The Change Most Cubans Want and How

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – If there is one thing that we Cubans can all agree on, it’s the need for change in Cuba. This is something that not only the opposition or your average citizen who suffers the systemic crisis every day understands, but also the ruling Communist Party. It’s sparkling clear for all to see; things haven’t been working properly for a long time and they need to change.

Differences begin when specifying what kind of change is needed exactly for a better Cuba.

The Government believes it’s worth carrying on with the totalitarian one-party socialist system, and that only some superficial tweaks need to be made to institutions and the economy so that freedoms “granted” as gifts don’t affect the status quo.

It’s really not worth writing another line in this vein, it’s something that not even the government believes.

However, is the opposition the solution? This is something that is naturally assumed as logical, but there’s also a case against it. It’s a fact that the majority of the Cuban people don’t support the opposition yet, nor are they in love with their projects, even if they are moving away from the Communist Party.

In the past, this could have been attributed to a lack of information and freedom of expression, that the opposition weren’t able to reach the population with their messages and political agendas. But today, social media and the Internet more generally is the main form of media in Cuba, and while the opposition is present online, the reality is that they haven’t managed to garner too much support or followers on the island.

It seems that neither the Government, nor the opposition, are interpreting the need of Cuban people properly. The way I see things, this is because both opposing political sectors say that they work for the Cuban people, but then are hesitant to listen to their voices.

The Cuban people don’t identify with the continuity of the PCC’s Leftist radicalism, that oppresses them, nor do they identify with the continuity of radical “wipe-the-slate-clean-and-start-over” proposals for change, that are scary.

Two things are needed in order for a population to follow something new, which implies breaking away completely from the old that binds them and compromises them in a thousand ways. They need to fall in love with political proposals and they have to see them with some possibility of coming to fruition.

Unfortunately, the opposition doesn’t think about winning over the Cuban people when they make their policy proposals, nor do they propose political agendas that seem viable. It rather seems somewhat personal, personal ideals dressed up as public need. This is why the Cuban people “don’t fall in love”.   

So, I would say the Cuban people are stranded, sinking into a limbo and without a guiding light. Furthermore, their civic spirit is too weak to need leaders or to create leaders on the way. It’s telling that when civil society surveys Cubans, most say they want change and they want this change to come from within the Government itself.

If the Government and opposition working together to lead the country were a possibility, it would be the best thing, because we have a great deal of potential as a country and people. Problems lie within ourselves, in the barriers created to divide us.

The PCC government refuses to recognize that the Cuban opposition exists and the Cuban opposition (just a sector, but it’s unfortunately the most visible) refuses to recognize the PCC government’s existence and that they actually have the power needed to carry on governing the island, even if their system is based on hardship and a lack of freedoms. It’s a kind of “political flat-Earth” view on both sides.

They both need to get with the times and get in touch with what the Cuban people really need and want. They need to recognize each other and open up a political dialogue and agree on a viable road map for going forward, where every Cuban has a place. This is more or less what the work of the 27N and the San Isidro Movement has been trying to outline, and this is why they are being ferociously attacked by both extremes.

It makes perfect sense that the PCC is offering more resistance to enter a negotiation for a New Cuba, as it holds complete political and military power in its hands, and it still manages to get a necessary amount of social control to “put out” a uprising. For now.

However, pressure is building both in and outside the island, in every direction, and it’s almost impossible to distance yourself and fool people for a long time in this age of globalization. If this is what we understand, the PCC’s ‘no’ isn’t a valid excuse.

It’s the opposition, from a stronger position in justice and Law, that has to be humble and pragmatic without giving up ground and being active in the struggle for a political democracy, economic freedom and full human rights. These should be the only objectives the general population are interested in at first. Let the rest be fought over by every political group in a democratic way, trying to win by a majority and winning over the public.

This means that we can’t get tired of proposing an agreed upon change that the Cuban people want, without hanging up our gloves though mind you, because the objective can’t be to overthrow the PCC, but to build a Better Cuba.

The PCC really doesn’t need the opposition to fix Cuba and guide it towards the three abovementioned objectives. In reality, the country has everything it needs to do this and can take complete credit, but power-hungry leaders stop this, and thanks to them, we are able to play a key part.

Instead of just being spectators or slow agents giving excuses to the PCC for everything remaining at a standstill, it’s better to push, apply pressure and even force them to do whatever needs doing for the change that most people truly really want. The time it takes us to build a Better Cuba is the same as the time it takes us to discover and accept our political reality.

Read more from Cuba here.

Osmel Ramirez

I'm from Mayari, a little village in Holguín. I was born on the same day that the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. A good omen, since I identify myself as a pacifist. I am a biologist but I am passionate about politics, history and political philosophy. Writing about these topics, I got to journalism, precisely here on Havana Times. I consider myself a democratic socialist and my main motivation is to try to be useful to the positive change that Cuba needs.

4 thoughts on “The Change Most Cubans Want and How

  • Stephen,

    What I think you are describing there is more the German / Scandinavian type model. Yugoslavia was based on workers’ self-management whereby employees elected the management teams and shared the profits. Almost like cooperatives but actually owned by the state. They managed to keep a good level of services and transformed from a peasant economy to an industrial one.

