Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Translation: Report on Guidelines implementation

On a personal note, readers may be interested to know that I'm beginning a Master of Arts (Research) in Political Economy, under Dr. Tim Anderson, at Sydney University. It's a one-year research thesis on Cuba. Specifically, where is Cuba headed? Perhaps when it's finished I can post a link to this blog.

Here is my translation of a summary of an important address by Marino Murillo, head of the Cuban government's permanent commission overseeing the implementation of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, to Cuba's National Assembly in late July. I was able to watch a telecast of his address on Cuban TV. It was a very thorough report that took up about two hours, accompanied by a Power Point presentation. 

Murillo used his report to announce two major new initiatives in the implementation process: an experimental phase in the projected overhaul of central planning and state enterprises, and the establishment of 222 experimental non-agricultural cooperatives that will manage small and medium-sizes state-owned entities. Note that state-owned entities will not be privatised but handed over, under various leasing arrangements, to work collectives to manage on a cooperative basis.

It's also worth drawing attention to what this progress report indicates about the status of the Guidelines. Raul Castro has repeatedly stressed that they cannot be allowed to be shelved and forgotten, as as often happened in the past. In his closing speech to the same National Assembly session, Raul explained that "the updating of the economic model has entered a qualitatively new phase with the drafting and approval of the 2012-2015 Strategic Plan for implementation of the Guidelines, with a corresponding timetable for comprehensive, step-by-step measures." He added:

"You have no doubt noticed that in the various reports presented to the Assembly, and in my own address, repeated mention is made of specific guidelines when matters relating to them are being discussed. I must say that this is not by chance, it is intended to firmly establish in our minds a determination to fulfill these Guidelines and to not to allow decisions of the utmost importance for the future of our nation to, once again, become a dead letter."

The country will continue advancing in an organised way in the implementation of the Guidelines 

By various authors 

Juventud Rebelde, July 24, 2012 

Translation: Marce Cameron 

The country will continue advancing in an organised way in the implementation of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines approved by the 6th Communist Party Congress, based on the principle of acting without haste but without pause, as Raul [Castro] has called for.

This was affirmed on Monday by Marino Murillo, vicepresident of the State Council and head of the Commission for the Implementation of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines for the Party and the Revolution, who gave deputies a broad and detailed report on the measures, actions and results of the implementation process from December to the present, in line with a decision of the previous ordinary session of our National Assembly.

He said that for the implementation of the decisions of the 6th Party Congress in this period, a total of 55 objectives belonging to five groups were defined whenever the Guidelines are of a strategic nature and it is virtually impossible to view them in isolation, since they are interrelated.

The first of these groups, he explained, focuses on the most complex task — that of the conceptualisation of the socio-economic model, based on the Guidelines — that would allow us to strive for maximum efficiency within the framework of the socialist system and favour the development of the country’s productive forces.

Elsewhere in his report on progress in the transformation and updating of the economic model, Murillo stressed that the most important sector of our economy will always be the socialist state enterprise. We are now beginning to do certain things in the state enterprises in the search for a new approach to central planning. The idea is to launch it on January 1, 2013 and to train those involved between now and December.

The first thing to be established is a new system of relations between the enterprises, the superior bodies and the Central State Administration agencies. He explained that governing bodies will be set up to watch over their functioning.

It is a new category of enterprise planning, he said, and these leadership bodies will only have to monitor the functioning of the entity, focusing on the measurement of basic indicators. The enterprise will have the authority to do its job.

Murillo added that the enterprises to take part in the trial are being selected now. They will operate solely in regular [rather than convertible] Cuban pesos, and will be allowed to make their social objectives more flexible and to set prices according to production costs, taking into account international parameters.

He considered this an important step in the transformation of the socialist state enterprise, as the basic unit of our economy, in the search for maximum efficiency.

Expansion of cooperative sector

Another important step, he said, is the experimental creation of non-agricultural cooperatives. This should be considered the preferred option among the non-state forms of employment because it is more social and more in harmony with the conceptualisation of the new economic model.

Certain state entities will pass over to this new form of cooperative, comprised of persons who do not own [productive] property but contribute only their labour.

The assets will be handed over in the form of a lease, in usufruct[1], as a loan or otherwise for up to ten years, without ceasing to be state property. The premises will always continue to belong to the state via one of these arrangements, though certain equipment may be sold, such as the refrigeration equipment in the case of a cafeteria.

The enterprise will have a collective character that will be reflected in the distribution of the earnings, which will be according to the labour contribution [of each cooperative member]. However, if some of the participants contribute [financial and other] resources the cooperative will later reimburse them via its earnings, but always with the consent of the cooperative’s management committee. The legal framework is now being drafted and an initial step will involve the establishment of 222 cooperatives, in a gradual manner, in the final three months of this year.

This entails the need to draw up a General Cooperatives Law, because such cooperatives cannot be separated from those that have been established in agriculture.

New thinking in agriculture

With regard to the wholesale commercialisation of agricultural products, Murillo stressed it must be governed by the fulfilment of contracts.

Having fulfilled their commitments to the state, the producer may sell the surplus at an agreed price, he said. What cannot occur is that they don’t comply with their commitments and the produce is sold on by other means. This can’t be rectified after the fact, it has to be dealt with through the signing of appropriate contracts.

He also announced that next year, the list of products with prices fixed centrally will be reduced, and noted that this year 53% of agricultural produce had been contracted while 47% had been sold at prices agreed between the buyer and seller.

Regarding the sale of agricultural products in Havana, Murillo said that the city has 310 state markets, the majority of which are undersupplied, as well as 29 markets where prices are set by supply and demand, 400 produce stalls and more than 900 points of sale. We’ve filled the city with micro-outlets, we’re going to put them all together in the marketplaces and lease the market to a cooperative.

The majority of these micro-outlets say they’re cooperatives selling their produce, but this not true. If you want to sell then get a self-employment permit, as we’ve established.

Regarding self-employment, Murillo stressed that some regulations must continue to be made more flexible and we should cease doing things that embody certain contradictions.

He noted that the leasing of workspaces for personal and technical services had been generalised, and that in this [non-state] sector there are more than 62,000 workers hired by other self-employed workers[2], which has created jobs, the majority in food processing and sales.

In September 2010, there were 157,000 self-employed workers, while as of June of this year there were 390,000. There have been illegalities, he said, but self-employment is being adjusted with a view to flexibility and had become a source of employment.

Elsewhere in his report Murillo referred to the inevitable aging of the Cuban population, which has two basic causes: the low birth rate and increasing life expectancy.

This is now unavoidable, he said, it’s happening and it cannot be turned around in the short term. What we have to do is take measures to encourage births and also to care for the elderly, as well as adapting economic development.

The key difficulty is those entering and those retiring from the workforce. In 2021, more will leave the workforce than enter it. In 2026, for example, 120,000 will reach working age and 170,000 will reach retirement age, a difference of 50,000.

Given this, the productive processes must be improved in order to make them more efficient and require a smaller workforce.

The current Labour Code will also become obsolete and at the appropriate time a new one will have to be drafted and approved by this Assembly, he stressed.

Murillo also mentioned the national entities that are now being overhauled. Among them are the ministries of Information and Communications, Finances and Prices, and Work and Social Security; as well as the creation of two new ones: Energy and Mines, and Industries.

In addition, he said, they will have their own enterprise groups. These will be attended to by the ministries but not managed by them, since state and enterprise functions are being separated, he explained.

He announced that the overhaul of the ministries of Justice and Foreign Trade, the [urban land use] Planning Institute and the National Statistics Bureau has begun, and that the unification of the Civil Aviation Bureau and the Ministry of Transport is underway.

Murillo also noted the merging of the University of Computer Science, belonging to the Ministry of Information and Communications, with the Ministry of Higher Education, and the integration of the [West Havana] Scientific Complex with the Cuban Pharmaceutical Group, which will remain directly subordinated to the Council of Ministers, through which an important [state] enterprise group with great scientific capability will be created.

Regarding the Ministry of Agriculture, he explained that the second phase of its overhaul is underway while its productive base has been transformed.

With respect to the means by which Cuban households cook food, he said that the repair or replacement of such devices will be guaranteed.

Consideration will also need to be given to a system of credits for those who need to purchase cooking equipment, he said, although it’s complicated because some still have debts previously incurred.[3]

In this connection he emphasised that 69% of Cuban households cook with electricity, and that it’s necessary to maintain this proportion because it’s the most rational for the country.

