Sunday, December 11, 2011

Translation: One day we'll wake up

Here, Luis Sexto teases apart the subtle distinction between control and rigour in the Cuban context to sharpen the minds of his target audience, Cuba's revolutionaries. As president, Raul Castro has called for the lifting of excessive — which usually means counter-productive — prohibitions. The government he leads has been delivering: since 2008, many such prohibitions have been lifted.

Paradoxically, excessive prohibitions aimed at asserting control led to the very opposite of what was intended. For example, the ban on people buying and selling their own homes and cars simply drove these markets underground, where they were not subject to taxation or regulation. This led to the corruption of officials who took bribes to cover up for illegal transactions. The state, which wanted to suppress the market, stimulated the black market and to one degree or another became an appendage to it via the widespread corruption of administrators. 

In its misguided zeal to control everything, the state ended up controlling nothing. 

Of course, not all prohibitions are excessive. The ban on small private businesses acquiring and accumulating property is aimed at blocking the emergence of a new Cuban bourgeoisie on the island, as is the ban on individuals owning more than one residence and one holiday house, also a just measure given the acute shortage of housing in Cuba.

The task is to sort the wheat from the chaff, dispensing with a vast encrustation of excessive prohibitions so that only the essential ones remain, bringing simplicity and coherence to Cuba's laws and regulations in the style of her wonderfully readable socialist constitution. This will unblock the channels of virtuous initiative, both individual and collective, that is not only a democratic imperative but an economic necessity. The hope is that this will give Cuba's post-capitalist society the fluidity it needs to adapt and evolve without losing its socialist essence.

Myriad excessive and often absurd prohibitions have corroded respect for legality. Given this, the easing of excessive restrictions must go hand in hand, as Sexto points out below, with efforts to apply the law more rigorously and, as Raul Castro has insisted, to enhance the authority of institutions, starting with the Cuban Communist Party.

I'll translate selected commentaries from the debate sparked by Sexto's piece on the Juventud Rebelde website. But I'll leave it for another post because this one is long enough...and it's past midnight here in Australia.   

One day we'll wake up 

By Luis Sexto, Juventud Rebelde, December 1, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Yes, I agree: one day I’ll awake and find myself in a new country. A better country, but renovated by ourselves, that is, by the revolutionaries, by those who still believe in the values of independence and social justice. In the values of a participatory socialism, dialectical, continually improving in the midst of foreign hostilities and probable errors.

This was my response to someone who, from outside the country, alerted me to my sins of naivety. One day, seƱor, you’ll open your eyes ... OK, we know how it goes. But I’ve learned that those least capable of judging Cuba or foreseeing its destiny are those who act against the aspirations of the Revolution. Time has passed, that’s for sure. But this doesn’t mean that despite zigzags, improvisations, mistakes and the unforeseeable and at times ungovernable circumstances, we Cubans who contribute anguish and an ideal – rather than to Cuba as a land of ambitions and a space for domination and exploitation – will continue aspiring to the most beautiful cause, like Don Quixote’s love for Dulcinia.

Neither will they be able to understand Cuba those who, while saying they are representatives of the most just trend, feign action and act in the least beneficial way: doing little, or doing the opposite. Do we not see the habit of attaching voluntaristic clauses to the laws and shutting the gates on that which arises without limitations, or with the most minimal ones to preserve order and principles? I have no doubts on this score. These are symptomatic of how bureaucratism, as a viewpoint and a position, continues to contaminate political commitment and action on the part of some of those who should be putting into practice the new concepts.

A part of the citizenry is no better. This can be seen in the behaviour of those who turn their backs on the process of renovating society while they wait and see what happens. But if it is a certain indifference that contaminates participation, confidence, optimism, in another moment it switches over to aggressiveness that manifests in disregard for the law and just limits, as if the feeling of impunity were like a complete anarchy, since “this is Cuba”. Is this, really, the Cuba that I heard an ignorant or provocative voice address when somebody warned them that they were doing what is justly prohibited?

More than once I’ve asked if we’ll have to wait for the complete renovation of the economy to establish rigour in its widest scope. It seems that if the country is reorganising, confronting irrationality and legislating the antidotes to rigidity, the deviations and the deterioration of administrative honesty, then we’ll have to tackle in equal measure the nests of impunity beyond the economy.

I’ve said rigour, and I’ve consciously avoided using the term “control”. It is so worn out. Control bound up in cardboard, control rooted in the “this is not permitted”, has sometimes served us as a foam mattress to improvise the negative or a shrugging of the shoulders. And rigour begins with the institutions that must reclaim it and watch over it so that control acquires its true meaning. Words don’t stand for jokes; they get upset when they’re not used with precision when we apply them to science, in particular the science of society.

As I see it, we’ve considered this word, so coarse in its prosody, to have something to do with financial management and prohibitions. Let’s be clear: control has been one of the arbitrary synonyms of prohibition. And perhaps indiscipline, whose smouldering dumps we see dispersed among various sectors, including in the streets, may also be a consequence of prohibitive control that at one time even forbade the solution of certain necessities. The equation is elementary: a prohibition plus a necessity equals an indiscipline.

We need, then, to increase rigour in the exercise of control, of the kind that doesn’t see human beings as Cuban queens on the chessboard that, as such, can be moved about or kept still according to the will of the players. I repeat: it seems that in some areas we’re taking a laissez-faire approach so that when we hear the clarion call, we’ll have to legitimise what has been done badly because it’s too late. This, I am reminded, is what will have to happen to these shacks, synonyms for household garages, that have sprouted up, illegally, in urban areas and above all along main thoroughfares such as Linea Avenue in Havana, for example*. If we continue to wait for institutional action, soon some areas in the central part of Havana will end up as rural zones [where traditional thatched-roofed cottages abound].

One day, nevertheless, I’ll awaken to a new country. The same country that we’re renewing, even though there exists the distorting action of those who have not realised that they are passing up the opportunity to become better.

*Sexto seems to be referring here to the proliferation of micro-business street stalls

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