Crisis in Agriculture: Land for Those Who Work It / Dimas Castellanos

By Dimas Castellano, 9 February 2016

Property and crisis

Once the Cuban Government arrived in power, imbued by an exacerbated voluntarism, it ignored the laws that govern the economy and subordinated them to ideology. From this moment on, the loss of the autonomy that is required by economic processes was converted into a factor of poverty.

In 1959, with the first agrarian reform law, the Government handed over property titles to 100,000 farmers but concentrated in its own hands some 40.2 percent of cultivable land. In 1963, with the second agrarian reform law, the 1,000 farms that had more than five horses swelled the fund of State lands, which grew to almost 70 percent.

In 1976, with the objective of decreasing the numbers of small owners, the Government initiated a project of “cooperativization,” through which it created the Cooperatives of Agricultural Production (CPA), thereby raising the share of land that was State property to 75 percent. The result was inefficiency, scarcity of products and high prices, which obliged the Government in 1993 to convert a part of unused State land into the Basic Units of Production Cooperative (UBPC), while retaining the property ownership for itself.

Fourteen years later, on July 26, 2007, in his speech in Camagüey, General Raúl Castro recognized the deficiencies, errors and bureaucratic or indolent attitudes reflected in the fields infected with the marabú weed, and he announced the decision to “change everything that should be changed.’

And in 2007, he promulgated Decree Law 259, through which he began the handing over of idle land to private individuals. However, the measure sidestepped the declaration of changing everything that should be changed and was limited to transferring — through a form of leasing known as ’usufruct’, which is the right to use the land without actually owning title to it — a part of the land that the State wasn’t able to make productive. The poor result obtained from this measure did not achieve what was proposed.

Of the 420,000 acres held by the 1,989 existing UBPCs, almost 40 percent remained idle; their expanse, although comprising 27 percent of the agricultural area of the country, produced only 12 percent of the grain, food and vegetables, and 17 percent of the milk, and only 27 percent had satisfactory results. In 2010, 15 percent of the UBPCs closed with losses, and another 6 percent didn’t even submit a balance sheet.

In order to stop the deterioration, in August 2012, the Council of Ministers issued a package of 17 measures and a new General Regulation for the UBPCs that recognized what before had been denied: the capacity to acquire rights and to contract obligations; that is, juridicial personality [a legal term meaning an entity that has a distinct identity, with rights and obligations].

In December 2012, without altering the structure of the property, Decree-Law 300 was substituted for Decree-Law 259. It alleviated some restrictions, but it kept others and implemented new ones. Article 11 said that lands in usufruct could integrate with a State farm with a juridicial personality, to a UBPC or a CPA, for which “the usufruct cedes the right of usufruct over the lands and the improvements to the entity with which it integrates.”

In May, 2013, at the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Marino Murillo Jorge, Vice President of the Council of State, recognized that the measures, which for decades had been put into practice for managing the land, hadn’t led to the necessary growth in production. Finally, in 2014, Decree-Law 300 was modified with Decree-Law 311.

The loss of autonomy — which is to the economy what oxygen is to living bodies — together with voluntarism, the methods of command and control, the centralized planning, the inability of the bosses and administrators, and the diminished interest of the producers, shaped the agricultural inefficiency that has characterized Cuban agriculture for several decades.

The process described shows the impossibility of resolving the crisis in agriculture with the monopoly of State property and leads to the analysis of usufruct and the cooperatives in Cuba.

The cooperatives and usufruct 

As far as cooperatives are concerned, the Declaration of the International Cooperative Alliance (ACI), adopted in 1995, defines cooperatives as autonomous associations of persons who unite voluntarily to cope with their needs and their common economic, social and cultural aspirations, through an enterprise of conjoined and democratically controlled property.

In agreement with this definition, the ones created in Cuba — with the exception of the Cooperatives of Credits and Services, where, although without juridicial personality, the farmers conserved ownership of the land and the means of production — are not classified as such.

The Sugar Cane Cooperatives, created in March 1960 in areas that formerly belonged to private sugar mill owners, almost immediately were converted into State enterprises. The emergence of the CPAs in 1976 with the purpose of reducing, even more, the quantity of land in private hands, was also a State decision. And the UBPCs, organized in 1993, didn’t result from a true socialism but from the crisis in State agriculture.

If the cooperatives in Cuba are created by the will of the State; if the Council of Ministers  regulates them; if the entity that authorizes their constitution is the entity that controls, evaluates their functioning and defines when the “members” can contract with salaried workers; if the activities and tasks that the “partners” can assume are created in places decided by the State and “deal with segments of the market that are not competitive with the State”; and, on top of this, if the State retains ownership over the fundamental means of production, then they are not true cooperatives, but State cooperatives in usufruct.

A convincing proof of this false cooperativism was the report published in the newspaper, Granma, on Friday, January 25, 2013, which announced the decision of the National Association of Small Farmers to replace or remove from their positions 632 presidents of agricultural cooperatives.

For its part, usufruct consists of the use and enjoyment of a good belonging to others. If there had been consistency with the principle of changing everything that should be changed, the idle lands, infected with marabú, would have been handed over to those who work the land.

