Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 July 2016 — Some claim that “nothing ever happens in Cuba.” However, the signals we have been receiving of late indicate otherwise.
The price increases at the produce markets since the last quarter of 2015, accompanied by periodic (and frequent) cycles of shortages of food and other basic items in the TRDs,* accompanied by fierce raids against the self-employed – and particularly against the well-known pushcart vendors – the closing down of the only wholesale produce market in Havana, and the accumulation of problems without solutions, have been increasing the pressure inside Cuba. The most expeditious solution has been the exodus stampede, which has already turned created a crisis in some areas of South and Central America.
As if such a scenario were not enough, during the sessions of the Seventh Ordinary Period of the current legislature, the National Assembly has once again begun to thresh the usual litany of failures: lack of completion of building plans and housing repairs, aqueducts and sewage system networks, insufficient food production, the new debacle of the last sugar harvest, the insurmountable difficulties in public transportation, the drought problems, the climate’s ill turns, the chronic lack of liquidity as an essential feature of the national economy, and even the damages we are encountering because of low world prices for nickel…. and oil (!?!?).
Reports presented by ministers and other Cuban senior leaders in the ten working committees, as well as “debates” that have been taking place among deputies, are proof of the healthy and uninterrupted march towards a national debacle, under the experienced guidance Castro II.
It is a well-known fact that we are living in the midst of a disaster. What’s new is that now the dark prophecy of the impending advent of (more) difficult times is being delivered by the official spokesmen themselves, not by the ‘counter-revolutionaries’ from here and over there.
The report presented to the Economic Affairs Commission by Economy Minister Marino Murillo referred to – without much fanfare – saving measures and adjustments that have been taking place to combat what he called “a tense liquidity situation.” He noted that the expected revenue in the economic plan did not materialize for this period, and that it is unlikely that the well-heralded 2% GDP growth will take place by year-end 2016.
As usual, such “predictions” are not only made when the national drama is in full swing, but they are not accompanied by a package of solutions. Instead, the “measures” of the highest echelons of power to alleviate the crisis had preceded the omen. For several weeks they have been cutting working hours, transportation service for workers, “subsidized gasoline” and other perks, such as lunches or snacks – in the few centers that belong to “strategic sectors” the state still has – of the workplaces of the capital.
Air-conditioning service is being reduced at the TRDs, from 2 PM until closing. They have also started to increase the blackout periods in different areas of Havana.
The new savings plan includes the elimination, starting the week of July 11th, of night shifts in several orthodontic offices, including at the Orthodontic School.
Shortages in oil and regular gasoline at the gas stations (Cupet), where they are sold, is another factor being felt in the transportation systems, both state-owned and among private carriers. Assignations to the state fleet have been dramatically limited – including those intended for the transportation of goods from warehouses to the TRDs, thus aggravating the shortages – while the private service has been decreased, suggesting an upcoming transportation price hike.
Almost simultaneously, meetings have been held with the militants of numerous Cuban Communist Party (PCC) base organizations to alert them to the need for increased vigilance and support for the institutions responsible for maintaining order, and also to be ready to counter manifestations of violence, increased corruption and other criminal activities characteristic of crisis situations.
The communist base is being warned about the importance of being vigilant against any outbreak of discontent that could lead to an anti-government revolt likely to be exploited by the enemies of the Revolution. Everything indicates that what is worrying the power elite is not exactly “what’s going on” but what might happen in the short term.
And since – in direct line with the worsening crisis choking the lives of Cubans – discontent is what continues to grow most in the country right now, and militants can’t rest in their mission to safeguard the interests of olive-green caste.
Meanwhile, in the interior of the island frustration increases and the migratory stampede continues to assume cyclopean dimensions. With the capital of the masses’ faith drained to the dregs, power will be forced to multiply its spending to sustain the formidable repressive forces needed to repress an entire people, a task that will not be as easy as beating, arresting and imprisoning peaceful dissidents.
Paradoxically, the government’s stubbornness and political clumsiness impel the outcome it is seeking to avoid. An insistence on trying to lead the nation as if it were an army in the full campaign of war, rather than promoting a broad and deep economic opening that cleanses the domestic economy, allows the development of the potential of the private sector, and gives a break the national anoxia, shows the meanness of a caste that prefers the sacrifice of an entire people before losing power.
To accentuate the absurd, the leaders of the Palace of the Revolution have the effrontery to launch this new report of forced austerity at the same time they are debating strategies and the government’s economic plans out to the year 2030. No moderately reasonable government would announce a period of energy cuts and other unpopular measures while running a public consultation of such importance. Undoubtedly, the General-President and his claque rely excessively on the powerful social control they have exercised so far, and the gentleness of a people who have forgotten how to assert their rights.
However, although no one doubts that Cuba is navigating toward a major disaster, one cannot rely too heavily on the accuracy of official reports. Especially if there is no access by citizens and independent institutions to primary sources or macroeconomic data, which remain the secret patrimony of the State-Party-Government and its most faithful servants. This means statistical figures are not reliable even when they are unfavorable to the country’s leadership.
We can’t forget that just days before the gloomy reports of the National Assembly, official media reported optimistically the increasing numbers of foreign visitors who are bringing hard currency in the tourism industry, and rubbed their hands with glee over the numerous signings of technology exchange agreements and declarations of intent from foreign investors.
For this reason, and without denying the great influence of the Venezuelan situation on the Cuban economy – which has a profound impact on a country as dependent on aid and subsidies as is Cuba – it cannot be affirmed with a scientific certainty how much of a real urgency there is in the “complex scenario” of the island’s economy, and the political blackmail maneuvers by the Castro regime’s highest levels of power, intended to pressure the United States government, and it congress and political forces for a final lifting of the embargo, which would allow the dictatorship quick and direct access to credits, a flood of foreign investments and a flow of hard currency that would guarantee its permanence in power.
Thus, to magnify the effect of the virtual collapse of Chavismo in Venezuela and that country’s economic crisis as the main source of the current Cuban crisis is to place (once again) the causes of Cuba’s problems beyond its frontiers, when in reality the key to all our ills is found in the inefficiency of an elite of cunning bandits who have hijacked lives and property, looting the nation at will for decades.
Because with or without Venezuela – as before with or without the Soviet Union, with or without the “Socialist Camp,” with or without foreign investors – the truth is that the Castros have done more damage to Cuba than all the epidemics and wars this nation has faced throughout its history, and will continue to be a hindrance for all Cubans regardless of who remains in the seat of power.
This summer, then, promises to be very hot and not because of the greenhouse effect. The compasses of tens of thousands of Cuban continue pointing to the promising north and the stampede from the island is expected to once again take the maritime route. If this is the General-President’s strategy to ease the internal pressure and achieve his interests in perpetuity, he should know it is a risky game and could be counterproductive for everyone, especially for those who have more to lose.
At this point, we could rewrite as its inverse that bombastic phrase of a certain chimeric allegation, which could well serve as an epithet on the tomb of Castroism: “Absolve them. It doesn’t matter. History will condemn them.”**
*”TRD” is the acronym for the official name (in Spanish) of these government stores which does not even attempt to hide their intended function: Hard Currency Collection Stores.
**Fidel Castro concluded his four-hour speech in his own defense at his trial for his leadership of the 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks with the words: “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.”
Translated by Norma Whiting