The Role of Cuba’s Legislators

Fernando Ravsberg

Farm production continues to slump.

HAVANA TIMES, August 4 – Foreign journalists were not invited to the last session of the Cuban parliament, which is held every six months.  In any case, there was no surprising news.  No one had the slightest doubt that these representatives would approve the reform guidelines issued by the Communist Party.

Nor did the deputies show themselves to be overly inquiring with respect to the presentations by the government officials.  On television we didn’t see anyone questioning the reports made by the various ministries, not even in those cases where there have been recurrent failures.

On the contrary, the delegates listened impassively to explanations about the objective and subjective causes for those failures and about how people are working earnestly to overcome those difficulties.  However, while days, months and years pass by and ministers change, many of the problems remain, completely intact.

This is the situation, despite Vice-president Jose R. Machado’s words to the plenary session of the Central Committee saying, “Self-criticism will not be accepted when it is no more than pure justifications; nor will commitments be admitted when year after year goes by and these are not fulfilled.”

That’s why I was surprised by some of the reports presented to the deputies by the ministries.  I’m particularly thinking about the report on Cuba’s agriculture, which has continued without showing any signs of improvement, despite it being a priority because of its economic as well as its national security implications.

The Farmers Know the Answers

When one hears the reports they might believe that it’s an excessively complicated task, but the fact is that it’s not so involved.  Any campesino knows the problems they face in the field and how to solve them in order to produce more and better yields.

The first obstacle that all of them mention is the existence of the large and powerful bureaucracy that is inefficient in making decisions concerning small farmers – telling them what to plant, how to plant, on what land, how to market their produce and how much to charge for it.

Tobacco farmer in Pinar del Rio. Photo: Ana Maria Dinulescu

A tobacco farmer told me not long ago that in Pinar del Rio Province they were ordered to centralize all the nurseries and that they were prohibited from having their own.  Thanks to this top-down directive, a plague spread throughout the entire province with the greatest of ease.

It’s necessary to be optimistic that someday in one of these biannual meeting the deputies will raise their voices to question incompetent leaders.  We have to have faith that they’ll query them and, if those functionaries deserve it, the representatives will request their dismissal – without waiting for such an action to be proposed by the president or the party.

Costly Incompetence in the Nickel Industry   

A leader doesn’t have to be taken to prison for being incompetent, but nor is it necessary to suffer through years and years of errors to replace them.  A good example of this is reflected in the costs and damage that such leniency brought about in the nickel industry here.

I find it difficult to believe that there are no people in the parliament from Moa who are connected to nickel production who could have confronted the minister about what was happening before things got to the sorry state point they did.

Similarly, it’s difficult to believe that the deputy from the Alta Habana area was unaware that an electric power station was built there but that was useless because of its negative effects on the households in the community.  (Just in case, we’re publishing the photo of the facility before it rusts out and is taken over by the underbrush, thereby losing forever the millions that it cost to build.)

If ordinary Cubans have to work, save and sacrifice, it seems only fair that explanations about these white elephants are due to them.  The deputies, who are the people’s representatives, are the ones who should demand that the ministers assess the damage and identify those responsible.

This would involve thoroughly analyzing each error and, as Vice-president Machado demanded, “explaining why what was necessary wasn’t done, who were the people responsible, what plan there is to correct the problem, what is the impact and in what period of time will the situation be solved.”

Instead of this, circulating on the Internet is resolution OM-863 from the Ministry of the Basic Industry (responsible for nickel and electricity production), which is an order to leaders in that sector informing them that “you will not be able to coordinate coverage with the national or foreign media (press) without previous authorization by the central office.”

But such an order shouldn’t affect the deputies.  They are the direct representatives of the people and it is their duty is to protect the interests of their constituents.  They are also the counterbalance to the executive office; in their hands should be the power to regulate and monitor the government’s efficiency.

Their role could be much more important in the immediate future when, as is being projected, the provinces and municipalities will acquire greater power.  However, “Without changing the mentality, we won’t be able to undertake the necessary changes,” Raul Castro told the deputies.

The problem is that for the institutionalization of a nation, it’s not enough for the central government to surrender attributions.  It is indispensable that the parliament, the municipalities, the unions, the courts and the rest of the social actors also battle to become independent and recover their true identity.

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.


6 thoughts on “The Role of Cuba’s Legislators

  • Addendum to my last comment: It all comes back to the attitude of sincere socialists toward private property, and how a vanguard party in state power should conceptualize “socialist” property. If a theoretical error is made here, the whole building of socialism is subverted and ultimately destroyed.

