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".

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Marce, and hope you get the results you're after :-)


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