Raul Castro at the Crossroads / Carlos Alberto Montaner

Carlos Alberto Montaner, 10 December 2016 — Raúl Castro is on his own. Gone is his mentor, his paternal figure, the man who molded his life and led him at gunpoint — literally — from insignificance to the nation’s leadership. But he did so brusquely, reminding him every so often that he despised him for his intellectual limitations. That never ceased to hurt Raúl.

Many years ago, Raúl realized that Fidel was the revolution’s essential stumbling block — his arbitrary voluntarism, his stubborn foolishness, his improvisations, the odious way in which he wasted time in interminable conversations and perorations. But he also knew that without Fidel there would have been no revolution. On one hand, he admired him; on the other, he rejected him. There was something monstrous and fascinating in a person who talked for eight consecutive hours without the least concession to his bladder or that of the defenseless interlocutor. continue reading

Nevertheless, life had taught Raúl that a deeper problem existed: Marxism-Leninism, in which he believed blindly in his youth, and the reason he killed others without compunction, was a misguided doctrine that led to gradual impoverishment.

If Fidel had been different, or if relations with Washington had been a lot better, nothing essential would have changed. The unproductiveness of the system did not depend on the leader’s errors or character, or the economic embargo, but on the system’s lack of adaptation to human nature. It always fails.

The same had happened in the Soviet Union, in East Germany, in Czechoslovakia, in Poland. Whether the subjects were Slavs, Germans or Latins made no difference. Romania had been granted “most-favored nation” status by the United States.

It mattered not whether communism was being tested on societies with Christian, Islamic or Confucian roots; it inevitably failed. Nor did it depend on the leaders’ quality or formation. Their plumage could be varied: lawyers, union bosses, professors, teachers, even elevated labor activists. None was any good.

In addition, it was easy for Raúl to confirm that the market economy, with its simple way of rewarding the entrepreneurs and punishing the lazy, gave large though unequal fruit. His own father, Galician Ángel Castro Argiz, was a living example: he arrived in the Republic of Cuba at a young age without a penny, even without education, but at his death in 1956 he left a fortune consisting of $8 million and an organized agricultural business that employed dozens of people.

The issue now facing Raúl is how to dismantle the horrid contraption generated by his brother and himself almost 60 years ago without being buried in the rubble of that useless system. By now he knows that his “guidelines,” which is how his timid, sometimes puerile reforms are called in Cuba, are ill-placed Band-Aids stuck on a socialist system beyond salvation, a system made worse by military management in all its economic activities nationwide. But he has said, over and again, that he didn’t replace his brother to bury socialism but to save it.

I suppose he already knows that communism is beyond salvation. It has to be buried. That’s what Mikhail Gorbachev discovered when he tried to rescue it by applying drastic reforms: perestroika — giving it a transparent air of fearless discussion — and glasnost –convinced that it could be the best productive system created by human beings.

In a few years, Gorbachev’s salvage operation sank communism, not through the clumsiness of the rescue team but through the system’s insolvency and the poor theoretical formulation of Marxism-Leninism. Central planning was a bungle. Keeping the mechanisms of production from private hands was counterproductive. The committees for the assignation of prices were totally unaware of the people’s needs or reality. The constant presence of the political police destroyed coexistence and generated all kinds of psychological ills.

When Raúl Castro read “Perestroika,” Gorbachev’s book, he became so enthused that he ordered a special edition just for his officers. Fidel found out, scolded him in a humiliating manner and recalled all copies. Fidel was not interested in the people’s material well-being but in his own permanence in power. Gorbachevism, he said, would lead to the disappearance of communism.

He was right, but only half right. Raúl is at the same crossroads where Gorbachev stood, but with the added flaw that today almost no one — much less the profound idiots — thinks that communism can be saved. At least, none of the nations that have managed to abandon it has reversed that decision. They learned their bitter lesson. For now, the symptoms show that Raúl will maintain the same Stalinist course drawn by his brother, but there’s a difference: Fidel is no longer alive. He is buried in a huge rock at Santa Ifigenia cemetery. If Raúl doesn’t rectify that course, he is a coward.

