Archive for the ‘Translator: Ricote’ Category

José Antonio Quintana de la Cruz

The draft guidelines of economic and social policy that will be discussed by the sixth congress of the Communist Party have been circulated for public discussion.  Some believe that it contains nothing new, is not conducive to substantive change and is more of the same but tinged with tones that have been imposed by mass unemployment and the existing crisis, that they are short term rescue modifications.  It seems that seen from expectations based more on wishes than sober assessments of reality, this may be true. But it never occurred to me that the Communist Party would discuss at a conference the abolition of socialism and the transition to a capitalist market economy.

An objective analysis of the document reveals that it contains substantive developments. But it is necessary to define what is novel. For this editor all that appears in the project that did not exist or was not permitted in the model that this seeks to overcome or modify; or update, as the official discourse has it, is new.  According to this criterion, twenty percent of the guidelines contain new features that can induce changes in the operation or the quality of the system. The remaining eighty per cent proposes to rectify long standing shortcomings and imperfections.

It is clear that the document proposes a diversification and expansion of property relations, which in Marxist terms are relations of production. It recognizes the right of existence of small businesses in various sectors of the economy without employment limits. The figures of landlord, tenant and contractor appear. The area of action of the cooperatives of transport, trade and other sectors are extended, while freedoms and options are granted to those cooperatives which lack them, without which it would be a fiction.

The fact that individual proprietors and partners can compete, produce and sell, protected by law, that they can create companies to supply them and import what they need, together with a concession to receive bank credits, the fact that these private enterprises have business relationships with state enterprises and with the population, creates a market, embryonic and imperfect, but a market that will no longer be the suppressed variable of the economy, but a necessary and legally protected part of the economy.

This is new in Cuba. In my view, this social experiment, replaces the old debate between Von Mises and Oscar Lange about the possibility of a real and efficient economic calculation in a socialist economy. As is known, Lange believed that a regulated market subject to planning would make economic calculation possible under socialism. Von Mises asserted that this was impossible because socialism was a mistake.  China has brought experience to the theoretical debate. In this great Asian country there is a market socialism which performs efficient economic calculations and where the socialist character is more related to distribution forms designed by the party and state that by the ownership structure under which it occurs.

But the guidelines under discussion do not suggest a socialism of the market in Cuba, but a socialism with a market. This market, according to the project, will be a minority partner in social enterprise and shall be subordinate to planning which will remain the main form of movement of the economy and its relations of production. Planning which, incidentally, can stop being inefficient in the sense of failing to ensure proportionality and balance in the economy, sand must take care of not being totalitarian and authoritarian, but  flexible, coordinated, cooperative, and with reservations.

The challenge facing Cuban planning is great not only because it must reconcile the statistical survey methods and strategies of state scenarios with price signals emitted by the market, but because the freedoms, which is to say the degree of autonomy that the draft gives to state enterprises, should become actors and decision makers responsible for their success or failure. Under the project,  state enterprises will not able to impose a plan, or have their earnings taken over, nor may the state interfere in its administration directly. It is assumed that the party can not do that either.

State owned enterprises with sustained losses will be liquidated. This is also new. But we need to define how long is needed to define these losses as “sustained”.

Guideline number three, which prohibits the concentration of ownership without mentioning exceptions, contradicts number twenty nine, which authorizes the cooperatives, which in turn contradicts number twenty six.  Contradictions may be intentional, designed to promote discussion. I wish it were so!

The ban on ownership concentration may be aimed at preventing the formation of oligarchies, which in Russia was disastrous. Or it may be intended to protect free competition, promoting competition and its beneficial effects on prices and product quality as well as on creating jobs in a society where both are needed. If there is a motivation to interfere with the concentration of private production and thus the reproduction of capitalism according to the Leninist school, then this sector of the new economy would be condemned a prior to stagnation.

