The "updating" of Cuba's socialist economic model must swim against a tide of passive resistance from much of the bloated administrative apparatus commonly referred to in Cuba as "the bureaucracy". One of the objectives of the rationalisation of the state-sector workforce now underway is to reduce the numbers of such administrators to a minimum. Changes of personnel and of work attitudes are also needed, along with the simplification of absurdly complicated administrative procedures.
Bureaucratism, from rule to exception
By Felix Lopez
Granma, January 30, 2011
Translation: Marce Cameron
Sixto Martinez fulfilled his military service in a barracks in Seville. In the middle of the courtyard of this barracks there was a stool. Next to the stool, a soldier stood guard. Nobody knew why...the guard did it because he did it, night and day, every night, every day, and generation after generation the officials transmitted the order and the soldiers obeyed it. Nobody ever doubted it, nobody questioned it...And so it went on until someone, I don't know whether a general or a colonel, wanted to know the original order. He had to dig deep in the archives, and after much poking around, he found out: thirty-one years, two months and four days ago, an official had ordered somebody to stand guard next to the stool, that had been recently painted, so that nobody would think of sitting on the fresh paint.
Thus the Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano, describes the long reach of the ghost of bureaucratism in the Book of Hugs.
Luckily for those who live in Cuba, our Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) know how to find their own antidote against this evil that we have not been able to eradicate from the social environment.
The FAR have been pioneers in organisation, planning, in the [socialist state] Enterprise Improvement program and in establishing payment according to work results, economic practices that fly light-years away from the bureaucratic habits encrusted in many areas of the economy, and that some always viewed with animosity in order to avoid being demanding, taking responsibility and the obligation to comply [with what is required].
The "stool duty", converted into an image of bureaucratism, is a history of the absurd that reminds us of the recent publication in this daily of the letter of a reader*, as important and opportune as the most thorough journalistic investigation, that related the surrealism of his "vicissitudes to obtain a self-employment licence in Moa [a town in Holguin province]". The letter of Holguin resident G. Gomez Fuentes exposes how a functionary asked her for documents that were not required according to the current legislation regarding self-employment. And her reaction to Gomez Fuentez's application: "(...) I asked the compañera if she knew what [Minister for Economy and Planning] compañero [Marino] Murillo had said about this, and her response was that I could forget about Murillo."
This unfortunate response is a kind of X-ray of a mindset, very common, of ignorance regarding legality; it also reflects the damage being done by certain Creole [i.e. Cuban] bureaucrats by obstructing, diluting and complicating a series of measures and solutions that are being implemented as part of the updating of the Cuban economic model.
Some do not want to realise that in this country nobody will be allowed to act in violation of the laws, norms and resolutions which everyone is obliged to comply with.
And despite everything that has been said, there are still many who do not understand that this process [of updating Cuba's socialist economic model] must be accompanied by a change of mentality, of work practices and of vision at all levels, from those who lead an activity through to the functionary who staffs a bureau or a window, and who becomes the face (pleasant or harmful) of an idea, a measure, a solution or an important project.
Gomez's letter triggered a chain of reflections on this matter. Carlos Rodriguez said that "as well as not complying with the regulations and laws appearing in the Official Gazette, the example of what happened in Moa highlights how there are functionaries that far from helping, they hinder the work of reorganising the economy and society". Basilio Garcia warned that "there are many bureaucrats and technocrats that have still not realised that we are in times of changes. They continue to be stuck in their routine, lagging behind, putting the brakes on development and undermining the morale of those who want to fight, advance and triumph."
There are still those who turn a blind eye to the new scenario that's being constructed for the economy and Cuban society. Some because they have bureaucracy in the blood, inoculated as if it were a deadly virus. Others because it doesn't suit them to change the system of red tape, delay, impunity, and the "fine" or "bite" [i.e. the charging of illegal fees] required for any procedure so as to ensure a happy ending.
And there are those who enjoy their eight hours a day of being executioners [a metaphor], making life miserable and embittering everyone who tries to climb the Golgotha [Biblical reference to the hill where Jesus was crucified] of licences, permits, authorisations and every kind of procedure and paperwork that sustains the existence of a parasitic plague in the heart of the public administration. The rest — those who work well, who deliver happiness and sustain our optimism — should become the rule rather than the exception.
In his speech to the National Assembly on December 18, compañero Raul [Castro] insisted that "it is necessary to change the mentality of the cadres and of all the compatriots to face the new scenario that is beginning to take shape. It's simply a matter of changing erroneous and unsustainable concepts of socialism..." Would the bureaucrats understand the message they've been sent by the Second Secretary of the [Communist] Party when he referred to the necessity for a change of mentality?
For Basilio Garcia, behind every irresponsible bureaucrat or functionary there is a leading cadre that allows this type of conduct: "We have to continue unearthing these pessimists and opportunists, for whom the only thing that matters is that they have a more comfortable life; and go about substituting them with people who are trained and have the desire to do things well. Any human collective is teeming with such people, we just have to find them and give them the opportunity. Clearly, for this to happen we also have to banish from our minds the practice of canonising cadres; that is, whatever you do, you are always a cadre [i.e. someone who is supposed to act responsibly]."
In its pursuit of improvement, Cuban society in turn clamours for the shaking off of the ballast of bureaucracy, this ancient invention through which one shies away from personal responsibility in the moment of making decisions; this "pedestal" upon which some choose to live their minutes of glory and show off their quotas of power, tiny as they may be. Let's recall that poetic definition of Roque Dalton and we'll understand him better, because we have no other choice but to convert the exception into the rule:
The bureaucrats swim in a sea of tempestuous boredom
From horror at their yawns, which are the first assassins of tenderness
They end up with poisoned livers
And are found dead clinging to their telephones
With yellow eyes fixed on the clock.
*Vicissitudes to obtain a self-employment license in Moa, Friday January 21, p.11.