Ed. note: English version is from Mr. Montaner’s own blog.

Chile Returns To Its Old Populist Ways / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Protests in Chile against the AFP have been underway for several days throughout the country (Twitter/@mariseka)

14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Santiago de Chile, 28 August 2016 – I have arrived in the country in the middle of a cacophony, fortunately peaceful and civilized. It is Sunday, and tens of thousands of people are protesting against the AFPs.

They complain about the “Pension Fund Administrators,” a retirement system founded on individual capital accounts, more or less like the 401(k) and the American IRA. One contributes a part of his salary to an account that belongs to him, and thus, after a certain age, he can dispose of his resources or leave them to his heirs when he dies. The money is his. It does not come from the benevolence of other workers. continue reading

The AFPs are private financial companies that invest the money that the workers entrust to them in reasonably safe instruments, so that the risks are minimal. They charge about 1.5% to manage these resources. There are a few so that competition exists in price and services.

Since the economist Jose Pinera created the AFPs at the beginning of the 1980’s, the average annual return has been 8.4%. The government merely establishes strict rules and carefully monitors the financial entities. So far, in 35 years, there has been no collapse or scandal.

Today the mass of savings generated by the AFPs is approximately 167 billion dollars. That is very convenient for the stability of the country. A third of these funds comes from workers’ direct deposits. Two-thirds, the rest, are interest generated by these deposits. Without doubt, it has been a great business for the prospective retirees.

Until the creation of the AFPs, the distributed funds model prevailed in Chile, as in almost the whole world. The worker’s investment went to a general fund that was used to pay the pensions of retirees or finance the fixed expenses of the growing public workforce. In many countries, often, the money of elderly retired people ends up in the pockets of devious politicians and officials or is dedicated to other purposes.

As happens in Europe and the United States, the relationship between the number of workers and retirees is more problematic with each passing year. Fewer people are born, especially in developed or developing countries, and they live many more years.

Hence the retirement systems based on the distribution model are in crisis or heading towards it. They tank just as “Ponzi Schemes” always end badly; named for Charles Ponzi, a creative scammer who paid good dividends to investors … as long as there were new investors to meet the commitments.

When the capitalization system began, there were seven workers in Chile for every retiree. Today there are fewer than five. By mid-21st Century there will be two. The individual capitalization system, rather than a maniacal predilection of liberals dictated by ideological convictions, is the only possible model of retirement in the medium term. It is much safer for a worker to have control of his savings than to leave that sensitive task to intergenerational solidarity or the decisions of politicians.

What has happened in Chile? Why are they complaining? Half of Chilean workers, especially women, do not regularly save, or they have not done so in a long time, and since they have not saved enough, the pensions they receive, consequently, are small, and they are not enough for them to survive. That is why they protest and want the state to assume responsibility for their old age and give them a “dignified” pension, without stopping to think that the supposed right that they are angrily soliciting consists of an obligation for others: those who work must give them part of their wealth.

At the same time, students passionately demand free university studies, while many Chileans demand the “decent” living promised by politicians in the electoral fracas, to which are added modern and effective medical services, also “free,” proper to a middle class country like Chile currently is. It is not well understood why, by the same reasoning, they do not seek free food, water, clothes, electricity, and telephones, all items of absolute necessity.

It is a shame. A few years ago it appeared that Chile, after a 20th Century of populism from the right and left, with a population dominated by an incompetent and greedy government that had bogged down in underdevelopment and poverty, finally had discovered the correct road of individual responsibility, the market, the opening up and the empowerment of civil society as a great entrepreneurial player and the only wealth creator.

There was enthusiastic talk of the “Chilean model” as the Latin American road to reaching the First World. With 23,500 dollars per capita GDP (measured in purchasing power), Chile has put itself at the head of Latin America and boasts a low crime rate, honest administration and respect for institutions. It would not take long to reach that development threshold that economists set at about 28 to 30 thousand dollars per capita GDP.

