“I am optimistic I will see prosperity in Cuba” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Karina Galvez Chiu (14ymedio)
Karina Galvez Chiu (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 8 August 2014, Reinaldo Escobar – Pinar del Río born and bread, and a member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), Karina Gálvez has made some important decisions in her life. She wants to continue to live in Cuba, to help change the country from civil society and some to recover the piece of patio that the authorities confiscated from her parents’ house. Today she talks with the readers of 14ymedio about her personal evolution, the Cuban economy, and her dreams for the future.

Question: Isn’t it a bit contradictory to be an economist in Cuba?

Answer: When I graduated, the final subject of my thesis focused on the economic effectiveness of the use of bagasse (sugar cane stalk fiber) for boards. The result of the investigation was negative, because making boards in those conditions was expensive and the product quality was very bad. But they ignored us.

Q: Since the conclusion of your studies you have dedicated yourself to teaching. Did you ever instill in your students that socialism was the best way to manage an economy?

A: Thank God, I have taught subjects that are technical rather than economic theory. Still, I’ve gotten into trouble. In the course on economic legislation, I did research in the school where I included many examples of economic crimes. The “problem” was that I wanted to separate what was criminal according to current laws, from what was immoral. For example, one could say “that to kill a cow is a crime, but it’s not immoral if the cow belongs to you and wasn’t stolen.”

Q: What was your personal transformation to get to where you are today?

A: I was a member of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) and in the late eighties I knew what was happening in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. That helped me open my eyes a little. Criticizing within the ranks of the UJC, I had several penalties, arguments and problems.

Along with these disappointments and my departure from the UJC, I met with a group of people who were in opposition in Pinar del Río. I started to hear something different from them and it got me excited. Later, I learned that the main coordinator of that group worked with State Security. A friend had lent me her typewriter to write some papers and then the political police called her in to interrogate her. When she got there, on the other side of the desk—like one more official—was the man who ran our opposition cell. Imagine the surprise!

Q: So is that what turned you around?

A: Not at all. In the end the balance was positive because in the almost clandestine meetings of that group I met a college professor. His name was Luis Enrique Estrella and he had been fired from his job because of political problems. He was the person who first took me to the Parish of Charity where I met Dagoberto Valdés. He was already running a Civic Center group and that night they debated the subject of the Constitution.

Q: So the Civic Center was already in existence?

A: Yes, it had been founded a few months before, at the beginning of 1993. This initiative was just starting out and once I’d been there the first time I couldn’t let it go. One day Dagoberto asked me to go to a slum in Pinar del Río with him, to offer the simplest course there, which was “We are people.” So I started out as a cheerleader. In the Center for Civic Development we came to have computer classes, music, groups of professionals, educators and computer scientists. Later I joined the editorial board of the magazine Vitral [Stained Glass] until it was taken over and in June 2008 along with other colleagues we founded the magazine Convivencia.

Q: What economic model do you think Cuba needs?

A: I wouldn’t like to name a model, but there are issues that are essential to get Cuba out of this situation in which we find ourselves now. One of these issues is recognition of the right to economic initiative, and the right to private property. We need a financial system that circulates money, which is the “blood” of any economy. Today in Cuba it’s not possible to develop this, given that all the banks are state-owned, the companies are state-owned, and the citizens have no right to invest.

As a third point, and here I turn more to the social, we need a tax system that is efficient and fair, or as fair as possible. We know that in economics, always with fairness, “we have to cut our suit to fit the cloth,” because we still haven’t invented the Kingdom of God. So yes, we must move towards fairness.

Q: That’s the economy. What about politics? What are your preferences?

A: I cannot give it a name, but a political model that is inclusive and admits of dialog. I’m not talking about complacency, but real dialog. In Cuba, where we have such a history of caudillos, sectarianism and authoritarianism, those qualities I just listed would be very important.

Q: Are you optimistic? Do you think you will get to see the change?

A: Yes, and also I will see prosperity in Cuba. I think Cubans have the ability to make this a prosperous nation in a short time.