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lunes, octubre 26, 2020

Rethinking the Country Project

by Ivette García González

 “Who does not want to think is a fanatic, who cannot think is an idiot, who does not dare to think is a coward”.

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

We Cubans are used to living in both a real nation and a dream nation. We’re rational beings, but also passionate and nonconformist. That’s why – for the better – every now and then we live through a special juncture when the focus is set on rethinking the country project in order to improve it.

We’re currently in one of those junctures. The debate from different schools of thought regarding various topics about life in Cuba and the project of the Revolution has grown. Internet access, despite its high cost, has allowed more socialization of ideas and civic participation.

The thirst for information, which is very limited in the official media – the only media until not long ago –, contributed to uncovering controversial and hushed up events and issues, and even hitherto unheard-of stories in the social networks and alternative sources. It was a short leap from there to the expression of opinions. We’re talking about a well-educated population, affected by recurring economic crises, whose scenario is one of institutional weariness and erosion of consensus regarding political leadership. But, as Albert Einstein (1879-1955) would say, ‘It is in a crisis that invention, discovery and large strategies are born.’ And in our case, we have the advantage that, for the first time, now coincide with three generational groups with different and very rich experiences within the Revolution.

Three generations with the capacity to think, debate, and contribute to a new project.

The last 20 years have had marches and countermarches, stagnation, and immobilism. However, the general outline of the (economic) model and the changes were agreements of the 6th (2001) and 7th (2016) Congresses of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), embodied in the Guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution (2011), the Conceptualization of the Economic and Social Model (2016) and the National Plan for Economic and Social Development for 2030 (2016). Consequently, the country has returned to the most acute state of crisis after the 1990s, a structural crisis of the model, which was exhausted over 10 years ago.

Now, in the midst of the most complex scenario – economic crisis + COVID-19 + worsening of the US blockade –, the government has launched a package of measures that strategically responds to what’s been left pending. However, the first ones implemented – and not planned – have generated, for their unpopularity, a greater social tension.

In spite of all the limitations, civil society has diversified and expanded in these years. The voices of the debate rising from it find receptivity and support from people of various backgrounds (inside and outside the island, also for the first time), ages, and social and class stances. This is a set-up that invites to promoting something else, a cycle of thematic debates and workshops, or forums about the country we want, for example. Through participatory formulas for open, respectful, and constructive debate, of which La Joven Cuba is an example, one could gradually build a consensus that would contribute to the transformation the nation requires.

Many topics have been brought into consideration. It would be advisable to systematize them into spheres for reflection and analysis, unveiling their dichotomies and their relation with the country project, or projects, the Cubans of today conceive.

  1. – Economic transformations.

The economic opening-up is not a matter for discussion, but there must be a debate on what, how and to what extent. Some basic elements of consensus in civil society are: the respect, incentivizing, expansion and legal recognition of the various forms of property and management of the micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as the priority of the agricultural and fishing sectors, the food plan and its strategic convergence with food sovereignty.

A General Law for Enterprises, the remodeling of the state-run sector and the autonomy of its companies, the decentralization of foreign trade so that the State doesn’t have to mediate for non-state actors, and a greater opening-up of the external sector to all forms of management remain legitimate and urgent. There’s also a reform of the fiscal system which incentivizes producers and businesspeople, and the complementary nature of the various forms of state and non-state management (private and cooperative). Likewise, there’s the monetary and exchange unification, now further complicated with the recent measures. Once again the suction of citizens’ savings is prioritized – the collection strategy –, which generates more tension and does not lead to an exit from the crisis, as it doesn’t touch the productive sphere.

Along with the above, there will be a need to confront distortions of the model which affect the nature of the system and slow down the best intentions of the changes: State takeover instead of the social takeover of the means of production, something that’s dogged us since 1960 and which is reiterated in the current Constitution when it expresses that the socialist property is of the state in the representation of the people when it should really belong to the cooperative; the dominance of administrative and bureaucratic mechanisms instead of economic and financial ones in processes of that nature; the unfair competition between economic actors on the basis of the exercising of political power and not on the basis of efficiency; the financial bloodletting represented by the hyperbolizing of the State and PCC apparatus; and the persistence on opting for a formula of vulgar socialism where redistribution is the defining axis of the system.

  1. – Want it or not, the political sphere is part of what must be changed.

Although the higher stakes are on the economic sphere, the political realm is more controversial and defining in the mid and long term. Political will is needed in order to implement the economic changes, and so they can’t be brought to a standstill once again when we leave the crisis behind. Furthermore, the political model also needs to be updated in accordance with the times we live in. This is not a new debate, reform processes in other socialist countries offer lessons about this resistance we see in Cuba.

The importance of lightening the State and Party apparatus also has a political repercussion. The bureaucracy they have produced is increasingly harmful to the progress of the reforms and it endangers the preservation of the system. On the other hand, it’s urgent to have a debate on topics that crop up frequently and have had no change until now, except for conservative thought to become more entrenched in the power sectors and for more social control. Among them are the role of the PCC in society, the legitimacy of the rights and freedom of expression, the press, association – including the political kind –, assembly and demonstration, the explicit recognition of non-discrimination on the basis of political preference, the death penalty, the need for a constitutional court, democracy, the electoral system and the pertinence of incorporating formulas for direct democracy which may become effective.

