By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — Every so often, a rumor goes around my town Mayari that it is going to become a new province. People who, for some reason, rub shoulders with the authorities ardently defend this possibility arguing that “it was mentioned at a meeting or that they were hinting at it at least.”
The most gullible of us say that the subject of dividing Holguin into two provinces has been under discussion for quite some time now and the eastern part, ours, would be converted into a special industrial park because it would include Nicaro and Moa, nickel mining centers, and Felton-Cajimaya, another industrial park. Mayari would supposedly be its capital.
These rumors, forgetting whether they are true or not, are making everyone very happy. It’s giving them hope that things will improve. Municipal affairs are depressing and their resources are very limited. The Cuban socialist system makes it impossible for municipalities to act independently, even though the last lot of legislation that was passed actually encouraged this kind of self-management for the first time. The truth of the matter is that it doesn’t matter how much a municipality produces or how much it has the potential to produce, its wealth doesn’t directly affect its public budget.
All of the country’s resources are controlled by the government’s centralized organizational structure and funding is then divided between provinces and municipalities. It doesn’t matter how they are run or the efforts they make, funds are distributed according to other criteria. That’s why in a municipality which is very rich in financial resources, such as Mayari, you can still find potholes that are half a meter deep on the main road, for years, and it seems like nobody cares. This is just one example of the many unfathomable consequences of this system.
Even higher ups of the Communist Party and People’s Power local and provincial governments have to suffer these potholes on a daily basis when they drive home or on their way to work. But they still don’t do anything about it. Every once in a while, they fill them up with rubble an insignificant amount of asphalt that’s been left over from another construction project. However, two or three weeks later and the hole is there again and all they’ve managed to do is to create more dust and mud in our urban landscape.
Ordinary Cubans watch these leaders go past and, because they’re unaware of how the national budget works, they criticize them through clenched teeth and blame them for not caring about the town’s best interests. They believe the problem lies at the bottom and not at the top of the pyramid. “If only Fidel or Raul were to see this: the young people who are running things now are ruining the country and the only thing they want to do is to live well themselves.” That’s what people say every time something doesn’t work, which is nearly always.
This idea is consolidated by the fact that when high-ranking national government officials come to visit these parts, resources and special reserves are found to improve the roads within days, and sometimes even within hours. They paint building fronts and they put away torn sheets at the hospital and put out the new ones for a short time at least. People see this as a display of the insolence of local leaders and not of the “great” leaders who designed and have encouraged this kind of system.
As everything is done in such a hurry, nothing is done with high enough quality and the resources which are used, don’t even have the social value they hoped they would, because soon afterwards, what has been fixed, breaks down again. It’s a vicious cycle. However, in provincial headquarters, things work a little differently. As “the prism is inverted”, it’s back to front, municipalities don’t control what they should get because of the wealth they’ve generated and have to wait for the centralized government to give them their funding instead. However, provinces have certain privileges: more resources, more possibilities to sustain repairs and investment, which no matter how small they are can still make a huge difference in any ordinary municipality.
That’s why people want to move to Havana so much, or to a provincial capital or even for their municipality to be magically awarded the title of “province”. I seriously doubt that anyone who lives in Los Angeles believes that Sacramento is more important or better than their city; the same goes for people in New York who definitely aren’t jealous of those who live in Albany; nor those in Miami of those in Tallahassee. These are only three examples of cities which have prospered and grown more than their provincial capitals.
Where territorial autonomy exists to manage resources and to stimulate the economy, growth and development mainly depend on local management. However, here we depend on privileged appointments to positions of power and distribution, which are far from being economic stimuli and don’t inspire a creative spirit.
To continue with the example of my own municipality, there were around 120,000 inhabitants until recent decades, but now we don’t even reach 100,000. Every year, thousands of people migrate abroad, to Havana and to other provinces. Nearly all of our specialty doctors have left for Ecuador and are working there of their own accord. Thousands and thousands of young people have marched through Ecuador, before, and Guyana, now, to reach the US and many others are preparing the same journey. In my small suburban neighborhood, dozens of people have emigrated in the last few months alone.
However, this municipality has suitable lands for farming. There are probably over 20,000 hectares, I don’t have the exact figure, but the old Preston sugar mill had over 10,000 hectares of sugar plantations, which covered the large majority of our flatlands; and 60% of our territory is mountainous and very well-suited to cultivation. In addition to this, we have two large reservoirs, one of which is the famous Mayari dam, one of the largest and most strategic dams in Cuba. In Mayari’s Pine Forests, there are sizeable reserves of laterites (iron, nicket, cobalt and chromium), which have remained unexplored up until today due to the closure and destruction of the Nicaro factory; these are the famous deposits that Fidel offered to give to Roosevelt in a letter he wrote when he was 12 years old.
We also have very important forest resources, coffee plantations and livestock, even though they’ve been depleted a little due to the State having abandoned them. In Mayari valley, we have thousands of hectares which are ideal for tobacco cultivation, a centenary tradition, which aren’t outdone in quality by even the best plantations in Vueltabajo, Pinar del Rio. Today, the tobacco industry is slowly recovering and expanding once again.
Likewise, Mayari is the municipality that produces the most amount of electricity in the entire country, mainly thermoelectric power at the Felton factory; sugar production was estimated to be around 100,000 tons but this slowly declined because of poor management until the sugar mill was finally destroyed; the same thing happened with the nickel factory, the torula (yeast) factory, the ice factory, etc.
A lot of resources plus a lot of destruction, along with poor management. We have a lot of agricultural, mining and industrial opportunities; however, we lack the workforce to sustain them because people are emigrating and the city is falling apart, in spite of there being a special development project in the works which has been going on for a decade now and has very little to show for itself.
A decade ago, the Spanish municipality of Alcorcon, Mayari’s sister city, donated important resources for social projects and there was a joke on the street because these kinds of things aren’t covered by the media. On one of their visits to the Municipal Assembly, they read a report with the municipality’s financial statistics and its wealth surprised them greatly; so much so that they said that “if their municipality had Mayari’s resources, they would be one of the richest in Europe.” They never came back again with donations.
This is just one example of the real cause of our misfortunes and their concrete results. Cuba needs to change a lot of things if we want to get out of the predicament they put us in with their voluntarism, utopia and lack of a real democracy (stigmas which now plague socialism, on the whole). The US embargo is their great excuse and it’s true that the damage it’s done is great too, but even greater than this is our internal embargo which has been created by this dysfunctional, inefficiency-causing, inefficient and damaging system.
We have to make a lot of changes in the New Cuba: from municipal autonomy (which in turn will encourage local development) to a new political-management division (which will reduce the number of provinces), which only lead to more bureaucracy, more costs, more leaders and none of it is necessary for us to grow as a municipality.
Growth and development will come naturally when resources are rightfully used, financial management is independent, when we believe that great efforts will bring great visible results, not abstract ones like the ones we have today that only exist as statistics. In short, we’ll have financial freedom, democracy and everyone will be able to enjoy all their human rights.