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The Communist Party of Cuba and Present Challenges

Reflections on the Eighth Party Congress

Callejón de Hamel, the epicenter of Afro-Cuban culture in Havana

Image credit: "Callejón de Hamel, the epicenter of Afro-Cuban culture in Havana," Adictos a los Viajes, June, 2013.

Germán Sánchez Otero taught for many years at the University of Havana, was a founding member of the Departamento América of the Communist Party of Cuba, and was Cuba’s ambassador to Venezuela. He is the author of Los enigmas del Che (1997), Permiso para opinar sobre Cuba (2004), and Transparencia de Emmanuel (2008).

This article was originally published in Spanish by La Tizza on July 14, 2021. It was translated by Manolo De Los Santos and adapted for this special issue.

I share my thoughts on the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC)—held from April 16 to 19, 2021—and other themes of the current reality of Cuba from my humble and heated corner as a revolutionary militant. Like many of my fellow compatriots, I wish to contribute to the solution of the problems that affect our nation, not just the specific environments in which we exist and act.

Criteria and Proposals

The speeches by Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel during the Eighth Congress provide an updated political guide for the party and revolution, including potential solutions to a broad repertoire of problems and encouraging new reflections and proposals. These do not exclude controversial aspects or underrepresented themes.

Having heard thousands of opinions in queues, in other collective spaces, and among friends, family, and colleagues, or read in numerous digital forums, I think most people pay attention to concrete results rather than speeches.

During the congress, the PCC ratified that it will only be able to guide the people if it is a core part of them, that they exist to serve and lead the people—while also reciprocally taking their lead and following their examples—toward clear goals that have immediate successful outcomes, not only long-term objectives.

This is the most difficult conjuncture that the revolution has experienced since its dizzying epic of the 1960s—even more critical than the crisis of the Special Period, at its worst between 1991 and 1994. It is urgent to break and overcome the pessimism and uncertainty spread among many people who identify as revolutionary and patriotic. It paralyzes, weakens, can generate desperate individual solutions, and is fertile ground for various toxins and subversive plans of empire to flourish.

Such complexity makes it necessary to face and resolve pressing problems more quickly and to reduce deficits accumulated over decades. At the same time, it requires letting go of heavy burdens, including political and state cadres unable to cope with the new times. This has begun to happen, though not to the extent or pace necessary.

There will be no magic solutions—most people know this. But firebreaks are necessary against the various “fires” that exist throughout the island, in some places more than others. These include an overwhelming increase in the prices of food and other essential items, significant shortage of medicines, rising corruption, mini-mafias related to illicit businesses, inefficiencies and weaknesses of management cadres, and the insufficiencies of institutions at different levels, to name a few.

It is not enough to have excellent documents that define the economic and social goals in the medium and long term, as well as theoretical concepts about our socialist transition. Even this can be a double-edged sword in the ideological and political field if there are no tangible results—nationally and locally—that build certainty in the majority of citizens that it is possible to overcome the current situation and move forward. An affirmative example is the multiple positive effects that the success of the five vaccine candidates, one of which has already been approved, and the advancement of vaccination, have had on our people.

Though there is always room for improvement, our constitutional and institutional order and the governing documents approved by the PCC make up an accurate map for navigation. The decisive thing now is to captain the boat at the highest speed that the “perfect storm” allows, to get out of its riskiest area.

Most citizens understand that the longstanding blockade, Donald Trump’s draconian measures that exacerbated it, and the pandemic are essential causes of the serious problems we suffer. But many of us also agree that they are not the only ones. The opinion prevails among the people that we must focus on changing and improving everything that is within the country’s reach, and not turning such realities of foreign origin into pretexts to justify deficiencies and endogenous errors.

We cannot forget what Díaz-Canel always emphasizes: that we should not tire of reiterating our arguments against the empire’s genocidal policy. Reasons and evidence, yes, well formulated and convincing—but never as a cover up for errors and inefficiencies under the pretext of the blockade.

Resist and advance are two key verbs. But it is also necessary to stress the idea of doing both without losing course. It is necessary to prevent the desperate from infecting others with their panic and the magical solutions they propose, or the sirens from seducing sailors into the sea where they end up drowning.

