In Cuba Nobody Criticizes the General

Pedro Campos 

Havana fruit and vegie seller. Photo: Juan Suárez

HAVANA TIMES — During the Council of Ministers meeting held this past Saturday, March 1, Cuban President Raul Castro said: “What we do isn’t perfect. Sometimes, lacking experience in some areas, we make mistakes. That is why every matter must be constantly subjected to critical observations (…) we’ve grown used to having instructions come down from above, and that has to change. All administrative bodies, from one end of the island to the next, must express their opinions at the right place and time and in an appropriate manner.”

No one wrote the Colonel in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel – he never received the letter with the pension he was waiting for and ended up living in poverty. Similarly, no one [on the inside] is criticizing General Raul Castro’s “reform” program and he is now asking his officials to make critical observations, complaining that people have grown accustomed to receiving instructions from above. The extreme poverty of Cuba’s bureaucratic mentality has become more than evident.

Raul Castro doesn’t care to ask why this happens, but he knows. He and most of his subordinates come from the military, where one learns to obey orders without questioning them. He and his officers are used to treating anyone who thinks differently as an enemy. Cuba’s command political and economic system, its centralism devoid of democracy, and the predominance of neo-Stalinist thought within government, thwart all criticisms.

How does Raul Castro expect his appointed officers to offer their opinions now, when his “reform” process has hit a roadblock?

Is he only interested in hearing the opinions of his officers, who don’t want to or have nothing to comment?

Does he have no interest in all other criticisms, the tons of proposals and assessments advanced by Cuba’s broad socialist and democratic Left, including philosophers, economists, psychologists, historians, jurists, medical doctors, diplomats, military officers, writers, poets, journalists and professionals from all of the sciences and the humanities, people of diverse political tendencies, who grew up within the revolutionary process and are scattered throughout the country, far from the levers of power?

Raul Castro asks his ministers for critical opinions. Photo:

Is he not interested in the modest observations made by the official press itself?

It is evident the Cuban economy is heading in the same direction as the rooster owned by the Colonel in Garcia Marquez’ story, who sold everything he had and went bankrupt in order to feed him, to prepare the animal for the fight it never fought. By the looks of it, our President-General has begun to perceive signs that everything he’s been doing as part of the “reform process” could have the same results.

This is the result of surrounding oneself by bootlickers and “loyal” underlings who do not dare make criticisms, knowing that the daring few who have chosen to tell the president something he doesn’t want to hear are put on leave, demoted or sent off on “important missions” far away, where no one can hear what they have to say.

It runs in the family and the system is based on a monopoly of absolute power.

As part of Cuba’s broad socialist and democratic left, we who espouse the tenets of a participative and democratic socialism have tried to help the president find the way, but our proposals have been grossly ignored or tackled in partial, skewed or inconsistent ways.

Lacking the comprehensive political, economic and social vision needed to confront this situation, those who have been giving orders in Cuba (governing is something different) for more than fifty years, accustomed to imposing their views, having driven their docile inferiors to a point where they accept everything that comes from above, now find that their officials have no opinions to voice.

Public bathroom in a private home. Photo: Juan Suárez

If the Cuban president is actually interested in hearing something other than applauses and praise for his policies, he is going to have to look beyond the circle of his subordinates and do what he has refused to do so far: read, hear and debate the criteria laid out by the broad Left and by the opposition and dissidents he has repressed in masked, open and even violent ways.

He will only be able to take this step if he manages to put aside his old mindset and begins to democratize Cuban society, so as to allow for the free expression of diverse thinking. He will have to open the doors of the Party’s press, the official press, the only one tolerated in Cuba, to dissenting thought. He will have to initiate the much-postponed democratic debate about the type of society the Cuban people want.

I doubt he will take this step, to be honest. If he did, however, all Cubans of good will ought to be willing to participate in such a process.

Like the Colonel in Garcia Marquez’ novel, who spent everything he had feeding his prize cock, at the cost of plunging his family into abject poverty, Cuba’s military government is plunging the people into need, arbitrarily raising prices, lowering actual salaries, decreasing production in all sectors and to-ing and fro-ing without yielding any tangible results – all in the name of the “successful reform process” that, calling itself socialist, is sustained by neo-capitalist mechanisms.