He also announced the setting up of the Technical Advisory Council, which will undertake to organise all of the scientific work being carried out in the universities and scientific research centres that can be drawn on in the implementation of the Guidelines.

The idea is to involve institutions, rather than individuals, and to give them specific tasks, so that all of this accumulated scientific knowledge can be harnessed in the search for practical solutions to problems.

Translator's footnotes:

[1] Usage rights to state-owned productive property rent-free on a medium or long-term basis and under certain conditions.

[2] An obvious contradiction: if one “self-employed” person hires another, then one becomes a boss (a petit-bourgeois in Marxist terminology) and the other is no longer self-employed, but an employee. Official Cuban discourse glosses over this fact by labelling it all “self-employment”.

[3] To state entities for the mass distribution of stovetops and other kitchen devices, on credit, to Cuban households as part of the comprehensive “Energy Revolution” launched in 2005.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fidel: Time to reflect on his legacy

This was written for Australia's Green Left Weekly to promote the conference "Fidel in the 21st Century: His Contribution and Ideas for a Better World", to be held over August 18-19 weekend at the New South Wales Teachers Federation building, 23-33 Mary St, Surry Hills, Sydney. Further details are here. An edited version is published in the current issue.

I'll be speaking alongside the Cuban Ambassador to Australia, Mr. Pedro Monzon, in a session titled "Fidel and the renewal of Cuban socialism", on Sunday at 2.30pm.

Fidel: Time to reflect on his legacy

By Marce Cameron

This isn’t an obituary. If Fidel Castro had died I’m sure you would have heard about it. 

Every now and again those who hope and pray for his death spread yet another rumour, only to be disappointed by a photo, a newsclip or a commentary in that unmistakable style, confirming that Fidel is very much alive and making the most of his twilight years.

When the inevitable does happen, the world, admirers and detractors alike, will pause for reflection. The corporate media will saturate our inner recesses with words and images that convey, for the most part, how the 1% appraise his life and legacy. Just imagine the gloating on Fox News.

I suspect it will be harder, and take longer, for those who admire Fidel and feel a sense of loss at his passing to be heard amid this din.

The hundreds of millions of the 99% for whom Fidel has been something of a political compass, and a spiritual compass in the secular sense, will want to reflect and recommit to our shared visions of a better world — a world without Fidel, but nourished by his presence in our struggles.

Thus will begin a new battle of ideas, a concept promoted by Fidel. Between the extremes of hatred for the man and sycophantic adulation lies a broad field for critical, nuanced reflection from Fidel’s side of the struggle for socialism.

But why wait for the inevitable before undertaking this task? Better to begin it now, while Fidel is still among us and before the corporate vultures descend on his tomb.

In this necessary, timely endeavour we are joined, first and foremost, by millions of Cubans committed to the continuity of Cuba’s socialist project, the stage from which Fidel has set out to change the world and, to a degree, succeeded.

Would a pregnant woman in a remote East Timorese village be seen by a doctor today if it were not for Cuban medical personnel and medical training?

How much longer might apartheid have dragged on in South Africa if Cuban blood had not been shed in the sands and jungles of Angola and Namibia? Would Venezuelan’s Bolivarian socialist revolution even exist? According to Hugo Chavez, probably not.

In this sense, “Fidel” is something more than an individual. Fidel is certain ethical values, ideas and ideals; a cause and a devotion to that cause. It is adherence to principles but rejection of sectarianism and dogmatism in the struggle for a better, socialist world.

Fidel's essential message is one of hope, that we can reverse the gradual descent of global capitalism into a 21st-century barbarism, besieged by ecological collapse, if we can only unleash the power of masses of ordinary people acting together with a shared vision and strategic compass.

Fidel is, above all, solidarity in a selfish world.

It is asking what we can contribute and share rather than what we can plunder and hoard. It is worrying about the infant mortality rate in Western Sahara and the waves lapping at the doorsteps of Pacific islanders, and doing something about it.

It is internationalism: the rejection of subservient seclusion behind our white-picket fences and national borders decked out in razor wire.

Australia doesn’t have a revolutionary tradition like that of Cuba. After the European invasion and dispossession of its Indigenous peoples the continent developed as an outgrowth of British imperialism.

Relative prosperity for most, thanks to a combination of circumstance and struggle, has blunted radical urges and channelled them into the English gentleman’s game known as parliamentary reformism.

Waves of progressive radicalisation have ebbed and flowed, but none has yet succeeded in placing the country under new management, as did the Cuban Revolution under Fidel’s leadership.

The next one may just do that, opening the way to a very different kind of Australia. Call it socialism or call it whatever, it will have to bury capitalism.

Fidel is daring to dream of such a revolutionary transformation of our own society. And working patiently towards it in ways that are meaningful to each of us, respecting each other’s contributions and seeking the path of principled unity.

Fidel is contributing our little grain of sand to the revolutionary hourglass, recalling that he began his struggle with a handful of idealistic youth with hardly a cent among them.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Economist: wishful thinking on "transition"

This was written for Australia's Green Left Weekly

Cuba: Corporate press wishful thinking on 'transition'

Green Left Weekly, Sunday, July 1, 2012

By Marce Cameron

“Under Raul Castro, Cuba has begun the journey towards capitalism. But it will take a decade and a big political battle to complete, writes Michael Reid”. So began the lead article of the London Economist magazine’s March 24 special issue on Cuba, under the heading “Revolution in retreat”.

It's a familiar refrain, but how much truth is there to it? Unfortunately for the credibility of The Economist, authoritative mouthpiece of the Anglo-imperialist ruling class, it’s a dog’s breakfast of factual errors, illogical arguments and wishful thinking.

“When on July 31st 2006 Cuban state television broadcast a terse statement from Fidel Castro to say that he had to undergo emergency surgery and was temporarily handing over to his brother, Raul, it felt like the end of an era,” Reid observed.

“In the event Fidel survived, and nothing appeared to change. Even so, that July evening marked the start of a slow but irreversible dismantling of communism (officially, ‘socialism’) in one of the tiny handful of countries in which it survived into the 21st century.”

Had Reid read Marx, he would understand that communism has never existed, let alone in a small number of countries. According to Marx, it could only be achieved on a world scale on the basis of socialist revolutions in the most developed capitalist societies.

So whatever is being dismantled in Cuba, it isn’t communism. Or even socialism, if this is understood to mean the consolidation of a first stage in the transition to a classless society. Even this would require socialist revolutions to take hold in developed capitalist countries.

For Reid’s argument to hold water he would have to demonstrate that Cuba is abandoning its socialist orientation and gradually restoring capitalism, or that the economic reforms that have been implemented and decided on will inevitably lead to capitalist restoration.


Since Cuba’s socialist state is the owner and manager of the bulk of the Caribbean island nation’s economic resources, the restoration of capitalism, however gradual, would require the transfer of ownership to individuals of large swathes of productive property that belong to Cuba’s working people. In a word, privatisation.

Reid seemed to imply that this is what’s happening in Cuba today: “Raul Castro, who formally took over as Cuba’s president in February 2008 and as first secretary of the Communist Party [PCC] in April 2011, is trying to revive the island’s moribund economy by transferring a substantial chunk of it from state to private hands, with profound social and political implications.”

Here, Reid should have clarified that what is being transferred to “private hands” ― that is, to the self-employed, small private businesses and cooperatives ― is not ownership, but the management of socially owned productive property.

The distinction is crucial, yet Reid glossed over it.

“The leadership shuns the word ‘reform’, let alone ‘transition’,” Reid said. “Those terms are contaminated by the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event that still traumatises Cuba’s leaders.

“Officially, the changes are described as an ‘updating’, in which ‘non-state actors’ and ‘cooperatives’ will be promoted. But whatever the language, this means an emerging private sector.”

Perhaps, but this is not the kind of Cuban “private sector” that those who dream of capitalist restoration would like to see. Take, for example, barber shops and beautician’s salons with one to three chairs.

Until recently, these were centrally managed by Cuba’s 169 Peoples Power municipal governments following the nationalisation of retail trade and services in 1968.

Today, they are being leased to their workers, who purchase their own supplies, set their own prices, maintain the premises and pay income taxes and retirement contributions to the socialist state. Public ownership of the premises is retained and leases specify how they are to be used in the public interest: a barber shop is for hair cuts, not handicrafts.

The Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, adopted by the Sixth PCC Congress in April last year after an extensive public debate, made it clear the privatisation of social property and the emergence of a new Cuban capitalist class is not on the agenda.

Guideline No. 3 is explicit: “In the non-state forms of management [of socially-owned productive property] the concentration of property [ownership] by juridical and natural persons [that is, by enterprises and individuals] shall not be permitted”.

Other than joint ventures between the socialist state and foreign investors, the scope for private capital accumulation in Cuba will be limited to what can be achieved on the basis of the management under lease ― rather than ownership ― of small and medium-sized economic entities by individuals, small businesses and cooperatives.

And such arrangements will occur where they are considered economically viable and socially desirable.

In the main report to the PCC Congress, Raul Castro said: “Some opinions were not included [in the final version of the Guidelines] … because they openly contradicted the essence of socialism, as for example 45 proposals advocating the concentration of [private] property [ownership].

In the same speech, Castro said: “The growth of the non-public sector of the economy, far from an alleged privatisation of social property as some theoreticians would have us believe, is to become an active element facilitating the construction of socialism in Cuba.

“It will allow the state to focus on raising the efficiency of the basic means of production, which are the property of the entire people, while relieving itself of those managerial activities that are not strategic for the country.”

Reid acknowledged: “The new president often says his aim is to ‘make socialism sustainable and irreversible’. The economy will continue to be based on planning, not the market, and ‘the concentration of property’ will be prohibited, Raul Castro insisted in a speech to the National Assembly in December 2010.”

Yet Reid doesn’t acknowledge that what has been implemented to date, and what has been projected in the guidelines, is consistent with what Raul Castro said then ― and that the PCC leadership’s words and deeds refute his own baseless assertion that Cuba “has begun the journey towards capitalism.”

Clutching at straws

Instead, Reid insinuated that Raul Castro’s speeches were aimed not at the Cuban people but at placating Fidel: “He is careful not to contradict his elder brother openly: his every speech contains several reverential quotes from Fidel, who despite his semi-retirement is consulted about big decisions …

“Fidel’s frail and ghostly presence … doubtless checks the speed of reform.”

Doubtless. And if Fidel Castro is consulted on strategic decisions, doesn’t this suggest that he endorses the PCC’s reform agenda, a course that Reid describes as the “irreversible dismantling of communism”? In this surreal light, Fidel appears as Cuba’s reclusive Deng Xiaoping, a reluctant convert to Deng’s best-known contribution to “communist” ideology: “To get rich is glorious”.

Just in case readers were not persuaded that the PCC leadership under Raul Castro (with or without Fidel’s approval) is intentionally setting in motion a process of capitalist restoration, while feigning socialist continuity, The Economist fell back on the hope that capitalism will inevitably return to Cuba no matter what anyone does.

Capitalism, you see, is the natural order of things, and the odds are stacked against Cuba’s socialist project. “Whatever the intentions of Cuba’s Communist leaders, they will find it impossible to prevent their island from moving to some form of capitalism”, said Reid.

“What is harder to predict is whether they will remain in control of the process of change, or whether it will lead to democracy.” In other words, the only question for The Economist is whether Cuba will adopt Chinese-style “market socialism” or evolve into a typical Third World capitalist “democracy”.

Reid notes that capitalist ideologues such as himself have predicted the end of the Cuban Revolution before, and got it wrong. “When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991,” Reid pointed out, “many outsiders believed that communism in Cuba was doomed”.

Today, however, there can be no doubt: “This time, Raul has insisted, there will be no turning back: the reforms will happen sin prisa, pero sin pausa (slowly but steadily)”.

So, when Raul Castro insists the economic reform agenda adopted by the PCC’s sixth Congress will be implemented, The Economist takes his word for it. But when he says that the reforms will strengthen Cuba’s socialist project, rather than lead to capitalist restoration, it dismisses this without offering either facts or arguments to refute it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Translation: A magnifying glass on the 'updating'

Note the emphasis in this brief report on the internal, rather than external, challenges and the emphasis on "bureaucratic, centralising and administrative obstacles" to the implementation of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines for the Party and the Revolution.        

Below the online version of this article on the Juventud Rebelde website are 16 comments submitted by readers. One of them, "Rogelio", wrote:

I'm worried about this attention given to the economic transformations in Poland, one of the countries where the ruling class sold the country to the capitalist class and this same class restored capitalism. I think the trajectory should be towards the working class.   
The author replied as follows:

Rogelio: I'll explain because I was there, reporting on the seminar. The fact that Señor Polaco had given a lecture there, and the same goes for the Vietnamese specialist, doesn't mean that they're handing out recipes to the Cuban scholars. If you read the brief report I published, it is noted that the approaches of the Cubans are aimed at improving and advancing our socialist economy, which it sorely needs. Kind regards.        

A magnifying glass on the economic updating 

By José Alejandro Rodríguez

Juventud Rebelde, June 23, 2012

Translation: Marce Cameron

The Annual Seminar on Cuban Economy and Management 2012, held over three days in Havana, was a bold academic introspection on the challenges that confront the current process of updating the Cuban economic model, to consolidate it firmly in the face of much external and domestic resistance so as to secure the wellbeing of the nation and the future of socialism.

In the gathering, organised by the Centre for Studies on the Cuban Economy (CEEC) at Havana University, the pressing problems that limit the country's economic growth, and the urgency of radical structural changes that would overcome bureaucratic and top-down obstructions and favour the socialist state enterprise — in harmony with the cooperative and non-state[1] sector — were debated, with a view to freeing up the economy from restrictions and the lack of incentives and initiative that entrench low levels of productivity.

The academics took stock of the transformations that are brewing following the adoption of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines for the Party and the Revolution, and weighed up the decisive factors and the external uncertainties of the Cuban economy, in particular the prolonged US economic blockade. But even more so, they pointed to the internal obstacles that still limit the efficacy and efficiency of our economic management, and that make us more vulnerable to so many pitfalls.

The bureaucratic, centralising and administrative obstacles were also emphasised, as well as the lack of systematic approaches, that still limit and slow down the growth of the productive forces in Cuban agriculture, make it more difficult for the workers to feel a sense of ownership, and don't recognise in reality the role of the market together with planning.

Two keynote lectures, with very different approaches, were presented in the seminar: the Vietnamese experience of foreign direct investment and international trade by Mai Thi Thu, Director General of Vietnam's National Centre for Information and Socioeconomic Forecasting; and the economic reforms in Poland by Grzegorz Kolodko of the Research Institute on Transformation, Integration and Economic Globalisation at Poland's Kozminski University.

The seminar also launched the multi-volume publication Perspectives on the Cuban Economy; The Updating Process — Cuba; Towards a Development Strategy for the Beginnings of the 21st Century; and Elements of Econometrics — Applications for Cuba, by CEEC researchers and other study centres.
Translator's footnote

[1] A reference to self-employment and small private businesses

Translation: With neither subsidy nor explanations

My last post referred to the new housing subsidies Cuba, whereby low-income individuals and households can apply for grants to repair or extend their homes. Priority is given to those whose homes have been damaged by hurricanes and flooding. The scheme is funded by the sale of construction materials by state entities at retail prices. A percentage of the proceeds are allocated to subsidies at the municipal level.

As always, enlightened policies might look nice on paper but their effectiveness depends on implementation. Here, the enemy is what Cubans call "the bureaucracy" — corrupt, incompetent or simply uncaring administrators and, sometimes, entire institutions. 

The problem is not simply petty-mindedness on the part of individuals and an administrative culture that fosters such a mentality. The root cause seems to be hyper-centralised decision-making, in both the political and economic spheres, and a lack of accountability of administrators and institutions to popular constituencies, i.e. "from below". The theme of decentralisation is taken up in another commentary I've translated by the author of the fragment below, Jose Alejandro Rodriguez.

Rodriguez has a regular column in Juventud Rebelde newspaper titled Acuse de Recibo (Acknowledgement of Receipt) in which he summarises and comments on selected letters sent in by readers, most of which deal with specific cases of administrative corruption, incompetence, arbitrariness or insensitivity. As well as exposing and publicly shaming those responsible for such injustices, Acuse de Recibo provides a sober counterpoint to the triumphal style of much Cuban journalism. It arms and emboldens those who struggle against administrative arbitrariness and injustice.

