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).
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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.