If the Model Isn’t Working, What Hope Is There for the Copy? / Dimas Castellanos

In the second half of the 18th century Creole capabilities along with the effects of the English occupation of Havana and the Haitian revolution created favorable conditions for turning Cuba into a sugar powerhouse. Land owners understood the importance of rapidly developing the island’s agriculture before Haiti could recover. It was necessary to look to the neighboring island not only with compassion, said Francisco de Arango y Parreño, but also through political eyes. As a result Cuba became the main producer and exporter of sugar in the world.

Sugar production, which in 1860 was 447,000 tons, had reached 1,400,000 by 1895. In 1919 it exceeded 4,000,000. In 1925 it reached 5,300,000; in 1952 it was 7,200,000. In 1970, after a colossal effort that disrupted the entire Cuban economy, 8,500,000 tons were produced. After that, it began to decrease to the point that in 2001 it was no more than 3,500,000, a figure lower than that of 1919.

To reverse the decline General Ulises Rosales del Toro was appointed to head the Ministry of Sugar (MINAZ). The Sugar Industry Restructuring initiative and the Álvaro Reynoso Project were also implemented. The goal of the former was to achieve 11% output (to extract 11 tons of sugar for every 100 tons of sugar cane); the goal of the latter was to produce 54 tons of cane per hectare (according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization the world average was 63 tons).

The results of both projects led to 2.2 million tons being produced in 2002, 2.1 million in 2003, 2.52 in 2004 and 1.3 million in 2005 (a 40% decrease from the previous year). Results for 2006 and 2007 were similar to 2005. 2009 saw a slight increase to 1.4 million tons (the same as in 1895). The figures hit a low point in 2010 when only 1.1 million tons were produced. The annual average over ten years has barely topped 1.8 million tons. The harvest in 2011 remained below 1.3 million tons.

In response to its failures, MINAZ was replaced by the state sugar monopoly AZCUBA. With the two major factors that led to significantly reduced production on everyone’s minds, the organization made sure to plant enough cane and at the outset managed to secure almost all the necessary resources it had contracted for the 2012 harvest. Nevertheless, it was still only able to fulfill a target of 1,450,000 tons, and even then it did not meet its target date. Finally, in December 2012 — the beginning of the current harvest — AZCUBA decided to pool its accumulated knowledge and proposed a production quota of 1.7 million tons of sugar (20% higher than the previous harvest). It also announced that a majority of its factories would close before May to avoid the negative effects from that month’s heat and rain, factors which reduce the quality of sugarcane.

Difficulties quickly mounted. By the beginning of February there was a production delay of 7.8%. By the middle of March the state-run press noted that most of the thirteen sugar producing provinces would have to continue refining operations past the target date in order to be able to produce 1.7 million tons. By the end of March production delays had reached 18%. At the beginning of April the country was refining at 65% of its normal capacity due to a shortage of sugarcane. Cienfuegos and Artemisa provinces have reached approximately 90% of their goals. Matanzas has a shortfall of 30,000 tons while Villa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Las Tunas, Granma and Mayabeque are milling at 60% of normal capacity. At the end of May it was discovered that Camagüey, one of the provinces that had hoped to fulfill its quota, was lagging behind. Now, in late June, the end of the current harvest has still not been announced.

Results from the Uruguay central sugar refinery in Sancti Spiritus province, which for the last six years has fulfilled its technical economic quota, produced 8,000 tons more than the previous year and achieved an 11.95% rate of gross economic output, the highest in the country.

In summation, a change of management, the Sugar Industry Restructuring initiative, the Álvaro Reynoso Project, the closure of some one-hundred sugar factories, the reallocation of a large percentage of fields reserved for sugar cultivation to other crops, the replacement of MINAZ with AZCUBA and a varied package of economic and structural measures have not been sufficient to raise the per-hectare production of sugarcane or planned industrial output.

The 2013 harvest suffers from the same problems as those that preceded it: late starts, sugarcane shortages, low agricultural and industrial output, transportation problems, inadequate maintenance, industry-wide breakdowns, poor repairs to agricultural equipment, aging raw material, lack of spare parts, poorly trained personnel, administrative incompetence and high per-ton production costs, among other factors.

