Por Rogelio M. Díaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — The congress of Cuba’s National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) came to a close a few days ago. I was left with the impression that this gathering offered us very suggestive details.
One needn’t look too deep into the pronouncements of the official press to notice that ANAP members are far less docile in their relations with the government than students or trade union representatives in other sectors. Evidently, the debate process and its preliminary talks were very spicy and many people poured their complaints about the chronic inefficiency of the State apparatus responsible for agriculture. This is at least one way of warding off complacency, though we are still unsure as to the results.
The closing address was delivered by a true heavy-weight, the number two among the elite of active revolutionary leaders. Jose Ramon Machado Ventura’s speeches aren’t often as impressive as those of the Castros, but I believe it is worthwhile to pay close attention to his remarks this time around.
On the one hand, Machado Ventura acknowledged the complexity of the debates and, on the other, offered us a number of glimpses at coming reforms, which aim to address the problems exposed at the congress and the nation’s difficulties of old.
From what he said, it seems we should expect farm product prices to continue to rise. The State is going to make supplies and raw materials sold to farmers more expensive. At the same time, it is going to start paying higher prices for several farm and livestock products. This way, it hopes to adjust itself to the realities of the market, but, it also eliminates some forces that, dysfunctional and all, were keeping inflation in check some. That is the philosophy of “normality”: macro-economic adjustments and may divine providence take pity on those who earn less.
The Communist Party leader also touched on other concepts that may be considered reasonable but which create unpredictable risks. I am referring to the opinions regarding the social responsibilities of farm workers. The orator stated that these must play a more active role in maintaining services such as health and education, take it upon themselves, for instance, to make “minor” repairs at schools and clinics, without waiting for the State to tackle those problems.
Moving in that direction in a voluntary fashion that is democratically and transparently coordinated would certainly be something worth considering. However, merely talking about it doesn’t mean the best alternatives are going to be sought. Judging from past experience, we could suspect this may give the State an excuse to ditch a substantial part of the responsibilities it had previously assumed. The quality and scope of the said services, which are held up as banners of Cuba’s system, depend on their budget.
As these banners are a bit tattered and people know the State doesn’t have enough to address all of their accumulated needs, many a time the population contributes in an irregular fashion. For instance, they find paint for classrooms, a student’s parents bring a light bulb, and people pitch in and buy a fan for the hotter afternoons. What they can’t do is reveal they are doing this, because, till now, this was not well regarded.
This step entails a bit of reason and danger all at once, for a situation in which the State turns its back on the material problems faced by medical and educational facilities and believes families should shoulder such burdens could easily come about. Do you recall that oft-repeated announcement: “your medical attention is free, but it costs money.” What was one to expect from that, that they would start charging for medical services? On the other hand, there was talk of rural areas at the Congress, but, what can we expect for urban ones?
We are therefore talking about a potential reform that cannot be taken lightly. Till now, one was paying for the full package through one’s professional labor or trade for the State (in exchange for an extremely low salary). If the package is no longer complete and one has to pay for the difference privately, we’ll have to revise some of the foundational concepts.