Nothing justifies making private producers — who have demonstrated they can be efficient — owners in usufruct, and giving ownership to the State, which is responsible for the inefficiency. The question sends us to one of the reasons declared by the 1959 Revolution: to return the land to the farmers. Why now does the land not belong to those who work it?

Neither the State lands, nor the cooperatives created by the State, nor the 17 measures of 2012, nor the successive decrees that handed over land in usufruct have managed to pull Cuban agriculture out of the crisis created by the State monopoly of property.

On the contrary, the crisis has worsened.

Such a result, like it or not, places on the agenda the need for a new reform directed at eliminating the large State land holdings, converting the present owners in usufruct to owners in title and transforming the rest of State property into private property and large cooperative enterprises.

Therefore, what is needed is to determine what are the most effective forms of property in each moment and place for personal and social development, which will make the institution of property a foundation of personal and social order.

Not recognizing this need explains how the administrators of cooperatives can be separated, not by the members, but by a para-State institution like the National Association of Small Farmers, or that the Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba threatens the owners in usufruct with the emphatic declaration: “The land belongs to the State. Without discussion.” The obvious question is: And what is the State going to do with land that it never managed to make productive?

The answer is requires the democratization of economic relations, so that parallel to the State, Cubans participate like subjects with institutionalized rights.

From Diario de Cuba

Translated by Regina Anavy

What People Are We Talking About? / Dimas Castellanos

Havana (El Nuevo Herald)

Havana (El Nuevo Herald)

Dimas Castellanos, 18 January 2016 — A commentary on five foreign policy issues raised by the Cuban president, Raul Castro, on December 29, 2015 during the closing session of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

1. Since 2015 there have been benefits from mutually advantageous, cooperative relationships with various countries, particularly the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

True, but these benefits are the result of a relationship that does not follow the normal laws of commerce. The reduction or total loss of Venezuelan petroleum subsidies and its impact on Cuba would be a repeat of what happened with subsidies from the former Soviet Union. Both examples illustrate the impossibility of sustaining an economy that is not self-supporting and the government’s inability to learn from past lessons. The cold, hard fact is that events in Venezuela help explain the real cause of the reported decline in GDP in 2015.

2. At the close of the last regular session of the National Assembly, I noted that an imperialist and oligarchic offensive has been launched against progressive Latin American revolutionary undertakings, which our people will challenge with determination.

We are sure that new victories will come to the Bolivarian and Chavez Revolution under the leadership of Comrade Maduro against the constant, destabilizing onslaught from the right, encouraged and supported by outside forces.

We rely on the commitment of the Venezuela’s revolutionaries and its people, overwhelmingly Bolivarian and Chavista, to follow the legacy of the unforgettable President Hugo Chavez.

We are convinced that the Venezuelan people, as they did in 2002, and the civil-military alliance will not allow the achievements of the Revolution to be dismantled and will know how to turn this setback into victory.

Cuba will always stand beside the Fatherland of Simon Bolivar and call for an international mobilization to defend the sovereignty and independence of Venezuela, and for acts of interference in its internal affairs to cease.

To claim that what has occurred in Venezuela is the result of an imperialist offensive is to sidestep the incompetency demonstrated by the Chavez regime. The use of a substantial portion of the bonanza generated by the high price of petroleum in order to export Bolivarian populism to the region instead of using it to diversify an economy entirely dependent on the production of oil only proves this point. The obsession for expansion over diversification has had a greater negative impact than any “imperialist offensive” in creating the disastrous situation in which this South American country finds itself.

To say that events there will be confronted by “our people” is to deny that the majority of Venezuelans, after supporting Chavez for years, cast a protest vote. Given this situation, one must ask the following questions. What people are we talking about? Do the millions of Venezuelans who voted for the opposition candidates not also make up the people? Who and what criteria define who the people are? When were “our people” asked to challenge the decision by those categorized as non-people?

Suggesting that new victories will come to the Bolivarian revolution led by Maduro, evoking commitments by revolutionaries to the legacy of Chavez and ignoring the popular will as expressed at the polls is a manifestation of interference in the internal affairs of another country, something that the government of Cuba has always accused the United States of doing.

All indications are that what occurred there could occur here if truly democratic elections were held. It seems, however, that the takeaway lesson is to postpone once again any step that could lead to democratization. The great danger is that without democratization there will be no solution to the numerous and serious problems facing Cuban society. Nevertheless, the process underway is unstoppable, especially given the change in mentality that is occurring among Cubans since diplomatic relations have been restored with our neighbor to the north. Democratization will come one way or another, but it will come. Trying to stop it is a march against history, against the winds of change sweeping through the region, against the destiny of the Cuban nation. And therefore it will fail in the end.

3. The proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace by all the heads of state at the second CELAC summit, which took place in Havana in January 2014, is a solid basis for developing relations between our countries and internationally. 

At this conclave the Cuban president stated, “For years our region has been a zone free of nuclear arms… but we believe that is not enough. We believe it is necessary for the region’s heads of state and heads of government to formally agree that any difference, any conflict, shall always be resolved through the dialogue of negotiation and that it will never end in threats or the use of force.”

Contrary to these emotional words, the decision to challenge the results of democratic elections in Venezuela could lead to civil war. Then the declaration of Latin American and Caribbean countries as a zone of peace would be nothing more than an empty slogan if these nations do not renounce the domestic use of violence. It would reveal a lack of political will to achieve it whenever peace is threatened by revolutionary populism.

