The degree of conflict that Cuba is experiencing is a matter for debate in the current circumstances. Placing in one place or another the degree and depth of the crisis we are experiencing today is also a field of dispute. Cuban Voices talks today with Dr. Ivette García González, Cuban historian, university professor, and writer. She is one of the voices that has existed for a long time in the debate on Cuba today with informed arguments. None of them should be indifferent, either to agree or to question them.
Cuban society has been changing for some time, socially and economically, and demands of various kinds are seen by various sectors. Is the design of the Cuban State capable of absorbing and managing these demands?
In my view, both the design and the capabilities of the government are in question. The Cuban crisis went from being economic to being structural, systemic and of governability with respect to the history of the very course of the Revolution in power. I speak of a governance dysfunction produced by a government management crisis and by the degradation of citizens’ political support.
For years, the government’s ability to manage economic and social demands has been very limited. Now it is handled in precarious conditions. Thus it has been able to maintain itself, but not to develop the model — which has long been exhausted — nor to maintain legitimacy. If it does not resolve these shortcomings urgently, or open democratic options that allow for redesigning and rebuilding hegemony, the governance crisis will inevitably deepen.
The reluctance to a systemic reform ended up causing a fracture of the consensus and the deterioration of the socialist ideal. Its social bases have been narrowed, also because political exclusion even exceeds economic and social ones. The government, which must build its legitimacy on the basis of renewal and alternative, calls for continuity. And it occurs in a particularly tense context due to the economic crisis, the pandemic and the blockade hardened by Trump sanctions, which have not been removed or intervened so far by the current Biden/Harris administration.
During the last 30 years, Cuban society has changed sociodemographically and ideologically. Endogenous and exogenous factors have influenced, the fact is that today it is more demanding and interconnected with the world. However, the state is less revolutionary, less socialist and more conservative. It has adopted changes but maintaining matrices of “real socialism,” and thus managing processes with anachronistic budgets and resources.
The political bureaucracy became a new class that includes the technocracy and the military sectors, with control of a good part of the economy in the form of indirect ownership. The structures of the Party/State/Government and the civil society organizations under its aegis have become bureaucratized. They also grew old and suffer from immobility and intolerance.
It is the result of its stagnation and the breaking of the social pact built around the hegemonic project with which the Revolution supplanted the model of a dependent bourgeois republic. We are living through a crisis of legitimacy of all these structures, with huge democratic gaps and the lack of effective mechanisms for public opinion. It is, in short, a loss of balance between the government, its policies, popular acceptance and levels of consensus.
The distancing between citizenry and government and the contradictions that arise, with a direct impact on the management of demands, has three key aspects: 1) distancing and/or incongruity between citizen demands and the government’s agenda; 2) weak institutions and disconnection with citizens and 3) non-compliance by the government itself of the Constitution and other norms, agreements and programs it approves, while laws of constitutional rank important for citizens are delayed.
What is your opinion on the intensification of sanctions against Cuba that took place during the Trump administration in the midst of this crisis aggravated by the pandemic and its consequences on the country?
The sanctions are not justified, they are contrary to international law and they are unjust. No matter how much they appear against the government, their main consequences fall on Cuban families. It is not a new creation, it is part of the U.S. administrations’ policy against Cuba, which dates back to the early 1960s. The formula has already become an international relations pathology. Hostility has been the norm since the well-known Cuba Project was approved in March 1960, but it has escalated to extreme levels every time Cuba finds itself in a critical situation. This happened during the 1990s with the Torricelli and Helms-Burton acts, in 2004 with the Bush Plan and now with the internal crisis brought to an extreme situation by the pandemic.
Their logic is that of force and interference in internal affairs, therefore they are unacceptable and should be lifted, like the blockade, without conditions. It is a variable that the government knows and the country has learned to deal with.
However, I believe that political intelligence is sometimes lacking. There have been unnecessary entrenchments, internal political decisions that seem to favor the scenario of conflict, as a resource to justify deficiencies, stop reformist attempts and more easily secure internal consensus.
All of this is very damaging and dangerous for the country. A national project cannot be sustained based on the discourse of the resistance but rather on its ability to generate alternatives and achieve human improvement, in the Cuban case, despite the blockade.
The current socioeconomic dynamics generate changes in the class composition or of sectors of Cuban society and its dynamics of inequality. How do you see this problem and its possible solutions?
It is a serious phenomenon with not only economic and social consequences but also ideopolitical. It is very sensitive for the generations of Cubans who embraced the project of the Revolution against inequality and for social justice. Also for the later ones that were born with conquered rights and policies that benefited the majority.
The phenomenon of the inverted social pyramid has been around since the 1990s, accompanied by inequality, poverty, social exclusion and phenomena such as racism that were thought had been overcome. Thirty years later, all that has increased and become more complex. It is that ideological presuppositions were always imposed over economic ones. The result has been the brake on the development of the productive forces, the increase in the mentioned social problems and the appearance of other negative ones in the social fabric.
With the Task of Reorganization and the partial dollarization of the economy, these problems have worsened. This explains the escalation that Cuban society is experiencing in terms of inequality, poverty, exclusion, etc. The worst thing is that the recent Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) announced that such a formula does not have a specific term nor did it centrally include the issues of poverty and inequality on its agenda.
The solution is to free up productive forces, eliminate state monopolies in non-strategic areas, urgently boost agriculture and SMEs to resolve the crisis, while guaranteeing social and labor rights and decision-making power for working citizens. The state should focus on the really strategic sectors: mining, defense/national security and public services. With an adequate fiscal system, the State — which should not be concerned with limiting wealth not in its hands but with eliminating poverty — could better focus on social and differentiated policies that prevent the advance of these dynamics of inequality.
