HAVANA TIMES – From March 6 to 8, the Catholic journal Espacio Laical (“Secular Space”) organized a gathering at Havana’s Felix Varela Cultural Center to reflect on “the process of socio-economic reforms” Cuba is experiencing.
The gathering, titled “Religious Faith, National Institutions and Social Models”, saw the participation of foreign invitees and of Cuban scholars living in Cuba and abroad.
Participants shared their views on the process of socio-economic reforms that the government of Raul Castro has been impelling in recent years and undertook a collective search for new types of institutions, on the basis of regional experiences and Cuba’s own political tradition.
During the gathering, the representative of the Vatican’s Social Sciences Academy, Monsignor Sanchez Sorondo, conveyed Cubans warm greetings from Pope Francis and offered a lecture on the finality of the State, as conceived by the social doctrine of the Church.
Norwegian Institute for International Relations Researcher Vegard Bye spoke of how the world ought to support the “adjustment process of Cuba’s social model” and stated that Cuba’s return to the Organization of American States and dealings with the International Monetary Fund are necessary steps in this connection.
One of the most awaited moments was the debate by the panel made up by the editor of the Cuban journal Temas, Rafael Hernandez, and political scientist Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban living in the United States, who addressed “the future of Cuba’s political system.”
Hernandez offered participants statistics on the racial, generational and professional makeup of the island’s power structures and tried to demonstrate that the country’s institutions represent broad sectors of the population and that new generations were ready to continue the work of the leadership.
Lopez-Levy underscored what he considers to be Cuba’s three main challenges: the political handling of the economic reforms, the country’s insertion in the international arena and the generational change in the high echelons of the Cuban government and Party.
Calling for a lifting of the US blockade on Cuba, the researcher pointed out that the success of current reforms and the achievement of economic growth will be two decisive factors in the definitive elimination of current US sanctions.
The analyses conducted by economists Pavel Vidal and Mauricio Miranda (Cubans currently residing in Colombia), who evaluated the prospects of market-based institution in Cuba’s future, prompted debates and opposing viewpoints.
After assessing different variables, such as static efficiency, legitimacy, dynamic efficiency and predictability, Vidal concluded that Cuba’s current institutional framework does not promote economic development.
“Cuban institutions haven’t improved as a result of an absence of concrete results,” said the young analyst, who advanced the proposal that the reform process could make headway at two different paces.
Intellectual Carlos Alzugaray (who has been a Cuban diplomat in several countries, including the United States) summarized the state of Cuba’s ties with its émigré community and predicted that migratory patterns will continue in the current growth trend, recalling that two million people (between 17 and 18% of Cuba’s population) currently lives abroad.
Sociologist Mayra Espina underscored the need to empower the least privileged sectors of society and pointed out that the current reform process must be accompanied by a profound institutional reform.
Mayra commented that at least 20 percent of Cuba’s urban population is living in poverty and affirmed the government’s new measures have brought about a widening of social divides.
Essayists Julio Cesar Guanche and Lenier Rodriguez (one of the editors of Espacio Laical) offered insightful analyses on the institutional structures of Cuban civil society and the difficulties and opportunities it currently faces.
Jurist Julio Antonio Fernandez and one of the hosts of the gathering, Roberto Veiga, spoke of the urgent need to reform the constitution; while Fernandez calls for a parliamentary assembly aimed at creating new legislation, the Catholic intellectual defends a gradual process of modification.
The two agreed that changes are urgently needed and that a series of tools that can guarantee compliance with the Constitution must be put into effect. They also concurred on the need to broaden the catalogue of rights offered by the current version of the Constitution.
Many of the participants paid tribute to the late priest Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, an intellectual of Cuba’s Catholic Church who actively participated in the gatherings organized by the journal on more than one occasion.
The debates saw the keen participation of attendees, including ecclesiastical authorities, Cuban researchers and analysts and young civil society activists such as bloggers, members of the Observatorio Critico network and independent journalists.
Three important books were launched during the gathering: Por un consenso para la democracia (“Towards a Democratic Consensus”), a compilation of essays by different authors, Cuba en la era de Raul Castro (“Cuba in the Era of Raul Castro”), by professor Carmelo Mesa-Lago, and La verdad no se ensaya (“Truth is not Rehearsed”), by Julio Cesar Guanche.
Though an invitation was required to participate in the gathering, a session open to the public and press was held on the last day of the event, when a number of speakers presented a summary of the topics debated.