Cuba’s Ambiguous Reforms / Ivan Garcia

I would like to believe that President Raúl Castro’s meager reforms to the Cuban economy will improve the quality of life and contribute to a growth in productivity for a nation whose hands have been tied and which has become adept at getting by on subsidies from overseas.

But the ambiguity and inefficiency of a system copied from the Soviet model, and the clinging to power and patriarchal mindset of the founding leaders of the Cuban revolution—supported by a wide segment of bureaucrats, military entrepreneurs and occasional opportunists —lead me to a hard and simple conclusion.

Cuba is not working because it has an inept government. Those who support the system will keep trying to bury their heads in the sand and believe in the usual platitudes that we are a sovereign people, poor but dignified, with free public health and education at every level of society, and a daddy state that, even in bad times, will watch over the dispossessed so that they do not die of hunger.

Some of the achievements of the military regime have been costly. Moves towards democracy and the possibility of multi-party coexistence were scuttled. Fidel was the Messiah. You were either with him or you were stateless.

If today we have an economy that has run aground, the blame lies with the government. If workers’ first concern is robbing the state rather than work, it is because their salaries are inadequate. The blame for this must fall on their rulers.

One can try looking for excuses or pretexts by blaming the American embargo for the island’s precarious situation, but I am not buying it. When we were feeding off the Soviet teat, quality and worker productivity were already very low. Castro managed the economy like a private farm and bled the country in a long and costly civil war in Africa. The official media often publishes stories about the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I have never seen a single word written about the heavy price Cubans have paid for our subversive military actions in other parts of the world.

Aged and full of reproach, Fidel Castro now rests in an undisclosed location. His brother Raúl governs as his hand-picked successor. Although he publicly praises Fidel, he has put a definitive end to volunteerism and absurd regulations that have turned Cubans into fourth-class citizens, closed ministries and bid farewell to all of the Commandante’s trusted staff.

But his ambiguous reforms have not produced the economic revival that the people need and want. At eighty-one years old, it is likely the General feels trapped in a maze. If he presses down on the accelerator of change, the car will veer out of countrol, but temporary fixes will simply keep the country mired in bureaucracy, corruption and inefficiency.

No one is more aware of Cuba’s current situation than the authorities themselves. Their nonsensical rhetoric—talking about changing the mindset, demanding that members of the press write critically and asking that obstacles to productivity be eliminated—arouses suspicion in the populace.

It is all useless. Utterly pointless. In reality, little or nothing is being done to change the state of affairs. Some claim it is a way of buying time. Political oxygen and propaganda intended to create an image of reform, a new face to present to the exile community and the international public.

Behind this ambiguity lies hidden the essence of a regime run by the Castros. It is impossible to prosper or grow economically in a country where it is a crime to get rich.

Iván García

Photo: Workers repairing the seawall along Havana’sMalecón. From El desamaparo de los trabajadores cubanos.

23 January 2013