Saturday, January 22, 2011

Translation: Continuity and political change (2)

Here is the second instalment of my translation of "Cuba fifty years on: Continuity and political change" by Havana University's Carlos Alzugaray Treto. The first instalment is here. The Spanish footnotes follow the translation. Norman Girvan has compiled a nice PDF version of the complete translation here, with permission from the author and Temas. 

Cuba fifty years on: Continuity and political change (Part 2)

By Carlos Alzugaray Treto, Havana University
Temas, October-December, 2009
Translation: Marce Cameron

Need for political and economic change

In the absence of Fidel Castro's capacity to bring people together and forge consensus, there will be a greater need for a mentality of respect for dialogue, debate and deliberation, which implies the forging of a real, effective and deliberative participation. It is beyond the scope of this essay to debate the question of alternative democratic models. To the traditional notion of "representative democracy" typical of capitalism and its political institutions, closely associated with the idea of "procedural democracy", the majority of the left has countered with the concept or notion of "participatory democracy". To this is added the idea that deliberation serves to clarify, still more, the norm that the citizens should not only participate in the taking or execution of political decisions, but also contribute to their elaboration through a rational and informed discussion of the possible options.

This concept of deliberative democracy has been proposed by contemporary political science as a way of resolving the existing [democratic] deficit in developed capitalist societies. The promoters of this idea have emphasised that it means, in essence:

"[T]he need to justify the decisions made by the citizens and their representatives. Both would be expected to justify the laws that would be imposed. In a democracy the leaders would therefore explain the reasons for their decisions, and respond to the arguments put forward by the citizens in reply. But not all questions require deliberation all of the time. Deliberative democracy opens up spaces for other forms of decision-making (including negotiations and agreements between groups, and behind-the-scenes decisions taken by executives), provided that these forms themselves are justified at some point by a deliberative process. Its primary and most important characteristic, therefore, is the requirement that reasons are given [for a proposal or decision]."[13]

Regarding the other institutional pillar of the system, the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) together with its important sister organisation, the Ministry of the Interior — tracing its origins to the Rebel Amy, the antecedent of the FAR — constitute the most effective and prestigious of the institutions created by the historical leadership of the [Revolution]. Their popular origin, their constant link with the problems of the populace, their historic contribution to the defence of the country and the liberation of other peoples, and their economic pragmatism — demonstrated by the introduction of the "Enterprise Improvement" program in their industries — mean that they enjoy significant confidence in broad sectors of society. The high-ranking officers of the armed services carry on a tradition of heroism, pragmatism, trustworthiness and professionalism that is unusual in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in the world.

The cohesion of these two institutions (the PCC and the armed forces), which is necessary to continually nurture, will be mediated by the prevailing tendencies in other significant leaderships in Cuban society. On the one hand, there is the notorious [socialist state] enterprise sector, part of which is run by high officials of the FAR, but also by a new generation of economists and administrators. Presumably there is a willingness to maintain consensus, but among this new generation is observed a desire for a more flexible approach to economic policy, also present among the leadership of the armed forces but for different reasons. Among them, the problem of administrative efficiency; also, the need to maintain social stability. It is not a question of establishing a market economy, but of adopting measures that would give more autonomy to the administrations [of state enterprises], as is established in the Enterprise Improvement program initiated in the military industries sector, whose final aim is to stimulate production and the development of the productive forces. It is also about further opening up the spaces for individual initiative created by the Special Period economic reforms in the mid-1990s. These demands have been expressed in various recent analyses by Cuban economists.[14] 

Traditionally, the youth, above all the students, have had a protagonist role in Cuban politics. Almost all of the country's top leaders have passed through the ranks of the University Student Federation (FEU), which was their first school of public participation.[15] This organisation and the Union of Young Communists (UJC) have constituted, in recent years, two of the pillars of the key social programs promoted by Fidel Castro. Despite the growing demands for their protagonist role to be enhanced, their role in the period of ongoing transformations will have to take into account the politics articulated by other leadership elements. The difficulties of this process are not ignored by the various social sectors, as Carlos Large Codorniu, ex-president of the FEU, pointed out in a symposium published by the magazine Temas: "It's not a question of a failure to communicate, but there are still many new ideas that need to be expressed".[16]