It is not about covering your ears with melted wax or tying yourself to the mast of the ship, as Ulysses did to avoid succumbing to such siren songs. You must listen and see everything. Never hold onto something rigidly and never lose initiative. Act with ease and speed, always based on the lucidity and consensus of large majorities. Reject fateful seductions, which in these times of prolonged darkness can be perceived as the only possible lights.

The economic dimension of the crisis has rightly been brought to the fore, as have the concepts, policies, and mechanisms used to continue the path of development. In this regard, the personal contributions made by prominent Cuban economists of several generations, including some former ministers, are laudable. The issue of economic reforms (“updating the economic and social model,” in the official discourse) has been the axis around which many of these texts have revolved.

It is worth highlighting the perseverance and loyalty of almost all these specialists, who have not given up their efforts to propose economic formulas for implementation. These ideas have included the comprehensive and sequential ways in which to apply reform; the importance of harmony between different economic actors; an emphasis on the dynamic role of small- and medium-sized enterprises; and the need to avoid the damages caused by delays in the execution of what has been approved since the Sixth Congress of the PCC.

Without neglecting the relevance of the economy, it is essential to assess the comprehensiveness of the crisis, guiding ourselves by the socialist transition in Cuba, and find interlocking solutions. Economic theories and mechanisms must be harmonized with and subordinated to guidelines of political strategy.

In recent times, the voices of economists and other citizens have been amplified, all committed to the revolution, promoting the model of “market socialism” and other concepts and practices that govern China and Vietnam. It is logical that such successful experiences are attractive and even dazzling amid our enormous crisis. It is necessary to have knowledge of them, ponder them, and recreate the elements that are adaptable to our conceptions of the socialist transition. I appreciate that this is how the leadership of the revolution has acted, and it reflects the opinion predominant among the majority of our economists, especially those who have studied these two Asian socialist countries.

It is necessary to calibrate these particular historical processes, the evolution of their respective economic-social formations, cultural specificities, geopolitical and geoeconomic contexts, population sizes, levels of development on the eve of the reforms, successes, and errors, among other factors that can serve as useful lessons. But copying would be suicidal. Here, it is appropriate to recall the aphorism of Simón Rodríguez: “Either we invent or we err.” It is time to end with the error of having once believed that across the Atlantic they had discovered how to create socialism. Harmful vestiges of the copy that we made of the misnamed “real socialism” persist today, even in notions and practices of the PCC and the state. We have the experience and wisdom—the people and their political and intellectual leadership—not to be confused with ideas that seek to make us believe that the Promised Land is, this time, beyond the Pacific.

In the anguish caused by the current exceptional crisis, it is wise to remember that Cuba has a legacy of social, political (internal and external), military, economic, scientific, cultural, sports-related, ethical, moral, and ecological achievements—fruits of our conception of socialism and countless experiences accumulated over more than sixty years. This is not to minimize the errors, deficiencies, problems, and vulnerabilities of the revolution, which today are more visible than ever.

Among the mistakes, I reiterate, are the components that we copied from the Soviet model. But the capacity of our revolutionary process to continue after those “strategic allies” evaporated thirty years ago is also remarkable. Is it not exceptional to have survived the hecatomb of “real socialism”—when no one in the world believed it possible—and to also be able to evaluate the causes and consequences of that outcome? The latter contains important lessons that need to be identified by the PCC.

The Eighth Congress updated the two documents that make up its theoretical vision and economic and political guidelines, both based on the accumulation of experiences and collective thought in Cuba for more than six decades. If fully employed—hence, without doctrinal rigidity or manipulation—they form a guide to continue to advance toward socialism.

At the same time, it is legitimate to ask: If we have such clear definitions from the PCC and numerous contributions from the historic leadership of the revolution, why have so many mistakes been made in their implementation? How to explain the errors and deviations that have severely affected the progress and quality of the execution of the consensual national project—a country that is sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous, and sustainable?