The online version of Juventud Rebelde allows readers to submit comments. These are moderated, of course, but highly critical opinions are often accepted, including from Cubans living abroad who don't support Cuba's socialist order. The regular feature that attracts by far the most commentaries is Rodriguez's column, which has evolved into a forum in which Cuban revolutionaries debate each other and, on occasion, the Revolution's hostile critics. The case below is one of two that appeared in Acuse de Recibo three days ago. It burns with indignation.   

Little wonder, then, that the online commentaries occasionally draw attention to instances in which Juventud Rebelde journalists, or those from other Cuban pro-Revolution publications, have been turned away by officials who probably have something to hide.   

With neither subsidy nor explanations

By José Alejandro Rodríguez

Juventud Rebelde, June 23, 2012

Translation: Marce Cameron

What's worst of all, in some of the tales related in this column, is not the lack of resources or unavoidable objective impediments. No, what's inexcusable is that authoritarian style, blind and deaf to human problems; drastic decisions being taken without even those affected being offered an explanation. A name is crossed out and that's that.

Félix Revilla Castillo of 12th Street, No. 97, between 7th and 14th Steets in the Mármol neighbourhood of Santiago de Cuba, was very upset when he wrote to me. He told me that the mother of his two children, Miosotis Hechavarría, lives with them together with her own mother, now elderly and infirm, in an old and very run-down house at No. 50 Brigadier Marrero, between Calvario and Maceo Streets, in that city.

Miosotis has found it necesary to leave her job, due to health problems, and is a social welfare recipient. Given her precarious economic circumstances, and faced with the urgent need to get to work on the house, she applied for a subsidy to repair it. This she was granted by the [local government] commission established for this purpose, after a monumental effort given that there was always something missing: either a signature or a statement from the People's Savings Bank (BPA) that lacked a name or this or that surname of one of the requisite officials...

Then, at the construction materials distribution centre, the first time they gave her 65 metres of reinforced steel rod, a sink, two towell racks, electrical cables, two soap dishes and the set of components for the toilet cistern.

That was all she got. There were no other kinds of materials assigned to those with subsidies, even though such items were being sold freely[1] to the population. Yet Miosotis has a subsidy precisely because she can't efford to pay for them...

The following week they went back to the distribution centre to ask for the windows, doors and interior lighting. To their astonishment, at the Bank[2] they were told that the subsidy had been suspended as instructed in a letter sent by the Municipal Administration Council, in which they didn't even explain why.

Félix asks: "Why was that subsidy cancelled or suspended? Can anybody, whatever their level of authority, stop a process that up to now has been going well, despite its ups and downs?"

The saddest thing of all is that no offical from the Peoples Power municipal government has written to this family to inform them that the subsidy in question was cancelled, and why. Are these the methods of our society?
Translator's footnotes

[1] At retail prices
, i.e. without subsidies, and in unrestricted quantities 

[2] Once granted, housing subsidies are deposited in a bank account. The bank is supposed to ensure that the funds are only used for their stated purpose, i.e. the purchase and transportation of building materials and the labour of registered small private businesses or self-employed workers (construction cooperatives have been foreshadowed).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Translation: How to view the glass?

Superstitious readers may have noted that my last post was dated Friday April 13. Let me reassure you that nothing bad happened to me on that day; it just so happens that since then I've had dedicate myself almost exclusively to completing my undergraduate degree. I'm now anxiously awaiting the results of exams and assignments.

In this incisive comm
entary Juventud Rebelde deputy editor Ricardo Ronquillo Bello refers to one of the first significant policy changes announced by Raul Castro when he became acting Cuban president: lifting the ban on citizens staying in Cuban tourist hotels. While most Cubans can't afford to stay in such hotels —  the aim is to maximise income for the socialist state from foreign tourism — lifting the ban was a popular measure and an act of great symbolic significance. Many Cubans had resented the fact that only foreigners were entitled to stay in Cuba's best hotels, regardless of affordability, and pointed out that such discrimination was proscribed by Cuba's socialist constitution. 

In the early 1990s, Cuba turned to foreign tourism as a means to keep its socialist-oriented economy afloat after the demise of the Soviet Union and the tightening of the US economic blockade. The ban on Cubans staying in tourist hotels was aimed at minimising the social and ideological fallout from the sudden and massive expansion of tourism in a relatively egalitarian society amid great hardships and shared sacrifices.

The ethical logic was simple: if the vast majority of Cubans can't afford to stay in such hotels then no Cuban should be allowed to. In the name of solidarity, the government pursued a policy of limiting the possibilities for conspicuous consumption by a minority in the midst of a national emergency. The ban was also aimed at curbing the resurgence of prostitution during the Special Period and the growth of black-market activities aimed at fleecing tourists of their hard currency, both of which contributed to the rise in social inequality that accompanied the economic crisis.

How to view the glass?

By Ricardo Ronquillo B

Juventud Rebelde, May 19, 2012

Translation: Marce Cameron

Some data published in this newspaper last week might pose a dilema for us in the style of Mastropiero. Let’s recall that the famous doctor, going by the name of Alexander Sebastian, is the originator of the well-known uncertainty principle.

That scholar carried out an experiment in which a group of people were placed in a situation in which the glass was either “half full” or “half empty”. It demonstrated that subjectivity is the element of thought that depends on the way of thinking or feeling of the person making the observation.

For Mastropiero, the throught process is linked to memory, recollections, experiences and the knowledge of the people involved, who, as individuals, usually have differing experiences.

The announcement by the Ministry of Tourism that domestic tourism has grown significantly since 2008, and that during the past year alone 580,000 Cuban citizens stayed in hotels, an increase of 32%, is one such figure that can be viewed from different perspectives.

The first, and who would deny it, is very pleasing. It’s gratifying that more of our fellow Cubans have the means to enjoy a little taste of tourism.

Fortunately, as might be expected, this growth affects all of us. As well as demonstrating the soundness and good sense of abandoning a policy that favoured foreign tourists, it dignifies Cubans and stimulates a sector that was always intended to function as an engine of the national economy; a sector that often had many of its rooms unoccupied, while numerous Cubans found themselves unable to satisfy their yearnings and spend their adequate incomes in a pleasant way.

But there’s a more defiant way of viewing the content of this “Mastropierian glass”. The good news also demonstrates that we have a country with a marked social stratification.

As this sector with money to spare grows, with the possibility of using its incomes for some deserved holidays, at the other extreme is another sector whose economic situation obliges it to turn to state subsidies just to be able to satisfy basic necessities.

Hence the need for us to bind to everyone's sensibility, with silken threads, the socialist principle that in Cuba nobody will be left helpless; that in this process of adjustment of the economy and society no person or family will be cast adrift, without lifelines to this magic rope of justice that united us after 1959.

To achieve this implies replacing the egalitarian policy, that subsidised products, with another that subsidises persons, without trauma; and consolidating a taxation strategy that would guarantee the funds for our state to support an appropriate conception of redistribution and welfare, as decided by the Sixth Communist Party Congress.

After the beginning of the updating [of Cuba's socialist economic model], the best sign in this regard was the government's decision to allocate part of the proceeds from the free[1] sale of construction materials to subsidising the construction of a basic housing unit [i.e. a room] for those individuals and families of greatest social vulnerability[2].

As important as the decision itself was the way in which it was announced by the members of Workig Group 6 of the Permanent Commission for the Implementation and Development of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines for the Party and the Revolution. They made it clear that this is neither an act of state charity nor a gift, but the fulfilment of a constitutional obligation.

They stated that the government's decision to grant subsidies to low-income individuals and families is a policy that promotes equality of opportunities in Cuba; that nobody will be left to fend for themselves, and that social solidarity will be put into effect, organised by the socialist state.

Neither can we ignore the fact that ours is a socialist state that must undertake the transformations in the midst of a serious distortion of the social pyramid[3], which means, moreover, that until it is corrected equal access won't always involve equality of opportunities. Thus it might be more complicated for us to place ourselves in front of Mastropiero's glass and answer his disturbing question: It's half full! It's half empty!
Translator's footnotes

[1] By state-owned retail stores without subsidies and in unrestricted quantities.

