By Dagoberto Valdés
Taking into account the absolute and meticulous control enforced by the state in Cuba since 1969 over economic, financial, commercial, and service activities, the Guidelines for the VI Congress are just a drop of water in the desert. Those who know what centralized economy means are well aware that said guidelines are more of the same only with a sense of urgency.
The simple fact that the guidelines come from above to be debated under the supervision of instructors previously trained at a centralized level is a sign that the method and the content are essentially the same. They both come from above, move from the center to the periphery, and are ordered by the powerful for the powerless to obey. The goal is a supporting debate, an opinion survey, an apparent consultation inside well-defined settings. Few believe, but they still put up a show.
That’s why mistrust reigns from right to left even inside the so-called militancy. That’s why any interpretation emulates those of Noah’s Ark. That’s why the results are as foreseeable as 52 years of Revolution put together.
Those who defeat skepticism and with goodwill try to find “something” like an “opening” or a “reform” may look at the first guidelines for an accurate response.
Those who persevere and overcome the initial exorcism destined to sober down the most conservative will find full lessons on in-depth and punctilious control. To say, in the 21st century, that permits will be granted authorizing real estate property transactions is the equivalent of authorizing the use of cell phones or granting entry to a hotel in one’s own country. The idea of contracting personnel to work at small businesses though as neighborhood joints without any incidence in the overall production of goods takes us back to pre-industrial revolution times. That’s what transpires out of the new list of “trabajos por cuenta propia” (self-employment occupations). It is a compilation of medieval arts and crafts ranging from fortune-teller to button liners in the era of the zipper. Implying an actual contribution to further development is like competing with Breton.
Communism like any totalitarian regime can not be reformed. There are only two things to hope for out of this new mockery of make-up artistry with a tainted “actualization” flair. Either real reforms that would eventually bring down the centralized control that keeps the economy and our lives stagnant take place or nothing really happens other than the regular entertainment while the government catches a breath.
“Actualization” is an elusive word. Pope John XXIII spoke of “aggiornamento” when the Council was summoned to renovate San Pedro’s marred boat. By updating a thousand-year-old institution, a rejuvenating breeze of change blew through the window. Later, the church renovated itself with little fanfare and a lot of nuts. A political system is not a church. It could be a new religion, though, with its own dogma and immovable commandments. The 20th century showed that it was a lot easier to bring church up-to-date than to reform socialism, a system that eventually perished in battle without any fanfare or nuts for that matter.
In today’s globalized world, actualization means definitely discarding the nostalgic schemes of authoritarian centralization of every single aspect of human life. That includes the family, teaching methodology, the economic model, the political system, culture, and the anthropological vision of reality.
Actualization is not intended to be the disguising of a culture of imposition and exclusion through false pretense of consultation and participation. Actualization means replacing the essence and methods of the from-above-down culture, the rhetoric of debating what comes from above, and the debating and resending of bogus suggestions by a culture of inclusion and democratic linear management.
Furthermore, it is a change in paternalistic family life into participative family relationships that respectfully promote initiative and individuality.
As to education, it is about putting behind us the current methods of imposition and manipulation of the individual and his right to have an opinion. Today, education is a mere ideological instrument that reproduces slaves not citizens. Civic schools resemble a Taliban seminary on secular religion about totalitarian Utopias. Thus, the embellishment of an indoctrinating system is not enough. It is imperative to embrace a liberating pedagogy that promotes participation and “teaches to think above all”. That’s how Father Felix Varela two centuries ago, and the illustrious Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire years later, taught. Our democracy depends on the school we choose.
On the other side, in the 21st century, the actualization of the economic model can not be a safeguard of the state’s control while breaking sound market laws. It can not impede individual initiative or foolish entrepreneurs with medieval trades. We will not head into the future by chaining the train to the inefficient and rusted frame of a system that never worked not even for us, as it was stated and hurriedly denied by Fidel Castro. According to ancient language, actualization means liberating the productive forces when the yoke of the productive relations is broken.
