Cuba Needs Initiative but…

By Circles Robinson

Havana, Cuba, Photo: Caridad
Sunset in Havana, Cuba – photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, June 27 – Like the seemingly never ending US blockade that attacks Cuba’s economy from without, from the inside a corrosion process is gradually eating away at the relatively young 50-year revolution.

Nonetheless, taking initiative to stop the rust is much easier said than done.

Top Cuban leaders have noted repeatedly that to meet the challenges facing the nation, the country is in dire need of greater productivity, better quality services, and more efficient use of resources to reduce imports.

All these things require new ideas, methods and creativity.  At the same time there is a conservative political class of managers at most workplaces and government offices who fear and resist any attempts to change the status quo. Anybody who has lived and worked in Cuba knows what I am talking about.

This group of “cuadros” (cadres), known for their political loyalty to their superiors, exist to guarantee the hierarchical top-down command structure, taken on decades ago in the face of the very real US treat.

While it might not have been the initial intention, their function often serves to stifle participation with the result being that many workers in socialist Cuba feel little different from their disempowered counterparts under capitalism.

Several factors influence the resistance to change from the bosses that consider themselves loyal lieutenants of the Revolution, including suspicion of new ideas as well as a defense of petty (but cherished) privileges and perks, and managerial authority.

A manager’s control over material resources, or access to them, in a country with great shortages can also be a big plus if that person’s ethics run adrift. And this has become so commonplace in today’s Cuba that chains of abuse of power and theft have become the norm instead of the exception, a reality President Raul Castro has pledged to fight.

The role of the media

I believe the media plays an important role in making visible these serious problems affecting the Cuban Revolution.

When we started Havana Times our aim was to put into practice a call made by the Cuban Journalists Association (UPEC) at its VIII Congress last July to leave behind the self-censorship that has characterized the local press.

But taking initiative that could stimulate controversy is also risky in the media, although not in the sense of Mexico, Guatemala, Columbia and many other countries. In Cuba no journalist has been murdered since Ecuadorian reporter Carlos Bastidas Arguello in 1958, the year before the Cuban Revolution.

However, the drive to write about everyday life and problems in Cuba, and their possible causes, can quickly prove damaging to a writer or editor’s career. The fact is that managers in the Cuban media also want to avoid rocking the boat.

Ask young reporters working for the local media what happens when they take initiative to write about thorny or controversial issues in a more than superficial way.

One statistic illustrates the answer: While in countries like the United States, reporters and other newspaper workers have been laid off by the thousands during the current economic crisis, in tiny Cuba there are currently several hundred journalist jobs nationwide waiting to be filled.

Aside from the country’s aging population, one of the main reasons for the vacancies is that the profession, and how it is practiced, has little attraction to young Cubans. The media is seen as an ultra-rigid, monotonous, highly controlled field.

But a lack of workplace motivation is not only present in the media; it runs throughout many sectors of society. Many people agree that the biggest factor is the low salaries, but one could add that the opportunity for taking greater initiative could be a way to improve morale. People might then feel like active participants on the job, rather than alienated and indifferent, while waiting to be told what to do.

I’d like to make a special request to Havana Times readers to contribute your ideas on this open topic. Let me know if you think I’m off base and please write in any ideas or constructive criticism.

5 thoughts on “Cuba Needs Initiative but…

  • Everyone supporting the sovereingty of our country, MUST congratulate Havana Times for its courage. The editor and essayist living in Cuba are aware of the power of some “cuadros” who hypocritically, defending their personal interest, are willing to sow concerns, doubts about those against their immorality. I learned it the hard way,by opposing corruption when it raised it’s dirty head in 1970. I was rewarded with 4 1/2 years in Boniato Jail, acussed of the most heinious crimes against my country. Unable to reivindicate my moral and demonstrate my innocence, I migrated in 1980, sticking to my principles against stealing, bribes, fostering dignity. Ironically, most of my accusers fled Cuba when the economy worsened in the 90’s and have never looked back or extended a helping hand to those they purported to defend. Fear no risk, reject all threats and be willing to pay any price, for being true to your truths and convictions, knowing history will reward your courage.

  • Participatory Economics! Check it out. It is the answer for Cuba I believe. Remuneration based on effort and sacrifice. Participatory planning councils of workers and consumers. Say proportionated to stake and Balanced Rotation of Roles (Balanced Job Complexes).

  • My opinion Circles is that you are right on track. I have family in Cuba and communicate with them daily. The issue with the US Embargo is very overstated. The US currently ranks 5 in trading with Cuba (exporting food and other needed supplies to this country) to the tune of 8 million annually. Cuba is a prime example to the rest of the world as to why Socialism does not work. The controls are so tight that there is no freedom to suggest new and effective ideas in any sector of living. The pay is next to nothing and there is hardly room for advancement, thus the lack of interest by the common people to do or say anything which would offer improvement for this little country. Good job, Keep it going.

  • The projects we were involved with did not go well. None of the problems had anything to do with the U.S. embargo , but a total lack of any decision making on the Cuban side. ???
    obviously your not a native making a comment like this..All things have to do with the embargo..dude! So now you blame the victim..

  • Have been to Cuba many times and was involved in a few projects there. I agree with your assessment of the situation.The projects we were involved with did not go well. None of the problems had anything to do with the U.S. embargo , but a total lack of any decision making on the Cuban side. The current problems we are having is no one seems to know the rules or they are always changing for no apparent reason. We are in the yachting, boating industry. We work with some Cubans to bring in business and the same time others try to drive it away. What is needed is an idea of what is needed and than give the decision making for daily operations to the people on the ground

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