    In the early years of the revolution, there was a sizeable voice pushing for Cuba to go the same way but they lost the argument. Che Guevara for example described Yugoslavia as “capitalism without the capitalists”.

    Though it is tempting to look at Vietnam as a model, there are drawbacks. I have been told that health care isn’t free and it is also an incredibly corrupt country.

    Cuba really needs to focus on reforming. Part of the problem seems to be that they decide something and start implementing it and then another faction in the leadership panics and rolls the changes back.

  • Dani:

    “What about the Yugoslav model of self-management which was pretty successful for many years?”

    Yes, I totally agree with you. By “self-management”, I presume you mean the tripartite cooperation on all work related fronts in the country’s economy plus government employment whereby there is one worker representative, one management representative, and one government representative sitting on all boards, unions, committees, etc. There is equal representation from all the stakeholders, from all the economic players.

    Like a three legged stool, the motivated and willing cooperation from all three crucial economic representatives allows the state to stand to not only survive, but to thrive. It is in the best interest of all three to ensure cooperation and mutual interests for the benefit of all within the realm of important decision making.

    This system worked well in many European countries. The current Cuban economic mess has to be resolved within Cuba, by Cubans, for the betterment of all Cubans. Learning and taking guidance from a variety of former socialist/communist economies and their successful transition to market economies makes absolute sense.

    However, I do not know whether the current Cuban communist government has the internal motivation for radical, and they have to be radical market reforms, not tweaks around the edges as in the past, to instigate the necessary economic changes. This will take time.

    The radical changes must be Cuban in scope and implementation. In the final analysis, hopefully the Cubans do not try to re-invent the proverbial wheel when market driven economic successful drivers, such as you mentioned – Yugoslavia – plus Vietnam, and China, and other success stories are all out there, not to be copied necessarily, but certainly to be used as foundations for radical economic change.

  • Stephen,

    I think that is what the Cuban government policy is trying to do, namely replicate Vietnam. I’m not sure why they have failed so far.

    In my opinion, yes there are lessons for Cuba in the Vietnamese and Chinese experiences. However, that isn’t the only possible model they could apply. What about the Yugoslav model of self-management which was pretty successful for many years?

  • “They both need to get with the times and get in touch with what the Cuban people really need and want.” Osmel is stating the communist government power elites and the Cuban opposition, whomever they are, need to understand and produce what the Cuban people really need and want. And, what exactly is it Cuban citizens need and want in the immediate short term? In two succinct words: food and freedom.

    From the perspective of the communist power elites they have so mismanaged their economy, they are so inept and self absorbed, out of touch with the majority of Cubans that they for the past 60 plus years cannot and will not deliver adequate food and personal freedoms to their citizens.

    One apropos example with regard to a Cuban food staple, specifically mangos, so plentiful now on the island, so easily produced, so nutritious for Cuban families, yet because of a loss of tons of these fruit many retirees and low-income Cubans cannot afford one of the most emblematic fruits of the Cuban countryside because of the mismanagement and ineptness of government authority managers. HT article: “ Cuba: Another Harvest Lost, This Time Mangoes.” (June 17/’21).

    The only remedy the majority of Cuban citizens have seen coming from this totalitarian government’s response to their anemic economy is, as Osmel writes, “ . . . only some superficial tweaks need to be made to institutions and the economy . . . “. The Cuban political government economists debate endlessly about how to invigorate the monetary mess created and all that is evident are tweaks around the economic edges plus an assertive propaganda machine that proclaims these tweaks as substantial changes that will move the Cuban economy forward if only, you guessed it, the U.S. embargo wasn’t impeding the obvious potential these “worthwhile” changes could bring.

    What is the solution? As an outsider looking in one can only look to other successful economies in this world who were, and some politically still are, totalitarian, socialist, communist in political ideology and observe what their current economic status is and how their citizens are doing in terms of living standards and personal freedoms.

    The most prominent country that comes to mind is Vietnam. Politically, they are still communist just like Cuba. Now, there is an economic success story derived in a very short span of time. After almost being completely obliterated from the face of the earth from the relentless American napalm bombing and millions of Vietnamese civilians killed or severely maimed plus their infrastructure and agricultural lands laid in ruins they were able to overcome this horrendous national hardship in a very short span of time.

    Don’t know whether Vietnam’s political leaders in its post war country restructuring had these three objectives in mind namely, provide all Vietnamese with “ a political democracy, economic freedom and full human rights.” Probably not. In fact, definitely not.

    But, what the Vietnamese government intelligently foresaw and did so well, to which the present Cuban government might want to take a lesson, is provide unfettered economic freedom to its citizens so that they can earn and reward themselves economically by their internal resourcefulness and hard work. A full stomach tends to pacify.

    It’s ironic that in every Cuban city, town, village there is a monument, a government building, many, many street names honoring communist Vietnamese political heroes. Nothing wrong with that. But when it comes to extrapolating the Vietnamese economic success story unto the communist island, the Cuban communist government is a deafening mute.

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