Tag Archives: Democracy

Reporters Without Borders: CUBA, CONTINUING ORDEAL FOR INDEPENDENT MEDIA

May 3, 2017.

Original Report here: https://rsf.org/en/ranking

A self-styled socialist republic with a single party, Cuba continues to be Latin America’s worst media freedom violator year after year. Fidel Castro’s death in 2016 effectively changed nothing. The Castro family, which has ruled since 1959, maintains an almost total media monopoly and tolerates no independent reporting.

Arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, threats, smear campaigns, confiscation of equipment, and closure of websites are the most common forms of harassment. These practices are ubiquitous and are buttressed by an arsenal of restrictive laws. Unless forced to flee the island to protect themselves or to keep working, the few independent bloggers and journalists must cope with drastic restrictions on Internet access.

December 2, 2016

FIDEL CASTRO’S HERITAGE: FLAGRANT MEDIA FREEDOM VIOLATIONS

Castro has been hailed as one of the leading figures of the 20th century and father of the Cuban people in many of the thousands of messages that followed the announcement of his death. But behind the revolutionary’s romantic image lay one of the world’s worst press freedom predators. The persecution of dissidents was one of the distinguishing features of his 49 years in power, and constitutes the harshest aspect of his heritage.

The current situation in Cuba speaks to this. Cuba continues to be one of the worst countries in Latin America for media freedom and ranks 171st out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. Fidel Castro’s brother Raúl, who replaced him in 2007, is now also on RSF’s press freedom predator list.

Cuba’s constitution permits only state-controlled media outlets. Independent news agencies and bloggers who try to dispute the state’s monopoly of news and information are subjected to intimidation, arbitrary arrest and draconian censorship.

As a result, independent news agencies have often had no choice but to go into exile and post their news reports online from abroad. This is far from ideal because Internet access within Cuba is still very problematic (only 5% of households have internet access).

Finally, with two journalists currently jailed, Cuba continues to be one of the few western hemisphere countries where reporters can still be found behind bars. Venezuela and Panama are the other two.

But the situation was much worse under Fidel Castro himself. The father of the Cuban revolution imposed a climate of censorship and used often violent methods to prevent the circulation of any news and information at variance with that provided by the state media.

The persecution peaked in 2003. In March of that year, the authorities arrested more than 75 dissidents including 27 journalists, who were given summary trials and sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison for talking about democracy in Cuba.

They included RSF’s then correspondent, Ricardo González Alfonso, who ended up spending seven years in prison. There were several waves of arrests during this period, dubbed the “Black Spring.” Unauthorized journalists were targeted and accused of collaborating with the United States if their reporting referred to Cuba’s dissidents, human rights violations or the everyday lives of Cubans.

The persecution continued during the ensuing years and in 2007, when Fidel Castro was about to hand over to his brother, Cuba was the world’s second biggest prison for journalists, with a total of 25 held. Prison conditions were appalling and torture was often reported by the families of Cuba’s detained journalists and dissidents.

Many different methods were deployed against Cuba’s independent news providers including arbitrary arrests, beatings and phone tapping. But permanent censorship was one of the constants of the Castro years, both before and after the Black Spring.

Ever since its creation in 1985, RSF has constantly denounced these abuses, using awareness campaigns, protests and international mobilization. Several of our contributors and correspondents have been threatened or imprisoned. They include Roberto Guerra Pérez, who was sentenced to two years in prison in 2005 on a charge of disturbing public order and was released in 2007.

Guerra bravely continued his fight for media freedom, launching an independent news agency called Hablemos Press in 2009. But the Cuban police harassed him and his reporters and repeatedly prevented them from working. After receiving anonymous death threats, he had no choice but to go into exile in October 2016 in order to ensure his and his family’s safety.

The battle waged by RSF and many other local and international NGOs must go on so that exile is one day no longer inevitable. But for the time being, the day-to-day existence of Cuba’s journalists is still marked by fear and self-censorship.

Cuba’s journalists currrently fear that the father of the revolution’s death will be accompanied by a new crackdown. This must not be allowed to happen. Instead, it must open the way to a new era of pluralism and freedom of opinion.

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CIENCIAS SOCIALES, DESPOLITIZACIÓN Y EL ELEFANTE AZUL

Yvon Grenier, Profesor del Departamento de Ciencias Políticas, St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, Canadá.

CONVIVENCIA,  Abril, 2017

Original Article: http://www.convivenciacuba.es/index.php/sociedad-civil-mainmenu-53/1459-ciencias-sociales-despolitizacion-y-el-elefante-azul

Cuando una sociedad se corrompe, lo primero que se gangrena es el lenguaje. La crítica de la sociedad, en consecuencia, comienza con la gramática y con el restablecimiento de los significados”.                                                                          Octavio Paz, Postdata (1970).

Desde el triunfo de la revolución, el gobierno cubano se ha esforzado para despolitizar la sociedad, “achicando” el lenguaje utilizado para hablar de política en el país. En la conocidísima novela “1984” de Orwell, desde hace poco desbloqueada en la isla, la “neolengua” se explica como un proyecto a largo plazo de reducción del lenguaje y de disminución del alcance del pensamiento. El triunfo de la revolución cubana (un triunfo de la voluntad política) condujo al fin en la isla de la disciplina académica que analiza el uso del poder en la sociedad: la ciencia política. Como el término “política” se hizo equivalente, tanto en la teoría como en la práctica, con la revolución, el socialismo y el marxismo-leninismo, la ciencia política desapareció durante la primer década del régimen, (como la sociología de 1980 a 1991), para ser reemplazada por un “diamat / hismat” tanto como ideología oficial que como un paradigma obligatorio en las universidades.

Los estudiosos cubanos parecen estar de acuerdo en que una “renovación” del discurso/paradigma comenzó a tener lugar durante la segunda mitad de los años ochenta, a raíz de la campaña oficial de “rectificación de errores”. Pero aún así, como sustituto a la ciencia política, lo que todavía encontramos en Cuba son las ciencias sociales y humanidades blandas que hablan de política, de diplomacia y de administración pública, pero nunca de poder y de quién lo tiene. Imagina esa situación: un montón de gente en una habitación con un elefante azul en el medio, y el reto es hablar de lo que está pasando en la habitación, sin hablar jamás del deslumbrante mamífero.

En un artículo reciente, el economista canadiense Arch Ritter destaca algunas de las implicaciones de esta situación. Para él, “una de las consecuencias de la ausencia de la disciplina de ciencia política en Cuba es que solo tenemos una vaga idea de cómo funciona realmente el gobierno cubano. ¿Quién en el Politbureau y el Comité Central del partido realmente toma decisiones? ¿Hasta qué punto y cómo las presiones de las organizaciones de masas afectan realmente a la toma de decisiones, o el flujo de influencia siempre es de arriba a abajo y no el inverso? ¿Qué papel desempeñan las grandes empresas conglomeradas que se encuentran en la economía del dólar internacionalizada y la economía del peso en el proceso de formulación de políticas? ¿La Asamblea Nacional es simplemente una concha vacía que, por unanimidad, aprueba cantidades prodigiosas de legislación en períodos de tiempo extremadamente cortos?” Enseguida pregunta retóricamente: “¿Por qué este análisis político está esencialmente prohibido en las universidades cubanas? Puedes adivinar la respuesta” -concluye Ritter. Bueno, sí, podemos: tiene que ver con los tabúes acerca del elefante azul. Pero la respuesta completa no es tan obvia. La ciencia política puede existir bajo un régimen no democrático. Y de nuevo, vale la pena explorar por qué un país desbordado de política, donde casi nada sucede sin la intervención del gobierno y la inapelable revolución, es a la vez extrañamente apolítico. Por apolítica quiero decir que a pesar de toda la inflación de los símbolos políticos y el llamado popularmente “teque”, no hay espacio para discusiones políticas genuinas, debates verdaderos y análisis del proceso político, y escasas fuentes confiables de información y datos sobre “quién obtiene qué, cuándo y cómo”, para utilizar la definición de la política del politólogo Robert Dahl. La política está en todas partes, pero como un tótem, no como un proceso deliberativo en el sentido de Aristóteles o Hannah Arendt.

En el ámbito de la expresión pública en Cuba, es generalmente posible: 1. Deplorar públicamente los errores cometidos en el pasado (especialmente durante el purgatorio llamado Quinquenio Gris) por malos funcionarios; 2. Lamentar la pobreza de crítica y debate en la isla como consecuencia de problemas internos tanto en el ámbito cultural y educativo como en los medios de comunicación; y 3. Examinar con algún aliento crítico los problemas sociales en Cuba, especialmente si ya han sido identificados públicamente como tales por la dirección política, pero sin discutir sus posibles causas políticas. Esos son los parámetros. En ciencias sociales, es aconsejable partir del marxismo-leninismo como fundamento metodológico e ideológico, o al menos no ponerlo en tela de juicio. Desde allí se pueden explorar teorías no-marxistas (el posmodernismo fue popular durante los años 90), pero con cuidado, sin cuestionar el paradigma único. También se acogen con beneplácito las blandas descripciones de las estructuras jurídicas y los debates técnicos sobre las políticas públicas en revistas de ciencias sociales como Temas. Por último, pero no por ello menos importante, los estudiosos de las ciencias sociales e intelectuales deben denunciar el dogmatismo y celebrar las críticas y el debate, como invariablemente lo hace el mismo liderazgo político, pero asegurándose de reafirmar los dogmas oficiales. En otras palabras, la tarea principal y el desafío para los académicos es doble: fingir el pensamiento crítico, y stay in the game (permanecer en el juego).

