HAVANA TIMES — During a visit to a Cuban farm-prison, I interviewed a very polite gentleman working as a teacher for the other inmates. In the course of our conversation, he confessed he had ended up in prison for misappropriating resources at the “socialist State company” he managed.
I thought it comical that a confessed embezzler continued to use “politically correct” terms like those. These are so deeply rooted in the mindset of high public officials that they make use of them even after having been demoted or convicted for theft.
Then, I asked myself whether those who defend the system are wise to refer to these unproductive and inefficient companies, eaten up by growing managerial corruption, as “State socialist.”
In the countryside, to mention one example, State socialist farms are the least productive from the word go, even though they have the most land, the best machinery and all of the State’s resources at their disposal.
It is a contradiction to say that the current system must be consolidated while calling some of these abominations, which discredit the State and the viability of socialism, “State socialist companies.”
Foxes and Cooperatives
Ironically, State companies look a lot less “socialist” than cooperatives. The latter choose their leaders at worker assemblies, draw up their statutes collectively and distribute benefits more fairly.
The process of creating cooperatives, however, is making slow progress, with the government putting the fox to look after the hens. Cooperatives must first secure approval from the ministries that manage many of the “State socialist farms” that compete with them.
It is not unusual for these ministries to take more than a year to approve each cooperative. The process is long, slow and complex. The required documents are submitted to the Municipal Administrative Council (CAM) and, from there, they are sent to the Provincial Administrative Council (CAP).
When the cooperative has received the green light from these two lower institutions, it is ready for the big leagues. The application is passed on to the ministry, many of which have only one official to process requests arriving from Cuba’s 169 municipalities.
Not long ago, I told a story involving the Ministry of Construction, where cooperatives had to wait months to receive approval because the only official who processed their applications was sick and they hadn’t assigned anyone to take his place.
If the said officially ultimately approves the creation of the cooperative, they convey the application to the minister. With the minister’s signature, the documents can be passed on to the Commission for the Implementation of the Party Guidelines, which again goes over the cooperative’s application.
Those aspiring to establish a cooperative will have to fill up more and more forms down this long, bureaucratic road. In addition to those required by law, the CAM has its own form and the ministries others, forms applicants will only find out about on reaching that level.
The request to form a cooperative is studied by each body before being elevated to the next level, where they will again be analyzed. Finally, they are sent to the Council of Ministers, which has the last word.
There are few other countries in the world where setting up a simple air-conditioner repair or shoe manufacturing cooperative requires the approval of so many different entities and the final green light from the full ministerial cabinet.
This Kafkaesque process explains why only 246 of 498 cooperatives requesting authorization have been approved. Some applicants, tired of so much waiting, have begun to work together illegally, securing a self-employment license and working collectively afterwards.
There is simply too much apprehension surrounding the members-owners of cooperatives, despite the fact that they could well constitute the ideological common ground in Cuba, for both collectivist socialists and those who demand the existence of an owner.
They are also the quickest way of achieving a real wage increase. The self-employed and members of cooperatives, in fact, earn three times as much as State employees. On occasions, they earn as much as 10 times what the State pays.
For cooperatives to flourish, however, Cuba must eliminate much of the bureaucracy today deciding their fate and put behind its fears and prejudices. Conceiving of cooperatives as a bastard-child that is undeserving of the surname of “socialist” could be a serious mistake.
Perhaps one day Cuba’s politicians and press will understand that recognizing cooperatives as a legitimate child honors the system much more than continuing to defend a first-born that everyone knows is both clumsy and reckless.
(*) Visit the web page of Fernando Ravsberg.