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?
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.
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.