Sunday, July 17, 2011
Teresa Gutierrez: Cuba Crafts Economic Changes
By Teresa Gutierrez
Published Jul 17, 2011 7:22 AM
This July 26 marks 58 years since the attack on the Moncada Garrison in Santiago de Cuba by heroic Cuban revolutionaries.
The 1953 military assault against the U.S.-supported dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista failed. Many of the combatants were killed and leaders of the action, including Fidel Castro, were jailed.
But that failed struggle for Cuba’s independence led just a short six years later to the successful ouster of the brutal Batista regime and, with it, the end of imperialist domination over Cuba. The revolutionary government within two years began dismantling capitalist ownership and replacing the profit-driven economy with socialist construction.
History was made just 90 miles from the shores of U.S. imperialism.
The Cuban Revolution born in 1959 forever changed the course of world history. Workers and oppressed people worldwide, no matter their ideological formation, saw Cuba as having achieved an unwavering victory against imperialism.
Cuba was and remains a shining beacon of hope for all those who seek their own emancipation.
Since then, the Cuban people and its leaders have remained undaunted in building socialism, guided by the exceptional teachings of not only Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin, but also of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, a winning combination.
Easier said than done
But it has been a most difficult road.
How could it not be when U.S. imperialism has been hell-bent on sabotaging the Revolution? From the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 to the longest economic and political blockade in history to countless mercenary attacks, the U.S. government has been relentless in its war against Cuba.
To add to Cuba’s difficulties, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 ushered in one of the most difficult periods in its history. For example, shortages of the most basic necessities occurred, and there was real hunger. It was indeed a bleak chapter of the Revolution.
It is important to note, however, that if any capitalist government were to lose 85 percent of its trade almost overnight, as Cuba did, it would have seen riots and subsequent government repression in the streets.
But not in Cuba. Instead, the people and the government pulled together to survive the Special Period, as it was called. It imposed conditions of war during peace, but Cuba survived.
Today marks yet another turning point for Cuba and the beginning of an adjustment toward building socialism.
Throughout the globe, workers and oppressed people are experiencing some of the most difficult times they have ever faced. They confront a worldwide economic crisis they did not create but one that the banks and corporations are forcing them to pay for.
Cuba is not immune to this worldwide economic crisis.
How can Cuba build socialism under these conditions? It is almost impossible.
A bump in the road
A few months ago, the capitalist press here ran several articles declaring that the Cuban government had announced it would cut hundreds of thousands of state jobs. This sounded so much like the dire news in the U.S. and elsewhere about the massive layoffs, furloughs and government shutdowns sweeping the country.
How could socialist Cuba, a government built on workers’ control rather than profit, lay off workers?
This evoked the decades-old problem of viewing Cuba through U.S. eyes. Nothing in the U.S. can compare to Cuba. No inequality, no economic problem that people face in both countries can be equated.
Before the announcement was made that Cuban workers would be “redirected,” a months-long process of deliberation and consultation was held in Cuba. Discussions and analysis were carried out in every single social and government venue.
Yes, indeed, Cuba was experiencing another bump in its long road to building socialism. It had to adjust its economic model of socialist construction in light of the worldwide economic crisis.
But it was a bump that once again included the workers of the nation in the most incredible way and led to discussions guided by the defense of socialism.
Based on much analysis and thought, the Cuban government issued “Draft Guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution” last Nov. 9. Discussions about this document took place throughout the island from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28 of this year. An incredible number of 8,913,838 Cubans — out of a population of a little over 11 million — participated in these discussions in more than 163,000 meetings.
Three million people offered contributions to the document.
This mass, incredibly deep process culminated in the Sixth Party Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in Havana from April 16 through 19. The congress brought together 1,000 delegates representing almost 800,000 party members from more than 61,000 party cells.
The congress opened with a massive, youthful demonstration commemorating the defeat of imperialism in 1961, when U.S.-trained and -armed mercenaries invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Video footage of the march indicates not just a tremendous display of the liberated masses, but a united and disciplined show of Cuban youth in unison with the government.
