Monday, October 1, 2007

A Cuban Overview of the Process of Change

One Tune, Two Interpretations

By Manuel Alberto Ramy September 27, 2007

I had promised this article to the many readers who told me they were interested in precise explanations about my latest writings and wondered if my opinions were an island inside the island. Well, I hope they'll find the answers here.

In Cuba, we are living a generational transit in the revolutionary process, and are also shaping the indispensable changes in structure and mentality that can no longer be postponed. It is a passing of the baton, but on a different track/reality. Perhaps because of the complexity of the situation and the accumulation of problems that still require solutions, this race is being run on a muddy track.

The generational transit is a biological fact that corresponds to the human composition of society; the shaping of changes is an exigency of reality. There are structures (as well as mentalities) that do not respond to the current requirements.

Cuba and Cubans remain the same, yet they are different. They have an excellent technical and professional formation and technical preparation, so the answers must be not only valid and different but also novel, to fit the circumstances. They must also be able to travel along new channels.

We are witnesses to the struggle between the needs imposed by the stubborn reality, the needs of the citizens, the paradigm of society, the man we want to build, and the official line of thought -- a body of ideas and practices that have ruled for a long time.

All this is being debated in homes, in nuclei (grassroots organizations) of the Communist Party of Cuba and in work centers. The debate also is waged in magazines and academic forums open to all ordinary Cubans.

Some of the readers who wrote to me said that the young people and freedom of thought are "hamstrung by the structures to which they obligatorily belong." To answer them, let me quote some of the presentations by ordinary people and intellectuals at the recently held symposium "Socialist Transition in Cuba," sponsored by the magazine Temas (Themes), published in Cuba.

"The process of change and adaptation undergone by [the Revolution], in addition to the recourse to means that respond to the present state of affairs, is characterized by positing a transformation in the way of thinking and building the Cuban socialist project," said Carlos Lage Codorniú, national president of the University Students Federation (FEU).

"It commands us [...] to rethink the way of articulating our model and participating in it," he adds, which necessitates "the strengthening of credibility in institutions and organizations and their reconversion in real spaces of participation."

Are the need for structural changes, participation and institutional credibility the exclusive opinion of the new generations?

Ramón de la Cruz Ochoa, a judge who for years served as Attorney General of the Republic, believes that "the weakness of the institutions is manifest" and the role of the institutions of justice is to augment and serve as guarantor ("with the necessary autonomy") to the citizen, "in the face of any illegality or arbitrariness," regardless of its source.

De la Cruz does not remain on the margins of the legal institutions and, when he opines about the need to strengthen the People's Power and allow it to play "the role assigned to it" (because without it "there is no socialist democracy"), he agrees with the president of the FEU on the functioning of institutionality.

The topic of the market, as well as the forms of property ownership, were discussed. To Jorge L. Acanda, professor of philosophy at the University of Havana, "the market must have a place, be it central to, or at the periphery of, the system."

Acanda then wondered why there is so much talk about the socialization of property. His answer? "Because the existing socialism has been a model of core-state that equated the elimination of capitalist private property with state control of property and social property with state property."

Professor Acanda recalls that "both Marx and Engels made it clear that state control of property does not mean socialization." And he added: "After what happened in eastern Europe, it has become clear that the State cannot be confused with society as a whole, and that state property does not have to be a synonym for the property of society as a whole."

I expect that a good many readers are surprised at the fact that these topics are being discussed publicly and openly in today's Cuba. But let me continue, with some of the opinions expressed by sociologist Aurelio Alonso of House of the Americas.

"Socialization has a greater sense. A socialist economy must not be a state economy outright. The socialist State has to perform a regulatory function, has to be an investor in, and an owner of, the natural resources, the major public services -- electricity, gas, water. But a mixed economy should also be legitimized, including not only foreign investment but national investment as well," Alonso said.

"It is necessary to foster, for example, a sector of family economy in those productive and service activities where [that sector] is most efficient to solve the problems of society," he said.

According to Alonso, "private initiative must include spaces that are not limited to 200 self-employment activities," a clear reference to the current legislation, which regulates the types of activities that citizens may engage in as private individuals.

Alonso favors trying out new forms of property ownership; if they work, they should be validated, if they don't, go back to state control. In his view, practice should be a requirement for the truth. But -- and he raises this "but" -- no one should hinder or raise obstacles to the ongoing experience, in an effort to invalidate it.

Why does he say this? Because, according to Judge Narciso Cobo, president of the Economic Law Society of Cuba, "if we look at the Cooperatives for Farm Production (CPA) and Credits and Service Cooperatives (CCS), we find that both are afflicted by a high degree of interference from the state structures that control agriculture and the sugar industry."

In other words, the state structures limit the cooperatives' attributions and decision-making capacity.

Judge De la Cruz favors "expanding the meaning of that type of property, to make it stronger and extend it beyond agriculture to other sectors of production-and-services -- gastronomy, for example -- that have not been developed in Cuba. There, pure state ownership has not been successful. Community ownership has not developed either, yet it's a social ownership."

No aspect was left out of the debate. The relationship between the economy and the market; the indispensable presence of ethics in both economy and the market; whether the island will copy some model of socialism -- all of these topics were discussed. It became clear, both explicitly and implicitly, that the process must be national, Cuban.

Let me insist, dear readers. Isn't it remarkable that these events are happening in Cuba practically every month, at various levels and to various degrees? Articles on these subjects are published regularly on the Internet, but the Miami media publish only those that are most convenient for their editorial concept of info-comics. Why the silence?

Because, I think, the approaches, analyses, criticism and possible solutions, without exception, depart from socialist positions and are designed to ease the transit on a socialist track.

It is not a question of dismantling the system but of rebuilding it with the effective participation of all citizens, through the established institutions. As I mentioned in a previous article, these institutions are in a process of reorganization and refitting, so they may serve as conduits that guarantee that the changes will not go off-course.

In the essence of the debate, we can appreciate that the greater the economic democracy, the greater the political democracy, which is one of the objectives of a genuine revolutionary process. (If some reader does not understand this relationship, I refer him to the reality of representative democracy, as it exists and functions in the United States. He will see that, in practice, economic power supplants the will and needs of the population.)

No doubt, someone will ask how much weight these symposia, forums and debates carry in the official political decisions. I could give a long answer, but I'll simply say that when the life experience of the people, the intellectual sector and culture in general are in harmony, failure to take them into account is the equivalent of a divorce between government and society.

I don't think that's the situation here. Rather, I perceive that these debates and publications help create a climate that will facilitate the creation of measures that will come in stages.

No offense, but when a tranquil reader looks at the Cuban reality from a critical perspective (and this symposium was critical, as others were), he will come to the conclusion that the mindset that prevails in Miami is unable to deal with the Cuban reality.

Miami is disqualified, not only because it doesn't understand and doesn't wish to understand, but also because it acts as a conscious instrument of foreign intervention. It couldn't be otherwise. As the saying goes: "[A tune] sounds one way on the violin, another way on a guitar." Interpretation is all.

Manuel Alberto Ramy is Havana bureau chief of Radio Progreso Alternativa and editor of Progreso Semanal, the Spanish-language version of Progreso Weekly.

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