Previsiblemente, los “debates” en Cuba cuentan con oradores ultra-cautelosos que en su mayoría están de acuerdo unos con otros, siendo toda la energía redirigida hacia las polémicas contra los enemigos oficialmente sancionados y los flagelos intemporales del gobierno: dogmatismo, burocratismo, corrupción, descontento juvenil, residuos pre-revolucionarios del sexismo y el racismo, y por supuesto, el imperialismo norteamericano, el “bloqueo” y el orden mundial capitalista. Todos se animan para “mejorar el socialismo”, y de hecho los líderes políticos rutinariamente desafían a los “intelectuales públicos” a atreverse más, pero el espacio permitido es mucho menos tangible que la anticipación del castigo si se violan los parámetros. La mejor estrategia de supervivencia es la autocensura y la ambigüedad. En cualquiera de estos “debates” (como los de Último Jueves, por ejemplo) las soluciones a los problemas convergen hacia la posición oficialista: más participación, más compromiso con L’Etre Suprême revolución, y a mejorar un sistema político en movimiento (La Revolución sin fin) pero irrevocable (Artículo 62 de la Constitución vigente). No se puede hablar de cómo funciona el sistema político exactamente porque eso necesitaría, en Cuba, como en cualquier otro país, un examen crítico de quién obtiene qué, cuándo y cómo. Es significante que cuando unos se atreven a abordar el tema, como fue excepcionalmente el caso de un “debate” de Último Jueves en febrero de 2016, no hay ninguna discusión sobre “cómo funciona”, solamente comentarios generales sobre posibles mejoras, las cuales invariablemente pasan por una reafirmación de los objetivos oficiales.

Marxismo-Leninismo como pensée unique

El marxismo-leninismo es una ideología conveniente para el gobierno cubano por dos razones. En primer lugar, abrazar y estudiar sus textos canónicos adormece la curiosidad sobre los procesos de toma de decisiones reales bajo un tipo de régimen que fue solo un sueño durante la vida de Marx: el comunismo. Marx escribió ampliamente sobre las fallas estructurales de las sociedades capitalistas (y pre-capitalistas), pero casi nada sobre la transición al comunismo. Aparte de las nebulosas referencias a la Comuna de París y las glosas sobre las estrategias revolucionarias en su “Crítica del Programa de Gotha”, el análisis de Marx del comunismo es más teleológico que político. En Cuba de hoy, el marxismo es una ideología que permite criticar los enemigos del gobierno. En segundo lugar, el marxismo-leninismo puede usarse como una teoría o un paradigma en ciencias sociales, como ocurre en todas partes (hoy más en humanidades y estudios culturales que en ciencias sociales y no en economía). Pero en sociedades abiertas, el marxismo compite con otras teorías e interpretaciones, lo que le da una vitalidad inexistente en países donde es una pensée unique. No es sorprendente que el Marxismo no sea muy sofisticado en Cuba: la ausencia de crítica genuina, la cual pasa por la confrontación con otras perspectivas, es una sentencia de muerte para cualquier perspectiva científica o filosófica. Por consiguiente, se puede repetir infatigablemente que el marxismo cubano es crítico y humanista, al revés del marxismo soviético (i.e. del pasado) “rígido” y “mecánico” defendido (y definido) por nadie. Pero no se puede realmente explorar cual es la diferencia entre los dos. En otras palabras, se puede criticar el “estalinismo” (como desviación del modelo marxista-leninista) pero no la Constitución de Stalin de 1936.

Uno de los efectos de la parametración en ciencias sociales es la presencia de un cierto estilo de comunicación que es blando, resbaladizo y oblicuo, que finge la complejidad y termina siendo poco concreto. Rafael Hernández, director de la revista Temas, declaró en 2014, en un artículo sobre las “estructuras políticas” en Cuba, que en su país se puede encontrar:

“[…] un consenso político alterado, contradictorio y heterogéneo, en cuya reproducción convergen viejos y nuevos sujetos sociales, que son los ciudadanos cubanos reales. Estrictamente hablando, estos no están repartidos solo en fábricas y campos sembrados, cursos universitarios y maestrías de negocios, hospitales y hogares de ancianos, cooperativas, talleres de equipos electrónicos, parroquias, sino en ministerios, oficinas del PCC, batallones de artillería, escuelas superiores para la formación de cuadros de dirección, y publicaciones estatales y eclesiásticas. Estos diversos sujetos sociales ejercen su condición ciudadana desde una inusitada pluralidad, correspondiente a una gama de clases y grupos, ocupaciones, generaciones, géneros, colores de piel –además, naturalmente, de sus particulares ideas políticas”.

Conclusión

Un país no puede sobrevivir sin historiadores, matemáticos, economistas, biólogos, etc. Aparentemente sí se puede subsistir sin genuinas ciencias políticas… pero ¿a qué precio? Para funcionar bien y utilizar plenamente su capital humano, un sistema político necesita información, transparencia, examen crítico y comparativo de las políticas y de los dirigentes, con respeto pero sin miedo a la verdad. No hay sistema político perfecto, ni mucho menos. En Cuba se necesita mejores datos sobre cómo funciona realmente su sistema político, y análisis a fondo de los problemas y de sus posibles causas políticas, levantando el velo del secreto que cubre la mayoría de las transacciones políticas. Para que esa importante transición tenga lugar, mis estimados colegas tendrán que jugar un papel crucial. Historiadores de la diplomacia, filólogos marxistas y tímidos contadores de la administración pública no son sustitutos de politólogos de verdad. La iniciativa podría emerger dentro de las filas de las ciencias sociales o incluso, de institutos de investigación y centros de estudios, como Convivencia. De otra manera, el “debate” político en Cuba seguirá siendo, para parafrasear lo que Borges dijo sobre la metafísica, una rama del género fantástico.

Yvon Grenier, Profesor del Departamento de Ciencias Políticas. St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, Canadá.

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BUILDING SOCIALISM IN CUBA: AS PRESSURE FOR ECONOMIC LIBERALIZATION GROWS, WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO TURN CUBA INTO A SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY?

The Jacobin. October 12, 2016

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/10/alternative-cuba-socialism-left-opposition-worker-control/

 By Samuel Farber

 In July 2016, thanks to a 20 percent reduction in oil shipments from Venezuela, Cuba’s economy minister Marino Murillo announced a 6 percent cut in electricity and a 28 percent cut in fuel. Meanwhile, he ordered an immediate drop in public sector energy use, with consequent working-hour reductions for state employees, and warned of possible blackouts, raising the specter of the dark and hungry days of the Special Period of the nineties.

This turn of events delivered another blow to Raúl Castro’s attempts to establish a Cuban version of the Sino-Vietnamese model, which maintains a one-party state while opening the economy to private enterprise and the market.

RevolucionIn the political realm, this has meant a relaxation of state control over the citizenry. But this hasn’t been matched with democratization. For example, the 2012 emigration reform facilitated Cuban citizens’ movement in and out of the country, but did not recognize travel abroad as their right.

In the economic realm, the government has implemented a modest and contradictory strategy. For example, the agricultural sector’s structural reforms provide land leases for a maximum of twenty years; the Chinese and Vietnamese governments, in contrast, established much longer and, in some cases, permanent contracts.

The government now allows self-employment in few occupations (a little over two hundred). Had it opened it up for the whole economy — reserving only those sectors regarded as high social priorities, like medicine — the reform would increase available products and services.

Complementary changes introduced to bolster these structural reforms — like the establishment of wholesale markets and commercial bank credits — have been inadequate and ended up negatively impacting the reform program. In addition, the bureaucratic and inefficient Acopio — the state agency with the monopoly power to buy most agricultural products at prices established by the government — has slowed agricultural production. As a result, harvested produce has spoiled while waiting to be processed at government plants.

The Castro regime’s half measures will, more likely than not, push Cuba closer to a form of state capitalism without democracy. But there is a feasible alternative for the country.

No Recovery

Until this new crisis, the Cuban economy had partially bounced back after the worst years of the Special Period, which devastated the country in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the late eighties and early nineties.

The country hit bottom between 1992 and 1994, when extreme food shortages led to an outbreak of an optical neuropathy epidemic that affected some fifty thousand people. Since then, the Cuban economy has surpassed the GDP it achieved in 1989.

But other indicators — such as real wages and pensions, which in 2014 were still at 27 percent and 50 percent of their 1989 level, respectively — never came back. Meanwhile, social spending is still falling, and family consumption is expected to decline 2.8 percent in 2016 and 7.5 percent in 2017.

Although the hunger of the early nineties is gone, Cubans still struggle to find enough food. The much-praised development of organic and urban agriculture on the island represents a relatively small part of agricultural production. As Cuban economist C. Juan Triana Cordoví pointed out, declining domestic production has forced hotels to import vegetables, including yucca, the root-vegetable mainstay of the Cuban diet. The small progress in sustainable agriculture doesn’t make up for the fact that food production has never regained its 1989 level and that more than half of Cuba’s food supply comes from imports, at an annual cost of $2 billion.

