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Causes and Dangers of the Government’s Erratic Course

Causes and Dangers of the Government’s Erratic Course / Dimas Castellano
Posted on August 2, 2015
The Antecedents

The Revolutionaries who took power in 1959 substituted the 1940
Constitution for the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State*, the Prime
Minister assumed the powers of the Head of Government, and the Council
of Ministers replaced the Congress. Measures for “the benefit of the
people” were decreed that legitimized the power acquired through force.
At the same time, civil society was dismantled and civic and political
liberties cut. Power was concentrated in the leader, private property
passed into the hands of the state, institutionality was undone, and the
condition of being a citizen disappeared.

Economic inefficiency was superseded by Soviet subsidies until the
collapse the socialist bloc sunk the country into a profound crisis. In
response, the government introduced some provisional reforms subordinate
to political power. With the triumph of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela a new
godfather emerged, and the Cuban government, freed from the pressure of
the crisis, put a stop to the reforms. Between that moment and the
substitution of the Leader of the Revolution [when Raul Castro stepping
in for Fidel Castro], between July 2006 and February 2008, economic
deterioration determined the start of new changes within a context of
modernizing the model.

The Failure

The transfer of power among the same forces that had held it since 1959
preordained that the order, depth and speed of the changes would remain
subordinate again to political interests. This condition disabled the
Minimal Plan of Reforms put forth by General Raúl Castro, which aimed to
achieve a strong and efficient agriculture, reduce imports, increase
exports, attract investments, halt illegalities, check corruption,
deflate the public payrolls, and propel self-employment.

The subordination became instititutionalized during the First Conference
of the Cuban Communist Party that took place in 2012. These proceedings
revitalized the line suggested by Fidel Castro when, during the Cultural
Congress of 1961, he asked, “What are the rights of revolutionary and
non-revolutionary writers and artists?” and which he answered himself by
saying, “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution,
nothing. And this would not be any exceptional law for the artists and
for the writers. This is a general principle for all citizens.” As it
was not difficult to predict, in the absence of democracy, the change of
form to preserve the content did not provide the expected result: the
efficiency in preserving power could not be transferred to the economy.

Three years after commencing the modernization of the model, the decline
has continued: farm production is deficient; sugar quotas are not
reached; the reduction of imports and increase of exports are pending
subjects; foreign investments have not reached the expected levels; the
relationship between wages and cost of living worsens; illegalities
continue their inexorable pace; and the limitations placed on
self-employment and “cooperatives” have impeded these sectors taking off.

The Transfer of Power

For biological reasons, the generation that took power in 1959 will exit
the political scene in the next three years. This generation is
confronting the need to legitimize its successors through different
pathways than those through which they legitimized themselves. To do
this, they would have to reform the state, including the constitution
and the electoral law, against which emerge two simultaneous obstacles:
the failure to modernize the model, and the reestablishment of relations
with the United States.

The first obstacle is economic stagnation, a situation quite different
from when they assumed power in 1959, and confiscated warehouses allowed
power that had been acquired by force to be legitimized through the
distribution of pre-produced goods. Added to this was the ever-growing
exodus from Cuba, uncontrolled corruption, and the rise in citizen
discontent, all of which prevents a transfer of power in conditions of
prosperity.

The second obstacle is the White House’s new policy towards Cuba. The
package of measures announced on 17 December 2014 will have an impact on
the empowerment of Cubans, which is the weakest factor in changes for
the Cuba of today. Throughout the unfolding of this process, the concept
of the “external enemy” will begin to be eclipsed, hence the foreign
contradiction — which played such a useful role in preserving power —
will gradually be replaced by the contradiction between the Cuban people
and government, which complicates the transfer of power.

