HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 11 — With the publication of the “Guidelines of Economic and Social Policy,” the government headed by President Raul Castro has finally shown its cards. The document explains to the public where the country is going and what model the leadership seeks to build.
It appears that consensus has been reached among the administrating and historical leaders of the Cuban Revolution —both those with and without formal positions— concerning the changes that are needed. They took their time, but that’s not surprising; this corresponds to the style of political engagement in Cuba.
Thanks to this document, for the first time citizens will have an idea of what type of society is being proposed. For three years they had been asked to “trust,” which —due to the lack of information— seemed more like asking for “faith.”
The ruling bureaucratic structure, camouflaged in its inefficiency and aided by the government’s lack of definition to the public, sabotaged the reforms. Some of them were removed from their positions and others were put under house arrest or in prison.
From the sidelines
However, the struggle will continue since other decision-makers among the bureaucracy are defending the privileges that the current model provides them. They also consider themselves indispensable for the operation of the country and are extremely powerful in their omnipresence.
Most Cuban citizens have been limited to observing the confrontation from the sidelines. In fact, it’s highly improbable that people will take the risk and fight for the changes if it’s not explained what they’ll be defending and how they’ll benefit.
However, now citizens know that the plan is to create a decentralized model, structure a “lighter” government, cede power to the municipalities, give autonomy to businesses, and accept different forms of ownership and production.
Realism takes over
Realism will be imposed even in the realm of international solidarity, which will continue but “according to the national interests.” Efforts will be made to require that beneficiary countries pay the costs, which is something clearly logical given Cuba’s scarce economic resources.
Attempts will also be made to determine the cost of aid provided by the island, something that seemed to be of no interest to anyone. Last year an official from the foreign minister responded to me as if I were a heretic when I asked about the cost of medical attention given in Cuba to the children victims of the Chernobyl accident.
Much remains to be defined. For example, where will people get food when their ration books are gone? It’s one thing is to eliminate subsidies and another very different thing when people will be required to buy their basic foodstuffs in hard-currency stores that charge a 240 percent tax.
The Cuban government insists that this is only an “updating” of the model, but in reading the document one has the impression that these are the same structural changes publicized three years ago and that they closely resemble those of Vietnam.
To study the experiences of other more successful nations is not something a government should be ashamed of; it prevents it from having to re-discover fire. The error committed in the past was not in copying, but in the selection of a model that was copied.
Without a doubt, many elements remain to be defined, which is not necessarily bad; to the contrary, it offers the possibility to influence the design. What’s more, this in fact opens up opportunities for citizens —be they communists or not— to express their opinions and defend their interests.
Trust and distrust
It’s difficult to know how much they will be able to exert influence, but it could be more than what’s believed. In fact, the current plan draws a great deal from proposals that came out of the 2007 national discussions with the public, businesspeople, academics and provincial political bosses.
However, even among the Cubans who support the changes, there are those who have their doubts about the permanency of these changes over time. They recall other times when reforms were approved and later “undermined” by the government itself.
One way of securing the support at the base of the Communist Party and by the population in general would be to explain that this time the changes are truly far reaching and not simple adjustments to the existing model in which very few Cubans now trust.
But also, in discussions with citizens they will want to know what benefits they’ll receive from this plan. Because what’s certain is that up to now they’ve only seen its dark side: that of mass layoffs and the elimination of subsidies.
Winning the “hearts and minds” of their countrymen will be key for the Cuban leadership. Ordinary citizens supporting the plan could be the sole hope for overcoming the deaf resistance of the “ruling bureaucratic structure.”
Havana Times translation of the Spanish original authorized by BBC Mundo.