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


Two July 26ths, And The Same Crisis / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 5 August 2016 — In Sancti Spiritus, the second secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), delivered a speech marking the 63rd anniversary of the assault on the Moncada barracks. José Ramón Machado Ventura began by wishing Fidel Castro well on his 90th birthday and reasserting “the commitment to remain faithful to the ideas for which he has fought throughout his life, and keep alive the spirit of resistance, combativeness, dialectical thinking, and faith in victory he instilled in us.”He added that to write his remarks he studied Fidel’s speech in that same city on July 26, 1986.

A reading of the message conveyed by Fidel Castro at that time reveals a relationship to the critical situation today and the designation of Machado Ventura to talk, 30 years later, in the same place, and in the absence of a plan to rescue the country from a crisis. continue reading

During the first decade after the Revolution Cuba received enormous resources via agreements signed with the USSR. These resources, which could have served to construct an autonomous economy, were accompanied by an almost total nationalisation process, the loss of freedoms, and an exaggerated willfulness. El Cordón de Havana (The Havana Cordon), caturra coffee, and attempts to raise up to 12 million head of cattle, produce half a million tons of fish, and more milk and cheese than Holland, are some examples, followed by a campaign to produce ten million tons of sugar in 1970, which practically paralyzed the country and led to a “rectification” process that lasted for 15 years.

In the new period a system an economic management and planning system (EPDS) was implemented, in which economic mechanisms were to work institutionally to tie the leader’s hands, averting any arbitrariness. The consequences of corporate independence and the measurement of economic over “political” results scared those who opposed reform.

In 1972 Cuba entered the COMECON and adopted a model similar to that of its member countries, in exchange receiving tens of billions of dollars. At the same time it received loans and participated in collaborative projects with Japan, Spain, France, Sweden and Argentina, among others. With this support it achieved economic growth that tripled its GDP, and general wage reform was implemented aimed at stimulating workers’ interest, accompanied by parallel and free farmer markets, measures that bolstered the peso’s purchasing power.

In 1975 the 1st First Congress of the PCC approved the course charted by the SDPE. However, a few days later the leader of the Revolution made public his commitment to large-scale military engagement in Angola, which constituted a strong impediment to the development of the SDPE. To this we must add that the massive aid received lacked structural reform or the reincorporation of fundamental freedoms. The absence of these factors prevented the development of a “prosperous and sustainable” economy, as they say today. Instead, loans swelled the country’s external debt of 291 million pesos in 1969 to over 2.913 billion by June 1982, when, due to liquidity problems, Cuba had to renegotiate it. In 1986 the nation announced its definitive inability to pay.

The clash between the leader of the Revolution’s leadership style and the straitjacket entailed by the SDPE, headed up by Humberto Pérez, with the support of Raúl Castro, eventually sank the reform measures. Arbitrary decisions flouting the laws governing economic phenomena prevailed.

In 1986, the year in which Fidel Castro spoke in Sancti Spiritus, the “Process for the Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies” began. In that speech he listed all the works carried out in the province, from the mechanization of agriculture, the construction of dams and the sowing of rice fields, to dozens of supply centers, hundreds of cane combines, grain mills, sand washers, block factories, to the construction of a hydroaccumulator, to be complemented with the Cienfuegos nuclear power facility, which, in his words, would be “safer than any of the nuclear power plants built in the US.”

With this constructive endorsement he addressed the US president to say: “Behold how our people have worked with freedom! And without having worked all they should have, because, working in complete freedom, they have even taken the liberty of not working all that was needed.”He added: “This shows that, yes, this is one of the essential ways, really, to build socialism.” Later he listed deficiencies, such as dams that had been under construction for 10 years, work that was at a standstill, and overpasses built on freeways lacking approach roads, etc., assigning the reformers of the time responsibility for them.

He said: “We have done a lot during these years of Revolution, but we could have done more and better things if we had been more capable, if we had been more hardworking, and better workers, and if we had been more and better revolutionaries. In recent days we have talked about many classes in politics being given, about political philosophy and political history, and we have not been able to emphasize and inculcate that the revolutionary’s first duty is work … we must make it our intention to overcome all these negative trends and make an effort, to make a great leap forward in the Revolution … ”

Elsewhere in his speech he acknowledged: “We, who were not traditionally oil exporters, had converted our oil savings … into hard currency, and at those oil prices we were generating more than 400 million dollars in this area… ”

The result was a period of stagnation that worsened as of 1989. With the demise of the USSR, the country had to rely on its own efforts, and the Government was forced to implement short-term measures to alleviate the situation. With Chávez’s victory in Venezuela, subsidies based on ideologically affinity resumed, and the economy’s development was again put off indefinitely.

In 2008, when Fidel Castro stepped down as head of state, measures were introduced to change the window dressing while preserving the same content. The “updating of the economic model” yielded one less systemic and comprehensive than that of the SDPE, but similar in its fear of consequences and in opposition by a sector of the Government itself.

Thirty years after Fidel Castro’s speech, Machado Ventura claimed that the essential concepts expressed then could have been uttered today. He added, “With that clear consciousness we began the modernization of our economic and social model, characterized from the beginning by the broadest and most democratic and genuine participation, on a scale and of a depth unimaginable in countries that  declare themselves to be paradigms of democracy .. . Let us demonstrate every day, in every job, and with concrete facts, that we will be up to this new challenge … ”

Engrossed by the past, in his speech Machado Ventura ignored the most important political development since 1959: the resumption of diplomatic relations with the US, and the visit by that country’s president to Cuba.

The similarity between the speeches and situations are obvious:

1- Despite the Soviet aid in 1982, Cuba had to renegotiate its debt and, in 1986, suspend payments due to solvency problems. Now, though the debt was renegotiated, the insolvency remains.

2- Thanks to the millions of tons of oil delivered by the USSR, Cuba became an exporter of oil, and a reduction in prices hurt its revenues in this category. Now, the reductions in oil from Venezuela (part of which it seems to have exported) have also affected revenues, setting the country on course for a crisis worse than that in the 90s.

3- Before the USSR bought sugar at prices higher than those on the international market, and the country did not advance. Now, something similar has happened with Venezuela, and the country regresses.

4- In 1986 reform was halted, and reformers were publicly sidelined. Now another attempt is being made to stop reform and, although it has not been announced, it appears that some reformers will also be marginalized.

5- Fidel’s words about how “Behold how our people have worked with freedom! And without having worked all they should have, because, working in complete freedom, they have even taken the liberty of not working all that was needed…” are once again relevant, now with the country facing even worse conditions.

As if 30 years were not enough, today it is proposed that, faithful to that legacy, we must conceptualize socialism. Without understanding the role of time in politics, Machado Ventura believes that the Cuban people are going to sacrifice themselves in the defense of a system that has destroyed almost everything, including hope – as evidenced by the sustained and growing exodus of people from the country, both young and old alike.

