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: granma.cubaweb.cu

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

  • March 9, 2014 at 4:13 am
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    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”.

  • March 7, 2014 at 6:17 pm
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    Correction 50% less cattle than there was in 1959

  • March 7, 2014 at 4:55 pm
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    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

  • March 7, 2014 at 10:30 am
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    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.

  • March 7, 2014 at 6:04 am
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    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?

  • March 6, 2014 at 8:06 pm
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    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.

  • March 6, 2014 at 7:20 pm
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    As a matter of fact they are far worse off. It’s only that they all share the same poverty

  • March 6, 2014 at 12:51 pm
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    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.

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