Cuba at the crossroads
If the blockade is not taken into account, all the possible arguments on the Cuban situation will inevitably spin in a vacuum.
The essential backdrop for any reflection on Cuba continues to be the blockade. If this is not taken into account, all the possible arguments on the Cuban situation will inevitably spin in a vacuum. This criminal policy that the US has been applying for more than sixty years constitutes an aberration, an event without precedence in the history of humanity. Nowadays, its impact is felt in all spheres of life, I repeat, all. Nothing is safe from the restrictions and obstacles that derive from the aggression mounted by Washington, repudiated by 99% of the members of the UN General Assembly for more than 30 years without the United States government taking seriously the universal mandate that requires it to put an end to a policy that constitutes an open violation of human rights. The blockade covers all aspects of social and economic life and is reflected in the shortage of medicines, food, and spare parts for transport and household goods, in the enormous difficulties to import and export, in the phenomenal increase in the costs of international trade and freight, and in preventing the access to almost everything necessary to guarantee the good life of a population.
Having said this, it is worth asking: is there any other factor, apart from the blockade, that explains the extremely difficult economic situation in Cuba? It is enough to refer to the blockade to capture the Cuban economic problem in all its depth. Obviously not. There are internal factors that enhance the lethal nature of the US blockade. To partly alleviate its effects, the Cuban government must without further delay move forward with the implementation of a broad program of economic reforms. I know that the word “reforms” sounds very bad among some friends of the island, especially prominent members of the party and the government, but it is time to put the euphemisms aside. Rosa Luxemburg wrote exhaustively that the revolutionaries cannot oppose the reforms. Given that the revolution is not an act, an event, a bolt from the sky but the patient accumulation of reforms, appealing to this term is inscribed in the most genuine Marxist tradition.
Obviously, there are several types of reforms: some that are cunning substitutes for revolution, ploys designed to confuse the masses and plunge them into conformism. Change something so that nothing changes, said the Leopard in the classic Lampedusa novel. This is certainly a peril, but Cuba urgently needs to reform its exhausted, anachronic economic system, the main source of the greatest criticism that the population fires at the government. Faced with this extremely urgent need in the stagnant and unproductive agrarian sector, some revolutionaries argue that this would mean introducing capitalism in Cuba. They seem to ignore that somehow “capitalism is already” on the island: take as an example the tourist industry, with its hotels and the complex galaxy of economic activities that revolve around tourism: restaurants, musical shows, excursions, walks, sightseeing in 1950s convertible cars, in addition to the growing number of products that today must be purchased in US dollars or euros in MLC stores. All this is true, as it is the fact that nothing of the former has implied a significant impairment of the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution. If the Cuban state-owned agrarian enterprises or the farmers’ cooperatives cannot guarantee the provision of basic food, the only sensible thing to do is to look for alternative ways of organizing production that meet that objective. If achieving this requires opening certain agricultural sectors to the private sector, yet tightly controlled by the state, why not do it?
In line with this, the Cuban state should move quickly in this direction, because today, socialism is synthesized in a few concrete measures: abundant and quality food for all, preservation of the great advances of socialized medicine in Cuba, and defending public education... This means providing an adequate budget for health, housing, and education, among others, a budget, which today, is utterly insufficient. If in order to achieve these objectives it is necessary to open up some areas of economic activity to the private sector, why not do it? Because let's say it once and for all, fewer and fewer in Cuba believe that scarcity and high prices are the distinctive traits of a socialist society. The rank and file population desperately need those goods, granted in the past by the revolution but no longer available today in the quantity and quality of the past. Let’s not forget that Fidel said that revolution “was to change everything that had to be changed” and there are a lot of things that should be changed in Cuba, quite soon.
Enough with the economic reforms? No. Hand in hand with these, it is necessary to advance firmly in what Fidel named “the battle of ideas” or what Gramsci termed as the “moral and intellectual reform” in order to recover the prestige that socialism used to have in Cuba, which it no longer has today, especially among the young generations who wonder if scarcity and very low wages and salaries are the defining features of a socialist society. Intense ideological work is required on the part of the party, as well as an efficient communication strategy capable of transmitting the new content of the socialist project, today less ambitious than before but equally valuable. Food, health, education, decent housing, and transportation are the priorities that today define the socialist aspirations of Cubans. More grandiose goals can and should be rescheduled for a later time. But without the guarantees of the aforementioned, they will become a beautiful fantasy incapable of capturing the imagination and loyalty of the population, of its young people and launching them into action. Frustration in these matters will leave them increasingly defenseless to the insidious and persistent destabilizing campaigns of the Miami counterrevolutionary mafia and its local lackeys.
In his speech on May 1, 2000, Fidel defined the revolution as “having a sense of the historic moment; it is changing everything that must be changed." This is the safe path (I would risk saying “the only path”) for the consolidation of the Cuban revolution, today more threatened than ever. The reluctance to transit the road of economic reforms, leaving aside all sorts of euphemisms, would show that the "sense of the historical moment" has not been grasped by both the party and the government and that the will to change all that must be changed is lacking. The time has come to correct this situation without further delays. What Fidel said in his speech at the University of Havana in 2005 should be remembered, “This revolution will not be destroyed from the outside but could be destroyed from the inside,” if the urgently needed changes are not carried out on time.