Many of the revolution’s gains in education and health have also been lost. The teachers who fled the educational sector’s low pay haven’t been fully replaced, and private tutoring — often provided by public school teachers in their spare time — has grown exponentially. In addition, numerous school buildings, libraries, and laboratories are crumbling. Before the start of the current school year, 350 schools were closed after they were found to be in dangerous physical condition.

The same applies to many hospitals and other medical facilities, which now operate with skeleton crews: the government sends large numbers of general practitioners and specialists to Venezuela and other foreign countries in exchange for oil or hard currency.

The regime’s contradictory reforms will likely pass with the historic generation of leaders. Second-generation bureaucratic officials are likely to fully commit to the Sino-Vietnamese model, perhaps tilting somewhat toward Russia’s capitalism, which combines massive oligarchic theft of state property with a nominal “democracy” that would give US Congress the political cover it needs to repeal the 1996 Helms-Burton law and remove the island’s economic blockade.

Besides winning the United States’s enthusiasm, this new generation of leaders will enlist foreign capital and at least a sector of Cuban American capital by reassuring them that the government will maintain total control over the state, the mass media, and the mass organizations — including state-controlled unions — to guarantee their new capitalist investors, foreign and Cuban, peace, law, and order.

Yet there are other economic models that are being talked about inside and outside the government, although in a rather discreet fashion due, in great part, to the political system that does not allow a full and candid exploration of ideas.

Free and Rational

Mainstream critics have for some time been arguing for the establishment of a free-market economy, which they present as the only “rational” alternative to the bureaucratic economic management of Communist Party rule.

This group covers a wide spectrum, ranging from a hard free-market stance to a more social-democratic welfare state perspective. In this latter grouping, moderate critics overlap with sections of the island’s academic economists, including members of the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana.

Yet hardly any of these critics have openly addressed the question of what to do with the most important part of the Cuban economy, the larger state-owned enterprises. Instead, they focus on establishing private PYMEs — the Spanish language acronym for small and medium size enterprises — although they haven’t clarified what “medium” actually means.

They have also supported the government’s move toward replacing the universal rationing system with one that subsidizes categories of people instead of products. Today, all Cubans, regardless of income, can receive a number of products at low, subsidized prices. The new system would only provide these products to the poorest and most disadvantaged, thereby rationalizing agricultural markets and reducing the government’s budget. The government’s recent reduction of the number of products distributed by this system marks the first step in this means-tested direction.

Finally, they imply that the state monopoly of foreign trade should end, and Cubans should be free to import all they can afford from abroad.

Tito in Cuba

Like all of the regime’s opponents, the nascent critical left — mostly composed of anarchist and social-democratic currents — has had to operate under close state monitoring and repression. These left-wing formations resist reductions to state benefits and — unprecedented in the Cuban left’s history — call for a worker-managed economy.

Interestingly, they never mention democratic planning or coordination among economic sectors. As a result, their version of worker self-management would create an economy of self-sufficient firms in competition with each other. This resembles the system implemented in Tito’s Yugoslavia from the 1950s until the 1970s.

This market socialism was locally self-managed, but regionally and nationally controlled by the League of Communists. It did increase worker input, decision-making, and productivity at the local level but, because of its competitive and unplanned nature, also created unemployment, sharp trade cycles, pay inequality, and notable regional disparities that favored the northern republics.

The workers’ powerlessness to decide on anything beyond what happened in their workplaces encouraged parochialism, isolating them from broader, national economic decisions. Workers felt no reason to support investment in other enterprises, particularly those located far away.

In the last analysis, as Catherine Samary points out in Yugoslavia Dismembered, Yugoslavian self-management could not confront either the bureaucratic plan or the market. The 1970s was the last decade of growth. Eventually a $20 billion debt led to the International Monetary Fund’s intervention.

The Yugoslav model is a fraught one to emulate in Cuban, then. Further making any kind of worker control unlikely, none of the government’s left-wing opponents have explained how it might be implemented in the absence of a workers’ movement or how it might operate if workers aren’t motivated to fight for those goals.

There are other voices on the critical left that reject any concession to private enterprise and capital on the grounds that capitalist enterprise by definition contradicts socialism. But they have been unable to answer the critical question of how a socialist and democratic Cuba could emerge from poverty and economic stagnation without concessions of any kind.

What is Possible

A growing number of Cubans on and off the island, see socialism — whether democratic or authoritarian — as an impossibility. A diminishing number of Cubans still regard it as either desirable or likely. Certainly, the island’s current economic conditions — combined with extraordinarily powerful international capital — make it hard to imagine a fully fledged form of socialism.

This view derives from a specific application of the general Marxist theory that rejects the possibility of socialism in one country, particularly when that country is economically underdeveloped and exists in a capitalist world currently unthreatened by socialist revolutions.

Besides having to face the hostility of its imperial northern neighbor, autarkic “socialist” economic development won’t fit for Cuba because the country still depends on oil imports. Further, its reliance on tourism and medical service, nickel and, to a lesser degree, pharmaceutical product exports and the dramatically shrunken sugar industry underline the foreign-trade character of Cuba’s economy. The island’s considerable integration into the capitalist world market prevents the establishment of a full socialist democracy.

This does not mean, however, that Cuba should abandon socialism. Instead, critics must think in terms of a transitional economy, a holding operation that can realistically be implemented until an international situation more favorable to socialism develops.

Classical Marxist political economy provides a model for what that possible holding pattern could be. This theory recognizes the greater role that individual, family, and small-scale production and distribution play in less-developed economies like Cuba.

In Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Friedrich Engels distinguishes between modern capitalism — where production is a social act, but the social product is appropriated and controlled by individual capitalists — and socialism — where both production and its appropriation are socialized. Following this distinction, the productive property requiring collective work becomes the proper object of socialization, leaving aside individual and family production as well as personal property.

A transitional economy in Cuba would therefore allow for small, productive private property. This accommodation derives from a fundamental Marxist analysis of capitalism, not an opportunistic adaptation to liberal, free-market politics.

In Cuba, as in many other less developed countries, a transitional economy would subordinate a private sector of small enterprises ruled by market mechanisms under a commanding state sector that administers the island’s big industry — pharmaceuticals, tourism, minerals, and banks — through workers’ control and democratically coordinated and planned in a democratic polity. The government would strive, through its knowledge of market conditions and adequate economic forecasts, towards harmonizing the state and self-employed economy according to a definite plan.

Economic Obstacles

But we must first honestly assess the Cuban economy, which, even before a reduction in Venezuelan oil shipments provoked the current crisis, had been in a marked state of deterioration.

For one thing, its all-encompassing public sector is floundering. As the Cuban economist Pedro Monreal reminded us, the government has openly admitted that 58 percent of state enterprises function “deficiently or badly.”

Also, the island’s economic growth has been generally low, a situation that will only be aggravated by the current crisis. Cuban economist Pavel Vidal Alejandro estimates that Cuba’s GDP will not grow in 2016 and will likely shrink by almost 3 percent in 2017. This would mark the first year of negative growth in the last quarter century.

Important voices in the left opposition have argued against economic growth for ecological and other reasons. But improving most Cubans’ material conditions is a condition of a successful democratization. The alternative — continual stagnation and declining living standards — will encourage massive emigration. This represents a tragedy in itself, but would also undermine potential democratic and progressive — let alone socialist — opposition movements.

Alarmingly, the rate of new investment, necessary to replenish the existent capital stock, has become among the lowest in Latin America, dropping below 12 percent of GDP. Government forecasts indicate that investments will fall 17 percent in 2016 and 20 percent in 2017. This will result in a rate of gross capital formation slightly over 10 percent, barely half the rate of investment considered necessary for economic development

The deterioration of Cuba’s capital stock makes it impossible to maintain the current economic output and living standards, much less to expand them. As a result, the substantial increase in tourism — from 3 million visitors in 2014 to 3.5 million in 2015, and a projected 3.7 million by the end of 2016, sparked by the resumption of US-Cuba relations in December 2014 — has strained Cuba’s tourist capacity to its limit.

Further, President Obama’s elimination of restrictions on the remittances sent to the island by Cuban Americans has significantly worsened food and beverage shortages. Supply cannot meet the increase in demand.

The Cuban economy’s productivity also lags. Agricultural yields — with the exception of potatoes — are well below the rest of Latin America. In industry, biotechnology is the only sector that enjoys high productivity relative to the region.

Rising productivity isn’t just a profit-driven capitalist scheme. An economy that prioritizes reducing backbreaking labor, improving living standards, and maximizing leisure time can only do so if it also prioritizes making more with the existing workforce.

Che Guevara advocated what in effect was the “sweating of labor.” But better organization, technology, and — most importantly — worker control would have the same effect.

Control, in itself, represents a powerful motivator. The current low productivity comes from a bureaucratic system that systematically creates disorganization and chaos and does not provide workers either with political incentives — allowing them to have a say and control over what they do — or with material incentives — typical of the developed capitalist world — to motivate them. Guevara’s moral incentives failed: they were a method to get workers to take responsibility without power and to work harder without control or pay.