Although twenty years is nothing according to the popular tango anthem by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Lepera*, in economic terms it is long enough to know it is time to get rid the current model. Whether discussing the obsolete or the updated version, it simply does not and cannot work. This is because economic issues remain subordinate to ideology. State ownership of property predominates and the system of economic planning has no relationship to reality, having been copied from the Soviet model. The situation is similar to that of Cuba at the end of the 18th century when solutions imposed by Spain were no longer appropriate given the changes that had occurred on the island. Francisco de Arango y Parreño summed it up nicely when he said, “If the model no longer works, what hope is there for the copy?”

Havana, June 3, 2013

1 Ponte Domingo, Francisco J. Arango y Parreño; estadista colonial cubano, Edición del Centenario, Havana, 1937, p. 27.

*Translator’s note: A reference to a line from Volver, a popular 1934 tango by Argentinian singer and composer Carlos Gardel and lyricist Alfredo Lepera.

Published June 17 in Diario de Cuba

The Cuban Communist Party and the Workers Central Union / Dimas Castellanos

The XCIII Plenary of the National Council of the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC) that recently met under the chairmanship of the Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), agreed to postpone the celebration of its XX Congress, create an Organizing Committee and appoint Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento to its leadership.

The postponement of the XX Congress was made so that the newly created Organizing Committee would have more time to organize the event, which has a pending discussion on the Draft of the Labor Code Bill and on the Congress Rules document.

Considering that another Plenary of the National Council of the CTC in which the progress of the organization efforts for the Congress were discussed took place just a month ago, the following questions arise: Why wasn’t the date for the Congress proposed at the time? Why was Carmen Rosa López ratified at the front of the CTC until the celebration of the XX Congress? And why wasn’t the Organizing Committee created during the time of the convening or last month at the Plenary?

The answers seem to be related to the difficulties encountered in the preparatory meetings. If so, doubts point to a poor preparation and to the inability of the Second Secretary of the CTC to reach the goals set by the Communist Party (PCC). This assumption is based on the fact that Carmen Rosa López had been appointed as the head of the PCC until the celebration of the event and had been elected Member of the State Council, which indicated that she was going to be “the chosen one” as Secretary General in the XX Congress. However, surprisingly, she had just been replaced by Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, who was the Secretary General of the PCC in the Province of Artemisa two weeks ago.

The discussion topics, according to the preparatory meetings of the XX Congress, will be related to the economy and represent an unavoidable duty for the CTC and its unions to achieve the conscious mobilization and participation of all workers in the fulfillment of the economic and social policies that were passed in the VI Congress.

Nonetheless, in the preparatory meetings the inadequacies that conspire against what the PCC expects from the union movement were highlighted. By that I mean keeping the CTC as the only labor union under the control of the PCC to ensure support for the implementation of the recent reform Guidelines; for such purpose it would be necessary to enroll all workers under the same union, the CTC, particularly those self-employed from the private sector, who would tend to grow and provide the strength without which reaching the expected results would be impossible.

Some of the criteria expressed during the process shed light on what happened. Salvador Valdés Mesa explained in Matanzas, on March 8th, that even when retirees, state and non-state affiliates, represent three sources of affiliation with different interests, it is the self-employed who are demanding special attention because of the novelty they represent to the union movement. Then later that month,  in the report to the XCII Plenary, Valdés emphasized in the shortcomings faced in the functioning of the organization, in the affiliation of workers and he made a call to combat crime, illegalities and to perfect the workers’ guard service.

Meanwhile in an interview published in Granma on April 27th, Carmen Rosa López said, “We still frequently find in the collective convening of workers that they have not been affiliated because of the shortcomings of our work,” and she also said that in all of the questionnaires and assessments completed this year the statements from the assembly members make reference to wages; which shows that the goals set took a different path from that of the workers’ concerns.

The recurring concerns expressed by the workers show their non-recognition of the unions as representatives of their interests, especially after the statement made by the Workers Central Union (CTC) in September of 2010 in favor of the layoffs, a measure that directly affected workers and their families. The statement said: Our State cannot nor should it continue to sponsor companies, institutions of production and services that are budgeted with inflated payrolls and result in losses that drag down the economy, which is counterproductive, generates bad habits, and distorts the codes of conduct of workers.

To summarize, the main goal of the Congress is to emphasize the performance that is expected from workers by the PCC in the implementation of the Guidelines for reform, not to address their particular problems, such as the insufficient wages and pensions in relation to the cost of living, among others, which has led Cubans to survive on the fringes of the law turning their backs on the so-called ideology while creating a negative attitude that hinders the realization of any social project.