I think that if everything that the guidelines indicate or suggest is done, Cuba’s economy will be more robust and efficient. The problem is that Cubans are accustomed to agree marvelously, to make speeches with logical arguments, and then to make the thing, violating and mocking, openly, or veiled, that which was agreed to or discussed.  It is a corruption of custom to be serious and make commitments with responsibility, coupled with the widespread lack of social discipline that does not escape anyone.

In conclusion, the projected guidelines propose a model of a socialist planned economy with the presence of state enterprises, cooperatives and private enterprises, with a predominance of the former,  and in which a regulated market operates involving all types of economic agents allowed by law. You can like this model or not, but it is nothing more than more of the same. It unleashes forces that have been pent up until now.  It introduce variables of an unprecedented quality.  It employs measures of efficiency and control that can be viewed with ideological ill will. It creates opportunities for the exercise of managerial freedom and responsibility. And it has flaws and limitations for which its promoters have sought criticism. This is what I am doing: Trying to be constructive.

Translated by ricote


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by Karina Gálvez

Once again the legalization of self-employment awakens dreams… and disappointments. Sometimes one gets tired of becoming emboldened and then almost at the same moment discouraged for the same reason that you were encouraged. It is already a custom in Cuba. But we know so well the actions of the Cuban authorities, we can say, as a friend heard some time ago, there are not prejudices, only experiences.  This self-employment, as designed, will not save the Cuban economy, much less improve the living conditions of citizens.

The new list of self-employment choices promotes dreams in an important sector of the Cuban people because working for yourself is within the human being, part of its nature and more so for Cubans who have a special spirit of entrepreneurship. Also, because it is the recognition of a right that seemed lost for the umpteenth time on this island. I could not ignore that it also represents an oxygenator of a domestic economy that is intolerably weak. And because, despite everything, you believe that it will be possible to live better.

But immediately after building up hopes, questions and responses arise that lower our spirit and provoke disappointment. The list of legal self-employment jobs is truly offensive. The entrepreneurial spirit of Cubans can not be confined to a list where the most profitable business is a small restaurant with a maximum capacity of 20. Not to mention other work, no doubt honorable but also primitive, just enough to get by in the economy of a cave, such as: button sewer, fancy-dress dancer, carter.  The figures of dancing couples, musical duos or bands are specifically named: Benny Moré dancing partners, or Amistad duo. We do not know  exactly what this means; if one wants to devote himself to dance as self-employment, must it be called “Benny Moré dance partner” to be legal? It turns out that the Cuban people, after 52 years of sacrifice to build the most just social system in the world, now face a situation of insecurity and massive layoffs never expected nor imagined in the minds of those who believe that the Cuban State is the protective father that it has always claimed to be.  And the state is faced with the impossibility of solving this situation. Or rather, it is impossible to resolve this situation without its losing its absolute economic power.

However, since it is not prepared to do this, the Cuban State has authorized the new businesses with much reserve. Self-employed workers have emerged as a “necessary evil” for the current Cuban economic system. It is said that it is a remedy for the mass dismissals that are already underway in state enterprises. I do not believe that the government thinks that by doing the jobs in the published list anyone can make up for — we won’t say the salary — but the security that legal employment represents. We must keep in mind that many workers add to their wages from what they can “resolve” in their work places: resources, the ability to use a service, perks for themselves and their friends. In losing a job in Cuba, more is lost than a salary. It is not these kinds of jobs, mostly from medieval times, that can placate the discontent and confusion of being unemployed in a system where there is a single employer.

Therefore, after becoming acquainted the information given, we find that the legal possibility is not real.

The truth is that to make a change in Cuba, however superficial it may be, takes more than legislation. It requires the creation and accommodation of a different background of economic relations that enable the success of self-employed work.  For self-employment to be possible and truly successful (albeit on a small scale for now) conditions are required for which the Cuban government has not announced any strategy.

What would it take for self-employment to be a viable possibility in Cuba?

A wholesale market infrastructure would need to be created.

“The optimum is a wholesale market with different prices. But we are not going to be able to do that in the coming years.”

