Possible Roadmap for Change in Cuba

July 18, 2016 | Print Print |

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Wi-Fi on the Malecon seawall avenue. Foto: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Raul Castro’s speech at the National Assembly a couple weeks ago officially announced that the country finds itself with its feet deep in a new crisis once again. The consequences of Venezuela’s critical situation have greatly marked our economy for the worse; we depend greatly upon our trade relationship with this country, which has been politically twinned with our own.

Once again we’ve fallen into the same problem: depending on the fraternity of a prominent trade partner and then entering a crisis when our “great ally” withdraws or falls into disgrace. It happened with the US, with the USSR and now it’s happening with Venezuela. One of the Revolution’s objectives was allegedly to overcome this flaw, but Cuba remains a dependent and vulnerable country.

To be honest, this isn’t a new crisis: it’s the renewal of the general crisis of socialism in Cuba (paraphrasing a Marxist concept about the situation of global capitalism). The special thing about it though is that it comes at a crucial time: the historic generation is being forced to leave the reins of power as their time is running out; the easing of our relations with the US has begun to be dispelled; and Cuban youth are emigrating en masse. Cuban civil society should therefore have a clear idea, be more active and organized than ever in order to play the decisive role that they should as a driving and regulatory force of the imminent “change” that has to happen.

It’s fantastic that proof of the Government’s inability to move the country forward with its dressed-up reforms has come now and not five years down the road. It would have been five years down the drain along with the useless hopes of many sincere and innocent Cubans.

Raul Castro hasn’t been able to achieve a great deal in his 10 years of power, he’s only made tiny steps forward reclaiming certain rights, which aren’t the most pressing or critical. Even his solutions, because they’re tied to the dynamics of our dysfunctional system, have only encouraged more bureaucracy and corruption.

Now, while he’s announcing the Conceptualization of his model and the National Development Plan up until 2030 on the one hand, he’s telling us that we’re even weaker than we were 10- years ago when he came into office. The economy is badly damaged but according to our president, us Cubans are better prepared than ever because we’ve lived through and gained experience from the criticial Special Period crisis of the ‘90s. More than a compliment, this is pure sarcasm.

I think it’s time that the Government was pressured into listening to independent civil society. And it’s time that the entire world sees us Cubans do something brave and fair to get us out of this predicament. However, in order to do this we need to be united and have good judgment. We Cubans should hold a Convention for Change in Cuba, where every political and socially influential actor, on and off the island, is summoned together.

Looking for the future. Photo: Juan Suarez

Every kind of Cuban organization, NGOs and independent journalists should take part in this process for change. It should be held in Jamaica, as transport will be less expensive and will avoid migratory opportunism. I’m sure there’s an NGO out there that will cover the costs for Cubans from Cuba to attend such a congress.

A congress of this nature, which should be held this year, should analyze:

  1. Democracy in Cuba: today and in the future.
  2. Human rights in Cuba: today and in the future.
  3. The Cuban economic crisis and proposed solutions.
  4. The migration crisis.
  5. Cuba and its emigration: national reconciliation.
  6. The Cuban political crisis and proposed solutions.
  7. Roadmap for change in Cuba.

This last point is the most important in defining and creating real change. If we Cubans were able to reach a consensus on the plan of action we should take and speak in unison with one single voice to our Government and the world, we could be successful. In order to be a viable plan of action, I think this roadmap should be based upon the following points:

  1. Not asking for the war to be won, but by forming an agreement that benefits our country. For example, we shouldn’t aspire to “throw out” our government today, we should instead sit down with them at the negotiations table and make them realize that other parties and political figures have the right to influence and participate in Cuban politics.
  2. Demanding new laws to be put into effect immediately, regarding freedom of our media, freedom of political association and returning émigré’s their civil rights.
  3. Demanding a larger opening for our national private sector, residents and émigrés, allowing them to freely create and manage their own businesses.
  4. Demanding a new constituent assembly process for 2018, when the National Assembly and Government finish their terms. Approving a general referendum and in the same year, creating a new Constitution and later in 2019, a new National Assembly with plural representation.
  5. If Raul Castro himself were to agree, he could act as the leader of a Provisional Government up until 2021, when the first free elections of the millennium could be held in Cuba.