Note: This translation was taken from Diario de Cuba’s English edition

Coffee: Relations with the US have revealed to the Cuban people the roots of the drop in productivity / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 18 July 2016 — The statement issued in May of 2016 by the National Bureau of Cuba’s National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) in response to the US Treasury Department’s announcement that it would allow independent producers to export coffee Cuba to the United States should have come as no surprise. Said statement is a faithful reflection of the entity’s nature, as the ANAP does not represent the interests of producers, but rather those of the State, the Government and the Communist Party (PCC). An examination of its founding premises bases suffices to substantiate this.

The forming of associations of farmers and employers, a phenomenon that emerged in the 19th century, was fomented by the freedoms provided for in the Constitution of 1901, and flourished as part of a struggle to defend the interests of their members against eviction and for ownership, better markets, fair prices, low-interest loans and reduced rents, among others. Decree 16 of January 3, 1934, issued by the government of Ramón Grau San Martin, institutionalized the mandatory accreditation of association of producers. In 1937 the First National Farmers Congress was held, and in 1941 the National Farmers Association was founded. These developments would establish such associations as a key institution in Cuban society. continue reading

As a result of the shift towards totalitarianism stemming from the revolutionary process in 1959, private property and the diversity of farmer and employer associations were eliminated. In October of 1960, wielding the argument that all sugar mills had been nationalized and, hence, there no longer were any hacendados (landowners), the most powerful of these organizations, the Asociación de Hacendados de Cuba, was disbanded.  Next to be eliminated was the Asociación de Colonos de Cuba, and in December of 1960 the leader of the Revolution advanced the following idea: “It is necessary for small farmers, instead of being sugar cane growers, or tobacco growers, etc., to be simply farmers, and for us to organize a National Association of Small Farmers.” This was an idea that, as usual, became law.

On January 21 of 1961 all the employer organizations and existing farmer associations were supplanted by the Asociación Nacional de Colonos, which was renamed the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) in May of that year. Appointed to head it up was José Ramírez Cruz, from the insurrectional struggle and the ranks of the Popular Socialist Party (PSP).

The objectives of the ANAP were enshrined in its charter, its seventh statute stating: “To guide and lead the cooperatives and small farmers so as to comply with the agrarian policy of the Revolution, as well as the agreements and guidelines laid down by the Party and the organization itself at its respective congresses and plenary sessions.”

The eleventh article reads: “To achieve, through the organization’s political and ideological work, successful compliance with production plans and sales to the State, and to contribute effectively towards the implementation of the rules and procedures laid down by the economy’s governing bodies.”

Article fourteen, meanwhile, states: “To carry out profound political work with farmers so that they do not engage in the sale of agricultural products illegally; and to exercise, in coordination with the people’s councils and the MINAG, the control necessary to prevent landowners not associated with the ANAP from committing violations affecting farmers’ honor and dignity.”

These three items can be summarized as follows: 1) subordination to the Government’s objectives, 2) the supplanting of the work of private producers and their private associations 3) the use of the association to monitor, control and prevent the free sale of their products.

This explains why all the ANAP’s plenary meetings and sessions, ever since its founding, have been presided over by officials of the PCC’s Political Bureau, and why in January of 2013, violating the fundamental principles of these cooperative efforts, they replaced or released from duty 632 presidents of agricultural cooperatives.

Therefore, in response to the US Treasury Department’s decision to add Cuban coffee to its list of imports permitted by independent producers (whose impact was bolstered by Nespresso’s announcement that it would resume the sale of Cuban coffee in the US), the ANAP, unsurprisingly, declared its opposition.

It would have been another story if this body actually represented the interests of its members, who would be the main beneficiaries of the United States’ decision. Instead of scoffing at the decision, stating that “no one can conceive of a small farmer exporting directly to the US,” it should have demanded changes to the State monopoly so that it would be “conceivable” and a viable opportunity from which its “members” could benefit.

The ANAP’s subordination to the State, Government and PCC explains not only Cuban producers’ current defenselessness, but also their apathy, as reflected in the decline in Cuba’s coffee production; once the world’s coffee export leader, production has plummeted from 60,000 to just 6,000 tons annually. And it also explains the purchase of coffee from countries like Vietnam, when it was Cuba that taught the country how to grow it.

The results demonstrate that the ANAP has never been, nor will it ever be, able to replace or rival the National Association of Coffee Growers, or that of the landowners, or that of the ranchers, or the other associations, which all posted figures much greater than the paltry ones achieved today, by selling freely on the national or international market.

The State’s monopolistic control, its abusive supply prices, the countless restrictions to which it subjects producers, its restrictions on marketing any portions of crops outside the mandates imposed by the State, its land ownership relationships, its absence of an economic model capable of efficient production, and its fear of the development of a middle class, are among the main causes of Cuba’s coffee decline, the deterioration of agriculture, and the economy in general, and the new and inevitable crisis the country is headed for as a result of the loss of Venezuelan oil supplies.

Relations with the US have revealed to the Cuban people the true roots of the decline in production.

Translation taken from Diario de Cuba’s English site

The Cuban Economy Goes Into A Tailspin / Dimas Castellano

Raúl Castro and former Minister Marino Murillo. (INFOLATAM)
Raúl Castro and former Minister Marino Murillo. (INFOLATAM)

Dimas Castellanos, 1 August 2016 —  On 29 December, 2015 the Cuban president announced before the National Assembly of the People’s Power that “despite the impact of the international economic crisis, exacerbated in our case by the effects of the US blockade, maintained unchanged, and the external financial constraints, which have worsened during the second half of the year, the GDP grew 4% this year, which is undeniably a good result in the midst of these circumstances.”

Let’s take a look at this. The drop in GDP between 1989 and 1993 was 34%. Recovering from this decline requires sustained annual growth of 7%. The measures implemented for that purpose to date have failed. Between 2011 and 2014 the figure was 2.3%; in 2015, 4%; and during the first half of 2016 the GDP actually fell to 1%. According to these numbers, we are not looking at a “good result,” but rather the worsening of a prolonged crisis; something similar to the tailspin aircraft go into after they are hit. continue reading

Blaming the “blockade” and “external financial constraints,” after the measures taken by the US administration, is baseless for the following reasons:

  1. Family remittances, which in 2011 hit 2.294 billion dollars, exceeded 3.13 billion in 2014, and in 2015 were estimated at about 3.99 billion.
  2. In 2014 the export of technical services was worth over 8 billion dollars.
  3. In 2015 tourism surpassed the 3.5 billion dollar mark, and a new record was expected in 2016.
  4. The biopharmaceutical industry saved the country more than 1.9 billion dollars in imports.

As for traditional products, like nickel, Cuba’s leading export, it comes in at 1.1 billion dollars a year; while sugar in the 2014-2015 harvest weighed in at some 1.9 million tons and accounted for sales of 600 million dollars; and for the 2015-2016 harvest, which did not exceed 1.6 million tons, it will bring in about 150 million dollars more than the previous one. Other items are not sufficient to explain the fall in the GDP.

As for the “external financial constraints,” renegotiations of debt, including that owed to the Club de París – which forgave 8.5 billion of 11.1 billion dollars – have created a favorable environment with creditors for the reintegration of Cuba into international economic relations.