The organisations based in the working class and the peasantry will tend to seek new positions in the [political] structure. It seems likely that they will be given a more protagonist role under Raul Castro, precisely because of the need to articulate a new national consensus. Such is the case with the process launched recently of granting idle state-owned farmland in usufruct with a view to increasing agricultural production, in which the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) has played an important role. On the other hand, an indication of the growing presence of the Cuban Trade Union Confederation (CTC) was the national consultation on the new Social Security Law that took place throughout 2008, before being approved by the National Assembly.[17] While there is no doubt that this process gave the opportunity for a broad debate, the unanimous manner in which the Assembly adopted this law was not a real reflection of the different opinions that exist.    

Finally, the Cuban intelligentsia, recently stirred into action by the memory of the "grey five year period", in the first half of the 1970s — an epoch in which the cultural policy of the USSR was copied — will strive for greater autonomy and freedom, while defending its commitment to the central objectives of Cuban society. This was demonstrated in the most recent congress of the Union of Artists and Writers (UNEAC), which was a significant process of deliberative democracy and of an opening of spaces for public dialogue and debate.

The economic challenges

The most important internal challenge confronting the leadership headed by Raul Castro will be that of resolving the growing demand that the wages and legal incomes of all Cubans have the value needed to cover their daily necessities — a demand that is often expressed through criticism of the system of monetary duality. Since 1989, two significant equilibria promoted by the government have been broken. One, between the [legal] incomes of the population and the prices of goods of primary necessity, some of them rationed via the ration book system and others subsidies by the state budget. The other equilibrium ruptured during the [post-Soviet] Special Period was [the relative social equality] between different sectors of the population. While Cuba abandoned its egalitarian policies at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, a healthy tendency to not allow excessive inequalities persisted. Given the [economic] reforms introduced from 1993-4, inequalities arose that have been more irritating given the schism between wages and purchasing power, and the negative phenomenon that many of these inequalities are the result of illegal and corrupt practices.

Most Cubans aspire to maintaining the current levels of social security, but would like to see Marx's formula [for distribution in the socialist-oriented society] applied: "From each according to their abilities, to each according to their work". This precept does not apply today. Although it is very difficult to diagnose exactly what the national consensus is regarding this theme, it could be affirmed that maintaining an essentially socialist economy, the inhabitants of the island want to see greater possibilities for prosperity, including handing over more [economic] sectors to individual initiative and broadening those that exist. This, certainly, is nothing new. Back in 1973, in his speech marking the 20th anniversary of [the] July 26 [assault on the Moncada military garrison that launched the revolutionary struggle], Fidel Castro, after pointing out the need to "courageously rectify" the "errors of idealism that we have committed in economic management", stressed that communism "can only be the fruit of the communist education of the new generations and the development of the productive forces", and pointedly insisted:

"We are in the socialist stage of the Revolution in which, given the imperative of material realities and the level of culture and consciousness of a society recently emerged from capitalist society, the form of distribution that corresponds to this stage is that proposed by Marx in the Critique of the Gotha Program: 'From each according to their ability, to each according to their work'!''[18]

In his speech of July 26, 2008, President Raul Castro described this quotation of Marx from Fidel's 1973 speech as "fundamental", and affirmed: "This speech, as well as a solid analysis of the past and the present at that time, is an accurate and precise evaluation of the harsh realities that the future would hold, and the ways to confront them."[19]       

The situation has compelled many Cubans to supplement their [legal] incomes in the so-called "informal sector", with activities of varying degrees of illegality, often necessitated, it should be said, by irrational prohibitions and bureaucratic decisions. The Cuban leadership has understood, correctly, that this phenomenon is the most harmful for the sustainability of the socialist project, as recognised by Fidel Castro himself in his speech at Havana University, quoted previously. However, despite some salary increases and other measures, there is the perception that the government's responses are insufficient.    