I believe heading towards our final goal in this way, would be the best thing to do. Once we’ve established a new political order, a democratic parliament and a democratically elected government, a new democratic Constitution and a more empowered and influential civil society, we can begin to rebuild our country. The world is eager to see Cuba change direction and to survive the crisis; I think we’d receive a good reputation because of this.

Workers at the Arts and crafts fair. Photo: Juan Suarez

Furthermore, with our strategic geographical position, the end of the US embargo and the valuable resources we have will attract a lot of foreign investment for our future development. Not to mention all those Cubans who live abroad, many of whom are in a good financial position to also invest in their motherland. I firmly believe in our economic and human potential.

It’s more difficult for me to believe, however, in our ability to set aside our interests and differences in order to support a project for change such as this one: practical and fair. If we were able to hold a congress, it would be very sad to see that, afterwards, it be reduced to fruitless tensions that will only stand in the way of us reaching a final consensus; or that the proposal ends up being impossible, draped in the Cold War and that all it does is give the government more weight to speak badly about their opposition. We’ve already lost wars and fantastic opportunities in the past because of these autocratic and ideological barriers; I just hope we don’t do it again.

Let’s take the example of South Africa for instance, where after a criminal policy such as that of apartheid, instead of hate and legal persecution, agreements and mutual apologies were made. It’s hard to forgive and turn the page in order to move forward, but if we want to be constructive, then this is the best option.

Cuba needs to take a similar direction in order to make progress. It’s just an idea, I’m just one person. Criticizing helps but it doesn’t solve the problem. There are a lot of people nowadays who criticize and very few who are actually doing something. If every one of us pulls at what interests them the most, only focusing on our differences rather than what brings us together, we’ll never be constructive and we’ll never have a better Cuba. Let’s stop and think seriously about our future and then act: our country depends on us.


What's your opinion?

  • larry

    Finding your missing reserves would put an end to all you have stated people would receive more money and you would pay nothing in return because the cost to live in Cuba is within the confines of what is being given and not what should be given don’t worry the time will come when things won’t seem so bad try living in Canada ? You would not last A single minute our government is also laxed in the ways it takes more than is needed and gives very little in return

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      Larry, life in Canada is a bed of roses compared with life for Cubans in Cuba. The ‘free’ health services in Canada are better than those in Cuba – try visiting a hospital in each country and make the comparison. The educational system in each country is ‘free’ but with a different purpose. In Canada the purpose is to provide a broad education to prepare for the variety of opportunities which the capitalist system offers. In Cuba the purpose is indoctrination as defined by the Castro Constitution:

      Article 39:

      To promote the patriotic education and COMMUNIST training for the new generations.

      In Canada there is freedom of speech and of the media – apart from national media of press, radio and television, there are innumerable small local newspapers and radio stations – you can start one!

      The Constitution of Cuba says:

      Article 53:

      Citizens have freedom of speech and of the press in keeping with the OBJECTIVES OF A SOCIALIST SOCIETY. Material conditions for the exrecise of that right are provided by the fact that the press, radio, television, movies and other organs of the mass media are State property and can never be private property. The law regulates the exercise of these freedoms.

      Would you Larry voluntarily accept the restrictions which are imposed upon the citizens of Cuba. In my view cyou should be grateful for the freedoms you have which certainly cannot be equated with Cuba where as described there are none – the state controls from cradle to grave!

