Here, taken from today's edition of Granma, is a report on a discussion of the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines in a barrio (neighbourhood) in the eastern city of Guantanamo, not far from the infamous US naval base of the same name. For those of us trying to understand the debates and changes taking place in Cuba from the outside and from a position of solidarity, the value of this report is that it brings us down to earth from the lofty heights of theoretical debates on the meaning of socialism and how to build it, and what Cuba can learn from other experiences — vital as these debates are in Cuba and elsewhere.
At the level of the local community, if this and other similar reports are anything to go by, most people's concerns are more prosaic: the price of a jar of marmalade, how much a student must pay to ride to school in a horse and coach, the clinic that has run out of cotton swabs, too few outlets selling non-rationed soap and toothpaste. The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leadership has proposed a single agenda item for the 6th PCC Congress in April: the economy. Other important discussions and decisions will be deferred to a subsequent party conference, date to be announced, later this year.
Cynics might wonder if the preoccupation with such things as marmalade and toothpaste reflects a lack of interest in debating the more strategic and theoretical issues involved in Cuba's socialist renewal, and if so, whether the PCC is somehow to blame. Aside from the fact that public debate on theoretical and strategic issues is indeed taking place in Cuba today, as I've tried to convey in other translations, this would be to forget something as basic as a bar of soap: the whole point of socialism is to satisfy the material and spiritual needs of a liberated humanity. Zooming in to the microcosmic level, to an urban community at the mountainous end of a Caribbean island subject to a US economic war — and a US naval base down the road that tortures prisoners — this means, among other things, ensuring that the Emilio Daudinot clinic in Guantanamo has a good supply of cotton swabs.
The call by the PCC leadership to debate the Draft Guidelines, which run to 291 paragraphs, is aimed precisely at involving all Cubans in the process of rethinking and redefining Cuba's socialist economic model. And, as a roadmap to a reinvigorated socialist-oriented economy, the Guidelines must solve the problem of marmalade.
Debate centres on prices in a Guantanamo barrio
By Jorge Luis Merencio Catuin
Granma, January 27, 2011
Translation: Marce Cameron
Guantanamo. — Despite what many had expected, the orderly elimination of the ration book [system of distribution of highly subsidies basic goods] was not the theme of the majority of interventions in the analysis of the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution in an area of Circumscription [i.e. municipal government electoral district] No. 11, of the Norte-Los Cocos-Confluentes Popular Council, in this city.
Because, as was noted in this neighbourhood debate, the people gain clarity, especially after a profound and detailed explanation of the economic projection — accessible to the entire population after being transmitted by Cuban television and reflected in the press — in the National Assembly of People's Power [in December] that analysed the Guidelines and the proposed updating of Cuba's economic model.
Hence the population, now with more arguments, weighs the pernicious effect on the country's economy and the construction of socialism of maintaining the ration book for a prolonged period, an expression of egalitarianism that benefits equally those who work and those who don't, or who do not need to [e.g. because they receive remittances from family living outside Cuba].
This issue, addressed in Guideline 186, did not however go unnoticed. Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR) members Landelino Garrido and Niurka Columbie suggested that the unrationed sale of soap and tooth paste, at higher prices, should happen in a greater number of establishments to facilitate their acquisition by consumers and to counteract hoarding.
The greatest number of opinions expressed centred on the concern raised by Ramon Prieto Medina about the pricing policy (Guidelines 61-63), in particular "the price rises in some product lines, without any prior information to the public".
Last October I bought a tin of marmalade at the Ideal La Creacion Market and the other day it cost ten pesos more, said Prieto Medina, and added that for New Year he bought a bottle of Caribe Refino rum for 75 pesos, and 24 hours later its price had increased to 98 pesos.
It's irrational that the prices change overnight and, worse still, that the consumer discovers this at the time of purchase. The speed of these price increases, plus the lack of information, creates a negative image of retail commerce, of disorder, that anybody can increase prices, he said.
He expressed his disagreement with the increase from one to two pesos for the cost of a fare imposed by the [horse] coachmen.
"I think the transport authorities must take the necessary measures to face up to this problem, because a student that has a double session of classes, and who must use this means of transport, has to spend eight pesos daily just to go by coach from home to school and vice versa", added the other CDR member.
Charging two pesos per trip is a violation by the coachmen, said Manuel Taboni Joubert, a functionary with the National Tax Office in Guantanamo. Such a procedure has nothing to do with the reorganisation of transport called for in Guideline 249.
Barbaro Ambert explained that the majority of the Cuban people are aware of the difficulties the country faces in undertaking the production of a large number of medications, above all the scarcity of raw materials, but that these limitations do not justify the lack of a cotton swab to heal a wound in a polyclinic such as the Emilio Daudinot clinic.
"This is the result of the disregard of someone, of the poor service that is sometimes provided and that so irritates the population. Everybody agrees with the content of Guideline 143, referring to the upgrading of the services provided by this sensitive sector", Barbaro concluded.
At the end of the meeting the CDR members applauded, in a gesture of gratitude, the [Cuban Communist] Party and the Revolution for keeping the people informed and making them the protagonists of this historical moment.