Saturday, September 29, 2012

The General, ‘Reforms’ and the Myth of the Renewal of the ‘Model’

The General, 'Reforms' and the Myth of the Renewal of the 'Model' /
Miriam Celaya

Six years after the Proclamation in which Fidel Castro delegated almost
all power to his brother, and four years after Raul Castro officially
took the reins of government, almost all optimism about the possible
beginning stages of transformations to advance the economy in Cuba have
faded. Much less can there be any illusions regarding freedoms and rights.

Wrapped in his aura of "a pragmatic man" — based on projects carried out
in the '90s, when he was Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces
(FAR) and created joint ventures, with the participation of elite and
"trusted" officers, in hard currency economic activities: tourist-hotel
complexes, stores, restaurants, etc. — General Raul Castro has become
another failed hope for those who aspire to any economic opening, even
if moderate, with a greater involvement from ordinary Cubans, as well as
for those who thought that such an opening would lead to a gradual
lifting of the numerous restrictions that annul and restrict any
possibility of citizen prosperity.

Four years is the usual time allotted to the president of a democratic
society to develop a government program and demonstrate its
effectiveness and capacities in a nation, a period during which the
reduction in poverty and the creation of jobs are usually permanent
objectives and two of the most important indicators of progress of every

In Cuba, however, after this period of time, not only is there no
government program with clearly established goals and timelines — even
the mere promise of a daily glass of milk for every Cuban is an
insoluble economic challenge for the government — but there exists an
explicit demonization of individual prosperity endorsed in an open war
against "enrichment," while officially announced layoffs have affected
more than 1,300,000 workers. No government of a free society could
survive such nonsense.

This calamitous socioeconomic state has led the general-president to
offer his oft repeated phrase of "introducing structural and conceptual
changes," a line meant to distract public opinion as well as to delude
the unwary. It is, in reality, a diversionary tactic to allow the ruling
elite, instead of improving the situation or generating social benefits,
to gain what we Cubans are losing: time. An apparently reformist
discourse to disguise a retrograde and twisted economic policy and the
complete lack of any intention to introduce changes.

So, in the last two years the masquerade of an opening was carried
forward through the proliferation of tiny businesses, while at the same
time an attempt was made to legitimate a state of permanent
experimentation — in both the economy and in issues inherent to
citizens' rights — which on the one hand justifies the slow application
of the so-called "reforms," and on the other gives the government
impunity, the grace of eternity, and the present and future arbitration
over every aspect of national life, be it the economy, politics, or any
other niche of society.

Against the 'reforms'

In any event, it was a timely retirement. The General himself was in
charge of assuring that this time there would be no retreat on
self-employment, as had happened during the '90s. Let no one doubt,
under Raul's regime self-employment had come to stay. What's more, there
would be no discrimination against the self-employed and the dignity of
individual effort would be recognized. In the excitement of the economic
plans of small family businesses as a palliative to the national misery,
self-employed workers seemed to have become the Revolutionaries of our time.

But, indeed, it was barely the mirage of a moment, because it soon
became evident that some family businesses, despite being in unequal and
unfair competition with the State, not only survived, but were more
attractive than their peers in the State sector. Many sellers of
clothing, footwear and accessories have better prices, as well as
products of better quality and variety which — in the absence of an
internal wholesale market — are sent by their families abroad. Some even
offer articles not sold in the hard currency stores.

Something similar happened with the private restaurants: the owners of
these businesses receive products and supplies from abroad that cannot
be purchased in this country, or whose prices in the domestic market are
prohibitive. As a consequence, and given that their earnings depend on
their own effort, the quality of the food and service in the private
restaurants is greatly superior to that of the State's.

The official reaction shows that retreat on the reforms is not only
possible, but inherent in the system. Recent actions include the
increase in customs tariffs against imports, and exaggerated
hygiene-sanitary measures against the private restaurant sector (not
also enforced on the filthy State establishments), added to the other
burdens placed on self-employment such as abusive tax rates and the
corruption of inspectors and other officials.

As an aggravating factor, self-employment remains illegal under the
constitution, as to date there has been no repeal of Article 21, which
established that "the ownership of the means and instruments of personal
or family labor cannot be used to obtain profits through the
exploitation of the work of others." This is a situation that allows the
authorities to walk back or stop the process "until adjustments are made
in the pertinent laws."

Currently, the issuance of license for self-employment has slowed
greatly, while the return of licenses already issued has accelerated.
Everything indicates that self-employment became too broad a task for
State control, and too narrow a horizon for the aspirations for
prosperity for many of the proto-entrepreneurs who chose this route as a
possible path.

Now the most recent of the Raul regime's proposals is the oldest
"innovation" in the world, to be applied "experimentally" in Cuba:
non-State cooperatives. Which, of course, shouldn't be understood
literally as cooperatives independent of the State. This initiative
hides under the induced historical amnesia that the Cuban people suffer
from, given that before 1959 there were numerous independent
cooperatives on the Island which worked perfectly: taxi drivers,
restaurants, various trades, and even doctors and lawyers. Why
"experiment" in something that is known and whose efficiency is more
than proven? Undoubtedly, this is another scam that is added to the list
of well-tried reforms.

The Cuban "model" and its "renewal" that won't be

We've all heard the general-president speak of "the Cuban model" when it
comes to economics. To "renew" this "modal" has been his roadmap, the
backbone of his government endorsed program (?!) in a set of guidelines
almost no one remembers.

Few Cubans, however, could describe the concept. What elements support
the existence of a Cuban economic model? Did the numerous (innumerable)
economic failures derive from the preposterous plans of Castro I,
indisputable architect of the national ruin? Is the more than half a
century record of moving from first place to last place in this
Hemisphere surpassed only by Haiti in misery?

Are the galloping corruption, the chronic inefficiency, the insufficient
salaries, the barriers and immobility, more appropriate hallmarks for
defining a "Cuban model"? And if so, in what sense would it be renewed?
Is there anything salvageable in the supposed model? It's a rhetorical

The essential contradiction facing the government today lies in the
impossibility of achieving economic progress or furthering reforms
while, at the same time, repressing individual liberties. The system's
totalitarian character doesn't allow any movement; this is the lesson
that the government has learned over these four years.

What Cubans have learned is that there will be no true reforms generated
from government initiatives, while all the conditions still have not
matured for proposals for change to be generated by citizens. For the
government, the only thing left is repression as a means of survival.
For Cubans all that is left is the dilemma between rising up and emigrating.

There will be no solution to the crisis in Cuba as long as the United
Nations Human Rights Covenants, signed by the government itself in
February 2008 and never ratified, are complied with, but it is the job
of Cubans themselves to see that these don't become another waste of
paper. The only possible and effective renewal in Cuba today is the
recovery of civil society, the restoration of the Rule of Law, and of

From Diario de Cuba

20 September 2012

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