These great values and objectives are the raison d’être of the party, the tether of its political and moral strength. There is a difference between wise and intelligent decisions: intelligent decisions attempt to face and solve problems; wise ones avoid them. Our party should always propose to act wisely in the sense that Simón Bolívar defined it: to believe more in the councils of the people than in the opinions of the wise. This is even more the case if the wise are officials of bureaucratic apparatuses, necessary to lead but whose opinions we should not depend on at all costs.

The guarantee to advance on the desired socialist path (the strategy) is the democratic leadership of the people. Who denies it? But this concept is often understood and applied in different ways, and is often used as a wild card of political rhetoric (“the role of the masses,” “the connection with the masses,” etc.). There are interpretations and tasks (or lack thereof) of so-called popular participation, which do not correspond to the definitions of the party and the norms of the Magna Carta. There have been shortcomings and errors of the revolution since the 1960s, due in large part to the inherent power system. These are associated with misunderstandings and practical nonsense about socialist democracy on the part of the institutions of the state, civil society, and the party. Is this due to the need to enrich or clarify some ideas related to the theory and exercise of our democracy? I think so.

It is essential to create a democratic culture throughout society. This would mean that values and codes (the “rules of the game”) are internalized by most citizens. Although a political and legal conceptual basis has been built, it must be constantly understood and applied by all actors in the state, political system, and civil society.

What are the real roles our education and social communication systems play in this regard? What do political, mass, and social organizations contribute? What about state institutions, in particular those of popular power? What is done in communities, work and student centers, all public spaces, so that people feel empowered by their rights and duties? The process of consultation, discussion, and subsequent approval by the people on the draft constitution was a remarkable moment. Now we must not rest on our laurels.

The issue of democracy in the Cuban socialist transition accounts for diverse experiences and is supported by essential concepts. But, with humility and sincere concern, I believe that the role of democracy in this transition is not exhausted and requires even more prioritized attention, which will allow us to refine and strengthen its theoretical basis and the respective practices that must be adopted. This will all depend, to a decisive extent, on whether—and how—we get out of this unprecedented crisis and whether we are able to come out of it moving faster and better in all spheres of society.

It strikes me, for example, that the compendium of ideas, concepts, and guidelines of the Eighth Congress only dedicates three generic paragraphs to the topic of democracy, while the chapter on the politics of cadres takes up five-and-a-half pages.

Unity is an inescapable and sacred key in the history of the nation. No one should make it a pretext to sweep problems and failures under the rug. Only by respecting the role of the people as the main actor in the real process of decision-making (and not just as subject of consultation) will we have the ability to get out of the labyrinth. This means having the ability to swiftly interpret their opinions in order to correct mistakes, weaknesses, and inconsistencies in time and effectively confront our enemies.

When the crisis of the 1990s struck, Fidel raised a historic challenge: to save the Homeland, the Revolution, and Socialism—not only in Cuba, but also as a universal paradigm, a dimension we should never forget. Today, the crisis is of a similar scale, though I dare say that the current risks are even greater than those past. Saving the homeland, the revolution, and socialism involves all citizens.

In this spirit, it is essential to forge consensus on an inclusive basis in all aspects of society, because achieving the understanding of the majority is always very difficult. We must aspire to it and do what is necessary to make it so. Fidel expressed it well in his speech to intellectuals in June 1961: “The revolution must only renounce those who are incorrigibly reactionary, who are incorrigibly counterrevolutionary.” It is true that there have been countless examples of such counterrevolutionaries, but there have also been instances where erratic actions have led to avoidable distancing and ruptures, involving even some of those who identify with the revolution. It would be beneficial to attempt to resolve the cases that occurred in recent years, some with harmful public implications for the revolution, something that I believe is still possible. The party should conduct that healing while unions and other organizations identify key people in their fields who can help heal these rifts.

Never have there been so many debates and cross-ideas in our archipelago. Congratulations. Everywhere and always, there is deliberation. Social networks and other non-face-to-face communication channels have exponentially multiplied what has always been present in Cubans and Cuban society. Let us rejoice, our democracy is the richer for it.