If family remittances and tourism have increased; if exported medical services have not dropped; if the reduction in revenue from nickel and sugar, either due to lower prices or productive inefficiency, cannot explain the sudden reversal, then an analysis must address petroleum among the possible causes. According to a Reuters cable on July 8, 2016, the delivery of crude to the island dropped from 100,000 to 53,000 barrels per day. If so, as occurred in Soviet times, Cuba may have been exporting a portion, which could explain the plummeting GDP.

Whatever the cause of the decline, what is the plan to deal with the crisis? On July 8 General Raúl Castro told the National Assembly: “We must reduce non-essential expenses of all kinds, foster a culture of saving and the efficient use of available resources, concentrate investments in activities that generate exports, replace imports, and support the strengthening of our infrastructure, thereby ensuring the sustainability of electricity generation and the improved use of energy carriers. We must, in short, strive not to hinder, in any way, the programs that ensure the nation’s development.”

Reducing costs, promoting a culture of saving, concentrating investments in activities that generate revenue, replacing imports, etc., are measures announced year after year, and which invariably fail. Thus, what is new about this plan, if all its objectives have been missed, over and over again?

Setting them again, while ignoring the root causes of the repeated failure to attain them, demonstrates a lack of political will in a scenario in which it is impossible to roll back the small reform measures introduced, sever relations with the US again, find a new sponsor, or erase Cubans’ knowledge of the true causes of their troubles.

The Minister of the Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge, proposed, inter alia, the following five measures:

  1. “If the problem we have is our liquidity capacity, the first thing we must do is restrict payments in currency in the country … administrate the taking out of loans very carefully, to render the country’s future borrowing manageable … and adjust our energy carriers’ consumption … “
  2. “As activity levels fall, wages in the business system will adjust to production levels … in the business system there is a lower average salary estimated than what we anticipated in the plan  … “
  3. “With the currency that we have, what we must do is support what is the raw material for the core business, or the spending entailed by the main activity in each place … because the amount of money that we are going to give the bodies is nothing like what was envisaged in the plan … “
  4. “We will have to work on looking for financing solutions in the medium and long term, to definitively abandon the principle of making short-term investments, because then the payment of debt is very fast, and the debt is not paid with the return on the investment. “
  5. “Now, if you lower prices, and wages have more purchasing power, that means that the physical quantities sold are greater, and to support these purchase capabilities it has been necessary to buy 25,000 tons of rice, 32,000 of peas, 82,000 of chicken, 36,000 of oil, and 3,800 of dehydrated milk. “

The decrease in imports in order to avoid generating new debt will be reflected in further production declines. The average salary, whose insufficiency relative to the cost of living is a pronounced anomaly of the Cuban model, will suffer a further decline, which will be reflected in lower production, more corruption and criminal activities. Reducing the amount of currency that the bodies will receive cannot be taken advantage of on the world market because productive inefficiency makes it necessary to use those savings to buy what we are unable to produce.

Although Raúl Castro stated that payment obligations are being met, Murillo’s words denote difficulties honoring commitments to creditors after the renegotiation. The slight reduction in prices, aimed at endowing the Cuban peso with greater purchasing power, without productive backing, makes it is necessary to import more, when one of the country’s problems is, precisely, a lack of solvency. In short, five insurmountable contradictions that augur the model’s final collapse.

As the causes are not external, or circumstantial, but internal and permanent, the analysis must take another course.

In July of 2007 General Raúl Castro acknowledged the shortcomings, mistakes and bureaucratic and indolent attitudes illustrated by Cuban fields infested with sicklebush, and argued that rising food prices on the international market made it necessary to produce them in Cuba. In 2008 he emphatically stated: “We must make commit to our land! We must make it produce! ” Castro stated that food production was “a matter of the utmost national security.” However, the reform measures were, from the very outset, subordinated to the dominance of State ownership, socialist planning, the granting of rights to foreign entrepreneurs who refuse to employ Cubans, and ideological orthodoxy: four of the culprits behind the failure.

In March of 2012 Marino Murillo Jorge said that the Ministry of Agriculture “has presented an unfavorable economic and financial status for several years, which negatively affects business management,” and demonstrated that the actions and measures taken to date to reverse this had been insufficient. In May of 2013 he stated: “The measures which for decades have been implemented in order to manage the land have not led to the necessary increase in production.”

Practical experience and the science of economics have demonstrated that people pursue certain goals, in accordance with their interests. The loss of autonomy – which is to the economy what oxygen is to organisms – together with statism, voluntarism, command and control methods, central planning, the ineptitude of leaders and administrators, and producers who lack incentives to produce, combine to spawn the inefficiency that characterizes the Cuban economy, and have driven it to what appears to be this, its final stage.

From 1% we are headed for 0%, and on to initiate a stage of negative growth, which they are bound to call “special growth.”

Note: Translation taken from Diario de Cuba English edition

Randy, The Situation Is Worse Than In The 90s / Dimas Castellano

Randy Alonso (right) on the Roundtable TV show.
Randy Alonso (right) on the Roundtable TV show.

Dimas Castellanos, 3 August 2016 — The newspaper Granma recently published an article by Randy Alonso that commenced by dismissing “media vultures” who “revel in painting a dark picture, according to which Cuba will return to the direst days of the Special Period.”

It is telling that Randy Alonso and the daily Granma would devote time and space to responding to these “vultures,” extraordinary birds that, by feeding on animals in a state of decay, play a vital role in the health of their societies.

In the fulfillment of his mission, Randy quotes Cuban President Raúl Castro on July 8: “speculation and predictions have begun suggesting the imminent collapse of our economy and auguring a return to the acute phase of the Special Period that we faced in the early 90s, and we were able to overcome thanks to the resilience of the Cuban people and their unlimited confidence in Fidel and the Party. We do not deny that adversity may arise, even greater than that we are experiencing today, but we are prepared and better positioned than then to deal with it.” continue reading

Although Raúl Castro acknowledges that “adversity may arise, even greater than that we are experiencing today,” Randy focuses on demonstrating that the Cuban economy today is in a better position to weather it than in the early 90s. To do this he chooses ten issues, which I shall summarize and address below (the remaining three: the BioCubaFarma Group, petrol production, and self-employment are not relevant to this analysis).

1- In 1990 more than 80% of Cuban foreign trade was with the USSR and the countries of Eastern Europe. Today it is more diversified, by country and region.

Diversification in and of itself does not constitute any advantage. Trading with more and more countries does a nation no good if its productive inefficiency prevents it from taking advantage of that trade, and instead forces it to spend hundreds of millions of dollars abroad each year to buy what could be produced in Cuba, like coffee, rice and milk byproducts. The strongest evidence of this inefficiency is the drop in GDP from 4% in 2015 to 1% in the first half of 2016.

2- In 1990 Cuba had no sources of credit. Today Cuba’s debts have been renegotiated with its creditors.