We have to remember that unions in Cuba emerged to defend the interests of workers  when paid work began replacing slave labor; that the labor movement became widespread with the General Law of Associations of 1888 and then with freedoms and rights recognized in the Constitution of 1901; that it showed its strength with the founding of the National Confederation of Workers of Cuba in 1925 and with a general strike in 1933 that toppled Gerardo Machado’s regime; that it achieved the passing of a number of labor laws, including the most important in Cuban labor legislation — Decree 798 of 1938 — which was subsequently endorsed in the Constitution of the Republic; that this development led to the birth of the CTC in 1939; and that joint committees were created to set a minimum wage standard, the terms to the right of collective bargaining and other measures in line with the established by the International Labor Organization.

Therefore, unions became an important sector of Cuba’s civil society to the point that in 1945 the CTC became the second largest trade union in the region with half a million members.

The takeaway is that workers’ participation in programs from the State or a political party, if it takes place, must be based on the interests, needs and decisions of workers themselves, a vital premise to the defense of their own interests.

Therefore, the postponement of the date of the Congress, from November of this year to the first trimester of 2014, has its roots in the conversion of the CTC into an auxiliary organization to the goals of the PCC, resulting in the loss of its independence and leading to the distortion of its original purpose. It is a situation beyond the capabilities of Salvador Valdés Mesa, Carmen Rosa Lópeza, Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento or any other individual appointed to the leadership of  Cuban labor unionism.

The only way out, which depends on a political will so far nonexistent, is not in changing political figures or in modifying documents pending for discussion, it is in the freedom of association. This way the PCC could keep the CTC as an auxiliary organization and allow those workers who do not want to be CTC members to form other labor unions and freely join them. This would also be a response to the remarks and recommendations that were given to Cuba in a recent evaluation by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

Published in Diario de Cuba

Translated by Chabeli

3 June 2013

Political Marginalization and the Citizen / Dimas Castellano

Published in Curazao, issue 24

May 3, 2013

The marginality, an effect of exclusion, is a phenomenon that prevents or limits the enjoyment of certain rights. It manifests itself in all social relations, including politics. In these lines I circumscribe the case of Cuba, where the revolutionary process swept civic participation mechanisms and replaced by others, created and subservient to the state.

Citizens participate independently in matters of interest through civil society organizations of which it is part. Also involved electing representatives to positions in government; in this case there is the risk that the elected turn their back to their commitments to the voters, as repeatedly occurred during the Republic. Precisely this fact served as an argument to the insurrectional process that took power in 1959 with a commitment to restore the 1940 constitution and call elections immediately.

The elections are important for the people as long as they express the public opinion. But public opinion and electoral democracy are the foundation of the building. Then comes the building, meaning, the system of government as a hierarchical structure where power goes from the majority to a minority. So depending on decisions made by that minority whether or not they represent the best interests of their constituents, we face a democratic or undemocratic government, demonstrating that elections are necessary but not sufficient.

The seizure of power by the revolutionaries in 1959 provoked a violent break with the established system. It replaced the Constitution of 1940 and with it the institutional base. Then the revolution, which has become a source of law, swept away civil society and all the spaces that were instruments of civic participation. The country headed towards the totalitarianism that penetrated the entire social fabric, liquidated political pluralism and thus eradicated the concept of citizen. Seventeen years later, in 1976, a constitution was adopted that legalized the marginalization of the people in politics.

Since then, Cubans were limited to electing district delegates. Thereafter, where  the destiny of the nation is decided, the Candidacy Commissions created by the same power, decide the candidates for all positions in government, from the municipality to the National Assembly of People’s Power; meanwhile the people are reduced to confirming the propositions of said Committees. As an end result there exists a government that has been predetermined. This explains the excessively prolonged time leaders remain in positions of power, indicating the nonexistence of democracy and evidence that the elections, as a manifestation of popular sovereignty, are something that remains pending.

The Cuban case demonstrates that democracy — the best instrument of the people to exercise their freedoms — is fragile. Its strength depends on civic education, the rebuilding of civil society independent of the state and the reconversion of Cubans into citizens; it is the only way out of political marginalization.

Translated by Roots of Hope 

27 May 2013

Are There Unions in Cuba? / Dimas Castellanos

ctc logo index“Without a strong union there will be no economy,” said Salvador Valdes Mesa, vice president of the Council of State and member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) in the recently concluded plenary session of the National Union of Sugar Workers. An approach which clearly expresses the vision of unions as instruments of the State and not as an association to defend the interests of workers.

