogenous changes to overcome its condition as a peripheral and underdeveloped nation. The distortion is reflected because these chains were sustained by a demand for primary goods from preferential international exchange with a balance similar to that described by Albert O. Hirschman (1987) with his definition of the trickle down effect. The most positive balance of all was the development in the capacities of the labor force, although it was based on a "balance" of multiple vicious cycles within the economy. From there, we can recognize structural instability, which can be explained by the long-term endogenous unsustainability and dependence on international compensation that social development has seen starting with the decadence of domestic economic development, with social gaps that are really or potentially closed,2 and which currently has a special incapacity to insert itself into the unequal global exchange. This incapacity, both external and internal, is deepened by the infamous United States embargo. As a result, this conceptual proposal identifies the features that make up socialist productive heterogeneity, including the following most relevant elements:

a) Internally:

  • The persistence of vicious cycles that affect the productive structure, with the presence of technological development capacities that are not being efficiently used in the production of goods. This process has affected the socioeconomic development of socialism.
  • A complex and heterogeneous makeup of sectors with productive units that lack their own logic, alongside the predominance of social or collective property and weak linkages.
  • Broad fiscal spending used to close social gaps and achieve acceptable standards of equality, but lacking an organic adjustment to the capacities to generate (capital) surplus or resources to sustain this spending.
  • Few incentives for productivity to grow, where low salaries operate as a mechanism to broaden the poverty gaps with the intensification of the “relative limit on consumption" in spite of the income contained in social policies.
  • The presence of important human resources due to their educational levels and training, but a deteriorating labor force reflected in the relative limit on consumption because of low income.

b) Externally:

  • Systemic incapacity reflected in production with low added value for the goods produced, low innovation and the prevalence of traditional forms, among other factors, to interact in broad spaces dominated by the production of goods with lower productive costs and greater technology. This has led to a chronic commercial deficit, where imports and inefficient industrial development have had significant influence.

One fundamental question still generating debate is related to dependence on external sectors, and how this has led to an ostensible deficit in economic growth. José Luis Rodríguez (2011) goes through some of the elements behind our argument. First, he describes the achievements of Cuban productive heterogeneity and the agency-State in overcoming social gaps, maintaining political independence and implementing development strategies that aim for equality and wealth redistribution. Second, he analyzes the way in which these strategies have been carried out, where he believes the nation has overcome economic dependence, whereas the authors of this text believe differently. In light of this position, here it can be understood that social development is a significant achievement, but that it was achieved without a long-term economic foundation "organically and sustainably," in large part due to the incapacity of the Cuban economy to compete and gain advantages in global commerce as an exporter of goods with added value, rather than just of raw materials, in addition to deficiencies in technological innovation. Another related element is the incapacity of the labor market to assimilate a labor force with high capacities. Relative dependency is precisely the feature that promotes the persistence of these aspects, and other authors have emphasized it before:

[...] the structure of Cuban imports was rigid in the 1980s, and even more so in the 1990s, and this lack of flexibility increased the vulnerability of growth with respect to external factors. In 1989, consumer goods, especially food, represented 10.4 percent of imports, while this proportion had reached 20.9 percent in 1995. The fact that it was a growing share of a total amount of exports that was decreasing made clear the elevated dependency on importing necessary goods, like food, and made it inevitable that any "adjustment" in terms of imports would be produced through the means of production (intermediate goods and especially capital goods), which directly affects the very reproduction capacity of the economy (Carranza et al., 2000: 18).

Productivity is an aspect that affects the entire economy as a whole. The surplus available to satisfy differentiated forms of consumption or cover investment in a reduced level of productivity is extremely limited or practically nothing, and it is difficult for a capital accumulation process to occur endogenously (Furtado, 1984). This aspect is understood as the origin of the broader vicious cycle (or distortions) that afflicts the island. Even when differences would be expected based on the prevalence of socialist political logic on the domestic level, which has effectively promoted social development and the achievement of human development levels and equality by breaking with international hegemonic policy, there has not been a qualitative change in terms of incorporating production and added value in the goods produced to significantly alter the dependent position of the island in terms of its need for intermediary goods for production and consumption.

