Tuesday, June 26, 2012

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).

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