By Pedro Campos
HAVANA TIMES — Two paths are becoming clear to Cuba after the failure of “State socialism”: the authoritarian-capitalist one offered by the current “reform process”, sustained by an alliance between State monopoly capitalism (dressed up as socialism) and foreign capital, under the control of the same old government-State-Party, and the all-inclusive democratic one, which I will try to summarize here, while also exploring how we can reach it and what obstacles lie in the way.
The democratic way out, in order to be truly democratic, would have to be inclusive. It would entail a process aimed at democratizing and socializing the country’s politics and economy which would open these spheres to the participation of all Cubans on the island and abroad, impel the development of all forms of production and the creation of the conditions needed for a new type of democratic constitution, the rule of law and a new, multi-party electoral law.
This process would need to be sustained by a new social contract, one that would provide individual and collective undertakings broad financing possibilities, confront all of the repercussions stemming from the serious property issues created over more than fifty years of “State socialism”, on the basis of compensation, cooperation and independent arbitration, eliminate all State monopolies over markets, prohibit the development of private monopolies and establish fiscal policies to incentivize production.
It would particularly require the implementation of local, participative budgets, such that the bulk of taxes collected remain at the lower levels and can be handled to address community interests, as a guarantee of development.
The democratic socialist program encompasses very few points but, with a view to establishing a consensus and pulling society out of its current stagnation, we are subordinating all remaining points to a general, democratic strategy that will later allow us to better defend our positions and make them a reality.
Let it again be made clear that we reject any attempt at arbitrarily imposing on people the free individual or collective forms of self-managed production we support. That said, we do not deny we hope these forms of production will, of their own merit, prove better than the forms of salaried exploitation now in existence and, as such, encourage their development and any financial backing offered them.
As we understand that private capital still has plenty of ground to cover within Cuba’s economy and that its most progressive representatives could contribute to development efforts, we have no objections to its participation in the process, under laws that guarantee wages, vacation time and social security benefits, as well as the creation of independent trade unions and others that will defend the rights of wage laborers.
This way out of the current crisis only appears possible on the basis of dialogue, negotiation and an atmosphere of national consensus and harmony, where everyone can place the interests of the nation in the foreground, and where the people constitute the one, sovereign decision-maker. This involves the release of those who have been detained for political reasons and a number of fundamental, individual guarantees.
Independent civil society – the one that opts for non-violence and dialogue –, progressive and nationalist sectors of the bourgeoisie in Cuba and abroad and the wide democratic Left within Cuban society and the State will all contribute to this democratic process, to varying degrees and with no shortages of disagreements among them.
There are points of agreement across their demands that should be brought to the foreground, without thereby abandoning their respective identities. These strengths could be used to advance many actions and policies, to the point, even, of organizing a broad, nationwide democratic front.
The success of this alternative will depend on the ability of democratic forces – all democratic forces, regardless of their political leanings, whether they are in Cuba or abroad or within the government – to make their programs reach the population, earn its support and create the needed alliances.
Today, the democratic alternative has the fertile soil it needs to develop it never had before, precisely because of the change in US policy which neutralizes all of the stifling philosophy of the besieged fortress and eliminates pretexts for political repression and the lack of democracy and liberties of every sort. The United States’ new Cuba policy can eliminate all of the obstacles standing in the way of international trade, a step required for development.
This is the most important historical juncture since the revolution of 1959, an opportunity to bring about the democratic changes the country needs and will allow all political tendencies that favor such changes to work together.
There are no democracy gages we can use to identify how likely these forces are to prevail, but we could say that, despite how isolated the different actors are, the lack of means and resources to have an impact on society and the limitations imposed by the bureaucratic system, these forces, working together, could became a decisive majority in an atmosphere of tolerance and fundamental freedoms, through their identification with the interests of the people.
The prevailing system in Cuba was sustained by two major pillars: foreign aid and opposition to US imperialism. The first fell by the wayside with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the “socialist bloc,” shoes Venezuela never did manage to fill. The US executive has re-established diplomatic relations with the Cuban government, but many of the laws that make up the blockade-embargo are still in place and Cuban-Americans in Congress favor them, giving the forces within Cuba’s military that cling to the past an excuse not to budge. Quite simply, they play into each other’s hands.