It may never happen. A recent survey shows the growing irresponsibility of many Chileans convinced that society is obliged to transfer to them the resources that they demand from the state, which means from other Chileans.

It is a pity. A substantial part of the population has returned to populist ways typified by claiming rights and evading responsibilities. If Chile again sinks into the populist quagmire, we Latin Americans all will lose a lot. Prosperity and, who knows, even liberty. We will be left without a model, aimless, and in some sense, without a destination.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Revolution is Exactly That / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Hunger in Venezuela (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos A. Montaner, Miami, 6 August 2016 – They are hungry in Venezuela. It is the revolution. It does not matter that it potentially may be the richest country in the world. The same thing happened in 1921 in the newly debuted USSR. A million Russians died of hunger. Lenin rejoiced. “The revolution and I are like that, madam.” They kept the peasants from trading, and the Red Army confiscated food, including the seeds.

It happened in China. There were 20 million deaths. In that country grieving also is multitudinous. It happened in Cambodia and North Korea, where some desperate subjects resorted to cannibalism. It always happens. In Cuba sixty thousand people lost their sight or mobility in their lower limbs because of peripheral neuritis cause by malnutrition after the end of the Soviet subsidy. continue reading

Castro protested against the US “blockade.” The Minister of Health, who warned about what was happening, was removed from his post. The Revolution is also about keeping your mouth shut. It was not the embargo. It was the Revolution. It is always the Revolution. They gave the Nobel Prize in economics to the Bengali Amartya Sen for demonstrating that famines invariably are caused by state interference. Any of the victims of Communism could have explained to the Swedes with equal clarity and without need of getting a doctorate from Cambridge.

Why do the Communists do it? Are they sadists? Are they stupid people who commit the same errors time and again? Nothing of the sort. They are revolutionaries bent on creating a new world based on the prescriptions of Karl Marx.

Didn’t Karl Marx assert that the ruling oligarchy and state model were the consequence of the regime of capitalist property? Didn’t he claim that if a Communist vanguard were to take over the means of production in the name of the proletariat that there would emerge a new society ruled by new men endowed with a new morality?

It is a matter of priorities. Communist revolutionaries are not interested in people living better or farms and factories producing more. Those are the petty bourgeois stupidities typical of liberal democracies which include the Social Democrat traitors, the Christian Democrats and other minor species insistent on the babble of social pseudo-justice.

The two essential jobs of the Communist revolutionaries are, first, to demolish the power structure of the “old regime” and to substitute their own people for it; second, to take over the productive apparatus, ruin businesses that they cannot manage and nationalize the rest in order to deprive the old capitalist oligarchs of resources.

It is in these activities that Communist revolutionaries demonstrate if they have succeeded or failed. That is the benchmark. Lenin and Stalin succeeded, at least for several decades. Mao and the Castros succeeded. Chavez succeeded … for now.

What does it matter to Maduro that there are skeletal children who faint from hunger in school or that the sick die for lack of medicine? His definition of success has nothing to do with the feeding or health of Venezuelans, but with that fevered and delirious little world they call, pompously, the “consolidation of the revolutionary process.”

That explains the leniency in the face of immense theft of public treasure or the complicity with drug traffickers. Welcome. Marx also delivered the perfect alibi: They are in the first phase of capital accumulation. In this period of regime change, like someone who sheds a skin, anything goes.

And there will be time to re-establish honesty and to trust that the centrally planned five-year plans will bring something like prosperity. For now it’s about enriching the key revolutionaries: The Cabello brothers and their nephews, the docile generals, the Bolibourgeois, which is to say the revolutionaries in service to the cause. They have to have full pockets in order to be useful.

Do you understand now why the Communist revolutionaries repeat time and again the same framework of government? They are not mistaken. The upheaval is part of the construction of the new State.

Do you understand why the Castros advise Maduro to follow the unproductive Cuban model and why he doggedly obeys? What matters to the Chavistas is keeping power and exchanging the government elites for their own.