The imperial grip however, has tightened in extremis in recent years. Together with the onslaught of the pandemic, the impact of the criminal encirclement of Venezuela on our economy, the deficits accumulated by our bumpy socialist transition, the slowness and zigzags in the adoption of certain decisions, we are in a crisis quagmire. To revamp the economic and political model altogether is an extremely difficult kind of puzzle. So much so that many believe it is no longer possible to achieve.

Such skeptical (and often confused) compatriots form a very important sector, and the party should prioritize attention to it everywhere. Without including this sector in the great united force required to propel the revolution, when so many winds are blowing against us, it will be impossible to get out of the crisis and move forward.

The Eighth Congress and the Party

It is obvious that the leadership of the revolution decided to organize the Eighth Congress based, above all, on the structures of the party at the central level, on the experience accumulated by political and state leaders and cadres, and on the extensive information they handle. The decisions and development of the meeting were thought out and prepared in advance.

However, I believe that an opportunity was missed to put into practice some of the concepts formulated with great clarity in the respective speeches of Raúl and Díaz-Canel. Among them was the need to achieve the greatest possible participation and consensus of the people and the party in the decision-making processes, to nurture the desired unity and enrich the reciprocal ties of party and people.

The format used for the Eighth Congress did not make the most of the wealth of ideas and possible contributions of the 700,000 militants on the different topics on the agenda, nor did it allow for their full contribution in final decisions.

As in previous congresses, the Eighth Congress would have benefited from the wisdom of all the members of the PCC and the revolutionary people, which would have contributed to higher levels of discussion and unity, so necessary at this time. That also would have provided an opportunity to gauge the party’s ties with the rest of the citizenry and its role as the state’s leading political force. If these issues were not addressed because of the limitations imposed by the pandemic, they still could (and should) have been navigated with realism and creativity.

As far as I know, the congress did not arouse high expectations or special interest in the population in the lead up to it. Nor did the media help in that respect. Disclosure and information were scant. Even as late as the first day of the congress the population did not know if there would be any form of direct or deferred transmission to the public of what happened inside. The news was that there was no news.

The speeches of Raúl and Díaz-Canel helped mitigate the situation, although not completely. As of May 27, 2021, there is a plan to keep the congress alive, through such means as the publication of the compendium, initiating meetings chaired by Díaz-Canel in the provinces, and two roundtables each with three members of the secretariat. The latter is unprecedented. Diaz-Canel’s final speech on May 22, 2021, at a national meeting of cadres is also instructive and complementary to the congress. However, publicizing these and other official events is not enough.

The organs of communication should be sounding boards for the voices and echoes of the grassroots. The issues to be disclosed require diverse informative and analytical treatments. The process that will activate the compendium, for example, is an opportunity to this end. We hope that those responsible for directing the media and our journalists will take the opportunity to rectify the errors pointed out by Raúl in his speech. Until today, the time of writing (ninety days later), this has not been the case.

For this to happen, I believe that the main responsibility rests with the party leadership at the national and provincial levels. It could be novel and enriching for the secretariat to hold meetings with party nuclei and groups of citizens from the grassroots, to listen directly and “purely,” without mediation, to the issues raised by militants and the population. The absence of information in the media about the party’s activities in workplaces and communities has always caught my attention. It seems that the party nuclei and militants do not have direct communicative presence in the press. The party’s public expression of its deliberations is invisible. Even in Granma, the official organ of the PCC, the work of the cadre, their contributions, experiences, mistakes, and successes are not reflected. The party is, in this sense, a kind of lodge. Nor do I remember any characters depicted as militants of the PCC and nuclei of the party in Cuban soap operas, films, fiction series, and other television and radio programs. It is hard to explain away these mysteries. The party must show itself as it is in the media, encouraging audiovisual creators to represent the activity of party leaders and grassroots militants, with all of their virtues and defects, as it is in reality.

The importance of the congress, in addition to its value as a milestone for continuity, should be explained with attractive messages that reveal understandable and credible facts and ideas. It is urgent to break with routine and the slow bureaucratic pace of decisions. We all know that time in politics, as in war, is an essential question. Winning or losing a battle, or complicating it and making it very risky, often depends on it. If the party is the only possible successor to our commander in chief, as Raúl has well proclaimed, we should take to heart a phrase Fidel used to repeat—and practice—in the face of challenges: “You cannot lose a minute.”