In this sense, the social changes and human development that Cuba has experienced have been sustained by productive processes that have made socialist redistribution difficult, as the income of the labor force has been affected (the relative limit on consumption has grown), and with that, social mobility and the satisfaction of basic needs. Another element, no less important in this correlation, is the error of thinking of development – based on logical policies of social ownership of the means of production – in the absence of agencies and units with their own rationales to participate in promoting development, which there is currently an effort to correct.

In a context of vast efforts to satisfy the basic needs of the population in terms of its capacities (seen from the perspective of human development), low productivity puts a substantial brake on everything, leading to instability in terms of redistribution, social mobility and equality, above all, because productive capacity and increasing this lacks effective linkages and stimulus that would serve as an incentive to emerge from the vicious cycles of the productive order. Under these principles of functioning, when Cuba competes as a unit in spaces of global interaction, its dependence upon global international exchange is perpetuated.

The lack of new combinations of production factors and norms associated with innovation has stifled the increase in productivity, because the real social income, the sum of goods and services, has enlarged due to the sociopolitical and historical context, where preferential exchange with "other" spaces of interaction allowed this broadening on the basis of public spending and investment in services, while also solidifying other "deficiencies" that can also be translated into vicious cycles with their own intrinsic specificities. Structural problems such as low productivity, imbalanced growth with productive chains that have produced vicious cycles, the low accumulation rate, the persistence of traditional forms that fail to promote the development of productive forces, the preponderance of services in the economic structure and the dependency on external sectors, among other factors, have played a role in recent conflicts affecting the social development achieved on the island.

In an income redistribution system, the salary does not operate as an incentive to increase production and develop productive forces, as its role should be, nor does it allow the labor force to clearly envision social mobility. Now, the relative homogenization of the salary that has long reigned on the island has widened the socio-productive gaps, far from reducing them, and has therefore perpetuated and deepened structural heterogeneity. In this way, changes in social relations did not bring about transformations in the dynamics of generating economic surplus, which has distorted the mechanisms and scopes of social distribution of wealth, while also failing to modify the state of Cuban socialism as a peripheral economy and underdeveloped nation.

In the conflicts inherent to socialist productive heterogeneity, we find that the sui generis structural heterogeneity does not generate nor lead to innovation and productivity in an organic fashion, which is especially a disadvantage in terms of international exchange. In a historic sense, the “backslide” was to fail to recognize the idea that, “No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed [...]" (Marx, 1859: 353). From a Marxist perspective, to explain these phenomena, it can be argued that optimal material conditions for existence are needed to advance towards superior relations of production. This would imply using groups and dynamic classes in generating incentives and aspects of productivity and innovation. In that way, the sui generis element of the process by which forms of ownership of the instruments of production would pass from private to collective, with an improvement in the conditions of the reproduction of the labor force in underdevelopment, the value of exchange for commodities and goods directed for international exchange maintained a relationship with inefficient productivity and innovation. This describes the systemic similarity between Caribbean socialism and other peripheral capitalist societies in a theoretical sense. More than anything, the cost of producing goods has not reached optimal or efficient levels with regards to other international productive systems. In this way, focusing on the Marxist theory that the conditions in which commodities are produced define their price, rather than the market, 3 we can draw the significant conclusion that Cuba’s position in the international market is maintained due to the domestic conditions of its productive sector.

As has been mentioned already, salaries have historically been dissociated from productivity levels. Compensation for the labor force, with average skills that are relatively high, does not match the capacity of each person, which has affected productive processes. Under the ethical precept of overcoming the "old system," on top of the expropriated medium and small bourgeoisie, the political perception of equality for decades maintained equal and equitable compensation through income and salaries, which did not respond to differences in productivity. This policy was a de facto rejection of socialist incentives for growth in labor productivity. The full employment policy without formal adjustments to productive schemes and economic plans also contributed to low levels of productivity and efficiency. Karl Marx (1859), in Preface to a Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, emphasized the following: the value of the labor force encapsulates different amounts of labor for production, and therefore, different prices should be found in the labor market.

