How can a country that carries structural failures from which it has not been able to get rid of for multiple reasons; prevented by U.S. extraterritorial laws from operating under “normal” international market conditions; that cannot access international banks that are careful not to transgress those laws; that for many other reasons it is unable to honor its payment commitments and is listed by risk agencies as one of the highest risk in the region; that furthermore does not generate enough income from exports…how can that country renegotiate that debt and change the image that the “owners of the money” have of it? Does that country, mine and ours, Cuba, have options to do so?
Of course, it does. My country has options; but they all go through the firm will to do so and the need to understand and explain that getting out of this situation entails costs and, above all, to explain those costs to the owner of the fundamental means of production and agree on the solutions with that owner.
On more than one occasion I have exposed in this column some of these possible solutions. At the risk of being boring, I’ll do it again.
In the absence of international organizations that provide us with sufficiently “succulent” credit — and I confess now looking at Argentina that I don’t know if it is a blessing or a curse — we have multiple “assets” that, well-negotiated, could be used for that purpose. From hundreds of hotels “owned by the people” and managed by state enterprises, to hundreds of enterprises, also owned by the people and managed by state organizations.
Changing “assets” for debt is always something that is highly questioned. It brings to mind formulas that we criticized for years. For some it means privatizing state assets; for others, “ceding sovereignty” or opening the doors of socialism even more to capitalist penetration, something that began more than thirty years ago when that first deal was signed with a foreign capitalist and in just a few months the first five-star hotel in Varadero was born.
That’s how complex that decision is. That is why it requires the deep conviction that in order to build the socialism that we can — not the one that we want — we must face the reality before us. That is why it is important to explain and convince the owners of all these assets — the people of Cuba, all Cubans — that this option is not only necessary but correct.
Today we have dozens of hotels; in fact, many of them, so new but so new, that they are almost brand new, to which the administrator of the people’s assets has allocated between 2016 and 2021 more than 40% of all investment. These could be the object of that negotiation; not to deliver them under administration, but to exchange them for debt and convert those who are interested in becoming owners of a part of the shares of those hotels.
Is it something that hasn’t been done before? Of course, it has been done. Today we have several joint ventures; in other words, they own part of the people’s assets.
And what else do we have? Well, we have 2,417 people’s enterprises managed by a state agency to negotiate. Of those 2,417, the 12 (0.4%) that produce 80% of export revenues are very strategic. Should the State, in the name of the people, to part with them? Of course not, for two reasons: first, because those are truly strategic, and second, because several of them are already jointly owned (assigned, traded assets) with foreign capitalists (some for several decades).
There are Sherritt International, Havana Club, Habanos: between the three they constitute a significant percentage of export earnings. Surprisingly, we have not been less socialist for this reason, nor less sovereign, nor less independent. It is true that there are only twelve, but it is also true that those twelve decide the game.
There is another large group of enterprises, more than 900, that are in a kind of “limbosphere,” either because they have losses, or because their profitability barely exists, or because they need State subsidies to fulfill their purpose. Many of them with a technological state that places them very far from that 4.0 industry that has been talked about so much.
Could some of these industries perhaps not be “appetizing” for some of the creditor companies? Can these industries by themselves make the technological leap that our economy needs? Do they have capital to do it? Does the State have capital to give them? At least these last thirty years have shown that it does not.
Why don’t we negotiate a part of those assets with those creditors who are interested? Perhaps it is good to recall history: our nickel and cobalt production today depends on a transfer of assets to a foreign capitalist, the same is true of Havana Club and also Habanos. And this does not mean that these companies stop producing for the people and contribute to building the socialism that we can build.
But what else do we have? Well, we also have land, a large part still idle, that could be negotiated with the participation of local governments to stimulate agricultural production in different models of public-private partnerships between these local governments, foreign creditors and agricultural cooperatives and private farmers. It is true that it is more difficult, but there is no reason to give up.
Do we have anything else? Well, of course, we have thousands of square meters of vacant lots in our cities that could be exchanged for that debt. I imagine that the Physical Planning Institute has located these lands, I imagine it has appraised them; I imagine that the price per square meter is relatively cheaper than in Manhattan. Here it is also possible to negotiate public-private partnerships between local governments, creditors and real estate companies interested, not in building hotels, but in building homes.
Does this mean losing sovereignty? Well, there is the Miramar Business Center, and several buildings built by capitalist real estate companies, and the income obtained from them helps to build the socialism that we can. What is interesting is that the foreign company has no way of cutting it up and taking its share of the assets.
Undoubtedly, for all of this to be coherent, we must review those purposes, set foot on this land, ours, adjust our aspirations to the context and daily reality, ignore once and for all the dependency syndrome, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the one that wants to tie Cuba to the United States or the other that longs to see a glimpse of socialism in the Russian capitalist enterprises, or the eternal solidarity of the Venezuela of Chávez and Maduro but facing enormous problems and persecution as harsh as those our country is subjected to.
Reproducing dependence on a single country, on a single market, on a single source of financing, is to deepen and widen the gap that separates us from development.
But more is needed: we need coherence in our rules of the game. It is necessary to assume the costs of getting out of debt in the conditions in which our economy and our society are; it is necessary to explain it to the people and reach an agreement with them. You need to make it public.
It is necessary to be realistic, but continue to dream.