Financing Heroism / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The May Day rally in Camagüey. (Flickr / CC)
The May Day rally in Camagüey. (Flickr / CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 7 September 2015 — The old controversy between material incentives and moral incentives seems to return to the fore amid “the updating of the Cuban economic model.” According to an article published in the newspaper Trabajadores (Workers) under the signature of Gabino Manguela, the Heroes of Labor today lack the attention they received at the time when the State was the one that financed this simulation of a union.

The writer notes that “the decision was nothing short of traumatic, but certainly, it was impossible for the economy to sustain this multi-million peso level of financing, which some years exceeded 20 million Cuban pesos.”

In the first half of the ‘80s the stimuli to the “Heroes of Labor” and the “National Vanguards” still consisted of trips to socialist countries. I remember a discussion that I had with an important official of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC) when I was looking for information for a story for the magazine Cuba Internacional. The union leader insisted that these trips were a gift from the commander-in-chief [Fidel Castro] and that this should be reflected.

I tried to convince him that this was not “politically correct” in our publication (which was, preferably, distributed abroad) because it gave the impression that the commander possessed an enormous personal fortune, which he could dispose of at will. The official stood up and slammed his fist on the desk telling me that I didn’t understand anything. “The most important thing is that this trip is not to go on an excursion abroad, but a gift from Fidel. This is what makes it a moral stimulus!” he shouted.

What has happened now, it seems, is that this “petty cash” has disappeared from the nation’s budget and that in certain circles of power it was mentioned as “the commander’s account.” The final use of these funds was the investment in the Battle of Ideas, dissolved by Raul Castro.

Now it is intended that the material incentives not be considered “undue gratuities” but one more method of payment

Now it is intended that the material incentives, those that cost money, such as a week in a hotel in Varadero, depend on the resources of some company, both for the Vanguards and the Heroes; thus these expenditures are not considered “unearned gratuities” but as another method of payment, deducted from the earnings of the business and obtained thanks to the extraordinary efforts of its best workers.

Trabajadores, the publication of the CTC, wonders if it would be so difficult for entities and ministries that have in their ranks these Heroes of Labor, to finance – with their profits – one week a year with a companion, at no cost, at one of the first class tourist centers. It also suggests that those who have cars are helped to acquire spare parts and tires. There are barely 150 of these nationwide, many of them retired.

The problem is that all this remains restricted under the crass chapter of material stimulus and no longer has the charm of being “a gift from the Maximum Leader.”