Cubanálisis El Think-Tank
SPECIAL IN CUBANÁLISIS-THE THINK-TANK
Many appear to accept good-naturedly that there is nothing significant happening in Cuba, and that news is coming in dribs and drabs that can’t be confirmed about the supposed transformation that should be taking place, but more than an informative drought there is an evident lack of analytic instruments to understand the profound strategic reorganization of the country, which reaches us in coded ciphers from the Island.
It’s not surprising, since the information is controlled by a government of military men, rather than a military government, that is to say, with a style of leadership operative-strategic that has nothing to do with classic theories of public administration such as are studied in schools of governance and political science. The military in power, to avoid the sinking of the country-Titanic, have declared a state of emergency, and know that if they don’t turn around the situation quickly, there will be nothing left to manage after the collapse.
A collapse that will not happen as was modeled so many times by a too optimistic sector of the exile community, at times far removed from reality or fixed on one scenario, through an explosion of popular uprisings and the collapse of the government after the biologic death of the caudillo.
Which doesn’t mean that the much announced collapse is impossible, although it’s not the only plausible scenario, and appears more feasible if the new government is not able to avoid the inevitable sinking of an economy already in an acute crisis, or at least solve the items defined as being of “national security” (production of food) and “maximum priority” (the housing shortage).
Faced with this unforeseen scenario, the more primitive emotional recourse has been to want to kill the messenger, as if by eliminating the meteorologist one could avoid the hurricane. And instead of putting things in a safe place and reinforcing the windows to face the hurricane, one wastes time attempting to discredit the messenger and cursing nature, destiny or luck.
We are confronting recent definitions that mean that, in addition to public health, education and the “energetic revolution,” which were the declared strategic priorities in Fidel Castro’s proclamation of July 31, 2006, and have now discreetly passed into history as part of the Fidelist-Guevarist voluntarism, these have been substituted by more prosaic, but realistic tasks such as guaranteeing food and housing for the populace.
After this reevaluation of priorities, the Theater of Military Operations (TOM in its Spanish acronym) has turned into what could be called the Theater of Economic Operations (TOE in Spanish) directed by a Senior Staff (Raul Castro and the Commission of the Political Bureau) with three strategic directions of combat which will be explained later on, while the 169 municipalities in the country have transmuted into the Tactical Units of Combat (UTC in Spanish) of this decisive operation.
Neither companies, nor battalions, nor regiments, nor brigades: the Theater of Economic Operations defined in the country will “combat” in 169 municipalities, each one under the orders of the Party as chief and a Local Government as the Main Planner, and all controlled by the provincial “army corps” of the party and the government, in charge of putting beans, potatoes and milk on the table of Cubans, and at the same time, trying to keep their homes from collapsing at the first heavy rains.
In other words, apparently the strategic vision of Raul Castro and his closest military collaborators appears to renounce the classic branch and ministry structure of the hyper-centralized Cuban economy, in favor of a territorial leadership based operationally in the municipalities of the country, where efforts would be concentrated to try to guarantee the success of the two priority tasks, which by definition have a local, and not central character.
The elimination of the so-called absurd prohibitions, with more emotional than a real economic sense, have played the role of “exploration in combat” by sounding the operational situation in the country and testing the state of opinion among the population.
If all the above sounds like military language, in what other language do strategists think or speak? Could anyone really consider that, for example, the information that circulated in April about the supposed reforms in the immigration process to be applied in May was not part of a trial balloon launched from power, and that it escaped “involuntarily” from some bemused Cuban official?
Some not unappreciable portion of Cubans outside the island are frozen on the vision of a weak and crafty Raul Castro, breathing in the shadow of his brother and surrounded by a home for seniors with Alzheimer’s, and don’t realize that the general has demonstrated an extraordinary capacity for maneuvers, expanding the level and reach of Cuban international relations, adjusting little by little a disastrous and stagnant economy in a country without institutions, inherited precipitously after the illness of Fidel Castro as a state secret, while maintaining repression at a sufficiently sophisticated level to avoid internal strife or important condemnation against the regime.
Instead of analysis, there’s “newsy” improvisation, discredit and insults, to try to explain all that isn’t understood and understand all that isn’t explained, reproducing every bit of news that appears, one after the other, without evaluation or examination, without co-relation, to conclude that “nothing is happening” and that Raulismo is more of the same, with rhyme and all.
Cubanalysis, the Think-Tank, as a group, in books, publications and through its individual members, launched the first alerts regarding “Raulism” when the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR in Spanish) were still seen as a monolith and no factions or their tendencies within were perceived as distinct.
It alerted about the differences between Raul Castro and Ramiro Valdes when they were imperceptible, as well as the return of Ramiro immediately after the succession process began, which developed within sight of all but was not noticed by many.
It identified the “Taliban” and offered evidence of their resistance to the “historic ones” and the generals, and their loss of power, when many still identified some of them as “number two” or “probable successors.”
It pointed out the petroleum deposits that lie in the Exclusive Cuban Economic Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, confirmed by the U.S. Geodetic Service, and the strategic transcendence of these for the Cuban economy and relations with the U.S.
It warned that there was no return for Fidel Castro when TV news chains throughout the world went to Havana to broadcast the supposed “re-apparition” of the Comandante.
It explained how Havana did not depend on Hugo Chavez and his petroleum to the extent of needing to follow him unconditionally, but that instead it was the Lieutenant Colonel from Sabaneta who depended completely on the assessment and support from Havana to stay in power.
Many of these criteria, which are now taken for granted, met with serious and responsible criticism, or incredulity, very normal factors in such a complex analytic process dealing with very restricted information. There was also resistance; disdain, silence, attacks and insults, attempts to lynch the messengers so the message would not be heard, and these didn’t exactly come from Havana.