4. As indicated in the Declaration of the Revolutionary Government, published on December 1, the “wet foot dry foot” policy, the Parole Program for Cuban doctors and the Cuban Adjustment Act remain the principal incentives driving the abnormally high level of emigration from Cuba to the United States.

The principal incentives are not US policies. For one action to be the cause of another, it has to precede it. The massive and continuous exodus that has turned Cuba from a country to which people immigrated to one from which people emigrated began in 1959, before these policies even existed. The real cause is the nature of the totalitarian system itself, which — while depriving Cubans of their civil liberties — has been unable to develop a viable economy capable of satisfying the basic needs of its citizens.

Beyond the impact that the prolonged conflict between the two governments might have had, it is only logical that there would be migration from a country with a poor economy to one with the most advanced economy in the world.

Given this reality, the only thing that could halt the exodus would be a structural transformation capable of guaranteeing Cubans’ basic needs, something that ideological entrenchment prevents.

The best proof of this is the increasing emigration from other parts of the world to destination countries which have not adopted anything even resembling the Cuban Adjustment Act. People simply move from areas where conditions are bad to where they are better, something that even certain species of animals do, including migratory birds, who do not relocate because of some “wet wing–dry wing” policy.

Also, the United States is not the principal country to which doctors are fleeing. They have to be recertified there, which involves paying for licensing exams and getting by until they are granted permission to practice medicine.

The only doctors going to the United States are those willing to work at anything or the few cases in which family members assume the costs of recertification. A bigger factor in the exodus of doctors is the fifty thousand physicians rented out to other parts of the world, a situation in which the level of exploitation is not difficult for them to understand.

5. We have reiterated that, in order to normalize bilateral relations, the government of the United States must lift the embargo and the seizure of territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base without insisting that Cuba abandon the cause of independence or renounce the principles and ideals for which several generations of Cubans have fought for a century and a half.

As stated, these demands are not feasible. Once bilateral relations have been reestablished, solutions must be sought through bilateral negotiation. If the Cuban government does not want to make concessions to a foreign government, it must make concessions to its people, who are denied means of expression, institutions, rights and freedoms.

If it acts in this way, it would strengthen the position of the US president, who has demonstrated a willingness to move towards full normalization of relations with Cuba, weaken the position of the members of Congress opposed to lifting the embargo and advance the goal much more quickly than by levelling accusations and condemnations through the United Nations. More than ever, the solution ultimately depends on the course of conduct the government of Cuba decides to follow.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Five Points: Sorting Through Raul Castro’s Economic Speech

Dimas Castellanos, 16 January 2016 — A commentary on five economic issues raised by the Cuban president on December 29, 2015 during the closing session of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

1. The president stated that, though the effects of the US blockade remain unchanged and external economic constraints have worsened in the second half of the year, Cuba’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 4% in 2015.

Not only have the effects of the “blockade” changed, financial constraints have eased. Measures taken by the White House after the announcement of restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries have led to a relaxation of the embargo. Meanwhile, negotiations to reduce external debt have eased economic constraints, especially after the Club of Paris wrote off three-quarters of Cuba’s debts.

With regards to GDP, the Cuban government has acknowledged that, in order to achieve significant development, the annual growth rate must reach 7%. However, from 2011 to 2014 it grew by only 2.3% on average, with a growth rate of 1.3% in 2014. In July 2015 Raul Castro reported that the slowdown in GDP growth had been reversed and estimated that by year’s end it would be in the neighborhood of 4%, now the reported target figure.

In order to understand this reduction in growth, one has to keep in mind that between 1989 and 1993 GDP fell by 34%. However, whether the 4% forecast is realistic or not, it would not mark a true recovery, as we can see from the following four examples.

A – According to economics minister Marino Murillo, the sugar industry grew by 16.9% in 2014. However, this fell short of the 73,000 ton target, requiring the transfer of some 30,000 tons intended for domestic consumption to fill the gap in the export supply.

B – The manufacturing sector grew 9.9%, but obsolete technology in the industries that make up this sector led to considerable shortages of products intended for sale in the network of hard currency retail stores. As a result thousands of tons of chickens and thousands of cases of beer had to be imported, with a resulting reduction in hard currency earnings.

C – The transport sector grew, but inefficiencies in cargo delivery impacted other sectors and the time cargo vessel spent in port led to additional costs.

D – Agriculture grew but, due to a shortfall, 50,000 additional tons of rice and an additional amount of milk had to be purchased to fill the gap. Given these deficiencies, the 4% figure says little and has even less impact on the lives of Cubans.

2. Next year gross domestic product will continue to grow but at a lower rate of 2%. As a result, financial constraints associated with falling income due to lower prices on the world market for traditional exports such as nickel are projected.

First of all, if arithmetic is independent of ideology, then half of four is two. Therefore, if GDP goes from 4% to 2%, that does not mean a better growth rate in 2016. That is a decrease.

Secondly, if debt was reduced through write-offs and negotiations — the Club of Paris, for example, forgave Cuba $8.5 million of its $11.1 million in debt — and if improved relations with the United States increased family remittances from $1.4 billion at the end of 2013 to $2 billion, and if tourism and medical services continue to generate additional billions of dollars, the projected decrease cannot be explained simply on the basis of alleged financial constraints without mentioning other causes, among them the possible reduction or total loss of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil, which Cuba receives on a daily basis from Venezuela.

