A Tech Way for Cuba to Take Its Pulse

Pedro Campos

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, April 8 — The recent grassroots/rank-and-file discussions on the “Economic Guidelines of the Sixth Party Congress” have taught us important lessons about the benefit of collecting the opinions of all citizens — beyond those of specialists and politicians — and about the need to improve our democratic system by making it more participative, transparent and direct.

Several facts were made clear: Many heads are better than a few (despite the great limitations the process had in terms of its lack of horizontality); sectarianism predominates in the party’s press (which is supposed to speak for the whole party, not just one part of it); and pressuring was done to get the guidelines “approved,” instead of their being discussed.

This involved the underestimated collective intelligence, which is capable of contributing solutions to individual problems from the most dissimilar positions, experiences, cultures and knowledge levels.  This input goes beyond the “specialists,” whose limited, compartmentalized and biased points of views could never embrace the variety of all of the citizens’ contributions.

Making use of modern technologies

This experience should be perfected in its horizontality and expanded to the point of referendums.   It should be applied to all major plans, investments, budgets, laws and decisions that affect all citizens so that what is finally developed can be carried out in a collective, horizontal and public manner.   These should also be submitted to voting in referendums in which modern telecommunications technology would play a fundamental role as part of direct participative democracy.

Photo: Caridad

This is the way to get beyond the narrow leadership exercised over society by the group that continues to head the government/party.  This is the action demanded for the new socialist country that we aspire to build among all and with all.

Opponents of direct participative democracy argue that it would be complicated, awkward, expensive, and slow, and that it would not be effective to consult all citizens on each one of the important problems that affect them.  However, it’s known that all of this would be very easy using telecommunications networks that already exist in the country.  In addition, we would benefit from the educational programs that have been developed by the revolutionary process itself.

A wide internal network of computerization and communications exists in Cuba today.  With an approach of true opening up to new technologies (by using the resources of government entities and expanding availability to individuals), this would facilitate access by those who would want to interact with web pages where discussions of the plans and projects in question would take place.  This would facilitate the automatic collection and incorporation of the public’s concrete contributions and would facilitate desired horizontal exchange.

Each Cuban has a number and fingerprints on their identification card that can be used for a database.  Along with passwords and counter-passwords, these could guarantee the legitimacy of contributions and ensure that people voted just once.  Such steps are taken in many modern electoral processes.

All this could now be done more easily given the broadband coaxial cable connection that has just been made with Venezuela and that will soon be operative.  This will allow wide and inexpensive access by Cuba to the “network of networks”: the Internet.

The fiber optic cable from Venezuela to Cuba becomes operative this summer.

With the wide development of participative and direct democracy, along with horizontal computer networks, the government could allow the tax-free entry into the country of computers, equipment and similar systems, be these for private individuals, social or government institutions, self-employed workers or members of cooperatives.

The neutralization of enemy intelligence activities in those networks is an activity for which government counter-intelligence agencies would hold responsibility, as do those of all governments in all traditional communications networks.

It’s very easy to neutralize enemy activity by eliminating the paths and means of communications, but in pursuing that route we would return to smoke signals and drum messages.  Undoubtedly there will always be those who want to control or get rid of even smoke and drums, but those individuals should have no power in a socialist society.

In fact, today in Cuba highly important macro-economic projects are being planned and undertaken that involve and commit — for better or worse — the future of all Cubans.  In these, major investments are being made in technical and capital resources which will have important social and ecological consequences.  The public knows only partially about these, though their importance demands that they not only be discussed by everyone, but that they even be put up for vote in a referendum.

Outstanding among those projects are:

1)     A gigantic plan to establish a super-port in Mariel for deep draft ships.  This will also include container platforms, large marinas, foreign trade zones and industrial production involving transnational maquiladora assembly plants.  In addition, it will serve as a substitute for certain activities currently performed in the port of Havana so as to give the capital’s facility a solely touristic character.

2)     An enormous state agricultural plan for the massive production of soya and corn (transgenic?) with the aim of substituting imports and exporting crop derivatives.

3)     A plan for the development of 16 golf courses with residential areas and luxury housing that will be available for purchase by foreign millionaires.

4)     The division of the Cuban marine platform in the Gulf of Mexico into quadrants for oil prospecting and exploitation.

Photo: Caridad

Regarding these plans, a wide national discussion should take place in which all citizens participate — not just groups of specialists, investors and officials who decide — since these decisions involve billions of dollars of debt that the Cuban people will have to pay back in the future.

These grandiose investments are not understood as a priority by many Cubans; they appear as the continuation of forms of capitalist exploitation and profit-driven (vs. socially beneficial) production; and they could result in serious environmental problems whose effects are not very clear to everyone.  It would be worthwhile to collectively assess these and other issues, since these few concerns are only some of the more important aspects.

Many decades ago in Cuba, prior to 1959, even without the development of the current means of communications, the nation engaged in a public discussion concerning a channel that would divide the island in two.  The supposed purpose was to facilitate transporting goods between the southern United States and the rest of the world.   The Cuban people rejected the project.

In the extended meeting of the Council of Ministers at the end of February, President Raul Castro spoke about the need of delegating the study, conception and application of these plans to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA).

The decisive role of the people, the workers and each Cuban citizen in all plans and projects that affect their future must and can be recognized and materialized with the advance toward a direct and participative democratic system.

It is time to understand that the more the revolutionary process is affected by mistaken policies decided upon centrally by a small few, the more the critics of those and other such policies will be able to successfully argue against us based on the democratic deficits of the current political system.

That is why avoiding the discussion of the political system is one of the fundamental deficiencies of the “Guidelines” presented by the government/party for the Sixth Congress (April 16-19).

Without socialization and democratization, socialism is impossible

To contact Pedro Campos write: [email protected]

2 thoughts on “A Tech Way for Cuba to Take Its Pulse

  • I can’t keep quiet any longer. Reading these well meaning articles about how technology will improve democracy leads me to respond with a couple of warnings:

    1-If my government uses automation to “enhance” the voting process it will be for 1 reason only & that’s to corrupt the result.
    2-The use of biometrics to identify voters will thereby prejiduce the result because a free vote requires anonymity.
    3-There are many examples of fraudulent automated voting results in the U.S.A. from hanging chads to defective counting schemes that default to the Republican candidate. How hard is it to design a spreadsheet that tallies up column A or B anyway?
    4-Paper balloting allows for scruitineers & oversight by both sides of an issue.
    5- Democracy is no substitute for (competent) leadership. Someday you may find that the tyranny of the (ignorant/detatched/short-sighted & easily fooled) majority will hamper the progress of your society in more profound ways than the tyranny of world religions.

  • Further they want to build Cajalbana in Pinar del Rio, a large pump storage power plant. Maybe in the future to store not needed electricity from windpower in potential hydro energy, but here comes the point.
    Investment costs 100 Million plus, due to the embargo no one will over except low quality chinese, construction time 10 years and after 10 years it generates no profits because it will still pump up and down with fuel.
    What Cuba needs is a fair feed in tariff for private investors in small hydro,biogas and windpower, but the government is so inflexible it loses millions every year with non acting and having the most expensive electricity generation in the world. No rules exist, business done by corruption or with an authorization from high above.. When will Cuba finally learn?
    100 USD/kWh for 6 years and then ownership transfered to the country, no capitalist influence, just progress. Easy formula, but nothing happens except a former Minister was sentenced to prison while corrupting the national hydroenergy enterprise. Rot in hell Carlos Incapazo.

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