Do the Colombians understand what the guerrilla chief, Timochenko, means to say when he promises to revolutionize Colombia when he comes to power? Or Pablo Iglesias in Spain when he asserts that he will use in his country the same prescription that was recommended to the Venezuelans? They are consistently destructive.

That is the Revolution. Exactly that. Nothing more and nothing less.

Translation by Mary Lou Keel

Obama in Cuba / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Havana preens for Obama's visit. (14ymedio)
Havana preens for Obama’s visit. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 19 March 2016 – The United States president has not yet set foot in Cuba and the regime has already begun the bombardment. First it was a long editorial in the Party newspaper Granma. The essence? Cuba will not move its socialist and anti-imperialist positions a single millimeter, including its support for the Chavista monster in Venezuela, a huge source of subsidies for Cubans, afflictions for Venezuelans and unrest for its neighbors.

Then diplomatic errand boy Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez warned that his government was not pleased that Obama spoke of empowering the Cuban people. Nor, that it would try to impose the internet on them. Cuba, he said, “will protect the technological sovereignty of our networks.” In plain language he meant that the political police continue to monitor communications. By this and for this they live. continue reading

The US president was not fazed. He will speak openly about human rights during his visit to Cuba. He has said it and he is going to do it. But there is more: Barack Obama, apparently, will not visit Fidel Castro. (Beware: never say never to this dictator.) At least for now he will inhibit the anthropological curiosity that this Tyrannosaurus Rex always awakens. Today he is a hunched caricature of himself, but there is a certain morbid fascination about conversing with a historic gentleman who has had the ingenuity to spend 60 years flitting through the news programs.

Obama, what’s more, will have the generosity to meet with some of the democrats of the opposition. There is a whole message there. It is a good lesson for the Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who has not yet been, and for French President Francois Hollande, who already passed through Havana and didn’t have the civic courage to make a gesture of solidarity with the dissidents. Obama will meet with the most hard line. He will give his blessing to the fighters. The most beaten up and toughened. Those whom the political police falsely classify as terrorists and CIA agents.

In any case, I think Obama has misjudged the hornet’s nest he has gotten himself into. He has unilaterally decreed the end of the Cold War with Cuba, despite the fact that the island insists on supporting the North Koreans militarily, supporting the terrorists of the Middle East, backing Syrian Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian ayatollahs. Nor does it matter that it directs the orchestra of the countries of 21st Century Socialism (Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua), all of them decidedly anti-American and determined to revive the battle left unfinished by the USSR.

Obama feels invulnerable. He is riding an enormous elephant, the largest history has ever known, and from his perspective as the primary planetary power these quaint Latin American dwarfs are like fleas that will naturally be crushed by the weight of an inevitable and overwhelming reality.

It could happen, but there is a serious problem of logic. At the Summit of the Americas in Panama, Obama declared that the United States had renounced trying to change the Cuban regime while, simultaneously, saying it would continue to promote the defense of human rights and a Western democratic vision. This is a clear contradiction.

The Castros’ dictatorship violates human rights precisely because it subscribes to the Leninist viewpoint that they are subterfuges of the callous capitalist bourgeoisie. They do not believe in them. “The Revolution” subscribes to other values, expressed in the so-called “social rights,” and, to achieve them, grants the Communist Party the sole and total direction of society. That is what the Constitution says, inspired by the one Stalin imposed on the USSR in the thirties

When a Cuban freely expresses her opinion and it contradicts the communist dogma, she is not exercising the right to free expression of thought, but committing a crime. When two or more Cubans try to get together to defend their ideals or interests outside of official channels, they are not exercising the right of assembly. They are committing a crime.

These outrages will not end as long as there is no change of regime on the island. It is clear that the vast majority of Cubans living in their own country will look on this visit with great enthusiasm. It is possible that the thaw will improve living conditions for some Cubans. And it is more than likely that certain US exporters will benefit from the opening of this famished market, but the bill will ultimately be paid by US taxpayers.

