Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Translation: The urgent and the necessary

On December 1, Granma published the official call to debate the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, beginning with the Communist Party base committees and extending to open debates in workplaces and neighbourhoods throughout the island. In the call, the party leadership expressed its desire "that everyone express their opinion, without hindrance, disagreeing if they wish.

"Nobody must keep an opinion to themselves, much less be prevented from expressing it. The Party demands the maximum transparency in all its organisations, the greatest clarity in analysis, the clarification of all the doubts and concerns we may have within the bosom of the Revolution. To participate in shaping the destiny of the country is the right of every Cuban and is, what's more, the most transparent exercise of socialist democracy and the clearest expression of the clarity of the Revolution and of its unity with the people."

The debates are taking place over a three month period concluding at the end of February, when a summary of opinions, suggestions and proposals for additions or amendments will be compiled and analysed by the commission responsible for drafting the Guidelines. A final draft will then be presented to the delegates to the 6th Communist Party Congress in April. Coinciding with the call to debate, Granma published this commentary by Felix Lopez on how to approach the debate.

The urgent and the necessary

By Felix Lopez

Granma, December 1, 2010

These days many Cubans are debating among family or friends prices, salaries, food, housing ... and it would seem that these themes are considered more important than those that decide the economy of the nation: the efficiency of production and investments, the reorganisation of the productive forces and reducing unnecessary spending, among others.

It's logical that the people measure the country's economic progress based on their household economy: "If I'm doing well, so is the country." But we insist that nobody does well unless we all do well. As compaƱero Raul has said, the fundamental battle is the economy. Because of this, the debates taking place from November 9 with the publication of the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines will be more useful if we distinguish between the urgent and the necessary.

And the urgent (everything that we urge), in general, will not be resolved unless we resolve the necessary (that which is important and cannot be deferred). Let's look at an example from daily life: you are scandalised by the prices in the agricultural market in your barrio and you consider it urgent that the state regulate these prices. Surely you would not imagine how much the prices of these foods have risen on the international market. Neither would you say much about the fact that in the last 10 years, food imports have represented 17% of the country's total imports, and that between 2009 and 2010 the purchase of this food in foreign markets has cost the national economy billions of dollars.

Here a question arises: How many of these foods could be produced on our farmland, much of which is uncultivated? Cuban agriculture, which accounts for 18% of the workforce, represents only 5% of GDP. So then, where to begin? With the urgency of lowering prices, or the necessity to produce in Cuba the food that we now buy on the international market at almost unaffordable prices?

To respond to these questions implies recognising something that applies to all of us: when we speak of the urgent, we almost always delegate the state to resolve the problem for us; and when the moment arrives to reflect on what is necessary, all too rarely do we take the responsibility to express an opinion, participate, perfect and put into practice the urgent solutions needed by the Cuban economy. So we insist that the debates be passionate, as we ourselves are, but in these debates we must carefully distinguish between the urgent and the necessary.
Let's look at another example: more than 50% of the 291 paragraphs of the Draft Guidelines take up the corrections needed for the economy to take the path of control, discipline and institutionalisation. Certainly, for many it is urgent that their enterprise increase their wages. And it's just that if you work, and work well, you desire this. But this urgency passes through the necessity to back up wage increases with productivity gains. In this year that draws to a close, 59 enterprises are going to register losses. Would it be rational if in one of these enterprises there were to be wage rises in January 2011 for some of its workers? 

Another example: the theme of the construction of new housing and repairs of those in poor condition is urgent. This is a very serious problem. Its solution passes through the necessity of producing construction materials efficiently, and facilitating the 266 product lines needed to construct a house. Now, what is urgent: that the state builds and repairs housing, or that it facilitates all the conditions so that the majority of those who need housing can do it with their own means and efforts? Perhaps it was not necessary that the state took decisions regarding 112 state structures (cloned across the length and breadth of the country) that used houses as offices? How many real urgencies will be able to be resolved through this necessary rationalisation? And how many such solutions remain to be explored?

With few exceptions, none of the projections in the Guidelines are alien to us. We must not arrive at the conclusion that what does not affect my household, or can't be seen in my wallet, does not concern me. The Cuban economy, like that of the rest of the world, is full of urgencies right now. But none of these will be resolved by magic if we don't do what's necessary. And what is necessary? This is the subject of the debate. 

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