Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ramy: The Dialiectics of Consensus

Yes, but no. No, but yes.
The dialectics of consensus

By Manuel Alberto Ramy

If Shakespeare had lived through this Cuban moment, he would have exchanged his quandary of "to be or not to be" for the title of this article, in which I attempt to answer questions that motivated my previous article ("The process of changes is ongoing".) The most-frequently-asked question is "Why is a consensus needed to make reforms if everything in Cuba is done by unanimity?"

Almost all of the people who ask that question live in the United States. It figures.

The image held abroad of Cuban society and our institutions is one of absolute unanimity. In good measure, this image has been fed by our own information media, which can provide various explanations for the phenomenon.

But reality does not match that projection, and in passing I say that I wouldn't be surprised if several municipal organizations of the People's Power have in the past (and on more than one occasion) rejected candidacies submitted by the National Commission on Candidacies for the Provincial Assemblies and the National Assembly. If this happened, it wasn't reported. But let's go on.

The need for consensus (the reaching of accords among parties that differ on specific topics), which interim President Raúl Castro has referred to in his latest speeches, reveals that while there is unanimity on basic issues -- the defense of the national sovereignty and the essential achievements of the Revolution; the need to concretize Cuban socialism -- there is also a diversity of opinion as to how to maintain those achievements and to advance in the current domestic situation and the tangled international context.

There is a diversity of opinion both in the established structures and institutions and society. The "how" and "how far" to develop the process of inevitable reforms demands a consensus among the different tendencies, because we must avoid fractures. It is a question of reforming within socialism, not of restoring the capitalist system. It is a question of making the citizens' participation in decision-making more effective and real, and of having greater control over political and administrative actions.

It is also inescapable to make certain structural reforms that, no matter where they begin (inevitably in the economy), will have repercussions in political circles. Let's not forget that a greater economic democracy (and here I refer to a greater socialization of the production-and-services sector) will bring more political democracy. This would force us not into a multiparty system, as some people might think, but into a plurality of opinions, which, in addition to being respected (as has been the case) will have to be "consensualized," harmonized.

Reality demands reforms. The people demand them with a foot on the accelerator. So does the intellectual sector within society (academicians or not) but with a full realization that we must use the clutch and the gearshift as well. This sector shows discrepancies as to the measures that could be implemented, especially in the depth and direction of the changes, as well as the mechanisms or levers that must be used in the economic field.

If the reader has any questions, he should access the Web page of the magazine Temas and read the articles by Camila Piñeiro Harnecker and Juan Valdés Paz about the interview that months ago I conducted with sociologist Aurelio Alonso, published in "From Havana" under the title "Less fear that people might make money."

There, we see that in the bosom of society there is a need to reach a consensus, an accord, a need to find points of coincidence that harmonize. And in the Communist Party of Cuba? Well now, with Raúl Castro's recent statement that because there is only one party, the party needs to be more democratic, the doors to diversity of opinion have been flung open. A free discussion, collective analysis, consensus and a consistent behavior.

But "will this party-based democracy work? Is it working?" These are other questions I've been asked. I respond with one example.

Exactly one year ago, there was a colloquium about the "Gray Quinquennium," a period characterized by censorship and alienation in the world of culture. The debate included e-mails, discrepancies, and proposals. The magazine Criterios, which is not funded by the government, offered its small office for debates. That office was too small and the Casa de las Américas, an official institution, offered one of its halls. The topic of the Quinquennium overflowed the strictly cultural boundaries and invaded the political terrain.

The Communist Party and the National Union of Writers of Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) reached an accord and achieved consensus. Debates took place in educational centers; they were very harsh and critical and I reported on them.

Did the consensus satisfy all the parties involved? Not altogether, but there were strong debates and strong criticism. Was it reported by the press? NO, but partly YES, because the subject was treated in two articles by Granma, the party's official publication.

Even more recently, at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 13, a national TV channel showed the controversial documentary "Out of the League," which -- even though it had been nominated for the national award in its category -- had been shelved for five years. The controversial part of the documentary is that it interviews famous Cuban baseball players -- among them the stellar "Duke" Hernández -- who left the country and play (or have played) in professional baseball, mainly in the United States.

In the interviews, those players affirm their Cubanness and their feeling of belonging to the national team in which they once played. And the statements by their fellow players, back in Cuba, were not at all hostile.

If athletes and artists are opinion leaders, how can we accept those images and statements on TV?, asked some people in important sectors and institutions. Others, especially in the sector of culture, disagreed with that reaction, and remained consistent with the achievements of the debates about the Quinquennium.

The result? The program was broadcast thanks to the maturity of achieving a consensus of opinion. How? I imagine that one sector asked that it NOT be broadcast on a national channel but YES, it might be broadcast in the City of Havana channel. Another sector opined: YES, we should show it, but NOT nationwide.

