Unmasking Cuba’s Bureaucracy

Daisy Valera 

Photo: Juan Garces

“… bureaucratic thought, [is] that parasitic plant that sterilizes creativity as well as authentic collective participation and the work of shaping the younger generations.” 

I couldn’t be more in agreement with these words by Graziella Pogolotti, taken from her article Otra vuelta de tuerca al pensamiento burocrático (Another Turn of the Screw against Bureaucratic Thought) that appeared in the Granma newspaper this past July 21.

The article is part of the critical line that seems to have been adopted by the official paper of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC).  The daily recently even called for “increasing the journalistic effectiveness of the massive media” in an article by one it its writers, Anneris Ivette Leyva.

But we should not forget that the article by Pogolotti was printed in Granma, a newspaper that to date has achieved the merit of fostering among Cubans the capacity for intuition and the ability to read between lines.

Carefully and attentively I immersed myself in the writing by Graziella, though with the expectation — despite her excellent writing technique and the work’s coherence — that she would lack the words needed to clarify to the ordinary Cuban what she was attacking.

The author set sail in an assault on bureaucratic thought, which dropped anchor in this country far too many years ago.

She gave the example of a low level government employee who — absent from their position — leaves certain key documents locked up in their office, and thereby ends up paralyzing the resolution of major problems.

This situation’s solution (which the writer doesn’t suggest), would be something as simple as this official not being the sole person having access to the documentation, be instead all the those working at the facility.

Graziella criticizes the development of timbiricherismo (the spread of kiosk capitalism) and individualist atomizing approaches so characteristic of capitalist societies generally.

However, she fails to point out that it was PCC policy that opened the gate to the creation of private businesses (well aware, according to press notes, that many of these will fail within the first year).  Likewise, it was the party that approved the hiring of wage-laborers – without promoting associative work [cooperatives], which would have much more in tune with a society seeking to be socialist.

Photo: Juan Garces

The writer calls our attention to the fact that lower-level bureaucrats are the ones who hinder the putting into practice of the “Guidelines of the Party.”

But she doesn’t notice that according to that same “Guidelines” document, these officials continue to be the one vested with power.  They’re even identified as the ones who should have the last word in deciding which people are the “suitable workers” and which one should be laid off.

Citing the author’s own words:

“On another side of the balance, the damage is even more difficult to repair, and they [the bureaucrats] can disable the continuity of the socialist project, lead to a loss of sovereignty and affect a vertical drop in the standard of living of the great majority, as well as enthrone violence through the entanglement of mafias of all types.”

Why not say that the other side of the scale is a synonym for referring to the big bureaucrats like the cases for the deposed Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and VP Carlos Lage and the ton of ministers purged in recent times.

Many accused of not fulfilling their obligations or “tasting the honey of power” were bureaucrats who we had been required to obey for long periods of time.  We followed their ideas and participated in their projects because they’d been simply unquestionable.

On the other hand, not mentioned are the big bureaucrats who have come out unscathed in the latest house cleaning of the state apparatus.

Nevertheless, Graziella also calls on us to change our mentalities and to permanently question our situation.

However we should not forget that it’s necessary to dismantle the mechanisms of secretismo so widely used by the officials who get so worked up over the slightest criticism of our problems, since supposedly those are “weapons of our enemies” (the USA or the EU, depending on the moment).

To get rid of bureaucratic thought the writer challenges us to develop a true culture of dialogue.

I believe that, beyond dialogue and our becoming conscious, there should be a practice of eliminating the privileges enjoyed by a countless number of managers but never by common workers.  These higher-ups receive cars, airs conditioners, cellphones and even trips abroad, all paid for by the resources of the government, which is the same thing as saying by ordinary working Cubans.

Pogolotti comments that bureaucrats are subject to devastating criticism and ridicule, but she doesn’t alert us to the causes and origins (perhaps for reason of space) of their social class, nor does she discuss their arms and methods, which we should strip from them.

The most effective ones who think critically are branded “mercenary,” “annexationist,” or “counter-revolutionary” (we can recall the recent cases of Esteban Morales and Pedro Pablo Oliva) and they are isolated socially.

I don’t agree with the idea that bureaucratic thought is a problem that can be addressed with respectful conduct, frankness and mutual trust.

Photo: Juan Garces

Precisely because the bureaucrats have not been frank with the people or respected them, masses of people have lost confidence in the ability of the “socialist” ruling class to move the country forward.

In my opinion, this would be like making a revolution at night so as not to bother anybody, much less that same bureaucracy.

We shouldn’t be naive; those holding the power won’t give it up peacefully.  We Cubans have a long battle ahead of us.

The only thing left to say is that articles like the one by the writer cause only paralysis and a conciliatory attitude toward that same bureaucracy they’re trying to fight.


Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

42 thoughts on “Unmasking Cuba’s Bureaucracy

  • August 30, 2011 at 7:07 am

    I partially agree. In the sense that yes the state should be responsible for some basic services but without excluding private hands to provide and compete with the state.
    Education should have both private and public components.
    Same for health care etc

  • August 29, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    “n my view socialist property “can be” full state property. Some enterprises and some industries (water and electricity) probably should be 100% state owned. But it can also be a associate-owned, Mondragon-type corporations with partial, non-controlling state ownership.”

    I fully agree, Grady. Essential resources, IMHO, *must* be controlled by the state. Water, energetic resources, telephony services, road and railroad meshes, et caterva.

    And by God, I forgot the most basic ones in my previous list – healthcare and education.

    Everything else should be either co-owned or private owned, in the social-economic system you advocate.

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