Cuba Gov. Puts its Cards on the Table

Fernando Ravsberg

Havana Bay Entrance. Photo: Sonia Kovacic

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.

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7 thoughts on “Cuba Gov. Puts its Cards on the Table

  • To Marce Cameron: In your first comment you made an excellent point: The period we call “socialism” is not to be confused with the theoretically possible classless, stateless society of the longer future.

    Socialism is supposed to be a “bridge” from the miserable terrain of monopoly capitalism to a new terrain without classes and without private productive property. The construction project of this bridge can only begin when a transformational political party comes into state power–by whatever means–and implements a correct plan of gradual but steady social transformation.

    Many socialists confuse these two stages however and this has led to enormous problems of socialist construction.

    The most pernicious consequence of this confusion has been that a central attribute of the future goal society (communism), that of the absence of private productive property, is moved backward to the beginning of the bridge-building construction project. Transformational parties have abolished private productive property prematurely in the transitional stage by concentrating “all” the instruments of production in the hands of the socialist state.

    This erroneous shifting of the core principle of full communism from the ideal goal society to the here-and-now socialist society emerging out of capitalism is the reason socialist experiments to date have failed miserably.

    When socialism is incorrectly construed as needing to abolish private property rights and the market today, before a long historical period of bridge building and mass social crossing over culturally, the original stones and beams of the bridge crumble and fall into the river of time.

    A workable socialist bridge can only be begun and completed by retaining private productive property and the market, and making most industry and commerce owned by the employees in Mondragon-type cooperative corporations.

  • Ravensberg puts Cuba’s alleged “ruling bureaucratic structure” in inverted commas at the end of his article. What is meant by this? There is bureaucratism in Cuba, but not a RULING bureaucracy. This is the difference between Cuba and the Soviet Union from Stalin onwards. If Cuba were really ruled by a bureaucracy, economic reforms that undermine the power of the bureaucracy, such as those proposed by the PCC leadership, would not even get to the printers, let alone be the subject of a mass popular consultation in the lead-up to a party congress.

  • Cort Greene, you are confusing the transitional society that emerges from capitalism, which is often referred to as socialism, and a fully socialist, or communist, society. As Marx explained in the 19th century, during the transition period, which Cuba is still in the early stages of, the norm of distribution must be “to each according to their work”. This implies a degree of social inequality. I thought all Marxists understood this basic theoretical proposition. But you confuse Marxism with social democracy.

  • “Thanks to this document, for the first time citizens will have an idea of what type of society is being proposed”

    Honestly Fernando, is this document a proposition or an imposition?
    if a great majority was asking for example for them to keep the subsidies like the rationing book do you think the leadership will comply?

    The level of poverty in Cuba is such that many people are able to subsist thanks to this subsidies.

    Who’s fault it is that Cubans are so poor?

    The main employer for most Cubans is the Cuban state so there is no other one to blame.

    This document is an intent to rectify a 50 years old failed experiment. One that was failing in the economical and social field right from the beginning.

    Totalitarianism has failed and rightfully so.

    Will it take 50 more years for them to return freedom and power back to the Cuban people?

  • If this mouthpiece for US im,perialism likes the reforms then somethings wrong and the fix is in.


    US hopes for ‘greater liberalization’ in Cuba- ” and capitalist restoration”
    From The Jamaica Observer:

    The top U.S. diplomat for Latin America said Wednesday that the United States looked favorably on Cuba’s new economic policy shifts though he acknowledged “greater liberalization” was needed.

    “These reforms could point to an important shift in Cuban economic policy,” Arturo Valenzuela told reporters on a brief visit to Uruguay.

    “These are preliminary steps of what would need to be a process of greater liberalization,” but the United States sees them “positively,” he stressed.

    “We appreciate the fact that in Cuba important steps are being taken, such as the release of political prisoners, and we hope some more prisoners can be freed, and that the Catholic Church’s co”operation” is useful,” Valenzuela added.

    “At the same time, we see that these possible economic changes could begin to respond to major economic challenges that Cuba faces on the economic front,” said Valenzuela, noting that Cuba was in an acute economic crisis even as many South American countries were seeing solid growth this year.

  • As always, Fernando Revsberg is able to get to the heart of the matter and, in clear, simple language, free of the usual jargon of the economists and academics, but without patronizing his audience, spell out exactly what is happening. To my mind, Cuba is taking a path which both preserves the benefits of the Revolution while, at the same time, advancing and integrating itself into the world economy. What alternative is there? (I don’t think the DPRK’s “Juche” path would exactly work in Cuba! LOL)

  • This from a blog by a man who help set up the program from Canada’s Carlton College and the University of Havana in the 1990’s to train economists so Cuba could enter the world market.

    The pdf is the much talked about “Guidelines of Economic and Social Policy,”and some people are calling it based on those that closely resemble those of Vietnam model.

    The “Contour” section then states that “…only socialism is capable of overcoming the difficulties and preserving the conquests of the Revolution, and the implementation of the economic model prioritizes planification and not the market”.

    However, the next paragraph states “…socialism is equality of rights and equality of opportunity for all citizens, not egalitarianism.” The latter sounds less like “socialism” and more like “social democrat” if not the common approach of most Western countries. The latter quotation makes the former somewhat hard to interpret if not meaningless.

    The document then goes on to list the 291 propositions under the 12 different headings. A few of the more interesting propositions are summarized below:
    Wholesale markets for supplying state, cooperative and self-employment enterprises will be established. (9)
    State enterprises will decide themselves how to allocate their investment funds, and normally will not receive budgetary support for this. (13)
    Insolvent enterprises will face liquidation. (16)
    Workers incomes in state enterprises will be linked to enterprise performance (# 19)
    Monetary and exchange rate unification will be “advanced” (54)
    The taxation system will be advanced in terms of progressivity and coverage, and will be based on generality and equity of its structure. (56 and 57)
    The centralized character of the determination of the planned level and structure of prices will be maintained. (62)
    Recover the place of work as the fundamental means of contributing to the development of society and the satisfaction of personal and family needs. (130)
    Modify the structure of employment, reducing inflated staffing and increasing employment in the non-state sector (158-159)
    Eliminate the ration book as a means of distributing products. (162)
    Improve agriculture so that Cuba is no longer a net importer of food, prioritizing import substituting activities, reviving citrus fruit production, augmenting sugar production. (166, 174, 179, 194.)
    Promote export-oriented industry (197)
    Develop a range of new industries such as tires, construction materials and metallurgy (213, 215, 216)
    Restructuring of domestic retailing and wholesaling. (283-291)

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