Cuba 2013 and its Subverted Reforms

January 3, 2013 | Print Print |

Fernando Ravsberg*

Since 2008 Cuba has been trying to veer off the path of its replica of the Soviet model. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — The year 2012 ended with a phrase by Raul Castro that summarizes the dilemma of life or death of the Cuban Revolution: the obstacles that are acting as brakes on the productive forces must be removed.

The problem is that those restraints are imposed by the productive relations derived from the existing model.

The Cuban model (a faithfully copied Soviet replica) contains the same bureaucratic weaknesses that led European socialism to its debacle that ended in economic stagnation, technological backwardness and agricultural productivity reduced to minimal levels.

Since 2008 Cuba has been trying to veer off of that path, but there’s no lack of people who insist on ramming stones in the wheels of the chariot of reform. One of the most obvious maneuvers was the prohibition on campesinos from building their homes on the land given to them by the government.

No one in Cuba is naive enough to think that farmers could live in cities and commute — using what transportation? — every morning to work on their farm. People also know full well that there are plenty of thieves who would clean out any uninhabited farm at night.

The government took four years to unlock that wheel but there still exist a host of other brakes on agriculture, ones such as the distribution and marketing of farm products, which remains centralized in the hands of a bureaucracy that has proven to be the most inefficient in the country.

The new tax system is another example. They could have left behind the labor contracting structures that are highly questionable both nationally and internationally. Through these, employers sell their goods and services in hard currency and pay the employees in relatively worthless national pesos.

Many expected the disappearance of contracting companies, which keep most of the workers’ salaries, but this didn’t happen. Now the government will carry out dual collections, taxing wages as well as parallel incomes.

This year is starting out like last year, with laws that eliminate absurd prohibitions – thanks to which the lives of people will be easier. But 2013 will also continue without defining the future socio-economic model and therefore the direction in which the country is heading.

Sometimes the stones stuck between the wheels consist of generating extended debates over inconsequential matters, preventing the nation from getting down to the substantive issues that truly affect the national economy and the reforms that could make the country more efficient.

They spent months discussing the law on the sale of cars only to finally hamstring the new reform with layers of restrictions. In this way they complied with the directive to loosen the rope, but doing it millimeter by millimeter, despite society demanding enormous breaths of fresh air.

One of the key measures is the growth of self-employment, since it’s being called on to absorb the labor force that will have to be laid off in order to close unproductive state enterprises, those black holes that devour the profits of those that truly produce.

No less than 72 percent of the companies audited at the end of this year in Ciego de Avila Province defaulted on their sales and production plans, while maintaining their administrative disorder and lack of controls, concluded the Comptroller General.

It’s fair that the government provides an alternative to unemployment, but it’s strange that it has taken years to approve urban cooperatives, the only course possible for those who are able to muster scarce resources in an attempt to become an independent workforce.

The other key factor for economic survival is the fight against corruption, headed by the Comptroller General. Her office’s successes have been significant. They haven’t eliminated the phenomenon but they’ve blunted them substantially, reducing those costs to the nation.

Notwithstanding, the effects of that battle don’t play a preventive role since they’re silenced by a press that remains hijacked. When someone dares to demand information — as was the case with Esteban Morales — every attempt is made to excommunicate them.

The other key factor for economic survival is the fight against corruption, headed by the Comptroller General. Notwithstanding, the positive effects of that battle don’t play a preventive role since they’re silenced by a press that remains hijacked.

A few days ago a babalao friend told me, “What happens outside of Cuba is horrible; a handful of the rich steal while the rest of the people are dying of starvation. At least here, everybody steals.” The democratization of theft seems fair and normal.

That vision is the result of a press that is dedicated to “denouncing” cases like a couple of teenagers who break public phones to get out a few coins but refuse to investigate those who swindled millions of dollars from the underwater telecommunications cable project.

This year is starting out like last year, with laws that eliminate absurd prohibitions – thanks to which the lives of people will be easier. But 2013 will also continue without defining the future socio-economic model and therefore the direction in which the country is heading.

Comptroller General Gladys Bejerano already understands that in her work, government controls won’t be enough. As she noted, “It’s up to the community and workers to monitor and eliminate corruption at all levels because it jeopardizes the continuity of the revolution.”

The reforms also need the support of the people and this would be much more effective if it were explained where these are leading. This is the only way citizens will be able to identify and confront those who — out of inefficiency or malice — are sabotaging the changes.
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(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.
 


What's your opinion?

  • Griffin

    “A few days ago a babalao friend told me, “What happens outside of Cuba is horrible; a handful of the rich steal while the rest of the people are dying of starvation. At least here, everybody steals.”

    Does anybody in Cuba actually believe that nonsense? I know they hear it in the State run media, which is to say, the only media.

    ““It’s up to the community and workers to monitor and eliminate corruption at all levels because it jeopardizes the continuity of the revolution.”

