Dimas Castellanos, 5 August 2016 — In Sancti Spiritus, the second secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), delivered a speech marking the 63rd anniversary of the assault on the Moncada barracks. José Ramón Machado Ventura began by wishing Fidel Castro well on his 90th birthday and reasserting “the commitment to remain faithful to the ideas for which he has fought throughout his life, and keep alive the spirit of resistance, combativeness, dialectical thinking, and faith in victory he instilled in us.”He added that to write his remarks he studied Fidel’s speech in that same city on July 26, 1986.
A reading of the message conveyed by Fidel Castro at that time reveals a relationship to the critical situation today and the designation of Machado Ventura to talk, 30 years later, in the same place, and in the absence of a plan to rescue the country from a crisis.
During the first decade after the Revolution Cuba received enormous resources via agreements signed with the USSR. These resources, which could have served to construct an autonomous economy, were accompanied by an almost total nationalisation process, the loss of freedoms, and an exaggerated willfulness. El Cordón de Havana (The Havana Cordon), caturra coffee, and attempts to raise up to 12 million head of cattle, produce half a million tons of fish, and more milk and cheese than Holland, are some examples, followed by a campaign to produce ten million tons of sugar in 1970, which practically paralyzed the country and led to a “rectification” process that lasted for 15 years.
In the new period a system an economic management and planning system (EPDS) was implemented, in which economic mechanisms were to work institutionally to tie the leader’s hands, averting any arbitrariness. The consequences of corporate independence and the measurement of economic over “political” results scared those who opposed reform.
In 1972 Cuba entered the COMECON and adopted a model similar to that of its member countries, in exchange receiving tens of billions of dollars. At the same time it received loans and participated in collaborative projects with Japan, Spain, France, Sweden and Argentina, among others. With this support it achieved economic growth that tripled its GDP, and general wage reform was implemented aimed at stimulating workers’ interest, accompanied by parallel and free farmer markets, measures that bolstered the peso’s purchasing power.
In 1975 the 1st First Congress of the PCC approved the course charted by the SDPE. However, a few days later the leader of the Revolution made public his commitment to large-scale military engagement in Angola, which constituted a strong impediment to the development of the SDPE. To this we must add that the massive aid received lacked structural reform or the reincorporation of fundamental freedoms. The absence of these factors prevented the development of a “prosperous and sustainable” economy, as they say today. Instead, loans swelled the country’s external debt of 291 million pesos in 1969 to over 2.913 billion by June 1982, when, due to liquidity problems, Cuba had to renegotiate it. In 1986 the nation announced its definitive inability to pay.
The clash between the leader of the Revolution’s leadership style and the straitjacket entailed by the SDPE, headed up by Humberto Pérez, with the support of Raúl Castro, eventually sank the reform measures. Arbitrary decisions flouting the laws governing economic phenomena prevailed.
In 1986, the year in which Fidel Castro spoke in Sancti Spiritus, the “Process for the Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies” began. In that speech he listed all the works carried out in the province, from the mechanization of agriculture, the construction of dams and the sowing of rice fields, to dozens of supply centers, hundreds of cane combines, grain mills, sand washers, block factories, to the construction of a hydroaccumulator, to be complemented with the Cienfuegos nuclear power facility, which, in his words, would be “safer than any of the nuclear power plants built in the US.”
With this constructive endorsement he addressed the US president to say: “Behold how our people have worked with freedom! And without having worked all they should have, because, working in complete freedom, they have even taken the liberty of not working all that was needed.”He added: “This shows that, yes, this is one of the essential ways, really, to build socialism.” Later he listed deficiencies, such as dams that had been under construction for 10 years, work that was at a standstill, and overpasses built on freeways lacking approach roads, etc., assigning the reformers of the time responsibility for them.
He said: “We have done a lot during these years of Revolution, but we could have done more and better things if we had been more capable, if we had been more hardworking, and better workers, and if we had been more and better revolutionaries. In recent days we have talked about many classes in politics being given, about political philosophy and political history, and we have not been able to emphasize and inculcate that the revolutionary’s first duty is work … we must make it our intention to overcome all these negative trends and make an effort, to make a great leap forward in the Revolution … ”
Elsewhere in his speech he acknowledged: “We, who were not traditionally oil exporters, had converted our oil savings … into hard currency, and at those oil prices we were generating more than 400 million dollars in this area… ”
The result was a period of stagnation that worsened as of 1989. With the demise of the USSR, the country had to rely on its own efforts, and the Government was forced to implement short-term measures to alleviate the situation. With Chávez’s victory in Venezuela, subsidies based on ideologically affinity resumed, and the economy’s development was again put off indefinitely.
In 2008, when Fidel Castro stepped down as head of state, measures were introduced to change the window dressing while preserving the same content. The “updating of the economic model” yielded one less systemic and comprehensive than that of the SDPE, but similar in its fear of consequences and in opposition by a sector of the Government itself.
Thirty years after Fidel Castro’s speech, Machado Ventura claimed that the essential concepts expressed then could have been uttered today. He added, “With that clear consciousness we began the modernization of our economic and social model, characterized from the beginning by the broadest and most democratic and genuine participation, on a scale and of a depth unimaginable in countries that declare themselves to be paradigms of democracy .. . Let us demonstrate every day, in every job, and with concrete facts, that we will be up to this new challenge … ”
Engrossed by the past, in his speech Machado Ventura ignored the most important political development since 1959: the resumption of diplomatic relations with the US, and the visit by that country’s president to Cuba.
The similarity between the speeches and situations are obvious:
1- Despite the Soviet aid in 1982, Cuba had to renegotiate its debt and, in 1986, suspend payments due to solvency problems. Now, though the debt was renegotiated, the insolvency remains.
2- Thanks to the millions of tons of oil delivered by the USSR, Cuba became an exporter of oil, and a reduction in prices hurt its revenues in this category. Now, the reductions in oil from Venezuela (part of which it seems to have exported) have also affected revenues, setting the country on course for a crisis worse than that in the 90s.
3- Before the USSR bought sugar at prices higher than those on the international market, and the country did not advance. Now, something similar has happened with Venezuela, and the country regresses.
4- In 1986 reform was halted, and reformers were publicly sidelined. Now another attempt is being made to stop reform and, although it has not been announced, it appears that some reformers will also be marginalized.
5- Fidel’s words about how “Behold how our people have worked with freedom! And without having worked all they should have, because, working in complete freedom, they have even taken the liberty of not working all that was needed…” are once again relevant, now with the country facing even worse conditions.
As if 30 years were not enough, today it is proposed that, faithful to that legacy, we must conceptualize socialism. Without understanding the role of time in politics, Machado Ventura believes that the Cuban people are going to sacrifice themselves in the defense of a system that has destroyed almost everything, including hope – as evidenced by the sustained and growing exodus of people from the country, both young and old alike.
Note: This translation was taken from Diario de Cuba’s English edition