The easiest thing was to scream “Raulistas,” attempting to discredit us and at the same time avoid the need to think: everyone does what they know best, or the best they can, and thus it will be.
And what truly is Raulism?
As a result of the succession in Cuba it’s become a fad to talk about “Raulism” as a kind of new line of ideology from the Havana regime, it’s even been characterized obtusely as a variation of Castro Lite.
The term has definitely become a kind of comfortable catch-all to mark the substitution of certain figures that put an end to an autocratic era without changing the dictatorial essence of Raul Castro’s government.
But here, the same thing is taking place as in the Soviet Union, where there was neither Kruschevism nor Gorbachevism, nor in post Mao China, whose reforms were not characterized with Deng Xiaoping’s name.
On the Island, the Army General is not presenting a novel political philosophy or anything like it, nor does he pretend to: his main task is to avoid a collapse and to manage, with a semblance of common sense, the resources of a bankrupt country.
In the economic sphere, he must face technological obsolescence, backwardness in cybernetics, transportation and infrastructure; the industrial inefficiency, a mounting foreign debt, unproductive agriculture and fishing, and a flagrant lack of discipline.
At the political level, the excessive centralization of power and the lack of incentives for the population are evidence of the failure of the centrally planned economy.
During nearly two years Raul has maintained an iron grip over the dissidents, although to date he has been able to avoid measures such as Fidel Castro’s massive incarcerations.
But with a population on the edge of misery, with an economy incapable of sustaining itself, and many aspirants to the supreme power after the departure of the gerontocracy, these are difficulties that Raul Castro must face every day.
Amen to maintaining equilibrium within the elite to avoid confrontations, although everything points to his having managed this exercise of power with figures from the old guard in key positions.
The Cuban paradox consists of the glorification of Fidel Castro by the nomenklatura, who derived their power from the caudillo, while at the same time desirous for his biologic end so they can generalize the changes necessary to placate the popular desperation, since while still living, the bed-ridden caudillo constitutes the main obstacle.
Towards this end, they maintain intact the myth of the founder; discreetly change whatever must be changed, in the name of a Fidel Castro idealized by the propaganda of the visionary genius of the unavoidable “rectifications.”
Limited by his own age, 77, and that of his closest collaborators, Raul Castro’s personal plan is to maintain himself in power for a few years and during that time, to guarantee that the actual command of the Party and the Army be handed down to the second tier, so they may give continuity to the impetus for economic development of the country.
When that happens, they aspire to retirement, in Cuba or who knows where, with the money of dubious origins and minimal immunity, or impunity, so they won’t be bothered.
Taking into account the political tendency of the party elite in almost the totality of formerly communist nations, the reformist wing and socialist orthodoxy that coexist within the PCC (Cuban Communist Party) will possibly get entangled in rivalries that could end up favoring a democratic opening.
But there is no need to get ahead of events, it’s better to continue in the present: although there is no Raulism, there are Raulists, and they form the majority of the Political Commission Bureau, or the Group of Seven: Raul Castro’s senior staff.
His unconditionals are people who enjoy Raul Castro’s absolute confidence, who made up the circle of close associates during the interregnum between the Proclamation of July 31, 2006, and his official naming as Chief of State on Feb. 24, 2008.
Proceeding from the Second Eastern Front “Frank Pais” or the high command of the FAR, they must orient and control militarily the general strategy of economic changes, to which will be added “by decree or by force,” the leadership of the remaining factions of the PCC and the government.
In the meantime, and in contradiction to what was predicted by some experts, the role of the “impresario-generals” has been diluted in the new government. Far from heading the main enterprises of the country with active military men, as some had thought and proclaimed, the General-President has sent them back to their quarters, leaving the entrepreneurial role to “civil” officials, although maybe of military origin, from whom results will be demanded as if at a military camp.
Without discounting the importance that the military enterprises and those managed by high officials during many years had, it must be said that if the FAR in the past 15 years were favored in the GAESA group enterprises as a capitalist-style administration, this is changing today in the spheres of agriculture and fishing, where the mechanisms of a “civil” industry are being resorted to.
Why does Raul Castro take his foot off the gas pedal?
It’s been verified that in the past two months, Raul Castro’s resplendent government has entered a sort of waiting phase, with no news-worthy novelties in regard to “changes;” there is a return to the old rhetoric, while the official press remains critical in a minor key, as if the leadership debated among themselves between the need for changes and caution in making them.
There seems to be a consensus about the need to advance toward a limited opening of the market, which must lead to the restitution of value to salaries and acceptance of differences in income in society, in order to provide incentives for productivity, but without losing essential political controls: of course, from this to the Chinese model is still a long way.
But there are weighty factors that explain why the new government continues to make very isolated decisions instead of undertaking the promised essential structural changes.
These factors are: the presence, very diminished and incoherent, though still latent, of the historic caudillo—and very important—the possibilities of a change in North American policies with regard to the regime as a result of the electoral contest in the U.S.
In the meantime, the leading nucleus within the Political Bureau concentrates on jump-starting agriculture to resolve the problem of feeding the general population, aggravated by the rise in prices in the world market, using increasing credits to acquire equipment, raw materials and purchase indispensable supplies.
When Raul Castro came into power provisionally on July 31, 2006, the price of a barrel of oil fluctuated between 50 to 70 dollars. When he assumed command officially on February of 2008, the price was around 100 dollars. In June of the same year it is now around 140, with on sign of weakening.
Considering the year 2005 = 100, the price of rice in July of 2006 was 108, the following year at 136, and in June of 2008 it’s above 160, and will continue to rise.
It doesn’t matter what the General and his generals think or wish, if they keep the economy as if these price indexes didn’t exist, they won’t have enough money left for even the funeral of “you-know-who.”