Randy Alonso fails to mention that Cuba ran out of sources of credit due to the infeasibility of its economic model, which rendered it unable to pay either “friends” or “enemies.” It was renegotiated with Cuba because, in view of the normalization of relations with the US, creditors, aware that they would never collect, decided keep one foot in Cuba. But renegotiation also means you have to pay. The Club de París has forgiven 8.5 billion, and Russia, 31.7 billion. The former is now owed 2.6, and the latter, 3.5, to be paid over the next few years, precisely when GDP growth is close to 0%.

3- At that time (1990) foreign investment was almost nil, but during the current stage we boast revised legislation and the promising Mariel Special Development Area (ZEDM).

Cuba, according to its own authorities, requires sustained GDP growth of 5 to 7%, which means an annual flow of investment of between 2 and 2.5 billion dollars. That amount has not been achieved under the “revised legislation” because, among other things, it bars Cubans from participating as investors, and foreign companies from directly hiring them.

Meanwhile the ZEDM, which could help to lift Cuba out of this stagnation and insert it into the global economy, is plagued by delays in the dredging of the bay to make possible the entrance of mega-ships with a capacity for approximately 13,600 containers. Hence, it has had no significant impact.

In his presentation the Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment stated that the ZEDM “represented a profound modernization of the transformative process that was undertaken at the beginning of the Revolution to place the main means of production in the hands of the Revolutionary State.” In other words, the law intends to preserve the very nationalization that is the root cause of Cuba’s economic inefficiency.

4- Tourism, which back then (90s) was only emerging as a promising economic sphere, today is the second largest generator of foreign revenue.

Tourism is the country’s third source of foreign revenue after family remittances and the export of services. However, most of this revenue is lost buying what Cuba’s inefficient economy is not able to produce. In order for tourism to constitute “a promising economic sphere,” and for the country to be able to take advantage of the increasing flow of visitors, what is needed is greater and more active participation by the private sector, and the development of a domestic industry to mitigate the financial leaks caused by the model’s inefficiency.

5- The export of Cuban services was only getting underway in the 90s. Today it is the country’s largest source of foreign revenue.

The training of people in order to rent out their services is universally considered to constitute modern slavery. It is outrageous that the State rakes in 8 billion dollars a year for these services, over 75% of which it retains.

The fact that some ideological allies, in Brazil and Venezuela, for example, look the other way, does not guarantee its permanence or infuse it with potential, much less promising to sustain a country that is fast falling behind, and from which many professionals are fleeing.

6 – Electricity generation was (in 1990) based entirely on imported fuel. Today we have an electro-energetic system largely based on domestic fuel. In addition, we are increasingly using renewable energy sources.

It turns out that the Economy Minister actually asked the National Assembly of the People’s Power: “What are we missing?” And he answered his own question: “….we lack fuel, because everything we had planned on has not reached the country.” He added: “What we are talking about here is 7,862,000 tons of total fuel that the country receives.”

Therefore, if we subscribe to Randy Alonso’s own arguments, the Economy Minister’s analyses, and Raúl Castro’s speech before the National Assembly, make no sense. According to a Reuters cable on July 8, 2016, delivery of crude to the island fell from 100,000 to 53,000 barrels a day; this suggests that Cuba was exporting some of that oil, which could explain its plummeting GDP.

7- If then (in 1990) numerous investments were partially or totally paralyzed, without any possibility of their completion and commissioning; now the country has the capacity to preserve the financing of investments slated in sectors strategic to national development.

“The other measure that we have to take,” said the Minister of Economy and Planning, “is to carefully administer the taking out of loans, to make the country’s future debt manageable”. The aim is not, in the words of Randy Alonso, “to preserve funding” but rather, in the words of the minister, to “seek financing in the medium and long term and abandon the principle of making short-term investments, because then the debt payment is very fast, and the debt is not paid with the return on investment.”

What both the minister and Randy overlook is an inefficient economy that cannot pay its outstanding debts to creditors, such that there will be no financing in the medium and long term.

In short, with an inefficient economy:

1- Trade diversification cannot be capitalized on.

2- Suppliers and creditors cannot be paid reliably, so obtaining new loans is difficult.

3- The “revised legislation” has not achieved its objectives.

4- The private sector must be permitted a greater and more active role in the Tourism industry, so as to develop a national sector, which is impossible under the current model.

5- The export of services, in its variant of modern slavery, has no future.

6- The lack of available fuel,although its price has been reduced by the market, will lead to serious problems in the country.

7- Obtaining financing in the medium and long term will be impossible if current outstanding debts with creditors are not paid, unthinkable give the sharp reduction in the GDP.

If, in addition to all this, we add Cubans’ disbelief, despair and disinterest, we must concur with the director of the Roundtable television show and the CubaDebate site that the situation today is, in fact, not like that in the 90s … it is simply and categorically worse.

Note: Translation taken from Diario de Cuba’s English site

The Need for a Cuban Middle Class / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, 15 April 2016 — Economic and social stagnation in Cuba are related to the lack of a middle class. To defend this thesis and promote debate, I submit the arguments below.

According to Karl Marx, social classes are structured around the ownership of the means of production, while Max Weber saw it from the position of a market that defines access to goods and opportunities. Within this structure, which ranged from the high bourgeoisie to the proletariat, there was the middle class. Since it did not have large amounts of capital, its power and wealth derived from direct participation in business management. continue reading

Based on a culture of personal effort, hard work and sobriety and given its beneficial role in economic and social development, the middle class thrived after the 17th century liberal revolutions in England and spread to other countries — particularly the United States — well into the 20th century. There, technical innovations such as the production line made the price of manufactured goods cheaper, raised salaries and created a dynamic economy, which resulted in an improved quality of life and the rise of the American middle class.

Its origins in Cuba date to the 16th century. In conjunction with the emergence of large cattle ranches, a class of small farmers arose, which formed the basis of Cuban national identity. Its growth accelerated with the increased demand for sugar, which led to the collapse of Haiti at the end of the 19th century. This in turn led to the transformation of a large proportion of cattle ranches into sugar plantations and an increase in the number of sugar mills.

However, the introduction of modern machinery and the construction of large mills spelled doom for small producers. This caused a split between agriculture and industry, which gave rise to the colono, a system dedicated exclusively to the production of sugar. This concentration of property ownership increased at the beginning of the 20th century with decrees issued by the government of occupation, which authorized the purchase and expropriation of land for the construction of railroads and new mills to the detriment of small and medium-sized farms.

A parallel process was generating a countless number of small production facilities, shops and services from which a national business class emerged that became an important economic sector during the first half of the 20th century

Cuba’s business community — a sector recognized in the constitution of 1940, which envisioned the state complementing rather than supplanting private initiative — provided the country with one of the three highest standards of living in Latin America. The constitution’s weakness was the absence of commensurate laws that would have allowed for the kind of real reform that would have led to diversification in agricultural property ownership.

In pre-1959 Cuba micro-businesses (those with ten employees or less) predominated, followed by small businesses (ten to forty-nine employees) and medium-sized businesses (fifty to two-hundred fifty employees). Of the roughly 2,300 industrial establishments of that period, half were micro-businesses, a figure that speaks to their broad reach.