Ecological Obstacles

Much of the island’s left opposition to economic growth is grounded in environmental considerations. Cuba now confronts many serious ecological problems, including the increasing number of breakages and leaks in the old and poorly serviced water pipes all over the island. This has led to a massive loss of water, which often spills into streets and empty lots, and to the frequently inappropriate storage that many residents have been forced to resort to in response to the lack of water. Consequently, the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dreaded Dengue illness, has proliferated.

Moreover, the growing number of pigs, poultry, and house-grown crops — part of the much-vaunted, but very problematic, urban agriculture movement — has combined with deteriorating garbage collection services to considerably increase the risk of urban health crises.

The recent government claims to have held off the Zika epidemic and almost eliminated the Dengue fever must be met with skepticism as long as these and other conditions that propitiate the spread of diseases remain.

Anti-growth sentiment among Cuban left-wing oppositionists was reinforced when, on a recent visit to Havana, the economist Jeffrey Sachs recommended that “the Cuban people don’t progress into the twentieth century.” As the left-wing journalist Fernando Ravsberg explained, Sachs argued that Cubans should not forget sustainability and concentrate on the development of organic agriculture, sowed without tractors and grown without using chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

If Ravsberg’s account is correct, Sachs’s argument fails to weigh the relative costs and benefits of environmentally conscious measures. Small and economical tractors, like those the Cuban government is planning to produce in association with US capital, do still consume oil. But oil’s negative environmental effects do not compare to the cost of human- and animal-powered agriculture. The latter model produces less food while requiring massive energy inputs from workers and animals.

Cuba’s history already proves this: the forced abandonment of motorized agricultural vehicles at the beginning of the Special Period constituted, in net terms, a huge setback for the Cuban people.

Also in the nineties, urban transport was demotorized, and many city residents turned to bicycles. They were later abandoned — not because Cubans abstractly preferred the infrequent and overcrowded buses or the expensive urban collective taxis (only a small proportion of Cubans own automobiles), but because bicycles don’t let workers arrive on time from distant working-class suburbs nor do they protect riders from tropical rains and winds from June until November.

The Chinese government has encouraged individual car ownership, which has contributed to the country’s overwhelming urban pollution. This should serve as a warning sign for Cuba to aim for the adoption of an effective mass transit system as an alternative environmental policy.

Finally, at a minimum, Cuba needs to improve on the 5 percent of its electricity derived from renewable sources, which is a quarter of the Latin American average.

The Politics of a Socialist Alternative

The move toward a socialist society does not only require a program, but also a politics. This requires using principled strategic and tactical considerations to engage with the government’s and various oppositionist currents’ proposals.

In doing so, Cuban socialists might find areas of overlap with the liberal Catholic and social-democratic critics. Those include proposals that would promote agricultural production and productivity, such as codifying individual farmers’ usufruct rights, eliminating the compulsory sale of agricultural produce to the government at prices dictated by the Acopio, and creating wholesale markets for small firms and individual producers.

In the field of urban employment, these proposals include forming cooperatives based on the initiative of interested workers, rather than on government diktats trying to dispose of so-called lemons — unprofitable enterprises or businesses that are difficult to administer on a centralized basis, like small restaurants.

At the same time, this new left will need to counter other proposals from those same groups. For example, they call for legalization of all forms of self-employment, including occupations that should be run on behalf of the public interest, like education and medicine.

The Left can respond to the call for free importation by arguing that a democratically run state should allocate foreign exchange on a strict priority basis, with social criteria that favor the most economically deprived sectors of the population and the purchase of capital goods that would most support the country’s economic development. Otherwise, affluent Cubans might waste the country’s relatively scarce foreign exchange on frivolous imports, such as expensive vehicles or luxurious furniture and household effects.

Socialists should also resist the dominant view — held by both critics and an increasing number of government economists — that the government should subsidize people, not products, that it should replace its universal subsidies with a system that provides for only the neediest citizens.

To be sure, those universal subsidies unnecessarily benefit wealthier Cubans. However, the critics of this program never mention their proposal’s downside, which is that it undermines social solidarity. International experience has shown that income-tested programs for the poor produce stigmatization and, as a result, lose political legitimacy over time, thus threatening their long-term funding and viability.

One answer to this problem would be the introduction of a sliding scale where everybody benefits in inverse proportion to their income. This would recognize differential need while maintaining maximum political support.

Socialists in the Marxist tradition understand that subsidies must be selective: if, under current conditions, everything was provided free of charge or sold below production costs, an economy would collapse in short order. Moreover, a relatively underdeveloped economy like Cuba’s has a much smaller surplus to leverage for free and subsidized goods.

But keeping the idea of universal subsidies alive leaves the road open for their future expansion as the Cuban economy becomes more productive and wealthier.

Liberal critics and the government itself support foreign investment as a means to deal with the Cuban economy’s undercapitalization. Many on the Left have opposed it, seeing it as the Trojan horse of capitalism and foreign domination. However, a policy of controlled and selective foreign capitalist investment is indispensable in the absence of a domestic developed-goods industry. These imports could bring in new machinery and renew transportation and utility infrastructure.

New investments from abroad can also have significant employment and multiplier effects that trigger the development of entirely new industries that complement and further develop the established ones.

Further, the impact of foreign investment on wages and working conditions could be negotiated by independent unions, which, among other things, should prioritize the immediate abolition of the Cuban government’s practice of collecting salaries owed to Cuban workers from foreign investors and then turning over to their citizens only a small fraction of the money collected. The government claims that they do this to finance social spending and other government operations. But the same goal could be achieved through a transparent and equitable tax system rather than through the government monopoly of the sale and control of labor.

It is true that worker-controlled production and powerful unions may deter foreign investment. However, an honest public administration and tax system as well as the existence of natural and human resources not reproducible elsewhere can also serve as a draw that supersedes those disadvantages.

Right-wing critics and oppositionists play down — if not ignore entirely — the crucially important issue of Cuba’s growing inequality. For the Left this presents a unique opportunity to push for independent unions, which, along with a progressive tax system, could be a more effective policy than the current one, in which the proliferation of bureaucratic rules harasses small firms and the self-employed.

This is not to do away with regulation entirely; it is necessary in occupational safety, health, pensions, and union rights. If these rules were administered — under worker control and supervision — by professional organizations rather than by a central bureaucracy, they would surely benefit workers, not owners. But to do so will require distinguishing between rules designed to protect the interests of the workers and those that protect the interests of bureaucrats.

Engaging with the specific proposals put forward by both the undemocratic government and by the pro-capitalist opposition sector, the Left will have the opportunity to formulate specific demands and to mobilize people to fight for them. This would build a movement — or at least a clear organizational pole — in spite of government repression and popular skepticism.

Cuba’s present regime will not permit the existence of other legal political parties, independent unions, or a free mass media. Of course, these elements constitute precisely the political setting that would facilitate the kind of transitional social and political system outlined here.

Nevertheless, the left opposition must talk about an alternative model that openly acknowledges both the possibilities and the difficulties involved in building a socialist democracy. This empowers people, rather than making them feel that nothing can be done to push the country in an anticapitalist, radically democratic, and socialist direction. But there is an alternative.

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THE CUBA CAMPAIGN TO DIMINISH OBAMA’S VISIT

May 18, 2016 7:14 PM

Miami Herald: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/article78499207.html#storylink=cpy

By Franco Ordoñez

Since President Barack Obama left Cuba, the Castro government has carried out a campaign to diminish the importance of the historic visit, according to Cuban human rights activists and U.S. officials.

Obama’s trip to Havana in March – part of ongoing efforts to normalize relations with Cuba –made him the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island in nearly 90 years. Activist Antonio Rodiles described how the Cuban government had launched a media push criticizing the U.S. government and praising communist leadership.

“They were trying to encapsulate – to close or create a bubble – around the visit. And they started to talk about the communist congress party. A lot of articles attacked the president’s position,” Rodiles said Wednesday during a panel discussion in Washington.

The dissident leader said, however, that Obama’s message still had gotten through to the Cuban people. Rodiles joined former Ambassador Roger Noriega, the former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs at the State Department, for a discussion on human rights in Cuba at the American Enterprise Institute research center in Washington.

Rodiles described the situation in Cuba as a fight over the public space in that country. And he doesn’t think Obama demanded enough on human rights, allowing the Cuban government to give the “illusion” of change while it works to transition power to a younger generation of Castros.

“This is something crucial for me and many people who are working on this, to show to the whole international community, to show to the Cuban people, to show to everybody that if the Castro family is there, nothing is going to change,” Rodiles said.

Since embarking on cozier relations with Cuban leader Raúl Castro last year, the Obama administration has been eliminating stiff regulations on travel and commerce. It has expanded opportunities for Americans to visit the island, but the administration has been criticized for not doing enough to fight human rights.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a group that tracks human rights and political repression in Cuba, reported more than 8,600 politically motivated detentions in 2015, a 315 percent increase from five years ago. In the first two months of this year, there had already been more than 2,500 arrests.

Rodiles said more people were willing to speak out about their frustrations as they saw an opening for change, but he said it had also given the Cuban government a sense of legitimacy.

