Saturday, December 31, 2011

Translation: Socialism: what unviability?

The website of Cuba's Temas magazine has a section titled "Catalejo" (Telescope) that solicits commentaries in the form of short essays on a variety of topics. Many of these commentaries respond to longer articles in the magazine itself, and some have sparked debate among contributors. 

One of these debates has been initiated by Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Jose Luis Rodriguez. Mesa-Lago is a Cuban-born US economics professor who has written extensively on Cuba. He is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics and Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Jose Luis Rodriguez was Cuba's Minister of Economy and Planning from 1998-2009. An economist, he is now a consultant at Cuba's Centre for Research on the World Economy (CIEM).

The debate was sparked by the publication in Temas No. 65, January-March 2011, of the transcript of a Temas public forum titled "The Special Period 20 years on", in which Rodriguez was one of the featured speakers. Mesa-Lago responded to Rodriguez's comments in Catalejo. 

According to Mesa-Lago, "A number of forum participants expressed their support for decentralising economic management, the position taken by President Raul Castro and the decisions of the Sixth Cuban Communist Party Congress, but Jose Luis Rodriguez seems to disagree with this and defends the current central planning. During the terrible crisis of the 1990s, the then newly appointed minister of Economy and Planning was one of the architects of the mild but important reforms in the use of market mechanisms, along with decentralisation, that achieved at least a partial economic recovery. But at the beginning of the 21st century, when Fidel Castro launched the Battle of Ideas and pushed for recentralisation, Jose Luis Rodriguez was a supporter of this reversal."     

History has demonstrated the "unviability" of the "socialism" of the USSR and its Eastern European allies, says Mesa-Lago. By contrast, "the Chinese and Vietnamese models of market socialism (with a greater role for the market and the private sector) have been successful for decades" and are viable, as is "the social-democratic socialism of the Scandinavian countries". 

"It's not clear to me what kind of socialism Jose Luis Rodriguez supports: Soviet-style centralised socialism, that of Cuba or China during their idealist periods or the current market socialism of China-Vietnam (I assume he rejects that of social democracy), or if he is in agreement with the 'updating' of Cuban socialism that is underway", wrote Mesa-Lago.      

Below is Rodriguez's succinct reply.   

Socialism: what unviability are 
we talking about?

By Jose Luis Rodriguez, Temas magazine website, September 1, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Following the publication in Temas No. 65 of the results of the debate on “The Special Period 20 years on”, Dr. Carmelo Mesa-Lago made a number of comments on my participation in this debate.

As he himself pointed out, this is not the first time that we’ve had a debate on various aspects of the Cuban economy, and I think it would be timely to enter the fray once again to put forward my own views. Neither is this the first time that I disagree with a number of the judgements of Professor Mesa-Lago.

First of all, we cannot assess the different epochs of the Cuban Revolution’s economic policy without locating them appropriately in the historical context in which they have been implemented, considering not only the economic factors but also the political elements that operate in our society.

In this connection, I should point out that socialism is not just a menu of options for choosing an economic model in which there is a greater or lesser presence of market mechanisms or a more or less centralised decision-making process, among other decisions. Socialism [i.e. the socialist-oriented society – translator’s note] aims for a political transformation that would allow people to achieve a more rounded development in which social justice and solidarity are inherent features of the society that is aspired to.

Attaining the appropriate combination of the economic and political components in a socialist model is no simple matter, and history shows that the disproportion of one of these factors can lead to failure. This can be seen in the sad experience of what happened to the models of market socialism of the Gorbachev era in the USSR that bet on the market and neglected the factors of political mobilisation inherent in any socialist project, and ended up submitting to the most orthodox neoliberalism such that they are now second-rate capitalist countries. 

I don’t support this model of “socialism”. However, it should be pointed out that in evaluating this model, many criticise its multiple characteristic deficiencies of hyper-centralisation, bureaucracy and the lack of worker participation in decision-making that it suffered from, but it is forgotten that market socialism tried to rectify these errors with a cure that was worse than the sickness.

Cuba didn’t make these mistakes, and because of this we survived the most difficult moment [1992-4] of the Special Period and we are now weighing up our options in order to continue advancing. 

In the most recent period of our economic history, the process of “Rectification” of errors and negative tendencies [launched in 1986] fulfilled its function of rescuing the political mobilisation factors that had been seriously eroded by the mid-1980s. While it may not have advanced much in terms of concretising a more efficient economic model – to which must be added the internal deficiencies that impacted on it – we cannot forget that it had to confront the drying up of credit in convertible currency and the gradual disintegration of the model of socialist [state] collaboration that existed at the time. This collaboration was the only way of obtaining the necessary resources for an intensive economic development to deal with the exhaustion of the extensive growth that had been projected. 

Of course the Cuban socialist project has not been perfect, but nor is it a question of wiping the slate clean of everything done before and, above all, of ignoring realities such as those that generally confront any underdeveloped country in the world today. To this must be added the permanent hostility and economic aggression of the US blockade against our country, which not only has an economic cost in terms of resources, but also often obliges us to make decisions under pressure, putting to one side the most efficient options.

In each historical moment of the Revolution I think we did what we could to advance the economic and social development of the country, in line with the prevailing circumstances in each one of them. This is true of the present moment.

The Economic and Social Policy Guidelines for the Party and the Revolution, adopted by the Sixth Cuban Communist Party Congress in April, are a project for the improvement of socialism, not for a transition to capitalism. Given this, it isn’t necessary to define a new model – the model continues to be socialist – but we’re talking about the updating of the economic model based on social ownership of the fundamental means of production in which planning predominates, which will certainly have to take into account market trends.

I see no reason for confusion. If more space is ceded to the market and its inherent laws, these will not be preponderant. It is therefore understandable that the concentration of private [productive] property [ownership] will not be permitted, that foreign investment will be regulated and that the centralised setting of prices will be maintained where desirable. These are among the fundamental elements that determine the functioning of the Cuban system of economic management.

Nor are we talking about insignificant changes. I draw Professor Mesa-Lago’s attention to the fact that the country’s economic strategy is changing. From a strategy focused on confronting the Special Period crisis at minimal social cost and on the reinsertion of the Cuban economy in the world market in the new [i.e. post-Soviet] conditions, it is shifting to a strategy for the establishment of the bases for a sustained development of the country, through an economic policy that promotes state property together with non-state property forms to overcome the two fundamental obstacles to Cuba’s economic development for many years: the external financial disequilibrium and the inefficiency of economic management.

Overcoming the obstacles in the path of the Cuban economy can be done without renouncing socialism. Firstly, the economic policy elaborated in the Guidelines projects a greater space for the utilisation of market mechanisms within a strategic context that would ensure – through planning – the macro-economic proportions that are needed for economic growth.

Secondly, the decentralisation of the state’s economic management towards enterprises and municipalities, with the participation of the workers in decision-making, is feasible with the rational allocation of resources via planning. Centralised planning does not necessarily imply centralised management, but it does mean projecting the allocation of resources globally so that their use can then be decided by other economic actors, according to various alternatives.

Thirdly, in socialism, social ownership of the fundamental means of production is decisive, but this does not exclude spaces for other types of property such as cooperatives or other forms of non-state property such as peasant farming, the small-scale property of the self-employed and mixed property with foreign capital.   

Finally, the experiences of other socialist countries such as China and Vietnam have been taken into account, but this does not mean that they should be copied. It should be remembered that while we share with these peoples common political aspirations, we also differ historically and culturally. Moreover, differences in relative levels of development, as well as in endowments of natural and human resources, make Cuba different to these countries, to which we’d have to add the [degree of ] insertion of China and Vietnam into the world economy – for at least the past 20 years – without them having suffered the economic war that Cuba is subjected to.

