Cuba: In Defense of Political Dialogue / Dimas Castellano

Cuban protesters on July 11th.

Emerging civil society has to prepare to deal with the current power or the one that replaces it, and that articulation requires moving through the channels of dialogue.

Dimas Castellano, 13 July 2021 — The recent events of Sunday, July 11, confirm that the Cuban crisis is deepening, that popular discontent is growing and that the Government is unable to solve it. Despite the Cuban president’s discourse, which was literally a call to civil war, the Government will have to accept the participation of Cubans as active subjects, because it is a national demands as well as a demand of foreign institutions and governments.

Given the imminence of the event, the associations of the emerging civil society need coordination to interact with each other and prepare to deal with the current power or with the one that replaces it. Coordination that requires moving through the channels of dialogue.

In the face of social conflicts, the most frequently used solution, in the history of humanity and in Cuba, is the use of violence, which by not removing the causes makes the conflicts resurface, over and over again.

In dialogue, as an art of reconciling interests, the parties, on an equal footing, always have to compromise on something. Those who consider themselves to be in an advantageous position — which is the case of the Cuban government — reject, as it has done, the first calls, but given the worsening of the crisis, continuing to refuse may have a higher price than continue reading

sitting down to dialogue and negotiate.

Why dialogue?

Because it is a form of communication in which two or more interlocutors establish an exchange of information to reach an agreement, for which dialogue is the most viable, safe and positive way.

Dialogue means talking to expose your own points of view, listening to know the opinion of the other and exploring possible solutions to the conflict. Dialogue and flexibility in negotiation enable the disputing parties to gradually resolve differences at the lowest possible cost.

If war is the continuation of politics, as defined by Clausewitz, then politics is the art of conflict resolution through dialogue and negotiation, which does not mean resignation or surrender, but an opportunity for direct communication to clarify positions, policies and proposals for changes.

As a process, dialogue includes efforts prior to negotiation to create a climate of trust, while requiring patience, flexibility, weighing in on the magnitude of demands and their gradual nature. The transformation of any violent conflict towards dialogue requires establishing communication channels between the agents involved, including those who practice violence, whether physical, verbal or moral, as is happening in Cuba against the fighters for freedom of expression.

There are no methods, rather there is only one method for conflict resolution: dialogue and negotiation. In the case of Cuba, although until now it has not yielded the expected results, it retains its validity for relations between the emerging civil society associations, between these with the State-Government Party and between the two with countries or associations of countries, such as the United States and the European Union (EU) respectively.

To be effective, in the case of Cuba, the first demand must be the promotion of rights and freedoms that allow legalized civil society to participate as a protagonist of changes in Cuba. This based on an understanding of civil society as a range of independent and autonomous associations, institutions and resources, which have public spaces and various forms of ownership over the means of production and expression.

Three examples of dialogue and negotiation in Cuba

The Zanjón Pact: After ten years of war, thousands of deaths, suffering and considerable material damage, on February 10, 1878, the Zanjón Pact was signed between most of the insurgent forces in Cuba and the Government of Spain. In exchange for peace, Spain had to implement, in Cuba, the laws related to printing, assembly and association contained in the Spanish Constitution.

The liberation of the slaves who went to war was a death blow for the institution of slavery, and from the freedoms implanted Cuban civil society arose: organs of the press, economic, cultural, fraternal, educational, instructional and recreational associations, unions and the first political parties, all of which served to restart the struggle in 1895.

The Platt Amendment: At the opening of the Constituent Convention, Military Governor Leonardo Wood told the delegates: “It will be your duty, first of all, to draft and adopt a Constitution for Cuba and, once it is finished, to formulate what should be, your judgment, the relations between Cuba and the United States.”

The commission designated for the formulation of relations, after exhausting all attempts to prevent the inclusion of the Platt Amendment, agreed to add it to the Constitution by 16 votes to 11 . The Platt Amendment endorsed the right of another country, the United States, to intervene in Cuba, omitted the Isle of Pines from the limits of the national territory and imposed the sale or lease of land for foreign naval bases.

The delegates had two options: violence or negotiation. The first, which meant suicide, implied indefinite occupation and the need to declare war on the United States. Cuba was now without the party of José Martí, who had died in combat, the Liberation Army had been demobilized, the economy was dependent on others and the island had not crystallized as a nation. In short, the country was plunged into desolation and ruin, and national self-esteemed had been weakened by years of military occupation.

The second option, negotiation, meant that, once signed, the Army of occupation withdrew, and the Republic was founded. Not the one we want, but the possible one. Sovereignty over the Isle of Pines was recovered; Civil society developed and the Platt Amendment was repealed.

The Constitutional Convention of 1940: Between 1902, together with the advances in the economic sphere, the country was immersed in conflicts over re-elections, which caused the Guerrita of 1906 and the uprising known as La Chambelona, in 1917; the massacre of thousands of black and mulatto members of the Partido Independientes de Color in 1912; and the reform of the 1901 Constitution to extend the power of President Gerardo Machado, which opened the period of struggle that led to the Revolution of 1930.

Those almost 30 years of political instability were followed by another seven until, in 1936, during the presidency of Colonel Federico Laredo Bru, a period of dialogue and negotiation was inaugurated that led to the Constitutional Assembly, where the capacity for dialogue and negotiation between communists, liberals, conservatives and social democrats was demonstrated. Together, they tackled the controversies and the result was the most advanced constitution in the region at that time, which offers a lesson in the value of negotiation for the destinies of nations.

Force is used to win, dialogue and negotiation to solve what is impossible through force, which obliges us to strengthen it as a starting point, as an essential concept, as a guiding principle and as a permanent strategy.

Cuban Protests: The Curse of Fear Has Been Broken, the Final Collapse of the System Has Begun / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, el Blog de Dimas, 13 July 2021 — “It is the ultimate breakdown of the system. It had been coming for months. The curse has irreparably been broken. The Cuban people were tired of the state acting with impunity. It has been sixty-years of abuse and humiliation. This is not an economic crisis; this is a systemic crisis.” This is how the economist Emilio Morales summed up for Diario de Cuba what happened in Cuba on Sunday, when thousands of citizens across the island took to the streets to protest, shouting “Freedom!”

After the protests Diario de Cuba interviewed Morales, political scientists Juan Antonio Blanco and Dimas Castellanos, and activist Boris Gonzalez Arenas about what happened and what it could mean for Cubans in near future and for the regime.

“In addition to being unpopular, the government’s latest economic measures have had profound adverse effects on the economy. First of all, the economy was partially dollarized without meaningful structural changes or reforms to unleash productive capacity. Then there was currency unification, whose stated objective was the elimination of the dual currency system, something that in practice has not happened. Quite the opposite,” says Morales.

This has led to “an increase in inflation, shortages in the retail sector, increased loss of purchasing power and growth in public frustration, as reflected in the protests.”

He also alludes to “the financial massacre of forcing people continue reading

to deposit dollars they have been keeping under their mattresses.”

“Adding to this is the impact of the pandemic. Covid-19 has obliterated the vaunted myth of Cuban medical prowess in the blink of an eye. The epidemiological situation in the country is very serious and highly explosive socially. The increase in the number of infections and deaths has been growing rapidly for days while at the same time public frustration is growing over the lack of governmental response,” he says.

He adds, “In the midst of this brutal humanitarian crisis, the regime has refused to accept help from the Cuban diaspora, which has tested the patience of citizens who lack medicine and food.”

For Morales, all these events “have produced a great rebellion” in which “Cubans have used their voices and social networks as weapons.”

He believes that “these events are a stern warning to the political leadership and the military that impunity has come to an end.”

“Senior career military officials without links to the mafia chieftains running the country, and whose hands are not stained with blood, are taking note of the situation. They will not part in any massacre that the puppet Diaz-Canel might order,” he says.

The economist believes, “This situation could lead to a fracture within the armed forces.”

“Most high, medium and low-ranking officers are experiencing the same hardships as ordinary Cubans: lack of food, medicine, blackouts, inflation, the humiliation of having to pay for basic necessities with dollars when their salaries are in pesos,” he says.

“It would not be the first time a dictatorship in Cuba has fallen. It would not be an an exception. There are already rumors that the families of Raul Castro and Lopez-Callejas have begun sending their relatives out of the country. If this turns out to be true, it would not come as a surprise. Large sums of money have been ferried out of the country for years. The generals and colonels commanding the troops are not going to bloody their hands repressing the people, nor are they going to lend themselves to the farce of watching that these crooks flea the country with their families,” he adds.

In regards to the government’s options for responding to what has happened, Morales believes that those in power “have run out of resources, have nothing to say and nothing to offer.”

“All they can offer is slavery, barbarity, hunger, submission and obedience. An economy in ruins, a country that exports practically nothing, that does not allow its citizens to generate wealth, that exports them as slaves and steals their wages, a government that steals the remittances from exiles and hides them in bank accounts in a third country or invests them in luxury hotels on the island while the public suffers from shortages of medicine and food, and the onslaught of a pandemic that has gotten out of control,” he laments.

What would Emilio Morales advise the Cuban government at this point? “The only possible recommendation would be to urge them to hold free, transparent elections with international supervision. Allow Cubans to generate wealth, end one-party hegemony, allow freedom of thought and association, and end political exclusion. Liberate the economy, the market, prices and put an end to parasitic centralization once and for all. Allow Cubans who live outside and inside the country to invest unhindered and with full legal guarantees. Allow citizens to save the country,” he urges.

Not that he expects the government to do any of this.

“It will try to buy time. It will not acknowledge the crisis. It will say that the thousands of Cubans who took to the streets are criminals, are mercenaries being bankrolled by imperialists. It will say that what they want is annexation and will repeat all those arguments and rhetorical idiocies they have been using for six decades to subdue the masses and justify their acts of violence.”

“In reality, what they will do is increase the repression and persecution of activists. The country will be increasingly militarized to discourage people from returning to the streets. In practice this will be unsustainable and will be very difficult to avoid,” he adds.

“It’s just a question of time. The dictatorship is demoralized. This is the last round and only a united Cuban people can overturn it. They already took the first step by going out into the streets. The curse of fear is already broken. There’s no going back. It does not matter if the internet is shut down or the phone lines are cut. The flame of freedom has already been ignited in the hearts of all Cubans and that cannot be extinguished by any dictatorship, no matter how violent and malevolent it may be. The beginning of the end has finally come,” concludes Morales.

A national rebellion

This is what political scientist Juan Antonio Blanco believes has clearly occurred.

“The regime has already lost two of its three supporting pillars. One was its ability to co-opt the public through subsidized employment, healthcare, and other policies. Investing in those things requires financial capital and political will, neither of which this government has.”

“The other pillar was ideological domination, its ability to present itself as a power allegedly legitimized by history, the voice of the downtrodden. It was their symbolic capital. The San Isidro and 27N movements ripped that apart,” states Blanco.

“The third pillar was fear of the the state’s capacity for repression. Sunday’s protests demonstrated that this fear is not insurmountable. The biggest gain of July 11 is the people suddenly discovering their own power,” he says.

“This system of domination is in crisis and getting worse.” The regime’s leadership, he believes, has no choice but to “leave or repress.” He is reluctant to give any suggestions. “I trust in its capacity for self-destruction,” he says.

Blanco believes the regime’s ruling elite will close ranks with those who have a stake in the system of repression.

“On Sunday there were police and rapid response brigades who refused calls for mobilization. We will see where their criminal foolhardiness leads them,” he says.