In this sense, “the necessary and inevitable” was obviated by economic policies with an essential ethical and humanist component that failed to be adapted to the socioeconomic reality of the island. The meager surplus generated by these internal circumstances is not enough to cover all of the aspects contained in compensation policy and for the development of productive forces, perhaps with the exception of a few very concrete segments in the productive structure. The full employment policy, far from taking advantage of the productive potential of the labor force, tends to under-employ people and fails to make use of their capacities. It is suffering losses due to the following: a) employees that are not necessary in productive schemes, b) an increase in the time of an employed worker with stagnating productivity, c) low salaries because productivity does not grow (low competitiveness due to the minimal increase in value of the goods commercialized) with deterioration of the labor force and d) scarce growth in productive forces due to low incentives for production, in addition to other factors. With this in mind, one of the most well-known members of the Cuban Revolution set forth the following ideas:

If a given society ignores such changes (international relations of exchange) for a long time without developing new and accurate formulas to replace the old ones, it will create internal interrelationships that will shape its own value structure in a way that may be internally consistent but would be in contradiction with the tendencies of more highly developed technology [...] This could result in relative reverses of some importance and, in any case, would produce distortions in the law of value on an international scale, making it impossible to compare economies4 (Guevara, 1977: 25).

It would help clarify this topic to make explicit some of the dimensions that compose this structural complex, recovered from Cuban social sciences. First, there is a discernible structural instability (Doimeadiós, 2007)5 that refers to the interrelationship between deficient economic growth, which leads to limited accumulation capacity, and the presence of social development based on subsidies, which do not correspond to the available surplus. In this sense, the imbalance is characterized by a system crisis that has not yet been overcome and can be explained by the different development strategies of the island and the stages in which they were established (Rodríguez, José L., 2011; Triana, 2004, 2010; García and Álvarez, 2008; Pérez Villanueva, 2009). Moreover, there is a prevalence of structural distortions with significant impact on the whole (Torres, 2011; Carranza and Monreal, 1997).

Second, there is a relative limit on consumption, which refers to the presence of relatively equal but low income, with reduced salary differentials, for a highly trained labor force (Vidal, 2008, 2009; Espina, 2009; Ferriol et. al., 2006; Togores, 2003, 2008) with gradual deterioration and an impact on the growth of social differentiation. This has brought about a comparative disadvantage for international exchange that leads to unequal exchange through the transfer of family or local consumption of the prices of international commodities through imports (Nova González, 2008). This situation is manifest in accordance with the differences (structural distortions) in the productive structure with respect to other units that play a role in exchange, while also implying an earning rate (in this case the surplus) that is insufficient for universal redistribution.

Third, there is compensation for structural distortions, which refers to the strategies, whether conscious or unconscious, that seek to counteract some of the socio-structural effects of the distortions within the Cuban system and its interaction on the global level through emigration. Internal structural distortions cannot be explained by factors related to external political and economic domination, as is the case for forced migration6 under the aegis of neoliberal capitalism. This does not mean, however, isolation from the global context, but rather a different form of insertion in it. The structural distortions derive from, among other factors, deficient use of the labor force due to the relatively deficient spaces of inclusion in the internal labor market, partially compensated for by emigration. This phenomenon appears as a consequence of the effects of heterogeneity in the system of internal social relations with open economic and/or social gaps, family and individual decisions related to social reproduction and mechanisms to integrate the nation into spaces of global interaction. This compensation marks the flow between differentiated structural units, focusing on social mobility and consumption, which in the case of Cuba, is related to socio-classist segmentation (referring to the social differentiations manifest on the island as a function of income). This term is also used for the urgency of incorporating the labor force into international commerce as an economic resource, ensuring transfers from the international economy to the national economy and pushing the commercial balance to be positive with relation to the importation and exportation of goods.

