Janas’ Schizophrenia and Cuba

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

Fishing on the Malecon seawall in Havana.

HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 25 — Almost all polytheistic religions have had gods that open paths and control access; they are gatekeeper gods, to put it simpler. In the Afro-Cuban pantheon, we have Eleggua, the sardonic warrior. The Romans came up with Janas, who had the peculiarity of having two faces facing opposite directions — a gift from the voracious Saturn — with which, according to some versions, he could look in unison at all times.

It occurred to me that Janus could be the god of times of change and transition, except that actors in these processes rarely have the ability to perceive the past and the future clearly. Instead, they blur them, producing schizophrenic visions. This latter is what happens to Cuban leaders, only it happens to them in a particularly morbid way – and the cost of their confusion is enormous.

It now turns out that Raul Castro, and behind him all of the disciples, are railing against bureaucratic brakes being applied to the planned changes, which they have labeled with the vague phrase of “updating the model.” It is as if what in Cuba is called bureaucracy and bureaucratism — and what everyone uses as a target when they want to say that things aren’t working — is an external and insignificant growth, and therefore expendable to the system. It is as if it were possible to affect restructuring without those controls.

In several articles I’ve written my opinion concerning these announced changes, particularly about the economic restructuring against the Cuban population. Even though the dismantling of the paternalistic state apparatus is inevitable, I don’t believe that it should be done without a program for compensation or without adequate plans to assist social causalities counteract the damaging effects of restructuring, though this would demand the government exerting greater social responsibility in this economic transition.

The bureaucracy is a fixture of the Cuban model

However this transition has been delayed and costly, a direct fault of the Cuban political class (and it’s necessary to always say that very loud and clearly). This is logical, though, since for this political class such as a change would mean relinquishing their status as the holders of unrivaled power, and as a consequence it would require them giving up their specific goal of capitalist restoration, which would call for them being transformed into the bourgeoisie.

Consequently, “bureaucratic control” is not one simple feature, nor is it reminiscing a past to which Janas could bid farewell with the blink of an eye. .

Havana market seller of religious paraphernalia.

Instead, it is a basic component of the Cuban model to the same degree that the emergence of unwanted situations is prevented, such as the emergence of unauthorized competitors or countervailing social powers able to offer resistance (like self-governing unions, for example).

In other words, “updating” will admit the rich, but not any type of rich. In addition it will admit social impoverishment, but well-administered and even better controlled impoverishment. For this there are bureaucratic mechanisms with their arbitrary regulations, as well as political frameworks with their “appropriate channels” outside of which everything is a sin, just as there are ideological taboos – and behind all of these is the police.

This is why the Cuban elite persists in subjecting the process to an ongoing action of expropriation, refusing to recognize that if it wants an active local private sector that generates employment, it will have to begin by realizing that there is a sum of money that doesn’t belong to it and an economic dynamic that cannot be managed directly but can only be administered indirectly.

This means that it will have to cede important shares of economic power and inevitably move the political coordinates to the minimum degree necessary so that the new economic actors function. This is similar to what China has done, although it has in its favor a powerful economic dynamic and a specific culture of power that Cuba doesn’t possess.

Not recognizing this marks the crucial difference between what one says they want to do and what they do in fact, in dimension so cruel that it would wind up dazing the versatile Janas.

These contradictions, I repeat, are not external to the system of a bureaucratized and centralized economy — an up-dated imitation of the Asiatic mode of production that Marx theorized and that Rudolf Bahro once brought up — but they are inherent to it. Moreover, the sole relationship that fits into this context is the one that Cuban officials practice every day: expropriation.

Taxing instead of incentives

An example of this is the issue of taxes. Instead of establishing a fiscal moratorium that facilitates the takeoff of the thousands of small business necessary to absorb the victims of the social massacre of restructuring, the government is preoccupied with imposing exorbitant tax rates. This not only prevents revenues for micro-businesspeople but also stimulates tax evasion; in addition it punishes success to the point of impeding the possibility of achieving the government’s own objectives.

Let’s look at the case of small businesspeople who can generate employment beyond the family environment but whose taxes are increased in accordance with the number of jobs created. In this manner, at some moment it becomes unaffordable to generate new jobs given the disincentives that are not necessary to mention.

Havana street vendor.

Another example is the treatment of remittances. If in many places around the world remittances have become the linchpins of small companies, and those who emigrated have become investors along those lines, in Cuba remittances are conceived of by the government as their own money that should be collected as soon as possible, which begins to happen with the unfair taxes on production and ends up with taxes on sales in the “Tiendas de Recaudación de Divisas” (Stores for the Collection of Hard Currency), whose name is self-explanatory.

Finally, there remains the big problem of the big [State-run] companies. To now evade the question of ownership and the different actors of the business/labor world, it is unobjectionable that those companies need a sufficient level of autonomy and access to the market as consumers and suppliers.

But to grant them that autonomy with legal guarantees is to assume the relative independence of social actors who will in turn have to coordinate, fight, strike agreements, etc., with other actors in the market and in communities. This autonomy is incompatible with a system where the government always aspires to achieve a monopoly over the assignment of values.

To have in one’s hand a bureaucracy that can be blamed is good for everybody: for the elite and for the reformists within the system (those who are full of good intentions and believe that there is still a possibility for “socialist regeneration” when the truth is that there has never been socialism, and therefore there can be no regeneration).

It is like imagining that because Janas has two faces, it is two different beings. But that’s not the case – it has a single brain.

A Havana Times translation of the original in Spanish published by www.cubaencuentro.com

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