“It looks like you want to get yourself into trouble, friend,” a Cuban official warned me when he learned about the article I’m working on for the beginning of next year. The truth is that he left me reflecting on that philosophy of life that is so widespread.
“Not getting into trouble” is a goal that’s much more difficult than it seems. For this to happen it’s not enough to sell your soul to the devil, you also have to sell it to God and end up becoming a kind of spiritual merchant.
What’s ironic is that I received this warning just a few hours before President Raul Castro called on the Cuban people to express their criticisms and he encouraged journalists to publish them, sweeping away the disastrous practice of excessive secrecy.
“Don’t be afraid of looking for problems for confronting what is done poorly, because at this point in time looking for problems is one of our main tasks for overcoming all those deficiencies that we have mentioned,” he asserted before the island’s parliament.
Vietnamese communists warned the Cubans that no economic transformation would be effective if it weren’t accompanied by a “change in mentality and that for this to happen it would be indispensable to have activists willing to “get into trouble.”
I know this because when I reviewed Marxist theory, which is what reigns here, I learned that Party members are the “transmission belt” between the leaders and the people; they are the channel through which guidelines are sent down from above and opinions are sent up from those below.
I consulted the matter with several members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), some at the rank-and-file level, others holding intermediate positions, one who was so old that he was one of the organization’s founders, and even a government official. All of them agreed that the Party is not fulfilling that role.
For decades, the leader-people communication took place in Revolution Square, where report backs were made and new projects presented. People applauded and in this way they endorsed the nation’s grand plans.
Later there was no reason to look for problems; it was enough to participate in a “study circle” and read the same speech that had been delivered live on radio and television as well as published in its entirety in all the newspapers and then summarized a few later hours on the news.
Ordinary Cubans were limited to listening to these addresses. Some were happy to get a break from their jobs while others were concerned because “it would be re-broadcast during the soap opera time slot.” Everything was approved unanimously, and if anyone spoke it was always to “reaffirm.”
Polling public opinion
This is why some “militantes” (Party loyalists) got out of the practice of “raising the consciousness of the masses.” On the contrary, their power became rooted and from their government positions they devoted themselves to bombarding their fellow citizens with regulations and resolutions.
When they needed “to measure the state of the people’s spirit” concerning one issue or another, they went to work in ad hoc organizations that conducted more or less discreet “surveys,” whose results were always pleasing but very not very reliable.
I remember one day I went to a research center that focused on youth, and I found the researchers in a bad mood because they had been required to repeat a survey three times until the results “coincided” with the opinion of the leaders.
Before Raul Castro’s last speech, some Party militants had approached me to talk about politics and the economy. I at first thought they were trying to influence me, but I was mistaken; the fact was that they were seeking information to understand “where we’re going.”
The problem is that they only read the newspaper of the PCC, which is divorced from what is happening in the country, equally denouncing the “enrichment” of parking lot attendants as well as — back peddling — by lauding self-employed workers for whom the government just changed the rules of the game.
Here too one notes the lack of an effective party. They created an office to advise journalists and it transformed into an apparatus of censorship. Though a skilled “punisher,” it has nevertheless been completely incapable of structuring a press policy that improves the image of the Revolution either on or off the island.
But none of this is news after Raul Castro, the second secretary of the PCC [still headed by Fidel], said in parliament that the Party is involved in too many things and had ceased to play its true role by devoting itself to governing.
I would also add managing companies. A great part of the managers arrested for embezzlement in recent years were carrying red Party membership cards in their pockets.
So, it’s very unlikely that the transmission belt will begin to become unstuck through actions taken from the desks of officials.
On the contrary, from those desks have only come orders for exemplary sanctions against members who dared to “get into trouble” by proposing alternatives to official policies or by whistle blowing on the corruption of some figure.
In this way they eliminate those forces most interested in helping to affect the needed transformations. This sends a paralyzing message to the ranks of the Party and keeps at a distance those Cubans who — despite considering themselves revolutionaries — have up to now refused to join that Party.
Yes, it seems that President Raul Castro was right when he affirmed that a “change in mentality” is imperative.
An authorized Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.