The Centralized State Is the Root of Our Misfortunes

By Pedro Campos

Street in Old Havana. Photo: Caridad
Street in Old Havana. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba has its charms. Motembo with its “giant” oil reserve, top notch Varadero, the idyllic neighboring cays, cheap flights from the US to Havana, cruises, proposed wind parks and 10 golf courses, exquisite Cuban rum, its aromatic tobacco and many others.

These appear abundantly in the Cuban government’s propaganda “for foreigners”, in the “state-owned business portfolios” which the bureaucratic system, that rules Cuba in the name of nonexistent socialism, wants to cram down foreign investors’ throats.

Foreign investment in unproductive state companies, like a magic wand, is brandished as the solution to our wrongs, when the truth of the matter is that foreign investment, even if in the billions, without denying the need for it, will never resolve our problems.

However, while the regime’s propagandists teem with these stories, news like this one from Intertass (Russia) appear where they report how Raul Castro went in search of cheap, secure and low interest oil supplies from Russia, unyieldingly proving our real domestic crisis.

Venezuela is falling… we better run, the strategists of Cuba’s so-called socialism had believed Maduro to be a magician.

However, be careful with the Russians, those who said they were Communists, those ones… Have they already forgotten about the rockets, about when they cut off our oil supply, when they closed their Lourdes military base… or “the son of Putin”?

It’s one thing having oil and it’s another thing to extract it from the ground. Havana’s charms, Varadero, Cuban rum and tobacco are one thing, and it’s a completely different thing to have this wealth administrated by a bureaucratic, populist and wasteful regime, which is only interested in holding onto the reins of power no matter what.

Russians who know “the score” want some guarantees first. What will they ask for?

There’s a problem that many people here, there and everywhere can’t seem to get their heads around. While we have an economic, political and social system which is based on bureaucratic centralism, the State and the vertical control from above regarding property, profits and all kinds of decisions, we’ll never be able to resolve our problems. It won’t matter if the blockade is lifted or that the Russians send 100 million barrels of oil per day for free!!!

Cuba’s so-called historical path holds firmly onto this model in order to have total control of society and it doesn’t realize that it has become, along with the mess it’s created, the greatest obstacle to the country’s full development.

Cuba is a country which has 11 million inhabitants residing within its borders and 3 million outside, where only a select few decide everything, especially what to do with the money that enters the country. It is inevitably destined to fail, because the rest of us Cuban citizens don’t count for anything.

Even if you assume that the governing upper echelons have good intentions, how do they know what we need, what we think should be done with everyone’s money? How can they have our interests at heart if they don’t communicate with us?

The Cuban people don’t have ways to express themselves, there’s no freedom of speech or association, if the political system and democratic participation has converted the “elected” into the appointed who are reduced to passing on mandates from above instead of representing its citizens.

When we, from the democratic Left, talk about the need to democratize Cuban society, to have freedom of markets, speech, association and choice, Stalinists immediately point their accusing fingers: You want capitalism, you work for Imperialism. You have to laugh.

That’s it. They know what they’re doing. We’re not doing this on a whim or to just to confront those who have historically ruled this country like they would some military barracks, but so that they understand that without real popular participation in all decisions, at every level, whether they are political, economic or social in nature, we’ll never be able to make progress and create a society where we can all live together, with our differences of opinion.

Old Havana Street. Photo: Caridad
Old Havana Street. Photo: Caridad

The Cuban government doesn’t understand that “the counter-revolution” which they call any different political opinion and activism, has been the direct result of a lack of democracy, of our economy’s excessive centralization, of the State’s concentrated power, of property and their continued exclusive politics in every respect.

It will never be enough for them to remind us that the revolution in ‘59 was widely supported by the Cuban people, by every social class, because their objective back then was to restore democratic institutionalization and the 1940 Constitution. Instead, it’s been Fidel and his relatives’ decision to ignore these demands and claim to carry out “his particular style of government according to his own ideas on social justice,” that has caused the social and political polarization that defined its early years and the development of a civil war that ended with the deaths of thousands of Cubans, tens of thousands locked up and hundreds of thousands of emigrants.