In such a complex economic and social context, what is the space that criticism has today and what would be the role of intellectuals?
The State has increasingly limited the spaces for criticism and debate. There are some exceptions, but they do not transcend: they are not crucial in shaping public debates or in decision-making processes. The possibilities for this essential exercise are today almost reduced to alternative media and social networks.
This problem directly collides with the nature and social function of intellectuals in society. Intellectuals are not only the ones who work with thought and produce ideas in various manifestations of art, literature or science. Their true condition manifests itself when they are able to critically reflect on the society of their time to try to influence events. It is in their nature, even though they essentially share the political doctrine of the government.
On the other hand, the lack of space for criticism is a serious contradiction for socialism, which, as a very young system, needs it to resolve its contradictions and overcome itself. Unfortunately, the models that we know, including ours, have shown the political class’s serious difficulties to take advantage of the intelligence produced by socialism.
Cuba is undergoing a process of transition and the sociopolitical climate is becoming increasingly tense, with no alternatives in sight for the majority. In addition to the aforementioned phenomena, we suffer from social inertia, democratic contradictions and deficiencies, degradations of the political culture and the civic ethics of coexistence, weak institutions, insufficient legal and political culture, and display of political extremism. Also, of ignorance about issues of Cuban and universal history, which have been silenced, dogmatized, or misused and that could contribute to cultivating consciences and learning from the mistakes of the past, ours and of others.
In this context, we urgently need strengthening and empowerment of civil society. They are all matters of prime importance to which the intellectuals can contribute as part of the people, exercising criticism from a propositional position. It is necessary to form consciences regarding values, functioning of power, democracy, rights and capacities, mechanisms for the articulation of alliances, etc.
Today there is a great debate about the foreign financing of projects aimed at subversion in Cuba. How to understand this phenomenon in the Cuban political, economic and social context?
Cuba’s situation is very particular and there are at least three aspects of the matter that cannot be ignored.
The U.S. government finances projects of this type as part of its interventionist and aggressive strategy against Cuba since the 1960s. This is a proven fact, it is reprehensible from every point of view, and it has historically delegitimized those who oppose the government in Cuba.
Domestically, the Cuban government has an infinite spectrum to consider “subversion,” part of which shows its degrees of intolerance. In Cuba, it is not possible to legalize a media, association, or project even outside of state control, which prevents financing — which is essential for any project — through regular channels. It is an oppressive logic that closes the equation: you are part of its structure, you are illegal or you do nothing. It serves the government to neutralize initiatives, not necessarily subversive, to manipulate citizens and radicalize positions.
The only alternative to this polarization is in this globalized world and the Internet, in which civil society is an important factor in the international system. There are many NGOs, corporations, foundations, etc., that offer funding to projects for environmental protection, civic empowerment, gender, reconstruction of historical memory, etc. So it is legitimate to apply with projects to obtain financing through this independent means, although they are not necessarily saved from being seen in the same bag of “mercenarism” so commonly used in government campaigns that are intended to discredit all critical voices.
It would seem that the journalistic discourse has substituted, to some extent, the legal processes in the case of accusations about ties of persons or entities with subversion projects and “regime change” against Cuba. What is your opinion on this problem?
It is an unacceptable practice. The lowest step in which official journalism can fall because it denies their own condition and confirms them as propagandists. A totally biased, aggressive and violating exercise of constitutional rights and professional codes. They are actions rejected by a large part of the public. The government and the PCC, however, reward them.
What do you think are the most complex challenges for Cuban socialism at this time?
Cuba has for many years followed essential contents of the most crooked and failed variant of socialism. Its result has been a terrible combination for the present and the future of the country: political authoritarianism and economic unviability. The appeal to resistance — with permanent deterioration of the material conditions of life — based on the ideological legitimation of the model, reached its limit, as did the design that engendered it.
The transition process has enormous challenges, which must be faced despite the tightening of the blockade and the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. The most complex in my view are:
1.- Unleashing the reforms with the greatest possible openness to revive the economy, avoid the food crisis and reposition itself in the world economy. It means releasing productive forces and prioritizing agriculture and SMEs. The results that the recent Congress of the PCC unfortunately yielded, allow us to envision that if enough pressure is not applied we will continue repeating the cycle of crisis-reform-repression. That is why it is vital to combine the fight for these reforms with the fight for democracy, which in principle should focus on defending the current Constitution — the only limit to citizen action — and the immediate cessation of repression.
2.- Achieving the transition towards a new socialist model that has socialization/democratization as a transversal element. It means that the socialist is not exclusive in the socioeconomic relations but rather that it determines the rest and that hegemony is privileged instead of the prevailing domination and control.
3.- Facing, at this moment of the transition, the call for a national dialogue including representation of the government, the island’s civil society and the emigrants. It should be tiered, structured, based on respect for political pluralism and open to systemic reform. For this, the strengthening and articulation of civil society is urgent, which fosters the collective construction of a roadmap for historical reconciliation and national dialogue.
4.- The Cuban Revolution is one of the most important of the 20th century and it became a benchmark for the world left. Achieving a transformation of the model, preserving the nature of the socialist system as an alternative to capitalism, is its best contribution to the left. It is how a legitimate and viable reference can be today. Replacing complacency and the shielding of power structures by learning from the experience that the left, especially Latin America, has had during the last decades would be a good formula.
Not taking advantage of the internal moment and the synergies with the progressive world is to pave the way for the forces that advocate the restoration of capitalism on the island.