  • George

    Multi-party democracy is not a magic bullet to solving problems, indeed it can hinder them. The author is projecting his dissatisfaction on to a word, namely democracy. What does democracy achieve? It certainly does not empower the individual any more than any other form of process for selecting the government, the simple reality is that the individual will either be for the government or against the government no matter what selection process is used. If their party loses the election, then they are still against the government, there is no difference. Further democracy can actually act to disempower the individual by giving the illusion that their voice is being acted on. Good government listens to the people, no matter how it is selected. Multi-party democracy may bring about a regular change of faces, but they still have no obligation to listen to the people. What’s more it encourages superficial changes and damaging tinkering to ensure that the new government is seen to be doing something new, in order to perpetuate the illusion of choice. All over the world, multi-party democracy is failing the people it is supposed to represent. All over the world, there are people dissatisfied with their government under multi-party democracy, but who have learned that they can’t bend them to their will and so simply disengage from the electoral process and politics in general. These are not apolitical people, they simply recognise that the political class will always do what it wants. It is obvious that Osmel is dissatisfied with his government. However he is projecting this dissatisfaction on to a word that offers no real solution. Indeed he does not have the solutions to the problems facing Cuba, which he readily admits since he is calling for a discussion of the way forward. He has a few demands, as do many in multi-party democracies, populists will look to see if they are popular, good government will look to see if they are beneficial to the country, bad government will look to see if they are beneficial to themselves. This is the reality always, whatever system you are using.

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      So George, a straight question!
      Do you favour dictatorship or not?

      • George

        Straight question my a**e! It’s a loaded question, indeed I would almost take it as a threat given that the U.S. has installed so many dictatorships around the world. The question is would you prefer a government that governs in the interests of the people, itself or a foreign power? Fidel always governed in the interests of the people, it seems that now he has retired a segment of Cuban bureaucracy is trying to govern in their self-interests but still not in the service of a foreign power. Multi-party democracy will only hand more power into their hands, dividing the country into the powerful and the weak. Personally I’d like to see everyone have the opportunity to vote in parliament, with no parties, just a direct vote put to the people on all legislation. This could easily be achieved with internet technology. Cuba currently doesn’t have the infrastructure unfortunately.

        • Informed Consent

          Having actually lived, and escaped from Cuba…I can honestly say that Castro has always governed for the interests of Castro, and the military, certainly not the Cuban people.

        • Carlyle MacDuff

          The question has got nothing to do with the US!
          Is your view that “Fidel has always governed in the interests of the people” based upon personal experience of living in Cuba, or upon hearsay?
          Cuba currently is divided into the powerful and the weak. The Castro family regime exerts total power and control and dissent is illegal. With that power has come a degree of acquisitiveness in the form of property plus private island retreat with yacht and 27% shareholding in ETECSA the monopoly telephonic company.
          The population of the weak has those average earnings of $20.68 per month, food rations, medical services and an indoctrinating education system.
          That may be your idea of the good life, but it certainly is not regarded as such by those who suffer it – the people of Cuba!
          For some odd reason, Americans appear compelled to write about problems in their own country rather than addressing those experienced in Cuba.
          Government by referendum would be chaotic – but maybe that is what you wish for? A form of anarchy?
          You are correct in indicating that the Castro regime has denied Cubans open access to the Internet.

    • richardmuu

      Possibly the author is pinning his hopes on ‘democracy,’ but I wonder.

      Democracy in the U.S. is like a habit: We do it but we’re not sure if we could express in words what we do when we do it. Some might call us lazy but we’re just human: once you think you know something you stop thinking about it and just do it–a habit.

      This means that we in the U.S. should not be others’ source of expertise on democracy. Better, I think, would be any number of Spaniards of the post-Franco era. They had to create a democracy pretty much from scratch, and they did well, mostly because they thought and talked through what they would do.

      I hope you will think through what you will want freedom of the media to mean, as a good part of the health of your country will depend on what you decide.

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        I agree richardmuu that the US political system ought not to be a source of expertise for others regarding democracy. There are so many obvious problems, compared with for example those countries with parliamentary democracies.
        The US Constitution reflects the world of 200 years ago and badly needs revision.
        The volumes of money poured into elections in the US are obscene, there is no question that the ability for commercial interests to influence results is a consequence and that representation of the people is of secondary significance.When polls demonstrate a 90% support for a change, one money laden lobby can prevent it occurring – even with members representing both parties voting in favour of such change.
        However, despite all its evident faults, there is at least the opportunity for alternative governments in the US compared with none in Cuba which has now suffered an oppressive dictatorship for over fifty seven long weary years.
        Regarding the media in Cuba, it is totally under the control of the Castro regime and no other forms are permitted as defined by Article 53 described below.
        I can tell you that my Cuban wife found the freedom of the media in both Europe and North America amazing and informative about matters which are banned and censored in Cuba.