In October 1960 the revolutionary government nationalized nearly all Cuban industries that employed more than twenty-five people. The 1959 and 1963 agrarian reform laws brought more acreage under state control than that of all the large estates combined. And the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968 dealt the death blow to tens of thousands of small private businesses which had managed thus far to survive. Their owners were replaced by bosses and administrators who did not share their interest, knowledge or business backgrounds. We are all too familiar with the results.

The failure of its nationalization program forced the government to implement a system of private sector employment under the euphemism trabajo por cuenta propia [literally translation: employment through individual account].*

In October 2010 there were one-hundred seventy-eight authorized types of self-employment. Today there are two-hundred, almost all in the service sector. The number of self-employment licenses went from 121,000 in 1994 to 165,000 in 2005. Today that number is 500,000. This increase along with previous economic reforms have turned this sector into an embryonic new Cuban middle class.

The way to turn this possibility into reality requires freeing the economy from political obstacles; increasing the number of micro, small and medium-sized businesses to include all areas of agriculture, manufacturing and service; establishing Cubans’ right to own property; providing them with legal protections and the freedom to buy, sell and interact with other foreign and domestic producers; motivating them with low tax rates and bank loans; creating a wholesale market, providing them with free Internet access; and instituting freedom of association in order for them to defend their interests. All of which depends solely on the Cuban government.

Creating a middle class was a constant concern throughout Cuban history. In 1808 the bishop of Havana, Juan Jose Diaz de Espada, outlined a system based on a diversified economy of small farms. In 1832, Jose Antonio Saco proposed converting slave plantations into small agricultural plots. In 1857, Francisco de Frias, Count of Pozos Dulces, stated that Cuba should be the country par excellence of small plots and farming on a smaller scale. Martin Morua Delgado, proposed democratizing land ownership. Enrique Jose Varona was a proponent of small farms and encouraged a national middle class. Jose Marti, who defined a rich nation as one with many small land owners, said that it is not the country with a lot of wealthy men that is rich but rather the one where each man has a bit of wealth. Manuel Sanguily, who realized that taking land out of the control of Cuban hands was a blow to nationality itself, submitted a bill to the Senate on March 3, 1903, that prohibited “the sale of lands to foreigners.”

How then does one view the Cuban economic landscape of 1959 as described by the journalist and editor Lisandro Otero in interviews with the country’s business leaders and directors at the time? Their comments shine light on the thinking of that sector, which was swept away by the revolution. Due to space limitations, I am citing excerpts from four of them below:

— Pepin Bosch, president of Bacardi, replied, “I have always had great faith. Cuba is not a poor country. It is past government leaders who have been impoverished by a lack of honesty and competence. They have been incapable of achieving anything near the level of national development that private industry and agriculture have.”

— Victor Pedroso, President of Banco Pedrosos, commented, “In a recent meeting between Prime Minister Fidel Castro and the banks, we discussed agrarian reform, the industrialization of the country and the National Institute of Savings and Housing… What is undeniable is that, if all these plans are implemented in a farsighted and well-studied way, they will achieve greater prosperity for the Cuban people… By adopting new investment measures, the public will learn how to invest, how to do business and in turn gain the satisfaction of having contributed to the collective well-being.”

— Enrique Godoy, CEO of the Godoy and Sayan Organization, noted, “Honesty and the ability to unfailingly instill confidence are the two vital factors for the development of national wealth, capital and employment… Now more than ever before, I envision the development of a middle class: a large consumer of all types of products and services, one that enjoys a high standard of living, constant advancement and the virtual elimination of unemployment.”

— Julio Lobo, the majority shareholder of 11 sugar mills, said, “With an honest, capable and progressive public administration, Cuba will be one of the richest and most developed nations in the world. It’s only natural that the Communists would try to infiltrate the new government and its agencies, as has happened even in the United States and throughout the world. But with a capable, honest and progressive administration, it will be difficult for the Communists to find an opening.”

The level of development prior to 1959 cannot be explained without the existence of micro, small and medium-sized businesses or a national middle class. A new middle class can be justified by the current economic stalemate, by the role the middle class played before 1959 and by the lack of arguments for its absence.

*Translator’s note: The term, which is unique to Cuba, is almost always translated into English as “self-employment.” The common term for this in Spanish, autoempleo, was purposely avoided by Cuba’s communist government.

How Democracy Disappeared from Cuba / Roberto Alvarez Quiñones

From the blog of Dimas Castellano: In response to an article in Diario de Cuba about different views on human rights, one reader noted that he would like to read an account of how democracy disappeared from Cuba. In response, Roberto Alvarez Quiñones wrote “At Democracy’s Funeral,” an article which I am posting below.

At Democracy’s Funeral
by Roberto Alvarez Quiñones


Although — etymologically speaking — the term  means power of the people, the existence and functioning of democracy requires, among others, the following instruments, rights and freedoms: Suffrage, to designate their representatives; equality before the law, to compete for positions; the referendum, to reject or approve the provisions of government; the plebiscite, to approve or disapprove rules and laws; the popular initiative, to submit proposals on issues of national interest; revocation, to override by vote government decisions and to dismiss officials; juries, to collaborate with the judiciary; separation of powers, to avoid its concentration in one or more people; a multiparty system, to provide choices between various options and candidates. continue reading

For these instruments to be effective, people must enjoy the freedoms of opinion, expression, assembly and association. They are the foundation for political, economic, social, cultural, environmental and informational rights. These requirements, endorsed in the constitution, form the basis of the rule of law, which allows the people to be the active agent of power.


The seeds of Cuban democracy can be found in the Constitution of Guáimaro. They took shape in the form of freedoms of press, association and assembly, as outlined in the first article of the Zanjón Pact. They were expanded in the Constitution of 1901, which added key instruments such as habeas corpus and separation of powers.

Worker, student, farmer, racial and women’s movements achieved successes such as the eight-hour work day, university autonomy, women’s suffrage, the collapse of Gerardo Machado’s government, the constituent assembly of 1939 and the Constitution of 1940. Article 37 of this constitution allowed for the existence and operation of political organizations opposed to the elected government. Article 40 legitimized resistance for the protection of individual rights (the legal basis of Fidel Castro’s defense during his trial for the Moncada attacks). Article 87 recognized the legitimacy of private property and, more broadly, its key role in society. And article 97 instituted “universal and equal suffrage through secret ballot” by which Cuban women could exercise the right to vote.

With this democratic foundation, the people elected as president Fulgencio Batista in 1940, Ramón Grau in 1944 and Carlos Prío in 1948. However, the increase in the cost of living along with political and administrative corruption and the growth of organized crime during this period created instability and led to a military coup that upended the constitutional order in 1952.

Among the many responses to the coup, two stood out. The first occurred on July 26, 1953 when Fidel Castro led the assault on the Moncada Barracks, The second took shape in January 1954 with the Civic Resistance Movement led by José Miró Cardona.