[2] 'Social vulnerability' is a Spanish term that is more encompassing than poverty. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean defines it as a multidimensional process that contributes to the risk that an individual, a household or a community may be disadvantaged by a situation or a change in circumstances.

[3] A reference to the fact that, for example, a self-employed worker or small business owner may earn more in one day than the monthly salary of a doctor, a teacher or an engineer — a legacy of Cuba's post-Soviet "Special Period".

Friday, April 13, 2012

Translation: Conference on self-employment

I noted in a previous post that official Cuban discourse doesn't distinguish between the self-employed, the owners and employees of small private businesses and members of cooperative societies: all are lumped together under the Spanish term trabajo por cuenta propia, or self-employment.

As far as I'm aware this fudging of the distinction between bosses and workers in small private enterprises has never been explained. It has the positive effect of undermining prejudice against allowing small private enterprises to flourish in Cuba's socialist-oriented economy — but at the cost of blunting social awareness of the unequal power relationships involved. 

Somebody who employs four other people to work in their restaurant may work alongside their employees, but they are not "self-employed". They are an employer, a boss. They belong to that class of people that Karl Marx labelled the petit-bourgeoisie, French for "small capitalist", a term that has the merit of scientific accuracy.

Conference on self-employment held

By Jose Alejandro Rodriguez, Juventud Rebelde, April 9, 2012

Translation: Marce Cameron

The interdisciplinary gathering addressed the viability of various forms of non-state economic management, from the diagnostic and scientific point of view, as part of the changes and transformations of what has been called the Cuban model.

The 1st Conference on Self-Employment in Cuba, organised by the Technology and Knowledge Management Enterprise of the Ministry of Science Technology and Environment, took place yesterday.

Featuring presentations and panel discussions by academics, researchers, economists and social scientists, the multidisciplinary event discussed the viability of various forms of non-state economic management, from the diagnostic and scientific point of view, as part of the changes and transformations of what has been called the Cuban model.

The debates – which centred on the already irreversible expansion of self-employment and the potential of non-agricultural cooperatives, which will begin to be set up on an experimental basis outside the farming sector – demonstrated that non-state forms of management can stimulate significant advances for Cuba’s economy and socialism.

Economist Dr. Pavel Vidal gave a very positive assessment of the relaunching of self-employment in Cuba, in the midst of the complexities of a structural overhaul, with a far more flexible regulatory framework. At the same time, he identified factors that, in his opinion, limit the advance of this form of employment in Cuba: among others, the absence of a wholesale supplies market and the few skilled job categories in which self-employment is permitted.

Two panels of researchers in the field took up the importance of integrating these non-state forms with the core of the socialist system, the state enterprises, which are in turn poised for profound transformations. This was addressed at both the macro-economic and the local and household levels.

Conference participants agreed to establish a network for analysis and the sharing of information among researchers of the non-state forms of management in Cuba: the starting point for systematic scientific research into a sector that will have a growing weight in the Cuban economy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Translation: Constitutional changes needed

Here, a Granma reader argues that Cuba's socialist Constitution needs to be amended in line with the transformation of Cuba's socialist-oriented economic model, in particular the legalisation of small private businesses. I commented on the need for such constitutional amendments in a May 2011 post. You can read an English translation of the Cuban Constitution here.  

The author says that legalising small private businesses is not a step towards socialism, but a necessary retreat in order to advance. The reference to Lenin recalls Lenin and Trotsky's New Economic Policy in Soviet Russia in the early 1920s, an experience that the architects of Cuba's new socialist economic model have no doubt studied in depth.

Much confusion has resulted from the word "socialism" being used interchangeably, in Cuba and elsewhere, to mean two very different things: a society in which the state, money and social classes have withered away — the communist society envisioned by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, conceivable only on a world scale — and a post-capitalist, communist-oriented society such as Cuba that is confined by international isolation to the beginnings of the transition from capitalism to communism. 

An example of such ambiguity can be seen in the letter below, in which the author states that "the employment of wage labour by individuals" contradicts "to some degree the socialist character of the socio-economic system." 

What is meant by the word "socialist" here?

If "socialist" is synonymous with communist society, then wage labour would indeed contradict the character of this mode of production. In such a society the distinction between labour and leisure would have been transcended, the compulsion to work giving way to free creative practice. The generalisation of automated production would make possible the satisfaction of the rational needs (which are not the same as the consumerist cravings stimulated by capitalism) of all members of society. There would be no need to ration access to goods and services via wages.

Cuba is light years from this lofty objective.

If by "socialist" is meant a communist-oriented society at the beginnings of the transitional epoch, such as Cuba today, then (as I argued in my previous post) the only absolute requirement with respect to property forms is that the "commanding heights" of the economy  large-scale industry in which labour is objectively socialised  are social property. Self-employment, small private businesses and cooperatives whose market relations are subordinated to central planning by the socialist state are in no way incompatible with such a society.

The Co
nstitution and the updating of socialism 

By J. C. Mora Reyes, Granma letter, March 23, 2012

Translation: Marce Cameron

I’m one of the many who are grateful for this space for opinion and public debate, proof positive that all viewpoints are valued. Grateful that it exists and that diverse opinions can be expressed honestly, without any taboo topics, sparking the interest of the citizens regarding matters that concern everyone and that serve to spur participation as both a necessity and a right.

In this spirit I’d like to express an opinion on a question that is, in my view, of fundamental importance.

While modifications to the Constitution of the Republic are a recourse that should not be used excessively, there is no reason to not make such changes if they are necessary and feasible.

I offer by way of example certain measures, above all those related to the employment of wage labour by individuals, that contradict to some degree the socialist character of the socio-economic system. The Constitution prohibits, explicitly and categorically, exploitation (Articles 14 and 21, Paragraph 2), and for good reason. The inclusion of such a prohibition in the Constitution is not an error committed in the past, but an authentic expression of the new society to which we aspire but which lies beyond the realms of possibility in this historical moment – though other laws uphold indispensable worker’s rights, such as the minimum wage and retirement pensions on the basis of employer contributions.

It’s pointless, and doomed to failure from the outset, to try to argue that exploitation and socialism can be reconciled. The people’s intelligence, education and capacity for critical thought would not allow it. On the contrary, it will be readily understood if it is explained with complete honesty – proof of the respect that is always appreciated – that to legalise this kind of work, which is contrary to how we have conceived of it up to now, far from being an advance, as some claim, implies, as Lenin would say, a retreat to new positions from which to wage the revolutionary struggle, positions that are advantageous tactically and strategically in terms of the Revolution’s objectives.

The Constitution will have to be amended to address crucial questions such as those mentioned above, but in such a way as to leave room for retreat without abandoning the path of building socialism. Which, by the way, goes beyond simple declarations: we can declare ourselves to be loyally carrying on with socialist construction while making mistakes that lead to its demise, above all if we lack clarity on the scope of such fundamental issues which oblige us to seek solutions to economic problems today.

If we want to strengthen the institutionalism that is indispensable for the improvement and updating [of the socialist economic model], this must be done on the basis of the legality that flows from the Constitution. In other words, nothing must be done if the letter of the Constitution does not permit it, lest we undermine it or weaken its regulatory role in the legal, economic, political and social spheres, with the serious consequences this implies. We must be flexible in the search for the forms, ways, methods and procedures to implement what emanates from the Constitution, always within the limits it establishes.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Comment: Cuba's alternative to privatisation

Here is the fourth of a series of articles written for Australia's Green Left Weekly on the debates and changes in Cuba. Parts 1, 2 and 3 are herehere and here.

Cuba’s alternative to privatisation

Green Left Weekly #914, March 11, 2012

By Marce Cameron

Cuban President Raul Castro has urged the Caribbean nation's citizens to contribute to a free and frank debate on the future of Cuba’s socialist project.

For the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), the aim of this debate is twofold: to strive for consensus on a new Cuban model of socialist development and to empower Cuba’s working people to implement what has been decided.

In other words, to advance a socialist renewal process in the face of entrenched opposition from within the administrative apparatus.

It is first and foremost a debate about the economy. A draft policy document, the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, was submitted to a national debate for three months before to its adoption by the Sixth PCC Congress in April last year.

The core principles and objectives of the draft were conserved, but the final version of the Guidelines was substantially modified on the basis of this public debate.

The PCC said total attendance at the 163,000 local debates held in workplaces, study centres and neighbourhoods was about 8.9 million, with many people attending more than one.