As for President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s ongoing denial of the seriousness of the crisis, Blanco believes it is “abject stupidity to say that the US government is so bothered by Cuba’s political system that it has manufactured all these protests.”

“It is an insult to Cubans’ intelligence. The assumption is that people are living happily so they must have been manipulated by another country that wants to put an end to this reign of harmony. The scarcity is due to an outdated system that seeks to create wealth rather than prevent the growth of poverty. After sixty-two years of experience, it is not a theoretical discussion as to whether or not the system in Cuba, and other Asian and European countries, has failed,” he says.

As for the Cuban president’s call for government supporters to confront demonstrators expressing their desire for freedom and to walk over their corpses, Blanco describes it as “an irresponsible, criminal statement which will have future legal consequences for this mediocre wimp from the ruling elite.”

Cuban political scientist Dimas Castellanos believes what has happened is “clearly a manifestation of exhaustion, hopelessness and despair.”

“It had been building and on Sunday it took a qualitative leap. I would not yet describe it as a national rebellion but it is a prelude,” he tells Diario de Cuba.

“The causes for this are not external. They are fundamentally internal, measures the government has refused to take. It has been delaying them and that is what has led us to this point. If there were the political will and an average level of intelligence, the situation could be turned around immediately,” he says.

“But that is not what they are signaling. As for the causes of the blackouts, for the pandemic, they claim everything is the fault of the United States and the embargo. There is no acknowledgement that the totalitarian system does not work, that it has failed,” he states.

Castellanos believes the basic reason for the protests “is the absence of liberties: civil, political, economic, every kind.”

“My advice would be to take measures they have been putting off: grant freedom to small producers, allow the creation of small and medium-sized businesses, do not try to save state-owned companies. Give Cubans total freedom to be active participants of their economy, with the ability to trade freely rather than having to go through an intermediaries like Acopio or state import/export monopolies,” he suggests.

In Castellos’ opinion, “the situation will not change from one day to the next but it will begin to change. The US would then have no rationale for maintaining the embargo.”

“They are trying to make excuses for their ignorance, for leaders who are confused, by claiming there is a foreign plot to overthrow the government. That is not the solution. You have to start by asking a simple question: Are Cubans free to participate as active agents in solving the problems of their country? No, they are not,” he concludes.

“Castroism will be subjected to ever greater social and international ridicule in the coming months.”

Independent journalist Boris Gonzalez Arenas, spokesperson for Council for a Democratic Transition in Cuba, notes, “Without a doubt, Sunday’s events were a spontaneous national rebellion.”

“As for the regime’s argument that it was all planned, what has happened is simply the classic, spontaneous manifestation of a people who have had enough. 2021 is no different from 1789 and the French Revolution. Desperate, hungry people, without medicine, without food, in the midst of a health crisis that the Covid has made worse,” he says.

“They have come out against Castroism, against the dictatorship, with information provided by social networks.”

Gonzalez believes “what this event most closely resembles is the crisis in Venezuela.”

“They are brutally repressing a hungry nation. Whether communism ends tomorrow or not, Castroism will be subjected to ever greater social and international ridicule in the coming months. If this degenerate conduct continues, Diaz-Canel will be another Maduro,”

The Cuban government’s first step must be to start abiding by the 2019 constitution, which it has crudely trampled on since its inception. The second is to recognize social diversity and then establish a process for political reform that will lead to a transitional system. I don’t know when, but there is no long-term possibility that communism will retain power the way it has up till now,” he says.

He denounces “what they have done in shutting down mobile phone networks. That is characteristic of communist tyrannies.”

“A tyranny as shameful as the one we have experienced in Cuba is only possible because of the denial of two basic freedoms: freedom of assembly and mobilization, and freedom of the press and expression. So, of course, the first thing they do is shut down the internet so that we cannot express ourselves,” he notes.

He is  also critical of the security forces’ repressive actions during the protests. “When shots are fired in Cuba, they are against unarmed individuals. This is a crime, state sanctioned murder, a crime against humanity,” he maintains.

By calling for acts of mass violence, Arenas contends Diaz-Canel himself has already signaled what the regime’s next step will be. “Depending on how things play out, Diaz-Canel could emerge strengthened in the eyes of Cuba’s old guard and gain the respect of powerful factions who now dismiss him.” But what will his lasting legacy be?

The Cause of the 11 July Demonstrations is Internal, the Way Out is in Democratization / Dimas Castellano

It is better to surrender arms than to fight without morals.

Dimas Castellanos, 19 July 2021 — Men can speed up or slow down historical processes, but only up to a point. The forceful popular demonstrations of 11J (July 11th), unprecedented for their massiveness and spontaneity, definitively confirmed that the crisis in Cuba has no other way out than the participation of Cubans as subjects in the destinies of their nation, that is, through democratization. To ignore this is to lead the country to a tragic outcome.

The rejection of democratization with the false argument of defending the “conquests of the revolution” can lead, as the events that have occurred indicate, to a catastrophe of incalculable consequences. After the failures harvested, the arguments put forward to continue on the same path do not stand up to serious analysis:

1- The Defense of the Revolution

By definition, the Revolution is a change in the structure of power in a short period of time that elapses from when the revolutionaries assume power until they replace the existing institutionality with another, subordinate to their ends.

This process in Cuba — extremely prolonged — began in 1959 and culminated in the 1976 Constitution. After that date, there is no revolution in Cuba, only immobility and retrogression.

The immobility, induced to “safeguard the conquests,” is nothing more than a euphemism to defend continue reading

vested interests and preserve power, which turns unresolved problems into sources of outbreaks, as happened on 11J.

The concept of revolutionary, which designates people who promote changes, is not attributable to those who choose to stop history to preserve what has been achieved. Defenders of the status quo can call themselves anything else, but not revolutionary.

2- TheBlockade

[Ed. note: The American embargo on Cuba is routinely referred to by the Cuban Government as a ’blockade’, which it is not.]

The seizures of the properties in Cuba owned by individuals or companies in the United States, which began in 1959, the attempts to export the revolution to other countries in the region, together with the reestablishment of relations with the Soviet Union — in the middle of the Cold War –were responded to by the United States with the establishment of the embargo, the reduction and suspension of the sugar quota, and the breakdown of diplomatic relations.

Thus began a confrontational escalation that for six decades has been used by the Government of Cuba to restrict the freedoms of Cubans, whose worst effect has been Cuba’s retreat from the most advanced platoon in Latin America with regards to rights and freedoms, to the group of the most backward.

The solution to this dispute does not lie in advertising campaigns or United Nations resolutions, but rather in accepting the causes and bringing them to the negotiating table instead of using it to present Cuba to the world as David before Goliath, to conceal the internal deficiencies, and to use it to make believe that any idea different from those of the Government comes from the United States, which constitutes an offense to the intelligence, culture and professionalism of Cubans.

3- The Principal Cause

In the shadow of the confrontation with the United States, the revolutionary government implemented a package of popular benefit measures (lower rents and lower prices for medicines, improvements in education and public health, the delivery of 100,000 property titles to poor peasants and the subsidy of basic products and services).

In parallel, it replaced independent civil society with associations created by and subordinate to power, suppressed freedoms, concentrated power in the leader, and concentrated ownership in the state. The most negative effect of the populist measures and the establishment of totalitarianism was the disappearance of the condition of citizen: an effect closely linked to the failures harvested, the accumulated malaise and the simultaneous explosion of 11J.

Like any system alien to human nature, Cuban totalitarianism was born doomed to failure. Its long duration lies in the demonstrated ability to subdue people through control of property, education, culture, and the media.

The embargo must cease, but since the main cause of the crisis lies in the adherence to nationalization, centralized planning and the absence of freedoms, the way out is, first in the implementation of measures of change within Cuba and then in the bilateral negotiations with the US, to retrace the path traveled — since the nationalization of US properties and the enactment of the embargo — through dialogue and negotiation.

4- The Shield

As the effectiveness to retain power is not transferable to production, the Cuban nation stagnated and began to regress. The totalitarian model was unable to generate sustained growth to meet the needs of Cubans, which is reflected, among other things, in the lack of food and medicine and in the power cuts.

Faced with the inevitable crisis, instead of escaping forward, the Cuban Government stepped on the brakes and decided to shield the totalitarian model with the 2019 Constitution, whose text preserves the causes of the setback, namely: the existence of a single political party as the superior leading political force of society and of the State; state property, the cause of economic decline as the fundamental form of the economy; the prohibition of Cubans on investing and being entrepreneurs in their country; and freedoms and rights, limited to being exercised in accordance with the ideology of the ruling party; which explains why, in the 11J demonstrations, the common cry was for freedom.

Conclusions

The solution to the crisis depends in the first place on measures aimed at empowering Cubans and banishing the exclusions of a part of the people with that aberrant slogan, “The street belongs to the revolutionaries”, which constitutes an offense to the words of the Apostle [José Martí]: Con todos y para el bien de todos” [With all and for the good of all.] Consequently, the recovery of the condition of citizen is imposed for participation as subjects, not as objects, in the solution of the nation’s problems, which are their own problems.

As the cause of the crisis is internal, democratization is the way out. It is enough to start with a minimum set of measures that allow Cubans to invest and create small and medium-sized production and service companies, produce and trade without the tutelage of the state company Acopio and Foreign Trade monopolies, leaving individuals free to associate in the way they desire, in matters of interest to them. These measures would necessarily have to be accompanied by the formation of a range of autonomous and independent associations without more state interference than is necessary for their registration, existence and operation.

Cuba and Fundamental Rights / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 17 January 2018 — The impact of fundamental rights on the development of society is of such magnitude and significance that it becomes impossible to comprehend the advancement, stagnation or regression of a population without accounting for it.

To mark the tenth anniversary of Convivencia (Coexistence), the current issue addresses a central theme of our magazine: the causal relationship between the loss of fundamental rights and the crisis in which Cuba now finds itself.

Introduction

Liberty — inherent in human beings — emanates from an inner conscience. That origin permits man to be free to the extent that he insists on being so, for liberty grants extraordinary power, the use of which becomes a factor in human growth and creates conditions for personal and social development.

Since men achieved establishing the existing relationship between conscious and liberty, this has come clearing a growing role in the evolution of humanity. Thanks to this relationship, even though a person is submitted to limitations or prohibitions from outside forces, the underlying layer of the liberty permits him to think and be free in such conditions. continue reading

Ignacio Agramonte (1841-1873), in defense of his thesis of Bachelor’s of Law in 1866, titled On individual rights, summarized masterfully this relationship in the following words: The right to think freely corresponds to the right of examine, of doubt, of opinion, as stages or directions from that. Fortunately, these, different from the right to speak or work, are not submitted to direct coercion and will be able to obligate one to shut up, to permanently disable, in case saying what is right that is highly unjust. But how can we be able to impede the doubt of what they say? How can we examine the actions of the rest, that which is about instills as truth, all, finally, and that about which they formulate the opinion?

The basis for this argument is that liberty is an essential and inherent right of each person; a condition such that, all intent to suppress/abolish or limit it, more than constituting an attack against humanity, it has been is and will be condemned to failure.

“To renounce one’s liberty,” said Rousseau, “is to renounce the human condition, the rights of humanity and even its duties… Such a renunciation is incompatible with human nature. To relinquish liberty is to relinquish morality.”