The Carioca Alternative
In this panorama of excessive caution in April and May, there is only one thing that shows progress: the first foreign inversion in Cuban agriculture by Brazil has been approved.
The visit of Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Relations, Celso Amorim, to Havana, started with proposals of a highly political content that shows the interest on the part of the government of Luiz Ignacio da Silva, Lula, to tie into Cuba’s future development, from petroleum to soy beans and even beef, pork, and fowl.
The Carioca Chancellor declared that his country aspired to become Cuba’s first trading partner. Part of the concrete agreement was the selection of more than 40 thousand hectares of land (one hectare is equivalent to 2.47 acres) in the provinces of Matanzas and Ciego de Avila for the cultivation of soy beans with Brazilian institutional support, which Fidel Castro attacked at the first opportunity, alleging that genetically modified soy beans were unfit for human consumption, which is a fallacy.
For his part, after participating in a forum for impresarios, Amorim pointed out the progress of the collaboration in agricultural production and told journalists that they were in the process of studying credits that could amount to 600 million dollars, to finance infrastructure and services.
The Brazilian minister also made a protocol visit to the president of the National Assembly of the Popular Power, Ricardo Alarcon, who closed the program with a joint session to check compliance with the ten bilateral agreements signed this past January during Lula’s visit.
That meeting, chaired by Carlos Lage on the Cuban side, was attended by two other members of the Political Bureau, Concepcion de la Campa and the Minister of Basic Industry, Yadira Garcia. As Lage declared at the meeting before the challenge of Brazil’s becoming Cuba’s number one trading partner, that the regime “was favorably disposed to this objective.”
After the meeting, Raul Castro, accompanied by Carlo Lage, member of the Secretariat Fernando Remirez Estenoz, and Chancellor Felipe Perez Roque, had a lunch with Amorim and his delegation that lasted three hours, giving a very clear signal of the importance of relations between the Cuban government and Brazil. Days before with the Venezuelan Chancellor there was no lunch, nor three hours: a few minutes, coffee, and expressions of solidarity.
A week before Amorim’s visit, officials from Petrobras had discussed in Rio de Janeiro with the Minister of Basic Industry, Yadira Garcia, and the possibility of making seismic studies in the Exclusive Economic Cuban Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to an advisor to the president of Petrobras, during this trip to Havana there was progress with the Cuban side, though the negotiations have not yet concluded. Not withstanding, on his return to Brazil, Chancellor Amorim informed the press that the group Odebrecht, and important Cariocan consortium in the building trade, will open an office in Havana.
Taking into account that this company has distinguished itself in the construction of refineries, platforms, ports, and in the drilling of oil wells in deep waters for Petrobras, everything seems to indicate that this office will be linked to a feasibility study for Brazilian investments as a block in the Cuban deposits on the high seas.
One should point out that since the harvest of 2007, cane-cutting combines “Case IH” of Brazilian provenance have been in use in Holguin, and that in actuality, with the advice of Brazilian technicians, they are being employed in sugar fields from Camaguey to Guantanamo.
The machines, Case-International Harvester, with more than 60% of their components manufactured in Brazil through a covenant with the matrix firm Fiat Group of Italy, have contributed to making that nation the greatest producer of sugar and one of the main ones in the world in alcohol.
The meeting of President Lula with the regime’s first Vice-President, Machado Ventura, during the FAO Summit on Nutrition in Rome, showed how interested both parties are in this game of strategic reach.
This rapprochement decidedly signals the interest of both governments in establishing mutually beneficial economic relations, and is inversely proportional to the Castro-Chavist alliance sustained by Venezuelan petroleum, clearly ideological in tone.
When President Luiz Ignacio da Silva traveled to the Island on January, he expressed his desire to help Cuba by stimulating his country’s impresarios to invest, and “thus accelerate the political and economic transition,” and officials both Cuban and Brazilian expressed that Brazil would be “a more convenient partner than Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela,” in the transition process.
If things did not advance more rapidly then it was because of Fidel Castro’s complete refusal to give the green light to the opening, an indication that according to General’s actual decisions, his brother’s health must be continuing to degenerate rapidly.
That is why there’s been a distancing on the Cuban as well as the Brazilian side regarding Caracas, although Havana must be very careful because of the 98,000 daily barrels of petroleum, the submarine cable from La Guaira-Santiago de Cuba, and the inexhaustible checkbook from the socialism of the 21st Century towards the socialism of the 19th Century.
The distancing of Raul Castro from Caracas is in evidence, first of all, in the coolness with which the results of the December 2007 referendum were observed from afar, without proposing any “overturning,” later on the gelid position taken in the Ecuador-Venezuela-Colombia dispute, and lastly the official silence about the death of Manuel Marulanda, which did not surpass the level of news-worthy narrative.
Which consequently results in the strategy of the regime to pass on to Chavez the “care” of the FARC, to concentrate on improving relations with the Colombian government of Alvaro Uribe, as evidenced by the absolute silence regarding the 900 gigabytes of information found on Raul Reyes’ computer, of which not a line that could compromise the regime has been published.
After his surprising speech asking the FARC to unconditionally free all hostages and give up their arms, on the grounds of it not being the appropriate historic moment to continue the adventure, on Sunday June 15 Chavez announced in “Aló, Presidente” that he would visit Fidel Castro in Havana the next day, without giving any other details nor mentioning Raul Castro. Evidently there are many things to coordinate with the new situation.
Curiously, it’s in the most radical-Left inspired press that criticism of the PCC and in Raul Castro’s new government has appeared, from being more preoccupied with their diplomatic relations with Uribe than with the FARC, making an exception of Fidel Castro, who “really repudiated” the action in which Raul Reyes was killed.