Nevertheless, there will be no freedoms, nor respect for human rights, nor will there be an end to militant anti-Americanism and the spirit of the Cold War, as long as the totalitarian regime continues and is not replaced by a real democracy. And that, painfully, means that unilateral concessions will continue to be made with no cost to the dictatorship. Appeasement has never been a good policy, as has been confirmed in North Korea with the dynasty founded by Kim Il-Sung, and as we have already seen in Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Bullies confuse kindness with weakness.

A Calamity Called Evo / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Evo Morales, president of Bolivia. (Flickr)
Evo Morales, president of Bolivia. (Flickr)

14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 24 January 2016 — Evo Morales has already served 10 years as president of Bolivia. He is the person who has occupied the post for the longest consecutive time since Simón Bolívar was inaugurated in 1825. He is in his third term. It will end in 2019.

It seems too little. He is not happy. He wants to be reelected when that date arrives. For him, generational change and the circulation of the elites sparks nervous laughter. He has called a referendum to be able to run a fourth time, which would put him in the presidential chair in 2025, and celebrating two hundred years since the inauguration of the Republic. continue reading

Then he wants to continue, and continue, and continue. It is very amusing to be president. He likes living in the Quemado Palace. He knows nothing of law, economics, history. He knows nothing about anything, except the infinite goodness of coca, a plant whose cultivation is increasingly widespread, to the sadness of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, the one who governs is his vice president, Álvaro García Linera, a Marxist professor, mathematician and sociologist with a hideous revolutionary past, who concerns himself with the official carpentry. Evo, meanwhile, shows off, plays football, avoids talking and greatly entertains himself.

There is something unhealthy about the need to rule that Evo exhibits. It is the living representation of the platonic idea of narcissism. He has twice amended the Constitution. If he wins the referendum he won’t have to update the text again. He will be able to be reelected indefinitely and will die in the royal bed, like the ancient monarchs.

Will he succeed? He should lose, but who knows. He has wildly increased public spending. When he came to power the government consumed 21.05% of GDP. Now it is 43.26%. It is the second highest per capita public spending in Latin America. The first is Ecuador (44.17%). Chile, the best governed nation in Latin America, dedicates 24.88% of GDP to this category.

That enormous public spending wouldn’t be so serious if the money belonging to everyone was handled honorably, but it isn’t. According to Transparency International’s Perception Corruption Index, Bolivia is a pigsty: its score is 35. In this cataloging, with anything under 50 the country is in very bad shape. Bolivia ranks 103 out of 175 countries, one of the worst in Latin America.

Bolivia is headed into a crisis. It will probably devalue its currency after the referendum. Like good populists, neither Evo Morales nor his vice president believe in economic freedom nor in the virtues of the market. They believe in Statism and cronyism, and have confiscated several key companies, subscribed to the fateful recipe of 21st Century Socialism, and, in collaboration with the Cuban security services, have not ceased to imprison their adversaries, exile them, and, once in a while, assassinate them.

When they came to power, Bolivia received a reasonable ranking on the Index of Economic Freedom from the Heritage Foundation. It was classified as “moderately free.” Today it is in the lowest ranks, and its economy classified as “repressed.” This is an infallible recipe for disaster. It is enough to review the list to confirm that greater freedom and openness corresponds to a better level of development.

But, in my judgment, the greatest damage has been in the institutional terrain and in the intimate fabric of the Bolivian nation. The multinational State is a stab to the idea of a republic of citizens equal before the law, united by constitutional patriotism, as Simón Bolívar claimed and as Victor Pas Estenssor tried to carry out with the unifying revolution of 1952.

Evo Morales returned Bolivia to the pre-Colombian period, as if that hostile and fierce world of ethnic remnant that had frequently made war had been a kind of peaceful confederation of beatific people.

He did not understand that the very idea of the Republic of Bolivia was the product of a modernity embodied in the dreams of Bolívar and Sucre, and not in the fantasies of Tupac Katari, inevitably erased from history by the insensitive European steamroller, as happened throughout the New World with indigenous cultures.

On February 21 we will know if this calamity called Evo Morales has an expiration date, or if he came to power to remain indefinitely. Very soon now.