The fundamental rights, that is, those of consciousness, information, expression, assembly association, suffrage and habeas corpus, constitute the basis of communication, the exchange of opinions, of codes of conduct and decision-making.

The historical experience demonstrates that the maximum expression of liberty is only possible there, where the fundamental liberties are institutionalized in the rule of law.

The constitutional history of fundamental rights, whose guiding principle is located in the Magna Carta that the English nobility imposed on King John in 1215, contributed key features to the Declaration of Independence of the thirteen colonies of North America (1776) and in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of the French Revolution (1789). It had a part in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and made its way into the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights approved by the United Nations (1976).

In Cuba the constitutional history of liberties has its origin in the Autonomal Government Project of Fr. José Agustín Caballero (1811); it was made flesh in the nineteenth century Mambisa constitutions and the republican constitutions of the twentieth century, whose highest expression was the constitution of 1940.

Continuing that trajectory, and in fulfillment of the Pact of Zanjón (1878), which ended the Ten Year War, laws were implemented in Cuba for freedom of the press and freedom of assembly and association. Endorsed in Article 13 of the Spanish Constitution, these laws gave birth to Cuban civil society: a whole range of associations, spaces and media that reflect plurality and diversity.

Civil society, the permanent school of civility and ethics, constitutes a solid link in the bond between citizens and their nation, culture, history and development, whose existence and functioning require the institutionalization of human rights.

Civil society as well as the State are organs of the social body. The existence of both is not indisputable–rather, what is debatable are their functions and areas of competency.

In Cuba, civil society reached its greatest development around the mid-20th century, as Fidel Castro described it when referring to the situation in Cuba before the 1952 coup [by Fulgencio Batista]: “I will tell you a story. There once was a republic. It had its constitution, its laws, its liberties; a president, a congress, and courts; everyone could associate, assemble, speak and write with full liberty. The government did not satisfy the people, but the people could change it… There was a respected and heeded public opinion, and all issues of collective interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, educational hours on the radio, debate programs on television, public events….”

The logical question that emerges from the history of freedoms in Cuba is this: How was it possible that, following the described advances in areas of rights and liberties, Cuba should regress to a situation that was more backward than what it achieved after the Peace of Zanjón?

 The Cuban Totalitarian System

If its most immediate cause is in the 1959 Revolution, the genesis of the Cuban totalitarian system lies in certain characteristics of our development as a people that contributed to the establishment of a model foreign to our history, and to human nature. Among these characteristics, the interrelation of the following four stands out:

  • The Cuban national character, resulting from the mix of diverse ethnicities and cultures that arrived in Cuba with the Europeans and Africans–some who came to enrich themselves and return home, others who were brought as slaves, neither with the intention of setting down roots in the Island.  To this, according to Fernando Ortiz, can be ascribed the psychological weakness of the Cuban character: the impulsiveness, a trait of this psychological type, that frequently drives us to commit intense acts, but rapid-fire, precipitous, unpremeditated and violent…  Men, economies, cultures, and ambitions–here, everything felt foreign, temporary, changed, like migratory birds flying over the country on its periphery, contrary and ill-fated.
  • Violence, which arrived on our shores with the Spanish warriors, took its first victims from among the aborigines, and assumed horrible forms on the sugar plantations which gave way to escapes, runaway slaves, stockades and rebellions. It was present in the attacks by the corsairs, in the banditry that ravaged our countryside, in the independence conspiracies and wars. It manifested in coups d’etat, insurgencies, gangsterism, armed assaults and terrorist acts before and after 1959. These events turned violence into political culture.
  • The utilitarian ethic, an attitude rooted in colonial and slaver tendencies – a creole variant of 18th century philosophy of utilitarianism–which found in Cuba as fertile a soil as did the sugarcane. This ethic sustained an egotistical individualism and easy living, it took form in corruption, gambling, laziness, and the violation of all that was established, eventually becoming generalized behavior. The concept of man as a means and not an end, as an object and not a subject, the priority that the Cuban-creole oligarchy ascribed to crates of sugar and coffee, the use of power for personal or group gain, the presidential re-elections, the coups d’etat and the generalized use of physical and verbal violence–all are manifestations of the utilitarian ethic that marked the mold of our national character.
  • Exclusion, which runs through the history of Cuba from beginning to end: Félix de Arrate y Acosta (1701-1765) called for the putting the rights of his class on an equal footing with those of native-born Spaniards, while excluding blacks and those whites who had not been able to amass fortunes; Francisco de Arango y Parreño (1765-1837) defended the rights and liberties of his class and the enslavement of half the Island’s population; and José Antonio Saco y López (1797-1879), whose concept of nation did not include those born in Africa nor their descendants.

Against the constitutional crisis provoked by the coup d’etat of 1952, there arose two responses: one armed, the other civil. The first was made public on 26 July 1953, with the attack on the Moncada barracks headed by Fidel Castro. Following the fraudulent elections of 1954, Fulgencio Batista reestablished the Constitution of 1940 and granted amnesty to political prisoners–among them the Moncada assailants, who in June 1955 founded the 26 of July Movement (M-26-7) to continue the armed struggle.

Fulgencio Batista’s opposition to a negotiated settlement caused the civil efforts to fail. Violence was imposed: armed movements, attacks, military conspiracies, assaults on barracks and the presidential palace–trademark acts of the movement headed by Fidel Castro, who landed in Cuba in December 1956 and after two years of waging guerilla warfare and sabotage, achieved victory over the professional army on 31 December 1958.

In 1959, the triumphant Revolution, now a source of rights, replaced (without public consent) the 1940 Constitution with the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State. This set of statutes was in force until the Constitution of 1976 was promulgated that affirmed the existence of a sole political party–the Communist one–as the dominant driving force of society and the State.

A system foreign to human nature

A revolution that proposes to liberate men while at the same time does not posit the need for a public space that allows the exercise of freedom, can only lead to the liberation of those individuals from one dependency so as to attach them to another–perhaps one more rigid than the former. Those words of Hannah Arendt are corroborated by the Cuban revolutionary process of 1959. The issue is one of such universal value that it assumes the character of a philosophical generalization. As simple as it is complex, this thesis consists in that every social project that conceives the human person as a means and not an end–besides the anthropological damage it produces–is condemned to failure.

In January 1959 the Provisional President Manuel Urrutia Lleó made public the designation of Fidel Castro as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. In the Council of Ministers, made up jointly of figures from the armed and civil struggles, José Miró Cardona assumed the office of Prime Minister. In February, when the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State was substituted for Constitution of 1940, the faculties of Chief of the Government were conferred to the Prime Minister, and the functions of Congress to the recently-created Council of Ministers. Some days later, Fidel Castro replaced José Miró Cardona, at which time the charges of Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief remained with the same person.

The Revolution meanwhile implemented a series of measures of popular benefit, tossed aside the existing institutional, political and economic culture, and proceeded in a sudden manner to “take care of” the problems inherited from an unsustainable trajectory: the concentration of power and property, and the hijacking of civil liberties.

The Spanish philosopher and essayist José Ortega y Gasset warned that the greatest dangers that today threaten civilization are the takeover of life by the State, interventionism of the State, appropriation of all social spontaneity by the State; that is, the annulment of historical spontaneity which, in the final analysis, nourishes and propels human destinies–which is summarized in Benito Mussolini’s argument: “Everything for the State, nothing against the State.”

That process, whereby civil society was swept away and in its place were established associations that are auxiliaries to power, cannot be understood outside the dispute between the Cuban government and the North American administrations. This quarrel was utilized in the name of popular sovereignty to obscure the contradictions between State and society, and to cover up the unsustainability of an inefficient model–but even more, to hijack civil liberties. As Rousseau said, “Even admitting that man can hand over his liberty, he cannot hand over that of his children, born free men. Their liberty belongs to them, and nobody has the right to dispose of it.”

The duration of this model has been so prolonged that the vast majority of Cubans today have known no other option that totalitarian socialism–wherein the economy, the culture and society are monopolized by the State, the State by a sole Party, and the Party under the rule of a Commander-in-Chief–a model that if yesterday satisfied a good portion of our grandparents, today does not satisfy their children, and much less their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 A possible exit

Despite having access to such a rich source of thought, the events prior to 1952 led to the past: a regress that is inexplicable if one ignores the importance of Cubans’ ethical and civil formation, for which–among the many thinkers who were preoccupied and dealt with these deficiencies, I cite the following six:

  • Félix Varela y Morales (1778-1853), the first Cuban who understood the need for changes in thinking. Upon assuming the direction of the Constitution professorship of the San Carlos Seminary, Varela introduced ethics in social and political studies as the bearer of the principle of equality among all human beings, and the foundation of those rights upon which are constructed human dignity and civil participation.
  • José de la Luz y Caballero (1800-1862), who understood politics as a process and who came out against suddenness of action. From this vision, de la Luz posited a relationship among education, politics and independence, and conceived the art of education as a premise for social change. He placed his main emphasis on the conviction that liberty is the soul of the social body, and that there is no greater brake upon it than reason and virtue.
  • José Julián Martí Pérez (1853-1995), the greatest 19th century Cuban thinker, set himself the mission of directing the inconclusive independence movement. For this he established a linked relationship among party, war and republic –this last being the form and destiny — rather than conceiving war and party as mediating links to arrive at the republic. In his visionary essay, “The Future Slavery,” he more or less said the following: If the poor become habituated to asking the State for everything, they will leave off making any effort toward their subsistence, and–being that public necessities would come to be satisfied by the State–the bureaucrats would achieve an enormous influence, so that “from being slaves to the capitalists they would go on to be slaves to the bureaucrats.” These thoughts he concluded with that even more remote ideal: “I want the first law of our Republic be the reverence of Cubans for the full dignity of man.”
  •  Enrique José Varona (1849-1933) In My Counsels, written in 1939, Varona complained that the Republic had entered a period of crisis, because a great number of citizens had believed that they could disengage from public affairs. “This selfishness,” he said, “has a high price.” So high, in fact, that we have been able to lose everything. Convinced of these deficiencies, Varona understood that a new way needed to be learned, and to this he dedicated himself: education to form citizens.
  •  Fernando Ortiz Fernández (1881-1969) In his 1919 work, The Cuban Political Crisis: Causes and Remedies, Ortiz outlined our limitations: the historic lack of preparation of the Cuban people for the exercise of political rights; the ignorance of the governed that impedes their appreciating the true worth of political leaders; the deficient education within the leadership classes that keeps them from checking their selfish aims and aligning them instead with the greatest national interests; the disintegration of the diverse social elements into races and nationalities whose interests are not founded in a supreme national ideal.
  •  And Jorge Mañach Robato (1898-1961), when referring to the permanent quarrels among Cubans, said: “Every person has his small aspiration, his small ideal, his small program; but what is lacking is the aspiration, the ideal, the program of all–that supreme brotherhood of spirits that is characteristic of the most advanced civilizations.” And he added: “The individualism embedded in our race makes each one the Quixote of his own adventure. Efforts towards generous cooperation are invariably stymied. Selfless leaders do not emerge. In the legislative assemblies, in the intellectual guilds, in the academies, in the organizations, bickering spreads like weeds through the wheat fields from which we await bread for the spirit. It is all about jockeying for position.”

From this analysis we can derive a set of useful lessons for any project directed at improving the situation in which Cuban society is mired. I refer to a way towards a society less imperfect than the current one.

The analysis presented here reveals a set of useful lessons for any project directed at improving the situation in which Cuban society is mired. I refer to a way towards a society less imperfect than the current one.