Along with all Cubans, the youth are tireless in their fight to free the Cuban Five heroes, who sit in U.S. jails today despite their innocence.
As anyone who has traveled to Cuba can report, Cubans often say, “The people and the government are one.” That is exactly what was seen on April 16 in the streets of Havana.
Nonetheless, it is a difficult time in Cuba. As Cubans have also said, “We are not the hell our enemies decry, but we are not the paradise our friends declare either.”
In 2009, Cuba experienced $10 billion in losses and damage caused by three devastating hurricanes. As reported in Granma newspaper, “In just 72 days, approximately 20 percent of Cuba’s GDP was lost.”
Falling prices for Cuban exports like nickel have also had a dire effect. In 2009 nickel sold for $21,000 per ton. That dropped to $11,700 the following year.
Tourism is a staple of the Cuban economy. Even though the island received 2.9 percent more visitors in 2010, income from tourism declined because of the deteriorating exchange rate. As Raul Castro said, “In short, more tourists but less income.”
But above all the U.S. economic and political blockade of Cuba, the oldest in the world, is the number one cause of havoc in the economy. Estimates are that 50 years of the blockade have cost Cuba a whopping $751 billion.
This is an act of imperialist war and must be considered a crime against humanity.
Currently, in year 53 of the Revolution, the Cuban Communist Party — in consultation with government bodies, workers’ unions and mass organizations — has concluded that in order to deal with the times, it must carry out major changes in order to become more efficient.
As Cuban economists and leaders point out, “No one can indefinitely spend more than they earn; two plus two always equals four, never five.”
This is why the restructuring of the state apparatus and reduction in expenditure and staff are beginning. The big question is, who will create the wealth that people need? Raul Castro said eloquently, “Sometimes one has the sensation that we are eating socialism before building it, and aspiring to spend as though we were in communism.”
In order to assure its free education and health care and see that every Cuban who wants a job has one, Cuba’s leaders say they must make adjustments to the current socialist economic model.
Cuban government leaders and workers alike are assessing and revamping policies with the view identified by the Cuban leadership that there has been an “irresponsible attitude of consuming without anybody, or very few people, worrying about how much it costs the country to guarantee that, and above all, if it can really do so.”
A policy under scrutiny, for example, is the ration book. Ration books, which have been provided to everyone, ensure that all Cubans can purchase basic foods at very low, subsidized prices. After analysis, it has become clear that this was leading to waste and inefficiency. How to phase out ration books while guaranteeing that no one goes hungry in Cuba is now under discussion. The Cuban Constitution says that the means of subsistence, health care and shelter are guaranteed as human rights.
But Raúl Castro wrote in Granma recently: “Many of us Cubans confuse socialism with ... subsidies and equality with egalitarianism. Quite a few of us consider the ration card to be a social achievement that should never be gotten rid of. In this regard, I am convinced that several of the problems we are facing today have their origin in this distribution mechanism.”
Despite Washington’s wishes and distortions, however, no market economy has been introduced in Cuba. The problems of distribution will be dealt with by strengthening socialism.
Based on the record of its leadership, coupled with its mass participatory democracy, a market economy will never be introduced in Cuba. Cubans have traveled to countries in the region like Haiti and Mexico, and they see what capitalism brings. The masses are overwhelmingly clear on the options: Defend and maintain the Revolution or return to the days of capitalist exploitation.
In an August 2009 speech Raúl Castro stated, “They did not elect me president to restore capitalism in Cuba or to surrender the Revolution. I was elected to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism, not to destroy it.”
Strengthening socialism, defending the gains of the Revolution and building on them are all part of the revolutionary process unfolding in Cuba today.
Revolutionaries and progressives around the world have the utmost confidence in the Cuban Communist Party, the workers of Cuba and their leadership. The Cuban Revolution will prevail.
Cuba is making its own road to socialism, but its Marxist foundation, coupled with the legacy of the great revolutionary, Fidel Castro, is extraordinary.
What those in capitalist countries need to do is build and widen the anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist struggle. It is the defeat of imperialism that will absolutely guarantee Cuba’s success.