Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES, Dec 27 — As I look back, at the end of this year, I think some things have indeed changed in the Cuban economy.
Some processes that were already in motion in previous years have intensified, such as the distribution of land at the expense of large state-run farms, those unproductive white elephants in which many of us have left parts of our lives; and the expansion — scrupulously, almost surgically — of opportunities for private micro-enterprises in cities.
But above all, particularly in recent weeks, there have been actions whose impact are qualitatively different. I’m referring to the decisions to liberalize the sales and purchases of homes, the authorization of direct commercial relations between tourism enterprises and farm cooperatives, and the restitution of bank loans for investment in the service sector and agriculture.
In previous articles I’ve presented arguments about this topic. From my point of view, these actions tend to defragment the markets (and the bourgeois-class-in-formation itself), convert treasures into capital, launder fortunes and expedite the movement of capital in the squalid national economy.
It has been argued, and with good reason, that there are technical, economic and legal difficulties associated with the implementation of these measures.
The Market as Distributor of Resources and Values
But I’m sure that these difficulties will gradually be accommodated alongside the main movement towards an economy where hegemony is held by the market as a distributor of resources and values.
However, the key problem of the economy and of the national social order remains the same: the extensive industrial sector and traditional state services, where something like half of GDP is generated, which are characterized by low productivity as a result of technological backwardness and the de-capitalization that this sector has suffered since the 1990s.
Except for the sugar industry — which was restructured several years ago and is now arranged in a new type of business model, and some areas that have experienced foreign investments (including mining) — what are found here are numerous companies which in many cases are the only source of employment for entire communities and which inescapably must be “updated.”
The party-approved “Guidelines,” the grocery list of the updating, are vague and contradictory on the subject, as corresponds to a matter of great cost but over which there are still no clear calculations. But they usually point in two directions: decentralization and self-financing.
Business decentralization, in the Cuban context, means some novel opportunities.
What I’m saying is that it will help to shape a sector of government managers very different from those administrators immersed in the tragic triad of no power, no willingness and no knowledge.
These new ones will be ready to pounce onto our public patrimony (property) in support of privatization as soon as the door is barely cracked.
This will be like what happened in China, where this sector constitutes a hinge between the expanding private sector and the declining public one.
Also — and now I invite you to dream — a decentralized company is always a better scenario for workers participation in decision-making processes.
In the centralized scenarios that have prevailed in Cuba, the participation of workers has been informational: employees are told about what is decided at the top level, and tallies are made of the requests by the workers, who might complain about dirty bathrooms or the poor lunches – but not much else.
I don’t think that now is anything different, because the “Guidelines” mention practically nothing about workers participation in companies. But at least, I repeat, this is a best case scenario.
Yet at the same time, decentralization (and the elimination of soft budgets and subsidies) could lead to an unfriendly relationship with existing companies, and that will inevitably happen in the Cuban government enterprises.
I don’t mean to imply that all Cuban industries — inefficient, backward and undercapitalized — will be wiped out by decentralization and the greater use of the market.
Some companies can survive if they are generously supplied with sufficient investment and provided with a kind of incubator for their early protection.
Still, others cannot be saved, and their collapse will mean the further expulsions of the workforce into the ranks of the unemployed. With these, along with those who will be laid off as a result of rationalization measures within the bureaucratic apparatus, some estimates point to a million and half people being without work.
And that, above all other considerations, will be the most important issue of the updating by the general/president next year.
In other words, the issue will be how to stop circumventing the crux of the matter, how to quit postponing and finally tackle it.
It is essential for an economy whose growth rate is declining, whose productivity is barely increasing and one that is increasingly dependent on what is euphemistically called “cooperation missions,” which are nothing more than politically motivated subsidies from Chavez.
This is the moment in which one wonders, as did Churchill, if this is the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning. But above all, how much will have to paid by us — ourselves, our families, our friends — for this belated capitalist restoration, like Cuesta Morua** said, for casinos and gangs.
(*)Published originally in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com
(**) Manuel Cuesta Morua is the secretary general of the “Socialist Democratic Current”(Spanish: Corriente Socialdemócrata Cubana), a dissident movement in Cuba, and is an anthropologist, philosopher, and historian. He is also chairperson of the Partido Arco Progresista (PARP). (source: AfroCubaWeb)