It is difficult to give an opinion on the composition of the delegates to the congress, the members of the Central Committee, and the Political Bureau, since their essential biographical data have not been disclosed. Of all the members of these bodies—and of the group of delegates—how many are part of the National Association of Small Farmers, how many are industrial and construction workers, doctors and health personnel, teachers and professors, scientists and social workers, private sector and cooperative workers, service and commerce workers, artists, writers and cultural promoters, athletes, journalists?

At its Fourth Congress in October 1991, the PCC defined itself for the first time as the party of the Cuban nation. Until then, the self-description was copied from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: “the party of the working class.” The historical truth of the latter is that it was not a party of the working class or of the Soviet people, but of the bureaucracy that sank socialism in that country. Being the party of the Cuban nation contains important commitments and consequences. One of them is that it must open its doors to all those citizens who meet the requirements to be militants. Those who take on this duty assume the rights and responsibilities of all members, including guaranteeing the character and projection of the PCC as a party of all the people, in the Martían and Fidelista sense, and endowed by the constitution with an enormous political power: “the superior leading political force of society and the state.”

Are all the militants and leaders of the PCC fully aware of what this means, of the individual responsibility of being a member of the political force to which the Cuban people has given such an exceptional mandate? No one can assume that this unusual power of the PCC is a “blank check.” It has been the fruit of an original historical process led by a giant. The invisible but essential contract to move toward socialism as our North Star is the contribution we must take care of the most, out of the many that the so-called Historical Generation bequeathed us, and that has distinguished our stalwart people.

In this way, the successes and advances, but also the errors, inefficiencies, deviations, and failures of the revolution in the state and in the entire political and social institutional system, are, in the first place, the party’s responsibility, at all levels, from the national to each locale. When serious mistakes are made in the country and problems emerge as a result, the party must make the pertinent internal and public criticisms without delay and act accordingly. All citizens and members of the militancy need to be familiar with these critiques. The party plays a leading role in society and the state, so it is obligated to seek solutions relevant to the sovereign people who gave it its mandate.

Do the governing bodies decided at the Eighth Congress—the Central Committee and to an extent the Political Bureau—express the composition of the militancy, the plurality of the nation and therefore of our party? The composition of the PCC is not based on quotas and is governed by qualitative political concepts and values. But I also believe that we should try to ensure that there is adequate representation, that all sectors of the people perceive and feel that their party members are there as direct bearers of their experiences and opinions, to advance the project of the nation. If it has been possible to achieve this in terms of an increasingly representative presence of women, young people, and Black and mestizo people, why is a similar policy not defined with respect to other factors of the social composition of the country? Given that the PCC is the national party, is there a cap on possible members to include in our ranks? For example, people without permanent employment (for explainable reasons) and of exemplary revolutionary behavior, among them the (mis)called “housewives” and retirees (perhaps with a certain age limit).

I cannot go further into this matter of great complexity without the pertinent information. But it is well known that there is not a single intellectual from the artistic and literary field on the Central Committee, nor any leader of their organizations or the cultural institutions of the state. This has never been the case in the history of the party, and I consider it a slip that should be rectified, even more so given that the enemy is attacking us strongly in this area. It is also striking that there is almost no presence of grassroots workers (manual and intellectual), peasants, and cooperative members. There is also no one from the private sector, religious institutions, or social scientists (except the historian Elier Ramírez). This contrasts with the large presence of members of the PCC’s directorates at all levels, from the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces to the Ministry of the Interior to numerous cadres from the government and other state institutions, including several companies.

This makes sense and has historically been the case, but, at the same time, I ask: Why not elect a Central Committee with a greater representation of other segments of society, even if it meant it would be a larger body? It is also important to know how candidates are selected, what bodies propose a given candidate, the arguments put forward before the plenary session, the opinions from the delegates, and so on. It would be useful to have information on sanctions within the party and what are the most recurrent problems among the ranks. Also useful would be data on membership numbers and the age composition of members and cadres. If the tendency is to get older, which seems to be clear from the central report, we should discuss recruiting younger militants. The Young Communist League, the youth organization of the PCC, only brought in one-third of the total new membership—is this satisfactory?

