HAVANA TIMES — “Economic growth is key to environmental progress, because it is growth that provides the resources for investment in clean technologies.” – G.W. Bush
“The Cuban economy has maintained a sustained growth rate of 3% and we expect it will become even stronger thanks to the foreign investment the country hopes to attract through the Mariel Special Development Zone.” – Rodrigo Malmierca, Minister for Foreign Investment and Trade, during the opening address for the 31st Havana International Fair, November 2013.
I want to begin this post sharing with you my joy over some recent news: Cuba’s National Assembly (Parliament) convened recently and one of their conclusions is that the island’s economy continues to slow down. In his speech, President Raul Castro acknowledged that Cuba’s GDP has barely budged since January and that, with luck, it will have grown by 1.4 % by year’s end.
The economy only began to decelerate some two years ago, but the country’s growth rate is so low that, if it continues to decrease at the current pace (0.8 percentage points every year), Cuba will enter into a recession in a mere two years. The last recession the country experienced took place in 1993.
As part of Raul Castro’s reform process, the country’s ideologues changed the official discourse to adjust it to Cuba’s new perspectives and interests. The rhetoric that extolled austerity as a revolutionary virtue was replaced with a song in praise of prosperity as the result of hard work. A few years later, however, prosperity has proven a bit elusive. Only a few privileged souls have been able to savor it, while the working masses continue to endure hardships.
Economics professor Juan Triana was one of the people tasked with “selling” the idea that development was necessary, feasible and highly desirable to Cuba’s bureaucratic and scientific elite. A subliminal message emanates from his charismatic lectures: “Raul Castro (unlike his brother) is taking the correct measures to lead us down the road to growth.” I would love it (and I think it would be the ethical thing for a professional to do) if Triana were to stand before the camaras again and explain where he, Raul Castro, or both, were mistaken.
I haven’t yet explained why I am happy about the stagnation of Cuba’s GDP. The fact is that, from my point of view (which I consider well-founded), the global economy, and Cuba’s in particular, is going to collapse sooner rather than later. If it continues to grow exponentially until the last moment, the catastrophic consequences of this will be unavoidable. The only way of averting an apocalyptic crash is to slow down gradually, as we are doing in Cuba despite the leaders’ wishes.
The gusanos* are also enthused about the ridiculous growth rate of Cuba’s economy, but for reasons very different from mine. They look on every failure of the Castros as a sign that their triumph is near. But no, gusanos, things are not so simple and clear-cut: you will not stand victorious at the end of this long battle and the Castros haven’t done everything wrong.
For instance, according to the World Nature Fund, Cuba is the only country in the world that meets their sustainability criteria: a human development index above 0.8 % and an ecological impact below 1.8 hectares per inhabitant. We’re moving backwards, like crabs, true, but our social problems are not remotely comparable to those of semi-prosperous nations in the American continent. We are moving back despite the always-optimistic plans of the elite, and, thanks to that, our society has not felt what one feels when the bulldozer of modernity, in its Third-World version, runs over you.
So, dear friends, I invite you to celebrate the timely deceleration of Cuba’s economy. As Cuba’s campaign against road accidents tells us: “Accidents can always be avoided.”
Note 1: I use the word gusano in non-pejorative sense to refer to Cubans opposed to the regime who consider that capitalism is the best alternative for the country.
Note 2: Degrowth is a current of political, economic and social thought calling for the gradual, controlled decrease of economic production, with a view to establishing a new balance between human beings and nature and among human beings as well.