The most important of the above cited lessons is that responsible public participation in the destinies of the country requires the existence of the citizen–a non-existent concept in the current Cuban political map.

Fundamental liberties must be reincorporated. In their implementation, even if introduced gradually, their indivisible character will be imposed for one simple reason: if civil and political rights constitute the basis for participating in public life, then economic, social and cultural rights are essential for the functioning of society, and the collective rights of all humanity are necessary for preserving life and the planet. Each one of these generations of rights guarantees a particular aspect, and the three in conjunction constitute the buttress for the recognition, respect and observance of the legal guarantees for their exercise.

If we accept that a social system’s degree of evolution depends of the degree of evolution of its constituents, then we must accept–whether we like it or not–that we Cubans, as people, have changed very little, and that in some aspects, we have regressed. Therefore, individual change becomes paramount. Because of all this, to paraphrase the concept of affirmative action, in Cuba there must be an educational initiative–in the absence of which there will be changes, as there have always been, but not the changes that society requires.

Therefore, that possible and necessary exit from the current crisis occurs because each Cuban occupies and makes use of his political share. To this end, the gradual reestablishment of the fundamental rights of the human person should be accompanied by a program of civic formation to serve as the basis of inner changes in the individual, without which economic and political reforms will have very little value–as those have had that were implemented during the era of the Republic up to 1958, and those that were implemented following the 1959 Revolution.

Translated by: Logan Cates and Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Dual Currencies: Before 1959 and Today / Dimas Castellano

One peso note, Cuba, 1969

Dimas Castellanos, 22 January 2018 — The reform measures implemented in Cuba in 2008 failed: voluntarism, statism, centralized planning, and subordination to policy and ideology dashed them. The coexistence of two currencies confirms this.

In 2011 monetary unification formed part of the Guidelines approved at the Communist Party’s 6th Congress. In 2013 a timeline was announced to implement it, and there was talk of a prompt solution. In 2016 its elimination was said to be urgent.

In 2017 buying with Cuban pesos was authorized for use at retail establishments, and bills of 200, 500 and 1,000 pesos were placed in circulation to facilitate transactions. Then, in December, President Raul Castro stated: “the elimination of the dual currency system constitutes the most pivotal process to make progress on the updating of our economic model. Without solving this, it will be difficult to advance correctly.” He concluded by saying: “I must recognize that this issue has taken us too long, and its solution cannot be put off any longer.” (Granma, 22 December 2017)

In this article I limit myself to the historical background of the dual currency system; that is, its past and present. continue reading

Dual currency in Cuba before 1959

In the period between 1878 and 1895 two key events took place.

First: the explosion of the sugar industry and the export of more of 90% of Cuban sugar to the U.S.A. allowed the American Government to impose the Bill McKinley agreement on Spain, a commercial reciprocity treaty that allowed the free flow of Cuban raw materials to the American market, including sugar, which accounted for 94 of every 100 pesos the island took in.

The second: the important role of American investments in the structures of agrarian holdings, sugar plants, and mining facilities.

Both developments, after Spanish domination, facilitated the introduction of the dollar into Cuba as a monetary resource.

The Spanish centén and the French luis continued to circulate in Cuba until 1914, but official payments were made according to the exchange rate established by the dollar. In order to diminish dependency on it, in October of that year the Government of General Mario García Menocal created the National Monetary System, whose first measure was the “Economic Defense Law,” which gave rise to a national currency based on the gold standard, with the same weight and law as the American dollar.

Although it arose subordinated to the dollar, which was legal tender, after the Economic Defense Law the peso began to prevail.

In 1924 86% of the currency in circulation consisted of dollars. In 1934 an acute depreciation made it necessary to devalue the peso, which continued to function as a measurement of value, but the means of circulation was assumed by the peso de plata (silver peso) and certificados de plata (silver certificates), legal tender as of 1935.

In 1939 the Currency Destabilization Fund was founded, and in 1948 the National Bank of Cuba was created, which replaced the peso de plata with notes from the National Bank, obligatory and unlimited legal tender.

In The Monetary Unification of 1914 Elías Amor sums up the results with just a few words: “The introduction of the National Monetary System created a reliable, modern and well-built system that allowed the national currency to become a store of value, on the basis of which commercial and financial transactions and operations ensued that made possible a remarkable dynamism and growth of the economy under the Republic.”

Dual currency in today’s Cuba

The revolutionaries who rose to power in 1959, imbued with high doses of subjectivism, and believing themselves to be immune from the laws that govern economic and financial phenomena, moved to eradicate mercantile relationships and money. They nationalized the national and foreign banks, and placed these responsibilities in the hands of “loyal” people.

An example was the case of the economist Felipe Pazos Roque – founder and first president of the National Bank of Cuba, in 1948 – who, opposed to the coup d’etat of 1952, resigned his post. Pazos, who participated in the civic struggle against the Government of Fulgencio Batista, in 1959 was again assigned this responsibility, but his ideas were found not to be “loyal.” Months later he was replaced by Commander Ernesto Guevara.

Eighty years after the advent of the Cuban peso, with a deficient economy, but buoyed by Soviet subsidies, extended for ideological and geopolitical reasons, and as socialism was crumbling in Eastern Europe, Cuba was in the throes of a severe crisis, dubbed with the euphemism  “Special Period During Peacetime,” during which, between 1990 and 1994, the country’s GDP contracted 34.8%.

The Government limited itself to implementing measures to subsist, but without really changing. After 35 years of revolution and confrontation with the U.S.A., it decided to introduce, for the second time in the history of Cuba, the enemy’s currency.

To erase the negative image of the greenback, the CUC was created, a convertible peso assigned a value similar to that of the dollar, but without its attendant backing. A 10% tax was placed on the dollar, the CUC appreciated in relation to it by 8%, and ultimately achieved a one-to-one value, but the 10% tax on the dollar was maintained. In summary, Cuba features the peculiarity of having two currencies, neither of which is based on gold or on the GDP to be truly convertible.

The monetary duality exacerbated social differences and accelerated the loss of the Cuban peso’s already scant value. Its effect was evident in the inflation of prices in the black market, and meager wages and pensions. It frustrated production, reduced productivity, and lost or diminished its functions as a value of measurement and instrument for the acquisition of goods, savings, settling debts and making payments.

Monetary unification stands, along with the restitution of citizens’ liberties, as an inescapable necessity, one that cannot be put off, despite challenging conditions, particularly because the entity that must enact this unification, the Government, is the same that introduced the dual system, and until now has not demonstrated the political will necessary to carry out a critical analysis of itself and implement the only possible solution. The fact is that 60 years in power make it responsible for both the good and the bad.

The Cuban peso lacks support for the payment of goods and services sufficient to recover its functions and for it to be comparable to other international currencies. Monetary unification, by itself, will not solve the crisis. The solution calls for efficiency and an increase in production, which is impossible without major investments. Foreign because the monetary duality is an obstacle; national because the power refuses it.

A project is pressing, headed by this Government or that which replaces it, that features the decentralization of the economy, restitutes citizens’ rights and liberties, allows for the development of a middle-class, and removes the obstacles that restrain production and productivity. But none of this is possible under statization and a planned economy subordinated to the interests of those in power.

Note: Translation from DiariodeCuba.com

Three Points to Solve the Embargo / Dimas Castellano

A bicyclist in Havana. (MARTINOTICIAS)

Dimas Castellano, 20 November 2017 — On November 1, 2017, Cuba presented to the UN General Assembly the project entitled “Need to end the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the US against Cuba.”

In his speech, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez criticized the policy contained in the Presidential National Security Memorandum on the strengthening of the US Policy towards Cuba, issued on 16 June 2017.

He criticized the prohibition of economic, commercial and financial transactions with Cuban companies linked to the Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior; the elimination of individual travel in the category of people-to-people exchanges; the prohibition of travel to Cuba outside the framework of the 12 authorized categories; the opposition to actions that promote the lifting of the “blockade”; the repeal of the Normalization of Relations Policy issued by President Obama in October 2016, and the conditioning of the suspension of the “blockade” to changes within Cuba. continue reading

Likewise, he criticized moving the issuance of visas services from Havana to US consulates in third countries; the warning to American citizens to avoid visiting Cuba; the expulsion of Cuban personnel from the Consulate General in Washington and the reduction of US personnel in the embassy in Havana.

Finally, the Cuban foreign minister said: “The blockade is the biggest obstacle to the economic and social development of Cuba.”

In 1992 only 59 countries voted in favor of the Cuban resolution and in 2016 — with the exception of the US and of Israel which abstained — all voted in favor, without affecting the US embargo in any way, because the resolutions of that body constitute recommendations and, therefore, compliance with them is not mandatory. Therefore, when obtaining the maximum possible result in the UN, action in that forum was exhausted.

From that moment on, the atmosphere of detente generated by the restoration of diplomatic relations recommended directing the solution through bilateral negotiations.

Three points to consider are the following:

The Internal Causes

As the resumption of diplomatic relations did not emerge from victory, but from the failure of both contenders, each party was obliged to change to move towards normalization.

This was what General expressed in a conversation held in 1977 with two American senators: “Our organizations are like a bridge in time of war. It is not a bridge that can be easily built, nor as quickly as it was destroyed, but if we both rebuild parts of the bridge, each one its own part, we will be able to shake hands, without winners or losers.” Inthese words the Cuban leader recognized the bilateral character of the conflict and its solution.

For these words to become relaity, the normalization of relations with the US had and will have to be accompanied by the empowerment of Cubans, with the restoration of rights and freedoms for their effective participation in national problems. And this is not at all to cede sovereignty to an external force, but to give the Cuban people the participation that belongs to them in said sovereignty.

It is a matter of retracing the road traveled since the nationalization of US property in Cuba led to the rupture of diplomatic relations and the enactment of the Embargo Law. In this confrontational context, the Cuban government dismantled the existing institutions, disarmed civil society, laid on inefficiency and avoided any commitment to human rights.

Beginning in 2008, General Raúl Castro implemented a package of measures whose main result was to reveal the exhaustion of the model and the depth of the crisis. Therefore, it is now a matter of abandoning the grasp of state control, centralized planning and the absence of freedoms that, without ignoring the negative effects of the embargo, are the main causes of the crisis in which Cuba finds itself.

Cuba-United States Relations

The policy of the Obama Administration provided an opportunity for change that was wasted by the Cuban side to remove obstacles within the country.

This policy, by not demanding the democratization of Cuba as a premise to reestablish relations, contained a danger for the conservation of power: the external contradiction would gradually shift towards internal contradictions, which explains the insoluble contradiction of the Cuban government: to change and at the same time to preserve power.

President Barack Obama issued six sets of modification: the first extended general travel permits, offered commercial facilities to Cuban private companies and small farmers, increased the amount of remittances and donations, expanded commercial exports of goods and services from the US, increased Cuba’s access to communications, and provided commercial telecommunications and internet services with lower prices.

These sets of measures were reflected in the increase of authorized trips to Cuba, the arrival of the first cruise ship from the US to Cuban ports, the resumption of flights, the start of direct mail and transportation between the two countries, the establishment of agreements with several American telecommunications companies. The measures facilitated negotiations with other countries and revived expectations and hopes for change.