What Doimeadiós (2007) and other authors define as structural distortions (and/or deformations) (Doimeadiós, 2007: 49), which generate unsustainability for social development based on productive efficiency, refer to the process of initial investments that did not generate virtuous cycles and that, with time, affected crucial variables such as employment and consumption. At the same time, the behavior of how the island interacts on the global scale, because it is based on structural distortions, tends to perpetuate traditional forms of economic reproduction whose most evident economic consequences are external vulnerability and low total factor productivity with restricted supply for the domestic market, even when there was sustained and growing external demand for products that generate the development of very restricted areas.

The strategies that have predominated in Cuban productive evolution correspond to the process described by Hirschman (1987) as the trickle down effect, because there has been a demand among the Antilles (fundamentally for nickel and sugar) that allowed for partial or focused segment growth within the productive structure, but inhibited the creation of virtuous growth cycles with new linkages to emerging or modern sectors. Add to that the disproportionate amount of the economic structure that corresponds to services and the sectors of professionals trained in these areas, and it is possible to explain, in part, the underemployment that has been maintained by a specific policy of full employment as a political achievement. Moreover, the linkages that have been created did not process new products to grow industry, nor did they manage to achieve effective growth in the absence of productive norms regarding technology and lacking significant natural resources with relation to factors. In this sense, it can be inferred that remittances, as well as the currency obtained in the current exchange of the labor force, have an important weight right now in sustaining the current development strategy. These remittances and currency have a significant influence on managing the widespread social spending and fiscal behavior.

The absence of sufficient surplus and growth in social differentiation in an environment where social property predominates over the means of production provide evidence that a qualitative change in ownership cannot exclusively explain the inequalities of a state of socialist productive heterogeneity, but rather the indirect relationship between income and salaries in an environment with ample subsidies. This leads to relative homogenization of the labor force and affects productivity levels, by essentially canceling out the material incentives for productive development, which, in principle, should be part of income distribution under socialism. In this framework, human development appears as a variable dissociated from productive growth, with levels that may be reversed by adjusting current development alternatives or strategies.

This “structural dualism” can be explained by the evolution of various processes over the past 50 years that have affected at least two ways in which Cuban socialist productive heterogeneity has interacted with global spaces for exchange. First (1971-1989), this interaction took place under a system of preferential exchange that served as the principal element of compensation for structural distortions, and, second, (1991 to the present), the disadvantageous interaction with the global context was compensated by recent modalities of international insertion with some Latin American countries and, more recently, the labor force has played a central role due to international migration and remittances.

In this sense, the compensation for structural distortions model, derived from socialist productive heterogeneity, provides a framework to explain the motivations behind and the way in which Cuban international migration has organically taken place. From this perspective, Cuban migration is related to theoretical perceptions, where migration takes on the role of connecting the unfulfilled labor demands of receiving countries, socioeconomic inefficiencies (economic stagnation and social aspects) of the countries of origin and potential paths for the reproduction of the labor force on the global scale. Given this, it could be said that there are structural conditions for Cuban international migration that are not exclusively explained by eminently political reasons (this last point of view has been used to label the Cuban migration flow within a perception of political conflict, which has left little space for systemic understanding of the diaspora, its networks or its strategies).

