Cuba: We Need Another Revolution

It would be logical to question the representational legitimacy of Cuba’s ruling elite after the widespread demonstrations that took place in almost every part of the country on July 11, and the brutal repression that followed.  (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ariel Hidalgo, Miami, May 17, 2022 — When the so-called Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest of 1970 failed and a young teacher from a trade school called for “a revolution within the revolution” at a mass rally, he was on the verge of being arrested. The Cuban revolution had been completed just two years earlier and no one dared speak of another revolution. What we did not realize at the time, however, was that a radical policy — the expropriation of all private enterprise — was about to alter the very structures of society. That was the operative phrase: radically change the structures of society.

By that point, the revolution had already been hijacked. The two main objectives of the revolution — the overthrow of the dictatorship which had come to power in 1952 after a military coup, and the restitution of the 1940 constitution to be followed by free elections  — had not been met. Those who had taken up arms styled themselves “the Centennial Generation” but, with their final “revolutionary offensive” of 1968, the leaders who emerged from that generation abandoned Jose Martí’s principle of “with all and for the good of all.”

At the end of that nine-year period of dramatic transformation — also marked by the execution and imprisonment of many comrades-in-arms who had fallen victim to that betrayal — what actually emerged was a totalitarian dictatorship and a dysfunctional economic model.

Nevertheless, we kept talking about “revolution.” This included the former dictator, who used the term till the final days of his rule in reference to the revolution of September 4th, twenty-four years earlier, which he himself had betrayed. History was repeating itself, but more dramatically, in a spiral of betrayals.

Given the widespread demonstrations that took place in almost every part of the country on July 11 and the brutal repression that followed, not to mention the deep economic crisis and widespread discontent over the lack of basic rights, it would be logical to question the representational legitimacy of an elite which has, since 1959, been proclaiming itself the vanguard of the Cuban people.

In its past sixty-two years, and despite more than half a century of periodic reforms, this ruling elite — now institutionalized as the Cuban Communist Party — has not been able to extricate the country from this structural crisis. The situation only improves when a generous donor appears on the horizon with a life raft in the form of subsidies.

No one seriously believes the U.S. embargo is the problem, especially these days. The term “brutal Yankee blockade” has lost all meaning now that Cuba freely trades with American farmers.

What has become clear is that the main cause of the disaster is the economic model itself, which has proved to be unsustainable. Reforms have come and gone but the system remains. The true etymological meaning of the word reform implies a change of shape, not a change of substance. The structure has always been left intact when what it needed was a radical overhaul. But this was never acceptable because that is what revolutions do, and it had already been done in the 1960s.

One month after the July 11 demonstrations, Manuel Cuesta Morua, coordinator of Progressive Arch and vice-president of the Council for Democratic Transition, clearly stated that what the demonstrations were calling for was radical structural change. “I believe what should be done now is to translate the social uprising into a political proposition. This must be led, coordinated and implemented by civil society,” he wrote. On August 21, a letter signed by 284 Cuban intellectuals and artists, living both on the island and overseas, was sent to President Diaz-Canel. It stated, “The time has come for Cuba to move forward on paths different from those you and your government have drawn up for Cubans [to follow].”

No matter how traumatic this word might be for many Cubans, in both cases it refers to the same thing: a new revolution. We are no longer talking about “reforms” but rather radical changes to the structure of Cuban society. This is no longer about the simplistic dilemma — socialism or capitalism — framed by those who currently hold power. We are talking about something very different from what existed before 1959 and what came after: a revolution of those from below, for the good of all Cubans.

Given the urgency, the changes that must be made without delay require transparency. Not catchphrases to disguise hidden motives such as “a revolution as green as palm trees” but rather specific statements about what is going to be done. I think there is a consensus that the state should stop exercising direct control over business activity. In other words, stop micromanaging the managers. The state, which has a history of expropriating corporate monopolies, has itself become one giant monopoly.

But that is easier said than done. In whose hands would these companies end up? Would they be sold or auctioned off to foreign investors? (Would these investors even be interested in sinking money into obsolete or badly deteriorated means of production?) Would these companies be returned to their original owners? This would likely involve lengthy lawsuits by numerous plaintiffs. Would this begin a long process that would just end up replacing one bureaucracy with another?

The members of this bureaucracy — generally chosen for their political reliability than for their competency — are still smart enough to realize that, if the system that appointed them were to fall, their days at the heads of these companies would be numbered. In such a scenario, they wouldn’t think twice about grabbing whatever they could. In that case, who or what would be there to stop them?

So here is my proposal: On day one, immediately send out a memo to all rank-and-file workers at state-owned businesses and factories that, henceforth, they will be allowed to earn bonuses from the fruit of their own labor. They must be exhorted to take over their workplaces, expel their respective directors and replace them, on a provisional basis, with workers’ councils elected by workers themselves.

Could Cuban workers be responsible enough to form management boards with competent people? Let’s remember that Havana’s Hilton Hotel (now the Habana Libre) was not owned by the Hiltons but rather by members of the restaurant workers union, who contracted with the Hiltons to run the operation because they thought the famous hoteliers were better equipped to manage it.

There are many examples from different eras in various countries of companies on the verge of being shut down, either because they were unprofitable or because of labor disputes, which were successfully revived by workers themselves. One such example from the Clinton era is United Airlines. During a strike for better wages, employees were given shares in the company. Later, they decided not just to forego a salary increase but actually decided to lower their salaries. Another example is  the British mining company Tower Colliery, which was losing money and facing closure due to the free-market policies of Margaret Thatcher. It was able to survive thanks to the efforts of the workers themselves, who managed to acquire it and turn it into a successful company.

The Anson Construction Company in Illinois is owned by its workers, who are even willing to work on holidays in order to make more money. No one who is not an employee is allowed to own shares in company. Many other examples could be cited.

The leaders that came to power in 1959 underestimated and wasted the nation’s enormous human capital and clipped the wings of its enterprising people, who have the capacity to turn Cuba into one of the most prosperous countries in the world. What we are talking about now is giving them the freedom they need to spread their wings and take flight.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.