Preserving the conquests of the revolution is of great value, but it is not enough after thirty years of few relevant economic and social achievements. You need to move faster, more efficiently. Not giving up on planned objectives is well and good, but it is not a guarantee. The good news is that the current leadership is working hard to overcome the obstacles. Unfortunately, much time was lost in making essential decisions in the decade between the Sixth and the Eighth Congress. The most relevant example is the Tarea Ordenamiento (TO, the economic reforms process), the initial ideas of which began to be defined by Fidel himself at least a few months before his health crisis in 2006.

In those ten years, dozens of works by various Cuban economists were published, almost all of them committed to the revolution and our socialist project. They pointed out and warned of problems, offered ideas and alternatives. Were they called in for their opinions and advice? I do not know; although their analyses were surely read and valued.

The truth is that the crisis has forced the acceleration of a considerable number of measures originally proposed but delayed in their adoption. Many people from all sectors expressed similar sentiments through networks, media, and Cubadebate, and I presume it also happened among nuclei of the PCC, Young Communist League committees, unions, and so on.

Though the TO is extraordinarily complex, it should not have taken more than ten years to prepare. Reforms and radical changes of equal or more difficulty have been designed and implemented in Cuba in shorter periods of time. It is not convincing to blame the delay on the problems inherent in its implementation. Of course things would be different if we had the essential resources needed to avoid the effects we are suffering in this first stage of the TO.

I believe that false expectations should not be created with the TO. The impacts of the crisis may worsen, and even if the current situation is maintained, the wear and tear of time without the necessary resources will complicate the future. We are now on the edge of the precipice that Raúl alluded to in 2010, when it seemed that it would advance at an Olympic pace. The people must internalize this as much as possible, but above all, we revolutionary militants must become fully aware of the situation in order to demand, grow, and intervene.

A costly slip was made in the TO process: the party was unable to reconcile its necessary reservations regarding certain decisions with the previous information given to the people, who would make it a reality. The people were not consulted, especially workers, agricultural producers, and businesspeople.

That party bases were not prepared to face such a complex battle is not a justification. By turning their backs to the people, the opportunity to advance in the creation of consensus—always necessary, especially in decisions of such importance—was lost.

The party did act quickly to introduce corrections based on the opinions of the population. The TO serves to remind us that intelligent people solve problems efficiently, while wise people avoid them. If the PCC, as Raúl said, should aspire to be the collective substitute for our commander in chief in leading the revolution, only action that draws on collective wisdom can help avoid these problems.

Raúl stated in his report that the TO will continue to be implemented according to an approved schedule, until its full completion. It would be helpful to know more fully what is planned and feasible in that schedule, in order to prepare citizens for the different stages and this time achieve greater agreement and participation.

Had it not been for the pandemic, even with the evils of Trump and the effects of the serious difficulties in Venezuela, today the Cuban economy would be in a better position to reduce the adverse effects of the TO and speed up its process. However, without the TO, the economic situation would be more complicated, because the problems would remain the same or worse, and the conditions for a new phase would not yet exist.

The extreme lack of liquidity forced the reintroduction of sales in freely convertible currency. As noted, this has been essential despite limiting one of the objectives of the TO: the elimination of the dual currency and its harmful inflationary effects. I do not think that this necessary measure has yet been understood by all the people, as stated in the Central Report to Congress. Many people have misunderstandings. It is not an issue that has been resolved in the population. On the contrary, the enemy has among its priorities to confuse and irritate people.

It is true that no one can predict how long this anomaly will last, but it is essential to prevent necessity from becoming a virtue. We must always think about everything that can be done so that this currency distortion only lasts as long as necessary. Among other things, in order to restore the economy, the current monetary distortions must be rectified. Always reiterate (and act to that end): it is a temporary measure to ride out the extreme crisis and prevent the bureaucracy from accommodating to it.