3. Though the number of visitors from overseas has risen to three and a half million, it cannot be overlooked that this has occurred in spite of the fact that Cuba is still the only country in the world that US citizens are prohibited from visiting as tourists.

The number of visitors from overseas did not increase in spite of the fact that American citizens are prohibited from visiting Cuba. On the contrary, this was achieved in large measure because President Obama expanded the twelve categories established by the Treasury Department under which tens of thousands of Americans and tourists from other places of origin have been able to travel to the island since the beginning of last year. Without this action, the increase would not have been possible. Similarly, further growth will be considerably influenced by the imminent arrival of new, regularly scheduled flights and the advent of ferry service, all of which are expected as a result of the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States.

4. In spite of economic constraints, the fulfillment of commitments made during various negotiations to restructure debts with foreign creditors has reinforced the trend towards gradual recovery of our economic credibility internationally. The latest evidence of this was the agreement reached on December 12 with the Club of Paris. This agreement facilitates access to financing in the medium and long term, which is essential in securing the investments projected in our development plans.

Rather than the fulfillment of commitments, the outcome resulted from a) the pragmatism of the creditors, who realize that the critical condition of Cuba’s finances make it impossible to recover their loans, b) pressure by companies from creditor nations to invest in the island under the new scenario, knowing that detente with the United States creates opportunities on which Americans cannot yet capitalize, c) expectations arising from the resumption of diplomatic relations with the United States, and d) persistent propaganda by the Cuban government to demonstrate “economic recovery.”

The actions of the Cuban government are driven by a different logic. The failure of its economic reforms and the crisis in Venezuela have exacerbated the cash shortage. Therefore, access to short and medium term financing, especially from Club of Paris member countries, breathes new life into the economy without having to broaden relations with the United States.

What has been forgiven, however, is the enormous amount of interest accumulated over the years. The principal remains as outstanding debt. The Club of Paris forgave Cuba $8.5 billion of its $11.1 billion in debt, but the agreement imposes stiff penalties if the Cuban Government defaults again.

Thus, the game starts over with a gesture of generosity but with clear rules: Cuba must honor its commitments, which it has never been done. This will be impossible in the medium to long term if the structural changes that the economy and society require are not instituted. Undertaking this is as necessary as it is impossible without the corresponding political will. Fear of commitment seems to explain Marino Murillo’s statement to the National Assembly last December. He noted that, if we do not achieve sustained growth in the economy, “we must work towards a sustainable debt.”

5. It is up to us to maximize excess capacity, concentrate resources on activities that generate export earnings and encourage domestic production, make the investment process more streamlined and grow investments in the manufacturing sector and infrastructure, prioritizing sustainable power generation and increasing the efficiency of energy providers.

This is more of the same. We can find hundreds of proposals like this in speeches given by Cuban officials for more than five decades without any result whatsoever. Excess capacity does exist but it is elsewhere. It is in reform, for which — given its situation — Cuba cries out.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

The Cuban Exodus: Causes and Effects / Dimas Castellanos

A raft is transported to the coast during the 'rafters crisis' in 1994. (WILLY Castellanos)

A raft is transported to the coast during Cuba’s ‘Rafter Crisis’ in 1994. (WILLY Castellanos)

Dimas Castellanos, 30 November 2015 — The unstoppable exodus of Cubans has become a crisis once again. While thousands of our compatriots are stuck at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the Government of Cuba chooses to ignore the main cause.

In recent months, thousands of Cubans have been traveling through Central America for the United States. On 15 November the Nicaraguan authorities blocked their way. On 17 November, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations stated that these Cubans are “victims of the politicization of the immigration issue by the Government of the United States, of the Cuban Adjustment Act and, in particular, of the application of the call ’wet foot-dry foot’ policy.”

 

On 24 November the foreign ministers of the nations that make up the Central American Integration System met find a regional solution to the crisis. And on 26 November the Government of Ecuador decided to require visas to Cubans as of 1 December.

 

 

Human migration is a geographical shift that occurs when the natural or social conditions of a place make it impossible for residents to meet their needs, or threaten their lives. Emigrants leave places where things are bad and go to places where they are better. Thus, thousands and thousands of refugees are arriving in Europe even though there is no country in that region with an  “Adjustment Act.”

As statistics show, throughout its history Cuba has been a country of immigrants. Suffice it to recall that between 1910 and 1925 the island absorbed one-third of migrants from Spain to the Americas, and in 1920 11,986 immigrants were admitted to the island, while in 1920 the figure rose to 174,221.

The permanent exodus began in 1959 with the diversion of ships or aircraft and the abrupt breaking of diplomatic missions and desertion of those from missions abroad. First white Cubans, and later those of all colors, including adults, seniors, children and youth.

This is therefore, a process that has been sustained before and after the embargo (1961), before and after the Cuban Adjustment Act (1966), before and after the timid and partial reforms undertaken by the government of Raul Castro (2008), and before and after the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US (2015).

An exodus whose critical moments include Operation Peter Pan (sending unaccompanied children to the United States), and the departures crises through the ports of Mariel, with the Mariel Boatlift, and through Camarioca and the Guantanamo Naval Base.