Valdes Mesa, replaced the previous week as general secretary of the Workers Central Union (CTC), in the last two decades was first secretary of the PCC of the municipality and of the province of Camagüey, secretary-general of the Agriculture and Forestry Labor Union, Minister of Labor and Social Security. continue reading

Upon his departure from office of the head of the labor organization, Machado Ventura, second secretary of the PCC, explained that Salvador Valdes’s responsibility as vice president of the country did not allow him to also head the CTC, “but given the importance and significance of having a strong and consolidated labor movement,” he would continue performing this work from his new role. In his place, Carmen Rosa López Rodríguez, second secretary, will head the CTC until the XX Congress to be held in November.

The departure of Valdes Mesa from the CTC seems to be a part of the change in leadership of political and mass organizations. A few months ago, Carlos Rafael Miranda Martínez, Félix González Vigo, Yuniasky Crespo Vaquero and Teresa María Amarelle Boué, all replaced those who held those responsibilities in the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), the Young Communist Union (UJC) and the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). The four joined the Council of State on the 24th of February, when Valdes Mesa was appointed vice president of that body. This shows the lack of autonomy of the labor movement in Cuba, without which it might not economy is strong, but it is certain that there will be no strong unions.

Rise and Fall of Cuban Unions

A brief look at the history of this movement reveals the process leading to its demise. Emerging in the second half of the nineteenth century during the process of replacing the slave labor with wage labor, the Cuban labor union movement first showed itself with strikes in the tobacco industry and the founding of the first workers’ newspapers; it was extended in during the colonial period with the Law of Associations in 1888; and it was supported in the rights and freedoms recognized in the Constitution of 1901, receiving its first fruits in the first decade of the twentieth century with the approval of holidays and time off for bereavement, the eight-hour day for government workers, the prohibition of payment in tokens and vouchers, and the closure of shops and workshops at six in the afternoon, among other steps.

Its growing strength was manifested in the formation of the National Confederation of Workers of Cuba in 1925, in the strike that toppled the regime of Gerardo Machado in 1933, in the labor legislation of 1938, which guaranteed workers’ rights such as minimum wage and death pensions which were guaranteed in the constitution; and in the birth of the CTC in 1939. All these prior events made the labor union movement an important factor of Cuban civil society.

However, the subordination of trade unions to political parties that began in 1925, worsened in the 40’s with the struggle between Authentic Party and the Communists for control of the labor movement; and again in 1952, when Eusebio Mujal, then general secretary of labor movement after ordering a general strike against the coup that year, ended up accepting an offer from Fulgencio Batista in exchange for preserving the rights acquired by the CTC.

Finally, in 1959 it received the biggest blow: the CTC was dissolved and replaced by the CTC-R, the Revolutionary Cuban Workers Union. In November of that year, at the Tenth Congress general secretary David Salvador Manso said that the workers had not gone to Congress to raise economic demands but to support the revolution. The XI Congress in November 1961 confirmed the loss of autonomy when delegates gave up almost all historical achievements of the labor movement: the nine days of sick leave, the additional Christmas bonus, the work week of 44 x 48 hours, the right to strike and the 9.09% wage increase, among others. From that moment, the CTC became an auxiliary to the government.

The State Interests

The independence of labor unions with respect to any non-union institution is a prerequisite vital to the defense of their own interests. With their functions under state control, they ceased to emanate from the needs and interests of workers, leading to their demise. This dependence was endorsed in the  1976 Constitution, which did not recognize the results achieved by the union movement since its inception.

A vivid expression of the loss of autonomy was the pronouncement of the CTC with regards to the measures taken by the Government to reduce the State workforce and substitute self-employment. In the document entitled “Pronouncement of the Cuban Workers Union” issued in September 2010, it is stated that “Our state could not and should not continue maintaining companies, productive entities, and services with inflated payrolls, and losses that weigh on the economy, are counterproductive, generate bad habits and distort workers’ conduct. It is necessary to increase the production and quality of services, reduce social spending and eliminate undeserved bonuses, excessive subsidies, study as a source of employment and early retirement. The success of the process that starts now will depend on the political assurance from the union movement and under the leadership of the Party we union leaders give our support for the actions to be undertaken … “

The above text confirms the loss of independence of the CTC, without which the existence of real unionism is impossible. State interests are embedded in the document quoted, while nothing is said of the enormous problems of workers, firstly, of the inadequacy of current wages to provide a living.