        • George

          “over fifty seven long weary years”… your attempt to re-write history would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous. They were exciting years, proud years, as any Cuban who lived through them will tell you.

          • Carlyle MacDuff

            I know hundreds of Cubans and few of them talk of being proud of the 57 years of Castro family communist dictatorship.

            You obviously know little of a life where you purchase illicit rum, take a taxi particular (that’s not a taxi as you understand them, but an old converted truck) from your town of work to your rural home town where you sell the rum and purchase eggs to take back to your town of work to sell.

            That is reality – I speak of what my professionally employed wife actually did to support her family. That is relating actual history – don’t try to re-write it!

            If that is your idea of “exciting years, proud years” then I pity you.

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    Osmel Ramirez Alvarez has written a fair analysis of Cuba’s difficulties under the dictatorship of Raul Castro who as he says, “hasn’t been able to achieve a great deal in his ten years in power, he’s only made tiny steps forward”.

    Cuba requires:

    “free and fair elections conducted under international supervision, permitting opposition parties ample time to organize and campaign for such elections, showing respect for the basic civil liberties and human rights of the citizens of Cuba, moving toward establishing a free market economic system, and committing itself to a constitutional change that would ensure regular free and fair elections.”

    The constitution would have to be subject to substantial change and be implemented, not ignored as has been the practice of the communist regime. Sections ignored have included:

    Article 2
    (a) guarantees the freedom and full dignity of men
    (c) works to achieve that no family lacks a comfortable home

    Article 13
    Asylum for those persecuted for their ideals

    Article 14
    From each according to his ability, to each according to his work

    Article 43
    The state establishes the right of its citizens to live in any sector, zone or area and stay in any hotel

    Sections which impede change include:

    Article 18
    The state directs and controls foreign commerce

    Article 21
    The law establishes the amount of an owners assets that are seizable

    Another obvious change is necessary in educational propaganda

    Article 39
    To promote the patriotic education and communist training for the new generation

    Osmel’s comment about Raul Castro properly dismisses the cleverly politically manipulated view that undefined “change” is occurring in Cuba. confirming the reality which was described in the letter of March 28 purported to have been written by Fidel Castro entitled “The man Obama” and the speech of Bruno Rodriguez of March 29, clarifying that there would be no change.

    Sadly, Osmel’s article is but a pipe dream as the communist leopard does not change its spots. The change of clothing by Raul Castro from always wearing military uniform to wearing hand tailored suits and silk ties for meetings with politicians from other countries – with photographs now installed in government buildings of the “new” Raul, cannot hide the reality that it is the same old ruthless man responsible for executions and oppression in his lust for power and control.

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    I hope richardmuu that you have opportunity to walk around real Cuba rather than just the beautiful usual tourist sites and that you meet Cubans other than those employed in the tourist services.
    Don’t be afraid to venture into dilapidated areas where most Cubans live and try talking to them as you may well find some with some English. They are in general a kind people but always trying to find a way to obtain some form of support. As you may have noted, “Informed Consent” writes of Cubans trying to “resolver” as they try to address tomorrow (manana) and how to live.
    The average monthly earnings for a Cuban are under $21 US per month. 5.2 million of the population of 11.1 million work. So if you do a quick calculation the average Cuban, man woman and child lives on little more than 33 cents per day. The monthly subsidized rations provide sufficient nutrition (1800 calories per day) for about 14 days.
    Cubans are a proud people with a historic culture. They have survived much strife and a succession of revolutions. The social structure is built around “La familia” and the soul of the country is its music.
    Enjoy Cuba!
    Carry some paper hankies!