Its long duration, the sociological diversity of migrants, the damage caused and threats faced by those taking the opportunity to leave, are reasons enough to set aside the unsuccessful escapes and confront once and for all the true causes, among them: miserable wages, a prohibition on entrepreneurs in their own country, the direct recruiting of foreign companies, the terrible state of transportation, an untenable housing situation, multiple obstacles to rural producers and the absence of civil, political and economic rights.

In the same year Law 989 was enacted with “measures toward real estate and personal property, or any other kind of value, etc., towards those who abandon the country with unforgivable disdain toward the national territory.” At the same time, new labels were applied to regime opponents who were called traitors to the homeland and the nation, scum and antisocials, and emigration was used to throw out the malcontents. Still today, the authorities still do not accept that any Cuban, despite his or her high level of education, may have a different idea in political, economic and cultural matters.

In “the other Boatlift” of Camarioca, in 1965, 2,979 left; in April of 1973 260,000 Cubans left by aire. In the Mariel Boatlift in 1980, 125,000 left the country. By way of the Guantanamo Naval Base in 1994 about 33,000 others left. During those three massive waves any number of tragedies occurred. Suffice it to mention the case of the 13 de Mar Tugboat which, on 13 July 1994, with 72 people on board and seven miles out from the bay of Havana, was purposefully rammed and sunk by other tugboats, with a toll of 41 dead, including ten children.

All of this is indisputable proof that, regardless of any external factors, the root cause lies in the unworkability of the economic model and the lack of civil liberties, such that none of the measures taken since 1959 to today have been able to stop steady flow of Cubans to other parts of the world. That picture has made of the diaspora a process sustained over time through as many pathways as the imagination and desperation of Cubans can design.

Besides the loss of life, the family separations and the multiple tragedies recorded, two of the side effects of permanent exodus are:

1. The decline and aging of the population at the rate of developed countries but in this case in one with a sustenance economy; and

2. The loss of the professionals (university graduates, technicians and skilled workers) who had constituted one of Cuba’s comparative advantages relative to other countries in the region.

Between 1931 and 1940, 9,571 Cubans emigrated to the United States; between 1941 and 1950, 26,313 did so; and between 1961 and 1970, 208,536 left for the U.S.

According to the Population Census of that country, in 2010 there were 1,213,418 Cubans living in Florida, representing an increase of 45.6% compared to the Census of 2000.

The solution to the immigration crisis is impossible without solving the structural crisis in which we are immersed, for which a heavy dose of political will is required, something absent to date.

The many measures taken by the Government of Cuba since 1959; the lack of a regional solution that could be offered by the Central American Integration System for Cubans stranded between Costa Rica and Nicaragua; Ecuador’s decision to require visas for Cubans in order to stop the migratory flow; and accusations against the United States; all these point but to effects but still fail to address the causes, which are internal and structural, so the exodus has continued and will continue at its own pace.

 

 

The closing of the chance to leave by way of Ecuador, one of the measures of the effects, will be reflected in illegal departures by any other means, including the return to the fragile marine vessels. The only solution is to attack the causes and this involves removing the political, social and economic model that generates this massive and ongoing exodus.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway: Past and Present / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, 31 July 2105 — According to a report presented by the Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge, in the Fifth Ordinary Sessional Period of the National Assembly of Popular Power, during the first haf year of 2015, the GDP grew by 4.7%.

In reference to transport, among other things, he said: in the first half year of 2015 this sector grew 6.5%, but the goods sector fell short by 700,000 tons, so that there is production which could not be transported and raw materials which was not delivered on time to its destination; between 20 and 25% of the $2,100,000 which, up to the month of March, was paid for demurrage of containers and ships was caused by deficiencies in the railway system and road transport. In order that delegates might understand the importance and characteristics of transport, he explained that for journeys of over 280 km the best way to transport things is the railway, so that, it is important that its activity levels return to normal.

A quick look at the history of railways in Cuba permits a clearer evaluation of his proposals

Among the freedoms conceded by the cities to the Creole-Cuban landowners at the end of the 18th century was the right to import machinery, whose introduction onto the island was a decisive move for the sugar industry.

In 1794, during Francisco de Arango y Parreño and Ignacio Pedro Montalvo’s first technical study journey, what most attracted their attention was the steam engine. Arango y  Parreño saw in that the solution to the bottleneck in the Cuban sugar factories. In order to experiment he ordered a Watt, as these machines were called, named after their inventor. [1] Although the steam engine was not invented for specific purposes, the one acquired for Cuba was the first in the world which was applied to sugar production. [2] From 1820 on its use increased, continued in 1840 with the vacuum evaporator, as substitute for the open Jamaican trains, (a reference to the type of pails used in the processing machinery, and nothing to do with railway trains) and from 1850 on with the centrifuge to mechanise the purification operation. All of this made Cuba into the world’s largest sugar producer.

With the application of the steam engine to the wheels of the wagons, came the locomotive in 1804. In 1825, the first public railway in the world was opened in England and, in 1830 the first line for the haulage of passengers and goods. Arango y Parreño, being aware of the latest advances in the technology, understood the importance of its introduction on the island. On November 19, 1837, only twelve years after England, the fourth railway in the world was opened in Cuba. That day Havana was linked up with Bejucal. The following year the Havana – Güines line was completed, and twenty years after that all the sugar-producing areas in Cuba were joined by rail.

