Thursday, December 29, 2011

Translation: Rafael Hernandez interview Part 2

Here is Part 2 of my translation of Edmundo Garcia's interview of Cuban political scientist and Temas magazine editor Rafael Hernandez (Part 1 is here). The translation is abridged: it is complete up to the end of the text below but subsequent questions and responses on other topics, such as the papal visit to Cuba in 2012, are omitted. 

Rafael Hernandez: “The collapse of socialism is beyond the present horizon”

Interview by Edmundo Garcia, December 20, 2011

Spanish transcript published on the Cubadebate website, December 23

Translation: Marce Cameron 

Edmundo Garcia: Let’s move on now to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) National Conference in January 2012. This has almost become another cliche, and I’d like to know your opinion. There are analysts, the so-called Cubanologists and Cuba observers, who take it as a given that the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines adopted by the Sixth PCC Congress is the key document that sets out the transformations, the updating of socialism, and that its proposals are sufficient for the updating of the socialist model. However, they are more critical of the [draft] National Conference document; some say the proposals are not similar. My specific questions are, do you perceive a distance between the two documents, between the Congress document and the Guidelines? Do you think the PCC is advancing in its own democratisation process? And finally, what do you anticipate will be the outcome of the PCC Conference in January? There you are, three questions in one.    

Rafael Hernandez: I think that naturally, there are things missing in the content of the Guidelines as adopted by the Congress, there are empty spaces, and these gaps sparked discussion during the debates on the Guidelines that several million people participated in over a number of weeks. I don’t think you can understand what is projected in the Guidelines unless you read them together with the Main Report to the Sixth PCC Congress delivered by Raul Castro, who made it clear that without a change in the style of political work, without a change in the conception of the Party’s role, in participation, in the style of Party work in relation to the population, unless we change all this then the reforms won’t succeed.

This, obviously, draws attention to the fact that – to use a mathematical analogy – the axes that these economic and social Guidelines cross are political axes. Most analysts take the view that they deal with a series of strictly economic measures, as if in a country like Cuba, with the kind of political and social system we have, one can make far-reaching economic changes that structurally modify the existing order in the economic sphere, without changing the others.

If you read the Guidelines closely, you’ll find the themes of decentralisation, de-statisation, de-bureaucratisation and the rule of law – the use of legality a tool of change, as a framework within which the changes are not only adopted but are consolidated and made permanent, which is very important. These changes, then, are political changes. They are obviously political changes, changes that have to do with the redistribution of power, with taking power away from the central structures and giving the base structures, the local bodies, more power. This is related to the democratisation of the system.

Perhaps many of those who criticise the [draft] PCC Conference document hoped that this issue of democratisation – or the gaps, the omissions in the Guidelines, such as the role of the trade unions, the role of the workers in the workplaces, in workplace decision-making, etc. – would be the key axis of the document. Given this, I think the PCC Conference can take up and elaborate on these problems that we have, which are at the very heart of the Cuban political problematic. I say this because one of the things that was truly admirable about the Party Congress is that it was a real congress, there was a debate; we saw it on TV, Cubans and non-Cubans could see in the telecast that there was a real debate on the draft Guidelines, which had previously been subjected to a popular debate.

The Congress had a content, it was not simply a ritualistic exercise to rubber-stamp a policy that had already been decided. Real decisions were made by the Congress, changes were adopted that were not in the draft Guidelines. It is to be hoped that the Party Conference will make changes likewise, that it responds to the expectations of the population and that it changes, of course, what I said a moment ago would be the most difficult thing to change, perhaps the greatest challenge, which is to change the political style [of the PCC’s work].

The political style, and I don’t mean style in the sense of a way of doing things, it has to with the whole conception of what politics is, with what is meant by the participation of the citizens, and what is the relationship between what Che Guevara called the vanguard and the mass. Today, this is more about the relationship between the leaders and the led, between the institutions of political representation of the population, it’s about the interests and desires of the population and the responses of the political institutions to these interests and desires; the ability to engage in a dialogue, to govern in a way that responds to the people, not with a package of policies that must be implemented regardless of what people think.

A measure was adopted [in the 1960s], that of nationalisation, of employment [in the state sector], and there are a million surplus workers according to an economic analysis. However, the delay in implementing [the rationalisation of state-sector employment] has obviously been the result of the realisation that the population was anxious, that there was anxiety among the people in relation to the issue of unemployment; an understandable anxiety, an understandable concern.

I think the government itself, in delaying the implementation of these measures, has displayed a great deal of political sensitivity. One thing that distinguishes the Cuban leadership is its political sensitivity regarding what the population thinks and feels. It’s hard to believe, though there are those who do believe it, that the top Cuban leadership is not aware of what the person in the street thinks and feels. At a time like the present, when Cubans are expressing themselves in different spaces, putting forward their ideas, interests and opinions which are obviously not homogeneous – we’re talking about debate, and whenever we talk about a space for expressing interests and ideas we’re talking about differences, disagreements, but listening to them and reflecting on them and taking on board, in a responsible way, these interests and desires of the population – I think this is at the heart of the current Cuban government’s concerns. 

What will be implemented, including the Guidelines adopted by the Congress, is not a magic wand, it’s not going to be a straight-jacket, a plan that’s going to be carried out as it it were a little book, a Bible. It's a working tool that’s going to be modified to the degree to which it is implemented in the months ahead, without haste, without rashness, but without pause.


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