The New Government’s Strategy
The General’s strategy is determined by the pressure-fear before the rising tide of expectations generated by the end of autocracy, which leads to change, and this will in the long term imply a rejection of the Castro legacy.
Although some on the outside refuse to accept it, the population, in general terms, is hopeful and expects some improvements under the General: things were so critical and so hopeless, that minimal gestures such as those undertaken so far offer, from however far away, a light at the end of the tunnel of optimism.
At the same time, the new government can count on relative support from relatively critical internal sectors in the realm of ideas that could contest its succession: the Catholic Church and the intellectuals.
The governments of Latin America as well as most of Europe both assume the new team will have to implement reforms, and have opted to wait-and-see, keeping track of how things may develop.
Only the almost totality of the political elite in Miami and the actual US administration find themselves going against the current, stuck on a one-scenario strategy that has been repeatedly demonstrated to be ineffectual, waiting for a popular Big Bang.
We can infer that Raul Castro’s general strategy has an initial phase of three to four years, looking to bring the country to a point where the most aggravating and critical problems can be solved (food, housing and transportation), and after that a coherent model of development can be established.
It would be at this moment that the actual political elite, headed by Raul Castro, would transfer all the mechanisms of power to a younger generation, which will have a clear understanding of the way and how the model works.
Due to this we may have before us a government very conscious of its provisional nature, which has as its goals to retire from military and civil activities the founding generation of the Revolution as soon as conditions for a transfer of power are propitious.
That is to say, according to military logic and doctrine, when Raul Castro considers that the Cuba-encampment he leaves behind can function “normally” in his absence and that of the “historic ones.”
The Chinese experiment, despite being common (one Government, two Systems) is not easily transferable to Cuba, since far from being a model or goal, it’s a road towards something unknown; after implementing reforms, the results have forced improvisation along the way. Raul Castro cannot distance himself from his brother’s “élan,” as Deng Xiaoping did with Mao, if only because of his last name.
Besides, Cuba doesn’t have the extension of territory China has, which allowed it to experiment in different regions: its economy is very fragile, and it doesn’t have any techno-economic power prepared to invest massively: Brazil’s offer is in diapers at the moment, and one would have to define whether the Cubans want to dance the samba, if not whether the Brazilians want to dance it massively in Cuba.
In actuality, it’s not possible to define if there is a “Chinese” socio-economic model or a “Vietnamese,” since the critical situation of food first and the housing shortage requires operative measures above and beyond any coherent plan. To venture a parallel, due to the military composition, authoritarian style and situation of the nation, the strategy is closer to the type of the Taiwanese regime of Chiang Kai-shek or the Malayan one of Mahatir.
In post-Fidel Cuba power is concentrated in the Political Bureau and the Council of State, and the Senior Staff represented by the Commission of the Political Bureau, where practically the same people who represent the main military commands are repeated.
Far from establishing a separation of powers between the Communist Party, the State and the Government (as in China or Vietnam), all authority continues to be concentrated in the same group of leaders, who attempt, collectively, to represent the absolute power of the Comandante-in-Bed.
We’re not dealing with the classic military government of a banana republic in Latin America or Africa: we have before us a super-executive with a military majority mounted over a civil administration.
If the armed forces still constitute the best organized institution, Raul Castro has not relied upon them for his economic or social plans: he has looked to reinforce the institutions and legitimacy of the Communist Party, and everything indicates that it is in the top hierarchy of the party apparatus that the decisions will be undertaken, where strategy will be chosen and direction determined.
If in China it was the Party that led the reforms and was the institution where ideas were debated, tendencies clashed and leaders imposed their will, it was not so in the Soviet Union of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, nor in the formerly soviet Eastern Europe. In these, the vehicle was the national assemblies or soviets, both at the national and regional level, which weakened the Communist Party in the extreme, and finally provoked its dismantling.
At the beginning of Raul Castro’s interim government, the hard-line defense by the president of the National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, in making official the Succession, made it appear as if this organism might play a new role in the post-Fidel stage.
Actually, after serving as a forum in February 24, 2008 for the formal ratification and institutional legitimacy of the previously designed new government, the President of the ANPP was excluded from the Executive Committee of the Political Bureau, which would lead one to think that Raul Castro learned from the experience of the events during the soviet perestroika, when the assemblies (soviets) got out of Gorbachev’s control.
As long as totalitarian control doesn’t weaken or dissolve in the face of new situations, we will have to wait for a post-Raul era, to see if the National Assembly remains as pure scenery or if it can play a minimally parliamentary role: if it did, then it might become one of the vehicles to go from a succession to a transition.
In the meantime, Raul Castro wants to return to the Assembly the eventual role of oversight and control in the work of the government which originally corresponded to it, and was usurped by the chaotic and disorganized style of Fidel Castro from the very moment of its creation.
As Ricardo Alarcon has stated, the reorganization and the expansion of the Commissions of the ANPP with its assemblies held closer together will strengthen the institution and conform to judicial norms. In addition, he said that institutions, personalities and citizens should be incorporated into the analysis, investigation and formation of legislative projects, which until now was not done.
Without shame or glory, the omnipotent Group for Coordination and Support to the Commander in Chief has been transformed into the Group for Coordination and Support of the Council of State: beyond semantics, the team of proconsuls for Caesar has been turned from morning to night into a group of bureaucrats with not much power, at the service of a collegiate organ consisting of 31, rather than any one caudillo in particular. Another decision of even greater significance was the passing on of the Strategic Reserves the Comandante controlled completely to the high command of the FAR.
The Food Problem
While the supreme decisions were established in the highly centralized Political Bureau and the Council of State, and more exactly in the Commission of the Political Bureau, the group of seven samurais whose main charges repeat, executive implementation has been decentralized toward provincial and municipal leadership in the sphere of agro-production.