For Cuba, the changes that are being carried out today are neither an easy process nor a short term one. Consequently, I think it is correct to talk about the “creation of the bases for a sustained economic development”, which will probably take us longer than the projections for the current five-year period to achieve, but I'm sure that it will be successful.  

In this sense, I don’t agree with the idea of the unviability of socialism that Professor Mesa-Lago expounds in his commentaries. At the same time, I am convinced that the Cuban socialist model, as it is understood by the majority of Cubans today, is the only option for our development. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cuba's Socialist Renewal turns 1

Dear Cuba's Socialist Renewal readers, a year ago today I launched this blog in the hope that it could make a unique, though very modest, contribution to the Cuba solidarity movement and to the wider cause of understanding the socialist renewal process underway on the archipelago.

It seemed to me that there was an unfilled niche for an online publication that would make available to English-speaking audiences more of the Cuban debate. 
I'm pleased with what it has accomplished in its first year. For me, it has been an immensely rewarding labour of love and I look forward to keeping up the translations and commentaries in 2012. 

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you, the readers of this blog, for the encouragement and support that many of you have contributed to this project in different waysTo those of you who have sent encouraging emails or reader's comments, each and every one is appreciated. Cyberspace can be a lonely frontier; sometimes it feels as if one is casting into the void. These supportive messages are the spiritual fuel that keeps me going. 

I'd also like to thank those of you who have contributed constructive criticism, which is most welcome and also appreciated. If there's something you don't like, or some way that you feel this blog could be improved, please let me know.

In particular, I'd like to thank Maria Voukelatos for her constant encouragement and for putting up with my late-night translation indulgences; my Jack Russell terrier Chocolate for her super-canine patience; and David Cameron for pointing out grammatical and typographical errors in some of the published translations.

I'd also like to give special thanks to Owen Richards, Barbara Rojas, Walter Lippmann, Terry Townsend, Norman Girvan, Arnold August, Camila Piñeiro Harnecker, Michael Lebowitz and Paul Greene for their support and encouragement.

And to all of Cuba's revolutionaries, the ultimate source of my inspiration.

Marce Cameron
Sydney, Australia 



Translation: Rafael Hernandez interview Part 2

Here is Part 2 of my translation of Edmundo Garcia's interview of Cuban political scientist and Temas magazine editor Rafael Hernandez (Part 1 is here). The translation is abridged: it is complete up to the end of the text below but subsequent questions and responses on other topics, such as the papal visit to Cuba in 2012, are omitted. 

Rafael Hernandez: “The collapse of socialism is beyond the present horizon”

Interview by Edmundo Garcia, December 20, 2011

Spanish transcript published on the Cubadebate website, December 23

Translation: Marce Cameron 

Edmundo Garcia: Let’s move on now to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) National Conference in January 2012. This has almost become another cliche, and I’d like to know your opinion. There are analysts, the so-called Cubanologists and Cuba observers, who take it as a given that the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines adopted by the Sixth PCC Congress is the key document that sets out the transformations, the updating of socialism, and that its proposals are sufficient for the updating of the socialist model. However, they are more critical of the [draft] National Conference document; some say the proposals are not similar. My specific questions are, do you perceive a distance between the two documents, between the Congress document and the Guidelines? Do you think the PCC is advancing in its own democratisation process? And finally, what do you anticipate will be the outcome of the PCC Conference in January? There you are, three questions in one.    

Rafael Hernandez: I think that naturally, there are things missing in the content of the Guidelines as adopted by the Congress, there are empty spaces, and these gaps sparked discussion during the debates on the Guidelines that several million people participated in over a number of weeks. I don’t think you can understand what is projected in the Guidelines unless you read them together with the Main Report to the Sixth PCC Congress delivered by Raul Castro, who made it clear that without a change in the style of political work, without a change in the conception of the Party’s role, in participation, in the style of Party work in relation to the population, unless we change all this then the reforms won’t succeed.

This, obviously, draws attention to the fact that – to use a mathematical analogy – the axes that these economic and social Guidelines cross are political axes. Most analysts take the view that they deal with a series of strictly economic measures, as if in a country like Cuba, with the kind of political and social system we have, one can make far-reaching economic changes that structurally modify the existing order in the economic sphere, without changing the others.

If you read the Guidelines closely, you’ll find the themes of decentralisation, de-statisation, de-bureaucratisation and the rule of law – the use of legality a tool of change, as a framework within which the changes are not only adopted but are consolidated and made permanent, which is very important. These changes, then, are political changes. They are obviously political changes, changes that have to do with the redistribution of power, with taking power away from the central structures and giving the base structures, the local bodies, more power. This is related to the democratisation of the system.

Perhaps many of those who criticise the [draft] PCC Conference document hoped that this issue of democratisation – or the gaps, the omissions in the Guidelines, such as the role of the trade unions, the role of the workers in the workplaces, in workplace decision-making, etc. – would be the key axis of the document. Given this, I think the PCC Conference can take up and elaborate on these problems that we have, which are at the very heart of the Cuban political problematic. I say this because one of the things that was truly admirable about the Party Congress is that it was a real congress, there was a debate; we saw it on TV, Cubans and non-Cubans could see in the telecast that there was a real debate on the draft Guidelines, which had previously been subjected to a popular debate.

The Congress had a content, it was not simply a ritualistic exercise to rubber-stamp a policy that had already been decided. Real decisions were made by the Congress, changes were adopted that were not in the draft Guidelines. It is to be hoped that the Party Conference will make changes likewise, that it responds to the expectations of the population and that it changes, of course, what I said a moment ago would be the most difficult thing to change, perhaps the greatest challenge, which is to change the political style [of the PCC’s work].

The political style, and I don’t mean style in the sense of a way of doing things, it has to with the whole conception of what politics is, with what is meant by the participation of the citizens, and what is the relationship between what Che Guevara called the vanguard and the mass. Today, this is more about the relationship between the leaders and the led, between the institutions of political representation of the population, it’s about the interests and desires of the population and the responses of the political institutions to these interests and desires; the ability to engage in a dialogue, to govern in a way that responds to the people, not with a package of policies that must be implemented regardless of what people think.

A measure was adopted [in the 1960s], that of nationalisation, of employment [in the state sector], and there are a million surplus workers according to an economic analysis. However, the delay in implementing [the rationalisation of state-sector employment] has obviously been the result of the realisation that the population was anxious, that there was anxiety among the people in relation to the issue of unemployment; an understandable anxiety, an understandable concern.

I think the government itself, in delaying the implementation of these measures, has displayed a great deal of political sensitivity. One thing that distinguishes the Cuban leadership is its political sensitivity regarding what the population thinks and feels. It’s hard to believe, though there are those who do believe it, that the top Cuban leadership is not aware of what the person in the street thinks and feels. At a time like the present, when Cubans are expressing themselves in different spaces, putting forward their ideas, interests and opinions which are obviously not homogeneous – we’re talking about debate, and whenever we talk about a space for expressing interests and ideas we’re talking about differences, disagreements, but listening to them and reflecting on them and taking on board, in a responsible way, these interests and desires of the population – I think this is at the heart of the current Cuban government’s concerns. 

What will be implemented, including the Guidelines adopted by the Congress, is not a magic wand, it’s not going to be a straight-jacket, a plan that’s going to be carried out as it it were a little book, a Bible. It's a working tool that’s going to be modified to the degree to which it is implemented in the months ahead, without haste, without rashness, but without pause.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Translation: Rafael Hernandez interview Part 1

Cuban political scientist Rafael Hernandez edits the respected Cuban journal Temas, launched in 2005 as "a space for critical reflection and debate". Last January I translated a contribution to Temas, Cuba: Continuity and political change by Havana University's Carlos Alzugaray Treto.