It’s important to keep the focus on Cuba while Obama remains in office, Noriega said. Obama placed a bet that this opening will bring about change. Noriega, who has raised concerns about the opening of relations, said momentum was beginning to slow as multinationals reported that there was little investment opportunity.

He pushed Obama to focus more on human rights:

“You can’t separate economic rights and political freedoms, because the pillar of both of them is the rule of law. If you don’t have the rule of law, you’re not going to be able to create the economy they need.”

Rodiles praised parts of the president’s visit. He thanked Obama for spending so much time with opposition leaders. The president’s speech, he said, was the first time in 60 years for many Cubans to hear someone talk about human freedoms.

But he said the United States needed to decide who really were its friends:

“The people are pushing and facing the Cuban regime. We’re the friends of the democracy world. And we’re taking the risk for that. We need your support.”

z rodilesAntonio Rodiles

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UNUSUAL DISSENT ERUPTS INSIDE CUBAN COMMUNIST PARTY

By Andrea Rodriguez and Michael Weissenstein
Associated Press, Mar 30, 2016

Original article: Dissent inside the Party

HAVANA (AP) — Days after President Barack Obama’s historic visit, the leaders of Cuba’s Communist Party are under highly unusual public criticism from their own ranks for imposing new levels of secrecy on the future of social and economic reforms.

After months of simmering discontent, complaints among party members have become so heated that its official newspaper, Granma, addressed them in a lengthy front-page article Monday. It said the public dissatisfaction over the lack of open discussion before the upcoming Communist Party congress next month is “a sign of the democracy and public participation that are intrinsic characteristics of the socialism that we’re constructing.”

The article did little to calm many party members, some of whom are calling for the gathering to be postponed to allow public debate about the government’s plans to continue market-oriented reforms for Cuba’s centrally controlled economy.

“The base of the party is angry, and rightly so,” party member and noted intellectual Esteban Morales wrote in a blog post published before Obama’s visit. “We’ve gone backward in terms of democracy in the party, because we’ve forgotten about the base, those who are fighting and confronting our problems on a daily basis.”

Across the country, Cuba’s ruling party is facing stiff challenges as it tries to govern an increasingly cynical and disenchanted population.

Struggling to feed their families with state salaries around $25 a month, many ordinary Cubans see their government as infuriatingly inefficient and unresponsive to the needs of average people. The open anger among prominent party members in the middle of sweeping socio-economic reforms and normalization with the United States hints at a deeper crisis of credibility for the party that has controlled virtually every aspect of public life in Cuba for more than a half century.

The article in Granma appeared less than a week after Obama won an enthusiastic response from many ordinary Cubans by calling for both an end to Cold War hostility and for more political and economic freedom on the island. The unsigned article shared the front page with Fidel Castro’s sharply worded response to Obama, in which the 89-year-old father of Cuba’s socialist system said, “My modest suggestion is that he reflect and doesn’t try to develop theories about Cuban politics.”

Many Cubans are skeptical of free-market capitalism, wary of American power and cannot envision a society without the free health care and education put in place by the 1959 revolution. Party member Francisco Rodriguez, a gay activist and journalist for a state newspaper, said Obama’s nationally televised speech in Old Havana, his news conference with 84-year-old President Raul Castro and a presidential forum with Cuban entrepreneurs represented a sort of “capitalist evangelizing” that many party members dislike.

Rodriguez told The Associated Press that Obama’s well-received addresses to the Cuban people had nonetheless increased pressure on the 700,000-member Communist Party to forge a more unified and credible vision of the future.

“Obama’s visit requires us, going forward, to work on debating and defending our social consensus about the revolution,” Rodriguez said.

While Cuba’s non-elected leaders maintain tight control of the party and the broader system, the last party congress in 2011 was preceded by months of vigorous debate at party meetings about detailed documents laying out reforms that have shrunk the state bureaucracy and allowed a half million Cubans to start work in the private sector.

In the run-up to the party congress scheduled to begin April 16, no documents have been made public, no debate has taken place and many of the party’s best-known members remain in the dark about the next phase of Cuba’s reforms. Granma said 1,000 high-ranking party members have been reviewing key documents.

“My dissatisfaction is rooted in the lack of discussion of the central documents, secret to this day, as much among the organizations of the party base as the rest of the population,” Rodriguez wrote in an open letter Sunday to Raul Castro, who is also the top Communist Party leader.

Under Castro’s guidance, the 2011 party congress helped loosen state control of Cubans’ economic options and some personal freedoms, moving the country toward more self-employment, greater freedom to travel and greater ability to sell personal cars and real estate. The Granma article argued that the months of debate before the approval of those reforms made a new round of public discussion unnecessary. It also acknowledged that only 21 percent of the reforms had been completed as planned.

The April 16-19 party congress “will allow us to define with greater precision the path that we must follow in order for our nation, sovereign and truly independent since Jan. 1, 1959, to construct a prosperous and sustainable socialism,” the article said.

Rodriguez, who works closely with Castro’s daughter Mariela, the director of the national Center for Sexual Education, said the Granma piece was unsatisfactory. He called for the Seventh Party Congress to be delayed, saying many fellow party members share his point of view.

In the days after the Granma article appeared about two dozen people, many identifying themselves as party members, posted lengthy comments on the paper’s government-moderated website that criticized the article and the secrecy surrounding the upcoming party congress, which is widely seen as helping mark the transition of power from the aging men who led Cuba’s revolution to a younger generation.

“It is one of the last congresses directed by the historic generation,” wrote one poster identifying himself as Leandro. “This is, I think, a bad precedent for future leaders, who will feel like they have the right to have party congresses without popular participation.”

Dissent? What dissent?

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RIGHT AND LEFT, FROM A CUBAN PERSPECTIVE

Juan Antonio Blanco | Diario de Cuba | 2 Mar 2016

Original Article: Right and Left, from a Cuban Perspective

 zraulfamily28216iRaúl Castro, accompanied by a son and grandson. (Diario de Cuba)

From Havana I get an email seeking to address the challenges facing the country applying the binary axis of “Left” and “Right.” I imagine that two factors lead to this interest. One is an incipient ebb in regional populism. Another is the congress in April of the island’s only legal party – the same one that imposes on Cuba these dubious semantics and focus, exercising a monopoly over all State institutions.

But the language of the Jacobins and Girondins from the 18th century does not allow us to understand what is happening in the 21st century, in any geographical region.

The dilemmas facing humanity today cannot be solved applying the outmoded concepts of Left and Right. Neither do the labels of socialism or capitalism apply. As I stated in Tercer Milenio (Havana, 1993) what we are experiencing today is a change of eras, not an era of changes. This period is characterized by the rapid obsolescence of all that we knew. As Moisés Naim recently reminded us, everything is now extraordinary. From the fall of the USSR and the Eastern bloc, to Kodak being sunk by Instagram, and taxis by Uber.

Discussing the future of Cuba – or of any country – based on the conceptual coordinates of the last century is a futile and even dangerous exercise.  It is not possible to address and resolve these current challenges if they are not designated lucidly.

Cuba today is simply a poor country, disconnected from global processes; with a dreadful physical, communications and financial infrastructure; two decades behind in the acquisition of reliable and fast internet connections; public services (health, education, transport, water, electricity, sewage), whose quality is plummeting; degraded land, and the lowest wages in the hemisphere. It is also a closed society, where there is no basic freedom to exercise the right to free expression, association, movement, the forming of unions, or political choice, such that citizens have no way to peacefully alter this sorry state of affairs and achieve prosperity.

The policies that could resolve this mess are not socialist or capitalist, but rather good or bad, efficient or inefficient. Those in force today are terrible and counterproductive.

Revolution? The “Cuban Revolution” was already being quashed even as forces were fighting Batista, when a group of totalitarians yearning for a caudillo began to plot how to liquidate their comrades after their victory. Talking about this in 2016 is a big scam. What exists in Cuba is a totalitarian regime in the hands of a family, a clan.

Sovereignty? How can one uphold it in the 21st century to oppose citizens’ civil rights when Cuban society as a whole is deprived of the right to self-determination?

Nationalism? It is difficult to defend the government’s administration based on this outdated concept, nurtured in the late 18th century, when Havana prefers to negotiate with foreign powers and refuses to even dialogue with its own citizens.

I do not share the idea that the “bureaucracy” is the Big Culprit. Power in Cuba is held by two families with the same surname: Castro. Around them is a select military cadre. Together they constitute a permanent elite wielding power. Below them is a bureaucracy that serves only to “manage” their interests, not to make key decisions that benefit the country.

Lage, Robaina —and Díaz Canel today— were never members of the governing elite. They are simply CEOs, always expendable. Cuba’s real owners exercise their privileges as if the island were a private company registered under the trade name “Cuban Revolution.” They attach to this corporate appellation a series of qualifiers —”progressive,” “leftist,” “anti-capitalist” and others— which only serve to distract from reality.

I laugh when I think about Bernie Sanders and Podemos speaking, terrified, of a casta that represents 0.1% of the population but owns more than half of the economy. In this regard, as in others related to human rights, they suffer from a severe moral hemiplegia by selecting the victims they prefer to “defend.” When the offender is in their political camp, they choose to look the other way. In Cuba some 100 people rule the roost, lording it over the rest of the island. What percentage do they represent in relation to the 11.5 million citizens on the island, and the other two million off it?