If these measures — including the Presidential Directive of October 2016, aimed at trying to make the progress achieved irreversible — did not produce a greater result, it is because the corresponding measures on the Cuban side were missing, which limited itself to allowing Cubans to stay in Cuban hotels previously reserved for tourists; to buy computers, DVDs and mobile phone lines; to sell their houses or cars; to leave the country without having to ask the State for permission and to stay abroad for up to 24 months without losing their right to return; and established public WiFi access points. Measures that, more than advances, clearly denote the point t which rights in Cuba had regressed.

The Example of Vietnam

As the suspension of the Embargo is the prerogative of the US Congress and not of the UN, the practical thing since the vote in 2016 would have been to introduce in Cuba internal changes in the style of those introduced in Vietnam.

The United States dropped three times as many bombs on Vietnam as those used during the Second World War; 15% of the population was killed or injured; 60% of the villages in the south were destroyed and, after the war ended, the country faced an economic blockade and border attacks. In spite of this, after the victory, the implementation of the system of a planned economy plunged the country into hunger and superinflation until, in 1986, the “Vietnamese Renewal” was launched under the slogan of “Economic reform, political stability.”

Instead of dedicating itself, year after years to presenting UN resolutions or developing ideological campaigns against imperialism, Vietnam undertook a systematic program of reforms, based on the introduction of market mechanisms, autonomy of producers, the right of nationals to be entrepreneurs and delivery of land to the peasants who developed the initiative, interest and responsibility of the Vietnamese.

Because of the results of these measures, the US suspended the embargo on Vietnam. In 2008 the country focused it efforts on leaving the list of underdeveloped countries, in 2010 it set itself the goal of entering the group of middle-income countries, in 2014 it ranked as the twenty-eighth largest exporter in the world, and in 2016 it approved measures to move it toward becoming an industrialized nation.

Cyclones, Housing and Revolution / Dimas Castellano

Havana after Hurricane Irma. (ELSALVADOR.COM)

Dimas Castellanos, 13 October 2017 — According to information from the National Defense Council, Hurricane Irma, a category-five storm, hit Cuba between September 7 and 9, causing 14,657 houses to collapse, and another 16,646 to partially collapse, thus totaling 31,303 —not to mention the tens of thousands that suffered other kinds of damage.

Between 2002 and 2004, in the Pinar del Río province alone, Hurricanes Isidore, Lili, Charley and Ivan – categories one, two, three and five, respectively – damaged more than 98,000 properties. In 2008 the tropical storms Fay, Hanna, Gustav and Ike totally demolished around half a million houses; and in 2005, Hurricane Dennis, a category-three storm, damaged more than 80.000 homes in Pilón (Granma), more than 70% of the homes in Casilda (Trinidad), 5,241 homes in Santiago de Cuba, more than 25,000 in Granma, some 400 in Jaruco (Mayabeque), more than 3,200 in Matanzas, 8,200 in Sancti Spíritus, and 1,828 homes in the capital. continue reading

The magnitude of this damage was such that the sum of the houses damaged by cyclones alone is similar to the figure for the housing shortage that the Revolution inherited: according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the housing deficit until 1959 was of about 700,000 homes, while the pace of construction between 1946 and 1953, according Erich Trefftz, was 26,827 as an annual average, a figure that increased between 1953 and 1958.

In 1953 Fidel Castro proposed “A revolutionary government would solve the housing problem by resolutely lowering rents by 50%, sparing from any contribution those homes inhabited by their own owners, tripling taxes on rented houses, demolishing the infernal barracks and erecting in their place modern high-rises, and financing the construction of houses throughout the island on a scale never seen before, based on the idea that it is ideal, in the countryside, for each family to owns its own land, and, in the city, for each family to live in its own house or apartment.”

On October 14, 1960, in its Urban Reform Law the revolutionary government established that: “Every family has a right to decent housing, and the State will ensure this right in three stages; in the medium term, the State will build, with its own resources, homes that it will cede in permanent usufruct, free, to each family.”

The final provision of said Law stated: “Exercising the Constituent Power wielded by the Council of Ministers, this Act is declared an integral part of the Basic Law of the Republic. Consequently, this law is granted constitutional force and hierarchy.”

However, as an annual average, the first plan, from 1960 to 1970, was unable to exceed 11,000 homes; and the second plan, from 1971 to 1980, barely reached 17,000. Thus, in the first 20 years the pace of annual construction was lower than that of the period from 1946 to 1953. Thus, instead of relieving the housing shortage, it was aggravated.

To recover from the setback, it was proposed to build 100.000 per year starting in 1981, but in the first decade it was unable to exceed 40,000 per year. This plan was interrupted in 1995 by the crisis known as the “Special Period”. Carlos Lage Dávila, secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers, then presented a report to the National Assembly of the People’s Power in 2005, in which he assured that due to the “improvement of the country’s financial potential,” they were going to “construct and finish no less than 100.000 new houses per year as of 2006.” That is, a second plan of 100,000 homes would be undertaken.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2008 about 45,000 were built, but in the year 2013 there were fewer than 26,000 (a figure again below the average for the period from 1946 to 1953, when the population of Cuba was half today’s). That is, in five years construction decreased by about 19.000 houses.

A conservative estimate of the non-fulfillment of the plans, and houses destroyed by atmospheric phenomena, yields a shortage greater than the 700.000 that were calculated before 1959. And this figure would be even worse if it were not for the more than two million Cubans who have left the country since 1959.

If we accept the fact that the figure remains at 700,000, at the rate of about 25,000 per year, it will take 28 years just to make up for the shortage. If we also account for Cuba’s new needs, due to demographic growth, the ageing of existing housing, the lack of maintenance, the increasing number of collapses, the shortage of construction materials, and the effects of natural phenomena … it will take about half a century. We are, then, dealing with a major housing crisis and all its implications.

The Urban Reform Act of 1960 stated that “The State, with its own resources, will build the homes, which it will give in usufruct, permanently and free, to each family.” Then the General Housing Law of 1984 defined the “microbrigade” as the main instrument for their construction. Meanwhile, the failed plan for 100,000 placed the responsibility on families, a demonstration of the incapacity of the State to tackle the housing issue alone.

An abridged account of the 50 years that separate us from the Urban Reform Law of 1960 reveals a shift, spanning from the State’s promise to build and to grant decent housing, permanently and for free, to the construction of houses with palm trees toppled by the hurricanes, with roofs of zinc tiles or asbestos cement, likely to be demolished by future hurricanes. But it also reveals the impossibility and inability of the totalitarian state to solve the housing crisis, as this would require joint action by Cubans, equipped with basic instruments, such as the rights and liberties of citizens, to contribute to the resolution of a problem as vital as housing, one of the basic components of integral human development.

Translation from DiariodeCuba.com

Last Episode of This Cuban Electoral System / Dimas Castellano

Election billboard in Cuba (MartiNoticias)

Dimas Castellanos, 7 September 2017 — The Cuban electoral system includes general elections every five years for deputies to the  National Assembly of People’s Power and delegates to provincial elections, as well as partial elections every two and a half years for district delegates and municipal assemblies.

During this month the nomination of candidates corresponding to a new election period will take place and on Sunday October 22 municipal elections will be held, a process that will culminate in February of 2018 with the designation of the new National Assembly and the election of the next revolutionary Government. (Ed. note: Due to Hurricane Irma the election calendar was extended after this article was written.) continue reading

Article five of the Constitution defines the  Cuban Communist Party (PCC) as “the leading force of society and the state,” therefore, the electoral system is designed to ensure the continuity of the PCC in power. This explains that although in the districts the people nominate and directly elect delegates, in forming the municipal, provincial and national assemblies, which is where the true power is concentrated, the Candidature Commissions, made up of the leaders of the mass organizations — constitutionally subordinated to the PCC — have the power to name 50% of the candidates, even if they have not been elected by the people.

In a context characterized by economic decline, the latent danger of the end of the subsidies from Venezuela, widespread lack of interest, moral corruption due to the need to survive and growing despair, the “elections” announced will be, in addition to the most difficult, the last under the current electoral system which, exhausted, will have to give way to a new electoral law. The reasons on which this thesis is based are the following:

In 1959: 1- The revolutionaries who came to power in 1959 were legitimized by arms; 2 – The economy that they found allowed them to lower prices and redistribute wealth, which allowed them to gain popular support; and 3 – Without any economic results, in the middle of the Cold War, they were sustained by Soviet-Venezuelan subsidies.

The current crisis of the electoral system — a reflection of the crisis of the Cuban model — is not ignored by the government. On February 23, 2015, at the 10th Plenum of the PCC Central Committee, it was announced that a new law would be adopted for the general elections of 2018. However, the setbacks suffered by the “Bolivarian” left in the region, the loss of the Parliament for Chavismo in Venezuela and the tight victory [for the government candidate] in the second round in Ecuador seem to have led to the postponement of the new law. To this is added that, in the municipal elections of April 2015 the number of Cubans who did not vote at all or who canceled their ballots totalled 1,700,000 Cubans, or 20% of the electorate.

To this complexity are added: 1- The presentation of dozens independent candidates, which despite their not representing an immediate danger for the conservation of power, is a sign of the need for changes and 2- The recent restrictive measures against private work.

The recent Resolution No. 22/2017 of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security prohibits the granting of new licenses for dozens of self-employment activities ranging from the rental of housing to the pushcart vendors selling agricultural products; activities that the State has been and is unable to carry out. It is, therefore, a setback aimed at preventing the development of an independent national middle class that Cuba needs so much in order to maintain its power.

All this has generated great concern for the Cuban authorities as evidenced by the following three facts:

  • The Granma newspaper of Thursday, July 13, 2017 reproduced the following words of Carlos Rafael Miranda Martínez, national coordinator of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (the block watch committees that are “the eyes and ears of the Revolution”), calling for a great battle. He said: “This time they must be on the front line to ensure the success of the Cuban electoral process, the great battle is to nominate colleagues and comrades with a proven revolutionary prestige, with a trajectory in favor of the neighborhood and community.”
  • The Cuban president, at the closing of the National Assembly, on July 14, 2017, said: “It is not idle to emphasize the transcendent political importance of this electoral process, which must constitute an act of revolutionary reaffirmation on the part of our people, which requires an arduous work of all the organizations and institutions.”.
  • The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution initiated the “Neighborhood discussions for the patriotic and anti-imperialist duty,” in which a bulletin of that association is discussed with the directions that its members arrive at the nomination assemblies ready.

For the reasons listed, the new generation of revolutionaries who will take over the leadership of the government in February 2018: (1) that has not been legitimized by arms or by the ballot box; (2) that will find a stagnant economy, in a frank retreat, that prevents them from having anything to offer the people; (3) in an international context without a foreign power prepared to subsidize them for ideological reasons; and (4) amid widespread weariness and discontent that will inexorably lead to a new electoral law.

Cuba, Elections and Electoral Reform / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 4 June 2017 — The “electoral” process which will take place in Cuba between October 2017 and  February 2018 lacks any relevance. Raúl Castro’s replacement as president does not mean he is relinquishing power, as, up until 2021, he will occupy the position of Secretary of the Communist Party, which is, constitutionally, the top man in the society and the state.

For the elections to have any influence on social progress you would need an electoral reform which would re-establish sovereignty of the people and, although in February 2015 a new electoral law was announced, it was not mentioned in the meeting of 14 June 2017.