Achieving the convertibility of the Cuban peso could take a long time and could, in turn, be a key factor in the smooth functioning of the economy. The optimal point to establish convertibility must be strict, not extended a single minute longer than necessary, because the double currency does a lot of damage, ethical and political, and does not contribute to economic recovery.

The state has affirmed that it will operate “based on an appropriate correlation between prices and income from work, pensions, and social benefits.” This highly sensitive issue should be further explained, beyond technical and economic arguments. Take, for example, the implications of the developing pension system for those affected as well as for new generations, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, dissatisfied with the treatment of their elders. Many believe that they too will not be compensated as they should be in their future old age. Pensions are a duty of the party that must begin to be paid as soon as possible and prioritized in the future, including for all retirees who have shown exceptional merit and deserve special treatment. At least six months after the TO process began, justice was done for our insurrectional mambises (guerrilla soldiers) in this regard, and the people welcomed it with great joy.

Raúl reiterated: “Cuba is the only country where you can live without working.” Tens of thousands of people who want to work have been highlighted by the press. Though this is true, the crisis has further increased the number of people living without formal work. The causes are known to be related to the magnitude of the crisis. There should be a national policy and systematic measures to address these problems—without firebreaks, they will continue to get worse, with serious economic, ethical, and political repercussions.

The orientation formulated by Raúl to shake up the “business structures” of the state is of crucial importance. If any task requires priority attention from the party and government, as well as the active participation of the workers, this is it. Of the problems and serious deficiencies that have accumulated over the years, it is one of the first and most complex. But we must take care that it is not subject to wavering and opportunism (even if unconscious). An objective of this breadth and caliber requires rigor and sufficient time. It cannot be assumed as a slogan.

It does not seem an immutable point of principle that the state should have an unrestricted monopoly over foreign trade. It is one thing to maintain control over foreign trade, supported by legal norms and direct and indirect mechanisms, but it is something else for the state to be the only one to carry out the country’s foreign trade. It would be understandable if the monopoly were for fundamental imports and exports, just as it is defined for ownership over the means of production.

The mixed, harmonious, and dynamic economic model that has been defined, and is currently accelerating in its implementation (for example, in regard to micro, small, and medium enterprises), requires a different treatment of foreign trade. It is not possible to unblock the productive forces without unlocking the exercise of foreign trade. I even think that, if well conducted, foreign trade could be an extremely important factor in overcoming the empire’s tight blockade, generating competition that could contribute to lower prices and the fluidity of production and service chains.

In practice, imports for non-commercial purposes have been allowed for years, helping supply the population with a number of items for personal and domestic use, sometimes necessary for the self-employed. Control via taxes is the best method, together with the efficient performance of the state export-import companies.

There has been talk of excessive bureaucracy for many years. Of what does this excess consist? In what institutions does it occur? The phenomenon of bureaucracy has not been approached with adequate rigor by the party, at least not publicly. It is known that every state or modern organization needs a bureaucracy, but what is harmful are the deformations, among them excess employees and leaders, dehumanization, extreme inefficiency, clientelism, and corruption. The absence of popular control, or the superficial and sometimes complacent control of state organs, is the most harmful. Bureaucratism, from which we suffer so much every day—mistreatment, paperwork, insensitivity—is one of the malformations. The antidotes are direct, democratic popular power, without bureaucracy.

Our socialist transition has already been “tainted” by capitalism—Fidel recognized it openly, starting in the 1990s. The best thing would be to reduce such “tainting” and, if this is not possible or convenient, to advance within the new realities, without naivety or prejudice. All economic reforms encompass a set of changes in the structures and functions of the economy, including property relations. The process must be conceived and developed according to a strategy that aims to modernize and adapt the economic system to new circumstances, without mutating the current social formation. On the contrary, the reform is designed to preserve the dominant political system, not to make the transition to a different system viable.

Any reform seeks to correct factors and policies that restrict or prevent the better development of the economy and to serve the interests of the established power. If this stops happening, to the benefit of its antagonists, it becomes a subversion of the ruling social order, a restoration. The latter was what happened, for example, in the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries between 1989 and 1992.

