Compete or Emulate? / Reinaldo Escobar

One of the few controversies we’ve seen among the supporters of the socialist system in Cuba has been the contention over moral and material stimuli. I say it can in some way be called a controversy, because in reality the defenders of moral stimuli raised their voices as if they were arguing, but they were doing it with someone whose arguments they didn’t know or simply didn’t even listen to.

“It is about creating consciousness with wealth but about creating wealth with consciousness,” the Maximum Leader said then, contradicting in some way the Marxist tendency to put the material over the spiritual, and this was how Socialist Emulation became rooted in our reality. To be a practitioner of this emulation, an advanced worker, or an accumulator of those merits that were identified with the letters A through K, constituted “the driving force of production” that managed to meet the goals and allowed the workplace to claim the Heroes of Moncada banner. At a year-end assembly each worker was given a certificate that specified the number and quality of the merits obtained, which could be presented in the coming year to support an application for domestic appliances.

These union committees were frequently held in which we had to determine if the refrigerator would be given to Karitina, who had merits A, B and C, or to Sarria, who had earned B, C, E and H, and on more than a few occasions cumbersome technical ties occurred in which we had to decide whether to give the television to the lady who had a mentally retarded child or to the one whose elderly mother had terminal cancer.

One fine day European socialism was shipwrecked, and those subsidized items stopped arriving in the country, and another fine day the economy was dollarized and “the Shopping” appeared, where there was no need to show up with a bonus certificate handed out at a union meeting, rather a wad of greenbacks had the miraculous ability to turn itself into goods and services.

People began to understand that to obtain those dollars, which later metamorphosed into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC), you had to do the opposite of what was one required to earn merits. Then prostitutes looking for tourists returned, and the grandmother who survived a cancer that wasn’t terminal had to move into a corner of the living room because it was necessary to rent her room (the only one with a window onto the street).

Even the government understood that everything was changing and among distrust and suspicion it opened up opportunities for self-employment, where surviving the cruel laws of the marketplace required neither diplomas nor medals but rather efficiency and profitability through pure and simple competency.

That extra effort that the entrepreneur puts into her kiosk to sell more is the most important change that has occurred in Cuba in recent years. This need to be competitive is the best therapy to begin to heal the anthropological damage caused by the crazy whims of certain manufacturers of utopias.

14 November 2011