According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from the joining together of those who wish to defend and protect their property emanates a general will to convert the cooperating parties into a collective political body.   The exercise of this general will is known as sovereignty and the people who do it are sovereign. continue reading

In Cuba the republican constitutions of 1901 and 1940 endorsed sovereignty as residing in the people, with all public powers flowing from that. In 1959, with the emerging of revolutionary power they promised they would hold elections “as soon as possible”. Seventeen years later, they enacted a law abolishing the sovereignty of the people. As long as this situation goes on in Cuba there will be no true elections.

In the year 2003, the total share of Cubans who did not go to vote and destroyed their voting papers was 6.09% of the electorate. In 2008 it went up to 7.73%, in 2013, 14.22% and in April 2015 was over 20%. That is to say 1,700,000 Cubans. In a totalitarian country without civic and political rights, these statistics demonstrate the need for a law that satisfies this part of the Cuban people. You can add to that those Cubans inclined to vote for opposition representatives – not legally recognised – as happened in the 2015 elections, when the opposition put up candidates in the Havana districts of Arroyo Naranjo and Plaza.

According to the Secretary of the unicameral Cuban parliament, in 2014, during the fourth round meetings where delegates give the electorate an accounting of what they have accomplished,  there were over 600 assemblies with fewer than half the electors present.

The present law limits the electorate’s direct voting to the Delegates of the Municipal Peoples’s Power assemblies, which may not exceed 50% of the total number of candidates. The other half is nominated by the Candidate Committees – made up of leaders of peoples’ organisations with the authority to include unelected people. Then, candidates for provincial and national positions are directly appointed by these committees. Therefore the Cuban parliament and government are the product of the decisions of these Candidate Committees, which are subordinate to the Communist Party, which cuts out the sovereignty of the people.

Transformations are needed in terms of rights – such as the right of association and a multi-party system – so that Cubans can take an active part in determining where their lives and the nation is going. Until that occurs, you can’t talk about true elections in Cuba and there is no indication that that will happen in the upcoming elections.

The absence of peoples’ power and the non-existence of the citizen as legal entity have been, and are, determining factors in the structural crisis of the Cuban model, which is reflected in  inefficient production, insufficient salaries, uncontrollable corruption, hopelessness and an unstoppable exodus.

Published in El Comercio, Lima, Peru.

Translated by GH

Corruption Versus Liberty: A Cuban Dilemma / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 18 November 2016 — The evil of corruption–the act of corruption and its effects–has accompanied the human species since its emergence. It has been present in all societies and in all ages. Its diverse causes range from personal conduct to the political-economic system of each country. In Cuba it appeared in the colonial era, it remained in the Republic, and became generalized until becoming the predominant behavior in society.

To understand the regression suffered we must return to the formation of our morality, essentially during the mixing of Hispanic and African cultures and the turning towards totalitarianism after 1959, as can be seen in the following lines.

The conversion of the island into the world’s first sugar and coffee power created many contradictions between slaves and slave owners, blacks and whites, producers and merchants, Spanish-born and Creole, and between them and the metropolis. From these contradictions came three moral aspects: the utilitarian, the civic and that of survival. continue reading

Utilitarian morality

The father of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), said that utility is measured by the consequences that actions tend to produce, and came to the conclusion that all action is socially good when it tries to procure the greatest possible degree of happiness for the greatest number of people, and that each person has the right to be taken into account in the exercise of power.

That thesis of Bentham became a popular slogan synthesized in the phrase: “The greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Such a concept crystallized in Cuba as a creole variant of a utilitarianism that took shape in exploitation, smuggling, corruption, banditry, and criminality, which turned into the violation of everything predisposed as an accepted norm of conduct in society.

The gift of a plant by the sugar planters to the governor Don Luis de las Casas; the diversion of funds for the construction of Fortaleza de la Real Fuerza de la Cabaña, which made it the most expensive fortress in the world; the gambling house and the cockfighting ring that the governor Francisco Dionisio Vives had for his recreation in the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, whose government was known for “the three d’s”: dancing, decks of cards, and drinking, for which reason, at the end of his rule, there appeared a lampoon that said: “If you live (vives) like Vives, you will live!”; the mangrove groves; bandits like Caniquí, the black man of Trinidad and Juan Fernandez, the blond of Port-au-Prince … are some examples.

Utilitarianism reappeared on the republican scene as a discourse of a political, economic, and military elite lacking in democratic culture, swollen with personalismo, caudillismo, corruption, violence and ignorance of anything different. A masterful portrait of this morality was drawn by Carlos Loveira in his novel Generales y doctores, a side that resurfaced in the second half of the twentieth century.

Thus emerged the Republic, built on the symbiosis of planters and politicians linked to foreign interests, with a weak civil society and with unresolved, deep-rooted problems, as they were the concentration of agrarian property and the exclusion of black people. The coexistence of different moral behaviors in the same social environment led to the symbiosis of their features. Utilitarianism crisscrossed with virtues and altruisms, concerns and activities on matters more transcendent than boxes of sugar and sacks of coffee.

Throughout the twentieth century, these and other factors were present in the Protest of the 13, in the Revolution of the 30, in the repeal of the Platt Amendment, in the Constituent Assembly of 1939, and in the Constitution of 1940. Also in the corruption which prevailed during the authentic governments and in the improvement accomplished by the Orthodox Dissent and the Society of Friends of the Republic. Likewise, in the 1952 coup d’etat and in the Moncada attempted counter-coup, in the civic and armed struggle that triumphed in 1959 and in those who since then and until now struggle for the restoration of human rights.

Civic morality

Civic morality, the cradle of ethical values, was a manifestation of minorities, shaped by figures ranging from Bishop Espada, through Jose Agustín Caballero to the teachings of Father Felix Varela and the republic “With all and for the good of all” of José Martí. This civic aspect became the foundation of the nation and source of Cuban identity. It included concern for the destinies of the local land, the country, and the nation. It was forged in institutions such as the Seminary of San Carlos, El Salvador College, in Our Lady of the Desamparados, and contributed to the promotion of the independence proclamations of the second half of the nineteenth century, as well as the projects of nation and republic.

Father Félix Varela understood that civic formation was a premise for achieving independence and, consequently, chose education as a path to liberation. In 1821, when he inaugurated the Constitutional Chair at the Seminary of San Carlos, he described it as “a chair of freedom, of human rights, of national guarantees … a source of civic virtues, the basis of the great edifice of our happiness, the one that has for the first time reconciled for us the law with philosophy.”

José de la Luz y Caballero came to the conclusion that “before the revolution and independence, there was education.” Men, rather than academics, he said, is the necessity of the age. And Jose Marti began with a critical study of the errors of the War of 1868 that revealed negative factors such as immediacy, caudillismo, and selfishness, closely related to weak civic formation.

This work was continued by several generations of Cuban educators and thinkers until the first half of the twentieth century. Despite these efforts, a general civic behavior was not achieved. We can find proof of this affirmation in texts like the Journal of the soldier, by Fermín Valdés Domínguez, and the Public Life of Martín Morúa Delgado, by Rufino Perez Landa.

During the Republic, the civic aspect was taken up by minorities. However, in the second half of the twentieth century their supposed heirs, once in power, slipped into totalitarianism, reducing the Western base of our institutions to the minimum expression, and with it the discourse and practice of respect for human rights.

Survival morality

Survival morality emerged from continued frustrations, exclusions, and the high price paid for freedom, opportunities, and participation. In the Colony it had its manifestations in the running away and insurrections of slaves and poor peasants. During the second half of the twentieth century it took shape in the lack of interest in work, one of whose expressions is the popular phrase: “Here there is nothing to die for.”

It manifested itself in the simulation of tasks that were not actually performed, as well as in the search for alternative ways to survive. Today’s Cuban, reduced to survival, does not respond with heroism but with concrete and immediate actions to survive. And this is manifested throughout the national territory, in management positions, and in all productive activities or services.

It is present in the clandestine sale of medicines, in the loss of packages sent by mail, in the passing of students in exchange for money, in falsification of documents, in neglect of the sick (as happened with mental patients who died in the Psychiatric Hospital of Havana of hypothermia in January 2010, where 26 people died according to official data), in establishments where merchandise is sold, in the workshops that provide services to the population, in the sale of fuel “on the left” and in the diversion of resources destined for any objective.

The main source of supply of the materials used is diversion, theft, and robbery, while the verbs “escape”, “fight” and “solve” designate actions aimed at acquiring what is necessary to survive. Seeing little value in work, the survivor responded with alternative activities. Seeing the impossibility of owning businesses, with the estaticular way (activities carried out by workers for their own benefit in State centers and with State-owned materials). Seeing the absence of civil society, with the underground life. Seeing shortages, with the robbery of the State. Seeing the closing of all possibilities, with escape to any other part of the world.

Immersed in this situation, the changes that are being implemented in Cuba, under the label of Guidelines of Economic and Social Policy of the PCC, run into the worst situation regarding moral behavior. In this, unlike in previous times, everyone from high leaders to simple workers participates. A phenomenon of such a dimension that, despite its secrecy, has had to be tackled by the official press itself, as can be seen in the following examples of a whole decade:

  • The newspaper Juventud Rebelde on May 22, 2001 published an article titled “Solutions against deception”, where it is said that Eduardo, one of the thousands of inspectors, states that when he puts a crime in evidence, the offenders come to tell him: “You have to live, you have to fight.” According to Eduardo, neither can explain “the twist of those who bother when they are going to claim their rights and instead defend their own perpetrator.” It results in the perpetrator declaring that he is fighting and the victims defending him. The selfless inspector, thinking that when he proves the violation he has won “the battle,” is wrong. Repressive actions, without attacking the causes, are doomed to failure.
  • The same newspaper published “The big old fraud”, reporting that of 222,656 inspections carried out between January and August 2005, price violations and alterations in product standards were detected in 52% of the centers examined and in the case of agricultural markets in 68%.
  • For its part, the newspaper Granma on November 28, 2003, in “Price Violations and the Never Ending Battle” reported that in the first eight months of the year, irregularities were found in 36% of the establishments inspected; that in markets, fairs, squares, and agricultural points of sale the index was above 47%, and in gastronomy 50%.
  • On February 16, 2007, under the title “Cannibals in the Towers”, the official organ of the Communist Party addressed the theft of angles supporting high-voltage electricity transmission networks, and it was recognized that “technical, administrative and legal practices applied so far have not stopped the banditry. “
  • Also, on October 26, 2010, in “The Price of Indolence”, reported that in the municipality of Corralillo, Villa Clara, more than 300 homes were built with stolen materials and resources, for which 25 kilometers of railway lines were dismantled and 59 angles of the above-mentioned high voltage towers were used.

If the official newspapers Granma and Juventud Rebelde had addressed the close relationship between corruption and almost absolute state ownership, with which no one can live off the salary, with which citizens are prevented from being entrepreneurs, and with the lack of the most elementary civic rights, then they would have understood that repression alone is useless, that the vigilantes, policemen, and inspectors are Cubans with the same needs as the rest of the population.

In order to change the course of events, it is necessary to extend the changes in the economy to the rest of the social spheres, which implies looking back at citizens’ lost liberties, without which the formation and predominance of civic behavior that the present and future of Cuba require will be impossible.

 Ethics, politics, and freedoms

In Cuba, the state of ethics – a system composed of principles, precepts, behavior patterns, values and ideals that characterize a human collective – is depressing; While politics – a vehicle for moving from the desired to the possible and the possible to the real – is monopolized by the state. The depressing situation of one and the monopoly of the other, are closely related to the issue of corruption. Therefore, its solution will be impossible without undertaking deep structural transformations.