The small clique of original revolutionaries that controls the government opposes this democratic alternative and uses the “reform process” as the spear-head of the political and military apparatus that administer the country, to prevent the free development of all non-State forms of production that do not rely on joint or direct foreign investment. It gives no signs of being in favor of democratization and continues to repress dissenting thoughts, sometimes employing violence.
This group knows that its State wage model has failed and is promoting changes, but it is very much afraid that these will make it lose its power and that they will later be judged for all the wrong they’ve done for over half a century in the name of socialism. They do not realize that history has already judged them and condemned them to retirement. This verdict could however change if they stubbornly stick to their positions and continue to repress alternatives.
In the complex situation we have today, we cannot deny that Raul Castro and his clique have reacted positively to a rapprochement with the United States, even though their chief motivation is the lifting of sanctions that will allow them to tap sources of money and investments up north. We also cannot deny that his administration, as centralized and bureaucratic as his brothers, incapable of overcome the serious problems faced by Cuban society, has at least modified a number of absurd regulations and opened up a handful of small spaces for economic activities outside the State.
Everything indicates that, if there are differences at the high echelons of power regarding the scope of the changes and the policy of rapprochement with the United States, all of the elite has the same prejudices with respect to the crucial democratization of society and agree that repressive policies must be implemented against dissenting thought, as a means of guaranteeing the power in the hands of the bureaucratic elite, its descendants and loyal subjects.
The military officials who rule the country and could have more pragmatic stances could develop other initiatives in a freer context, without the pressures of the embargo-blockade or from internal groups that continue to support the old US policies. Such a situation could lead them to understand that they can be part of the future if they are able to share power with the workers and the people, in conjunction with diverse democratic forces.
The democratic alternative also runs into the “vendetta” mentality of the more radical groups in the émigré community and some on the island who are opposed to any dialogue with the government, groups that insist that the “Castroist” elite must first be swept away and that the United States ought to keep the blockade-embargo in place, place obstacles on the road to the normalization of relations and seek a regime change through political and economic stifling.
This, while standing in the way of the methods and aims of the peaceful and democratic alternative, reaffirms the intransigent sectors of the Stalinist elite in their stance, and these sectors must be given an option – otherwise, they will continue to cling to their positions.
Do these groups want democracy for themselves only, and a new dictatorship for the rest? Democracy, like freedom, is either for everyone or it is not true democracy. Those who oppose the democratic path, those who support violence and policies that exclude others, end up isolating themselves.
Those who ask for “justice first” seem to forget that horrendous crimes were also perpetrated in the struggle against Castro-communism and that people demand justice for these actions as well.
Should we try to overcome the problems that weigh on the Cuban people and keep development and happiness out of reach for them, or do we all start settling accounts, reliving the past, covering Cuban soil with blood once again, continuing the interminable cycle of violence?
Should we be driven by a thirst of justice or vengeance? Wouldn’t it be nobler, and entirely possible, to try and work for peace under justice, hand in hand with forgiveness, through methods such as dialogue and negotiation, and bury the hatchet and the eye-for-an-eye mentality once and for all?
That violence stems from the political system based on the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is not something we put in question. But let us try not to play into their hand with discourses and policies similar to theirs.
It is time for understanding to reach the core of Cuban society (including the émigré community), in the same way the governments of Cuba and the United States have done through dialogue, putting aside their profound differences. The Pope, who encouraged the rapprochement between the United States and Cuban government, could contribute to internal talks.
Espacio Abierto (“Open Space”), a Cuban civil society group, has just advanced a proposal for a debate to include everyone, including government authorities. It would be a serious mistake to reject or ignore this proposal. We hope that, sooner rather than later, the sense shown by the Cuban government in its talks with the United States will prevail also within Cuban society.
Cover illustration by Yasser Castellanos.