Fernando Ravsberg

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES — A few days ago, I saw a report by Telesur, Latin America’s left-wing broadcaster, which praised the creation of cooperatives in Mexico and stressed that these had helped prevent the closure of companies and unemployment in other Latin American countries.

Socialist sectors are precisely those that impel cooperatives as a means of production that offers an alternative to “capitalist individualism.” In some cases, these yield good results in areas such as the food, construction, housing or transportation industries.

If the economic essence of socialism is that “the means of production are in the hands of the people,” no company structure would represent that system better than a cooperative. We could say it is the “socialist people’s company” par excellence.

Cooperatives, in fact, fit perfectly into the society Jose Marti dreamt of: “A nation with many small owners is rich. A nation is rich not when a handful of people are rich, but when everyone has some wealth.”

Progress in the establishment of cooperatives is being made in the urban transportation sector, but these cooperatives still depend heavily on the State. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
Progress in the establishment of cooperatives is being made in the urban transportation sector, but these cooperatives still depend heavily on the State. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Opening a cooperative in Cuba, however, is an arduous task: the paperwork takes years, you need approval from the municipal government, authorization from the pertinent ministry and permission from the Commission for the Implementation of the Communist Party Guidelines – and the very Council of Ministers has the last word anyways.

None of these permits, authorizations and years of waiting are justified when the members of the cooperatives are simply going to repair air conditioning units or old television sets. It’s really not a question of deciding whether this work is of “strategic” importance for the nation’s economy.

It seems that they fear, not the work per se, but the cooperative as a company structure as such. Self-employed persons (setting up small and mid-sized private enterprises) are given the licenses denied members of cooperatives in a mere 15 days.

The explanations as to this wariness with respect to cooperatives are varied. Some say they fear these could become the breeding ground for corruption, but, in that case, they would have to start by shutting down all State companies, where the greatest scams have been hatched.

Barber shops were the first experiment involving cooperatives formed on the basis of State companies and they have worked fairly well. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
Barber shops were the first experiment involving cooperatives formed on the basis of State companies and they have worked fairly well. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

This is not mere journalistic speculation: there are hundreds of executives from the telephone, nickel, importing, garbage collection, slaughterhouse, food industry, airline and even customs sector that have already been imprisoned.

Barber shops were the first experiment involving cooperatives formed on the basis of State companies and they have worked fairly well. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Others claim that the development of cooperatives would leave the country’s ministries without “sources of financing.” The problem lies in the fact that much of the “extra” money that circulates among corrupt officials comes precisely from companies “administered” by ministries.

They may fear losing control. Cooperatives are legal entities, something self-employed persons are not. They are a legally incorporated company, with the obligations but also de the rights that State companies have, even in terms of importing.

There are also those who believe that the development of socialism in a given country is measured by the number of State-controlled industries in it. In 1968, this led Cuba to launch its so-called “Revolutionary Offensive,” which placed even street kiosks in State hands.

These are the teachings offered by Soviet manuals, based on the Stalinist model – manuals that “forgot” to mention that Marx recommended the nationalization only of the “fundamental means of production” and that Lenin impelled self-employment and cooperatives in the land of the Soviets.

Most of Cuba’s existing cooperatives have not been newly established but are restructured State companies. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
Most of Cuba’s existing cooperatives have not been newly established but are restructured State companies. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

We could speculate forever, especially since no one can explain the bureaucratic sluggishness of this process. In one ministry, they appointed a single official to review applications for cooperatives coming from all of the country’s municipalities and, when this official got sick, work was put on standby for months.

Many find it incomprehensible that they should have slammed on the break on economic reforms developed by the Communist Party itself, debated and supported by millions of Cubans and ratified by parliament. What further support is needed to implement them?

A few days ago, President Raul Castro said that “the field cannot be handed over to defeatists.” Certainly, for an economy to work, a degree of optimism is needed: those who set up businesses must believe they’re going to prosper, those who invest money must feel sure of their decision and common folk must believe that their lives will improve through work.

What’s happening in Cuba today is that those who set up businesses are thinking of earning whatever they can “for as long as these measures are in place,” those who invest fear they will not get their money back and many average Cubans believe that the only way they will be able to maintain their families with regular wages is to leave the country.

The government is partially responsible for that pessimism that grips people today. If Cuban leaders don’t lay all their bets on the new economic model, the one they themselves developed and the people approved, they can’t expect others to have any confidence in the future.


19 thoughts on “Are Cooperatives Dangerous for Cuba?

  • I have read reports which cite statistics showing Cuba imports from 70% to 94% of their food. The numbers vary over the years. Certainly, as a rough guide, we can assume Cuba imports approximately 80% of it’s food.

    http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/industry-markets-and-trade/statistics-and-market-information/by-region/latin-america-and-the-caribbean/agri-food-past-present-and-future-report-cuba/?id=1410083148776

    By way of comparison, the Dominican Republic imports about 13% of it’s food.

    http://www.tradingeconomics.com/dominican-republic/food-imports-percent-of-merchandise-imports-wb-data.html

  • How has the US embargo impoverished Cuba? For 3 decades the USSR bought all the Cuban sugar that the US used to buy. They also invested billions in Cuba, much of it on the military and Ministry of Interior.

    Cuba has received billions in subsidized cheap oil from Venezuela. Cuba is free to sell their products around the world to everywhere but the US. Foreign firms have invested in Cuban industry, telecom & tourism. And yet, despite all this trade, investment & subsidy, Cuba remains bankrupt. It’s not because of the meaningless embargo. It’s because the corrupt state socialist system (or whatever the hell you prefer to call it) does not work. Economically, socially, humanly, spiritually & politically the system imposed on Cuba by Fidel & Raul Castro has been an utter failure.

  • Here you have my good friend https://www.wfp.org/countries/cuba It’s very easy if you were cuban, you would have known that there is no industry (factories) in Cuba other than Rum and Tobacco production, therefore if you can’t do a research yourself at least use logic, if there is no production infrastructure inside, where do all goods (technology, clothes, tools, food, cars) come from? Cuba imports almost everything cubans consume, even the main ingredients for our national beverages are being imported from Europe (http://eagri.cz/public/web/file/261010/Ex_mltoh_kuba_spo.pdf) This is a first time thing in our entire history. Why does this happen? Because the dictatorship has been getting billions of dollars in credits (from every one but the US), and they are robbing it at high speed, by expending way too much on low quality products and then reselling it in Cuba not for 11 million cubans but for that 1% of cubans that have relatives living abroad and have been sending remittances since forever. This is not trashing my country, Cuba is not the dictatorship, that’s not my government, it never was it will never be. So long! Happy new year!

  • You really must broaden your literary horizons John. You are stuck on just two or three goofy books

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