    The Utopians–Saint Simon, Fourier, Owen and others–recoiled at the obsession of their privileged-class fellows with owning private productive property and using it to exploit the working people. They concluded that the institution of private property itself is the great evil, and that it must be abolished immediately. They concocted schemes and built communes to do just that. But their projects came to nothing or failed outright.

    The contrary, working class socialist movement however took a different view toward private property. In France they reasoned that the institution of private property was not the thing that was evil, but the fact that such property was concentrated in too few hands–of the capitalists. Socialism developed first therefore as a movement of the working proletarians and peasants to “take over” ownership of the means of production directly, as private plots in rural areas and associations, cooperatives and mutuals in more urban areas.

    The banks and bourgeoisie were horrified of course at the prospect of the workers taking over the means of production directly. They sought to inject injected into the socialist movement the idea that private property ownership is a nasty, evil condition and must be avoided. The notion that the state must be the agent of the workers and be the owner of the instruments of production came into the movement and has screwed up socialism ever since.

    The PCC’s incorrect attitude toward peasants, restaurateurs, etc. has a long history. Private property can and must exist under socialism, or socialism fails miserably. Socialist property is not necessarily state property. It is any property ownership that contributes productively and patriotically to socialist prosperity and success.

  • Luis, I’m not forgetting the embargo. The point is that the embargo is not what has ruined Cuban agriculture and led to the absurd phenomenon of sunshine-and-soil-rich Cuba having to import food. The criminal embargo has not ruined Cuban agriculture. It has been ruined by the PCC’s incorrect, “non-socialist” attitude and program.

    Look, comrade, we are not trying to humiliate Cuba or Fidel and Raul regarding agriculture. What’s done is done. But we–the sincere socialist transformational movement in the US and around the world–are trying to reform our own general attitude and program for the future. The past is gone. The future however is still very much worth talking about.

    We as a worldwide movement must have a correct attitude and program regarding small farmers and the whole extremely important small business class. If we do not have a correct appreciation of that class, and cannot bring them into the socialist bridge-building project, they will continue in the camp of the monopolists and continue being manipulated by imperialism.

    The small farmers and other small business people are a highly productive laboring class and we absolutely must bring them into the socialist project. Does this make sense? Please respond.

  • Not only that, Grady, but you must not forget that Denmark isn’t a target of any kind of trade embargo – agriculture production in Cuba fell by 55% between 1989 and 1994…

  • To Tim, I hope “discounting input prices” helps. Cuba having to import food is the height of absurdity.

    In the past I’ve expressed the example of tiny Denmark in the late 1800s. They were a very poor country after having been creamed by European historical events. But the small farmers took over the government, broke up the large feudal estates and made a new republic based on private plot ownership.

    The farmers cooperated together for the purchase of cheaper economic inputs, and for cooperative marketing of their produce. Denmark soon became a prosperous, very productive country. Their bacon, ham, eggs, cheese, etc. became highly prized in the world market, and this reputation for quality remains today.

    Yet, Denmark is a country with poor soil and little sunshine. Cuba has rich soil and plenty of sunshine. The difference? Private plot ownership by the farming families. We can say what we wish, but the fact remains that the PCC’s prejudice against private plot ownership has ruined Cuban agriculture. The only reason it hasn’t ruined the tobacco industry is because tobacco growing has remained on privately-owned plots.

  • They are addressing the agricultural production problem, by discounting input prices –
    “Las autoridades cubanas rebajaron hasta en un 60% el precio de insumos y equipos agrícolas con el objetivo de estimular a los nuevos productores a quienes entregaron tierras ociosas.” – Cuba Debate, 4/8/11

  • Good article. The origin of these sorts of problems is the traditional concept that private ownership of the land under socialism is capitalistic, and therefore incompatible with the building of socialist society. But, are small farming, private plot owners capitalists?

    A capitalist is someone who uses proprietary ownership of such things as land and factories to set hired workers to work and appropriate whatever these workers produce above their bare subsistence needs. In general, although small farmers might do this to some extent, especially during certain seasons, they and their families spend their lives managing their lands and crops, often laboring from before dawn to after dusk to provide urban citizens the means of life–food. Most of what their incomes therefore come from their own, very productive labor.

    Small farmers therefore are not capitalists, because mainly what they do is labor and produce. They are a laboring class. It would be more correct to classify them as “semi-capitalistic during certain season.” They certainly are not capitalists in the same category as monopoly capitalists and bankers who bestride the world imperialistically and are destroying the earth.

    Small farmers are the natural allies of the industrial and commercial proletariat. The theoreticians of the PCC should get rid of their ruinous prejudice against them. The thing that will give small Cuban farmers the incentive to produce at their maximum capacity is private ownership of their plots and implements.

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