The dynamic (or dialectic, whichever you prefer) of the YES-but-NO and the NO-but-YES was successful. Neither position won 100 percent, something very difficult in consensual processes, but the important thing is that the program was shown, and the trend to an opening prevailed. Moderately, but it prevailed.

The process of reforms, which must result from a consensus of society as a whole, will not develop in a lineal manner, as I have written previously. It will move forward, retreat, zig and zag, but it will advance by a consensus of positions. Short-term, no one will come up with 100 percent. But whoever can create the conditions to support his demands will come out ahead.

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

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Manuel Ramy Analyzes the Process of Change and US Impact

The process of changes is ongoing

Francisco Aruca chats with Manuel Ramy

Excerpted from Progresso Weekly

One other factor is the people's pressure, from the standpoint of undeniable realities. That's precisely one of the reasons for the recent calls for open discussion, which have been held and have resulted in more than a million proposals, according to Raúl Castro.

Pressure from below, upward, supports the need for change and is a factor that limits the power of bureaucracy. When we talk about structures, we talk about forms, grades, levels of relationship. When we talk about economic structures, we talk about other modes of property that are perfectly compatible with socialism, or about the role the market might play -- whether it would be central or peripheral -- or about the degree of decentralization of sectors of the economy.

We must also realize that it is a question of calibrating the depth and direction of the changes, so that they won't go beyond what's sensible. For these reasons, we're looking at a process in stages that, in my opinion, is being measured cautiously.

Washington certainly has an effect on this entire process. It has had an effect in the entire 50-year history of the Cuban revolution, and the role its pressures have played is very clear. First, at the level of the people, [Washington's stance] is an element of cohesion, of unity, that looms more serious than any everyday problems because it represents the threat of imperialism, 90 miles away, and what it wants to do is to destroy. You can gauge how much, or how little, the people have achieved, but [Washington] is one of the factors that stimulate cohesion.

Aruca: The Cuban people do not want to run the risk of losing all the good things that may have been achieved.

Ramy: I see no evidence that they're willing to do that, so far. On the other hand, the role being played by U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba at this point reinforces the position of the hardliners within the system. They can argue that, because of the threats from the U.S., there can be no opening.

However, that's only one side of the coin. The other is that the pressures from the [Bush] administration also reinforce the need for change [in Cuba], because this country cannot live constantly thinking in a reality ...

Aruca: I conclude that, in your opinion, the people's need for better answers to a series of basic problems is probably the most important factor. U.S. foreign policy, too, plays an important role.

There was a time when more people would have said that the [Cuban] government is using foreign policy as an excuse not to make internal changes. But you say that the changes will come from domestic reasons, whether or not the U.S. changes its policy. If U.S. policy becomes less aggressive, the changes would take place with greater ease.

You say that, to a great degree, the needs of the people are the primary factor that will explain how the changes will be made.

Ramy: You have understood me correctly. The needs of the people are the primary and determining factor. If U.S. foreign policy limits the depth and direction of the changes, that's something else. Within a context of good relations, the Cuban government probably could take the steps it wishes to take, something it wouldn't do within a context of a permanent threat to the Cuban nation. The latter situation would hinder the normal development of a process [of change].

The determining element is the reality and the national factors. The United States is not going to move from where is sits, and the island of Cuba is not going to move from its geographic location.

Aruca: You mentioned Raúl's speech on July 26. But Raúl also delivered a speech on Dec. 28 at the National Assembly, and we all concluded that it was a very important speech. Please comment on the importance of that speech.

Ramy: Raúl Castro has made four major speeches in little more than one year. One was not given much publicity by the media because it was a gathering with students at the University of Havana. Rather, it was a charming and very pleasant conversation, according to students who were there. He told anecdotes about his childhood, his youth and more or less said that the time for generational change was upon us.

Then came the ground-breaking speech on July 26, which was a critical (and self-critical) speech and served as the starter's pistol shot. He spoke about structural changes and changes of mentality. As a result of it, assemblies were held at all levels of Cuban society, with the participation of more than 5 million citizens and the presentation of more than one million proposals.

Then came his appearance Dec. 24 in Santiago de Cuba. As you know, Fidel is a candidate to Parliament for Santiago de Cuba. In his name, Raúl toured the barrios, the municipalities, everywhere.

There, [Raúl] said he gave Fidel Castro his speech of July 26 to read in advance, and said that Fidel didn't correct a single comma. What did he mean by that? That there are no discrepancies. In other words, Fidel Castro is totally in accord with Raúl Castro's statement of July 26.

Further, on Dec. 28, Fidel sent a letter to the National Assembly in which he said Raúl had shown him the speech he planned to deliver there, and that [Fidel] had read it and was raising his hand to support [Raúl]. What does that mean? That there is a perfect agreement between the two fundamental figures in government.