Marino Murillo Jorge, Minister of Economy

Granma, 24 September 2010

It is clear that access to basic resources will not be facilitated. It will be necessary to purchase them in the retail market, with similar prices for those who purchase in quantities for consumption as for those investing in large quantities

This, of course, affects prices and profits of the self-employed.

But more serious is that the retail market in Cuba is almost without supplies of products for the consumer. How could it supply the mass of self-employed persons that could be generated?

The articulation of a financial infrastructure would be necessary and important.

“… discussed with the Central Bank of Cuba how to make viable the possibility so that those who decide to return to work on their own can access a bank loan to jump-start their chosen activity”

Granma, 24 September 2010

It is laughable that it would be necessary to apply for credit for the kinds of self-employment published in the list of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. The lack of resources experienced by the average Cuban is obvious to everyone. However, what is needed is the possibility of obtaining credit to streamline and revitalize the changes that are hoped for with the new openness to self-employment. Because it is needed now and because we hope that it could be used in the future to expand businesses.

But the lack of security for self-employment hinders the possibility of credit. Making access to bank credit viable is a mechanism already established and experienced since the rise of central and commercial banks, long ago. The problem is not the mechanism but the circumstances. A self-employed person who is exposed to the possibility of losing the business at any time because of the need to engage in illegalities will not qualify for bank credit, unless the Central Bank of Cuba establishes very flexible credit standards and is willing to take a risk that can not be calculated without a large margin of error. Bad credit policy will over the long run harm the national economy just as it has recently hurt the global economy.

It would require the establishment of fair and affordable taxes.

The enforcement mechanisms, some of the most anticipated information for those involved, have already been published. Taxes continue to pose an unreasonable burden on the self-employed. It is obvious that the self-employed worker desires to earn an income slightly higher than a state employee who delivers only his labor without risking anything. Taxes almost extinguished the burgeoning self-employment in the nineties. Thanks to the burden they represented, a large percentage of businesses had to shut down. With the publication of the new system, I believe that before too long the first businesses that open will close, and that the number of start-ups will be significantly lower than in 1994.

One of the objectives of the Cuban government in stimulating self-employment is the raising of revenue, by means of taxes.  Therefore, self-employment will also take a hit in the event that the State does not get the expected amount of revenue from taxes.

A workable system of control of revenue and expenditures would be necessary.

This was one of the main weaknesses of the previous system of taxes. And the conditions are there for this to not improve. The current self-employed persons have income and incur expenses that are very difficult to control. The sources of raw materials and goods are mostly illegal (obtained on the black market) and it is impossible to use legal sources, either because they do not exist or because they are expensive and constitute an unbearable burden for business.

Until now, neither efficient nor sufficient mechanisms to control expenditures and revenue have been established.  So fiscal policy will try to be as restrictive as possible, without a reliable base of information. And once again this will put an end to self-employment.

It would be necessary to expand the domestic market.

As long as foreigners who invest in Cuba can invest in big businesses, discrimination against Cuban nationals is also strongly reflected in the economy. The legalized self-employment does not cover activities with large and important revenue for the Cubans. A glance at the aforementioned list is sufficient to be convinced of that. However, some may be lucky enough to obtain significant profits by special opportunities and advantages of place, time, and ability.  How to invest that money in Cuba? Unable to expand the business (the list is restricted to a minimum), you cannot buy a home, you cannot buy a car, you cannot travel freely. The money will go from hand to hand and will be little more than the exchange of goods in the early years of prehistoric trade. If the money is going to circulate only among the self-employed, the level that is set by law, Cuban economic development cannot be glimpsed on the horizon.

Clearly, those who get fairly significant amounts of money will try to raise their standard of living by means of the black market. But we will always be exposed to the implementation of the ley maceta* (still in effect).

The expansion of commerce should place private and state enterprises on an equal footing. Working under normal conditions, little time will be needed to develop a broad and diverse market.