With the decisions recently identified as the pillars of the reform process – the “socialist” State companies will continue to be the foundation of the economy; worker salaries will not be raised until production is bolstered, and the bureaucracy appointed from above, forced and accustomed not to voice opinions, is now being told to criticize government policy. No Mr. President, on such a path neither socialism, prosperity or sustainability are possible.

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27 thoughts on “In Cuba Nobody Criticizes the General

  • In 1963 Fidel admitted he had intended to lead a Marxist revolution in Cuba but he decided he had to keep that secret because the Cuban people were not ready for it.

    It is a falsehood that Fidel only decided to “go Communist” in response to US aggression. It was his plan all along.

  • Au contraire, IC, the Cuban people DID choose, in January, 1959, their form of government, although perhaps they didn’t exactly know what they were getting into (nor, am I convinced, did Fidel and the rest of “The Class of ’59” either…they felt there way, pragmatically, towards socialism in order to make good on their promises to the oppressed, which was to say, most Cubans of that day, except for the upper-, upper-middle and middle-classes before the 1960’s (and even many of the latter, who wanted to make of their nation a better place, sided with the Revolution, a prime example being a certain famous alumni of the Belen Academy (but then again, a section of the (economic) aristocracy has always sided with the people, even as far back as Republican Rome, as exemplified by the Hermanos Grachii).

  • Interesting nic you have there, buddy: “Ramon Mercader”, the Stalinist assassin who murdered Trotsky.

    What kind of fool would think that was a good name to use?

  • Trotskyists, enemies of the communists, what “neo-stalinism” exist in Cuba if Stalin died in 1954 and all the pro-Stalin figures were purged in the Soviet Union and East Europe? Stop covering your dialectical simplicity behind parroting the word “Stalinism” every time. Look at the ones that support you in this article, apprentices of Gorvachev, they are right wing capitalists from the United States. How many Trotskyist revolutions are in the world? How many Trotskyist were in the GRAMMA or fought in the Revolution? Your discourse is the same than any right-winger.

    BTW, Che Guevara supported Stalin and despised Trotsky. EPIC FAIL.
    Ernest Mandel: “Yeltsin is taking the legacy of Trotsky”.

  • Correction 50% less cattle than there was in 1959

  • Walter I can tell you that having lived in Cuba, that is being an actual Cuban, I feel I have quite a “personal” stake in these discussions. I find an endless wounder how self proclaimed socialists in the US, living in comfort, openly support the revolution, not knowing what it is to live the reality.

    Sources I site when criticizing the Marxist government in Cuba are UN statistics. For example a recent (a year or so ago I believe) article in the Economist, quoting UN figures showed that there are less than 50% less head of cattle I’m Cuba than there are today. An embarrassing and damning static seeing that it’s illegal to kill a cow for private consumption and all you need to raise on is grass and water!

    …besides Walter, I’m not submitting a term paper to be graded, I’m not going to, nor have time for, footnoting and referencing everything I write here. You are free to ignore or refute me as you please

  • To the new readers of this web page, since you are interested enough to read the Comments section, let me just remind you of two unfortunate facts about political discourse, in both Cuba and the US. Both have people who see the world from very different views, essentially right and left. In the US we mostly get right-wing views on radio, TV and the major press. Some left views, but they are less available. In Cuba also, there are strong differences, left and right. On this site, in my opinion, most articles are from individual Cubans with something personal to say. Usually critical, but not hard right and sometimes informational and not extreme left either. Most seem genuine personal observations and criticisms.

    But the Comments section is quite different. Most of the posts, both quantity and length are from very right wing critics of anything socialistic or associated with the revolutionary government and its efforts. There are some defenders of the Cuban revolution and a few who try to provide a balanced assessment of the facts and reasons for both successes and failures. This spread of responses is not too different from many Comments sections elsewhere.

    However, what is too often lacking, in my opinion on this site and unfortunately in political discourse in the US, are more honest attempts to both understand and address how social, political and economic problems could be better addressed – for the benefit of the whole or majority of the people – in both countries.

    Two quick examples: In the US there are Republican congressmen who advocate stopping unemployment insurance arguing it encourages people not to look for work. They also argue against food stamps, again arguing this encourages people not to try harder. A second example are those commentators who will argue the economy and life in general was better in Cuba before the revolution. They seldom cite sources and when they do, I have found that they are in gross error. Primarily this is because they accept biased and self-serving statistics that average based on only the wealthy sections of per-revolutionary Cuba and ignore the vast number of rural and poor Cubans at that time who were illiterate and never had access to social services.