It’s not a question of going back in time, it’s nothing like that, but until it’s openly and officially recognized, in Cuba, that Fidel’s politics and his idealistic economic, popular and authoritarian approach are the cause for our current crisis, and that they need to be revised and changed, substituted instead with democracy, markets, private property and real cooperatives as well as complete freedom of speech, association and choice for all Cubans, without exception, in order to achieve the Cuba we dream of “for all and for all the wellbeing of all”. Until we do that, we’ll never be able to get out of this dark hole that is swallowing us.

The people who lived through those years of confrontation, breaking fundamental laws for social and political renovation, continue to rule today using their base of out-dated schemes of Cold War, the fight against imperialism (just against the US), State-socialism and their loyalty to a few “principles” which they themselves don’t even respect. Who then is the main capitalist exploiter in Cuba?

And let it be clear: democracy and freedom of speech, association, choice and economic activity aren’t completely unlimited in capitalist societies, however, this isn’t what characterizes Capitalism’s mode of production, it’s the exploitation of its work force and this is something which Fidel’s government has been doing to the large majority of Cuban workers for decades now.

These concepts of freedom existed before capitalism did and they have been the essential fragments of Socialists’ dreams throughout the ages and in Cuba they are banned.

16 thoughts on “The Centralized State Is the Root of Our Misfortunes

  • I have seen the problems in Cuba . wages for nurse teachers and doctors need to be raised by a factor of three. Cuba needs to made into districts of 50,000 to 60,000 people in the larger cities districts can work together on items of water sewers roads hydro phone and internet. In rural areas each area works on its own like in some parts of rural Ontario. Small businesses need the freedom to export and import items without gov. involment.

  • Your dogs and mine share that living standard which you describe. I guess you are correct in indicating that being hungry and starving are different.

  • These are good questions. I wish I could write an article in response. In the U.S., market research is a huge industry precisely because corporations found that market signals were not enough. With that research, and with advertising, prices became just another tool to control demand. The major tool was the brand.

    The system worked. I would even say I liked it but for the advertising part. That part is based on the expensive purchasing of human attention. The need to gather attention led media firms into the same situation the Castro regime is evidently in: Journalists end up not communicating with their audiences. Sure they throw out content every day, but they do this to attract attention, not to inform. When audiences respond (with letters in the past, with emails today) they devote no resources to reading audience feedback, mostly because they won’t know how representative of the audience any single feedback message will be. Bottom line: journalists don’t know their audiences. A one-way flow of images and messages is not communication. A post-modern cascade, yes. Communication, no.

    Regarding the marketplace itself. Only a small number of players can buy human attention at scale. That’s why there are only a small number of firms dominating most consumer sectors. One might venture that when people buy goods they are voting but I don’t think voting is the metaphor that captures what’s going on. Purchases become data points that let the firm confirm or deny a hypothesis. Typical hypothesis: should we put red stripes in our toothpaste or not?

    The sale of attention allows a small number of firms to test an endless series of hypotheses like these, with brands and price points the embodied results. If only it could support journalism.

  • Not going to get into a ping-pong match with you, Carlyle. Just not. We’re dealing with semantics… you said there’s mass poverty in Cuba… and I said there’s no significant homeless population, and nobody is starving. I know that I’m absolutely correct. I’m good with that. Hecho.

  • Worse yet, there is a poverty of spirit. But in reality, there is indeed mass poverty. Everyone is equally poor.

  • So tell me – and the rest of the world Terry – how one progresses in Cuba.
    I am not as you put it back -pedalling. There is no need to embellish the reality of life for Cubans, it is obvious that it is one with much misery and despair. But not in Camaguey?