After the disappointment.

Of course, in verifying this reality and, perhaps, others not mentioned here, one is discouraged. It is very probable that of those who build up hopes at the beginning, only a small percentage will be able to bring their own business to reality. I am inclined to think they will not be able. I hope this is not so. Hopefully, as has happened on other occasions, despite everything, new self-employed people can emerge. Hopefully we will not be faced with disappointment and we will fill small spaces with small businesses that are always more efficient than the large state enterprises that we have to cope with, at a disadvantage, in unfair competition. Perseverance has saved the Cuban nation many times from succumbing to calamity. Self-employment is an economic right based on the natural right to private enterprise, of achieving survival by our own efforts.

If there is a fence that limits the exercise of this right, push it calmly but firmly, with nothing more than the serious and constant exercise of it. It is legitimate and necessary.

It is not a matter of self-employment to passively accept all the absurd conditions that constrain it. The only novel element of the new self-employment legislation is the hiring of labor. It does not represent in any way a sign of voluntary openness. But it is a step that the Cuban government has been forced to take and could be the economic rift that breaks the dam of the totalitarian system, if we do not yield to the temptation to conform without trying to open it further day by day.

Every time we gain degrees of personal freedom in the economic sphere, we will gain degrees of personal freedom at all levels, and we will need more and greater freedom, for which we have the necessity, and the moral obligation to demand for ourselves for others.

With this we will be helping to convert what in Cuba has been called “self-employment” into the free exercise of private enterprise; what have been called timbiriches*, into respectable micro businesses, and what has been called “the self-employed” into small, private entrepreneurs.  Finally, we will be contributing to the birth of an open market economy, efficient, supportive, and subsidiary.

This is really the only thing that can save the Cuban economy: freedom of economic initiative, taking into account the laws of the market, with a genuine openness to domestic and foreign investment, with the principle of efficiency, and seeking equality of opportunity.

Karina Gálvez Chiú (Pinar del Río, 1968)
Degree in economics, Professor of finance.
Director, Grupo de economistas del Centro Civico
Founding member of Editorial Board of the Magazine Convivencia (Coexistence)
Lives and works in Pinar del Rio.

*Translator’s notes:
Ley maceta is the popular name for laws that punish illicit enrichment
Timbiriche is the popular name for a very small business such as a stand or a kiosk.

Translated by ricote

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By: Jesuhadín Pérez Valdés.

March 29, at the Wilfredo Lam Center: The Artist Tania Bruguera installed a platform with an enormous curtain and a podium with two microphones. It was announced that anyone could mount the platform and for one minute they would be allowed to say whatever they wanted, with complete freedom. And people spoke. The incident would be catalogued, afterward, as a counterrevolutionary provocation.

December 5: Monseñor Siro Gonzales Bacallao blesses, in the city of Pinar del Rio, a small space where the members of the digital magazine Convivencia regularly met. Ten days later the property is confiscated by the State.

December 6: In the centrally located 23rd Street in Vedado, more than 200 people march carrying signs against violence. No intimidation is reported against them during the march, but three bloggers are violently intercepted to prevent them from attending the march.

December 10: Plastic artist Yamilia Pérez, performs in a public space in the city of Pinar del Rio, without official permission. He does this with a personal exposition, and a blank cloth to free the creativity of his fellow citizens.  Immediately upon discovering this initiative, the authorities in charge harass and threaten the artist.

December 11: Support is withdrawn for the Poetry Festival Without End, organized by Omni-Zona Franca, and Fayas Jamis is sacked — by means of a notorious act of repudiation — from a position he has held for the last 10 years.

December 17: Pilgrimage to the sanctuary of El Rincon by a group of young people.  A hundred people, more or less, left the starting point on 26th Street, two hundred arrived at their destination. The police watch over them the entire way.