In this sphere the provincial and municipal delegations must assume the work of distribution of lands, the application of measures to increase fish production and the local marketing of the products.
The conviction to implement the necessary changes to link the Cuban economy to the realities of the contemporary world exists, although it depends in large part on external factors such as the elimination of sanctions by the EU and the weakening of the US embargo, which will influence the rhythm of economic integration of the Island into the global sphere.
Regardless, independently of what happens in the arena where the regime cannot determine the results, Raul Castro is being forced to liberate his internal market, which has been the reason for the chronic scarcity as a result of the erroneous or Machiavellian policies of Fidel Castro.
Two key variables as incentives for the internal market are property and price, and Raul has confronted both with four specific decisions: to return to price its original function, to distribute fallow land in usufruct to private individuals, to stimulate unlimited material remuneration such as compensation for work, and to allow free consumption gradually as the economy recovers.
As a consequence, General Castro is prepared to accept the reality of inequalities, tolerating the notion of “classes” and social strata, although maintaining food subsidies, public education and a general system of health: an attempt at a socialist utopia, social-democratic, which leads to Che Guevara’s funeral.
The Minister of Foreign Investment, Marta Lomas, recently expressed that while there are other models being studied on the Island, they aspire to finding their own model. Without doubt, it can be seen in agriculture, where market economy models are beginning to be implemented and inspirations of the New Economic Policy (NEP) that Bukharin tried to implement during the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution and which Stalin pulverized with forced collectivization and terror.
It’s clear that we have before us underway, if not quite there yet, a dual scheme characterized by the gradual resurrection of the market with a restrictive political system, whose goal is to mix consumerism with a pragmatic authoritarianism, through the fortification of the role of one party. That is why recently Raul declared in front of the Central Committee, “When the difficulties are great, the greater need for order and discipline.”
Speaking crudely, Raul is betting immediately on a combination of the experiences of the so-called “system of entrepreneurial perfectionism” and a return to the original concept of the so-called New System of Leadership and Planning of the Economy (NSDPE) developed in the 1970’s as a response to the madness of the Ten Million harvest, and approved, after reticence and cuts by Fidelistas, in the First Congress of the Communist Party in 1976.
Despite the tenacious resistance and permanent boycott by Fidel Castro, the NSDPE demonstrated superior and more rational results than the madhouse of the “revolutionary offensive” and the “spirit of the Che,” which fatally sank the Cuban economy.
After ten years of fruitless efforts and three Party congresses with no clear definitions, Fidel Castro brought down the system, launching with no consultation “the process of rectification of errors and negative tendencies,” which destroyed the economy and brought on the “special period” not because of the fall of communism, but because the caudillo decided to advance full speed ahead “on the correct path.”
Thirty-three years after that first Party congress that approved the NSDPE, Raul Castro appears to want to try it again, this time without the Comandante— is it too late for two meals?
The rapid elevation of world prices and the internal food crisis combine to precipitate reforms in agriculture and will force them to expand these more. That is why for the Cuban government, the next two to three years are the most critical stage ahead. Although Cuban agriculture has reserves for productivity, lands and human resources capable of avoiding the disaster, the global economic juncture doesn’t leave much space, and will stretch greatly the effectiveness of those elements.
The food crisis presents three strategic theaters of economic operations:
It’s In these three strategic zones where there are higher number of blacks and mulattos; the alimentary crisis also appears to have “color.”
The selection of three Deputies from the two provinces of Havana to direct the Agro-production Commission of the national Assembly is evidence of how important it is to the government to improve the situation in the capital city.
The production of food has become the main task of the government and the Communist Party, now clearly defined as a matter of “national security.” The country spent 1,700 millions of dollars importing food in 2007, and with the recent increases in the price of food production and transportation, it will spend 1,900 million this year to buy 20% fewer products.
The measures decentralize the agricultural sector, transferring central control from the Ministry of Agriculture from Havana, and all the decisions on the use of the lands, crops, distribution of materials and marketing would be made by municipal delegations, now guarantors of state control over resources and the destination of the contracted production. Private producers and cooperatives would be under supervision of the municipalities.
There are about 250,000 persons linked to private property and 1,100 cooperatives, where the state determined what these would produce and how much they would sell the state at a fixed price arbitrarily determined.
In view of the fact that of the cultivable surface of 6, 629,600 million hectares about half remain fallow, the regime decreed it would distribute lands in usufruct to existing farmers, but so far there has been very little distribution to new farmers.
This is because in the first phase they are “being fortified” (according to official terminology), units of agricultural and livestock production (Cooperatives of Agriculture-Livestock Production, private), and Basic Units of Cooperative Production (semi-state owned) to stabilize them and eliminate those that aren’t profitable, distributing among the first their lands and resources.
The increasing incorporation of new agricultural producers will correspond to a second phase not yet defined, since it relies on the state providing the credit and raw materials, to which the most productive enterprises and co-ops have priority in actuality.
The change is already noticeable from the beginning: the economic manager of a co-op with 750 ha. in Bejucal pointed out that for the first time they had received fertilizers and tools for cultivation and said that if they continued to receive what has been planned they would be able to grow viands and vegetables for all of Bejucal and “export” to Havana.
The private farmers already enjoy a certain degree of economic prosperity and this is evident in their bank accounts, their level of lifestyle with automobiles, refrigerators and TV’s telephones, etc. The 63 workers from Nueva Paz in Havana, who cultivate tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers for tourist centers have an average monthly income of $2000 pesos, some $80 dollars a month, five times what a doctor earns. As such, they come to the government’s stores and empty them, a store attendant says.
Seventy percent of the eleven million Cubans were born after 1959 and three million have not yet turned 20. If in pockets of extreme poverty in eastern Cuba people protest the actual living conditions, in general terms, Raul Castro’s regime represents an alternative that didn’t exist until now.