Seeking legitimacy, in 1954 Batista called “elections” in which he was ratified as president. On taking office in 1955, he reestablished the 1940 constitution and granted amnesty to political prisoners, among them the Moncada Barracks attackers.

During the struggle against the Frank País dictatorship, the head of sabotage for the 26th of July Movement (M-26-7) suggested that Fidel Castro, its leader, and members of the Civil Resistance Movement form a provisional government. To this end, a meeting was held in the Sierra Maestra in July 1957 which included Raúl Chibás, head of the Orthodox Party, and Felipe Pazos, former president of the National Bank of Cuba. The resulting document was the “Manifesto of the People of Cuba.” Three months later Felipe Pazos along with M-26-7 members Lester Rodriguez and Jorge Sotús met with exile civic associations and signed the “Pact of Miami,” which outlined “the manner in which the Revolution should be led and the political program that would be put in place after victory.”

The leadership of M-26-7 rejected the pact. In a letter dated December 14, 1957 Castro told its signatories that what was important “was not unity in and of itself but rather the foundation on which unity is based.” On May 3, 1958, an agreement was reached at Alto de Mompié in the Sierra Maestra to adopt a single, centralized command structure, with Castro as both secretary general of M-26-7 and commander-in-chief of all revolutionary forces. On July 20, 1958 a meeting was convened in Venezuela with representatives of various exile organizations, which led to the creation of the Revolutionary Civic Front and the “Caracas Pact.” On August 11, 1958 José Miró Cardona was named coordinator of the Revolutionary Civic Front and Manuel Urrutia was nominated as provisional president of Cuba.

On day 1, after the victory of rebel forces in January 1959, Manuel Urrutia assumed the presidency. The next day, in violation of the 1940 constitution — which stated that the President of the Republic was the supreme commander of the country’s land, air and sea forces — he declined this leadership role in favor of Fidel Castro. On day 3 a cabinet made up of reformists, conservatives and revolutionaries was formed, with José Miró Cardona serving as prime minister.

On February 7, the Revolution — the new source of law — replaced the Constitution of 1940 with the Basic Law of the Cuban State. It conferred the powers of the presidency on an unelected prime minister and the powers of Congress on the newly created Council of Ministers, without any separation of powers. On February 13 José Miro Cardona resigned and on February 16 Fidel Castro assumed the post of prime minister.

The posts of governor, mayor and city council member were abolished, judicial bodies dissolved, and judges and magistrates relieved of their duties. There was no more separation of powers and cabinet members who had belonged to the civic movement were replaced.

Disputes between Manuel Urrutia — an enemy of communism — and Fidel Castro worsened in the first months until, on July 17, 1959, Castro resigned. This forced the resignation of the president and Castro’s return as prime minister.

Gone were the traditional parties — the March 13 the Revolutionary Directorate, the Socialist People’s Party and the M-26-7 — which in 1962 were folded into the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI). After its leader, Anibal Escalante, was dismissed, it was taken over by Fidel Castro. In January 1963 the ORI became the United Party of the Socialist Revolution, which in 1965 became what is now the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). From that moment on, the positions of commander-in-chief of the armed forces, head of government and secretary of the only political party were held by one person. The promise to hold elections became the slogan “Elections. What for?” Democracy had received the coup de grace.

On January 22, 1959 the CTC (Cuban Confederation of Workers) was replaced by the Revolutionary CTC. The variety of student, women, farmer and employer associations were reduced to the Union of Young Communists, the Federation of Cuban Women and the National Association of Small Farmers. The rest vanished or became subordinate to the PCC.

University autonomy, guaranteed in article 53 of the Constitution of 1940, ceased to exist. The written and broadcast press, the vast network of cinemas, publishing and cultural institutions — all came under the control of the PCC. Cuban society lost its independent associations and opportuniites for civic engagement. It became constrained by a slogan from Castro’s June 1961 speech: Within the Revolution, everything: outside the Revolution, nothing. Ownership of the means of production became increasingly concentrated in the hands of the state until the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968 dealt the final blow.

As conflicts between states tend to de-escalate the conflicts within states, so too did confrontation with the United States facilitate the disarmament of democracy. But it was not the cause. The dismantling began before the rupture in diplomatic relations.

In spite of advances made between 1952 to 1959, the way in which democracy disappeared from Cuba indicates that Cubans’ civic formation had not reached the level of maturity necessary to prevent its loss. It was a hard and painful lesson that demonstrates the importance of instruments, rights and freedoms that allow the people to be active agents of power.

Havana, April 8, 2016



2. Cuban Revolutionary Government; Genesis and First Steps, Luís M. Buch Rodríguez. Social Sciences Publishing House, Havana, 1999, p.6

3. Manuel Urrutia, presiding jurist in the trial in Santiago de Cuba in Which a panel of judges unanimously resolved the defendants Involved in the assault on the Moncada Barracks.

Cuba’s Constitution of 1976: An Historic Setback / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, 1 March 2016 —  “Two Benchmarks of the Cuban Republic” — an article by Pedro Antonio Garcia which appeared in the journal Granma on February 24 — makes a comparison between the 1901 and 1976 constitutions that merits further discussion. Let us look further at three of the author’s main points.

1. It was not the Cuban Revolution that brought down representative democracy but rather the coup d’etat, led by Fulgencio Batista on March 10, 1952, which interrupted the constitutional rhythm of the country. Batista dismissed the president-elect, dissolved Congress and abolished both the constitution of 1940 and the electoral statutes of 1943. continue reading

The constitution of 1940 had retained the separation of powers and the rights recognized by the 1901 constitution while adding several others, such as the right to organize public protests and to form political associations which opposed the regime. It also guaranteed the autonomy of the University of Havana, declared any attempt to prohibit or limit citizen participation in the nation’s political life a criminal offense, and recognized the legitimacy of opposition intended to protect the rights of individuals. The coup d’etat that led to the suspension of this constitution in 1952 is an historical fact. But thanks to actions by civilian and military leaders — including Fidel Castro’s assault on the Moncada Barracks — Fulgencio Batista restored it in 1955.

Rather than being fully restored after the 1959 revolution, however, it was replaced with the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State, some of whose statutes conferred on the head of state, the prime minister and the Council of Ministers responsibilities previously held by Congress. This modification was similar to one carried out by Batista in 1952, when he implemented the Constitutional Statutes. The Fundamental Law remained in effect until 1976, when the first revolutionary constitution was adopted. This constitution was slightly modified in 1992 and became a means of preserving the status quo when in 2002 it declared that the political system, as it existed at that time, was irrevocable and would no longer reflect the kinds of changes that regularly occur in any society. Thus, the people — who supposedly are sovereign — cannot amend this Law of Laws, which declares eternal a system that those born after 1992 as well as those yet unborn did not choose.