The railway dealt with the high cost of transportation, which was one of the brakes on the sugar industry. Up to 1830 the shipment of sugar from Güines to Havana represented 25% of the value of the product and, when the railway started up between those two points (1838), the transportation costs fell by 70%. But, apart from the economic considerations, the railway accelerated the unification of the island which had begun at the end of the 17th century, creating a similar physical and social picture throughout the island, leading to the emergence of Cuba as a social and economic entity.

Between 1899 and 1908, the Cuba Central Railway and the Cuba Eastern Railway were created. One of their objectives was to integrate the railways which had been constructed since colonial times. That process was speeded up by Military Orders 34 and 62 enacted by General Leonardo Wood, during the government of occupation, which developed the sugar industry as much as it did the railways. In 1909, when Major General José Miguel Gómez took on the presidency of Cuba the cities of Havana and Santiago de Cuba were already connected by the Central Railway.

Taking into account the fact that Cuba is a long thin island, it was understood since colonial times that the railway was the ideal mode of transport and consequently an efficient infrastructure was created which united the country from north to south and east to west.

Owing to the deterioration suffered after 1959, the Revolutionary government proposed the building of a central double-track line, 1,149 km long, for high-speed trains. On January 29, 1975, Fidel Castro opened the first 24.2 km section, but the plan collapsed, as such things nearly always did. Thirty-one years later, the same Fidel said: “We were intending to construct a new line employing all the technical resources required. Many curves were straightened out, but the work could not be finished, not just because we did not have the experience, but also for international problems which were arising. ..” In the same speech, delivered in 2006, he added: “Today we have just taken delivery of 12 locomotives, and not just any old locomotives; they are simply the best we have ever received in our country; the most modern, the most efficient, and the most economical.” [3]

From the year 2006 up to the present the official Cuban press provides information on what happened regarding the railway. The deterioration due to lack of attention in a 15 metre strip on both sides of the track, including some stretches which remained buried under rubble, required, in the year 2010, 30 million pesos to clean up and restore. [4]

With an integrated focus on the matter, Cuba arranged the purchase of 550 wagons, tankers and rolling stock, while at the same time investing in 112 Chinese-made locomotives. [5]

They did not put enough effort into solving the difficulties presented by the railway lines; in spite of spending nearly 600 million dollars in the last five years on the acquisition of equipment, machinery, tools, material and new productive lines capable of reversing the grave deterioration in the railways.

On January 20, 2011 capital repairs were started on the 40 km of the Central Line, planned for that year. According to the engineer Bárbaro Martínez, principal specialist in the National Company of Lines and Construction Works of the railway, “The damage ws such that we had to carry out a very major reconstruction task, equivalent, you could say, to building a new line.” [7]

The deficiencies in the tracks continue to be the principal cause of accidents. Interviewed by the newspaper Granma, the engine drivers of railcar 2125, Jorge Inerarity Estrik and Joan Camayo del Pino, recognised that, apart from the deterioration of the track, many accidents occur due to crew negligence, basically due to getting drunk, and other violations, and not complying with instructions. And frequently the cattle owners intentionally let their herds wander and wait with bags and knives until they are run over [because it is illegal to kill a cow in Cuba]. [8]

In 2011, manual maintenance of more than 7,000 km of track was realised, more than that delivered in 2010. Nevertheless, in spite of the achievements in the rail system, there are still factors obstructing all the effort put in to deal with all the accumulated deterioration over decades as well as the difficult economic situation in Cuba.

The Capital Industrial Works Company (Railway Sleepers)  of Villa Clara last year was unable to meet its production plan, in spite of having built a new line with Italian technology, and a surface treatment plant. There was no lack of concrete or ballast, but there were difficulties with plastic for the excavation mechanism, the cleaning, the die-making, the service provided by the national mechanical industry, and other problems.  and other problems. “For these reasons they failed to complete 45 thousand units, which prevented the renovation of 24 km of track.” (one km of track needs 1,800 railways sleepers. Right now, they are working with the left-overs from the last half-year of 2011, having not received any supplies.

From the foregoing analysis we can draw at least three conclusions:

1 – that the importance of the railway was understood by the ranchers over two hundred years ago, and from then up to 1959 the railway worked efficiently, so much so that you could set your clock by the punctual timekeeping of the trains;

2 – the goods left untransported in the half year examined is not news, it is the result of problems related to a common factor: the non-viability of the present Cuban model; and,

3 – the surprising fact is that in spite of the effect of the railway on the other sectors of the economy, the latter increased by 4.7%.

Footnotes

1: James Watt (1736-1819) Scottish engineers who invented the double-action steam engine
2: “The sugar factory, Cuban economic and social sugar complex” (Fraginals, Manuel Moreno)
3: Juventud Rebelde (Cuban daily paper). Alina Perera Robbio “We have procured the best locomotives in the world”, Sunday January 15th, 2006
4: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro “Clean up the mess next to the railway track”.
5: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro “The railway is waiting for its time”, Thursday, August 19, 2010
6: Granma, Lourdes Pérez Navarro “Investments which move trains” Friday May 28, 2010.
7: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. “Opening the way for the Central Line” Granma, Friday, 11 February, 2011.
8: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. “Accidents keep happening on the railway”. Granma, Thursday February 17, 2011.
9: Maylin Guerrero Ocaña. “Railway renovation moving on.”, Granma, Thursday, May 17, 2012
10: Lourdes Rey Veitía. “Without linking things up, the railway won’t advance” Monday, March 5, 2012.