23 April 2013

The 2013 Cuban Elections and the Multi-Party System / Dimas Castellanos

According to the official results of the “elections” held on Sunday, February 3 of this year, 1,249,832 Cubans, “14.22% of all voters,” did not go to the polls or cast invalid ballots in a clear display of their rejection of the Cuban electoral system.

The number of people behaving in this way has been growing over the last few elections. In 2003 the total of these two categories (non-voters and those who cast invalid ballots) was 506,453, or 6.09% of the electorate. In 2008 it was 657,119, or 7.73%. In the most recent elections, however, it rose to 1,249,832 Cubans, or 14.22% of the electorate, almost double the number from the previous balloting.

The most notable thing about this jump was the number of people who decided not to vote. In 2003 193,306 people abstained, 2.35% of the voters. In 2008 the figures were 264,212, or 3.11%. In 2013 the number rose to 790,551, 9.21%, nearly three times as many as in 2008.

To not vote “in a society without civil or political rights, under almost total state control and with only one constitutionally recognized party” is the most daring option.

In Cuba, where the only option is to approve the candidates chosen by the Candidacy Commissions — committees made up of leaders of mass organizations, whose own statutes declare them to be subordinate to the Communist Party — not voting is proof that the Government has lost the popular consensus. The results, therefore carry a clear lesson and are a message that the Cuban authorities should take to heart. To ignore this would lead to an inability to govern.

The reason behind the results is that it is really the Candidacy Commissions which choose the deputies who make up the National Assembly of the People’s Power. These deputies then choose the Council of State and its president as well as the president of the Council of Ministers. The latter then chooses the members of the Council of Ministers itself. As a result the National Assembly and the government are really determined by the powerful Candidacy Commissions. This explains why many Cubans decide not to vote to such a degree that abstentions now account now nearly 15% of the Cuban electorate. This is three times the number of members in the Communist Party. It also shows that the so-called elections in Cuba have little bearing on the difficult living conditions of the thousands and thousands of Cubans who live outside the law or who choose to leave the country.

Faced with a profound structural crisis like the one threatening Cuba, the election results are confirmation that is impossible to limit change to certain aspects of society. Therefore, in spite of the government’s persistence in ignoring the subject of a multi-party system, reality has succeeded in bringing it to the forefront. The election figures confirm the existence of a non-conformist segment of society that is demanding a political role. It is made up of Cubans who lack the right of free association and the right to participate in deciding the fate of the nation. How is it possible to justify the existence of a single party when almost 15% of voters do not respond to its call?

Social development does not exclude but rather implies a multi-party system as the natural expression of a diversity of ideas and interests. It is the mechanism by which citizens express themselves politically. The nation is a community of people who are diverse but equal in dignity. They are looking for a common good for which full economic, civil, political and cultural rights and responsibilities are essential. Therefore, the restitution of the right of association and the depenalization of political differences are necessary for Cubans to be able to play their corresponding active and decisive role in the changes to come.

In The Social Contract Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote that the union of persons to defend and protect their well-being emanates from a general will that transforms the parties to the contract into a collective political body. The exercise of this will confers power, which is referred to as sovereignty, and the party exercising it is sovereign. Based on this sovereign status, the people choose officials to carry out the general will and temporarily invest them with a mandate to propose and effect laws, and to preserve citizens’ liberties. In other words elections are a manifestation of popular sovereignty.

The violation of the constitutional order in Cuba, which occurred in 1952, gave rise to an insurrectional movement which overthrew the dictatorship in 1959. On January 8 of that month the leader of the revolutionary movement swore that he would hold elections in the shortest period of time possible and restore the constitution of 1940. However, several days later and without popular consultation, the nation’s Magna Carta was replaced with the Basic Law of the Republic of Cuba. By virtue of this Law, which was in force until the adoption of the constitution of 1976, the Council of Ministers assumed all legislative power and constitutionally affirmed one-party rule. From then until today “elections” have been carried out under this policy of exclusion in which the people cannot directly elect the president of the republic. This amounts to a clear rejection of our historic legacy.

The current system, which limits direct vote by the people to delegates for municipal assemblies, is one of the main causes for the indifference of those who do not take part or who cast invalid ballots. It is an efficient system for holding on to power, but useless for advancing the changes that society demands. All these issues emphasize the need to introduce a multi-party system and to carry out the corresponding changes to the constitution.

Published in DiariodeCuba.com

8 March 2013