    • richardmuu

      When I go to Cuba, which may be as soon as summer 2017, I hope to spend no time in the tourist areas. I speak Spanish and I like to wander. My wife is from Mexico City and I’ve roamed lots of places there, including places where I could literally feel the fear of folks around me. I’ll try to learn what I can in Cuba but I don’t have unrealistic expectations about that because I know I’ll be a stranger.

      I’m sure we’d have a problem if we met. Your pity for me would meet with my lack of concern for the psychic horrors experienced by professionals. I mean, I’d be a little concerned about them but there are other concerns that occupy my thoughts more. I believe in reality but at this point in my life, I know that reality is plural, not singular, and that folks who live in one reality typically don’t know much about other realities. That fellow who wrote last week about drinking a Heineken. Re-read his post and look closely about what he has to say about the rural poor. His idea was since the poor have never known better, they don’ suffer as much psychically as sensitive professionals do at the lack of stuff. Well, we are all God’s children. We all suffer.

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        Don’t have fear in Cuba!
        I was unaware that I expressed any form of pity for you – I assure you I have none!
        I share your concern – indeed for me it is more than that – about those who think that people are happy to live in poverty and deprivation when they have not experienced anything else. They are aware that others have a better live and that is demonstrated by the number of Cubans risking their lives to flee Cuba.
        Note my comments about Maria de los Angeles and Candelaria.
        I would love to share a Buchanero or two with you, Heineken apart from being more expensive, is in my view not as good a beer.

    • richardmuu

      Sorry, in the comment below I mistakenly took your comment to George as a response to me. Your stats are helpful. Any estimates of the size of the informal economy? Where would you recommend I go for stats over time? In the past I’ve used the CIA’s World Factbook and an online European encyclopedia whose name escapes me.

      The reason I want stats over time: How has that $21 stand in relation to five years ago? Ditto for the employment rate. What’s clear to me is that Cuba, probably like the Soviet Union, produced human capital (trained professionals) proportionally well in excess of developed cultures that follow the U.S. model. That explains some of the resentment I’ve long seen among Cuban professionals and maybe also why we in the U.S. are having fits in trying to deal with Russian computer hackers. They have more talent. I’d like to know how that happened, and I’d like to know what the Cuban government sees and is concerned about as it weighs options for the future. If what you say is true about the centrality of la familia–I don’t doubt you as it’s the same in Mexico–that doesn’t bode well for the development of a civil society.

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        To answer your question richardmuu, there has been no increase in rates of pay to the average Cuban during the last five years. The rumbling discontent in the medical profession, many of whom had had their services contracted out to different countries and the realization by the regime that many were moving for improved incomes did result in an increase in pay for them. However, no similar increase was given to those working in education – which has increased the level of discontent among them.
        You are correct about the high number of trained professionals in Cuba – providing that you confine the comment to doctors and educators – both of whom are commodities contracted by the regime to other countries. The ratio of medical doctors is one for every 159 Cubans, although there is currently a shortage of teachers in Cuba’s schools. But where are the other professions?
        I cannot speak with authority of Mexico, but in Cuba la familia is a strength and without it the society would dis-integrate as the generations are inter-dependent
        Computers provide many advantages, but confidentiality is not one of them as the CIA learned to its cost. Secrets are best maintained as such, and committing them to computers negates that as the hackers have proved.

  • Donald Thureau

    Quite frankly, Cuba needs to have a serious conversation about the possibility of becoming or transitioning towards a commonwealth of the USA thereby still retaining political control of its destiny as an independent country, but with strong economic ties with the USA. During the Castros’ reign they have done a horrible job of aligning themselves to loser countries who eventually imploded due to poor economic and political models. Forget about trying to rely on some other country outside its own continent due to distance, language and culture. No other Latin American country is going to have an ability to help support Cuba’s needs and only the USA is going to be able to provide the tools, markets, currency, etc. to prosper. I realize that Puerto Rico isn’t a particularly good example, but Cuba is closer to the US mainland and Cubans have historically shown that they can do a good job at fostering capitalism and increasing wealth in the country if they are given the chance. Good luck!