Some analysts see Raúl as the more pragmatic person, perhaps more willing to implement some measures swiftly, while Fidel is the more cautious leader, even though he is strategically in agreement. But the first thing I conclude from all this is that there is a consensus between the two figures in power.

From Raúl's speech, I would point to several aspects. First, that the changes must be made by consensus (obviously, he refers to the deep changes, to the structural changes) and that an integral vision is needed to make those changes. That means that there is a project of integral changes, because there are aspects that cannot be fixed with one measure here, another measure there. That's the first point I would stress.

Aruca: In other words, they are interrelated aspects.

Ramy: Exactly. But he did talk about measures that can already be implemented. When he said that a series of laws were established in the past, regulations that created problems instead of solving them, what did he mean?

Aruca: If I remember correctly, he worded it in terms of prohibitions. A great many prohibitions were enacted that, in turn, created illegalities.

Ramy: One thing is clear. There are many prohibitions here, and many things that are not tolerated, even though they are not prohibitions. I think that many prohibitions and regulations have actually generated the underground economy that exists today, and even participate in it.

I can't give you any figures, but I know that at the people's assemblies, in the CDRs [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution], in workplaces, people have made such proposals as allowing citizens to sell their cars, sell their houses. A series of measures have been proposed that -- if implemented -- would give a different style and movement to the domestic scenario.

Aruca: Would you include prohibitions such as not permitting a Cuban national to enter a certain place or eat in a certain [restaurant]?

Ramy: Yes, and that's one of the issues that are being studied and require a consensus.
Not only a consensus at the levels of Party and government but also among population sectors that are not a majority but that wouldn't agree with some specific measures. What's being sought is the widest consensus possible in whatever is done. For example, there's the topic of migration.

I don't wish to minimize the impact of 2 million Cubans living outside the island. I couldn't tell you the figure, but many Cuban families have a relative living abroad. There is a complex migratory problem that goes from "the white card" that enables a citizen to leave the country to the rights of the émigré. I think that's also on the table of topics to discuss.

The place where economic changes must begin is the sector of agriculture. It is essential. Cuba must solve its food problem. If we have achieved military security, as some say, we must achieve alimentary security, because in military terms food is part of the rear guard. Besides, it is one of the problems with the hardest impact.

The country is spending US$1.5 billion in foodstuffs -- practically 70-80 percent of the volume it consumes -- yet, the sectors of agriculture that have given greater results have been the private producers, the credit-and-service cooperatives, and the basic units of production. They produce 60-65 percent of what we Cubans eat.

What does that mean? That the remaining 30 percent comes from state-run farms -- from the state, which has more land than the private producers. Therefore, I think that the policy being instituted (not very publicly) is to distribute more land to the private farmers.

Aruca: To individual proprietors or families, and cooperatives?

Ramy: To both
. Let me explain. The credit-and-service cooperatives own land in which they freely share resources, land, machinery, etc., and share the revenue. Some cooperatives make more than one million pesos per year. The problem is that they need raw materials, they need to spend their money. They don't want regulations from the Ministry of Agriculture that only hamper an individual's productivity.

On the other hand, they must open spaces for certain levels of consumption. I don't mean the farmer's productive consumption but his enjoyment consumption, because the farmer may earn 800,000 pesos and then, what can he do with that money? Will he bury it under a mango tree, or hide it, because he cannot buy a car, he cannot go someplace and stay in a hotel?

I think the turning point in the Cuban economy is the agriculture. The nation's leaders are weighing the option to decentralize it, to form a concept of agriculture in the municipality, to give autonomy to the municipality to plan and develop the local agriculture. That's what [the newspaper] Juventud Rebelde stated.

I think we must produce more, and to produce more we have to be more liberal in the treatment of agricultural production and the farmer. And we have to open space, so that the farmer can spend the money he makes.

That experience can then open spaces in the urban sector, service cooperatives, laundries, industrial production, services that don't exist or that exist only in convertible pesos.
You cannot manage a thermonuclear plant and at the same time manage an ice-cream cart.

Aruca: I think you have touched on the topics that are the most important. You have provided a viewpoint that I almost completely share, although I shall reserve some comments for when I play this recorded interview in Miami. Is there anything more you wish to say?

Ramy: The process is ongoing, but it's ongoing from the institutional point of view, because it comes from within the system. The system needs to reform itself, although it mustn't do so at the expense of the people's needs.

I think that we'll see some things happen in 2008. Maybe they won't be the deepest and most integral measures ever -- because there must be a consensus at Party, government and population levels -- but there will be changes.