    Corruption exists whenever the powerful are unaccountable to the rule of law, or whenever it is impossible for the average citizen to survive by legal means. When the people have no faith in a secure future, corruption will flourish. The Socialist New Man has learned his lesson well in Cuba: the Revolution seized private property without legal justification, let alone just compensation. It is only natural that the Cuban people feel justified in “liberating” the necessaries of daily life from State enterprises. When morality is turned on it’s head, theft is just and justice is theft.

  • Grady Ross Daugherty

    I believe Fernando is correct in pointing out that the “brakes” on production in Cuba–which, according to Raul, must be removed–come from continuation of the old, Soviet-copied “model.” But what exactly is this old model?

    It is the 1848 idea that the state, under socialism, must own the land and all the instruments of production.

    Raul and the PCC can never arrive at a corrected “socio-economic system” unless and until they set the 1848 idea on the well-lighted table and examine it. They’re trying in a grouping way to institute reform, but there is no evidence that they have the intention or the ability to re-examine the old state monopoly core principle of “classical” Marxism.

    The very bottom line is the party’s proper attitude toward the institution of private property rights.

    The key error of classical Marxism is attempting to force a prime attribute of theoretical full communism–absence of private property rights–onto society during the socialist bridge period.

    Unless and until Raul and the PCC realize that this premature “forcing” of the far-in-the-future goal onto present-day society is a catastrophic mistake, the brakes inherent in the state monopoly, Soviet-style will remain.

    Addendum: Private property rights, if appreciated by the party and utilized to build the socialist bridge, can lead ultimately to the virtual elimination of private productive property.

    But this can only be accomplished by the democratization of private property ownership under socialism, through working associate-owned enterprise plus plenty of small bourgeois enterprise, especially on the land, service industry, shopkeeping and small manufacturing.

    In a word, the classless society of the far future can only be reached through democratic, broad, direct ownership of the means of production by those who do the work. This is what Raul and the PCC need to comprehend.

    • Griffin

      And what you need to comprehend, my dear Grady, is that Raul & the Party are not interested in a classless society now or in the far future. What they are concerned with is the preservation of their personal hold on power, perks and wealth. The limited reforms thus far introduced, including all the continuing restrictions on human rights and freedoms are intended to preserve the power structure as is, not change it.

      The recent campaigns against “corruption” always end in more and more enterprises being transferred to the control of the FAR holding company, GAESA. This is an alarming trend which demonstrates the increasing concentration of wealth and power.

  • Moses

    Updating the model in Cuba is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. My wife just spoke by telephone to her parents in Guantanamo moments ago. They have been without water in their entire neighborhood for 3 days. My father in-law walks 6 blocks to the nearest working public faucet and fills four large buckets with water and carries them back to his house twice a day. This allows for he and his wife to sponge bath, cook, and use the bathroom. Sending him $$ won’t help this time as the problem is because of rotted infrastructure to the whole neighborhood. Transformationary bridges to classless societies sounds fantastic but right now being able to flush the toilet is more important. Socialism has failed Cuba. Reforming a failed model solves nothing. Replacing the model (and while you are at it, replacing the model keepers) is the only course of action that makes any sense.

    • Grady Ross Daugherty

      Moses, in certain basic areas, the Marxian, state monopoly perversion of socialism has definitely failed in Cuba. Given this failure, the question arises as to whether the present regime can make the necessary changes to give the country a functional, dynamic, cooperative form of socialism, or will continue to misconstrue why the failure occurred in the first place, and what theoretical and programmatic changes can and ought to be made.

      You and I are US citizens, and everything that might be learned from the Cuban experiment in socialism is instructive for our own country. What is most important for us, up north, is how we could and should reorganize our country and solve our many social, economic, environmental and problems.

      I know that you disagree with me that we can or ought to achieve a socialist Cooperative Republic, but you, if you truly are a patriot, really should try to think along these lines.

      What Cuba needs is what the US needs, a socialist cooperative republic in which private property rights are valued and retained, but in which the monopoly banks are nationalized and the parasitical institution of usury on credit debt is legally abolished.

    • Sergio

      Is true Mr Mosses. Cubans are suffering, and them they show the world a totally different view of what really is. Living inside is a way of learning what the cuban necesities are since they wake up till they go to bed, thinking what to cook, how to treat the sick with a good soup, where and how to get water or electricity. If the relations in between cuba and venezuela goes to the dump which I wish it happens after he dies, they will suffer even more with lost of electricity every single day like before. Is so sad to know that our people suffer so much, sometimes i feel like to have millions and help even more that what I do, I am poor but have dignity and compation for my people and others in need, while castro’s burocracy still continues, then he criticized us here in United States. He lives in BURGUESIA. Sergio.

  • Griffin

    Fiddling with the margins of the economic system will do nothing to improve life in Cuba so long as the agents of State oppression continue to crush human rights and freedoms.

    “Cuban security agents made a record 6,602 short-term detentions of political dissidents last year and the number of political prisoners on the island rose by about 30, Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz reported Thursday in the Miami Herald.”