  • What is it about these Marxist dictators that they never allow any criticism or contradiction of themselves? They certainly are a remarkably thin skinned lot. Do they all suffer from some kind of psychological problem? Narcissists are known to react angrily to criticism and resent being contradicted or having their mistakes pointed out. They will always find a scapegoat to blame for their own mistakes.

    That sounds exactly like Raul &’the rest of them doesn’t it?

  • The consistency of your delusional belief in bottom up socialism is entertaining. Many have fallen for false promise of socialism based redistribution. The fatal flaw of socialism is how the lack of personal incentive leads to a spiral of poverty. The reforms of Raul will lead to a more viable economy. Eventually state enterprises will also be privatized. Modern states don’t need direct ownership in order to control their corporate enterprises. Taxes and regulations are superior forms of managing industrial policy.

  • As a matter of fact they are far worse off. It’s only that they all share the same poverty

  • With the inflation rate in Venezuela now soaring past 58% and a growing list of shortages of basic goods, the short-lived gains of lowering the poverty rate will soon be lost.

    The life savings of the middle class will be wiped out in a few years, the wages paid to the poor will be worthless and the wealthy & their cash are fleeing in droves.

    The Chavista party is over and there’s going to be one hell of a hangover.

  • The economic reforms Raul Castro has introduced are designed to move Cuba toward a system similar to the “China model”. The same top-down single-party dictatorship would rule over oppressed workers rented out to foreign and domestic corporate monopolies. I think that would be a terrible fate for Cuba.

    The problem with the proposition that the US lift the embargo now without any corresponding move toward democracy in Cuba is that it would enable and accelerate the move toward the China model. There are people inside & outside of Cuba who would love to have a mini-China 90 miles from the US where cheap labour without independent unions or political rights could be exploited for the benefit of foreign corporations and the local ruling elite.

    We don’t agree on much, but would you not agree that would be a terrible future for the Cuban people?

  • Agreed. The slums of Lima, Bogota, Sao Paolo and elsewhere are far worse than anything in Cuba.

    The question is whether the basic minimum rations that people receive in Cuba are worth the loss of all of their human rights and freedoms? And why is it even necessary for the Cuban state to repress the people the way they do?
    Why not give the people basic rations AND their rights and freedoms? What would be so wrong with that?

  • Walter, you are hardly a legitimate arbiter of which comments are well-intentioned” and which comments are not. Likewise, you are also not the final judge of what is “fact” and what is not. Indeed, the very nature of comments is to allow for opinion which is many times outside the realm of “fact”. Your obvious anti-US bias seems to blind you to the possibility that there are those of us who “want good for Cuba and all its people” AND at the same time, do not support the tyrannical Castro regime and believe that “socialism” as it has manifested itself does not work.

  • Please get a new script – we are tired of reading the same thing over and over and over again. And quoting a Cuban billboard slogan as fact – are you kidding me right now?

  • but more and more venezuelans facing poverty because of policies of the socialist government. and analysis of the world bank show that 300 million chinese have come out of poverty since the economy was opened. no perfect answers under either system but allowing free enterprise is the best answer. the alternative is “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us”.

  • poverty in cuba doesnt begin to approach that in the rest of latin america.

  • Why compare Cuba with the US ? It’s not a developed country with a reserve currency or any of our other advantages. Compare it with Mexico or Haiti. As for the shanty town in Havana, I’d like to know where it is. I,ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been to Cuba since 1993, from Pinar to Santiago, and I’ve never seen anything like that.

  • As usual JG your facts and figures are all wrong. If it happened only once or twice I would chalk that up as errors on your part, but since you continually misquote statistics I must assume you are just a habitual lair.

    So what’s the truth? ….poverty and inequality have indeed declined in Venezuela but it has also declined across other parts of Latin America as well particularly in Brazil, Chile and Colombia.

    According to the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America, the percentage of the population living under the poverty line in Venezuela fell from 49.4% in 1999 (not your 80% quoted above) to 27.8% in 2010. That is a pretty good record but there were similar trends across Latin America. In the region as a whole poverty dropped from 43.8% in 1999 to 31.8% in 2010. A few countries, like Peru, Brazil and Panama, fared even better than Venezuela. Poverty rates in Peru dropped sharply from 54.7% in 2000 to 31.3% in 2010—AND ALL THREE HAVE SOLIDLY CAPITALIST ECONOMIES!

