Ricardo Alarcon is the speaker of Cuba's National Assembly of People's Power. He has an impressive revolutionary biography going back to the Batista era, joining Fidel Castro's July 26 Movement as a student leader. The National Assembly convened December 15-19 to approve the state budget for 2011 and to discuss the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines that are being debated in grassroots meetings throughout the island in the lead-up to the Communist Party's 6th Congress in April.
Billed as the Sixth Ordinary Session of the Seventh Legislature, it was anything but ordinary. In the past, most of the Assembly's work was done in its various standing commissions that meet behind closed doors and the plenary sessions adopted the proposals with little, if any, real debate. Fidel would then give a long closing speech. This time the plenary sessions were a real working body, featuring very detailed presentations by Marino Murillo, minister for economy and planning, and Lina Pedraza, minister of finances and prices on the economic and social plan for 2011, the state budget and the draft Guidelines, followed by extensive discussion involving many deputies. Transcripts of much of the proceedings were printed in special supplements in Granma and Juventud Rebelde that include not only the speeches but interventions by deputies from the floor of the sessions. Raul's closing speech was much longer than usual.
Raul's speech, undoubtedly the most significant by any Cuban leader since Fidel's November 2005 warning that the Revolution could destroy itself through its own errors and weaknesses, has not been translated into English in full. I'll post some excepts from his extended comments shortly. In the meantime, here is Alarcon's intervention at the close of the December 17 plenary session of the Assembly. He places Cuba's economic reforms in the international context, explaining why it is wrong to drawn an equals sign between neoliberal capitalist restructuring and Cuba's socialist-oriented renovation, and touches on the creative application of Marxist ideas in the best of the Latin American tradition.
Ricardo Alarcon in the National Assembly
December 17, 2010
Translation: Marce Cameron (Spanish original click "Suplemento", see p.12 of PDF)
I'm going to be loyal to my exhortation [for deputies to be succinct in their interventions].
Really, I only want to say the following. We are in the midst of a national process of debate, of discussion in which everyone needs to study, we must all make an effort to learn, because we are undertaking, ultimately, an adventure, because socialism is not something that is laid down, that you can find in some manual. I'd like to cite two quotations that I think are important for Cuba's present and future.
José Carlos Mariátegui, the greatest Latin American Marxist, said: "Our socialism will not be a blueprint nor a copy, it will be a heroic creation"; and Julio Antonio Mella, who thought like Mariátegui, and who added that "for our socialism we'll need thinkers, people capable of thinking for themselves", and this Mella said when he was not yet 25 years old and he was already a great revolutionary leader and Cuban Marxist.
We live in a world in which we are not the only country discussing austerity measures, measures to balance the budget. This is happening everywhere, with just two big differences: only in Cuba is it discussed with the people, with everyone. You turn on the TV now, and what is it that you see happening from Puerto Rico to England? Sticks, they're beating the kids, the youth, with sticks.
Why are they protesting in Puerto Rico? Because from January they'll have to pay 800 dollars more to graduate, which is a way of saying: "Go, kids of the poor, humble people. This is a university and it will remain for the rich." And in England [tuition fees] go up by 14,000 pounds, which is their currency. Today in Washington our colleagues in the Congress are also meeting, discussing the budget, financial matters. And what did they decide? To reduce taxes for the richest minority and subsidies for the unemployed, in a country experiencing an increase in unemployment.
My colleague, the president of the Congress, has not been as fortunate as me. According to the news reports, she made a passionate criticism of this plan, which was agreed to by President Obama and the Republicans. Among other things she said that this measure benefited only 6,600 multimillionaires, but disadvantaged millions of workers and the dispossessed in the US, yet it was approved, now it's the law in the US.
This is one difference, that here everything is discussed with everyone. The actions that we are going to embark on, that will flow from the decisions of the [Communist Party] Congress, but a Congress in which everyone will participate [through the pre-Congress debates] and, as Raul [Castro] has not tired of insisting, in which the people freely express themselves, that they say what they think. I recall, when I think about freedom of expression, a phrase that my old teacher Juan Marinello was fond of saying, when he said that all freedom is a great responsibility.
We must all make an effort to study, to try to understand these phenomena, that are complex, that are not easy. And we need to remember, as well, the other difference: this is the only country on Earth that is blockaded, the only country that is undertaking a process of modifications, of economic adjustments, when it is up against the greatest power in the world. Fifty years of an economic war that, we mustn't forget, signalled its objective from the first day. Which was? To create unrest, create internal difficulties to weaken us, to divide us.
We must study a lot. We must also uphold the principle of that philosopher who said that I know only that I know nothing, or with the wisdom of that true sage, and with militancy and with unity. Yesterday I spoke about our five heroes [the Cuban Five imprisoned in the US], who had the generosity to send us a message. Today I'd like to mention one of them, René González. René is imprisoned in Miami, in the US, but he's studying economics, because one day he arrived at the conclusion that this would be something very important and there was a gap in his knowledge. He's studying, of course, at a distance, without being able to attend lectures with his professors, without being about to attend meetings with his class mates and, according to news I've received, he's doing very in his studies.
If you can study from a prison cell, compañeros, if you can try to master such difficult themes as complicated as the economy in the conditions in which René finds himself, how can we not do it, how can we not be capable of studying, of trying to understand the phenomena of our daily life, to master them, to understand and to act on this principle of Mariátegui?
Heroic creation, I'd like to say that this is something that must come from one's own mind, from your [own] initiative and in heroic conditions, and if there is an example of what Mariátegui said, it is the island of Cuba. This is clear, or should be clear for us, that we are doing something exceptional.
I recall that during the 1990s, when we were in the most acute moment of the Special Period, a delegation of specialists from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean [CEPAL according to its Spanish acronym — translator's note] came here to Havana, they carried out a study of the measures we were adopting then and they compared it with the adjustment measures that were implemented in Latin America, and they explained that in Cuba the consequences for the people were less than similar measures adopted in Latin America — similar in the sense that we, like they, had to take measures to adjust the budget, to reduce costs, etc, etc. And what did CEPAL say this difference was? "Because in Cuba they are applied in a social context of solidarity", these were their words.
To construct this context, this solidarity, is really the essence, the key to advancing. I believe, as I said yesterday, that it's not the Cuban Five that have to thank us, but we must thank them; because it is possible, compañeros, to resist, to not bow down, to be capable also of generating ideas, as well as studying towards a university career in conditions of isolation, in the worst conditions, separated from one's family, one's friends. If they can do this alone, why can we not do it together? If we are not capable of doing it then really, we don't deserve our history.
For this reason I said yesterday to Adriana [Perez, wife of Gerardo Hernandez, one of the Cuban Five] and the compañeras to please give them our thanks, because today they are the proof, simply, that yes, it can be done.
That is all (Applause).