Let’s imagine for a moment that there were three parties in Cuba, named the Renewed Socialism Party, the Cuban Revolutionary Party and the Fidelista Party. Let’s imagine that the three of them went to elections and governed according to popular vote, with platforms dedicated to the construction of a socialism with differentiated emphasis, but definitely anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, for social justice, equity, sovereignty, social development (not only economic growth), citizens’ democracy, human rights, and most especially, the dignity of all Cubans.
According to this scenario, I wonder how many in the rest of the world would consider Cuba a fully democratic republic or, on the contrary, would continue to judge it as lacking an essential pluralism, only conceivable in a full-fledged “market economy,” and with antisocialist and “right-wing” parties, including those akin to “American democracy.”
Now imagine that these three parties are governing Cuba at this time, and that, instead of taking turns in power according to the electoral cycle, they share the same Council of Ministers and Council of State, they sit in the meetings of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and the National Assembly, and they agree to govern collegially and make decisions by consensus. Of course, the political process slows down and also becomes more contradictory. At a more delayed and ambivalent pace it also contributes to the new policies, here and everywhere, to suffer some degradation as of when they are agreed and enunciated, formulated in regulations, and in the end implemented, to follow a path subject to interpretations, resilience and bureaucratic inertia, until they are applied at the bottom.
Thus, when a crisis and national emergency situation typically manages to narrow the range of consensus, there is no alternative but to implement pending agreements and take others under pressure, track their implementation down to the bottom, targeting intermediate obstacles and local disruptive agents, and using all the resources of power, from the exhortation of citizens to the application of the law, including coercion.
The publication Cuba y su desafío económico y social (Cuba and its economic and social challenge; September 8, 2020), a summary of the “Socioeconomic strategy to boost the economy and face the global crisis caused by COVID-19,” illustrates a situation such as described in the previous paragraph. Signed by the Ministry of Economy, it affirms that “this Strategy will lead us to be in more favorable conditions for the analyzes to be carried out in the 8th Congress of the PCC.” It responds, by the way, to my first lucubration about the next Party event, in this same column, a month ago.
Presented in the midst of the new outbreak of the pandemic, this Economic-Social Strategy (hereinafter, ESES) is, however, something more than an emergency plan to face the effects of COVID-19 inside and outside. Among its nine “strategic principles,” expressly linked to the two previous PCC congresses, the most outstanding are to regulate the market “by indirect methods” (understood, not by administrative edicts); to recognize the “dynamic role of domestic demand” (that is, of the market); the “complementarity of economic actors” (understood, state and private enterprise, agricultural and non-agricultural cooperative, foreign company, self-employed workers); apply “the agreed forms of management and ownership” and distribute (“resize”) what should be up to the state and private sectors, and their respective articulation.
In my first text of this series on the near future, I commented on the obvious need for tuning between key documents issued at different times, such as the Conceptualization of the model (2016) and the Constitution (2019). I recalled its strategic issues and those of the Guidelines (2011, 2016), in particular the decentralization and autonomy of the municipalities, the space agreed (and postponed) for the private and cooperative sector, as well as the transformation (pending since time immemorial) of the state sector.
I pointed out the revaluation of health, higher education, culture and science, barely defined as “public services” and “budgeted sectors” (say, unproductive), instead of the basis of innovation and development of all industries and services. I mentioned the updating of the Family Code, the most debated in the consultation prior to the Constitution. I asked what will happen to issues ignored in all those documents, such as Cuban emigration, and others barely named, such as unions and other organizations, with a crucial role in a socialist democracy.
If the ESES is taken as that tuning and updating of previous formulations, we will find, in the midst of ideas and intentions repeated before, some new emphases and statements. As a sample, let’s take what is said about the private sector, that is, private enterprise, cooperative and self-employment.
Curiously, in this document the term private is recurrent, instead of the generic non-state. It proposes to take “steps for the constitution of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, which may be private, state or joint,” establish “a mechanism that allows private producers to finance with freely convertible currency,” offer “insurance services for the private sector that provide protection for their assets, productive work, and workers in the sector” and facilitate “business agreements” between private and state-owned enterprises. It also speaks of “greater flexibility in the exercise of self-employment, so that it can adapt to the new economic and social scenario.”
Not only the frequency is significant, but also the qualitatively different vision in the formulation of the role of “non-state” cooperatives. The need for “legal norms that group together all types of cooperatives…for the elimination of current restrictions, in particular those related to the number of members and their territorial scope,” and “alliances between the business sector and cooperatives.”
It is conceived for the first time in an official document, for example, to take “steps for the constitution of new cooperatives in prioritized sectors of the economy,” to facilitate that “cooperatives of various kinds” allow central state administration bodies to be freed from certain functions, so that they “concentrate on their state functions.” Likewise, to “advance, as part of the development of cooperatives, in computer science or other forms of non-state management, which enables greater production of computer applications and services,” as well as to “incorporate [them] to the preparation and evaluation of feasibility studies [of investments].”