Cuba, however, undertook the reform of the 1990s to insert its economy into the new international relations it had to develop as of 1991 and to adapt the internal economy to the profound loss of its main external economic links, namely, the Soviet bloc. Consequently, that first Cuban reform did not come from a movement or internal force that pushed for changes, which gave decisions the time needed and let them be carried out with the necessary social consensus.

The resulting changes were not superficial. Though the economic model established in the 1960s and ’70s was subject to substantial changes, these did not change the socialist nature of the regime. The 1993–95 economic reform was designed to address the country’s life-threatening crisis and helped save socialism, not facilitate a transition to capitalism. Although the reform was supported by the majority of the population, it had to be carried out under precarious economic and social conditions, even suffocating ones, hence its merit and high cost (which is still accumulating). It was not until mid–1993—at the worst moment of the crisis—that the first internal economic reforms began, when the economy had already declined by more than 33 percent of the gross domestic product compared to 1989. Why did it take so long? Could reforms have been implemented before? To what extent did the effects of the debacle lead to certain decisions?

Perhaps it would not have been necessary to wait for the collapse of the economy in 1993 to initiate some reforms that would somewhat cushion the decline, especially its extremely serious social implications. But it is essential to recognize the complex factors of the time, which made it very difficult to start the various measures and continue them without pause.

Among other factors, I identify the following: (1) The accentuation of the blockade and increase of the destabilizing actions of the United States to try to divert the reforms toward a capitalist transition and defeat the revolution. (2) There was no national experience whether within Cuba or elsewhere available as valid reference in guiding the reform. (3) The catastrophic outcome of perestroika in the Soviet Union prompted prudence and a search for original solutions, consistent with Cuban realities and the objective of continuing socialism. (4) The reform processes in China and Vietnam had other characteristics and responded to historical circumstances, urgencies, and imperatives very different from those of Cuba, where, for example, “market socialism” is neither necessary nor convenient, though it is necessary to articulate socialism with a market. (5) The remarkable material advances that Cuban society had achieved up to 1989, distributed according to ethical standards of justice and equity, even with egalitarian deformations, now acted as a burden that slowed down decisions, due to the logical fear of suddenly and radically altering an egalitarian system of income redistribution to which people had become accustomed for more than three decades. (6) This required, in addition to other political reasons, weaving the consensus of the people before applying the measures, which required more time for debate and the gradual assimilation of the essential decisions. (7) Cuba sought—virtually alone—nothing less than to save socialism and, in this, reforms should play a decisive role.

Given this historical context, it was imperative to act wisely and avoid any missteps, as improvisation and chaos could lead to an abrupt precipice. Fidel was the main architect of that odyssey, which should be better known and publicized in these times of similar risks and opportunities. Díaz-Canel expressed an idea to which we must hold on: “The blockade and the pandemic have come together in the last year to put our projections and dreams on hold.” He added: “Although at times it might seem that we will not be able to emerge afloat, in the midst of uncertainty, we are suddenly struck and dazzled by our own capacity for resistance and creation.”

It is true. But the wear and tear on the people has been enormous, and it is not stopping. Impactful actions emerging from creative audacity have to be directed at what most affects and irritates the people. The current exceptional crisis is also a unique starting point for a new stage of the revolution. The emotional effects of the success of our vaccines on the self-confidence and resolution of the people show that it is possible. By themselves, however, these successes do not tip the balance in favor of optimism.

Our vaccine achievement, which makes people proud, is associated with the scientific deployment that, thanks to Fidel’s vision, the country has been able to develop in the confrontation with COVID-19. This project has been very well directed by President Díaz-Canel, under the guidance of Raúl, with the excellent performance of our science and health systems. Beyond the individual and collective merits of our scientists and health personnel, it is an achievement of Cuban socialism. I believe that this dimension is fundamental if we are to exalt our achievements, and to continue to aim high, in a time when it has been common to point only to our flaws, real or supposed.

2022, Volume 73, Number 08 (January 2022)
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