Here is Part 1 of my translation of a very informative interview with Rafael Hernandez, in which he distinguishes between what he calls "constructive" and "negative" expressions of opposition to the socialist renewal process.     

Rafael Hernandez: “The collapse of socialism is beyond the present horizon”

Interview by Edmundo Garcia, December 20, 2011 

Spanish transcript published on the Cubadebate website, December 23

Translation: Marce Cameron

Rafael Hernandez is a Cuban social scientist and the editor of the magazine Temas (Topics), a quarterly publication dedicated to theory and analysis of the problems of culture, ideology and society. Hernandez has been an Associate Professor at the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Columbia, and he recently concluded a stint as Visiting Professor at Harvard University. He has published numerous books and essays on the topics of immigration, international security and Cuban culture. He is an academic expert on Cuba-US relations. 

Below is his exchange with journalist Edmundo Garcia from the programme “La tarde se mueve”, which is broadcast by an alternative radio station in Miami. 

Edmundo Garcia: Good afternoon friends and welcome to “La Tarde se Mueve”. As I said yesterday, this afternoon my guest is a social scientist, Dr. Rafael Hernandez, who is with us today having just concluded a working visit to Harvard University. Dr. Rafael Hernandez, I interviewed you four years and four months ago in Montreal, Canada, on the occasion of a Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, LASA, that took place there. So I’d like to begin where we left off then. I remember because I read over it, I don’t know if you recall it. Good afternoon and many thanks to Rafael Hernandez for being with us once again on “La Tarde se Mueve”. 

Rafael Hernandez: Good afternoon and many thanks to you, Edmundo, and to the listeners for tuning in to our conversation. 

Edmundo Garcia: As I mentioned, it’s four years and four months since we spoke about the “readjustment”, today described as a process of “updating”, of the Cuban socialist model. Cuba’s relations with Latin America were another theme of that interview, and now these relations are being transformed via the establishment of CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. We also spoke back then about the leadership style of the current president, Raul Castro; at that time he wasn’t yet president. And we spoke about race relations in Cuba, a topic that will be taken up by the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) National Conference in January 2012. I don’t want to go into the details now, we’ll get to those. So tell me in general terms, I’ve raised a number of things and I’d like you to tell me in general how you view them today. 

Rafael Hernandez
Rafael Hernandez: Well, it’s evident that four years on, the tendency that was apparent then in Cuba’s foreign relations in general, and in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean in particular, has been consolidated and deepened. Today, Cuba has relations with every country in Latin America and the Caribbean, including El Salvador and Costa Rica that were the last to establish relations; naturally, we have relations, that have never been interrupted, with Canada. The only dysfunctional relations that Cuba has in the hemisphere are with the US.

So these relations that we have today are founded on something that is not necessarily ideological agreement, because Latin America is heterogeneous, there is a plurality of political content, of political processes; our relations are based on the willingness to cooperate, on a desire for integration, on common interests, and Cuba is part of this contemporary Latin American spectrum.

If we look back not to four years ago when you kindly interviewed me in Canada, but to 50 years ago, 45 to 50 years ago, when Cuba was completely isolated in the hemisphere and was viewed by many Latin American governments as being a threat, today the situation is radically different. In the country where there were Cuban guerrillas fighting, in Venezuela and in Bolivia, there are now governments with which Cuba has the closest relations that have ever existed. In fact there are other processes that do not have the same radical content as Cuba, with which Cuba also has points of communication and collaboration that are much deeper than ever before, such as with Brazil and our relations with countries such as Argentina and of course, Ecuador.

In general the Latin American context today is much more favourable to Cuba. This is not only because Cuban politics has shifted, but because the politics of Latin America and the Caribbean have shifted in relation to Cuba. Latin America and the Caribbean are closer to Cuba politically today; even other processes that are not so close to the Cuban process, that don’t share as many problems that Cuba has in common with the majority of Caribbean countries, even the most politically distant have many things in common, they’re much closer to Cuba than ever before.

Regarding the other themes that you mentioned, I think the problem of race relations in Cuba has advanced to the extent that it is increasingly becoming an issue of public debate. It is no longer discussed [only] in restricted circles, or even in exclusively institutional frameworks, but is being discussed very broadly and, as you say, this debate is related to the policy of the leading party, the PCC, aimed at raising awareness in the public sphere – through history books, TV, the media – of the great contribution of people of African descent to building the Cuban nation and to Cuban culture. I think we've advanced a lot in this direction. I think that what has been achieved has not been the result of a political decision, it comes from below. Cuban civil society has expressed itself through the cultural media, through the intellectual media, and has opened up the space for public debate.

The next issue of Temas magazine will be dedicated to communication and the public sphere in Cuba. We can already speak of an expanded public sphere in the sense of a space for the expression of different positions, viewpoints, ideas. In fact I’d say that today Cuban politics, the politics of the government and the PCC, is much more in tune with this debate than ever before.

Edmundo Garcia: Professor Rafael Hernandez, this year, in November, you gave a presentation at the Inter-American Dialogue together with other Cuba specialists such as Julia Sweig, the Director of Latin American Studies for the US Council on Foreign Relations. In this meeting the current Cuban political process was described as an “updating” of socialism, and it was made clear that Cuba was not on track to replicate the so-called Arab Spring. I’d like you to explain to our audience – our interview will also be transcribed – your own view of why Cuba did not follow the path of the USSR and the Eastern European countries when they renounced [socialism] and the USSR disintegrated, and why Cuba today is not like Egypt, Libya or Tunisia, which just last weekend marked the first anniversary of their “democratic spring”. Why not Cuba, and how is the “update” of socialism going?

Rafael Hernandez: Well, I think that the change that took place in the European countries and the Soviet Union had a different character than that which has taken place in Cuba during the past 20 years, and which is advancing today on the basis of policies and legislation that are contributing to the emergence of a new socialist model. In the case of the Soviet Union, perestroika and glasnost began as reform policies, but it’s very clear that they gave rise to profoundly anti-socialist sectors and to the expression of great evils that had been installed during the Stalinist epoch. The Soviet Union, despite the renovation period under Khrushchev during the 1950s and 60s, despite the attempts to modernise the economic model, despite the undoubted successes of the Soviet conquest of space, their immense military power, the Soviet Union as a political system could never overcome the evils that dragged it down from the times of Stalin onwards.

Traces of them remained there. The Soviet party and leadership were increasingly out of touch with their bases. Many Soviet citizens were genuinely socialist, but they didn't feel that their ideas and sentiments were reflected in the policies of the leadership. In the complex situation of the Eastern European countries, it’s obvious that socialism never sunk deep roots, that it never had deep roots. This was above all due to the fact that the Red Army occupied their after the Second World War and to the [Roosevelt-Churchill-Stalin] Yalta Pact, etc. All this is understood.

In the case of Cuba, as everyone knows, the socialist process has its origins in Cuba’s circumstances at the close of the 1950s. It’s the accumulated result of a struggle for freedom and independence that begin in the 19th century. You can’t understand the socialist revolution without grasping that it’s the culmination of a preceding historical process. I say culmination not because it’s the end point, because there is never “the” end point, only a bridge to advancement, and this is what is happening now. What’s happening now is that during the past two decades — and not only because of the end of the socialist bloc, of Cuba’s disconnection from the international system thanks to its ties to the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries, but also as a result of the deficiencies of its own socialist model — this model, which was adopted in 1976, exhausted itself. It showed signs of exhaustion during the mid-1980s, and in the 90s it entered, together with and catalysed by the collapse of the socialist camp, a clear process of crisis. This is what we call in Cuba the “Special Period”.

