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
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    Come back when you have something relevant to say.

  • January 16, 2016 at 12:43 pm
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    I am going to take a brake from posting on this forum.

  • January 15, 2016 at 10:11 am
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    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
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    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?

  • January 13, 2016 at 12:46 pm
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    The main problem in Cuba is the colour of a Cuban’s skin. This reverts back to the master – slave relationship of past.
    Today there are 4.2 million Americans that have a Cuban background. Over 90% of them have European lineage and these America – Cubans are now allowed to send unlimited money back to their relatives in Cuba which is causing racial tension.
    The last large immigration to Cuba occurred after W W ! and most of these farm labours came from Jamaica.
    Gordon Robinson
    [email protected]

  • January 13, 2016 at 8:43 am
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    Athenian democracy vs the Republic… democracy means sitting on chairs, there were no parties in ancient greece, there was a division of labour because it is not practical without the internet for everyone to vote… mob rule led to the proposal of a philosopher king… both are compatible, a parliament for the people with no parties and a figure head who heals the sick, jah live en la trade between japan and jaiti forever return

  • January 13, 2016 at 7:05 am
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    Its called leadership. Where does it say that the US can’t do both at the same time? That is, continue to form a more perfect union in the US and ALSO assist Cubans to escape the tyranny of the Castro dictatorship.

  • January 12, 2016 at 11:08 pm
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    Moses, freedom of the press is only associated to those who own the press; they are mostly anti- working class, are oligarchs and are racist and right wing. If the Cuban people and their country’s sovereignty were respected, Cuba will be able to solve their own problems. If America, the so-called richest country in the world is still plagued with homelessness, poverty, lack of medical attention, discrimination, racism, low minimum wages, exploitation and they have been Independent from 1776- 2016 =240 years, what say little Cuba whose population is on par with the prison population alone of America and has only obtained her Independence in 1959 with the Triumph of the Revolution, I have oft times advised Moses and Marti that they should first take the beam out of America’s eyes before they can see to take the speck of dust out of the eyes of Cuba. Why is Havana Times, Marti and Moses beating up on Cuba like this? Why not take the time to clean up their own backyard?

  • January 12, 2016 at 6:42 pm
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    I defer to your greater knowledge. My take is that they have very few options. Venezuela oil just hit $24 a barrel. Even if Maduro can keep the oil flowing, the income from reselling part of the gifted oil is not what it used to be. The odds that Maduro is gone in a year are high as Raul recently recognized in address to the nation. China will keep investing, but they are good at getting paid. They will insist on changes that support their investments.

  • January 12, 2016 at 12:36 pm
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    My Comment – The USA is a ” Rip Van Winkle ” country and no other country in the world should follow their “print more money ” economy. In fact Cuba is close to debt free compared to the USA and Canada. “The new Cuba must be “for everyone’s benefit ” will not happen with off shore investment. The west is on the verge of a massive economic down turn. Our economy in Western Canada is melting like a snowman on a Cuban beach as are many other countries economies.

  • January 12, 2016 at 11:43 am
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    You will find no disagreement with me that Cuba has problems that are very complicated and even under the best conditions, will take generations to resolve. Racism, for example, is this kind of problem. On the other hand, Cuba has other problems that can be solved overnight. Allow freedom of the press. Legalize a multiparty political system. Schedule open and independent elections. Shall I go on? These are the problems that the “Moses Pattersons” of the world are focused on. As far as addressing the equally difficult problems that plague American society, wrong blog dude.

  • January 12, 2016 at 11:41 am
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    What standard of living do those who work in the government enjoy? To understand the ordinary people of Cuba then surely you need to live at their standard of living just to appreciate their plight!

  • January 12, 2016 at 11:10 am
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    I also wear chancletas, and I like puré de malanga.

  • January 12, 2016 at 7:39 am
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    I hate to constantly disagree with the over-simplistic solutions of each and every problem in Cuba by the Moses Patterson’s of this world. Superficial readings would assume that the Cuban government prefers or even enjoy the peoples suffering without medicine, lack of transportation, food shortage and a grumbling, migrating population.

    Far worse, is to experience the daily tribulations of millions of people living under the poverty level, homelessness, drug addicts, police brutality and murders with impunity of black youths, illiteracy and lack of healthcare of millions in the US, that none of these visionary statesmen are capable of suggesting viable solutions.

    These painful human needs in Cuba, the US and worldwide needs solutions, not politizations by opportunists with hidden agendas.

  • January 11, 2016 at 10:27 pm
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    I think Cuba’s problem is even more fundamental than you suggest. I know for a fact that there are some really smart people in Cuba who are in a position to influence the restructuring of the economy but are unable or unwilling to do so out of respect for, maybe even fear of, offending the Castros and their innermost circle of true believers. Honestly this is not putting men on the moon. Incentivizing people to work harder and to produce more is the bottom line. The problem is to do so would make nearly every Fidel speech over the last 57 years a flat out lie. No sane Cuban would dare do that while Castros remain in power.

  • January 11, 2016 at 10:16 pm
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    ….and your point is what?

  • January 11, 2016 at 8:37 pm
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    The Cuban economy is moving towards a monetized system with a market, taxes and social programs. It has no choice on direction it moves. Once the country stops pretending that they are “different” and that they will build “socialist” model unlike any other, it will be much easier to understand. Mostly it will be incompetence that will be seen. As an economist, it is not that hard to see where Cuba fits on spectrum of mixed economies. The moves towards more decentralization is good, but penchant to control keeps holding progress back. Centralized Command and Control works no where. Failed model. The faster they learn indirect control approaches the better.

  • January 11, 2016 at 3:41 pm
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    Once again Gordon, what’s your comment on this post? You have repreatedly told everyone that you are an expert and have married into a top leadership family, but we are waiting for your comments.

  • January 11, 2016 at 3:02 pm
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    I have a fairly good understanding of Cuba. Since 1993 I have made 89 research trips to Cuba – mainly – Granma – Santiago – Holguin – Matanzas. Next month I will be in Varadero with my Cuban / Canadian children.
    Gordon Robinson Port Alberni C.C. Western Canada
    email – [email protected]

  • January 11, 2016 at 1:06 pm
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    Socialism in Cuba is too broken to be fixed. Moreover, the people who “broke” it are still in charge. It is not reasonable to expect that Castros to change anything that reduces their political, economic and/or military power.

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