The term compensation for structural distortions explains the role played by international migration in the face of open economic and/or social gaps that emerge from domestic structural heterogeneity and its dialectic relationship with unequal international exchange. In this sense, international migration functions as a an element that partially compensates for these distortions through remittances that operate as family income on the individual level, and currency in the macroeconomic sphere, provided by the qualified labor force upon attempting mobility alternatives besides the Cuban labor market. The notion of compensation is polysemic and goes beyond the partial fixing of structural distortions in the society of origin, which remain unresolved, but merely mitigated temporarily. For the receiving country, this compensation is translated into contributions from migrants and the transfer of resources from the social funds of the issuing country to the economy and society of destination, in terms of an injection and saving of resources (Delgado Wise and Márquez, 2012). Within the compensation for structural distortions, which explains the migratory phenomenon, there is an inherent disconnect between the expectations associated with social and structural change on the level of development strategies, and the individual prospects on the family or individual scale generated around the idea of welfare and social mobility. One aspect that structurally encompasses this correlation is the presence of a relative limit on consumption, which has an impact on the deterioration of the labor force, as has been indicated. In other words, the deficient interrelationship between income and consumption and the presence of an under-used or excess economically active population, in accordance with the factors that typify its position in exchange (production levels and technological innovation, development of industrial processes or the prevalence of traditional sectors). There persists a contradiction that has not been questioned enough regarding the function of this emigration (in the last stage of reinsertion, and even before, with remittances and their effects), to achieve family subsistence, motivated by an aspiration to close the income gaps and/or open channels for social mobility.

The other side of the coin is the cost that migration, beyond temporary compensation through remittances, implies, with a net transfer of material and human resources abroad. Cuba has a negative migration balance that has increased gradually and will continue to do so until 2035, according to forecasts (one, 2011: 13), which will bring serious demographic repercussions (as more women at reproductive age are migrating) and, of course, consequences for the nation’s development, as the labor force gradually emigrates out.

International Cuban migration generates alternatives for social reproduction that seek to mitigate the spaces not covered by welfare policies in the conditions of limited reproduction that do not allow for the differentiated forms of consumption and investment in an efficient manner. In this way, there are two types of migration: spontaneous migration, definitive, circular or temporary emigration, and, on the other hand, migration linked to a migration strategy of return, which involves the participation of the work force and the expansion of its income and mechanisms of access to consumption. Both versions are manifest in accordance with the growth of income inequality (Vidal, 2008) of a vulnerable population with disadvantages given the decreasing modalities of consumption (Ferriol, 2003 and Espina, Paula, 2009) under the monetary duality of the Super cuc.7 The sector composition of the employment structure, the levels of the work force and its urban concentration reveal serious challenges for the organic implementation of updating these elements. This is especially true with regards to the salary-dependent population, whose salaries are linked to the services economy.

[...] the adjustment must take place, in greater measure in the State sector and in segments very linked to large social programs that guarantee, in large measure, social equality in Cuba. That is where the enormous political sensibility in employment adjustments comes from (Triana Cordoví, 2010: 14).

The weight of readjustments would seem to be borne due to the excess liquidity in monetary circulation and the total budget (a spectral surplus in accordance with the income of the majority).8 In no small part, this excess has allowed for liberalization of consumption, permission for Cubans to stay in hotels, have access to cellular phones, goods and other services (Vidal, 2009), among other factors, as a result of remittances.


There is a paradox, or an isolated phenomenon, within the predominant explanatory framework of scientific peer-reviewed literature, that Cuban migration has increased in a society with high levels of welfare and social policies with broad coverage, as well as relatively homogenous equality for the broadest spectrum of the population. There is also a confirmation that political motivations can explain the reasons individuals emigrate, and a principal corresponding destination (Rodríguez Chávez, 1997; Martínez, 1995; Miyar, 1991; Morales, 1991; Arboleya, 1997; Aja and Milán, 1995). Intrinsic to the predominant perspectives of both the Cuban academic environment and that of the United States are prevailing analyses focused on questions that have been taken up time and again, such as the conflict with the United States and the embargo, and the geographic closeness of the island, the presence of family links or networks of relatives, the economic Situation of Cuba and differentiated immigration policy within a restrictive context (Calavita, 1994; Ruíz, 1983; Fresneda, 2001). This explanatory framework tends to classify Cuban migration as that of the “political refugee,” which was given to the Cubans in Public Law 89-732 in 1966, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and commonly known as the Cuban Adjustment Act. This law governs adjustments made at the discretion of the attorney general for all Cubans that have lived for more than one year in the country, or who were inspected and admitted under oath after January 1, 1959. Relative explanations have prevailed about this, in terms of facts conceived by individuals opposed to the socialist project (Arboleya, 1997 and Torreira, 2000).

