The Cabalistic Exercises of the Managers of the Cuban Economy

The only visible balance of the Cuban economy is the eternal continuation of the wait for better times. (14ymedio / Silvia Corbelle)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 December 2017 — An essential feature of the Cuban socio-political and economic system is the reluctance of the ruling class to offer exact and reliable figures and data about the performance of the economy and finances at the end of each year.

December is, for Cubans living in Cuba – as for any society founded on the tradition of Judeo-Christian heritage – a month of festivities and good wishes, but also a time full of uncertainty after almost 60 years of a social experiment, fertile in promises of economic development and financial recovery, whose only visible balance is the eternal continuation of waiting for better times.

As usual, the ambiguity of the reports presented by the corresponding officials in the framework of the recently concluded ordinary session of the National Assembly does not allow ordinary mortals to have an accurate idea of what the economy’s behavior has actually been.

What specific strategies does the State-Party-Government intend to use to overcome the countless obstacles that continue to arise in the unbearably long path of “socialism” or, very specifically, what kind of calculation was used by experts in the field to announce the 2017 final results as a miraculous growth of the Gross Domestic Product, despite the negative results of the first semester, the contraction of oil subsidies from Venezuela, the increase in pressure from the US embargo and the devastating effects of natural events such as the severe drought in the first half of the year and the intensity of the September hurricane, which caused considerable economic damage.

However, like it or not, official reports are required to reflect at least some figures. And it is precisely at this point that the seams of the system come to light

However, like it or not, official reports are required to reflect at least some figures. And it is precisely at this point that the seams of the system come to light, the slips jump out here and there and the nakedness of the king is exposed. The making of a show of imagination deployed from the official quackery is one question, and it is quite another, very different, to synchronize those speeches with the stubbornness of numbers, which have no commitments to ideologies or policies.

In this sense, the project of the State Budget presented to the Assembly by deputy Lina Pedraza Rodríguez, also Minister of Finance and Prices, is perhaps the most difficult of the cabalistic exercises of the administrators of misery.

Pedraza has the unpleasant task of not only declaring the very questionable results of the fiscal yearend in relation to the budget assigned – revenues exceeded forecasts by 2.3% – but also announcing other equally contestable figures, such as the quantities that will be assigned to the so-called Economic Plan. All this must be done without ever declaring the amount of the aforementioned Budget, and to do this, the ruling party often uses a simple trick: some figures are offered in percentages, while others correspond to exact numerical quantities.

Thus, for example, Cubans are up to date on 2018’s budget, which will be 6% higher than that of the year now ending – whose amount we never knew – and that the sectors of the Health and Education, as a “paradigm of social justice and protection of human rights” will have priority over 55% of the resources.

Cubans are up to date on 2018’s budget, which will be 6% higher than the year ending -whose amount we never knew- and that the Health and Education sectors will have priority over 55% of resources

We also know that 8.18 billion pesos will be allocated to “education in general” – which includes 1,960,000 students at all levels of education – and that Public Health will receive a total of 10.56 billion pesos for all its services, from medical consultations and expenses for patients admitted to the “development of specialized rooms” and dental services, among others.

Social Security will have 6 billion pesos for its expenses (5% growth in relation to the previous year) to guarantee the pensions of more than 1,700,000 people and “short-term benefits,” such as maternity leave and other benefits.

As a sample key of “the measures that the country is adopting to face the aging of the population,” the budget has allocated an amount (not declared) “for the care of more than 13,000 elderly people who attend grandparents’ and nursing homes, which confirms the humanistic character of our system.”

Now, if the simple mathematics “rule of three” is applied, it can easily be calculated that those 13,000 elderly people attended to in specialized state institutions – since there is no approval for this type of service in the private sector – constitute only 0.76% of the country’s retirees, a ridiculously insufficient figure that contradicts the spectacular humanistic character of the political system, in a country where the only indicators that are undoubtedly increasing every year are poverty and the number of elderly.

“More of the same”, some may have muttered to themselves, but they are wrong.  It is the same, yes, but with much less

Also note that the reference numbers correspond to what in Cuba is usually called “Cuban pesos,” that is, currency that cannot be converted into foreign currency, and, since there are two different rates of exchange – 1×1 for legal persons; 1×25 for natural persons** – a vagueness is created that prevents knowing exactly what amounts are involved.

However, it can be assumed with almost absolute certainty that the figures provided by the State Budget are not reported in the Cuban convertible peso or any equivalent to foreign currency, so it is a ridiculously small amount, just to alleviate some of the numerous and pressing economic and social problems that they must face.

“More of the same,” some of us few Cubans who had enough mental health and stoicism to immerse ourselves in the dark labyrinth of official reports must have said to ourselves. But we are wrong: it is the same, yes, but with much less, although they are trying to convince us otherwise.

 Translator’s notes:

*Roughly $308 million USD.

**In jurisprudence, a natural person is a person (in legal meaning, i.e., one who has its own legal personality) that is an individual human being, as opposed to a legal person, which may be a private (i.e., business entity or non-governmental organization) or public (i.e., government) organization.

Translated by Norma Whiting


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