Cuba: Challenges for the 21st Century

Lenier González Mederos*

Warehouse. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Like all other countries in the Western hemisphere, Cuba faces challenges that are shared by many of its neighbors and problems that are unique to it.

Cuba’s supposed “exceptionality” has been gradually vanishing as part of a monumental transformation of its society, through which the new (and old) generations have rapidly adjusted to global consumption logics (for better and for worse), where the transnational constitutes a transversal axis that mediates everything and in which citizen expectations have been shaken qualitatively.

In this new context, the new generations are highly depoliticized and profess a cult-like admiration for the city of Miami, which, sociologically speaking, functions as a new, secular Paradise for a significant sector of Cuban society.

Since the collapse of the socialist bloc, our country has been facing a series of significant challenges, in great measure related to the postponement of a strategic redesign of the national State aimed at adjusting it to the new challenges of the 21st century, without thereby dismantling or taking steps back from post-revolutionary achievements.

Twenty years after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, methods and procedures from the era of East European socialism survive among the political class made up of the men who led the Cuban revolution, as does the institution of the one-party system (perceived as a “vanguard”). The Cuban State also continues to mechanically champion a petrified Marxist-Leninist identity, the State-command economy (now undergoing a process of transformation, in which new forms of property begin to emerge, though its roles and place within the market remain unclear) and the ideological apparatuses of the Cuban Communist Party (which standardizes its discourse through a very limited view of Cuba and the world).

The Cuban economy has not been able to sustainably achieve adequate levels of growth and it is barely connected to transnational value-creation networks, typical of the globalized capitalist economy. All of this leads to the island’s unfavorable position within the international division of labor. The country continues to require a prodigious investment of foreign capital and greater freedoms, such that citizens can organize themselves in economic partnerships that help the country prosper and become inserted in the global economy.

In Cuba’s case, the economic empowerment of the greatest possible number of social sectors is needed. The programmatic shortcomings of Cuba’s current economic reform process is coupled with the external harassment represent by the US blockade, which lays a heavy financial and commercial burden on the island and is structurally immoral, illegal and counterproductive, for it considers legitimate to grant the US government prerogatives about Cuba’s internal affairs and only results in greater hardships for the already-impoverished population of the island.

Churros. Photo: Juan Suarez

It would be strategically advisable to continue to take steps towards reforming Cuba’s economic and political institutions, so as to harmonize them with those of the Latin American region. This is the sole guarantee of Cuba’s effective incorporation into the new dynamic in the hemisphere. Latin America’s new constitutionalism is a powerful and needed reference in this process. Cuba’s vigorous political and economic integration into Latin America could be the counterweight needed to overcome another great challenge: the rebuilding of bilateral relations with the United States, and all the challenges this entails.

Cuba has a highly diverse and active civil society (official, independent and dissident) which is seeing the consolidation of movements that defend religious, environmental, racial, migratory, sexual, gender and political agendas. If there is one feature that characterizes Cuba’s transnational reality, it is pluralism.

The success of those who govern (and will govern) Cuba in the 21st century will depend, in my opinion, on the political capacity these leaders have to build new symbolic references and an institutional framework that is able to process this pluralism, in acknowledgment of this transnational nature of Cuban society and the strategic imperative of incorporating the émigré community into the country’s economic, cultural, social and political life.

Within the current context, in which Cuba essays a transition from its historical leadership to a new generation of social actors, the issue of civil society becomes of crucial importance as a means of building consensuses.

The Cuban government faces the challenge of becoming a guarantor of national diversity through the institutionalization of pluralism. It would be opportune for the Associations Registry, shut down some years ago, to reopen its doors, so that civil society initiatives that are today merely tolerated or in a state of “accepted illegality” can institutionalize themselves and participate more actively in political decisions.

Bag check for a department store. Photo: Juan Suarez

A more important and crucial challenge lies behind this: that of continuing to dismantle a Soviet-like state model, which produces the shortages and disfunctional mechanisms we all know, opening the doors to a broader national debate through which citizens could agree on a new State model, in step with the challenges that Cuba must face in the 21st century and in which political and social pluralism can be structurally incorporated into the socio-political order.

A clear and heterodox legislation that establishes the operational framework of Cuban civil society, guarantees the needed autonomy for different spaces and simultaneously penalizes potential links between social actors and internal and external agendas that are contrary to the interests of the majority (those, that is to say, that envisage Cuba’s future as dependent on a “national catastrophe”), could result from this.

The emergence of new social groups in Cuba should not be regarded with suspicion, but as the natural outcome of history. A new legislation on Cuban associations could lead to the regeneration of a civil society that is close to the Cuban government, providing the needed institutionalization of the “accepted or tolerated” civil society.

To the extent that this concerted process grows and bears fruit, we will be contributing to broadening Cuba’s political consensus and, as such, to creating improved conditions for the prevention of intervention by foreign powers in our internal affairs. Cuba’s civil society and government share the responsibility of making Cuba advance towards greater progress and stability in the 21st century. I hope we will all be up to this challenge.

*Paper presented by the author during the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE), held in Miami from July 31 to August 2, 2014.

One thought on “Cuba: Challenges for the 21st Century

  • Lenier defines Cuba’s transnational reality as pluralistic. Pluralism is generally defined as “a social system based on mutual respect for each other’s cultures among various groups that make up a society, wherein subordinate groups do not have to forsake their lifestyle and traditions but, rather, can express their culture and participate in the larger society free of prejudice.” On paper, Cuba presents itself as a pluralistic society. Given the Castros totalitarian and tyrannical control over civil society, the reality of Cuba is much less ‘pluralistic’ than the author describes. In fact, the Castro dictatorship, in order to sustain itself, stands as the greatest obstacle to the realistic of a truly pluralistic Cuba.

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