The Special Period is not only an economic crisis, it’s a crisis in the way of conceiving of socialism, a crisis of values, a moral crisis, a crisis of society. Given this, the transformation didn't begin six years ago when Raul Castro became acting president, nor some months ago when the PCC Congress adopted economic and social measures.

The transformation of Cuban society began much earlier, with the appearance of problems that were accompanied by the opening up of spaces in which public opinion could express itself, of a greater space for debate in the midst of the crisis. The decline in living standards gave rise to an expansion of the spaces for freedom of expression in Cuba. This is clear to anyone who visited Cuba 20 years ago and returns to visit the country today, they'd see that this public debate has greatly expanded even though it isn't reflected in the Cuban media. This has nothing to do with what happened, with what was the status quo, in the North African countries, in the Arab countries. It has nothing to do with what has happened in Egypt, Morocco, or Libya.

It has nothing in common with these countries because neither the culture, nor the political regime, nor the historical process that led to this were comparable. Certain analysts make far-fetched comparisons in which they credit mobile phones, Facebook and Twitter with the possibility of subversion, of them being tools of subversion. This is absolutely ridiculous, it’s like thinking that revolutions were produced by the telephone and the telegraph. It’s to invest these devices, this technology, with a muscular quality, with motive and causation in the outbreak of a process of social and political transformation.

These processes took place in the Arab world where some very authoritarian regimes, that were ever-more distant from the interests of the population, crumbled. In Cuba, during these past two decades of serious economic difficulties, of discontent and even of a crisis of values, throughout all these years there haven’t been any significant signs of political instability. This is not because Cuban policies are more effective than any others [at quelling dissent]. Cuban politics does not utilise violence, does not use the repressive measures that are so common almost everywhere, including in the US, to suppress demonstrations. The alternative would be to think that faced with a decisive situation in which protest would be the best option, the Cuban people wouldn’t have the courage to do it because they’re scared of the police. That's ridiculous.

What has happened is that the political consensus that was reforged in the context of the 1990s and 2000s is a political
consensus that demands a more decentralised system, a system that gives more space to the non-state sector, that downsizes the bureaucratic apparatus and implements a series of measures to raise the living standards of the population to what had been achieved by the end 1980s. This was the fruit of socialism, of a socialist model that over time lost the capacity to sustain these high living standards and not only, I repeat, because of the collapse of the Soviet Union. So what is happening now is that this reforged consensus includes agreement on the need to avoid civil unrest, disturbances, the use of force to resolve this problem [of the exhaustion of the model]. 

Very few people in Cuba really think – including those who are part of the opposition to the government – that the best way to resolve this situation we’re in is to resort to violence, insurgency, civil unrest. This is very clear to anyone who visits Cuba and obviously it's even clearer to those who live in Cuba. The solutions have to be gradual, without delays so that we  don’t stop moving forward, so that we don’t stop transforming and creating a space in which the citizens can find dignified employment so that they can earn enough to buy the products [they need] on the market, and of course to have a space for critical discourse.

The government has called for disagreement, for the expression of different viewpoints, it has called for the critical discussion of policies. There are very few governments – I’m not aware of any [others] – that before launching a policy of adjustment, before launching a policy for the transformation of the economic model, submit this document to a discussion by millions of citizens, yet this is what has happened. Indeed, the public debate in Cuba constitutes a form of appropriation by the citizens of the political changes, because the expression of people’s views, of the opinions of the ordinary citizens, has been a fundamental step. It has been as fundamental as the measures that have been approved and those that have yet to be approved and which must be approved. Just as important as the policies themselves are the debates that have been conducted on these policies. It's a fundamentally democratic debate, and consequently the space for a Cuban Arab Spring, for a collapse, for chaos, for the implosion of socialism, is beyond the present horizon.

Edmundo Garcia: Continuing with the theme of the reform process in Cuba, I’d like to ask you to clarify something for us. When referring to the changes on the island, most specialists, almost everybody, prefaces their comments by saying that the reforms have enemies, that there are revolutionaries who are against the reforms in Cuba. Now, can we identify some of these adversaries beyond general terms such as “the bureaucracy”? Everyone talks about “the bureaucracy”, but is there some document, is there some book or someone’s speech, I'm talking about names here, that would allow us to say, “Look, there it is, this is the document of the counter-reform in Cuba, this is what certain leaders who oppose the reform are talking about”? Does it exist, do you know of any such thing?

Rafael Hernandez: OK, I don’t think so. I think there are expressions of resistance to change that I would describe as opposition that is not negative, but constructive; and other expressions of opposition that are frankly negative. Among the constructive I’d point to those groups that are obviously not going to benefit immediately and directly because they don’t participate in the spaces and the new opportunities that are opening up for self-employment and for the expansion of the non-state [i.e. small business and cooperative] sector. Among them are people whose age does not allow them to join the workforce or initiate a new life project, those who are defined as living below the poverty line, the numbers of which have increased during the crisis period — some sociologists estimate about 20% of the population. These people do not necessarily have the resources to be able to take advantage of the changes that are now underway, and this means we have to have a social policy that takes advantage of economic growth and directs it towards supporting those who are disadvantaged by the reforms, by the changes; those who face these changes with a degree of uncertainty, considerable uncertainty, because they don’t provide them with a clear opportunity to recover their standard of living. Such people don’t necessarily view the reform process with the expectations, desires and enthusiasm of others.

There is also a negative resistance which 
government leaders have explicitly called the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy doesn't oppose through speeches, it doesn't oppose the reforms with a document. It opposes in its slowness to implement the measures already adopted, already approved. Raul Castro describes this as an old mentality towards change, as a hindrance, the ineptitude of an antiquated work style that is seen, for example, in the media that is an insult to the education level, and is even seen as such by party militants. This inertia that is criticised, in which the bureaucratic apparatus drags its feet in adopting the new rules, the new arrangements, in working in harmony with the new perspectives and approaches, is perhaps the most difficult thing to change, to transform. In my opinion this is one the key issues the PCC Conference will have to grapple with. 

You ask me if there is, as you call it in the US, a “smoking gun”, somewhere where you can go and read about so-and-so, with this name and address, who is ferociously opposed to the changes. I don’t think this is the main... although yes, there may be people who publicly oppose the changes and in fact you can read in some publications, and on the internet, how some people fear that these changes will, for example, lead to the emergence of a petty-bourgeoisie and to certain manifestations of capitalism.

It’s very logical that the old mindset, which sees the emergence of capitalism in every expression of the market and in every segment of small-scale private property, exists. Because for a long time we had a way of coping with the changes that involved stigmatising the emergence of these new [economic] actors and new spaces for the market. Socialism [i.e. the socialist-oriented society – translator’s note] was defined in absolute terms as state-centric socialism, which is what had prevailed throughout all these years.

Or rather, it’s logical that there be these expressions of the mentality that says, OK, these are necessary evils. But it’s clear, and this is one of the most important aspects of the present moment, that for the past year the Cuban government’s position has been to not only to legalise, but to legitimise the presence of these new economic sectors in Cuban society as part of the socialist family. They, the self-employed workers, the members of cooperatives, the people that work in the small [private] enterprise sector, are not emissaries of capitalism, they’re part of the socialist family, part of the revolutionary family, and this has been reiterated by the top government leadership.

