HAVANA TIMES, June 10 — The other day I opened my Facebook and found an invitation from a group of Cubans that had the curious name “Let’s Clone Lazaro Exposito.” For those who don’t know of him, he’s the secretary of the Party in Santiago de Cuba.
It seems that Exposito has made achievements that are well known in that eastern province, after years of it being one of the most excluded regions in the country. From what I could confirm with several Santiago residents, under his direction things have begun to change – and for the good.
They told me that transportation is better, thanks partly to the acquisition of new buses, but also because the secretary —by passing himself off as a rider— investigated what was happening in order to reorganize the chaos in that sector.
Not too long ago, a taped news report was circulating from hand to hand around the country in which cameras followed Exposito around —at dawn— in an inspection of various local bakers and food production centers.
The images were horrific: rotting produce, food covered with roaches, employee absenteeism and products being diverted onto the black market. He even ended up finding a baker sleeping on the table on which bread was kneaded.
Another curious thing was that this was all covered by the media. Though the report was broadcast only on local TV in Santiago de Cuba, it was circulated across the rest of the country from hand in hand on USB flash drives, almost as if it were some clandestine video.
A co-worker from the foreign press who specializes on economic issues traveled to that province. He explained to me that the campesinos there were authorized to sell food along the highway, while in the rest of the country they’re picked up by the police if they do the same.
My references to Lazaro Exposito come from a trip that we made across the entire island, and from which came a report called “Five People, Five Stories.” During that travel, we were surprised when we got to Granma Province [where Exposito had previously held the same post he now has in Santiago de Cuba.]
We were coming from Camagüey Province, where the shortages that we found reminded us of the worst moments in the 1990s crisis. Moreover, the political atmosphere was so dense that the cattleman who we were going to interview wound up being interrogated by the police.
Arriving in Bayamo (the capital of Granma Province) was like crossing an international border, as if we had entered into another country. We found a place to stay that was near the main boulevard, and in the afternoon we went out without equipment to walk among the locals, trying to get a pulse of the city.
The first great surprise was to find the stores full of food produced in the province – milk, ice cream, yogurt, flour mixed with powdered milk. The second eye-opener was to discover that everything was being sold in domestic currency [instead of less assessable hard currency, as is usually the case.]
We also found Italian, Chinese and Creole restaurants, which also charged in regular Cuban pesos. In addition there was a children’s hairdresser —the only one I’ve ever seen in Cuba— in which the chairs are airplanes, automobiles or animals, and where there are story books in the waiting room.
People explained to me that the situation had improved a great deal since Lazaro Exposito was named General Secretary of the Party in that province. There were not more resources, but there was in fact better organization, less corruption and a more rational system of distribution.
The sad thing —a friend of mine in Bayamo told me— was that they’ve now transferred Exposito to Santiago, and that things in Granma have begun to deteriorate to where they were previously. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cubans who proposed in Facebook to clone to Exposito were residents of Granma.
In speeches, it’s constantly repeated that the Cuban Revolution has the full capacity for generational renovation. In practice, however, people see so few cadres capable of governing that they feel the need to request —loudly— the cloning of the best.
I don’t believe that the successes of Lazaro Exposito have to do with this person possessing capacities that are superior to those of other leaders; rather, it relates to the fact that he was able to approach and understand the citizens he governed.
His style was to confirm the existence of the buying of black market products on the street, to take rides on buses to learn how that system functioned and to hitchhike to verify that other leaders were not giving people rides in their cars, as they were supposed to.
That is his greatest merit, because what is needed most in Cuba are concrete steps that improve the quality of people’s lives, and that can only be achieved by a leader who is able to fuse with the people.
An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.