If to these two great hindrances is added that the government is
responsible for all that has occurred, good or bad, throughout more than
half a century; that during this time the nomenklatura has acquired
vested interests; that there are within it diverging opinions about how
far the reforms should go; that the average age of its members militates
against the vitality needed to undertake profound changes; and that for
decades they have been able to govern unopposed — then the conclusion is
that the government is not prepared to take on the contradictory
propositions of making the reforms that the country requires,
reestablishing relations with the United States, and preserving power.
In this contradiction, which will continue setting the pace of the
process in the short term, is contained, from my point of view, the
explanation of the government’s erratic course:

On 17 December 2014, the Cuban president challenged the US government to
adopt mutual measures for improving the bilateral climate, and advancing
towards the normalization of ties between the countries (a step
forward). On 28 January 2015, at the Third Summit of the Community of
Latin American and Caribbean States [CELAC], he set forth four demands
and said, “If these problems are not resolved, this diplomatic
rapprochement between Cuba and the United States will not make sense (a
step backward). On 11 April, at the Seventh Summit of the Americas, Raul
Castro reduced the demands and said that the principal obstacles to
opening the embassies was the removal of Cuba from the list of state
sponsors of terrorism, and the provision of banking facilities to enable
financial transactions by the Cuban Interests Section in Washington (a
step forward). Even though on 12 May, during goodbyes to French
President François Hollande, he declared that when Cuba is finally
removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism we will be able to
name ambassadors, then on 20 and 21 May, during the third round of
talks, the Cuban delegation entrenched itself in their interpretation of
the Vienna Convention regarding the limits, the form, and the conduct
becoming to North American diplomats (a step backward).

The American position could not have come as a surprise. Prior to
departing for the summit in Panama, Barack Obama said, “Our new policy
towards Cuba will also facilitate a greater connection to the Cuban
people, including a greater flow of resources and information to them,
and this is already showing results. We have seen an increase in contact
between the people of Cuba and the United States, and the enthusiasm of
the Cuban people towards these changes shows that we are taking the
right path.” During the summit, Obama said, “Civil society is the
conscience of our nations. It is the catalyzing force of change. It is
the reason for which strong nations do not fear active citizens. Strong
nations accept, support and empower active citizens… And when we engage
with a civil society, it is because we believe that our relationship
should be with governments and with the people they represent.” He made
similar statements during the meeting he had with civil society
representatives from Latin America, and in his personal encounter
with Raúl Castro.

For her part, US delegation chief Roberta Jacobson, prior to the third
round of negotiations, said during her appearance before the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee that the relationship of the US Interests
Section in Havana “with the broadest cross-section” of Cubans “will grow
once diplomatic relations are established with Cuba.”

That is to say, if despite those declarations there was progress in the
removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and the
provision of facilities for banking transactions in Washington, it makes
no sense to delay the opening of the embassies because of some
“interpretation” of the Vienna Convention.

Upon the conclusion of the third round of talks, the difference between
the two delegations could be seen. In the press conference, in answer to
the question about a fourth round, Josefina Vidal — from the Cuban side
— responded that there has been progress, but that there remained
pending topics to discuss forthwith. Meanwhile, Roberta Jacobson said
more or less that for those topics another meeting was not necessary.
Her position was that the diplomats would conduct themselves such as
they do in other regimes similar to that of Cuba, where US diplomats
have permission to travel within the country for periods that vary
“between 24 hours and 10 days.”

The Dangers of the Erratic Course

The government of Cuba, for the reasons outlined, decided to introduce
changes too late. For this reason the interrelation between economic
stagnation, wage insufficiency, generalized corruption, popular
discontent, and a growing exodus are incompatible with the slowness of
the changes.

If this slow march is appreciated by the power structure as a guarantee
of its stability, it is not so by Cuban society. The insistence on
preserving power and the delay in initiating transformations have led to
an extremely complex situation, internally and externally, which
requires political will to act in keeping with the gravity of the matter.

To not act as a consequence of this scenario could lead to a fatal
result, because an abrupt exit — for whatever reason that might cause it
— would lead to a situation in which there would be no peaceful
transition, and in which all, without exception, would be losers. Should
this occur, the responsibility would fall on those who still hold the
reins of power.

The prospect of relations with the United States — the most significant
political event for Cuba since the 1959 Revolution — has generated an
opportunity that should not be wasted. It is useful to the Cuban
government, being that it provides it with “an honorable way out”; it is
useful to US interests, for its own reasons; but above all, it is useful
to Cubans, because it is a favorable context for their empowerment, and
for them to once again become citizens.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba, 24 Jun 2015

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

26 June 2015

Source: Causes and Dangers of the Government’s Erratic Course / Dimas
Castellano | Translating Cuba –
http://translatingcuba.com/causes-and-dangers-of-the-governments-erratic-course-dimas-castellano/

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