[Translation to be continued]

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Translation: Raul's National Assembly speech

In an address to Cuba's National Assembly of People's Power on December 23, Raul Castro made the struggle against corruption a key focus of his speech, indicating that this is one of the revolutionary leadership's top priorities and vowing "to put an end to this parasitic plague" of "corrupt bureaucrats, with posts obtained through pretence and opportunism, who use the positions they still occupy to accumulate fortunes, betting on the eventual defeat of the Revolution", among others.   

He gave indications of the depth and scope of the problem and of the offensive against corruption that is now underway. He considers corruption to be "one of the principle enemies of the Revolution, much more harmful than the subversive and interventionist activities of the US government and its allies within and outside the country.

These comments would seem to vindicate Esteban Morales, a respected Cuban academic expert on US politics and race relations in Cuba. Morales was "separated" from the PCC – a disciplinary measure one step short of expulsion – after he published an April 2010 commentary titled "Corruption: The true counter-revolution?", in which he warned:

Without a doubt, it is becoming evident that there are people in positions of government and state who are girding themselves financially for when the Revolution falls, and others may have everything almost ready to transfer state-owned assets to private hands, as happened in the old USSR...[There are] corrupt officials, not at all minor, who are being discovered in very high posts and with strong connections – personal, domestic and external – generated after dozens of years occupying the same positions of power.

Morales launched a successf
ul appeal and his full PCC membership was reinstated in July.

While the Spanish text of Raul's speech has been published, there is not yet an official English translation. When one becomes available I'll post it to this blog.  

"Corruption is one of the principal enemies of the Revolution"

Extract from Raul Castro's National Assembly speech, December 23, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

[...] Moving on to another matter, very closely linked to the functioning of the national economy is the paramount role of contracts in the interrelations between state enterprises, budgeted entities and the non-state forms of management of social property. 

Despite having been taken up on various occasions, including in the Main Report to the Sixth Communist Party Congress and in the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, in Guideline No. 10, in interventions in the National Assembly and in a number of meetings of the Council of Ministers, we are not seeing the necessary progress. This is reflected in the deficient situation regarding receipts and payments, with the consequent disorder in internal finances and the facilitation of criminal activities and corruption.

This is apparent, to cite just one example, in the fraudulent deliveries of agricultural products, that did not exist and were never cultivated, to the Havana produce markets. This resulted in the embezzlement of more than 12 million [non-convertible] pesos through the criminal activities of directors, functionaries and other workers of the state distribution firms, as well as peasant farmers that acted as proxies, all of whom will face administrative and criminal liabilities in correspondence with the seriousness of their deeds.

I bring this up in order to illustrate the urgent necessity for all of us in leadership positions at the various levels, from the base up to the highest posts in the country, to act with firmness in the face of indiscipline and lack of control over receipts and payments, which is one of the principle causes and contributors to crime. I am convinced that today, corruption is one of the principal enemies of the Revolution, much more harmful than the subversive and interventionist activities of the US government and its allies within and outside the country.

The office of the Comptroller [i.e. auditor] General of the Republic, the office of the Attorney General and the special branches of the Interior Ministry have been instructed to combat this scourge, with all the severity allowed for by our laws, just as we successfully dealt with incipient drug trafficking beginning in January 2003.

In this strategic battle, the degree of coordination, cohesion and rigour in confronting crime has been increased and we’re beginning to see some results, both in terms of so-called white collar crimes, committed by Cuban and foreign directors and functionaries linked to foreign trade and foreign investment, and in terms of crimes carried out by common criminals in collusion with administrative leaders and workers of state firms involved in production, transport and distribution in entities of the food industry, retail trade, food services, housing and the ministries of Basic Industry and Agriculture.

Indeed, in the agricultural sector, beginning on August 1, the fight against the theft and slaughter of livestock, and the subsequent commercialisation of the meat on the black market, was stepped up in a sensitive manner. This is a phenomenon that flourished for years with a certain impunity with serious negative consequences for both state and private producers, not only from an economic point of view but also from the moral and ethical standpoints.

The National Revolutionary Police, together with other agencies of the Interior Ministry, in close coordination with the political and mass organisations, have assumed with professionalism and a systematic approach the task of eradicating, once and for all, livestock theft in the Cuban countryside. These crimes are carried out with the complicity of the butchers, managers and specialists of state enterprises, agricultural cooperatives, peasant farmers, veterinarians and the municipal directors and other functionaries of the institution that is supposed to ensure a growing supply of meat in the country. I’m referring to the Livestock Control Agency, known by its initials, CENCOP.

It should be clarified that we’re not talking about one more campaign, as has certainly happened in the past, when actions taken to re-establish order were discontinued after a while and routinism and superficiality ensued, proving correct those who waited for everything to go back to how things were so they could continue to prosper at the expense of the wealth that belongs to our people.

I can assure you that this time the cattle thieves in Cuba are done for, just as we put an end to drug trafficking, and they will not reappear, because we are determined to carry out the directives of the government and the decisions of the Communist Party Congress. I say the same to those corrupt bureaucrats, with posts obtained through pretence and opportunism, who use the positions they still occupy to accumulate fortunes, betting on the eventual defeat of the Revolution.

This Wednesday, in the Communist Party Central Committee Plenum, we analysed in depth these factors and screened a series of documentaries and footage from the interrogations of white collar criminals. In due course these will be shown to all you compañero National Assembly deputies, and also to other leaders, in your respective provinces.

We keep in mind Fidel’s warning on November 17, 2005 in the Great Hall of Havana University, just over six years ago, in which he said that this country could destroy itself by itself, that today the enemy could not do it but we could, and it would be our fault. That’s what the leader of the Revolution said on that occasion. This is why we agreed two days ago, in the 3rd Central Committee Plenum that I just mentioned, that we would put an end to this parasitic plague.

In the name of the people and of the Revolution we warn that, within the framework of the law, we will be implacable. 


Friday, December 23, 2011

Translation: Interview with Mariela Castro

Interview with Mariela Castro, director of Cuba’s National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX)

By Bernard Duraud for the French newspaper L’Humanité, published December 9

Published in Spanish on the Cubadebate website, December 14

Translation from Spanish by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews, edited by Marce Cameron

The daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and the late Vilma Espin, a key figure in the Cuban Revolution, Mariela Castro Espin, 49, director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), is a tireless campaigner for the rights of gays, lesbians and transsexuals, who have suffered discrimination for a long time. She is the initiator of important changes that concern them.

L’Humanite: For many years now you’ve been struggling for the freedom to express one’s sexual orientation and gender identity in Cuba. What is the current situation regarding these freedoms?

Mariela Castro: This is a good moment. It’s the result of several years of work. Since the creation of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) in the 1960s, the road was opened to gradually doing away with prejudices related to sexuality and gender. This work has allowed us to tackle other forms of everyday discrimination in our culture and society. It’s not easy to change the thinking of society as a whole about homophobia. But each initiative can succeed through educational work that is supported by the media, TV and radio, as part of a complex strategy. We have to reach out to everyone. This implies the existence of the political will to carry out all these changes, which will be embodied in a specific law, explicit, to deal with this problem.

L’Humanite: You have prepared a draft for this law. Is there any progress?

Mariela: One of our legislative proposals is related to the Family Code, a civil law compendium that was put forward by the FMC and was discussed widely before being approved in 1975. This Code works, but for more than 15 years now we have participated, as an institution, in the struggle of the FMC to modify it so that it better upholds the rights of women, children, the handicapped and the elderly. To this end, CENESEX proposes the inclusion of a new article on freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity. We’re not talking about an obligatory Code, but one that would serve to instil values within the family.

