How to Enthrone Democracy and the Market in Cuba in Just 365 Days

How long the regime lasts will depend on the ability of the opposition to exert pressure, and on the willingness of the thousands of reformists who still exist in the government to change. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Madrid, 12 February 2023 — In Cuba there will be elections in March for the National Assembly of the People’s Power (ANPP). These are potentially the most important elections the system provides. Ricardo Alarcón, former President of Parliament, realized this and Raúl Castro dismissed him and did not allow him to run again. “You don’t play with power” is the motto of the Castro brothers, and Alarcón was going for power head first.

They will run, and will be elected with 99% of the votes, Raúl Castro, Miguel Díaz-Canel, Manuel Marrero, Elián González, and the current president of the ANPP, Esteban El Gori Lazo, as Fidel himself used to call him to humiliate him for being black and heavy-set. This caused him much laughter, which the extraordinary poet Raúl Rivero heard directly, before he confronted the regime of “the dead and flowers” (Silvio Rodríguez said in Ojalá, a song written by the troubadour to hurt the dictator, although disguised as loving care).

Up to 605 “fathers and mothers of the homeland” will be elected on that day. My advice, requested by no one, is to enjoy the occasion. It may be the last. The July 11, 2021 date is not only a precedent, it is a path. That day, thousands of people yelled “freedom” and sang Patria y Vida*, which immediately became the second anthem of Cuba. More than a thousand of them have been accused before tribunals and are serving unjust sentences.

The number of recently arrived exiles in the last year is more than 300,000 people. There are plenty of children and family members of generals, ministers and former ministers, of delegates and former delegates. That includes only the U.S. because in that country they collect and preserve data better than most of the world.

More than two decades ago, I received dissident Gustavo Arcos Bergnes (GAB) the name of an active general who commanded troops. A short time later, he told me he could be trusted to initiate a transition in Cuba. GAB was Fidel’s party colleague, an attacker of the Moncada barracks, where he was shot in the spine and was almost paralyzed. After the triumph of the Revolution he was the Cuban ambassador to Belgium.

GAB was a serious man. So much so, that he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for criticizing his former boss. Once in jail, and later out of jail, he met with Ricardo Bofill, with Martha Frayde, with his brother Sebastián Arcos Bergnes, a mid-level leader of the Revolution, and with his son, also named Sebastián, to place the opposition under the cloak of human rights and prevent another bloody revolutionary cycle. Later came Elizardo Sánchez and Juan Manuel Cao, not even 20 years old, whose verses were “taken” as if they were bombs, very witty verses against the Commandant. Today he is renowned novelist and Channel 41 reporter.

At that time I believed the regime did not have much time left, but Fidel pulled Hugo Chavez from his sleeve, and as he had previously with Lula da Silva, and as he supported the Sao Paolo Forum, he was able to weather the storm by renting out professionals. Fidel and Hugo Chavez no longer exist, and the Sao Paolo Forum is under the constant scrutiny of the Brazilian army, thus, the Cuban communist dictatorship’s death sentence has been issued. It died of starvation and incompetence.

Definitely, it died of what communist regime’s usually die of –t he inability to produce sufficient quantities of goods and services. Much less than what are achieved in an open economy subject to the market and the existence of private property, although at the expense of the attempted equality of results. However, how long it lasts, be it months or years, will depend on the capacity of the opposition to exert pressure, and the will, of the thousands of reformists that exist in the government, to change. We all must listen to them attentively.

In 1990, liberal soviet economists put in motion a plan to transform the USSR in 500 days; Cuba only needs 365 days. The plan promised to revive in that timeframe the subordination of all to the market and, still within the rules of Marxism, it was believed that society would, on its own, discover political freedom. Ultimately, they achieved neither economic nor political freedom. That all ended, despite having the approval of Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev.

In 1990 Grigory Yavlinsky, president of the Yabloko or “Apple” party, and Stanislav Shatalin, bet all the prestige of their doctoral degrees in economics that the formula would work in the USSR, but as soon as Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov tenaciously opposed it, their plan was destroyed. I do not believe that will happen in Cuba. If a clear consensus exists, within and outside power, it is that there is no human way to revive Cuban communism. Which is why, in the last year, 300,000 people have left to all parts of the planet, and among them many members of the nomenklatura and their descendants.

What has been learned about the transitions is that they all have a high level of improvisation and singularity. Anyway, it has been useful to gather the ideas put in place in other countries and other systems:

    • Restore hope. Yavlinski and Shatalin’s “unborn” plan serves to frame the reforms within a timeframe. In one year “things” will begin to improve. To a society which has been deceived countless times by crazy plans that don’t work, this is referred to as restoring hope.
    • U.S., always the U.S. Little Cuba can become a place where it is possible to do business with her. At the end of the day, it will only be with 11 million people. A free trade agreement will be necessary. One of the reforms that should be made is the dollarization of the economy. The Island’s biggest resource is having as a neighbor, only 90 miles away, 325 million people including the richest and most creative on the planet.
    • Between 20% and 30% of the Cuban Americans have roots on the Island. That is a source of extraordinary richness on both shores for potential business.
    • For the first time, the U.S. has someone with whom they can speak outside of its territory. Cuban American members of congress should appear on this list of priviledged people. Four or five formermembers of congress as well.

What I mean is that it is not worth making a detailed plan. It is only necessary to create the conditions for it to work and let the imagination do the rest. We continue to wait for someone who can initiate the transition in Cuba. I don’t believe that general who commanded troops who Gustavo Arcos Bergnes spoke of is still alive.

*Translator’s Note: Patria y Vida was the 2021 Latin Grammy Song of the Year; the title translates to “Homeland and Life”–a play on the Cuban government’s old slogan of “Homeland or Death”. 

Translated by: Silvia Suárez


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.