Invoking the abstraction “state ownership of the means of production,” the “shareholders” of this dubious corporation, and the family presiding over it, claim permanent and unlimited exploitation rights over Cuba, not even needing to be the formal owners of work or recreational facilities, or real estate. They also have unlimited powers to do whatever they please vis-a-vis all other Cubans. The demand for freedom and human rights is the only solution that goes to the heart of the problem.

Modernity died in the ovens of Auschwitz. Absolute respect for the sovereignty of Germany allowed Hitler’s government, first, to deprive citizens of their freedoms and rights, and, then, under the shadow of a closed society, to undertake a forbidden process of rearmament. The Soviets and the Cuban government were able to secretly install nuclear missiles on the island because there existed no basic freedoms to denounce that operation in time. The Khmer Rouge initiated a national genocide —which rendered any dissent impossible, even within the party— and then turned on its former ally and neighbor: Vietnam. Hanoi, incidentally, did not hesitate to adopt a policy of “regime change” to install, at gun-point, a government that would be friendly to it in Cambodia.

The human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of 1948 take as their reference point those adopted by the French Revolution, but with a substantial difference: thereafter it was established that such rights were not just a national affair, but a good that was to be protected by the international community. It is not a question of moralizing. Respect for these rights is vital for international stability and security. The signers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the various international agreements for the protection of citizens’ rights have recognized that their sovereignty in this regard has limits.

Without freedoms and rights Cuban society will be neither socialist or capitalist, left-wing nor right-wing, but rather remain a sort of disastrously managed private Estate, employing slave labor. And a country whose owners can again pose a serious danger to their neighbors.

This, I think, is what we need to talk about.

zCaptureJuan Antonio Blanco Gil

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HOW GREAT IT IS TO BE ABLE TO “THROW THE RASCALS OUT”!

By Arch Ritter

The people of Canada just changed governments, voting out the Conservatives under Steven Harper and voting in The Liberal Party of Justin Trudeau.  It was a hard-fought campaign, with the Liberals coming from a distant third place and gradually moving to first place by means of great campaigning, good policies, steadily improving leadership and a widespread dissatisfaction with the government of Steven Harper.  The win by the Liberal party represents generational change, the installation of a new team to form the government, new energy and intellectual entrepreneurship, and a new and improved rapport with the Canadian people.

How great it is to be able to “Throw the Rascals Out”!

The results of the election are illustrated graphically below.

“Old Regimes” in time become mired in their sense of entitlement, self-importance, paralytic conservatism, sclerosis, irrelevance, entrepreneurial lethargy, and intellectual exhaustion.

The regime of the Castro dynasty in Cuba continues to block any opening to an authentic pluralistic and participatory democracy. This is most likely largely because it fears that it would be voted out of office and lose its monopoly of political power and the perquisites of power. How nice it must have been for President Fidel Castro and now his brother Raul to know that they would never have to fight a free and fair election and that they would never wake up the next morning out of office and out of power – despite their long series of policy screw-ups.[i]

But whether Raul’s regime likes it or not, an opposition, though tightly or almost totally repressed at this time, will strengthen. Movement towards genuine participatory democracy will only intensify.  Generational change will come.

If Raul Castro were truly interested in the long term health of Cuba – and his own historical “legacy” – he himself would make moves towards such political pluralism. Unfortunately, this is improbable though perhaps not impossible

[i] Recall Fidel, 1970: ” We have cost the people too much in our process of learning. … The learning process of revolutionaries in the field of economic construction is more difficult than we had imagined.” Speech of July 26, 1970, Granma Weekly Review, August 2, 1970

xzzzz zzzzzz zz

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WHEN FRANCIS CAME TO CUBA

By Carlos Eire

Carlos Eire is the T. L. Riggs Professor of Catholic Studies at Yale University.

Original article here: When Francis Came to Cuba, 

From “First Things” (“America’s most influential journal of religion and  public life”), October 25, 2015

CUBA-POPE-VISIT-MASSWe should cheer any time a pope mingles with sinners. It’s what Jesus did, and what his vicar on earth is supposed to do, too. Sin and evil need to be confronted, not ignored, and those who are unjust should be urged to repent and mend their ways. Unfortunately, there is little to cheer about when it comes to the mingling Pope Francis did with the Castro brothers in Cuba, and with other heads of state in Latin America who praise and emulate their dictatorship. Pope Francis seems much too comfortable with Latin American dictators and with their symbols of repression.

A few months ago, when he visited Ecuador and Bolivia, Pope Francis mingled with presidents Rafael Correa and Evo Morales, avowed disciples of Fidel and Raul Castro with tyrannical tendencies, but he refrained from speaking about their human rights abuses. He also received a blasphemous hammer-and-sickle crucifix from Evo Morales and accepted this gift with a smile. What if that crucifix had been in the shape of a swastika rather than a hammer and sickle?

That incident was a portent of things to come in Cuba, where Pope Francis has smiled his way through meetings with blood-soaked tyrants and failed to speak out about human rights abuses on the island, or to challenge the cruelty of his hosts. Pope Francis also failed to meet with any of Cuba’s non-violent dissidents, despite their urgent pleas for an encounter. This is not so much the “preferential option for the poor” as the preferential option for oppressors.

Havana’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino explained this approach by saying that the Catholic Church in Cuba had to avoid “partisan politics.” This is the same prince of the Church who has called for the arrest of asylum-seeking dissidents in his churches, and in April of 2012, at Harvard University, ridiculed these persecuted Cubans as “former delinquents” and “people with psychological disturbances” who lacked “any cultural level.” Despite his frequent calls for “reconciliation,” Ortega has referred to Cuban exiles as “gusanos” (worms or maggots), the unchristian epithet that the Castro regime has applied to all its opponents for over half a century.

The papal entourage eventually decided to give in to the dissidents’ pleas for a meeting at the last minute, as an afterthought, but the results were predictably disastrous. When some democracy advocates were suddenly and unexpectedly invited to meet with Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Havana all of them were arrested as soon as they left their homes. In addition, many other non-violent dissidents were rounded up or placed under house arrest, to prevent them from attending the pope’s open-air Mass. Meanwhile, the Castro regime sent busloads of its own hand-picked supporters to the papal Mass, to ensure that Pope Francis would have a sufficiently large audience of politically-correct Cubans. Worst of all, the selection process for those who were crammed into those buses was vetted at the parish level by the Cuban Catholic Church, and approved by its bishops.

When four dissidents somehow managed to get close to Pope Francis, despite the efforts of church and state to keep all such Cubans away from him, they were quickly attacked by plain-clothed state security agents and whisked away to prison. Has Pope Francis denounced these injustices, which amount to religious persecution? Has he voiced concern over the compliance of his bishops in this persecution? No. Not a word. His silence is deafening.

The Holy Father’s homily on Sunday, in Havana, focused on the vulnerable members of society, and it could have been delivered anywhere on earth. His sermon was full of beautiful sentiments, but there was very little in it about Cuba, and nothing whatsoever about the oppression, vulnerability, and poverty of the Cuban people. This sermon displayed none of the sharp-edged subtlety favored by his own Jesuit order. It was far too subtle. So subtle, in fact, that only someone with a doctoral degree in theology, rhetoric, or political science might be able to detect any reference to injustice in it.

As Newsweek has observed, seventeen years ago in his homily in Havana, John Paul II mentioned “freedom” seventeen times and “justice” thirteen times. In his homily, Francis did not mention “freedom” or “justice” once. All that Francis said about Cubans was that they are “a people which has its wounds, like every other people.” In other words, Francis told Cubans that they are no worse off than any other people on earth after fifty-six years of economic and political repression, and that they really have nothing to complain about. The closest he came to upbraiding the Castro regime or to calling for an end to the enslavement of the Cuban people was to say: “service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.”

Ironically, dictator Raúl Castro had just greeted Pope Francis at the airport with a long speech that had less to do with his visit than with praising the failed ideology that has made Cuba one of the poorest and most repressive nations on earth. “Preserving socialism is tantamount to securing independence, sovereignty, development and the well being of our nation,” said dictator Raúl.

In his long-winded speech, Raúl Castro strung together a series of lies that have yet to be challenged by the Pope or by anyone at the Vatican. Emboldened by the pope’s overt approval of his regime, made manifest in their meeting in Rome this past spring, the octogenarian dictator boasted: “We have founded an equitable society with social justice and extensive access to culture, attached to traditions and to the most advanced ideas of Cuba, Latin America, the Caribbean and the world.”

As if this were not cheeky enough, the unelected and unchallenged “president” Raúl Castro also claimed that he was committed to building “a prosperous and sustainable socialism focused on human beings and the family, and with the free, democratic, conscious and creative involvement of the entire society.”

Fine things to say, especially for someone who is responsible for driving out into exile twenty percent of his country’s population, breaking apart millions of families, and stifling all dissent and all access to outside sources of information. The Holy Father had nothing to say about these lies then or afterward.