The great challenge of today’s and tomorrow’s Cuba lies in transforming Cubans into citizens, into political actors. A transformation that has its starting point in freedoms, beginning with the implementation of civil and political rights. As the most immediate cause of corruption – not the only one – is in the dismantling of civil society and in the nationalization of property that took place in Cuba in the early years of revolutionary power, it is necessary to act on this cause from different directions.

The wave of expropriations that began with foreign companies, continued with the national companies, and did not stop until the last fried-food stand became “property of the whole people”, combined with the dismantling of civil society and the monopolization of politics, brought as a consequence a lack of interest in the results of work, low productivity, and the sharp deterioration suffered with the decrease of wages and pensions. Added to these facts were others such as the replacement of tens of thousands of owners by managers and administrators without knowledge of the ABCs of administration or of the laws that govern economic processes.

The result could not be otherwise: work ceased to be the main source of income for Cubans. To transform this deplorable situation requires a cultural action, which, in the words of Paulo Freire, is always a systematic and deliberate form of action that affects the social structure, in the sense of maintaining it as it is, to test small changes in it or transform it.

Paraphrasing the concept of affirmative action, this cultural action is equivalent to those that are made for the insertion and development of relegated social sectors. Its concretion includes two simultaneous and interrelated processes: one, citizen empowerment, which includes the implementation of rights and freedoms; and two, the changes inside the person, which unlike the former are unfeasible in the short term, but without which the rest of the changes would be of little use. The transformation of Cubans into public citizens, into political actors, is a challenge as complex as it is inescapable.

Experience, endorsed by the social sciences, teaches that interest is an irreplaceable engine for achieving goals. In the case of the economy, ownership over the means of production and the amount of wages decisively influence the interests of producers. Real wages must be at least sufficient for the subsistence of workers and their families. The minimum wage allows subsistence, while incomes below that limit mark the poverty line. Since 1989, when a Cuban peso was equivalent to almost nine of today’s peso, the wage growth rate began to be lower than the increase in prices, meaning that purchasing power has decreased to the point that it is insufficient to survive.

An analysis carried out in two family nuclei composed of two and three people respectively, in the year 2014, showed that the first one earns 800 pesos monthly and spends 2,391, almost three times more than the income. The other earns 1,976 pesos and spends 4,198, more than double what it earns. The first survives because of the remittance he receives from a son living in the United States; the second declined to say how he made up the difference.

The concurrence of the failure of the totalitarian model, the aging of its rulers, the change of attitude that is occurring in Cubans, and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the US, offers better conditions than previous decades to face the challenge. The solution is not in ideological calls, but in the recognition of the incapacity of the State and in decentralizing the economy, allowing the formation of a middle class, unlocking everything that slows the increase of production until a reform that restores the function of wages is possible. That will be the best antidote against the leviathan of corruption and an indispensable premise to overcome the stagnation and corruption in which Cuban society is submerged.

Why Foreign Investments Don’t Work in Today’s Cuba / Dimas Castellano

Photo: Mariel Special Development Zone – ZEDM – the operation of which is tightly controlled by the government.

Dimas Castellanos, 17 January 2017 — By 2007, after forty-eight years of revolutionary rule, inefficiency and a lack of productivity had turned state-run farmland into fields infested with marabú weed. Meanwhile, food prices were increasing on the world market. In light of this situation, General Raúl Castro proposed “changing everything that needs to be changed.”

Fast forward five years to May 2013 when the vice-president of the Council of State, Marino Murillo Jorge, publicly acknowledged that the methods used for decades to manage agricultural lands had not led to the necessary increase in production.

The inefficiency was reflected in the gross domestic product (GDP), which fell regularly for years until reaching 1% during the first quarter of 2016 before falling to 0.9% at year’s end. In other words, Cuba entered into recession, a period of negative growth, in 2017. The result made the need for foreign investment a priority, a need from which no nation can escape, much less an underdeveloped country in a state of crisis. continue reading

In 1982 Cuba passed Decree-Law No. 50, which legalized foreign investment. At the time, the prevailing attitude towards investors in those parts of the world which received Soviet subsidies was hostile. But the dissolution of the Soviet Union made it imperative in 1995 for the government to enact Law No. 77, a statute with many restrictions and an absence of legal protections for investors, who suffered the negative consequences.

Of the roughly 400 joint venture firms that began operation in 2002, half ended up leaving the country. In spite of the negative result, the government did not repeal the statute until it became clear that investors were showing little interest in the Mariel Special Development Zone.

Law  No. 118 was passed in March 2014 but, though more flexible than its predecessor, it too proved to be inadequate. According to Cuban authorities themselves, the country needed sustained GDP growth of 5% to 7%. Achieving this would have required income and investment rates of at least 25%, which would have meant annual investment figures of between 2.0 and 2.5 billion dollars.

Last year, foreign investment did not exceed 6.5% of these figures. Under current conditions the only way of even getting close to this target would be to implement a series of measures, including the following:

1. Allow Cubans — both those living on the island as well as those living overseas — to directly invest in the economy.

2. Acknowledge the social purpose of property and private propeerty. Abolish prohibitions against its concentration in the hands of individuals or legal entities, the only purpose of which is to exclude Cubans from economic enterprise.

3. Allow Cubans to engage in all manner of private sector manufacturing and customer service, and grant them legal status.

4. Provide investors with legal guarantees that allow them to settle disputes with their Cuban business partners before a judicial body that is not subordinate to the party or the state, which otherwise would make the government both judge and plaintiff.

5. Allow employers to freely hire their own employees.

6. Eliminate the dual currency system and its different exchange rates, which would provide for the emergence of a domestic consumer market and which would, in turn, encourage investment.

7. Recognize the right of workers to organize and form labor unions, a principle enshrined in Convention 87 of the International Labor Organization, to which Cuba is a signatory; in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Cuba was one of the promoters in 1948; and in the UN’s Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Cuba has also signed but has not ratified.

These obstacles arise out of a history of antagonism towards investors and a failure to pay creditors. Therein lies the main cause of the country’s poor foreign investment climate, not the US embargo, which was relaxed under President Barack Obama. The level of Cuba’s state imvolvement in investment is uncommon for companies which operate in a market economy. Until that changes, the results will remain the same.

In a meeting of the Cuban parliament on December 27, the head of the Economic and Planning Ministry, Ricardo Cabrisas, observed, “Foreign investment continues to be quite low. It is not yet playing a significant role in economic development.”

Meanwhile, the president of the Council of State, Raúl Castro, stated, “Reinvigorating foreign investment in Cuba is of great importance… It is necessary to overcome, once and for all, the outdated and pervasive prejudice against foreign investment. We must divest ourselves of unfounded fears of capital from overseas.”

Therefore, if reviving a stagnant economy is impossible without a strong injection of capital and if “changing everything that needs to be changed” is more than mere rhetoric, then either a new investment law is needed or the current one needs to be substantially overhauled. In either case the word “foreign” should be dropped, making it simply the Investment Law.

Cuba is the only country in the region whose residents lack a right as basic as being able to participate fully in economic activity in spite of ample business opportunities and the professional training to do so. If this problem is not resolved, it will not only be a denial of our economic history but also of our social struggles and José Martí’s republican principles, which envision equality before the law for all those born in Cuba and for its many small property owners.

Besides being harmful to the nation, this prohibition violates the current constitution, which in Article 14 states, “The economy is based on socialist ownership by all the people of the fundamental means of production.” In other words the people, the supposed owner, has no right to participate in the investment process, a status contrary to law, western culture, of which we are a part, our economic history and human dignity.

A new investment law, one without qualifiers, would be an important, necessary and long-awaited sign of change. Proof that, despite long delay, the government is really willing to change everything that needs to be changed.

The Challenge of a Government without Fidel / Dimas Castellano

Machado Ventura, Fidel and Raúl Castro.

Diario de Cuba, Dimas Castellano, 15 December 2016 — Fidel Castro spent decades leaving his personal imprint on Cuba. Wielding absolute power and imbued with a high degree of of messianism, populism and voluntarism, he determined the fates of several generations. He undertook important social projects but hampered the economy and rolled back civil liberties. The government under his leadership anchored the country in the past and missed the opportunities for change provided by his various and continued failures. His death, given the time and conditions in which it occurred, will undoubtedly have a strong impact on Cuban society.

Due to their limitations, slow pace and the contradictions inherent in a kind of power sharing arrangement, the reforms implemented since 2008 under the leadership of Raúl Castro did not yield positive results. A 1% drop in GDP in the first half of 2016, a projected recession in 2017 and an increase in the mass exodus of Cubans in recent years are confirmation of their failure. continue reading

These timid and limited reforms did, however, give birth to an embryonic private sector that the government cannot afford to ignore. Relations with the United States, even if tense under the incoming administration of Donald Trump, established areas of mutual interest that preclude their being reversed. Finding a new godfather in the international arena to replace Venezuela is not an option. And the package of measures put together by the Obama administration, which breathed life into Cuba’s relations with the West, revived tourism and created expectations that will not continue without changes in Cuba itself.

Under this scenario, the government has only two options: to slam on the brakes, which amounts to leading the country into total ruin, or to go forward. The latter is the more likely choice since choosing the former means we would all be losers, including those in power. Even if the political will is lacking and this turns out the be the chosen option, change will come soon enough. We will then see if the current leadership is capable of handling the complexities of getting the country out of stagnation and moving it forward. In any event, any chosen path will, sooner or later, inexorably lead to the democratization of the country.

Given the magnitude of the challenge, what is most important and urgent now is to refrain from judging the actions of the past. Though necessary, the results are already clear for all to see and will, in time, be subject to the implacable judgement of history. Instead, the task at hand is to define the path ahead and to move forward. It is this path that, in the absence of alternative forces capable of imposing rhythm and direction, the Cuban government will have to first define. With no maximum leader or two heads of state, it alone has the resources to initiate any transformation.

With the exception of the fledgling private sector, very little in the economy is working. Dependent on tourism, the Port of Mariel Special Development Zone and a few factories, it is concentrated in the hands of the Business Administration Group (GAESA) under the direction of Major General Luís Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas.

As for the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), the Cuban constitution stipulates that the president of the Council of State is supreme commander. His principal deputies are army generals Leopoldo Cintra Frías, Álvaro López Miera, Ramón Espinosa Martín, Joaquín Quinta Solas. There are also Brigadier General Lucio Morales Abad, Raúl Rodríguez Lobaina and Onelio Aguilera Bermúdez, who trained under the command of Raúl Castro when he led that institution. All of them are members of the Communist Party Politburo and Central Committee.

Additionally there is the National Defense Council, which can be summoned by the  president of the Council of State at will. In special circumstances, it can become the main organ of governmental and and political power, to which even the provincial and city party secretaries are subordinate.

As a result, the current President holds all the reins of power, allowing him to take Cuba down the necessary path with little or no opposition.

Since the unfeasibility of the current political and economic model is the root cause of people’s apathy and despair, of the mass exodus and of economic inefficiency, any reform that is implemented must attack this fundamental cause. Adopting measures aimed at changing things in order to avoid change, as happened before, would be totally useless today.

Time has completely run out. Although it holds all the reins of power, the government cannot afford to use them for anything other than to effect profound transformation. This is as necessary for resolving the crisis as it is useless for making cosmetic changes or trying to hold onto power in the long term.

