Commodification of Telecommunications and Wireless Systems in Cuba: A Marxist Political Economy Overview

Carol Munoz Nieves
  cmunozni@sfu.ca
  

Abstract

In contemporary Cuba, monetary gains and exchange-values determine the social uses of telecommunications and wireless services. This is expressed at the moment of realization of value in the marketplace, where a blatant contradiction arises between their high prices, controlled by a state monopoly, and the weak purchasing power of the working class. Even though this topic has been frequently analyzed in market capitalism, in the Cuban case it acquires particular historical forms because of its embeddedness in a state socialist regime. Through the lenses of a Marxist framework based in Volumes I and II of Capital, this paper explores why wireless communications and Internet access have been historically configured within the Cuban socialist project through processes of commodification. The current contradictions are traced back to the partial privatizations that the Cuban telecom system experienced after the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the 1990s. At the time, the Cuban government fostered joint-venture agreements with foreign private capitalists that allowed for the acquisition of money capital to be reinvested in this as well as other sectors of the state socialist economy. However, after the telecom and wireless system became fully state-owned again in 2012, processes of commodification have remained. This is due to the system’s embeddedness in another economic strategy that started in the 1990s to overcome the crisis and ensure the reproduction of the regime: the state-led appropriation of value from the domain of money circulation. Overall, the paper broadens the debates on socialist political economy experiences and how they have addressed crisis in accumulation through strategies pursued by capital elsewhere. While noticing the common threads with other historical cases, the analysis suggests that the particularly unique aspect of the Cuban case is the role that telecom and wireless systems have played in a centralized state-managed economy in terms of money capital accumulation and value appropriation from the sphere of circulation.

commodification - state socialism - telecommunications and wireless systems