Once this Code is approved [by Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power – editor’s note], it will include other elements, because many other laws are going to change as well. With the new law, transsexuals will have the right to modify their identity documents. This presupposes access to gender reassignment surgery. In 2008 we managed to establish, under the Health Ministry, a number of specialized health care procedures needed by transsexuals, including gender reassignment. These operations are totally free and are included in the state budget. Ours is the only country to have made such procedures completely free of charge. However, it’s still the case that one’s official gender identity does not change unless one has undergone the surgical procedure. This is what the new law aims to change. It’s already drafted and only needs to be put forward for political debate.

L’Humanite: You haven’t faced any obstacles of a political or religious nature?

Mariela: The obstacles are not the prejudices of the population as a whole. In this heterogeneous society in which we live, in the churches, and even in other institutions, there are people who support us and people who don’t. There are religious leaders who agree with us and others who don’t. There is no confrontation with Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and its Ideological Department, or with its liaison who has been most attentive and respectful. We have presented our case to them and they themselves have discussed it with religious leaders who were not in agreement. There is no discomfort, concerns yes, but no unease. We’ve talked about our own concern that we don’t run ahead of people, that we don’t upset them. Only dialogue can resolve disagreements. But there are things we won’t concede, such as gender reassignment surgeries. We consider these to be a question of health care and we won’t compromise on this. They have to be done, it is a right.

We know that several churches do not approve of same-sex marriage. Before we create a category of same-sex marriage, which is not necessary [i.e. any two consenting adults should be able to marry – editor’s note], we propose a legal union that would guarantee the rights of people of the same gender. They should not be discriminated against or excluded. The aim is that they have the same rights as heterosexual couples, above all in terms of property and inheritance. Our proposal is for consensual unions: same-sex couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples. There [should be] no difference.

Adoption is another question. Even this could be considered, but I think it would come up against resistance. As our population advances in terms of gender equality, this will not be a concern. We’ve observed the progress of the legislative process in other countries, including in Europe, and they had to proceed in the same way: start with one thing and then move on to another. In our case, we’re proposing neither same-sex marriage nor adoption. We’re making progress in the acknowledgement of the rights of the population and gender rights.

L’Humanite: Is this a struggle for emancipation in the framework of the Cuban revolutionary process?

Mariela: Of course! This is the framework, the context. I have Marxist training that allows me to understand the society in which I live and how we conceive of socialism. A society in transition to socialism, such as Cuban society, must be vigilant against reproducing the pre-existing mechanisms of domination. I see this struggle for the full dignity of people
 as being in harmony with the process of social transformation for the emancipation of human beings that is socialism. We cannot lose sight of this idea; without it we would just continue to reproduce the same attitudes towards women, gays or immigrants.

For the first time in the history of the PCC, sexual orientation rights are mentioned in the draft document that will be presented to the party’s National Conference in January 2012. This is being discussed by the general public. We at CENESEX have made several suggestions, particularly the inclusion of the concept of gender identity and not only that of sexual orientation, because with this concept of identity people will have gender rights.

L’Humanite: You speak of respect for the human being and of full and integral rights. Aren’t there other struggles to be fought for freedom of expression?

Mariela: Nobody can stop us saying what we think. This is a myth. Nobody can shut us up in Cuba. The Spanish colonial system could not silence us, nor US colonialism, not even the military dictatorship[s] imposed by the US. We have always spoken our minds. Each one of us is the master of what we say, what we do, and must also be responsible for what we say and how we act. Freedom means accepting freedom’s responsibilities, risking one’s all and making decisions. This has universal validity. In terms of press freedom, I’m tempted to say that it doesn’t exist anywhere. It depends on who controls the media, the owners, the financial institutions, the shareholders, the editors, state policies. In Cuba there are a great many independent blogs and thousands of interesting bloggers who are courageous in their criticisms and who assume their responsibilities, without receiving money from a country [i.e. the US] that wants to control us and harass us.

In fact, only a small number of these bloggers receive money from the US government to make up stories to discredit Cuba. For more than 50 years we’ve suffered a real ideological war aimed at destroying the Revolution. The media campaign against Cuba grows stronger day by day. The US State Department has allocated more than US$20 million to this campaign. With this money it pays bloggers, US and European journalists to discredit us. But who really knows, and not through disinformation, the everyday reality of Cubans and their capacity to move forward? With regard to Cuba, I would like to see a more critical press that does real investigative journalism. Criticism does not mean disrespect if it is carried out according to journalistic ethics.

L’Humanite: Is it enough to have only one party dominating Cuban politics?

Mariela: Well, the inspiration for the idea of a single party wasn’t Fidel, but [19th century independence leader] Jose Marti. In the face of external threats, there was no other option but to unite the will of the Cubans in what Marti called the Cuban Revolutionary Party. The PCC is the heir to that Revolutionary Party founded by Jose Marti. Thanks to the unity expressed in this sole party, independence from Spain was achieved, but it was thwarted by US intervention. The Cubans united once again to win their sovereignty [in the 1959 revolution]. It is for this reason that the PCC is a party of great diversity, including religious diversity, and with different viewpoints. But it is united around the principles of national sovereignty, the defense of this sovereignty and the development of the country on the basis of social justice and equality. This is the project. The Cuban people have what they desire. The PCC does not nominate candidates in our electoral system, it is the people in the neighbourhoods that nominate and decide who the candidates will be.

L’Humanite: What does your father Raul Castro mean when he says, “We must move forward one step at a time?”

Mariela: Any abrupt change could be very irresponsible. The process of construction [of the new socialist model] and of changing opinions takes time, much more than carrying out a popular consultation. When he says “one step at a time”, he means consolidating each step that is taken, not being superficial and not leaving anyone behind. Several times he has counselled me to try to educate the population before putting forward a proposal for a new law, otherwise it will never gain support. This is what we have done; we have raised awareness among Cubans and the National Assembly deputies. This is how he works, and I think he’s a good strategist. There are people who would like Cuba to hasten the changes. He responds: “I would like to hurry, but I cannot make impositions.” We have to achieve a certain consensus, or at least have the support of the majority.

L’Humanite: What are the priorities for Cubans today?

Mariela: A great many! Above all, to strengthen our economy so that it is self-sufficient. To some extent tourism can help us make progress. Despite the US economic and commercial blockade of Cuba, American tourism has surged. Americans want to visit Cuba; many come indirectly to avoid being penalized in the US when they return. By the way, the fact that they are punished by the laws that enforce the blockade [embargo] is a violation of the rights of the US citizens and of their Constitution. So yes, we have to move forward, create new mechanisms. And this is coming!* Cuba always surprises, we even surprise ourselves.

L’Humanite: After his election, Obama had raised some hopes with regard to Cuba, but nothing changed…

Mariela: Obama has not renounced the responsibilities of his position [as CEO of US imperialism]. The US remains hegemonic. They’re the world’s cops, they control all of us. I note that Europe has followed in their footsteps by establishing a common position against Cuba. How very cynical! This shows that they are subordinated to US policy.

L’Humanite: You are the daughter of Raul Castro and the niece of Fidel. Is it too hard to live up to this legacy?

Mariela: Sometimes yes, sometimes no! No, it’s up to all of us to try to live up to this family legacy. Some people imagine a responsibility to this legacy that they’d like to see me take on, but which is not for me. Others would like me to be a future Cuban president. If they knew me well they wouldn’t wish for that! I have no such aspirations whatsoever. On the other hand, I receive many gratifying comments about them in Cuba and abroad. People have said very beautiful things, full of admiration, respect, affection and gratitude. They've told me anecdotes about my parents that I was unaware of. So I feel proud of the family to which I was born. They have instilled in me values, ethics. If I’m a rebel, it’s not my fault, it’s theirs. [Fidel and Raul] have been much more rebellious than I am, and they still are, which is why I admire them so much. But no, I don’t want to be like them.