Conceiving cooperatives, and the private sector in general, as a form of management “for innovation, recovery and manufacture of spare parts,” the development of software and telecommunications, or administrative control in public organizations is not only a leap from its adoption for services in cafeterias and hairdressers, but in the vision of a truly integrated mixed economy.
Although various academic publications¹ have presented these ideas about cooperatives, SMEs and self-employment and for many years have debated the scope of a private sector beyond paladares, taxis, hostels and other specific services, it is a novelty in official documents. As is known, before the current Chinese or Vietnamese models, the articulation of manufacturing and service SMEs with the Cuban state sector was part of its socialism for nine years, until March 13, 1968, when almost 60,000 were nationalized. Now, what the Anglos would call the litmus test of this private sector, its real role in today’s Cuban development, lies rather in the incorporation of “human capital,” that is, the use of the qualified labor force, whose contribution to “the value chain” could far exceed that of the Chinese or Dominican maquiladoras.
Probably more important than the consecration of an economy with multiple actors, such as the one described in the ESES, is the decentralization and autonomy of the municipalities, due to their impact on society as a whole. Although the public debates on the constitutional draft in 2018 did not dedicate the space that other more burning issues had, that section of the new Constitution (Title VIII. Local bodies of People’s Power) was widely corrected and increased, that is, transformed, into essentially political terms.
The meaning of municipal autonomy and decentralization, like everything that involves redistribution of power, is strictly political. However, this is not limited to returning to the municipality its role in real government and decision-making on the local, to reviving the spent People’s Power at its grassroots, to facilitating citizen participation and promoting the “sense of belonging” of workers and citizens, of which much is talked about. Without autonomous local government there is no “liberation of productive forces,” generally embedded in a space whose means nourish them; nor job creation without the need for resources assigned from the center or abroad; nor solutions to the problems of the environment; nor effective budget management; nor facing natural disasters; nor control of corruption or the spread of epidemics, as has been demonstrated in the last six months.
“To think like a country” means doing it with the 168 local heads where that country really exists. For example, access to “funds in bank accounts to finance local development projects, administered by the councils of the municipal administration,” whose income can be reinvested the following year, and make the municipality profitable, so that it grows beyond a tax-collection entity. In other words, not only to ensure “the municipal self-sufficiency of agricultural products,” but also to enforce “municipal development strategies and plans for land and urban planning,” and place them in the hands of the local Power and its institutions.
These are elements of a revolution in the active role of the municipality, recognized in the document: the approval of investments of a certain scale; entrust the greater supply of strategic inputs, such as construction materials, to “local production plans,” “use more efficiently the resources of local governments or other activities that can be promoted, with budgetary funds for the development of the country.”
Contrary to the many damages caused by the pandemic, its political impact should be accounted for in consciousness and in public institutions, in government and in governments. In addition to “strengthening primary healthcare, opening family doctor and nurse offices” and having “greater resolution of problems by polyclinics,” it has become a priority to “strengthen municipal intensive therapy areas and their accreditation, as well as intensive care units.”
But the balance of COVID-19 is not limited to the decisive role of local governments, nor to the litmus test to which it has subjected Cuban public health, to extend and consolidate its image inside and outside. Its greatest effect on economic policy and on the mentality of those who conceive it could be expressed in the degree of revaluation of health and science, as well as of higher education and culture, as the driving force of innovation and development. To what extent has this been the case?
In addition to verifying with horror that I have not managed to address the main pending issues, as I swore at the beginning of this text, I realize that I also have many questions about the aforementioned. After having subjected readers to a barrage of quotation marks, which must have overwhelmed them a bit, I guess they don’t have to be skeptics to wonder about the feasibility and determination of these formulations. In addition, there are strategic absences in the Strategy.
For example, the need for “monetary and exchange stability” is mentioned as an element of “macroeconomic stabilization,” but not a word is said about unification, despite the fact that specialists from the Central Bank have recently addressed it.
On the other hand, the municipality is not a panacea. The elements of a decades-old institutional political culture, the reproduction of “command habits” and of administration that are confused with governing, the training of cadres and the education of leaders are not the best of all possible worlds. Finally, decentralizing power is not the same as deconcentrating decisions. The municipalization of politics faces great challenges of practice and of mentality to overcome, none of them resolved by a constitutional article or an economic policy plan, however progressive and daring they may be.
For those who consider the implementation of SMEs, the expansion of the private sector and the structuring of a coherent market as the keys to a prosperous economy, the light at the end of the tunnel is turning increasingly blue, like objects from outer space that are approaching. For those who understand the transition to another socialism as an equation formed by dissimilar factors, both within civil society and within the State and its various institutions, it is a much more complex and contradictory function.
For politicians, the question lies, to some extent, in calculating costs and benefits, as for doctors it is to choose which therapy to apply to which pathology. The difference is that surgeons know exactly where and how to operate, on a body that is still, anesthetized. The thing is not so simple for those who draw up economic policy, or any other policies: predicting is almost always a reserved forecast.
1 Temas # 54 (2008), on Cooperation and participation; # 75 (2013) on Social and solidarity economy; # 89-90 (2017), on Small scale as a development strategy.