Sadly, however, he did have something nice to say to the oppressors. According to Granma, the top official newspaper of that regime, in a private meeting Francis “thanked comrade Fidel Castro for his contributions to world peace in a world saturated with hate and aggression.” If this is indeed true, Francis has overlooked the history of a consistently violent government, one of the very few to have brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation, and the only one in Latin America to have sent troops to three continents and to have sponsored warfare and terrorism around the globe, and to have consistently called for the extermination of Israel.

What is any Catholic to make of this? Why has Pope Francis chosen to side with the oppressors rather than with the oppressed?

God only knows. Perhaps he wants to win favor with the Castro regime so that the Catholic Church in Cuba can avoid the persecution experienced by Protestant evangelical churches on that island? Perhaps he knows that most popes who have locked horns with secular rulers have ended up losing way too much? Perhaps he is taking a cautious Jesuit approach of the sort taken by his order in seventeenth-century China? Perhaps he knows that the Catholic Church has always thought of change in terms of decades, centuries, and millennia rather than days, weeks, months, or years? Or perhaps he likes what he sees in Cuba and genuinely admires its unelected rulers? His reasoning is immaterial. What matters most is that his smiling silence and his joviality in the company of ruthless oppressors is immensely dismaying.

Pope Francis is not exactly the silent type when it comes to social, political, or economic issues. When he thinks something is wrong, he lets the world know, as he has just done in his encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he champions environmentalism and excoriates materialist consumerism. A few months ago, in Bolivia, he spoke of “the unfettered pursuit of money” as nothing less than “the dung of the devil.”

So, why is it that he refrained from calling the Castro regime and other such failed experiments in materialist totalitarian communism “the dung of the devil”? Is communist materialism any less fiendish? Is communist political and economic repression any less reprehensible? Why didn’t he call Raúl and Fidel Castro to repentance? Why did he praise them instead?

We’d like to know why.

But who are “we,” and why are “we” so impertinent, you ask?

Here is who “we” are: we who have been unjustly abused by the Castro regime, who have seen our nation ruined, who have had our relatives tortured and killed, who have seen our families torn apart by imprisonments and exile, who have been denied the right to express ourselves freely, who have been subjected to atheist indoctrination and had our right to worship denied. In brief: we who know from first-hand experience that to live in Cuba is to be a slave.

We could provide a much longer list of injustices endured for the past fifty-six years, but what would be the use? For now, all we Cuban Catholics can do is acknowledge the fact that the first pope, Saint Peter, made many, many mistakes, and that none of his successors have been infallible when it comes to politics. And we can take comfort in praying along with an innumerable throng of Christians who stretch all the way back to first century: Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

CUBA-POPE-VISIT-MASS pope

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THE CHURCH, POPE FRANCIS, AND CUBA

Raul-Castro-Pope-FrancisWorld Affairs Journal September/October Issue, 2015.

José Azel

Eight hundred years ago, the Magna Carta laid the foundations for individual freedoms, the rule of law and for limits on the absolute power of the ruler.

King John of England, who signed this great document, believed that since he governed by divine right, there were no limits on his authority. But his need for money outweighed this principle and he acceded to his barons’ demand to sign the document limiting his powers, in exchange for their help.

King John then appealed to Pope Innocent III who promptly declared the Magna Carta to be “not only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust” and deemed the charter to be “null and void of all validity forever.” Thus from the beginning of the conflict between individual rights and unlimited authority, the Church sided with authority. It is a position that, with notable exceptions has, and continues to characterize the conduct of Church-State affairs.

In 1929, the Holy See signed with Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government the Lateran Treaty which recognized the Vatican as an independent state. In exchange for the Pope’s public support, Mussolini also agreed to provide the Church with financial backing.

In 1933, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) signed on behalf of Pope Pius XI, the Reich Concordat to advance the rights of the Catholic Church in Germany. The treaty predictably gave moral legitimacy to the Nazi regime and constrained the political activism of the German Catholic clergy which had been critical of Nazism. Similarly, advancing the Church’s interests in Cuba is the explanation given for the Church’s hierarchy coziness with the Castro regime.

For most of us the Catholic Church is simply a religion, but the fact is that it is also a state with its own international politico-economic interests and views. It is hard to discern the defense of any moral or religious principles in the above historic undertakings of the Church-State.

These doings of the Church, as a state in partnership with authoritarian rule, are in sharp contrast with the Biblical rendition, where Christ was persecuted for his political views by a tyrannical regime acting in complicity with the leadership of His church. Cubans today are also politically persecuted by a tyrannical regime. The question arises as to whether the leadership of the Catholic Church will side with the people or with the Castro regime.

Pope Francis probably, was not thinking of Magna Carta, the Lateran Treaty or the Reich Concordat, when he warmly received General Raul Castro in the Vatican earlier this spring, and he probably won’t be thinking about that foundational document for individual freedoms, the rule of law and for limits on the absolute power of the ruler or how the medieval Church spurned it when he travels to Cuba in September. But the questions of the Vatican’s support for authoritarianism and the Pope’s political ideology will be in the background of his visit nonetheless.

In political terms, Pope Francis is himself the head of an authoritarian state -an oligarchical theocracy where only the aristocracy -the Princes of the College of Cardinals- participate in the selection of the ruler. Most religions do not follow a democratic structure, but the Catholic Church is unique in that it is also a state recognized by international law.

Pope Francis may seem to be sailing against the winds of this structure in some of his carefully publicized “iconoclasms,” but clues he has left as to his political and economic thought regarding Cuba show someone very comfortable with certain status quos.

In 1998, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Monsignor Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the Pope was then known, authored a book titled: “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro.” In my reading of the Pope’s complex Spanish prose, he favors socialism over capitalism provided it incorporates theism. He does not take issue with Fidel Castro’s claim that “Karl Marx’s doctrine is very close to the Sermon on the Mount,” and views the Cuban polity as in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine.

Following Church tradition he severely condemns U.S. economic sanctions, but Pope Francis goes much further. He uses Cuba’s inaccurate and politically charged term “blockade” and echoes the Cuban government’s allegations about its condign evil. He then criticizes free markets, noting that “neoliberal capitalism is a model that subordinates human beings and conditions development to pure market forces…thus humanity attends a cruel spectacle that crystalizes the enrichment of the few at the expense of the impoverishment of the many.” (Author’s translation)

In his prologue to “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro,” Monsignor Bergoglio leaves no doubt that he sympathizes with the Cuban dictatorship and that he is not a fan of liberal democracy or free markets. He clearly believes in a very large, authoritarian role for the state in social and economic affairs. Perhaps, as many of his generation, the Pope’s understanding of economics and governance was perversely tainted by Argentina’s Peronist trajectory and the country’s continued corrupt mixture of statism and crony capitalism.

His language in the prologue is reminiscent of the “Liberation Theology” movement that developed in Latin America in the 1960’s and became very intertwined with Marxist ideology. Fathered by Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez, the liberation theology movement provided the intellectual foundations that, with Cuban support, served to orchestrate “wars of national liberation” throughout the continent. Its iconography portrayed Jesus as a guerrilla with an AK 47 slung over his shoulder.

John Paul II and Benedict XVI censured Liberation Theology, but after Pope Francis met with father Gutierrez in 2013 in “a strictly private visit,” L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, published an essay stating that with the election of the first pope from Latin America Liberation Theology can no longer “remain in the shadows to which it has been relegated for some years…”

The political ideology of the Argentinian Monsignor Bergoglio may not have been of any transcendental significance. But as Pope Francis, he is now the head of a state with defined international political and economic interests. These state-interests and personal ideology will be in full display in his upcoming visit to Cuba and the United States.

In “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro,” Pope Francis speaks of a “shared solidarity” but, as with Pope Innocent III’s rejection of the Magna Carta, that solidarity appears to be with the nondemocratic illegitimate authority in Cuba and not with the people. This is a tragic echo of the Cuban wars for independence when the Church sided with the Spanish Crown and not with the Cuban “mambises” fighting for freedom. No wonder that when Cuba gained its independence, many Cubans saw the Church as an enemy of the new nation.

In his September visit Pope Francis will have a chance to reverse this history and unequivocally put the Church on the side of the people, especially with the black and mulatto majority in the Island. If he does not, history will judge him as unkindly as it has Innocent III. When the Castros’ tropical gulag finally fades into the past, Cubans will remember that this Pope had a choice between freedom and authoritarianism, just as his predecessor did eight hundred years ago, and picked the wrong side.

Azel_Jose4_

José Azel is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami and the author of the book “Mañana in Cuba.”

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SHOULD CUBA REMAIN A ONE-PARTY STATE?

By Samuel Farber

Original here: One-Party State?

HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba the one-party state is a very controversial question that few of the left-wing critics of the Cuban regime have been willing to address. What follows is an attempt to explore, from the left, some of the issues around this topic.

In the first place, the abolition of the Cuban one-party state is one thing, separate and apart from the political system that would replace it, whether without or with many political parties. In reality the Cuban Communist Party (PCC, its Spanish acronym) is not a party – which would imply the existence of other parties – but the organ that monopolizes the political, social and economic life of Cuban society. This monopoly – explicitly sanctioned by the Cuban Constitution – is based, among other authoritarian mechanisms, on the control of Cuban society through the so-called mass organizations that function as transmission belts for the decisions taken by the PCC. For example, the CTC, the official trade union central, is the transmission belt that allows the Cuban state to maintain its monopoly of the organization of Cuban workers. Many left critics of the Cuban regime will agree that workers (and all other Cubans) should have the right to organize themselves independently of the PCC to struggle for their own interests. Taking this notion to its logical conclusion would imply the abolition of the one-party state system, including its control of the mass organizations that function as the transmission belts for the Cuban Communist Party.

