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Globalization and the Socialist Multinational: Cuba and ALBA’s Grannacional Projects at the Intersection of Business and Human Rights

Presentation made at the International Cuba Symposium– Cuba Futures: Past / Present,  hosted by the Bildner Center for Western Hemispheric Studies, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, March 31 – April 2, 2011.




ABSTRACT:The socialist multinational represents a effort to find a new way for states to engage in globalization by creating a vehicle for more directed state intervention in economic markets using a form distinct from the traditional model of state owned enterprises. This paper considers recent to Cuban led efforts to develop new forms of state-owned multinational enterprises and the potential conflicts between these entities and the emerging rules for international business behavior, especially those touching on business and human rights. The paper starts by discussing the basic theory and objectives of the grannacional generally, as a new form of transnational public enterprise, one that is meant to provide a viable challenge to current conventional global systems of economic organization.  These ideas have been articulated as the “concepto grannacional” being given effect through the inter-governmental arrangements of the Alternative Bolivariana Para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA). Grannacional economic activity, ideologically based, is divided into two categories. The first, proyectos grannacionales, are inter-governmental in character. These include enterprises targeting education, tourism and the provision of medical services.   The second, empresas grannacionales, focus on the creation of entities controlled by ALBA states and geared to the production, sale and distribution of goods. It then focuses on a specific grannacional related project–the Misión Barrio Adentro (MBA), a socio-political barter project in which Cuba exchanged doctors and other health field related goods and services under its control for Venezuelan goods, principally petroleum. For Cuba programs like MBA have served as a means of engaging in economic globalization and of leveraging its political intervention in the service of its ideological programs in receptive states like Venezuela.  It has also provided a basis for expanding Cuba’s commercial power by permitting large scale state directed barter transactions.  But when bartering involves labor as well as capital, the fundamental premises of the ALBA system—and Cuban ideological notions of the fungibility of labor and capital in the service of the state—may collide with emerging global frameworks for human rights and economic activity.  That collision is examined against recent litigation in the United States which Cuban labor barter transactions have been alleged to constitute forced labor in violation of international law, the use of international standards to impose liability on third party corporations on a complicity theory, and the application of soft law frameworks against the ALBA states and complicit third country entities. The paper concludes that these emerging forms of economic enterprises, like related public ventures into private markets pose substantial political and legal issues at the intersection of public, private, national and international law. Global human rights norms, then, might confine grannacional activity to the territory of the sponsoring states more effectively than any sort of politically motivated embargo.