Notwithstanding, for some time, until agriculture takes off, it will have a strict choice of balancing credits with available cash to buy raw materials and purchases of food.
Not only are there material difficulties to elevate agricultural and aquatic production with respect to raw materials (fertilizers, pesticides, machinery), but also bureaucratic obstruction, organization and salary levels which they are now trying to resolve and date from the period of huge Soviet subsidies.
Because of this, what separates the actual situation from an eventual scenario in which the basic needs for food production are resolved?
This reordering of the Cuban agricultural system proposes the dissolution of 106 state agricultural enterprises, some of which are already being converted into lenders of services to directly serve the producers and distribution of products. As the reforms in agriculture are gradually extended, Raul Castro will have to make difficult decisions to bring into equilibrium other sectors of the economy.
Salary Measures for Industry
A second wave of reforms should consist of the full application of the so-called “Impresarial Perfection” in the industrial sphere.
In industry one must take into account that productivity at work, despite all forecasts, only grew five percent in 2007, according to official figures, whose exactitude and precision we have a right to question.
The regime also recognized that the resolutions 187 and 188 of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS), referring to discipline in the workplace, did not have economic results, because work and salaries had not been previously reorganized, a euphemism that refers to voluntary autism.
As a first step toward resolving this situation, Resolution 9 of the MTSS was approved, adjusting the form and system of payment to resulting productivity.
A member of the Political Bureau and Secretary General of the Central Workers of Cuba (CTC), Salvador Valdes Mesa, explained to Bohemia magazine his perception of the salary disorder:
“In all these years of the Special Period the country has seen it necessary to make particular decisions for determined sectors, branches, enterprises or ministries. The decriminalization of dollars came, then the country applied stimulus in dollars for those sectors that needed to bring in more income, and stimulate, for example, exports. This influenced the disorder in the salary system and today our pay scale has many problems: groups are bracketed and in many activities, the principle of socialist distribution doesn’t work; it’s done collectively and it isn’t fair.”
These declarations imply an admission that Fidel Castro was mistaken once again making hasty decisions since 1989, attempting to repair one error with another, without taking into account that the economy functions as a whole and that any stimulus in the productive sector leads to social inequalities with those not stimulated.
On the other hand, even in the prioritized sectors salary stimulation was given unjustly, against the worker while favoring the group.
Although the first measures by Raul Castro were directed at strengthening discipline in the workplace, it made a similar error in that it was based on too “military” a focus, since first the individual worker must be given incentives, even though the group may not meet its collective goals as is now formulated in Resolution 9.
But when this union Bonzo posits that “there is nothing more unfair—and unequal at the same time—than egalitarianism,” he faces an interesting change in language in regard to what was accepted as politically correct during the times of the now ill Castro (Fidel).
According to some observers, the mentioned Resolution is the equivalent of a new funeral for Che Guevara, despite the official homage on the 80th anniversary of his birth.
Petroleum, credit and liquidity
As to the energy problem, there is a curious situation: Carlos Lage declared a few days ago that the country consumes 158,000 barrels of petroleum a day, making it necessary to save.
Elementary arithmetic suggests something different: Cuba officially claims it produces half a million tons of petroleum per trimester, which would be some 7.3 million barrels, an average of some 80,000 barrels per day.
If Chavez is giving Cuba 98,000 barrels a day, according to official data, in addition to the 80,000 barrels Cuba produces, there should be a surplus of 20,000 barrels a day, 600,000 a month, or some 7.2 million barrels a year.
This represents nearly half a million tons of petroleum a year, and at the price of $130 a barrel, that would make 936 million dollars a year in petroleum surpluses that Cuba can count on despite its constant laments on the subject.
Petroleum continues its strategic direction and everyday there are more companies interested in prospecting in the Cuban Exclusive Economic Zone, now with the interest shown by Brazil: even though the prospect of submarine oil is long term, the proven reserves are sufficiently attractive to interest many investors, and the possibility of obtaining credits against future production in this area cannot be discounted.
National production is advertised as a million ton-equivalent every three months and increasing: this constitutes approximately half of the country’s needs.
If the rhythm of increase in petroleum from terrestrial wells and platforms is maintained for two or three years, and the first significant extraction of submarine petroleum is added to the national volume, the availability of this product would satisfy the national demand, and the specter of an energy paralysis that has hung over the regime for half a century would disappear from the scenario.
Besides, the country can count on enough allied producers of petroleum (like Libya, Angola, Azerbaijan, Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, and apparently Brazil) to face any emergency needed to fill a sudden break from Venezuelan supplies.
Although Raul Castro’s government doesn’t have an immediate problem with credits, they will have to be very careful with disbursements, keeping the purchases of food or materials down to the indispensable and punctually paying the financed sums. If Vietnam is inclined toward giving Cuba extraordinary quantities of rice, and Venezuela and Iran were to forgive the unpaid balances, neither China, nor Brazil nor Russia are guided by proletarian internationalism.
A complicated situation for exiles and dissidents
The reforms the new government is introducing in agriculture and other sectors have seized from dissidents a part of their program in favor of better economic conditions; thus they are concentrating on the fight for human and political rights.
In light of the latest events, the struggle for the liberation of political prisoners, represented by the Ladies in White, clashes with the Castroite project of using the prisoners as the coin of exchange for the release of the five Cuban agents convicted in the U.S. for espionage, which official propaganda identifies as “the five heroes prisoners of the empire.”
That is why the marches by the wives, sisters and mothers of the Cubans summarily sentenced during the Black Spring, which used to be “tolerated” on 5th Avenue in Miramar, were repressed when they attempted to go beyond that frame to demonstrate in front of government offices at the Plaza of the Revolution.
