The Challenge of Understanding Cuba

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

New Challenges. New Victories.  Unity and Efficiency for our Socialism. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Speaking about Cuba can stir up controversy. It is a truly unique country, surrounding by many myths and filled with antagonistic ideologies, natural beauty, overwhelming cultures and unparalleled contradictions. It is a country that is at once highly nationalistic and divided, where we come across extreme poverty and invaluable resources, revolutionaries who flee from their revolution, badly-paid talent and values lost in the daily struggle for survival.

This is a country like no other. Not even we Cubans understand Cuba so, how could we expect a foreigner to quickly grasp our situation? It would be a veritable feat to do so. However, despite all this, we are an interesting people with a beautiful country.

Our country faces two major challenges: first, consolidating a social model that is genuinely fair, democratic and inclusive, and, second, defining an economic development strategy that will afford us the social wellbeing we need. All other needs or national aspirations are subordinate or dependent on these two things.

The revolution came to power 56 years ago, and it did so, precisely, to overcome these problems. It’s clear it hasn’t accomplished it. The Cold War and ideological extremism imposed certain rigid formulas on us, the ones that have brought us to this point: an economically devastated country and the indefinite rule of a revolutionary government that isn’t steered by the people’s votes.

We’ve grown stagnant and, in Cuba, everyone repeats the same phrases again and again: “No one can fix this, no one can topple this.”

Why so much pessimism? The answer is both simple and complicated, so it’s best to try and illustrate it: imagine an elderly person whose boss treats them like a child. This boss doesn’t let this person make any decisions and forced them to wear an uncomfortable, out-of-style suit that does not fit them. Worse still, this boss won’t let the person quit his/her job, because, in the past, having earned their trust, they had to sign a document that gave the boss such power, disguised as good intentions. Our people are that poor fellow and the leadership of the revolution is their capricious supervisor. The tight-fitting suit is orthodox socialism and the fateful document the Constitution of 1976.

Milk for children. Photo: Juan Suarez

Faced with this state of affairs, we have only two options: to resign ourselves to it or try and fix it. Let us start with a very basic analysis of the situation. We consider that it is both unjust and illegal to violate a person’s human rights, so, how serious is the offense when an entire people is involved? A person’s born rights can be trampled on, but not usurped, not even through their consent. They cannot be transferred to others. This is a very old battle and humanity had already won it through its bourgeois revolutions. How is it that socialists, who seek to move beyond capitalism, should end up trampling on such basic rights?

In our country, the people constitute the sovereign only by natural and nominal right, because the constitution says so. But the laws that are practically applied in the country transfer this sovereignty to the Communist Party. The people do not choose anyone with real power, nor do they advance their own candidates – they merely approve the only options given them by commissions controlled by the Party, electing deputies who also only approve the sole options given them.

Everything has been designed so that there’s no true margin of choice and a small group will continue to make decisions. Only the neighborhood representative is directly elected by the people. “Incidentally,” it is the lowest position, and such representatives have no real power to decide or utilize any resources whatsoever. The further removed from the popular vote that Cuban politicians are, the more power they have and the more resources they control – a sign, as I see it, of how disrespectful towards the people this system is.

The Cuban Communist Party has proclaimed itself the eternal mentor of the Cuban people, but this is an illicit title, even if it is backed by existing laws, as this encroaches upon a natural right: the sovereignty of the people. The most a party can legally and morally aspire to is to be a “representative” of the people. To be anything more than that is a human rights violation.

Putting out the wash to dry. Photo: Juan Suarez

There is no one conception of socialism out there. There are different forms of socialism and only radical socialists deny the people the right to representative democracy. Who could deny that socialism seeks social justice? I believe most Cubans on the island, be it because of habit or wisdom, feel more comfortable with the idea of continuing to espouse a form of socialism than to return to a form of bourgeois-styled representative democracy.

Here, radical socialism manages to hold on to power thanks to the strict social control afforded by the old Soviet model, and it benefits no other class other than the political class that wields power. The rest of the people are stifled by it. Popular wisdom has baptized this situation as the “internal blockade”, which is ten times worse than the US blockade and Obama can do nothing to lift it.

A moderate form of socialism, respectful of all human rights, espousing a democratic political formula, protective of the rights of social majorities, promoting non-predatory forms of capitalist development, allowing for national reconciliation and opening the doors of the nation to Cubans abroad, would, however, be more than welcome. I am not talking about utopia, but about something objective. Anything else would be dangerously violent.

We can’t continue to move down a road beset by tension and extremism. It doesn’t matter if one is a liberal, a centrist or socialist, we need only respect one another and live in peace. Many Cubans probably have more than enough reasons to be wary of the word “socialism.” Others are afraid to even think about a multi-party system and free enterprise. But the country belongs to everyone, it needs to find a new way and the will of the majority must be respected. The new Cuba must be “for everyone and for everyone’s benefit.” That is precisely what Cuba needs.

20 thoughts on “The Challenge of Understanding Cuba

  • January 17, 2016 at 11:37 am

    Come back when you have something relevant to say.

  • January 16, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    I am going to take a brake from posting on this forum.

  • January 15, 2016 at 10:11 am

    I disagree that racism is Cuba’s biggest problem. In fact, racism, although a serious problem, is more often a symptom of the centrally-managed economy. Socialism is Cuba’s most serious issue.

  • January 13, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    Here’s a question to the defenders of the current government in Cuba: what changes, if any, would you like to see? I understand you rule out multi-party elections, freedom of speech and of the press, etc. But are you entirely satisfied with the status quo? Is whatever the government does fine with you? Or do you think it should roll back the recent economic changes? Close down all foreign investment, rescind the laws allowing a certain amount of free enterprise. What do you think should be done?

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