In Cuba, that means releasing the internal mechanisms that constantly suffocate the spirit of its citizens and their unstoppable desire to keep their heads afloat. International maneuvering to impede commerce with a country is as shameful as using bureaucratic mechanisms as well as draconian inspectors to prosecute and asphyxiate honest citizens pursuing a better future on the island. The aftermaths of this native embargo are the black market, the underground economy, the financial mafia, the traffic of personal influences, and the eventual collapse of flagship enterprises like some located in the mining city of Moa. It is the byproduct of not liberating the human spirit and what is needed for personal fulfillment and social progress as the only way to pump some content into that soulless shell the paternalistic state economy has turned into.
Actualization of the economic model also means accepting that economy has its own rules which are not to be strangled by politics. Authentic economic reforms are up-to-date if they convey respect for private property be it personal, family, co-operative or mixed. There will be no reforms, productivity or dreams without strict respect of private property. A look at the 20th century is enough to realize how inefficient an experiment leading nowhere and nurtured with blood and fire, no metaphor here, can be. Nobel Prize winner Amartya Asen once said in his most paradigmatic work that economic development is inextricably linked to the freedom of both individuals and nations.
The guidelines for the VI Congress of the PCC (Communist Party of Cuba) could however be a starting point to correct the path of a train and thus bring substantial changes to otherwise extremely timid reforms. Sadly, as the government likes to say, the reforms are just a push so the old train does not get off the tracks on the way to the same destiny we have been backpedaling to for five decades without moving a single millimeter.
I do not think the structural changes they talked about three years ago but never pushed forward should be radical or abrupt. It is in the best interest of a vast majority to implement them gradually. Yet, gradual does not necessarily mean clogging the line that pumps oxygen into the economy.
The economic laws that govern the market should not be implemented to create an inhuman unruly world that dumps millions of have-nots into the social gutter. The recent world crisis proves economic as well as political and social regulations are a must.
Notwithstanding, I hope the current turning point and the coming debates are an opportunity to listen to each other as a first step. According to a journalist friend, discrepancies should be decriminalized next so that everyone freely contributes his best to a prosper nation. Then, a true “actualization” will really get rolling if those who think differently are not condemned, disqualified, and called mercenaries and worms.
As long as some follow orders from above and disavow their fellow citizens who think differently, Cuba will not embrace “actualization”. It will rather face social disintegration and surely the loss of national identity and civic sovereignty which are the backbone of the sole existence of a Cuban unique character. Nobody wants that. Thus, not a single Cuban should be excluded and talks should be as broad, plural, and welcoming as Noah’s Ark even if only two of each species are granted access.
Renovating without targeting the causes of the system’s dysfunctional core is like trying to keep it afloat by sheer will. Economy and politics do not survive based on this kind of secular faith. They count on ethics as their vision and guideline, technical knowledge as instrument, efficiency as end result, and broader social justice, peaceful coexistence, and integral human development as visible results, able to be perfected..
The structural remodeling of the social environment assumes the following:
An anthropological change leading to an ethic of freedom and responsibility.
An economic transformation that fosters private initiative either by association or mixed and the respect of market laws as well as necessary fitting and moderate regulation on the side of the state and the civic society as economic role player.
A political shift towards the rule of law, democracy, civic participation, and multi-party government.
A social move promoting a starring independent, creative, and friendly civic society as both a new definition of democracy and methodology.
A change in education that proposes a liberating, plural and participative pedagogy.
A cultural transformation towards a vital and shared synthesis between loyalty to the roots of our identity and a refreshing way of life permeated by diversity.
A change in the way we relate to the environment and nature in order to promote a more humane holistic ecology.
A change in the country’s interrelation with the world fomenting an opening without ideological or mercantile barriers and a full integration with the diaspora and the international community.
Other changes and views should round out this opinion. In order to do so, we must have the opportunity of exercising critic and proposing solutions.
Cuba, that is Cuban men and women wherever they are, must exercise their right to reshape to nation we all belong to.
Translated by Wilfredo Dominguez.