    These Countries are now poised to continue growing their economies and reducing poverty, whereas Venezuela, having depleted their coffers through incompetence and mismanagement (it’s what happens when you try and follow the Cuba model) now suffers almost 60% inflation and shortages of basic necessities, including milk and toilet paper (something they have in common with Cuba).

  • Walter, had you endured the reality that is Cuba, you would sing a different tune!

    I very much want what is best for Cuba and in my opinion it does not include socialism. But that’s irrelevant, just give the Cuban people the right to chose their government, because until now they have only been able to accept what has been imposed on them for 50 years!

  • you speak with such certainty about Cuban conditions when there is no information available on the topic. How do you know? It only takes a brief visit to Cuba to expose your lie about homelessness in Cuba. Go into the provinces or the lesser frequented areas of Havana and you will see the squalor the average Cuban has to endure.

    As for your future socialist state….don’t hold your breath.

  • Define poverty. The average standard of living in Cuba would rank below the poverty level in the US. In the US, the poverty levels is defined as the lowest 20% income group. Therefore, by definition, the US will always have 20% poverty.

    The important issue is what is the absolute standard of living people have. In Cuba, millions of people lack clean running water, reliable sewage systems and adequate food.

    And you are deluded if you take the slogans on Cuban billboards as fact. There are indeed Cuban children and adults living in the streets. There are shanty towns on the outskirts of Havana where migrants from the east live in shacks made from scrap materials, the children don’t go to schools, they have no free healthcare and they don’t get the basic rations other Cubans have.

  • Pedro Campos, I would assume that many of the people you say should find a way to positively criticisms, already read these pages. If so, it would be much better to hear from them about both their efforts and difficulties. (We are likely to soon see the comments from the tired old haters of the revolution and socialism.) Maybe you can offer them a forum? If they are afraid of being punished, maybe you could show them how to do it safely. Given that Cuba is currently still under attack, the “caveat” not to provide unnecessary and harmful ammunition makes sense, but factual and well intentioned criticisms should be welcomed by all who want good for Cuba and all its people. That by the way is what “socialism” really means.

  • FYI, communism is a future societal form which in theory FOLLOWS a well-developed and democratic socialist economy and government. .
    The world has yet to see a socialist state ,much less a communist state.
    The Cubans have a STATE-RUN economy. It is not socialist because it is not a bottom-up democratic form.
    It does effect socialist-style and equitable distribution of essential goods and services but it is not socialist .
    To repeat -Cuba alone in Latin America has no childhood malnutrition.
    To quote a Cuban billboard: “In the world today , millions of children sleep in the streets.
    Cuba, because of its uniquely Cuban economy has managed to survive the U.S. war on the Cuban economy and people for over 50 years, something no other nation could or has ever done .
    The strength of the Cuban economy in the face of an open economic war by the U.S. which has cost the Cuban society over 1Trilion demonstrates clearly that it is a workable system even as close as it is to the totalitarianism of capitalism.
    Once the embargo is lifted and normal trade relations resume between the two countries, Cuba will blossom as the burden is lifted off its burdened but functioning economy.
    The U.S. has over 50 million people living in poverty . Is THIS your idea of success: the model for Cuba to follow ?

  • Wrong.
    China ‘s wholesale plunge into a most feral form of capitalism has evolved into a two-class society of a very few Croesus-rich people and hundreds HUNDREDS of millions of people being consigned to deep poverty fprever ,
    Venezuela was straight capitalist before Chavez and where did it get the country ? To an 80% poverty rate ( pre-Chavez who subsequently cut that rate in half) .
    Half the world living under capitalism , lives in deep poverty .
    You should open your eyes.

  • everyone must express their opinions…with the caveat “at the right place and the appropriate manner”, a euphemism for “toe the party line and don’t ask the hard questions”

    As long as these Marxist dinosaurs continue continue trying to make communism work (a Sisyphus endeavor) Cuba will remain a failure

  • until cuban leaders unleash the private sector the economy will stagnate. china learned this lesson but cuba and venezuela havent. they should open their eyes.

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