From the predominant point of view involving political motivations, multiple descriptive approaches have been produced (Aja and Martínez, 1995; Hernández Jorge, 1996; Castro Soraya, 1997; Lobaina, 1986; Martínez, 1995 and 1996; Azicri, 1979). This analytical approach does not explain a theoretical reference that would involve problems associated to socialist productive heterogeneity and its relation to theoretically elective9 interpretations within the frameworks of socialism and social development. This type of interpretation underestimates the majority of relevant themes, such as citizenship, the participation of migrants in the social and economic life of the country of origin and remittances. Currently, there is a transition taking place from a position of conflict towards the Cuban community abroad towards a state of easing.

Still, some studies have been done on the influence of remittances in Cuban society abroad, such as works by Barberia (2007) and Fresneda (2006), and there are still problems to examine in depth, including the following: labor migration in a context of human development, taking into account the fact that the Cuban productive system is part of a peripheral economy10 and economic migration takes place in an environment of social development.

In another sense, by assuming, in many cases, the historical-structural perception, the question emerged as to whether emigrants were conditioned often by their position with respect to means of production, or because there was a migratory phenomenon, in a context where the means of production are, both definitively and theoretically, of the migrants themselves in accordance with the principle of collective ownership and social inclusion. In many cases, the connotation of this process for the realities of the international division of labor were unclear, which implied not only the departure of Cubans to economic centers from an underdeveloped place, but also a departure from socialism to capitalism. Another relevant deduction is that Cuban migration that took place in the period analyzed has multiple causes.

The fact that the Cuban Revolution broke out in 1959 with what Aníbal Quijano would define as the “colonialism of power” made changes necessary for independent development, centered on an external and internal conflict that radicalized the international position of the island, as well as its domestic social relations. As a result, a revolutionary truth and ideology emerged (Díaz Castañón, 2001) manifest through the identification of an "otherness,” where the proposed summary of the term “Cuban" no longer had a social interpretation with respect to political participation.

The complexity of misunderstanding is made worse by a thesis that cannot be fully explained here, but is related to the interpretation of identity and its relative parallelism to the processes of political changes. It proposes that there is a dichotomy in the revolutionary-counterrevolutionary conflict that permeates and pejoratively classifies processes of participation for civil society, adjusting them inscrutably to the verticality of politics. In this framework, the State, society and institutions were explained with the epitome of revolution in a broad spectrum of the Cuban population that supported the changes implemented.

The importance of putting the characteristics of the context on the table in a discussion on migration and development responds to this idea of "otherness," the adjective identity and the epithets associated with a participatory position, which made emigration the phenomenon through which these conflicts were resolved. It is important to note that this took place in a bi-directional cycle: domestically, with aspects of relative exclusion, and externally, as a response to this exclusion, modes of acceptance were generated for individuals departing from Cuba, as well as a political interpretation of their motivations. Currently, as has been stated, with the new migratory rules, the term “Cuban” has acquired new meaning in environments of international reinsertion of the island. The “thing” is becoming trans-national.11

As has been suggested before, the conflict with the United States generates social relations influenced by political factors in Cuba, expressed through emigration, where international relations had an influence. The fact that the island has been classified among the Communist countries made those leaving the country accepted as political refugees. This category has existed since 1945 in the framework of the Cold War.