The dissident leaders who reside in the capital have not escaped repudiation, surveillance and provocations, but have avoided being jailed because the regime knows the international price it would pay for this. Never the less, the ranks of the opposition, especially those who live in the capital or the capital cities of provinces, are being submitted to a greater degree of preventive detentions, “acts of warning” and even aggressions, to prevent their reclamation of civil and political rights.
Right now the dictatorship is taking advantage of the bitter polemics among diverse organizations of Cuban exiles with regard to the use of North American federal funds to give economic support to dissidents and the families of political prisoners, and recently the difficulty of receiving such funds in the island has been denounced.
The declarations by some dissidents that they are not receiving help in sufficient quantities, although fair, has helped to muddy the situation, without clarifying that it is the very terms of the Helms-Burton Law that require them to invest more money in administrative costs so that the economic help to the opposition on the island will be more effective.
The Bush administration, despite its claims of hardening against the regime, has not proceeded to apply article 3 of that law, which was suspended by Clinton’s government from the time it was signed.
The present administration missed the opportunity of suspending the legal prohibitions towards sending private funds to Cuba destined for dissidents, and to that it added the provisions of limiting the amount of remittances sent by Cubans to their relatives and further spacing out the right to travel to the Island.
This has not only affected the dissidents inside Cuba, but also served to distance some Cubans in the U.S. from the most conservative sectors within the Republican Party.
While Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama has declared himself in favor of eliminating these harsh policies of the Bush administration, Senator McCain, the Republican candidate, has emphasized not meeting with Raul Castro in the eventuality of being elected in November.
For the first time Cuban American voters have before them two totally and substantially different options on the focus of relations between the eventual North American administration and the Havana regime, which will make the presidential campaign in South Florida much more interesting.
And the U.S. has not managed to convince Europe to embrace the “hard” line towards the regime: increasingly, the superpower stands alone before The European Union, Latin America and the rest of the world, who flatly condemns “the Blockade” and looks for very different alternatives to confront the regime.
As if this weren’t enough, the Vatican appears to be seriously betting on mediation and the very reserved meetings between Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone with Raul Castro in Havana and with Jose Ramon Machado Ventura in Rome suggest that the Church considers there are real possibilities for negotiating a quid pro quo with the regime.
Not even the subject of racial discrimination has been embraced by the dissidents as an element for mobilization, despite the fact that the inequalities between blacks and mulattos in regard to the white population, not just within the internal order or the proportion among the penal population, but as the non-white population for which the receipt of family remittances from the outside constitutes a practical impossibility.
A significant group of internal dissidents appear to lean towards conceding a degree of credibility to the idea of a plan of positive reforms on the part of the regime, even now that things have become more complicated in relation to help from the exile community and the North American administration with its intricate mechanisms for channeling help.
And it’s not only European and Latin American governments who appear disposed to grant Raul Castro’s government some time to begin to see transformations: even someone such as the ex-Soviet ruler Mikhail Gorbachev recently affirmed that Raul Castro’s government will bring changes to Cuba.
The General’s general apparent economic strategy
The general strategy to resolve the food crisis and housing problems is based on the development of agricultural and fishing production, petroleum from Venezuela, nickel and tourism as sources of income and the wellspring of solutions.
In tourism, the construction of 30 hotels before 2010 is planned, to add another 10,000 more rooms.
In this sector the model of mixed enterprises is imposed (national enterprises, foreign capital and imported and transmissible managerial experience) and in agriculture private and cooperative production, although the acceptance of foreign capital for “agri-business” is being vigorously debated, with the Brazilian variant seeming to modify the equation.
In actuality today there are 230 mixed enterprises, 162 less than existed in the year 2000.
In order to reconcile the currency (CUC, peso, dollar) and escape monetary schizophrenia, it’s necessary to strengthen the Cuban peso, via production, because almost everything that is a necessity within the present level of supply is destined for tourism.
Even Raul Castro himself made clear that this change needs to take into consideration the system of salaries, minority prices, gratuities and subsidized products and services, such as the ration book and other “irrational and unsustainable” mechanisms.
The State pays the salaries of 80% of the active labor force, subsidizes education, electricity, water, gas and telephone, in addition it imports 50% of the food consumed by the country (80% subsidized) and tries to repay its external debt: an evident imbalance between income and expenditures.
Trade with China and the petroleum agreement with Venezuela continue, and Brazil appears to hold promise, while general tourism generates 2,000 million dollars in gross income, although the high operating costs because of inefficiency reduce the net income significantly. Nickel, on its own, brings in 1,400 million dollars annually.
The family remittances from Cubans on the outside represent more than 1,000 million dollars these days, despite the restrictions imposed by the Bush administration: but in the case of a victory by Barack Obama in November’s presidential election, or a change in present position by John McCain, these could easily double.
The production of nickel maintains its discrete but steady ascent and the evolution of world prices continues to favor the producers: with a production of over 70,000 tons annually, the prized mineral contributes more than 1,400 million dollars in hard currency to the government coffers, beating out tourism. And new investments to the tune of 700 million with Venezuela are planned.
Tobacco reached 400 million dollars in exports during 2007, and the stimulus measures applied to private producers should be reflected in greater volume in 2008.
In round numbers, considering nickel, tobacco, tourism, remittances, traditional products for export, services and the income of GAESA, the regime could have 6,000 million dollars at its disposal: nothing extraordinary but enough to not feel trapped.
The development of this analysis, based on the proven realities on the Island, leads to a set of conclusions that without doubt will provoke an itch in those who firmly adhere to the scheme of only considering that it’s only “more of the same,” and continue betting on an explosive collapse that is not visible on the horizon.