Cuba’s dominant system is going through a transformation – likely to accelerate after the historic leaders of the revolution pass away – towards the Sino-Vietnamese model of state capitalism under the direction of the PCC, which means that the need to abolish the one party state system with its transmission belts will remain in effect.

The function of political parties

The modern political parties came into being in the nineteenth century as suffrage expanded. As sections of the ruling class felt increasingly threatened, they organized themselves politically to defend their class interests, typically in conservative, liberal and, sometimes, Christian parties. There have been times when a ruling party represented one whole social class, as was the case of the Tory party in the U.K. in various historical periods. More frequently, however, different parties have represented different sectors of the ruling class. Liberals and conservatives not only represented material conflicts within the ruling classes, as for example the interests of the great landlords against those of the new industrial capitalists, but also ideological conflicts of pre-capitalist origin concerning the power and role of the Catholic Church in society.

Aside from representing different sectors of the ruling classes, these parties also incorporated intermediate sectors of society, such as independent professionals and small businesspeople, and tried to coopt popular expectations and struggles in a manner that would not threaten the fundamental interests of the powerful. In many occasions, the so called middle classes and strata also organized their own political parties especially in parliamentary systems with proportional representation (which historically propitiated the creation of numerous parties.) In Cuban political history, we have the case of the Ortodoxo Party founded by Eduardo Chibás, a party principally based on the middle classes but with a growing multi class support. But the fact that this party implicitly or explicitly accepted Cuban capitalism does not mean that it was an expression or had an organic relationship with the ruling classes.

That means that, historically speaking, the relationship between class and party has not been unequivocal: the ruling class has usually not been a monolith and has generally not been represented by a single party. This has also been certainly the case with the working class, the representation of which has been assumed by such diverse parties as social democrats, communists and social Christians. In the case of the classical social democracy that represented the working class through its close links with the unions, its growing conservative tendencies were not merely ideological but also represented the growth of a union bureaucracy, which based on the power that the unions had acquired, had the possibility of extracting sometimes significant concessions from the ruling classes. These concessions helped to demobilize the workers and solidified a bureaucracy more concerned with protecting its huge investments in the union infrastructure than in risking everything in pursuit of a revolutionary break (like in the Europe of the first postwar period) or in resisting imperialist war making (1914). This was the history of the very powerful and supposedly revolutionary Marxist German Social Democracy, whose bureaucratic-oligarchic model was portrayed by the Italian-German sociologist Roberto Michels in his classic Political Parties.

With respect to the Russian Bolshevik party: although Stalinists as well as Cold War apologists in the Western world held on to the myth that there was no difference between the Bolshevik and Stalinist parties, numerous historians (Stephen Cohen, Alexander Rabinowitch and William Rosenberg among others) have demonstrated that before undergoing the process of bureaucratic degeneration that began with the Civil War that took place from 1918 to 1920, this revolutionary party was in reality quite pluralist and democratic. Among many examples, I can cite the fact that although Bolshevik leaders such as Kamenev and Zinoviev opposed the October Revolution, they continued to be important party leaders after the revolution, and that although Bukharin publicly adopted and agitated for a political line radically opposed to Lenin’s regarding the peace of Brest-Litovsk in 1918, he remained as party leader for many years afterwards. Far from the “monolithic unity” defended by the Castro brothers, the Bolsheviks were characterized not only for the plurality of political positions, but also for a chronic tendency to factionalism that generally did not become an obstacle to “unity in action.”

It is for all these reasons that almost 80 years ago Leon Trotsky in The Revolution Betrayed harshly criticized the Stalinist theory about political parties and social classes that tried to justify the one-party state:

  congreso-machado-fidel-y-raul

 First Vice President Juan Machado Ventura, ex-President Fidel Castro and President Raul Castro at the last Communist Party Congress in April 2011: No end in sight for the CPP – for little while at least.

In reality classes are heterogeneous; they are torn by inner antagonisms, and arrive at the solution of common problems no otherwise than through an inner struggle of tendencies, groups, and parties. It is possible, with certain qualifications, to concede that “a party is part of a class.” But since a class has many “parts” – some look forward and some back – one and the same class may create several parties. For the same reason one party may rest upon parts of different classes. An example of only party corresponding to one class is not to be found on the whole course of political history – provided, of course, you do not take the police appearance for the reality.

With respect to the multi party systems of capitalist societies: there is no doubt that political democracy has seriously deteriorated throughout the world. Political parties are increasingly devoid of content and subject to the demands of the shallowest kinds of political marketing, a process that has been aggravated by the huge costs of political media campaigns, particularly in the U.S., which in turn has closed the access to the big media for nascent movements and candidates who oppose the existing system. Also, parliamentary bodies have been declining, and many of their powers have been taken over by the executive branches, which unscrupulously use the doctrine of state secrets to protect their newly assumed prerogatives. As a result, political apathy, ignorance, and abstention have become prominent features of capitalist democracy. While this is fatal to any notion of democracy built on the participation and control of an active and informed citizenry, is has certainly been convenient and highly functional to a capitalist system that structurally privileges private and corporate economic power at the expense of public regulation and democratic control from below.

After the One-Party State

But let’s suppose that Cuba’s one-party state will be abolished. Whether we want it or not, new parties will develop once repression and the legal and constitutional obstacles against independent party organizations have ceased to exist. Shall we demand then that those new parties are suppressed, or instead of that, shall we engage wholeheartedly in the propaganda and political and ideological agitation against the inevitable neoliberal and reactionary wave that generally has succeeded bureaucratic Communism throughout the world? Those are the circumstances, when we could struggle, for example, for a new Constitutional Convention to publicly debate the critical question of the kind of society that should replace bureaucratic Communism, debates that should include, of course, our arguments in favor of the construction of a socialism based on democracy and liberty. This debate would also be a strategy to prevent the immediate recourse to electoral campaigns and their marketing focused not on political programs but on individuals, many of who are going to be financed, among others, by the rich Cuban-Americans in Miami. To confront this plutocratic possibility, we could, for example, campaign for the exclusively public financing of all electoral activity, including free access to the mass media and distribution of public funds according to the popular backing for each political group.

But let us assume the optimal case – unfortunately very unlikely under the current circumstances – of a broad mass movement replacing the bureaucratic one-party system with a revolutionary and democratic socialism based on the fullest liberties and on worker, peasant and popular self-management. In that case, what would be the meaning of the unity that many Cubans have wished for? To the extent that there are common interests – material as well as ideological and political – we should aim for a unity based on joint political activities and negotiations to form alliances based on shared political interests and principles. But this need not be the “monolithic unity” propagated by Raul Castro and other revolutionary leaders, which has meant censorship and the suppression of different point of view even within the ranks of the revolutionary government. As Rosa Luxemburg put it, freedom is for those who think differently. It is mistaken and dangerous to assume that there will not be important conflict of interests as well as of points of view among the popular classes under a revolutionary and democratic socialism.

There is no reason to think that class conflict exhausts all possible social conflicts, including those based on strictly material questions. For example, one fundamental questions for any society, be it socialist or capitalist, is the rate of accumulation, or in other words, what part of economic production is to be immediately consumed and what part is to be saved to insure the reproduction of society and the improvement of the standard of living. In capitalism this is decided through the decisions of the ruling class within the framework of the market economy that favors and consolidates its power. Under socialism, this decision would affect every social group because it would determine the resources to be available resources for each work and community center. It is to be expected that differences over this question will develop between, for example, those who want to enjoy a better standard of living today and those who are more concerned with the standard of living of future generations. In that case, how would those differences and conflicts be organized into coherent and systematic alternatives so they are decided democratically? That would be the critical function of parties under socialism, educating and agitating in favor of alternative visions of the road that society can or should take.

It is well known that political parties, like many other types of organizations, have shown pronounced bureaucratic and oligarchic tendencies. But there are measures that can be adopted to compensate and fight those tendencies, such as combating the apathy and abstention among the rank and file through democratic debate and the continual practice of real power. An active, informed and involved membership in the affairs of their parties and society is the best guarantee against bureaucratization. There are also organizational measures that can reinforce that participation and control from below, such as mechanisms that assure its local and national democratic control of union and party functionaries, and the maximum transparency with respect to party policies and its internal functioning, aside from its right to remove any leader through party and union referenda. (There are people who have advocated a ban on reelection for union and party leaders. Although this proposal is worth discussing, I believe that it would be counterproductive and possibly undemocratic and in any case would not prevent manipulation on the part of the leaders that have been officially removed.)

I hope that this discussion on the one-party state continues. The topic is too important to ignore it; it is one of the kernels of the thoroughly undemocratic system ruling in Cuba.
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*Samuel Farber was born and raised in Cuba and immigrated to the United States before the 1959 Cuban Revolution. He has written many books and articles about Cuba including Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959. A Critical Assessment published by Haymarket Books in 2011

Cuba 1

The Party in Action in the National Assembly

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