L’Humanite: Raul as seen by Mariela…

Mariela: First of all, I must say that my Dad is very nice, a fun person to be around. He has a way of saying things that is very direct. I’ve had a lot of fun with him and I’ve also been upset with him, but with much love. We’ve come to understand each other. I’ve never been afraid to tell him what I think, even when he doesn’t agree. I’ve learned from him that one has to be like this in life and take the risks involved. He is very methodical, very organized. He likes to dialogue, to work in a team, and he doesn’t waste time. Things are the way they are and he doesn’t like to embellish them. Thanks to my mother, he has supported me in my struggle; she laid the groundwork. I’m not just my father’s daughter. Consequently, I do things attentively and carefully. But I inherited from him a tendency to tell it like it is.

*Here, Mariela appears to be referring to changes to Cuba's foreign travel and immigration policies foreshadowed by President Raul Castro

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Translation: It's time to perfect socialism

As promised, here is a reader's comment in response to Luis Sexto's column in Juventud Rebelde titled "One day we'll wake up" (see previous post). I chose this one because it captures the spirit of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines adopted by the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in April and endorsed by the National Assembly of People's Power in August.

This is by no means a consensus view among Cuba's revolutionaries, broadly defined, let alone among all Cubans living on the island. As Raul Castro acknowledged in the Main Report to the Congress, there is no consensus and it would be silly to pretend otherwise. He has repeatedly called for an end to displays of false unanimity and for people to speak their minds.

There is a spectrum of political opinion. At one extreme are those who want to see capitalism restored. This is a small minority of Cuban society because there is no significant social base for capitalist restoration. The Cuban bourgeoisie licks its wounds across the Florida Straits; some Cubans on the island are seduced by the "American Dream", but most understand that capitalism would turn Cuba into something like Honduras.

The tiny pro-capitalist opposition is largely, if not wholly, a creature of US subversion. Hopelessly divided and compromised by the willingness of most of its activists to take money, gifts and directives from US agents, it is also infiltrated by Cuban intelligence. 

Far more serious is the threat posed by corrupt administrators who hope to convert illicit privileges into capitalist property. 

In the Soviet Union, the nomenklatura with its institutionalised privileges was the social base for capitalist restoration. In Cuba there is no such system of special privileges for party officials and administrators. Cuba is not ruled by a bureaucracy as some left critics imagine. If it were, then the implementation of the Guidelines would require not a patient yet resolute struggle against administrative inertia combined with a ruthless crackdown on high-level corruption, but an anti-bureaucratic political revolution. 

Cuba's corrupt officials cannot publicly advocate capitalist restoration, nor can they — or anyone else in Cuba — organise openly to this end. They can only fill Swiss bank accounts, make connections inside and outside the island and bide their time, hoping that Raul's highly effective anti-corruption taskforce, the Comptroller General's office led by the formidable Gladys Bejerano, doesn't uncover their crimes through its random audits and investigations. This would appear to be an increasingly forlorn hope.

The bureaucratic mentality, as Luis Sexto calls it, is far more widespread among party and state officials than instances of large-scale corruption. Many in positions of authority do not act in the spirit of the renewal process; they obstruct, distort or delay the implementation of decisions that inconvenience them. They don't want to give up their prerogatives and they defend their little fiefdoms zealously. In some cases — but by no means all — such prerogatives are a source of illicit income: an official who stamps forms may ask for a little something under the table to speed up the process, for example.

At the other extreme are Cubans on the island, among them many sincere and humble revolutionaries, who have dogmatic or mistaken conceptions of the socialist-oriented society in Cuba's conditions. Raul Castro referred to this in his December 2010 address to Cuba's National Assembly, when he spoke about the need to change "erroneous and unsustainable conceptions of socialism that have been deeply rooted in broad sectors of the population over the years as a result of the excessively paternalistic, idealistic and egalitarian approach instituted by the Revolution in the interests of social justice."

Such revolutionaries view any concessions to self-employment and small-scale private and cooperative management of social property as tantamount to abandoning the socialist project. They view the egalitarianism embodied in the ration book not as an emergency measure that has outlived its usefulness, but the very essence of "socialism". The solutions they propose for Cuba's economic problems involve appeals to conscience, selecting the right cadres and asserting control, all of which are necessary but clearly insufficient.

Through the public debate on the future of Cuba's socialist project initiated by Raul Castro in July 2007, when he called for structural and conceptual changes and for a free and frank debate, what I've called the critical renovationist current within the Revolution has emerged and consolidated. In my booklet Cuba's Socialist Renewal (p.10) I define this current as follows:

The critical renovationist current is made up of those revolutionaries who perceive that unity of action and unanimity of opinion are two different things and their confusion in practice does great harm to the Revolution; secondly, that nothing less than a deep, integral transformation of Cuba’s socialist model — of many of its concepts, structures, methods and mentalities — must be carried through if the Revolution is to endure in the post-Fidel era, part of which is forging a real culture of public criticism and debate, something Cuba has lacked.

Raul and the rest of the PCC leadership are the leaders of this current of opinion within the Revolution and the initiators of the socialist renewal process. 

Different trends can be identified within this current.

There are those, such as some economic specialists, who support the general thrust of the Guidelines but think the projected changes don't go far enough. They'd like to see, for example, an opening to medium-sized private businesses while keeping large enterprises in state hands. There are leftist critics both within and outside the PCC who, while also supporting much of the content of the Guidelines, advocate a radical "cooperativisation" of the state enterprise sector. Others dismiss the former as neoliberalism and the latter as left 

As well as different visions of the socialist-oriented society there are differences on the detail: how much or how little, when and in what order and, importantly, how to carry out the necessary transformations. The debate is ongoing and will be enriched by further experience. 

Meanwhile, as a result of a years-long process of debate, consultation and consensus-building culminating in the Sixth PCC Congress, Raul and the PCC leadership have sought and received a resounding popular mandate in favour of the basic principles of the new socialist-oriented economic model that is emerging and for the Guidelines as a road-map towards this new model.

Something approaching a national consensus has been forged around the premises of a socialist-oriented society that gives more to those who contribute more while protecting those in need, avoiding the extremes of opulence and destitution, on the one hand, and a paralysing egalitarianism on the other; a socialism that is less dogmatic and bureaucratic, more democratic and participatory, with fewer prohibitions and prejudices and greater scope for individual and collective initiative and involvement in decision-making.

I said at the beginning that the comment below captures the spirit of the Guidelines. Perhaps a caveat is needed: the writer's emphasis on economic structures and mechanisms solving everything by themselves is one-sided. A more balanced view, it seems to me, is expressed by Jose Ramon Fabelo, a participant in a panel discussion on the economy published by the Cuban magazine Bohemia in October 2010 (see my translation here): 

If I'm not able to decide what is produced, nor to what end, nor participate in management, in planning, and much of the time what I earn is not related to what I do, what sense of ownership am I going to have, am I going to extract this out of pure ideology? Sometimes yes, but not in the majority of cases. So we have a contrast: love of work as induced consciousness or as the demand of life itself. We've often debated between these two extremes, between moral or material incentives, consciousness or money. I consider this contraposition to be very anti-dialectical. We need to harmonise the two, and I would caution: today we cannot go to the extreme of hoping that economic mechanisms by themselves will stimulate and restore to its proper place the value of work. Educational, pedagogical, political, juridical work is very important in the here and now.

