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.