Socialism, as a system that coexists and alternates with capitalism since the past century, and which is the most solid, radical and current expression of the international left, must be prosperous and sustainable, but also democratic. A few months ago, López-Levy said: ‘For the left, there’s no better policy than the attachment to democracy as a principle.’ And as colleague Víctor Rolando Bellido would say: ‘(…) vertical structures are of no use in creating the new society. They are pure oppression (…) albeit masked with very efficient and effective cosmetics. The path is the network, the horizontal construction of interactions, of democratic ties from the base, with transparency, proximity, honesty and continuous and constant accountability.

  1. – Havana and the provinces: the regional issue and the unity of Cubans.

Only the social justice project of the Revolution from 1959 turned to solve regional imbalances into a priority. However, it’s a phenomenon with a colonial origin that cannot be resolved in the short term. Today it’s a problem that requires attention for its various implications, including the one of an increasing antagonism between those from the capital and the compatriots from other provinces. This is a type of discrimination that isn’t discussed or is discussed very little in Cuba. And yet, it is very hurtful for those who suffer it, and it’s most damaging for national unity.

The recurring acute crises and the related social phenomena begin and end in the provinces. And to that one may add the consequences of the increasing verticality of the system, the centralization, and the immobilism that suit some power sectors, which do not favor a more autonomous and prosperous life for the municipalities. The processes of local decentralization, with more or less success, and diverse rhythms and impacts, are being implemented in the rest of Latin America and have been part of the debate in Cuba for years. Hopefully, the ‘Policy for the promotion of territorial development’, recently passed by the Council of Ministers, will bear fruit soon.

In the regions outside Havana, however, talent, cleanliness, and hospitality are impressive. The lack of opportunities that drive people to migrate in search of better living conditions in a dilapidated capital, and the implementation of certain policies with negative effects for one and the other, are regrettable base elements. The State-induced migration to employ workforce – mainly from the eastern provinces – in low-qualification jobs and in the repressive bodies, like the PNR (National Revolutionary Police), is one of them. The implementation of Law Decree 217 (1997), which violates the right of citizens to freedom of movement and to settle in any part of their country, is the other, in spite of the minimal adjustments made afterward in Law Decree 293 of October 29, 2011.

  1. – The issue of migration: we are all Cuban.

This subject has caused a painful divide in the Cuban family and society, both for those living outside the island – 1.654.684 emigrants (14,59%) – and for those in it, 11.338.138 inhabitants. The due healing of wounds has not happened, although important steps have been taken. It’s a phenomenon that spills into the political at all times, despite the insistence on saying it’s economic migration. Its successive growth has very serious implications in the demographic and economic spheres for the country. And it also reaches the socio-cultural, the individual and collective psychology of those who remain on the island and those who live in other countries.

The issue requires a profound debate. The interests of the émigrés shouldn’t be a matter only for them; the government dialog with those émigrés shouldn’t be conditioned by their political stance regarding the prevailing model of socialism on the island. It’s about rights; it’s about those émigrés being as Cuban as the ones living here. Actually, the fact that many Cubans seek professional and personal fulfillment in other countries calls into question the legitimacy of the project and of the socio-economic and political model implemented, even if one considers the US blockade.

Reforms to the model vs. the nature of the socialist system… an honest discussion.

At the bottom of all debates lies the dilemma of how much the reforms question socialism as a system. Ignoring or underestimating individual rights to favor the collective ones, replacing the exploitation of man by man for the exploitation of man by the State, and appealing to the infinite gratitude of the people for the rights it conquered and which are presented to it as granted, are not natural practices of the system, but distortions of the model. With those practices, the supreme people are denied their capacity and legitimate authority for discernment, choice, and scrutiny of all things public. At the same time, there’s a vulgarization of socialism, which as a very young system inevitably needs constant feedback and critical thinking.

It wouldn’t be pointless to debate about the models of socialism that have been implemented since 1917. Unbelievably, in Cuba, that’s not common knowledge. They even speak always of the ‘economic’ and not the ‘social’ model, which comprises all the other dimensions, political and social, including the cultural and the ideological. If one wants to transform the social model while preserving socialism, one must go to the root, without beating around the bush or bringing preconceived theoretical models.

And there’s also a need to rethink socialism. It has to be prosperous, sustainable, and democratic, but the official discourse precisely omits the latter quality from the phrase. It has even been said that it’s redundant because, if it’s socialism, it has to be democratic. But it turns out that’s not the case! The experience of most models of socialism that have existed is proof to the contrary. It would seem this flaw is an inherent problem or a regularity. Therefore, there’s all the more reason to carry out an urgent in-depth analysis with the utmost transparency.

The debate of our time concerning the country project has to be truly revolutionary. It requires a holistic, critical, and propositional approach, which ensures that we preserve the unquestionable conquests and transform all that we must. For that, it’s fundamental to have: the current context with the inherent advantages of crises, the existing level of debate, and the incomparable energy of the civil society removed from any mental set patterns and outdated preconceptions. Let us not forget that, as Octavio Paz (1914-1998) said, ‘Biological blindness prevents you from seeing, ideological blindness prevents you from thinking.’

Contact the author at ivettegarciagonzalez@gmail.com