Comment No. 15 by “Dariem”

Contribution to the online debate in response to Luis Sexto's commentary "One day we'll wake up", Juventud Rebelde, December 1, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

I note in many reader’s comments an appeal to what amounts to “consciousness”. Señores, it has been clearly demonstrated that “consciousness” is not inherent in human beings in an economy of scarcity, it’s time for us to wake up and realise that however much we call for savings, rationality, discipline etc., etc. this doesn’t work! It doesn’t work because the current economic model (objective conditions) does not allow it.

Social being determines social consciousness: this is a basic axiom of Marxism. The objective conditions determine the subjective; the material determines the spiritual. Men and women and their families must first eat, clothe themselves and have shoes to wear before they are able to dedicate themselves to altruistic questions. This is the harsh reality, however much it may pain us. Very few human beings devote themselves to a cause out of pure consciousness without regard for their material necessities.

So as well as making appeals, what we have to do is complete the transformation of our economic structures and laws, our model, so that work becomes the primary source of individual wealth, that is, complete the socialisation of the means of production, whose absolute control by the state has not exactly been the best way of achieving this.

If someone doesn’t see the benefits of their work, if they don’t see an improvement in their quality of life, then they won’t feel motivated to work, save resources, innovate, come up with ideas, create, undertake something. We’ll achieve this with a new economic model, and all these things that we strive for with appeals to “consciousness” will come by themselves. It’s time to perfect socialism, leaving behind empty slogans and placing our feet firmly on the ground, following a scientific methodology with mathematical precision and abandoning improvisations and dreams that are distant from reality.

Unchain the productive forces, put the means of production in the hands of the workers in a real way, give them the power of self-management, self-financing and participation in decision-making, eliminate salaried employment and move to remuneration according to the earnings produced by the work collective, and you’ll see how we don’t have to tell anyone to save, that they have to work hard, that they have to take care of the means of production, that they have to innovate... because all this will happen by itself.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Translation: One day we'll wake up

Here, Luis Sexto teases apart the subtle distinction between control and rigour in the Cuban context to sharpen the minds of his target audience, Cuba's revolutionaries. As president, Raul Castro has called for the lifting of excessive — which usually means counter-productive — prohibitions. The government he leads has been delivering: since 2008, many such prohibitions have been lifted.

Paradoxically, excessive prohibitions aimed at asserting control led to the very opposite of what was intended. For example, the ban on people buying and selling their own homes and cars simply drove these markets underground, where they were not subject to taxation or regulation. This led to the corruption of officials who took bribes to cover up for illegal transactions. The state, which wanted to suppress the market, stimulated the black market and to one degree or another became an appendage to it via the widespread corruption of administrators. 

In its misguided zeal to control everything, the state ended up controlling nothing. 

Of course, not all prohibitions are excessive. The ban on small private businesses acquiring and accumulating property is aimed at blocking the emergence of a new Cuban bourgeoisie on the island, as is the ban on individuals owning more than one residence and one holiday house, also a just measure given the acute shortage of housing in Cuba.

The task is to sort the wheat from the chaff, dispensing with a vast encrustation of excessive prohibitions so that only the essential ones remain, bringing simplicity and coherence to Cuba's laws and regulations in the style of her wonderfully readable socialist constitution. This will unblock the channels of virtuous initiative, both individual and collective, that is not only a democratic imperative but an economic necessity. The hope is that this will give Cuba's post-capitalist society the fluidity it needs to adapt and evolve without losing its socialist essence.

Myriad excessive and often absurd prohibitions have corroded respect for legality. Given this, the easing of excessive restrictions must go hand in hand, as Sexto points out below, with efforts to apply the law more rigorously and, as Raul Castro has insisted, to enhance the authority of institutions, starting with the Cuban Communist Party.

I'll translate selected commentaries from the debate sparked by Sexto's piece on the Juventud Rebelde website. But I'll leave it for another post because this one is long enough...and it's past midnight here in Australia.   

One day we'll wake up 

By Luis Sexto, Juventud Rebelde, December 1, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Yes, I agree: one day I’ll awake and find myself in a new country. A better country, but renovated by ourselves, that is, by the revolutionaries, by those who still believe in the values of independence and social justice. In the values of a participatory socialism, dialectical, continually improving in the midst of foreign hostilities and probable errors.

This was my response to someone who, from outside the country, alerted me to my sins of naivety. One day, señor, you’ll open your eyes ... OK, we know how it goes. But I’ve learned that those least capable of judging Cuba or foreseeing its destiny are those who act against the aspirations of the Revolution. Time has passed, that’s for sure. But this doesn’t mean that despite zigzags, improvisations, mistakes and the unforeseeable and at times ungovernable circumstances, we Cubans who contribute anguish and an ideal – rather than to Cuba as a land of ambitions and a space for domination and exploitation – will continue aspiring to the most beautiful cause, like Don Quixote’s love for Dulcinia.

Neither will they be able to understand Cuba those who, while saying they are representatives of the most just trend, feign action and act in the least beneficial way: doing little, or doing the opposite. Do we not see the habit of attaching voluntaristic clauses to the laws and shutting the gates on that which arises without limitations, or with the most minimal ones to preserve order and principles? I have no doubts on this score. These are symptomatic of how bureaucratism, as a viewpoint and a position, continues to contaminate political commitment and action on the part of some of those who should be putting into practice the new concepts.

A part of the citizenry is no better. This can be seen in the behaviour of those who turn their backs on the process of renovating society while they wait and see what happens. But if it is a certain indifference that contaminates participation, confidence, optimism, in another moment it switches over to aggressiveness that manifests in disregard for the law and just limits, as if the feeling of impunity were like a complete anarchy, since “this is Cuba”. Is this, really, the Cuba that I heard an ignorant or provocative voice address when somebody warned them that they were doing what is justly prohibited?

More than once I’ve asked if we’ll have to wait for the complete renovation of the economy to establish rigour in its widest scope. It seems that if the country is reorganising, confronting irrationality and legislating the antidotes to rigidity, the deviations and the deterioration of administrative honesty, then we’ll have to tackle in equal measure the nests of impunity beyond the economy.

I’ve said rigour, and I’ve consciously avoided using the term “control”. It is so worn out. Control bound up in cardboard, control rooted in the “this is not permitted”, has sometimes served us as a foam mattress to improvise the negative or a shrugging of the shoulders. And rigour begins with the institutions that must reclaim it and watch over it so that control acquires its true meaning. Words don’t stand for jokes; they get upset when they’re not used with precision when we apply them to science, in particular the science of society.

As I see it, we’ve considered this word, so coarse in its prosody, to have something to do with financial management and prohibitions. Let’s be clear: control has been one of the arbitrary synonyms of prohibition. And perhaps indiscipline, whose smouldering dumps we see dispersed among various sectors, including in the streets, may also be a consequence of prohibitive control that at one time even forbade the solution of certain necessities. The equation is elementary: a prohibition plus a necessity equals an indiscipline.

We need, then, to increase rigour in the exercise of control, of the kind that doesn’t see human beings as Cuban queens on the chessboard that, as such, can be moved about or kept still according to the will of the players. I repeat: it seems that in some areas we’re taking a laissez-faire approach so that when we hear the clarion call, we’ll have to legitimise what has been done badly because it’s too late. This, I am reminded, is what will have to happen to these shacks, synonyms for household garages, that have sprouted up, illegally, in urban areas and above all along main thoroughfares such as Linea Avenue in Havana, for example*. If we continue to wait for institutional action, soon some areas in the central part of Havana will end up as rural zones [where traditional thatched-roofed cottages abound].

One day, nevertheless, I’ll awaken to a new country. The same country that we’re renewing, even though there exists the distorting action of those who have not realised that they are passing up the opportunity to become better.

*Sexto seems to be referring here to the proliferation of micro-business street stalls