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Significance of Signing Human Rights Covenants

Excerpt from On Human Rights, Democratic Centralism and Foreign Policy
12/31/07 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) -By Nelson P. Valdes and Robert Sandels

US press misses the point

Meanwhile, the announcement was given cursory coverage in the US
media. The New York Times devoted one paragraph to it, part of which
was a description of a confrontation between protestors and
government supporters in Havana on the occasion of Human Rights

The Miami Herald wrote a lengthier report but concentrated on the
confrontation and on criticism by dissidents like Martha Beatriz
Roque, who was interviewed by the Herald from the home of US
Interests Section chief Michael Parmly.[6]

Coming just days after his own foreign minister announced Cuba's
intention to sign without mentioning the longstanding objections to
the labor and education articles, it is obvious that Castro does not
agree with the decision. This in turn suggests that Castro was either
not involved in the discussion or that he was outvoted. "History will
decide who is right," the title he gives to the 2001 remarks, is a
classic rejoinder of the one who lost an argument. In any case, he
apparently stands opposed to an important policy decision of the
government he heads. He, in other words, accepted the decision. So
much for the picture of Fidel as dictator.

By going public, Castro might have believed he could stop the process
more effectively than he could from inside the government.
Alternatively, he might have pitched his argument to members of the
Communists Party of Cuba (PCC) in order to further educate that
sector of the population.

Should his public disagreement over the covenants prove persuasive to
the party, one of several scenarios could reverse the decision to
sign. The Foreign Ministry could backtrack, the National Assembly
could vote against ratification, or the Council of State could act
against it.

It may be that besides Castro's specific objections to the labor and
education articles, he has a more generic distaste for rights
declared by capitalist countries led by the United States. Why else
would he choose to begin his letter to Alonso by citing an Argentine
filmmaker's "deconstruction" of capitalism's "lies of democracy and
human rights"? After all, the United States is in violation of almost
all of the enumerated rights in the two covenants and could not
implement them under the species of capitalism it now practices.

Lastly, it should be noted that the Cuban political leadership has a
long view of foreign policy matters. The covenants probably will be
adopted by Cuba in mid-2008. If adopted, they will be enforced by
2009. A very practical result would be the Cuban government inviting
United Nations' human rights observers to the island. Such visits,
without a doubt, would have a profound impact on European Union and
Canadian foreign policy toward Havana. If the United States
government, at the time, is dominated by a Democratic Congress and
presidency, then a very important political debate will ensue on
bilateral relations with the island. The potential prospects of
having a political climate to finally end the United States blockade
might be guiding political debate within the island. Or, as Henry of
Navarre said, "Paris vaut bien une messe."

Fidel Castro on Retirement and Raul

What the international press has emphasized most in its reports on Cuba in
recent days is the statement I made on the 17th of this month, in a letter
to the director of Cuban television's Round Table program, where I said that
I am not clinging to power. I could add that for some time I did, due to my
youth and lack of awareness, when, without any guidance, I started to leave
my political ignorance behind and became a utopian socialist. It was a stage
in my life when I believed I knew what had to be done and wanted to be in a
position to do it! What made me change? Life did, delving more deeply into
Martí’s ideas and those of the classics of socialism. The more deeply I
became involved in the struggle, the stronger was my identification with
those aims and, well before the revolutionary victory I was already
convinced that it was my duty to fight for these aims or to die in combat.

Other problems, foreign to our nation and many others under similar
conditions, also threaten us. A victorious counterrevolution would spell a
disaster for us, worse than Indonesia's tragedy. Sukarno, overthrown in
1967, was a nationalist leader who, loyal to Indonesia, headed the
guerrillas who fought the Japanese.

General Suharto, who overthrew him, had been trained by Japanese occupation
forces. At the conclusion of World War II, Holland, a U.S. ally,
re-established control over that distant, extensive and populated territory.
Suharto maneuvered. He hoisted the banners of U.S. imperialism. He committed
an atrocious act of genocide. Today we know that, under instructions from
the CIA, he not only killed hundreds of thousands but also imprisoned a
million communists and deprived them and their relatives of all properties
or rights; his family amassed a fortune of 40 billion dollars —which, at
today's exchange rate, would be equivalent to hundreds of billions— by
handing over the country's natural resources, the sweat of Indonesians, to
foreign investors. The West paid up. Texan-born Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy's
successor, was then the President of the United States.

Cuba's Five Heroes, imprisoned by the empire, are to be held up as examples
for the new generations.

Fortunately, exemplary conducts will continue to flourish with the
consciousness of our peoples as long as our species exists.

I am certain that many young Cubans, in their struggle against the Giant in
the Seven-League Boots, would do as they did. Money can buy everything save
the soul of a people who has never gone down on its knees.

I read the brief and concise report which Raúl wrote and sent me. We must
not waste a minute as we continue to move forward. I will raise my hand,
next to you, to show my support.

Fidel Castro Ruz
December 27, 2007