Time has been lost but the new scenario, though more complex than those before, offers one last chance for those in power to effect significant change to in a orderly fashion. Totalitarianism is utterly spent. Therefore, regardless of what the government wants, change is inevitable for the government itself. This is the unique feature of the new scenario, which is the ultimate outgrowth of process begun in 1959.

Among the many difficulties are the need for large investments and, therefore, a large influx of foreign capital, which would require new revisions to the country’s investment law; implementing constitutional changes to give legal legitimacy to successors who did not participate in the 1959 revolution; an economy capable of reassuring a dissatisfied populace; changes to property laws to allow producers to own their means of production. For these transformations to be beneficial, they have to be accompanied by transformations in the area of human rights and freedoms.

One of the most feasible possibilities is for the government to take the Vietnamese route. The dilemma of such an approach is that Vietnam’s reforms did not address civil and political freedoms. Given Cuba’s history and culture, this is something that will be impossible to ignore once economic reforms are under way.

In the short term, what happens from this point on will be decisive for Cuba and its society but also for the current government. It is a difficult but inescapable challenge in a landscape without godfathers, without Fidel, with an economy in freefall, and for a people without hope.

Donald Trump and Raul Castro / Dimas Castellano

(Ilustration: Giovanni Tazza)

Dimas Castellano, 29 November 2016 — The great majority of Cubans were surprised by Donald Trump’s electoral victory. Surveys in other countries, and the official Cuban press, labelling Hillary Clinton as the favourite, created false expectations.

Since the results have become known, all sorts of opinions have been put forward. Some believe that Trump is a dangerous man, who will damage things, others that he will demand more from Havana, and they are happy about that, and many are worried that there will be a setback to relations and regret his triumph, while a majority are unhappy with the official press campaign against president Barack Obama’s policy.

What almost everyone is agreed upon is the poor state in which Cuba finds itself, and the need to emigrate. continue reading

Going back on the established improvements in relations will be extremely difficult. Why is that? Because of the division of public authorities, the existence of a diversity of interest groups, and its institutionalisation in the United States.

The president could limit or eliminate some things, but not everything, because that would imply affecting North American interests. Quite simply, electoral populism is one thing, and presiding over an institutionalised country is quite another.

Even supposing that Trump really could be a threat to the improved relations with Cuba which Barack Obama managed to achieve — in my opinion the most important political act in the last half century in Cuba — the biggest danger of sliding backwards up to now has been, and still is, the Cuban side of things.

Nationalisation, centralised planning, and the absence of liberties, are among the principal causes of the permanent crisis in which Cuba finds itself. The Obama administration’s policy offered an opportunity for change, which was missed by the Cuban side.

Therefore, whatever risk the Trump administration might represent would be less than the negative influence of the Cuban government, trapped in an insoluble contradiction between changing and at the same time preserving power.

Fidel Castro’s thesis that “Cuba already changed, in 1959,” produced a more pragmatic vision than General Raúl Castro’s one of “changing some things to hold onto power.” Nevertheless, the measures implemented to that end have not brought about the desired result, because of a conflict of powers. Instead, they have revealed the unviability of the economic and social model and the depth of the crisis.

The series of measures enacted by the White House have, among other things, led to increased tourism and remittances sent to families, the first cruise ship has arrived, flights have restarted, agreements reached with American telecommunication companies, negotiations with other countries and restructuring of external debts. Meanwhile the Presidential Decision Directive of last November was aimed at rendering irreversible the advances achieved.

If those measures have not produced a better outcome, it is because the obstacles in the path of production and the absence of civil liberties in Cuba have prevented it. For that reason, changes are dependent on the Cuban authorities, rather than on Trump. To tackle these changes now, albeit very late, would neutralise any intention by Trump to set things back.

Bearing in mind that the suspension of the embargo is the prerogative of the United States Congress, what is needed now, after the “physical disappearance” of Fidel Castro, is to get on with a comprehensive structural reform, like that carried out by the Vietnamese, who, having abandoned centralised planning and adopted a market economy, have positioned themselves as the 28th largest exporter in the world.

Taken from: El Comercio, Peru

Translated by GH

Donald Trump, Cuba, and the Example of Vietnam / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, 5 December 2016 — The majority of analysts looking at the change of direction which may be experienced in the relations between Cuba and the United States, following the 8th of November elections, have concerned themselves solely with the policies on Cuba to be pursued by the new occupant of the White House, ignoring the fact that these are bilateral relations.

Their forecasts range from those who consider that Donald Trump will fulfill his electoral promise of going back on Barack Obama’s policy, up to the possibility of an improved understanding with the Cuban authorities. In nearly all cases, the emphasis is on what the new President will do, as if the Cuban side of things had nothing to do with what could happen from next 20th of January onwards. continue reading

A retrospective analysis of relations between the two administrations indicates otherwise. Taking into account the fact that the Cuban people don’t have human or political rights to influence that process, and that the weakness of the emerging civil society makes it difficult for it to take the role of an opposition, the analysis has to limit itself to intergovernmental relations.

Appealing to electoral populism is one thing, and leading the greatest power in the world is another. Setting back the development in re-establishing relations during Barack Obama’s presidency will be extremely difficult. The institutionalisation of public powers, the existence of diverse sectors with interests in our island, and regional interests in the face of incursions by other powers, will hinder it. In those conditions the President-elect could limit of eliminate some things, but he could not nullify everything, because it would affect his country’s own interests.

The re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States – the most important political act since the 1959 revolution – responds to the interests of both nations. The supposition that Trump constitutes a threat to the relations which the Barack Obama administration succeeeded in moving forward is one side of the coin. The brake applied by the Cuban government to the advances is the other side.

The obstinate obsession with dragging everything into public ownership, centralised production, and the absence of liberties for Cubans, are among the principal causes of the crisis in which Cuba finds itself. The Obama administration’s policy offered an opportunity for change, which was missed by the Cuban side, to remove internal obstacles in the country. Therefore, along with the potential risk represented by the Trump administration, there is the real negative in the form of a Cuban government lacking the necessary political will to face up to the present situation. An insoluble contradiction consisting of changing and at the same preserving power.

Fidel Castro’s thesis that “Cuba already changed, in 1959,” produced a more pragmatic vision than General Raúl Castro’s one of “changing some things to hold onto power.” The measures implemented to that end over eight years have not brought about the desired result. Instead, they have revealed the unviability of the model and the depth of the crisis, in the face of which the only way forward is implementing major reforms.

If the series of measures  enacted by the White House – including the Presidential Decision Directive of last October aimed at rendering irreversible the advances achieved – have not produced a better outcome, it is because they were not accompanied by the necessary measures on the Cuban side to free up production and restore civil liberties. For that reason, the solution for Cuba lies in its own authorities, as opposed to what might happen during the Trump administration. To tackle these changes now, albeit very late, would neutralise any intention to set things back on the part of the new occupant of the White House.

Bearing in mind that the suspension of the embargo is the prerogative of the United States Congress, what is needed now, after the “physical disappearance” of Fidel Castro, is to get on with a comprehensive structural reform, which should have been started a long time ago, commencing with, at least, what Vietnam did, with a crippled economy, in a country which had had, in ten years of war, three times the number of bombs dropped on it than were used in the Second World War, where 15% of the population perished or were injured in the struggle, with 60% of the villages in the south destroyed and which, after the war ended, confronted the economic blockade and frontier attacks, and, instead of ideological campaigns, launched reforms.

The Granma daily of November 4th, in a report entitled The Vietnam of the Future, says that the province of Binh Duong, previously mostly agricultural, is now predominantly industrial. This province has more than 2,700 projects funded by foreign investment; its GDP is, since 2010, increasing at an annual 14%; it boasts 28 industrial parks with factories constructed by companies from more than 30 countries; in the last two years it has launched nearly 370 new investment projects, and, between 1996 and now it has created more than 90,000 jobs.

The same paper, on 11th November, published The Miracle of the Vietnam Economy, where it reported that the World Bank had placed Vietnam among the most successful countries, which had, in 30 years, tripled per capita income, between 2003 and the present had reduced the level of those in poverty from 59% to 12%, and, in 20 years, had lifted more than 25 million people from destitution. It added that in 1986 the average Vietnamese income was between $15 and $20 a month and now varies between $200 and $300, and that in 1986 they eliminated centralised control and implemented a market economy, with a socialist orientation.

With these results, the United States suspended the embargo which lasted 30 years. In 2008 they directed their efforts to exiting the list of developing countries, in 2010 established the objective of entering the group of countries with medium income, in 2014 they found themselves among the 28 highest exporters in the world, and in 2016, they approved measures to convert themselves into an industrialised nation.

In that same time period, Cuba anchored itself in the past, with a policy of “Rectifying errors and negative tendencies,” and managed to get the United Nations to condemn the embargo for a period of 25 years.  Now, we have to lay out millions of dollars on importing food which we could produce in Cuba, and, after teaching the Vietnamese how to grow coffee, we have to buy the beans.

Havana, 28th November, 2016.

Translated by GH

Two Aspects of the Reintroduction of Flights to Cuba / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 5 October 2016 — With the landing in Santa Clara of an Airbus A-320 from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood on August 31st, Jet Blue restarted commercial flights between Cuba and the United States, which were suspended in 1962.

To accompany the general travel permissions, the increase in the level of remittances, better access to communications, the arrival of cruise ships, and North American hotels, the US Department of Transport, approved the launch of 110 flights to Cuba. Of those, apart from Jet Blue, American Airlines will fly 56 times a week to Cienfuegos, Camagüey, Holguín, Santa Clara and Varadero. And at the end of the year, other companies, such as Frontier, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines will start up. continue reading

Nevertheless, not everything is positive. The reintroduction of flights has twin aspects, both good and bad.

The good bits are that they are the result of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries — the most important political event in Cuba since 1959 — the evidence of the failure of the Castro regime and the embargo, and the continuing arrival of North American cruise ships and hotels. An opening which will keep widening out. We can also add that the price of one-way tickets with medical insurance* included will not exceed $100.

In the face of the chronic inefficiency of the Cuban economy, clearly shown in the disaster of the reforms, the decline in GDP, and massive emigration, doing tourism business deals with with the greatest economic power in the world, located just a few miles away from our coast, looks to be an essential component in Cuban development.

The bad part is that, after a lost half a century, we are going back to our starting point, in the worst conditions, for two reasons.

The first one is that the Cuba of the 1950’s was tied up in the development of the hotel industry, international flights, and the arrival of tourist car ferries. Havana had become an obligatory destination for foreign tourists. The clearest evidence was the opening of the Capri, Deauville, Riviera and  Havana Hilton hotels between the spring of 1957 and May 1958, with more than 1300 rooms. That plan, interrupted by the 1959 revolution, is starting up again now after about seven decades’ delay.

The second one is that Cuba is the only country in the region  where its people don’t enjoy the elementary right to participate as entrepreneurs in their country’s economy and to contract directly with foreign companies, in spite of having more than adequate professional training.

Because of those reasons, among others, getting out of the profound crisis in which the country is immersed will be impossible without removing the obstacles preventing Cubans from exercising their right to participate  in the opportunities now opening up.

The ball is in Cuba’s court. Flights starting up again should not only serve to consolidate the normalisation of relations, but also to give Cubans back their rights seized from them over fifty years ago. Without that happening on the Cuban side, the moves taken by the White House and the reintroduction of flights will not have a positive effect on Cuban society.

*Translator’s note: The Cuban government has made medical insurance is mandatory for visitors to Cuba

Translated by GH

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