CEPAL, Five Letters That Have Lost Their Way

Alicia Bárcena (2nd from R.), executive secretary of Cepal, along with President Miguel Díaz-Canel (R.). (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 10 May 2018 – Among the regional organizations that proliferate in Latin America there is a clear dividing line marked by their position towards Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. In this “acronym stew” there are entities opposed to Castroism, others that are apathetic, and many accomplices. In this last block is the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL, for its initials in Spanish).

For years, CEPAL has been the Cuban government’s willing fellow traveler, supporting its management, validating its inflated statistics, and silencing any criticism. An attitude that earns it official praise and continuous red carpet receptions, in the style that occurred this week during CEPAL’s 37th period of sessions held on the island.

The meeting, attended by Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, was the framework to deliver CEPAL’s presidency pro tempore into Cuban hands. A great irony for a country experiencing a prolonged economic crisis and one where real data about poverty are adulterated or censored.

With Havana in a leadership position, CEPAL is expected to maintain the support for leftist populism that it has shown to date.

Cuba’s new president Miguel Diaz-Canel did not fail to take advantage of the opportunity of so many high officials and journalists arriving on the island and in his first speech in an international forum he offered some grandiloquent phrases, such as promising that the government will not “leave any citizen homeless” and that no “shock therapies” will be applied.

At the very moment the president was making these statements, thousands of Havanans were going from one place to the next looking for something to eat, in a nation where daily shortages of food intensify and wages become ever more symbolic. On the one hand, Diaz-Canel promised protection, and on the other, reality for the elderly, black and rural population continue to be marked by the premise of “every man for himself.”

A system that maintains average salaries that don’t exceed the equivalent of 30 dollars a month, but sells in its state stores a liter of oil for more than $2.50, and has a long history of leaving its citizens homeless, has established itself as an insatiable predator of its work force, a voracious boss and a ruthless exploiter.

These are the data that CEPAL prefers to hide, while its executive secretary, Alicia Barcena, sets aside all the objectivity her job requires to affirm that Cuba sets an example and has “constructed alternate paths.” At the same time, she presents as reality some achievements in education and public health that she cannot verify, but only skims over the set designs targeted to foreign tourists and organizations.

With a meekness that is scandalous, Barcena has become a spokesperson for Castroism, a repeater of half-truths, disinformation campaigns and glaring omissions. In condemning the US economic embargo on the island and not mentioning the Cuban government’s blockade on the freedoms of its own society, the official shows she lacks the professionalism required to exercise such an important position.

Why not take advantage of the opportunity in front of the microphone to demand that Diaz-Canel unfreeze the delivery of licenses to the private sector which have been on hold since last August? It is incomprehensible that the face of CEPAL is silent before the evils caused by Cuba’s dual currency system and the financial distortions generated in the island’s economic data by the coexistence of the Cuban peso (CUP) and the convertible peso (CUC).

Between abundant cocktails, glamorous welcoming ceremonies and sophisticated receptions, CEPAL has ended up attaching itself to the groups in power instead of the citizens, preferring the musical band of the government palaces over the real cacophony of the streets. It chooses to be hosted by authoritarian regimes rather than question the painful impact caused to ordinary people by those regimes’ crazy policies of centralism and nationalization.

In that soup of acronyms made up of the organisms that have tried to unite, represent and define the direction of Latin America, there are five distressing letters (CEPAL) that have definitively lost their way.


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