Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Unless reforms are made, we'll lose everything’

PROGRESO WEEKLY http://progreso-weekly.com/
September 27 - October 3, 2007‘

'Unless reforms are made, we'll lose everything' -- Discussion in CDRs

By Manuel Alberto Ramy

In September 1960, Fidel Castro founded the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) for the purpose of combating the wave of bombings and sabotage coursing through in the country. Today, 47 years later, the CDRs, which bring together millions of Cubans, are immersed in the debates called for by the Communist Party of Cuba to help the Cuban process move forward.

"Unless reforms are made, we'll lose everything," Jorge said to me as we
left the CDR meeting in his building, in the Vedado neighborhood, following an analysis of the July 26 speech by the acting president of Cuba, Army Gen. Raúl Castro. What reforms was he talking about?

"Well, reforms that will make the system work, so services will not be a
disaster, so money will be worth something, so there will be one single
currency (as a comrade said), so corruption won't continue to devour us like termites."

The ordinary Cuban wants reforms to be tangible, not a conflict "between
what the press, the TV say and my daily struggle to deal with food and
transportation," said Catalina Fernández, who is a member of Jorge's CDR.

The absence in the media of the problems that concern Cubans is one of the issues discussed at several of the debates I've heard about from reliable sources.

"Seeing is believing, that's the thing," Catalina adds, and she tells me
that at the meeting she asked "Why don't most young people come to these assemblies? Because they don't think [these assemblies] will solve the problems. They grew up hearing about the same problems, seeing the same sewage problems in the same streets, seeing that the buildings in which they live are not maintained -- at most a dash of paint -- that agriculture is not productive. And now, that money doesn't go far enough."

A young man from the same CDR, a university graduate who listened in
silence, explains his attitude thus: "When we want things to work well, the TV and the newspapers are full of references, commentaries and political messages telling us to work harder. But have you seen any [TV program] showing the debates in the CDRs or in the factories? No. So, what's the use?"

Evidently, there's a little bit of everything. Committees where the people
speak their hearts out, and others where silence and a raised hand will
approve whatever is proposed. The latter are the people invited by Raúl
Castro last Sunday to participate with total sincerity and candor on any
subject. (See: "Raúl Castro: Speak with candor so we can get feedback," in Progreso Blog, Sept. 23, 2007.)

Catalina spoke out because "I don't want to waste this opportunity or the
good things we have accomplished." She has been a militiawoman, has been mobilized many times. "I fell in love with the revolution," she says with feeling. "It hurts when you lose a great love; to save it, you must make changes." Divorced after 20 years of marriage, she says: "I don't want to lose my other great love -- the revolution."

In other CDRs and many workplaces, the debates have been brisk. Topics have ranged from opening spaces to service cooperatives "that can solve something that has not been solved for as long as the revolution has lasted" -- an allusion to efficiency and quality -- to the instability and improvisation that afflict the ongoing projects.

On the subject of improvisation, multiple references have been made to the repair of household appliances and electronic equipment in general.

"People buy without taking into account the repair parts needed per
appliance, so what happens is that you go to the service center and they
tell you there are no parts available," Luis says. He points to the column
in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde called "Acknowledge Receipt," which, he says, "is full of such cases."

In my previous article, I wrote about the discussions in academic forums
open to the public. In this article, I deal with the life experiences of the
people in some places of the capital, with the participation of the
physician, the engineer and the humblest worker.

"I don't know what a 'structure' is, as a comrade called it," says
Arístides. "But, yes, we must be practical and look for whatever works and solves problems." Moreover, "I read the newspapers and listen to the
speeches and I want someone to tell me why the private farmers produce more than the state-run farms. Fidel has said that revolution means changing everything that needs to be changed. So?"

For most Cubans, the problems are perfectly identified. "The challenge is to take the bull by the horns and change," says CDR member Manuel. "But without losing political control. That, never."

The government must "give more autonomy to the companies," he says, "explore other forms of property ownership -- cooperative or communal -- that, well regulated by the law, can fill the holes of state inefficiency." And that inefficiency "is historical."

Guillermo, from the Playa municipality, cautions not to give the wrong
answers to the problems. "On many occasions, we give an administrative
answer to a political problem. On others, we respond juridically to problems whose solution is economic."

Public health was another topic held up for discussion, apparently in a
balanced manner. While the citizens acknowledge the quality of the doctors' work, they wonder why resources like X-ray film are rationed in specific clinics. Or why family doctors are not available in areas or hospitals whose condition leaves much to be desired, whereas they are plentiful in other areas.

"I agree that we should help other countries, but we should ration that
solidarity," Catalina suggested at the assembly in her neighborhood.

As the readers see, there is a little of everything: incredulity and faith;
apathy and participation; love and separation; silences and proposals. It is very likely that Raúl Castro's statement last Sunday will motivate the dumb to speak and that, in the end, many of the suggestions will be enshrined in new policies.

All the opinions are being collected and listed by topics, municipalities
and provinces. There is ample material for feedback, as Raúl Castro said.

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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