More than three million interventions were noted and grouped into 781,000 opinions, about half of which were reflected in the final document. A summary detailing each modification and its motivation, and the number of interventions in favour, was published after the congress.

The Guidelines is not a theoretical document. The government commission responsible for overseeing its implementation has been charged with drafting, as Castro put it, “the integral theoretical conceptualisation of the Cuban socialist economy”.

Rather, the Guidelines is a set of principles and objectives that point to a new Cuban socialist-oriented economic model.

Yet implicit in them is a reconception of the socialist-oriented society in Cuba’s conditions.

Transitional society

The ultimate objective of the socialist revolution is a global classless society in which technology enables minimal human labour to produce goods and services, allowing these to be freely distributed to satisfy people’s rational needs.

Socially owned, this system of production would free everyone from the compulsion to work for others. It would allow a flowering of the human personality that is stunted by capitalist exploitation and alienation, both of which are embodied in the capitalist market.

What blocks this transition is not a lack of technology, but private ownership of most productive wealth and the class rule of the corporate rich over society.

The transition from capitalism to socialism is marked by tension between planning and the market. Democratic planning to meet social needs first becomes increasingly dominant, then ultimately the sole determinant of economic activity.

Without revolutions in advanced industrialised societies, socialist revolutions in industrially underdeveloped countries such as Cuba — inheriting economies stunted by centuries of 
colonial and neocolonial plunder — are confined to the beginnings of the socialist transition.

This implies a mixed economy with various forms of ownership and management. The only absolute requirement is that the “commanding heights” of the economy are owned by the socialist state — described by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the Communist Manifesto as “the proletariat organised as the ruling class”.

A caveat must be added in light of Soviet bureaucratic “socialism”: socialist state ownership has no automatic bias towards socialism. There must also be socialist democracy.

Nowhere did Marx, Engels or Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin argue that self-employment and small-scale private and cooperative enterprise are incompatible with progress towards socialism.

For Lenin, in his 1923 article “On Cooperation”, assuming socialist state ownership of large industry, the socialist-oriented society is “the system of civilised cooperativists”.

The notion that building socialism requires state ownership and management of almost the entire economy was born of Stalinist totalitarianism. Far from beginning to wither away as anticipated by Marx, the Soviet state from Stalin to Gorbachev assumed monstrous proportions.

Revolutionary offensive

In March 1968, Cuba’s socialist state expropriated nearly all urban small businesses in an episode known as the “Revolutionary Offensive”.

This was justified at the time by the need to combat hoarding and speculation by petty proprietors. The US economic blockade, the emigration of skilled workers and revolutionary inexperience had led to shortages of consumer goods.

It was also aimed at depriving US-sponsored counter-revolutionaries of points of support among urban small traders and business people.

Yet it was also seen as a step towards a classless society. As it turned out, it was a premature step and therefore counterproductive.

A great deal of planning goes on in big capitalist enterprises. The socialisation of the labour process embodied in large-scale industry is the basis for social ownership and democratic planning in the socialist-oriented society.

Yet even in developed capitalist societies there are economic sectors in which labour is not socialised on a scale that would allow for rational planning.

Rather than seeking to “outgrow” the market in step with the objective socialisation of labour arising from economic development, Cuba’s Revolutionary Offensive abolished the market at a stroke.

In recent years this has been the subject of much public debate in Cuba.

Since early 2008, the PCC daily Granma has opened its pages to criticisms, proposals and debate contributions from readers. There is an ongoing debate on state ownership and management of small productive and service entities, such as cafes and bicycle repair workshops.


As one reader argued in a December 9, 2009 Granma letter: “Following their nationalisation by the Cuban state in 1968, small businesses and retail firms were converted, little by little, into a source of illicit profit, the robbery of the state, inefficiency and maltreatment ...

“Arguably socialism, by definition, necessitates social ownership of the fundamental means of production, and this is not at odds with personal, family or cooperative property in some means of production or services.

“The state must free itself from the yoke of these entities which, far from being social property, have become a means for the enrichment of a minority that exploits [the majority] to the detriment of the satisfaction of the needs of the client, that is, the people.”

In other words, these entities have undergone de-facto privatisation at the hands of corrupt administrators who pay no taxes on their illicit earnings.

The opposing view is that expanding the scope of cooperatives and other small-scale private enterprise is unnecessary and unwise. The solutions proposed lie on the subjective plane — replacing corrupt administrators with honest ones, for example.

Such solutions don’t address the material roots of the problem: the inability of the socialist state to centrally manage such entities with quality and efficiency, and average state wages that don’t cover all basic living expenses in Cuba’s post-Soviet Special Period.

Widespread petty theft from the socialist state is an inevitable consequence of the latter.

The Guidelines rule out privatisation and the concentration of productive property ownership in the hands of a new Cuban capitalist class.

At the same time, they give the green light to an expanded small-scale private and cooperative sector that is projected to embrace almost half the workforce by 2015.

How can these two objectives be reconciled?

Avoiding privatisation

The idea is to lease small productive and service entities, from bakeries to beauticians, to self-employed individuals, small private businesses and cooperatives. Social ownership of these premises, which belong to the municipal People’s Power governments, 
would be retained.

These governments and the socialist state will regulate leased entities to ensure that they fulfill certain social objectives.

Responsibility for running these enterprises, however, passes from the state to their workers, who operate them in a competitive environment where prices are set by the market rather than central planning.

In agriculture, the government is promoting a large-scale “return to the land”, leasing farmland rent-free on a long-term basis — an arrangement known as usufruct — to individual farmers, cooperatives and state farms.

This puts farmers, rather than Havana-based administrators, in the driver’s seat while avoiding a concentration of land ownership.

Castro summed up Cuba’s alternative to privatisation in the Main Report to the Sixth PCC Congress: 

“The growth of the non-public sector of the economy, far from an alleged privatisation of social property as some theoreticians would have us believe, is to become an active element facilitating the construction of socialism in Cuba.

“It will allow the state to focus on raising the efficiency of the basic means of production, which are the property of the entire people, while relieving itself of those managerial activities that are not strategic for the country.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Translation: Privileges to those who deserve them

A Cuban youth committed to the Revolution speaks his mind in this Granma letter to the editor. 

The emigration of disenchanted Cuban youth to countries such as the US, Spain (where youth unemployment hovers around 50%), Mexico and Ecuador seems to be one of the few remaining taboo topics in the Cuban press. 

Many seek higher salaries that would allow them to better support family in Cuba or abroad; some just want to experience more of the world than their Caribbean island and escape its economic hardships; others chase the "American Dream". Not all those who emigrate find what they're looking for, though some do. 

The exodus of highly educated youth is not only demoralising, it also has serious economic consequences despite the flow of remittances back to Cuba. Some of Cuba's best young minds in the technical sense are serving capitalist corporations in other countries rather than Cuba's socialist revolution.

The US government's infamous Cuban Adjustment Act aims to deprive Cuba of skilled workers by encouraging risky and illegal crossings of the Florida Straights in small craft, creating the propaganda spectacle of Cubans "fleeing the communist dictatorship". Any Cuban citizen who reaches the US coastline can stay and apply for US citizenship after a year.

Haitians and other Caribbean nationals who land on US shores without authorisation are sent back to where they came from.

A key objective of the "updating" of Cuba's socialist-oriented
 economic model, though not one that is explicitly stated in the Guidelines, is to make employment for skilled workers more rewarding in every sense, above all in terms of remuneration, so that, for example, a surgeon does not have to drive a taxi on the weekend to make ends meet. 

The dedication of such workers in the face of the hardships and privations of the Special Period is what has kept the Revolution afloat in the chilly waters of neoliberal globalisation. Behind the impressive statistics on health care and education are millions of committed human beings imbued with revolutionary spirit.

A substantial minority of Cubans think and act very differently, however, as illustrated in the candid vignette below. 
The struggle to renew Cuba's socialist project is the struggle of the former to prevail over the latter in the spheres of economics, ethics and ideology. The economy of the socialist-oriented Cuba that is emerging must "privilege those who really deserve it". 

Privileges to those who deserve them

Letter to the editor, Granma, March 2, 2012

Translation: Marce Cameron

I’m one of the many youths who is concerned about the future of their country. I feel proud of its gains and advances in various sectors
, thanks to the socialism we’ve defended for 50 years. I consider it to be the most just country and socialism to be the most viable option for saving humanity.