Translated by GH

How Does History Help Us? / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, Havana, 17 September 2015 — 120 years ago, between 13th and 18th September 1895, twenty delegates selected from the five corps that the Libertador’s Army was divided into, and formed into a Constituent Assembly, promulgated the Constitution of Jimaguayú.

This Constitution, different from others in that it wasn’t structured in three parts — organic, dogmatic, and with a reform clause — but rather contained 24 consecutive articles without divisions into titles, sections or chapters. In it the Government of the Republic resided in a Government Council with legislative and executive powers. The executive power devolved upon the President (Salvador Cisneros Betancourt), while the legislative power stayed in the hands of the Government Council. In addition to a judicial power, organised by the Council, but functioning independently. The posts of General in Chief and Lieutenant General were vested in Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo respectively.

Appearing in the people’s history as a counterpoint to absolutism, constitutionalism is fundamental to governability. The constitutions reflect the requirements for social development. In that sense, the Magna Carta of Jimaguayú was an expression of the need of the new political and legal order of the Republic in Arms. It constitutes an important link in Cuban constitutional history.

On its 120th anniversary, the weekly Trabajadores of Monday September 7th and the daily Granma of 16th of the same month each included reports,  under the headlines: “Neither Marti nor radical”, and “120 years after Jimaguay respectively, which I am going to comment on.

1 – In Granma the historian Rolando Rodríguez is cited, who stated that Jimaguayú is a document of overwhelming importance in the history of Cuba, an indication of the legal and republican idea and the determination to provide a constitutional direction to the Cuban insurrection.

If that constitutional text is recognised as a necessity of the new political and legal order demanded by the island and an important link in our constitutional history, how can the official historiography consider it as a “document of significant importance in Cuba’s history”, without a critical reference to the present Cuban constitutional situation, which has little or nothing to do with — starting off with the divisions of power — the legacy of Jimaguayú?

2 – The article in Granma says that “Martí longed to drop the authority that the Cuban Revolutionary Party had awarded him at a representative meeting of the Mambisa combatants …” [Ed. note: term used to refer to any pro-independence fighter in the Wars of Independence]

In José Martí’s War Diary — referring to his encounter with Antonio Maceo and Máximo Gómezon May 5th 1895 in La Mejorana — he wrote “… Maceo and Gómez talk in low voices, near me [1]: hardly speak to me. There in the hallway; that Maceo has another idea about government; a council of  generals with authority through their representatives, – and a Secretary General: the land, and all its functions, which create and support the army, like Army Secretary. We are going to a room to talk. I cannot sort out the conversation for Maceo: but V. stays with me, or he goes with Gómez? And he speaks to me, interrupting me, as if I were the continuation of the shyster lawyer government, and its representative … I insist on being ousted by the representatives who are meeting to form a government. He does not  want every operational head sending his man, his creation: he will send four from the Oriente: “within 15 days they will be with you. – and will be people who will not let  Doctor Martí mess with me there …” [2]

One may deduce from this text that in La Mejorana Martí considered his removal. These were his words: “I insist in being deposed before the representatives who are meeting to select a government.” That is not a longing, but a demand to not be removed other than by an assembly of representatives.

If the Revolutionary Party of Cuba started off on the basis of an analysis of the Ten Years’ War as an organising and controlling entity, and one which promotes awareness and is an intermediary link to get to a republic and that great mission had hardly got under way, it is difficult to accept that their hope was to shed their authority.

Also, if Martí’s attachment to institutionalisation and democracy led him in 1884 to move away from the Gómez Maceo plan, when he took the opportunity to write to the General in Chief: “But there is something which is higher than all the personal sympathy which you can inspire in me, and this apparent opportunity: and it is my determination not to contribute one iota by way of a blind attachment to an idea from which all life is draining, to bring to my land a personal despotism, which would be more shameful and disastrous than the political despotism I am now supporting.” How can it be affirmed that Martí “was longing to be shot of the authority afforded him by the Revolutionary Party of Cuba”?

3. Granma says: “It is also established that every two years there would be an assembly charged with proposing necessary changes in accordance with changed circumstances, which would elevate it to a higher position than that approved in Guáimaro.”

If the 1959 revolution is seen as heir and continuation of the constitutional legacy, it would seem to be contradictory that, on taking power, instead of re-establishing the 1940 Constitution as it had promised to, it replaced it with statutes known as the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State, without convening any constituent assembly.

Cuba remained without a Constitution until 1976 when there was approved the first revolutionary constitution modelled on the that of the Soviet Union, which prohibited any modification before 1992. Then, in 2002, the system installed in 1959 was declared irrevocable. With that decision, the Cuban constitution ceased to reflect ongoing changes which occur in any society, and became a braking mechanism on society.

The question is: How can our constitutional history be praised from the standpoint of a reality which negates it?

