Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — I often wonder how much of what Cuban leaders say is based on knowledge of the subject in question and how much is sheer nonsense. For the good of the country, of the people who eke out a life on the island, day after day, I mean, sometimes I even wish these leaders were compulsive liars who are hiding a secret agenda but ultimately know what they’re talking about.
For, if these fellows truly believe what they’re saying, then there’s no doubt in my mind that the fate of my compatriots on the island is anything but enviable.
Some weeks ago, the government decided to authorize the creation of urban service cooperatives. This is an interesting topic which has been enthusiastically received by some of Cuba’s left-leaning lot, who still do not understand that cooperatives aren’t intrinsically left-wing (or right-wing), that they are merely administrative spaces whose orientation depends on how they relate to the rest of society.
As regards to this last point, Cuba’s reform process is steering such cooperatives towards market relations (and, as such, the Right), for the system of domination that still prevails on the island does not tolerate any horizontal relations outside the market. And you don’t mess around with such an authoritarian government.
In any event, it is a positive step, for it helps loosen the State’s grip on society, gives people the opportunity to improve their lot and makes daily life more comfortable and easy, among other things.
The problem lies in the fact that, even though Cuban leaders have no choice but to do this (and other things they still refuse to do, fearing it will weaken their authority), they ceaselessly criticize and downplay what constitutes real progress for the country, to end up voicing all manner of unwitting and premeditated nonsense. With this, they disorient the whole of society, or at least those who still put any stock in what they say.
Recently, it was Ms. Grisel Trista Arbesu’s turn to do this. This woman is the head of the Improved Business Management Group of the Permanent Implementation and Development Commission, a long title which, if referring to anything factual, surely entails significant responsibilities and skills.
According to Mrs. Trista, 124 cooperatives were created around the country, most of them out of previously existing State entities. “With this measure,” she said, “we are hoping to place inefficient State activities under cooperative management. In addition, this allows the State to gradually unburden itself of matters that are not essential to the country’s economic development.”
That is to say, in this public official’s view, cooperatives (and all small-scale private enterprise, I would imagine) are there to do the State’s dirty work, to shoulder the “inefficient” sectors which the State doesn’t want to deal with anymore and, what’s more, aren’t really important.
A singular perspective, not only with respect to cooperatives and the private sector, but also regarding what’s important for the country. For, if memory serves me right, I believe the strategy the government has adopted to overcome Cuba’s serious food deficit is to put food production in the hands of private businesses and cooperatives.
The creation of urban cooperatives stems, in fact, from issues related to the management of agricultural and livestock markets. So, for this government official, producing food and administering how the population accesses such food is an issue of secondary importance, not a strategic priority, one could say.
At the end of her explanation, to my even greater surprise, Ms. Arbesu clarified that cooperatives “are being called on to occupy an importance place within the country’s economy,” but not, to be sure, because this is a process of privatization.
“Cooperatives,” she said, “aren’t the result of a process of privatization. Rather, they administer State property, which is, ultimately, the property of the people.”
Well, there you have it. Should we take this seriously?
(*) An HT translation of the original published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.