But I’m also the first to acknowledge the mistakes we’ve make in its construction and improvement. With constructive criticism I open the door to the empty minds of those who care only about the good life and who salivate at the American Dream.

I once read a commentary by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro that contained a phrase which made an impression on me. From that time on I’ve carried it with me wherever I may go as a devastating weapon, firing it at point blank range at whoever dares to make a superficial criticism: “Anyone who wants more than what is indispensable in order to live is worth less as a human being.” Most people are speechless at such a magisterial phrase; life shows that this is how it is.

Recently I graduated from law school, and ever since I was a student I’ve read and analysed the letters pages of this newspaper, created so that the people could raise their problems and propose solutions. I’d like to take up an issue, one of many that concerns me and makes me feel uncomfortable: the wholesome recreation of young people, whether students or not, for an affordable and fair price.

For some years there was a scheme organised by the Union of Young Communists in which entry was granted to discos, cabaret tables, swimming pools and camping cabins at a price that, while it was out of reach of most parents, did make them more willing to fork out for it. They could give a treat to their son or daughter, but they’d have to earn it by getting good grades; this is something any honourable family educated by the Revolution should do without hesitation. However, it’s true that it didn’t work well, and neither should granting subsidies be a function of the organisation.

Today, these kinds of activities are organised in some educational institutions, but it’s still insufficient, given that it doesn’t meet the needs of all youth who need this type of entertainment. In addition, while the entry price may be affordable, the prices of drinks and food are unchanged. If you go to a disco, the entry price ranges from 2, 3, 5, 10 and up to 20 Cuban convertible pesos. What son or daughter of a worker or farmer with an average income, what intellectual or official in the armed forces or the police, could pay such a sum of money? The same is true of the products sold in these places.

I’m aware that the world finds itself in a deep economic-financial crisis and that our country is not unaffected by this, so we have to eliminate excessive wastage, superfluous spending and gratuities, among other problems that were addressed in the Sixth Communist Party Congress, but this doesn’t justify these unaffordable prices. Why the difference in prices between the products sold in the chain of convertible currency stores and those in the recreational venues previously referred to? Why double or triple the prices in convertible pesos if wages are static and most of the people who frequent them are young students? Are they higher quality products? We all know this isn’t the case, they say it’s because of the venue and what it offers. It seems to me this justification is for the rich in capitalist societies, and not for a young person of modest means born in a socialist Revolution who burns the midnight oil studying in order to be able to contribute to their country in the future, or he or she who makes sacrifices by working in any state sector that contributes to economic development and they just want to go out with their friends or their girlfriend or boyfriend.

I think that if one of these venues attracted 50, 100 or more people at an entry price of 2 convertible pesos and with reasonable prices for additional purchases, it would be able to cover its costs and contribute to tax revenues.

Despite the high prices y
ou see many youth frequenting the best places and consuming large quantities of the aforementioned products as if they were sold in regular Cuban pesos. There’s no doubt that the great majority of them neither study nor work, they live off the black market which does so much harm to those who really strive to take the country forward. Those who sell their bodies or do all kinds of denigrating acts also abound, as do the kids of the new rich, and I ask myself: is it for them that these recreational venues exist? If so, it’s not in keeping with the truly revolutionary youth in which our top leaders have placed their trust. 

It’s hardly gratifying to arrive at work or school exhausted and see how in the corner of any square you meet a childhood playmate who spends the day lazing about, drinking beer, driving around and of course, entering and leaving nightclubs in the fanciest clothes and believing themselves to be the master of the universe. If you ask them what’s happening in Cuba or in the world, they tell you they couldn’t care less what’s going on, that they just want to leave the country, and other things I’m not going to repeat given their obscene and offensive content.

These and other related issues have been the subject of debate on various occasions by university students, revolutionaries, humble people, those willing to give their lives for the country and in honour of those youths that died throughout our history for the cause that the new generations enjoy today. Despite this, we lack things needed by young people that up to know only exist in dreams given the economic situation. If we oriented the social pyramid the way it should be we’d rescue ethical values and incentivise the importance of study and work, but for this we have to begin privileging those who really deserve it.

J. Martos Yapur

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Translation: Our kind of dissent

Imperialism's propaganda war against Cuba shapes our perceptions in subtle ways.

Tiny grouplets of Cuban citizens who receive funding from US subversion programmes aimed at regime change are labelled "dissidents" by the corporate media. They're paid to saturate the blogosphere with diatribes against Cuba's social order, which happens to be different from the one that dominates the planet.   

What does Yoani Sanchez, the narcissistic child of US neocolonial aspirations, dissent from? The decaying global capitalism that has given rise to the Arab Spring, the indignados and the Occupy movement? The US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?   

Could it be that the millions of Cubans who sustain an epic resistance on their besieged archipelago are the real dissidents?

Here, Juventud Rebelde deputy editor Ricardo Ronquillo Bello touches on several important themes. The internet poses an additional challenge to Cuba's revolutionary media alongside those arising from efforts to overhaul Cuba's socialist-oriented development model.

Our kind of dissent 

By Ricardo Ronquillo Bello, Juventud Rebelde, March 3, 2012

Translation: Marce Cameron

There’s an alluring connection between an editorial in our daily – published on March 13, 1999 – and the 120 year anniversary of the Newspaper of the Homeland that we’ll celebrate on March 14 and the Cuban Revolutionary Party[1] that gave rise to it.

“This paper was and will be a dissident one”, was the heading under which Juventud Rebelde announced its resumption as a daily paper. “We have a moral and patriotic obligation to dissent from those who are ashamed of their past[2], from those who sell themselves for 30 greenbacks, from those who adopt the uncomfortable position of kneeling so they can be blessed by the wind from the north[3]; we dissent from those who don’t believe in dreams, from the docile and the corrupt”, we said back then. “We return in rebellion against the physical and mental idlers, the sloths and the inept, the pessimists and the defeated.”

In that editorial it was also stated that we return to a daily schedule not as an independent newspaper, but one with a great dependence on our history, on our people, on our most genuine and valid traditions, on our Revolution.

The editorial did no more than reaffirm for the readers, during the times in which we overcame the greatest moral blow dealt to socialism, what had been the dilemma of the Cuban press journalists.

We came from a journalistic and revolutionary tradition nurtured by the deepest vocation to serve, passed on from the founders of the nation, among others Father Felix Varella who, when addressing the purpose of and progress towards independence, pointed out that he renounced the pleasure of being applauded for the satisfaction of being useful to the homeland. For Jose Marti, the press should be the guard-dog of the house of the homeland: “It must disobey the appetites of personal welfare and attend impartially to the public good.”

This legacy should also serve those accustomed to the apologetic justifications, the silences and the distortions that were never lacking along the complex path of socialist construction, and as a pillar for the kind of press demanded by almost all the social, political and economic actors in the country, including generations of journalists.

It's not viable to continue encouraging forms of journalism based on reaffirmation that were entrenched in no few of our journalistic spaces, while turning to others to defend the best revolutionary ideas. We need to pass from forms of institutional dependence to independence, or self-regulation, as advocated by those who teach journalism.

Journalistic practices based on reaffirmation and marked institutional dependence often ignore the descent into errors, making the reversal of their consequences more complex and costly.

No few evils that hold back our society persist due to the distortion of the checks and balances functions of the media, together with those of other structures of democratic debate. Voluntarism, combined with apologetics and the absence of institutional self-regulation, ended up being a deplorable trinity.

It’s not coincidental that the press, which had arrived at the most recent congress of the Cuban Journalists Union with updated orientations for its work from the Political Bureau of the Communist Party, is faced with a necessary transformation, as stressed in the debates at the National Conference of the Party and in those we’ve been having in the journalists union branches.

The establishment of clear institutional spaces for the press is unavoidable to block the path of interference and interventions that alter its content and functions, above all in the Cuba that reassesses its structures and in which the Party and the institutions adjust their links and connections with society.

This is happening as the Revolution updates it economic model as the first step towards gradual modifications. Here, the responsibility falls on us to contribute to the necessary political consensus and awaken the professional vigilance needed to avoid distortions of their scope and motivations – as we’re already doing, not without difficulties and misunderstandings.