[...] the passionate course of the Revolution in Cuba demonstrates that the shores of the American hemisphere and the Caribbean islands are not immune to the ideas and forces causing similar storms on other continents...(Kennedy, 1963: 132)


Beyond the heated ideological debate that marks this time period and underlines the majority of explanations for the causes of Cuban emigration, there remains a serious misunderstanding of the link between migration and socialist productive heterogeneity. This disagreement, which has made most analyses rather reductionist in nature, is in part due to the fact that the system of preferential exchange with countries of the Socialist bloc functioned as a method of compensating for the structural distortions present since the installation of socialism on the island. The following must be clarified with respect to this point:

  1. Although it would be impossible to deny, in the framework of the implementation of socialist production relations in Cuba, that there are political motivations that have driven Cuban migration, especially in its initial phases, it cannot be ruled out that at the same time, there were other economic motivations associated to the relatively low individual and family incomes, as well as the lack of hope for social mobility. These restrictions affected not only the grand bourgeoisie, but also sectors of the small bourgeoisie and small and medium-sized producers.
  2. Although the support provided by preferential exchange from other socialist countries allowed for some compensation of the structural distortions, making it possible to maintain incomes and relatively satisfactory conditions of welfare for the majority of the population, the structural instability inherent in the weak domestic productive linkages could only be partially contained. The relative limitations on consumption and minimal mechanisms of social mobility started to encourage and incentivize migratory flows. In this sense, the trend of growth in Cuban migration, beyond the Mariel explosion in 1980, would suggest a sustained increase in migration, associated with the contradictions that socialist productive heterogeneity cannot continue to conceal.
  3. Finally, the collapse of the so-called real socialism for bringing out, ever more strongly, the structural distortions that characterize socialist productive heterogeneity, which poses an obstacle to social development and promotes conceiving of the resource of emigration as a strategy to compensate on the structural, individual and family scales.

The process of reinsertion (re-adaptation or reconnection) of socialism to the context of global capitalist exchange and the international division of labor that distinguishes it, under the stigma of underdevelopment, can be defined as a period in which the contradictions that characterize Cuban socialist development are aggravated to the extreme, putting its own sustainability at risk. The reforms that began in the 1990s and the recent updates made to the economic model and promoted by the Cuban State have clearly reflected this situation. This leads to a suitable scenario, free of phenomena that would distort or conceal it (as was the case with the preferential socialist exchange in the previous period), in order to analyze the relationship between migration and development that exists in Cuba. In this sense, what would implicitly seem a critique on the island's current development strategy is, in reality, an exegesis that examines the correlation between migration and development in the Cuban present, where, as has been mentioned, emigration becomes some sort of first order aspect due to its demographic, political and economic implications. The presence of "networks and links" that also transcend the territory and the nation-State is another factor that reinforces the approach recently defended by the eclac, which highlights the interrelationships between the local and global levels and vice versa (Martínez Pizarro, 2011).12 As has been shown, the interpretation of Cuban emigration has been described with a positivist view that finds causalities related with the socio-political projection of the country and the demands and critiques of the nation that has figured as the main destination: the United States.

Precisely, the concept of socialist productive heterogeneity described in this article makes it possible to interpret Cuban migratory flows as a result of concrete structural motivations and conditions resulting from this notion, where the relative limit on consumption generates deterioration of the work force. Compensation for structural distortions gives it value within this interpretation and the connection to structural instability (internal aspects related to economic development and social transformation reflected in the system of relationships), as well as the way in which the nation-State interacts on the global scale. This scheme requires recognizing the presence of individual and family strategies of social mobility in socialist productive heterogeneity, which on the macroeconomic level, seek to compensate for structural distortions that, rather than promoting a "virtuous cycle," end up trapped in some sort of "vicious cycle."


Cuban migration is the result, and perhaps soon the cause, based on demographic and social effects, of the characteristics of Cuban development. Endogenous and exogenous elements have had an influence on this development, making external flows from Cuba the result of historical processes related to the peripheral nature of the island and the fact that these relations have not been overcome by its socialist condition. In this sense, the endogenous unsustainability of social development is an important cause behind the search for survival alternatives that involve emigration. Because of phenomena such as the relative limit on consumption, related to the lack of fulfillment of basic needs due to limits on redistribution and the low income of the work force, this takes on a role of compensating for systemic distortions.