In the first place, the regime is not cornered internationally, if one compares the situation with Myanmar’s military Junta (old Burma), Sudan, or the Haitian usurpers of the nineties. The prudent distance maintained toward the Bolivarian deliriums, or the hordes of Tirofijo, or the turpitude of Evo Morales, and a certain disdain towards the clowning of Rafael Correas and Daniel Ortega have worked in the regime’s favor on the international stage.
The position of the Bush administration towards a “hard” line has not prevented the increase in sales of food products, paid in advance in hard currency which are in the hundreds of millions: the Nuevo Herald points out that: “purchases of food by Cuba from the U.S. increased to a record figure of $254.7 million during the first months of 2008 (…) In April alone the state enterprise Alimport bought $82.2 millions in agricultural products from U.S. companies, the largest monthly balance since transactions between the two countries began in 2001.”
Europe, Japan and Canada maintain the expectation of a gradual evolution of events towards an opening in position, without being excessively demanding about the extent of that opening, at least for the moment.
Russia, China, Vietnam and generally the majority of African, Asian and Caribbean nations maintain at least cordial relations with the regime, which still presides the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations and has expanded little by little the influence of its international relations with many countries, and which received 184 votes at the UN when it proposed a condemnation of the U.S. “blockade.”
At the economic level, the actual situation is extremely complex and difficult, brought on by the disastrous heritage of Fidel Castro and the accelerating rise in world prices for food and petroleum, but the regime, in contrast to the constant indifference and improvisation during the Comandante’s time, has designed an urgent strategy to begin work in agriculture, housing and transportation, and seems to be outlining actions of greater scope to be applied in the near future.
Certainly, caution has been the primary consideration in the decisions of the leadership, but as time goes on they should be going deeper into the application of more profound structural changes, or the economy will not be able to sustain itself.
With a much more realistic sense of the needs of the country and the conditions of life of the population, it doesn’t seem likely that the regime will become paralyzed in facing more profound transformations when it sees the actual measures are insufficient: it’s not a matter of openly embracing a market economy and various forms of property in a massive way, but to allow the working of indispensable mechanisms to insure the minimum conditions necessary for life for the population.
Simultaneously, with credits financed by China and Venezuela and opportunities such as that recently offered by Brazil, plus those intuited by Russia, in addition to the promising route that the income from medical and biotechnology services sensibly administered indicates, with the growth of tourism, production of nickel, petroleum and tobacco, the circumstances would exist to not just weather the actual crisis, but to plan a realistic program for development.
In the internal political and social order, the succession to power has generated expectations of change and better conditions, if only in comparison to the bottomless well of Fidel Castro’s time. The timid liberalizing measures such at the sales of cellular phones and computers, the possibility of lodging at hotels that used to be for the exclusive use of foreigners, or even the recent authorization of sex change surgery, have awakened illusions among the population that now they will see improvements and that Raul Castro is applying a different model in Cuba, although when one goes deeper, the population seems to “feel” more than understand this.
Though the repression continues without signs of relief, its application has been much more sophisticated and selective: while the Ladies in White were removed from the Plaza of the Revolution, it was without violence and they have been able to continue their walks within their “turf” on Fifth Avenue.
The authorization to travel for blogger Yoani Sanchez to receive a prize in Spain was managed with cost-benefit criteria, in favor of the lesser evil: her presence and discourse in Europe would have had more negative repercussions for the regime than what it had by keeping her in the migratory limbo that prevented her from traveling, and the entire event quickly became diluted among other news and events.
The kicking and calls to augment repression such as those of the editor of Granma, Lazaro Barredo, calling for a stronger application of the “muzzle law” against the “mercenaries,” or rising to the ridiculous by calling for the extradition of Carlos Alberto Montaner, are more reminiscent of Chavez’s clownish antics, although the dissidents continue to be closely watched and the sword hangs over them at all times.
With the concentration of power in the emergency senior staff that the Commission of the Political Bureau constitutes, the mechanisms of power are interwoven and shared among a few hands: the continued presence of Machado Ventura and Esteban Lazo, two of the seven samurai in the Commission in events of international importance, tasks in the domestic economy have been relegated to Carlos Lage, while Felipe Perez Roque is not even allowed to enter Cardinal Bertone’s offices in the Vatican. The presence of these two among the super-elite after the Great Funeral is not guaranteed.
The promotion of Ramiro Valdes, Alvaro Lopez Miera and Salvador Valdes Mesa to the Political Bureau in place of Alfredo Jordan (deceased), Juan Carlos Robinson (jailed) and Marcos Portal (demoted) completes the original number of 21 members and guarantees Raul Castro the balance of power in his favor in the highest organism of the party.
The convocation of a Party Congress for December of 2009, conveniently set to allow more than enough time to solemnly celebrate the Great Funeral, guarantees Raul a congress without surprises and the possibility of promoting a new generation to the higher ranks in the party and the government when many of the “historic” ones will be at least seventy five years and older, and have a great desire to end their remaining years in tranquility in their homes, rather than distributing fallow lands and reinforcing crumbling houses.
Although Raul Castro has his plans, he as well as his brother, once out of the game, will have no significance other than as a historic reference, therefore it should not be surprising to see in Cuba in a few years a new generation of “communists” behaving as a mixture of typical recycled apparatchiks, European social-democrats and Latin American liberals, accelerating a market economy and calling for a pact among intellectuals, academics, dissidents, and some figures form the exile community, to create the conditions for a slow but continuous democratic opening which will lead in the end to a final model resembling Chile, Uruguay or Costa Rica more than China or Vietnam.
By then, biology will have rendered the inevitable accounting to almost all the historic figures on both sides of the Florida Straits and it will be these new intermediate generations that will carry out the transition toward the democracy in Cuba that Fidel Castro never wanted, Raul Castro could not carry out, we Cubans until now do not know how to channel, and the U.S. and the exile community has not been able to promote.