We cannot ignore the fact that the Revolution is about to enter its most difficult trial by fire: the disappearance of its generation of historical leaders. Meanwhile we are gradually, though inexorably, losing the Cuban media’s monopoly of influence as a result of the rise of the internet.

In this readjustment the Cuban press must clear the way for the promotion of civic debate and revolutionary counterattack. It doesn’t matter who barks, Sancho[4]: conviction in the face of distortion should be our watchword.

Translator's footnotes:

[1] The pro-independence and social justice party founded by, among others, independence leader Jose Marti. 

[2] Presumably a reference to revolutionaries who lost heart when the Soviet Union disintegrated and the Cuban Revolution entered its post-Soviet “Special Period” crisis. 

[3] The US coastline lies 150km north of Cuba. 

[4] From a well-known passage in Miguel Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote: “The dogs are barking, Sancho, it’s a sign that we’re moving”.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Comment: Cuba debates its socialist future

This is the third instalment of a series of articles written for Australia's Green Left Weekly on the debates and changes in Cuba. Parts 1 and 2 are here and here

Here is a link to the official English translation of Raul Castro's closing speech to the PCC National Conference in January. 

Cuba debates its socialist future

Green Left Weekly #912, February 26, 2012

By Marce Cameron

Two decades after the demise of Soviet bureaucratic “socialism” and the onset of its “Special Period” crisis, Cuba is immersed in an ongoing debate on the future of its socialist project.

When Raul Castro became interim president in August 2006, he called for free and frank debate and launched a series of nationwide consultations in the lead-up to the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in April last year.

Intersecting with these organised debates is a wider discussion in Cuba’s revolutionary press, academic journals and other institutional spaces.

Numerous mass consultations involving millions of citizens in local workplace and neighbourhood meetings have been held in Cuba since the 1959 revolution.

What is different about this debate is its depth, scope and detail ― and the candour with which different viewpoints are expressed in a climate of growing respect for differences.

In other words, Cuba’s culture of debate is maturing.

Cuban political scientist Rafael Hernandez said in November 2007: “When we talk about debate or criticism we often talk about censorship, restrictions, control, but we never talk about our own lack of a ‘debate culture’. We must foster a culture of debate from the start, because our society doesn’t have it.

“We often call a debate ‘good’ when the participants say the same as we think. That’s not debate; debate is disagreement. And it’s very important that in a debate we express divergent positions in a spirit of dialogue, of mutual respect.

“I think [Cuban] politics is going through this stage right now.”

Debate culture

Cuba has been undergoing a deeply popular socialist transition for five decades. Why is it only now developing a culture of public debate?

One reason is US imperialism’s relentless siege. It has not only been subjected to an economic blockade since 1960, but illegal radio and TV broadcasts, sponsorship of subversion and terrorist acts, an immigration policy aimed at depriving Cuba of skilled workers and a propaganda crusade aimed at demonising Cuba as a “communist dictatorship”.

This state of siege has fostered a siege mentality in Cuba. Many people have viewed public criticism and debate as unwittingly aiding the enemy. Others have used the blockade as an excuse to evade responsibility for their own mistakes and wrongdoings.

Another reason is that during the 1970s and '80s, Cuba assimilated elements of Soviet bureaucratic “socialism”, above all, hyper-centralised decision-making by a vast administrative apparatus that micro-managed almost the entire economy.

Such top-down tendencies were reinforced by idealistic errors, acknowledged as such today by the PCC leadership, which entrenched the negative phenomenon of state paternalism.

Paternalism has two faces: citizens looking to the socialist state to do everything for them, such as fixing a broken window in the home, and provide for all their needs regardless of their labour contribution to society; and officials treating citizens like children who cannot think or decide things for themselves and who do not need to be informed.

This stifles individual and collective initiative that could contribute to Cuba’s socialist project. It also robs people of their sense of social responsibility. It has weakened mechanisms of accountability and sapped the vitality of Cuba’s institutions of socialist democracy.

Revolutionary Cuba has never lacked opportunities to participate in popular mobilisations and in carrying out the tasks of the Revolution. What is has lacked is enough opportunities for involvement in deciding what those tasks will be.

Cuba has developed its own unique institutions of socialist democracy. Cuba's system of popular self-government is based in local communities, where neighbours gather to nominate candidates for election to the municipal assemblies. Delegates must report to their constituents and can be recalled by them at any time. The PCC is banned from backing candidates and all citizens have the right to be nominated.

Despite this, there remains a disconnect between Cuba’s highly educated and politically sophisticated populace, a product of the Revolution itself, and the lack of real participation in decision-making at all levels.

This is felt most keenly by the younger generation who are most susceptible to disaffection and emigration.

The charismatic leadership style and immense personal authority of Fidel Castro ― an indispensable asset to the Revolution in past decades ― tended to overshadow its institutions and institutional forms of consensus-building.

New democratic mechanisms and practices will have to be developed now that Fidel is no longer at the helm.

Currents of opinion

What currents of opinion have emerged in the national debate initiated by Raul Castro?

Since this is a debate about how to save Cuba’s socialist project, not how to end it, the views of those who long for capitalist restoration ― because they have material interests or illusions in it ― lie outside this debate.

Besieged by US imperialism, Cuba does not allow political parties other than the PCC or factions within this party.

Raul Castro told the PCC National Conference in January: “To renounce the principle of a one-party system would be the equivalent of legalising a party, or parties, of imperialism on our soil.”

The debate has unfolded in this context. Whatever differences there may be among the PCC leadership, they have presented a united front to the rest of the party and to the nation around the key principles and strategic objectives of the renewal process.

Within the revolutionary camp, two poles can be identified: a renovationist current and those who defend the status quo in words or deeds.

The renovationist current views Cuba’s socialist development model as having exhausted its ability to move society forward, necessitating an urgent and integral transformation of this model to avoid stagnation and retreat.

It insists on the need for public criticism and debate and a dialectical, rather than dogmatic, conception of the socialist-oriented society in Cuba’s conditions.

This current is led by Raul Castro and other PCC leaders. It is concentrated among the revolutionary vanguard organised in the PCC, among intellectuals and artists and youth who identify with the Revolution.

It does not embrace all PCC members, some of whom are opportunists masquerading as revolutionaries. On the other hand, many revolutionaries are not members of the PCC yet are part of the renovationist current.

Within the renovationist current, there is a spectrum of opinion on the key issues in the debate and on how the changes should be implemented.

There can be little doubt about the outcome of the debates held in the lead-up to the Sixth PCC Congress: a solid majority of Cuban society supports the basic principles and objectives of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines adopted unanimously by the 1000 Congress delegates elected by the party's grassroots.

Leftist critics of the Guidelines worry that too much is being conceded to the market. Some propose a far more sweeping “cooperativisation” of the state enterprise sector than that contemplated in the Guidelines.

They propose radical democratic measures reminiscent of those advocated by the leftist opposition to Lenin and Trotsky’s New Economic Policy in the Soviet Union in the 1920s.

To the right, some economic specialists argue that medium-sized private enterprises should be permitted alongside self-employment and small-scale private and cooperative management of social property. The Guidelines rule out privatisation and the concentration of productive property ownership in private hands.


At the other pole are those who are wary of debate and fearful of change, among them many sincere and humble revolutionaries. This conservative current has generational and institutional contours.

It is concentrated among older Cubans and those who zealously guard their administrative prerogatives, and in some cases illicit privileges, from criticism and initiative “from below”.

In a December 2011 interview with Edmundo Garcia, Rafael Hernandez distinguished between “constructive” and “frankly negative” opposition to change.

Constructive opposition is expressed by those unable to directly benefit from the openings to self-employment, small businesses and cooperatives and the projected overhaul of the state enterprise sector. It is also expressed by some of the 20% of the population that, according to some Cuban studies, live below the poverty line.

Among them are retirees dependent on their small state pensions.

These sectors “face these changes with a considerable degree of uncertainty” and “don’t necessarily view the reform process with the expectations, desires and enthusiasm of others”.

There is another kind of resistance that “government leaders have explicitly called the bureaucracy”, Hernandez said. It “doesn't oppose through speeches, it doesn’t oppose the reforms with a document”, but “in its slowness to implement the measures already adopted”.

He said: “It’s very logical that the old mindset, which sees the emergence of capitalism in every expression of the market and in every segment of small-scale private property, should exist, because for a long time... socialism was defined in absolute terms as state-centric socialism.”