  • Nice back-pedal, Carlyle, but I’m not buying it. You really need to keep a lid on your many exaggerated embellishments when trying too hard to paint Cuba as being far worse off than it actually is in reality.

  • Poverty Terry is not just about material things. In Cuba there is poverty of opportunity, poverty of thought as to express it freely is illegal consequent to the laws imposed by the Castro regime. As by far the majority of the things I have adumbrated affect the majority of citizens, there is mass poverty.

  • Carlyle, I will only disagree with you on one aspect of your post… there is no such thing in Cuba as “mass poverty”. There is no significant homeless population in Cuba, and nobody is starving. Disposable income is not the only indicator of household wealth. Consider that every Cuban receives free healthcare, free and subsidized medications, free dental, and the Libreta (monthly subsidized ration – although admittedly, it only lasts about a 1/2 month now). There are no property taxes, no income taxes (for the non-self-employed), no home mortgage to pay, and subsidized electricity and water service too (my Cuban wife and I pay only $4 US dollars per month for electricity and water).

    I would hardly refer to the situation in Cuba as one of mass poverty. If you want to see what “mass poverty” looks like, take a look at Haiti right next door.

  • The Russians were burned before and do not trust the current leadership at this time. This (crisis) need not be here. The free market only works when small businesses can operate in the open with a fair tax system. Pedro you are so right on the money.

  • The twisted socialist experiment failed a long time ago. What exists in Cuba is a dysfunctional mix of state capitalism, semi legal small business and every day petty corruption. The shared poverty of socialism has lost it’s luster. Authoritarian leadership will last as long as it can meet a mimimum level of substance. Without the free consent of the governed, coercive control will one day finds its end.

  • I agree with you about this Terry. Clearly Pedro is obviously a man of the left but like some of my friends, a democratic socialist, not an inflexible theoretician.
    The greatest fault of the many evident in the Castro totalitarian regime is their denial of opportunity for Cubans to use their intelligence, talents and abilities to develop their country. ‘Che’ Guevara’s view that:
    “Youth should learn to think and act as a mass. It is criminal to think as an individual”
    and pursuit of the concept that Cubans ought to be:
    “Selfless and cooperative, obedient and hard-working, gender-blind, incorruptible , non-materialistic and anti-imperialist.”
    have been the purpose of the Castros for approaching 58 years. They have demonstrated a complete inability to recognize that the enforced application of their 19th century thinking has driven their country and fellow Cubans into mass poverty.
    The Castro regime requires medical treatment by a succession of large doses of laxative to clean out the constipated thinking that appears to be an innate constituent of their beliefs. Who knows, it might even clean them right out!

  • Fidel Castro over 50plus years has created his own version of a Cuba that only exists in his head. He is nothing better than a despot and a dictator. I will not return to Cuba whilst the Castro clan still has it’s hand on the Cuban peoples throat. How can I honestly bring currency into a country only to have it fall into the dirty corrupt hands of the greedy and corrupt Castro clan , because it is certainly not being distributed and spent/invested for the benefit of the real Cuban people! Cuban will only start to improve when Castro has departed, either to another country or a heavenly destination!

  • “Even if you assume that the governing upper echelons have good intentions, how do they know what we need, what we think should be done with everyone’s money? How can they have our interests at heart if they don’t communicate with us?” – I have been making this very point for many years. The market acts as a kind of democracy whereby people get to vote on what products should be invested in, every time they buy a product they are essentially voting for it. However, the market is unequal in that those with more money have more votes. This is why I do not see the market as being the solution.

  • Interesting article. Pedro is an avowed progressive. Nonetheless, I share his perspective that “that Fidel’s politics and his idealistic economic, popular and authoritarian approach are the cause for our [Cuba] current crisis”.

  • One of the best articles I’ve read here on Havana Times in ages… and Pedro, spot on too with your analogy. Absolutely brilliant. This should be “required reading” for the Cuban government.

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