December 18: About thirty people sign a letter objecting to governmental obstructions in the cultural and social spheres. Five groups or projects sign…

The Cuban stew is more and more restless. More restless and more uncertain. Cuba paralyzed is a thing of the past. There are many more people who are not reconciled with the future planned by the people in power.  Many people rebellious and nonconformist.

And that is normal. Every day there are more and more people with sufficient desire and audacity to take the reins of their personal destiny and project their own plans without regard for the social milieu. But this displeases the “nomenklatura” which prefers,  without doubt, the calm and quiet revolutionary.  It is lifeless, without the least intention to move a finger for change. And then? It  rises only to respond with sticks to each of these civic initiatives.

In the majority of countries the political parties growl and bite at each other.  It is part of the process of attaining power. They compete for the popular vote.  At times, I think, they get a little out of hand.   But in Cuba, since there is no opposition party, or even any competition within the Communist Party itself, that competition has moved to the sidewalks, parks, porches, groups and peoples; it belongs mostly to the civil society.

And here the problem is not a political project with aspirations of power, but anything that moves independently of the precepts established by the official revolutionary apparatus.

“Nothing can happen in Cuba without our stamp and letterhead”; that is the belief of the most influential or determined officialdom.  But how to contain the spirit of so many people who want to add their grain of sand so that the country in which they live might be a little bit better? Do they think we can stuff our dreams under the mattress and walk like robots for century after century?

Nine out of ten repressed people do not have any intentions of usurping political power.  They are not politicians in any strict sense; they are artists, intellectuals, who feel drowned by a retrograde institutionalism that cooks the meal until it is charred to avoid ideological sepsis, impeding each person’s art, or personal initiative, from reaching the people, in any form that is timely and fresh. These are simple and splendid Cubans, who raise their voices, and in most of the civilized world that is respected and valued.  Not here.  Here it is extremely dangerous, repelled by force.

And therefore, I am increasingly startled by the reactions of the powerful before the restless attitudes of the Cuban people.  Why, in this country, is every hope, every free spirit met with a revolutionary strangling, detention, an act of repudiation, expulsion to some other place, or worse still, prison?

I am startled, because the wave of nonconformist rebels grows and the repressions makes it grow in proportion to what it observes in the will of the power.   Brashness will be met with clubbing, courage with fetters, and the untameble spirit with more police.  We are going against logic, justice, and peace.

…then will return the dark springs, when the new ladies in white and other innocents will swell the endless rows of prison cells.

I am very worried about this future planned for Cuba. A new, heartbreaking wave approaches. I see it coming.

Jesuhadín Pérez Valdés.

Member of the Editorial Board of the magazine Convivencia.

Translated by ricote

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By Juan Carlos Fernández

Art has always had the virtue of repositioning, of showing to the greatest extent the absurdities of the standard bearers of the power-dogma, a cyst that makes them extremely nervous. It brings them to hysteria, combined with paranoia, because the pre-programmed mind of the dogmatic cannot imagine departing from the script, which is also pre-programmed and reprogrammed (the same forever). To go against the libretto is to immediately convert oneself into a heretic that has to be burned in the most fiery bonfire.

Yamila Perez, Sergio Abel Suarez, and Maikal Iglesias were condemned to burn on Saturday, January 9, when they dared to exercise artistic creativity in a performance piece titled: Intervention 2 “Without Permissions” “A Step towards Change” which they would carry out in a city park. For those in power, that was more than enough.  Once was all right — well, with reservations — nervously, aggressive to the point of explosion, but… well, we remember the  last time, on December 10 in Independence Park, but twice… don’t even think about it. Hit the alarm, code red, it’s war!

The unsure army and the counterintelligence (read: against intelligence) went out of their minds, they did not rest until all of their actors (could it be genetic?) were notified in time to prevent “the Machiavellian act of three heretics” who imagined that they could communicate and share with other people their feelings, their ethical visions and their esthetics.  This, simply said, was inexcusable.  The set was made ready.  They began the acting: politicizing the deed, always the same thing, they have no imagination, repeating the formula again and again… from time immemorial. It seems there is no cure for this.