Theoretically, there is a correlation between: socialist productive heterogeneity, whose features lead to structural instability that affects social development and incites a relative limit on consumption, whose principal consequence is the definitive or temporary departure of part of the work force from the island to compensate for their own situation of income and social mobility.

Emigration as an alternative to social mobility or increased income and the resources provided by the exchange of the work force is a partial and temporary solution, in terms of development, that only deepens the situation of the island as a peripheral nation. The advances made in innovation and the training of qualified human resources are avoiding, for the moment and due to international insertion of this capacity, more profound consequences with respect to economic stagnation, although this does imply a loss of competitive advantages that socialist productive heterogeneity would have with respect to other contexts. To counteract these phenomena, migration reform need not go from restrictive to permissive, which would make possible exchange in the best possible conditions for the work force that cannot be taken advantage of domestically, but rather the nation must promote a deep and transnational development strategy, keeping in mind the values inherent in social development and the innovation and entrepreneurship capacities of the Cuban work force both within and outside its borders, coherent with the principle of appropriate distribution to the net contributions of socio-professional and labor groups and their capacities.


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* Autonomous University of Zacatecas, Mexico. edel.fresneda@gmail.com

1This is a concept that has evolved from socialist human underdevelopment, previously used by the same author, to clearly define the correlation between social development and productive underdevelopment. This method takes into account the conflict inherent in Cuban society, where human development is measured by indicators given by the undp and there is ostensible underdevelopment in the entire productive structure. The same is true of the term compensation for structural distortions, to make clear the link with emigration. In general terms, this is a novel and unprecedented proposal that analyzes the relationship between migration and development in the Cuban case, going beyond exclusively political explanations for emigration.

2The eclac introduces this term in the book Time for Equality to classify social progress.

3 This is on the margin of speculation on products in the international market.

4 Speech given in Punta del Este on August 8, 1961.

Social efficiency (“[...] equitable distribution of income, the formation of human values and, undoubtedly, the satisfaction of the material and spiritual needs of the population, among other elements” [Doimeadiós, 2007: 106]) is established on the basis of structural distortions (Doimeadiós, 2007: 49), a relationship that generates intermediate levels of sustainability for productive efficiency.

Defined by authors like Delgado Wise and others, it typifies the migration that occurs in capitalist underdevelopment as a result of the logic of interaction present in capitalist relations of production.

7 Currency that is gradually being used to cover the basic basket and consumer goods.

8The average salary in Cuba in 2011 (higher than it has been for a decade) was 455 Cuban pesos, approximately 18.2 cuc (the currency that is gradually being used to cover the basic basket and consumer goods). The cuc has an exchange rate of 1 at 80 cents with the dollar). See one, 7.5 Average monthly salary in state and mixed entities by provinces, at http://www.one.cu/aec2011/esp/07_tabla_cuadro.htm.

9 Current psycho-social approaches to analysis highlight the individual features of migrants, their motivations, perceptions and conflicts and mechanisms of adaptation, differences from the labor markets and, to a lesser extent, structural histories.

10There are also epistemological conflicts when using the traditional categories of capitalist societies. On this note, the use of the term periphery refers to a position of one unit with relation to spaces of global interaction, whether this unit is socialist or capitalist, there are similarities in the interactions described in theoretical ideas, such as dependence, for example, and which are adjusted based on their presence in diverse contexts.

11In colloquial language, Cubans tend to summarize the conflicts and interpretations of the Cuban reality with the epitome of “the thing.”

12 The nation-State is not exclusively the environment in which relations are carried out both internally and internationally. This belief is defended by Nina Glick Schiller and Andreas Wimmer (2002), who maintain that studies on migration have been constrained to visions permeated by methodological nationalism. Although it is not necessary to go into great detail here, we can recognize that the phenomenon of Cuban migration is marked by external issues, such as the location and global interaction of Cuba in unequal exchange, as well as relevant domestic aspects that typify socialist productive underdevelopment.

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