This weakness is made more acute by various recent factors. Between 2006 and 2008 GDP growth rates were announced that surpassed 10%, which created higher expectations, still not satisfied, for the personal prosperity of every citizen.[20] The principal strategic allies of Cuba in this epoch — China, Venezuela and Vietnam — continue, in different ways and conditions, to pursue economic policies that allow more space for individual initiative to achieve personal wellbeing. Natural disasters [i.e. the ferocious 2008 hurricanes that caused US$10 billion in economic losses, equivalent to about a fifth of GDP] and the global economic crisis at the end of 2008 have aggravated the general dissatisfaction.

In summary, to understand the necessity to successfully confront corruption and illegalities, and in general to preserve the Revolution, it would be apt to recall one of the prescient phrases of Jose Marti: "To be good is the only way to be happy. To be cultured is the only way to be free. But, given human nature, one needs to be prosperous to be good."[21]

[Translation to be continued]

13. Amy Gutmann y Dennis Thompson, Why Deliberative Democracy?,
Princeton University Press, Princeton y Oxford, 2004, p. 3.

14. Pedro Monreal, «El problema económico de Cuba», Espacio
Laical, n. 28, La Habana, abril de 2008; Jorge Mario Sánchez
Egozcue y Juan Triana Cordoví, «Un panorama actual de la economía
cubana, las transformaciones en curso y sus retos perspectivos»,
Documento de trabajo n. 31, 26 de junio de 2008, Real Instituto
Elcano de Estudios Estratégicos e Internacionales, Madrid, 2008;
y Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva, «La economía en Cuba: un
balance necesario y algunas propuestas de cambio», Nueva Sociedad,
n. 216, Caracas, julio-agosto de 2008.

15. Lamentablemente, en muchos casos se han producido
promociones aceleradas desde la alta dirección de la FEU a las
principales instancias partidistas y gubernamentales del país, en lo
que el propio Raúl Castro ha llamado la creación de «dirigentes de

16. Rafael Hernández y Daybel Pañellas, «Sobre la transición
socialista en Cuba: un simposio», Temas, n. 50-51, La Habana,
abril-septiembre de 2007, p. 160.

17. Salvador Valdés Mesa, «Las asambleas mostraron, una vez más,
el apoyo de la clase obrera a la Revolución y a su dirección»,

18. Fidel Castro Ruz, «Discurso en el acto central por el XX
aniversario del asalto al cuartel Moncada», Santiago de Cuba, 26 de
julio de 1973, disponible en

19. Raúl Castro Ruz, «Nuestra batalla de hoy es la misma iniciada el
26 de julio de 1953», Discurso en el acto central por el LV aniversario
del asalto al cuartel Moncada, Santiago de Cuba, 26 de julio de
2008, disponible en

20. A la altura de 2009, la economía cubana ha sido sacudida por
huracanes, aumentos de precios de los alimentos, baja en los de los
rubros de exportación y crisis económica global, entre otros factores.
La situación se hace sumamente difícil, como han explicado, desde
distintos ángulos, dos trabajos recientes: Pavel Vidal Alejandro, «El
PIB cubano en 2009 y la crisis global», IPS-Economics Press Service,
n. 9, La Habana, 15 de mayo de 2009; y Carmelo Mesa-Lago, «La
paradoja económica cubana», El País Digital, Madrid, 12 de julio de

21. José Martí, «Maestros ambulantes» (La América, Nueva York,
mayo de 1884), Obras Completas, v. 8, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales,
La Habana, 1991, p. 289. (El énfasis es mío. C.A.)

1 comment:

  1. Jose Marti really a prophet but I'm also betting on the prosperity of Cuba in the course of time.


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