Independence Park and Bailina Park (which previously had been completely unknown by these name and now have achieved fame), the places where these performances were to occur were literally packed with huge audio equipment, and chairs, from the earliest hours, although it was called for 9 in the evening, but just in case…

But they couldn’t wait, it was too much, the order was: carry it out so to involve one of the implicated, it was Maikal’s turn. Two strong agents removed him by force to Yamilias house, in a Mercedes Benz, (they are moving up in the world and no longer use Ladas) to within a block of his house.  Yamilia and Sergio remained alone, they had busted the performance because it now lacked an essential piece.  And the power-dogma thought, “They are not going to do it, everything is OK”;  there wasn’t room for anything else in its collective mind. They did not consider, because they never consider, creative freedom, which is why artists are able to reposition things, which bothers the hell out of the powerful, in all parts of the world. Cuba is not the exception to this, it is more like the rule.

But the two pieces that remained went out to perform, and the artistic event achieved a success that the artists themselves could never have imagined, thanks to the crude and brutal collaboration of Power, which played itself, and which moreover, was one of the three characters that made up the performance, the others being fear, and purity, the role of Maikel. Lacking him, the remaining two assumed the role of fear, which was certainly felt amidst the hysterical cries and abuses. In the opinion of the artists, the representation of power was brilliant, overwhelming, literally speaking.

For myself, in addition to applauding the courage of these simple artists from Pinar del Rio, and their sense of humor in the face of such brutality, I believe that the State has shown a weakness every bit as large as the success of the artistic improvisation.  It was a full, real performance of terror, and of the most primitive feeling than a human being can show: hatred.

Hatred of love, of sensitivity, of peace, of diversity and of free artistic creation.  On January 9 the soul of the entire nation was attacked.

And there in the middle of so much hatred and rancour  there were tears, not exactly of the artists, although I do not doubt that their tears also poured out. But also tears of their compatriots, who saw all of this as an attack on themselves, because they did not attack political or economic adversaries, but simple Cubans, who only wanted to transmit: Faith, Hope and Love — and this they achieved.

The paraphernalia has failed, and neither shouts, nor false slogans, nor hysterical communiques can redeem it.

Juan Carlos Fermandez Hernandes (1965)

Formerly correspondent for the Brotherhood of Assistance to Prisoners and Their Families, Diocese of Pinar Del Rio

Translated by ricote.

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By Livia Galvez

That night, Maikel Iglesias was going to represent peace, forgiveness, good… and he did represent that! A very difficult role that he assumed with grandeur. “Don’t worry, Livi, nothing will happen.” But he was mistaken about that. His character was richly enhanced as the night progressed.  He almost did not have to make any last minute adjustments, only a few minor details. His two friends were not able to be with him as had been previously planned. The authorities from the government took a few measures, and what he meant to do on foot, he did by car. Don’t worry, Maikel, the show did go on!

Sergio Suarez was the victim of his own role, which was to be power, censorship, oppression. What irony! Perhaps his acting was not going to be so magnificent, so others assumed his role. His weak appearance does not always permit the rock of his spirit to shine through. He could only partially represent his role of power: that part of power which is useful, the power of convictions, the power of fidelity to one’s country and to oneself.  Bravo, Sergio!

They say that Yamilia Perez prayed … and his prayers were heard. A masterful performance!  God gave him the opportunity to be part of the pain, the cross and the sacrifice that night more than ever. This character was fully achieved, was not resigned, and made his, also, that of his two friends.  Cross-goodness; power-sacrifice; oppression-forgiveness, red, white, and black…  A mixture that made that night special.

Livia Gálvez Chiu
Copy Editor of the journal Coexistence.

* Translator’s note: This post refers to a performance piece in which three Cuban artists meant to act out the roles of goodness, power, and forgiveness in Pinar Del Rio.  The State, broke up the performance by removing by car the actor whose role was to play goodness.

Translated by ricote

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