As a member of the constitutional assembly of 1901, Juan Gualberto Gomez — a man Garcia acknowledges as a key figure of Cuba’s struggle for independence — opposed an attempt to constitutionally codify anything that might act as a brake on social change. Juan Gualberto Gomez stated, “I consider this to be an anti-liberal document. Having been given a specific mandate, we are taking advantage of our presence here by trying to toy with the future, by cutting off the people’s right to tomorrow and hindering their momentum.” He was referring to a counter-productive and harmful attempt to legislate in place of others, something we forget we when we deem the current political system to be irrevocable.

2. The articles of the constitution of 1901 established the principle of independence and sovereignty, and nullified other existing laws that undermined this principle. It excluded women from voting while extending universal suffrage to men. It granted the President of the Republic powers formerly held by the Spain’s colonial governor. Obviously, it protected private property.

The constitution of 1901 endorsed fundamental rights. Article 16 restored habeas corpus: “All those detained will be released or remanded to the competent judge or tribunal within twenty-four hours of their detention.” Article 25 granted freedom of expression “in speech and in writing, through the press or any other method.” Article 28 allowed freedom of association “for all lawful purposes.” And Article 29 enshrined freedom of movement. These universal, indivisible, sacred and inalienable rights and freedoms form the foundation for civic participation and popular sovereignty.

The constitution of 1901 was so ahead of its time that the rights it encompassed were not universally recognized until the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, almost half a century later. Notably, the first proposal submitted to the United Nations’ Social and Economic Council for further consideration was presented by the Cuban delegation at this constitutional event.

The Protest of the Thirteen; the peasant struggles at San Felipe de las Uñas, Realengo 18 and Ventas de Casanova; student protests and university autonomy; the strikers movement from 1902 until the overthrow of Machado; the repeal of the Platt Amendment; the ultimate consensus of various factions at the 1939 Constituent Assembly. These historic struggles are examples of the blossoming of Cuban civil society, whose foundations were laid by the 1901 constitution.

The article’s author points out two limitations to the 1901 constitution: denying women the right to vote and extending the powers of the colonial governor to the President of the Republic.

Regarding the first issue, it is certainly true that the 1901 constitution did not grant universal suffrage. However, by taking advantage of the liberties recognized in this founding document, women founded multiple associations and media outlets, and organized meetings and gatherings to promote their rights. In 1917 women were granted custody of their children and control of their financial resources. In 1918 the Divorce Law was approved. The First National Women’s Congress was held in 1923, followed in 1925 by the Second National Congress, which led to a promise by President Gerardo Machado to grant women the right to vote.

After the overthrow of Machado in 1933, the National Feminist Alliance appealed to the interim president, Carlos M. de Cespedes (son), demanding the right to vote. As a result of those negotiations in January 1934, during the government of Ramon Grau San Martin, a Constitutional Convention was convened which recognized the right of women to vote and to be elected. During the presidency of Colonel Carlos Mendieta an interim constitution was approved, whose Article 38 formally extended the vote to women. And in February 1939, prior to the Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution of 1940, the Third National Women’s Congress called for “a constitutional guarantee of equal rights for women.” This demand was endorsed in the constitution adopted in 1940. As a result Cuban women legally exercised the right to vote in the elections of 1940, 1944, 1948, 1954 and 1958.

Regarding the latter — in other words the powers granted to the President of the Republic, which had formerly been those of the Captain General — one need only compare the powers of an executive branch, which are limited by legislative and judicial branches, with the powers established after 1959, which are those of a totalitarian, one-party state with monopoly control and ownership of the means of production. Need I say more?

As we can see, while the republic founded in 1902 was not exactly what Cubans had fought for, the undeniable fact is that Cuba was able to join the international community of nations with its own legal framework, close the door on annexation, disentangle itself from the Platt Amendment and convene a constitutional convention, which drafted the glorious constitution of 1940, the same constitution that provided the legal foundation of Dr. Fidel Castro’s defense at his trial for the assault on the Moncada Barracks.

3. By 1975, a time when country was undergoing profound transformations, the constitution of 1940 was no longer applicable to that moment in history. A new Law of Laws was needed for this new stage of the revolution. A group of jurists, appointed by the political and mass movement organizations, produced a draft constitution. In every school, workplace, military unit, city block, farm and rural village people discussed the document and made corrections and additions.

If Cuba was without a constitution from 1959 until 1976, it was not necessary to draft a new constitution. Since the 1959 statutes did not provide such a framework, what was needed was simply a constitution.

The 1976 constitution recognized rights and freedoms such as equality under the law, suffrage for both sexes, freedom of speech, of the press, of association and the right to protest. Where it differed from the constitutions of 1901 and 1940 was that these rights were subordinate to Article 5, which recognized the communist party as the dominant driving force of the state and society, whose goal was to build socialism and advance towards communism. This was summed up in an address by Fidel Castro to Cuban intellectuals: Within the revolution, everything; outside the revolution, nothing. Subsequently, articles six and seven stipulate which organizations are to be recognized, protected and fostered by the communist party, which led Cuba’s constitutional traditions to suffer an historic setback.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba

The Foreign Investment Law: A Litany of Squandered Opportunities / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 11 March 2016 — Under the title of “Inversión extranjera, puntal para el desarrollo (Foreign investment, Key to Development” on Friday, March 4, 2016, the daily paper Granma  published a conversation between journalists Sheyla Delgado and Óscar Sanchez with Déborah Rivas, representing the Foreign Trade and Investment Ministry.

In the introductory paragraph the journalists cited how the Professor of Negotiation Emilio Rodríguez Mañalich used to say in class: “Opportunity is like a white blackbird that flies by just once … and if you fail to take advantage of it, you might never see it again.” They go on to say that: “It is precisely opportunities that have been the most immediate result of Law No. 118 on Foreign Investment in the country…” continue reading

Professor Rodríguez Mañalich was right. Time is an exacting judge, and opportunities rarely resurface. What neither the journalists nor the minister recognised is that the Cuban authorities are those who have squandered the most opportunities, and continue to.

No country, and much less underdeveloped ones, can ignore the important role played by foreign investment. Cuba continued to reject it, before and after the collapse of Socialism in Eastern Europe. Despite the poor results obtained from Decree-Law 50 of 1982, and Law 77 of 1995, the restrictions were kept in place, as was the absence of guarantees and the negative treatment, leading to a drop from some 400 joint ventures operating in 2002 to just 200. We had to wait 20 years, however, and witness the paltry results of the reform initiated in 2008, before we amended them.

It should be underscored that our current economic stagnation traces its roots to the process of nationalisation carried out between the agrarian reform laws of May 1959 and October of 1963, through which the economy, subordinated to ideology and politics and, was forever impaired.

The new legislation, Law 118, though more flexible than the preceding one, is not enough to overcome the crisis. According to the Cuban authorities themselves, the country needs sustained growth in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of between 5 and 7%. To achieve this it needs accumulation and investment rates of no less than 25%, which would require an annual investment flow of between 2 – 2.5 billion dollars.

The emerging scenario of resumed diplomatic relations with the US represents a great opportunity to make a leap forward, but it will be impossible without the corresponding political will. The nature of the current model, and its repeated failure, mean that it cannot be updated. Rather, it must be replaced.

When presenting the bill the Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca Díazstated that it “has major political implications, as it constitutes a profound updating of the transformative process undertaken at the beginning of the Revolution, placing the main means of production in the hands of the Revolutionary State.” That is, the declared intent behind it is to maintain the model of state ownership that generated economic inefficiency in the first place, such that its on-going failure is guaranteed.

Some of the current Law 118’s shortcomings are:

1- The Government is seeking sources of external funding even while it denies Cubans’ right to participate as investors.

2- It does not recognise the social function of property, and does not allow for private property. Instead, it declares that it will not allow for its concentration in the hands of natural or legal persons.

3- It limits self-employed Cubans to a list of activities almost entirely restricted to services, and denies them any legal personality as providers of the same.

4- While it provides investors certain “guarantees”, the subordination of the judiciary to the Party and the State make the Government a supreme judge and jury, placing investors at an acute disadvantage.

5- It does not allow for the free hiring of personnel, assigning this function to a State enterprise.

6- It does not recognise Union Rights (the freedom of workers to form unions without prior authorisation),  a principle enshrined in the Constitution of the International Labour Organization, set down in said organization’s Convention 87, and incorporated into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

These, among other limitations, prevent it from seizing the opportunity offered by the current scenario, in which the US has begun to ease the embargo, while the Paris Club and other creditors are renegotiating Cuba’s debt and forgiving all or a part of it.

In the conversation with Granma, in reference to the impact of the Foreign Investment Law, the official explained that: “The US blockade against Cuba remains the greatest obstacle to attracting foreign capital.” That statement evades the truth. While it is true that the embargo has not been overturned, it has undergone significant changes. Before the commencement of the negotiations the US made modifications to the Treasury and Commerce Department rules, and implemented a package of measures that weakened the embargo and encouraged other nations to negotiate with Cuba.

If it wishes to take advantage of its opportunities, the Cuban Government should take measures to foster a situation conducive to the lifting of the embargo. Such measures would neutralise the forces that oppose it, strengthen the private sector, and facilitate the emergence of the middle class that our economy so direly needs.

It would behoove the Cuban government, thus, to seize the opportunity, not only for the normalisation of relations with the US, but also for the most important thing: to return to Cubans the rights and freedoms that were wrested from them, and without which there will be no positive results.

The present situation represents an unacceptable violation of the current Constitution, whose Article 14 states that: “the economy is based on all the people’s socialist ownership of all the basic means of production.” And a denial of the concept, upheld by José Martí, of the Republic as a state ensuring equal rights for all those born in Cuba, for the free expression of thought, and for many small property owners.

From Diario de Cuba

The Importance of Obama’s Visit / Dimas Castellano

A man in an Obama shirt on Havana's Malecon
A man in an Obama shirt on Havana’s Malecon (Reuters, Havana)

Dimas Castellanos, 18 March 2016 — The damage done to US economic interests by the 1959 Revolution led to the deterioration of relations between the two countries. In the midst of the Cold War, disagreements led to a rupture in relations and Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union. In this context the Cuban government, in defense of its national “sovereignty”, nationalized the economy, dismantled civil society, restricted freedoms, and took the road towards totalitarianism.

The economic inefficiency of the model introduced was patched up by Soviet subsidies until the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe unveiled the mirage and sunk Cuba into a crisis – dubbed with with the euphemism of “Special Period in Time of Peace” – that has still not been overcome. From that point forward the changes introduced, including the reforms initiated in 2008, have failed. Shortages, high prices, low wages, discontent, corruption and the exodus characterized continue reading

a crisis exacerbated by the turmoil facing Hugo Chávez’s allied regime in Venezuela, and the end of subsidies from that country.

Meanwhile, the ten presidential administrations that have occupied the White House since then, from  Eisenhower to Bush, all failed in their attempts to bring about change in Cuba, losing influence in the region. The Obama Administration, from his first term in 2009, began to relax the embargo measures, and in his second term abandoned the failed policy and implemented new measures, including the latest on the eve of his visit, which practically constitute those previous policies’ death certificate, to be ratified by the US Congress sooner than later.

As the use of force has failed, and the approach based on winners and losers has come to an end, a return to politics has been embraced. Unable to find a new sponsor, the Government of Cuba took the road of rapprochement with the United States, while President Barack Obama, with a platform that ruled out being the direct agent of change on the island, chose the most effective path to collaborate towards the democratization of Cuba. Both sides, based on a dose of political realism, held secret talks that led to the restoration of diplomatic relations, one of whose effects is President Obama’s visit to Cuba.

These developments, regardless of their interpretation, have certainly given rise to hope in what has been a dejected and demoralized country, where people are struggling just to survive, or to flee anywhere else in the world.

The visit, in addition to being the first to Cuba of an official character by an American president (that by Calvin Coolidge in 1928 was to inaugurate the 6th Pan American Conference in Havana) is of enormous significance. Representing the effect of the restoration of diplomatic relations, preceded by concrete measures and public statements in the defense of human rights, it will also further the same because:

1- It backs up the statement issued by the White House which stated that it “will serve to reinforce the progress made towards the normalization of relations between the two countries, advancing commercial and personal ties that could improve the welfare of the Cuban people and express our support for human rights.”

2- It represents a major barricade to regressing to the period prior to 17 December 2014.

3- It places those reactionary Cubans who insist on speaking of the “enemy” and “the besieged plaza” in an awkward position, exposed to the entire world.

4- It contributes to Cubans’ gradual empowerment, a favorable outcome for both governments, and especially for the Cuban people.

If we add to this that the United States – separated by less than 100 miles from Cuba – is the world’s third largest in area, and with the third biggest economy, it is not difficult to appreciate what normalization will mean for Cubans.

What happens after the visit will be the sole responsibility of Cubans, of our understanding of the moment, and our ability to act on a stage in which disagreements between the two governments will be gradually displaced by the internal tension between the Cuban people and their government.

Out of pragmatism and responsibility, the problems that have accumulated, which are many and complex, require an approach in accordance with the changing times. With the “enemy” gone, and Cuba dependent on relations with the West, it will be extremely difficult to sustain the approach based on alleged differences in conceptions of human rights, in this way justifying their non-ratification of the universal agreements on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Harder still will be defending the fallacy contained in the editorial of the newspaper Granma last March 9, contending that “Cuba defends the indivisibility, interdependence and universality of human, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights,” as the recognition of any civil, political or cultural rights is utterly undermined by the simultaneous denial of economic and social rights. In the same way, it is impossible to exercise and enjoy economic and social rights in the absence of civil and political rights.

Despite the existence of strong internal and external obstacles, the strong legacy of human rights in Cuba shows us the path to take – one that began in 1878 with the emergence of Cuban civil society, reflected in the pro-independence and republican constitutions of 1901 and 1940, which in many respects portended the content of the Universal Declaration of Human rights of 1948, and which suffered an unacceptable setback under the current Constitution, which only recognizes the right to defend the totalitarian system that mired the country in the deep structural crisis in which it finds itself.

From Diario de Cuba