4. In the Trabajadores weekly paper, Antonio Álvarez Pitaluga states in En la de Jimaguayú that there was no balance of power and nor did they defend Martí’s thesis. It is said that Enrique Loynaz del Castillo and Fermín Valdés Domínguez defended  José Martí’s hypotheses, but I think that it is now difficult to sustain that position, because if you look through the documentation, above all the minutes of the Council of Government, you see that in all the Assembly’s discussion there was not a single mention of Martí, nor of his documents, nor any analysis of his thoughts. That is to say, they avoided it; you don’t necessarily  have to say they did it intentionally, but rather unknowingly, because many of the people there knew him, his work, his revolutionary activity, but not his thinking or his documents.

The questions are: 1 – Was Fermín Valdés Domínguez unaware of José Martí’s thinking? And 2 – if Fermín Valdés Domínguez, followed by the majority of the delegates, defended the division and limitation of powers, which was one of José Martí’s republican ideas, was the important thing that his name should appear in the documents, or that the majority should defend and impose his ideas, as actually happened?

The 120th anniversary and the two articles published demonstrate that you cannot deal with any historical event, much less one of such importance as the constitutional text of Jimaguayú, without relating it to the present in order to show that  we have either gone forwards or backwards. If we do not have regard to the limitations of the present constitution which cry out loud for fundamental reform, how does history help us?

[1] In the original, “I hear” is crossed out

[2] Martí, José. Texts chosen from three volumes. Volume III, p. 544

Translated by GH

The New Scenario and the Absence of the Citizen / Dimas Castellano

September 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Dimas Castellenos, Mexico City,  1 September 2015 — In Cuba, the concurrence among the failure of its totalitarian model, the aging of its leaders and the society. For this impact to be a positive one requires the presence of a missing factor: the citizen. If this thesis begs the question of how it is possible that in a country that is part of the Western world, and which has distinguished history of struggles, the citizen does not exist, the answer leads us to a complex phenomenon that demands more attention than has been given to it up to now.

The most immediate–although not the only–cause is contained in the dismantling of civil society that took place in Cuba in the Revolution’s first years, and in its later institutionalization. Civic education, the foundation of the citizen, began in Cuba in 1821 with Father Félix Varela[1], who upon assuming the post of head of the Constitution Department at San Carlos Seminary, defined it as the “institution of liberty and of the rights of man,” and conceived it as a means “to teach civic virtues.”

His work was continued by José de la Luz y Caballero[2], who arrived at the conclusion that “before revolution and independence, there was education,” and from this vision he conceived the art of education as being the basis of social change. This mission was carried on by succeeding generations of Cuban educators and thinkers up through the first half of the 20th Century.

Cuban civil society, which emerged as a result of the Pact of Zanjón in 1878, played an important role in the political/social problems of the Republic. This can be seen in the Protest of the Thirteen; the peasant struggles of San Felipe de Uñas, of Realengo 18 and of Ventas de Casanova; the strike movement that toppled the Gerardo Machado dictatorship; the student struggles for university autonomy and the repeal of the Platt Amendment; the Constitutional Assembly that gave rise to the Constitution of 1940 and the struggles against the coup d’etat of 1952; among other events.

The level of development that had been achieved by Cuban civil society was expressed by Fidel Castro during his trial for the assault of the Moncada barracks, when he said, “There once was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its liberties; a President, Congress and Tribunals; everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with total liberty. The government did not satisfy the people, but the people could change it, and there were just days left before doing so. There existed a public opinion that was respected and observed, and all problems of collective interest were discussed freely. There were political parties, educational hours on the radio, discussion programs on television, public acts, and enthusiasm reverberated in the people.”

Despite those educational efforts and the advances of civil society, the level of maturity attained was not sufficient to impede its dismantling. In 1959, the Constitution of 1940 was replaced by the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State; power was concentrated in the hands of the leader of the Revolution, and property was transferred to ownership by the State, whose final stroke was the “Revolutionary Offensive” of 1968, which liquidated the more than 50,000 small businesses that still remained in the country. The result was confirmed in the Constitution of 1976, which institutionalized the total, absolute control of the State over the nation’s politics, economy, culture, communication media, and all persons.

If to this is added the negative effect of the loss of ethical values, frustration, despair, apathy, and the sustained exodus from the country, the Cuban reality appears to us in its nakedness and shows us the extent of the damage done as well as that which is to come.

By their very nature, all totalitarian models are destined to fail. The difference between one and another model lies in its capacity to last for a short or long time, which in turn depends on the degree to which each one is capable of limiting the freedom of individuals. In Cuba’s case, before the failure and the possibility of losing power, the revolutionary elite reinforced political, economic and cultural repression, and intensified its monopoly over the educational system and communication media. It was a step backwards, guided by the policy expressed by Fidel Castro in 1961, “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing.”

Held back by this idea, with a society disarmed of civic institutions and spaces, in the absence of the most basic civil and political liberties, Cuban society–conditioned by the growing breach between wages and cost of living–took refuge in survivalism, being obliged to carry out supplementary activities, almost always outside the law, in search of alternative sources of subsistence.

This behavior, carried out over decades, transformed what was acceptable social morality. The Cuban, having been dispossesed of the condition of being a citizen, responded thusly: to low wages, alternative activities; to the absence of civil society, a hidden life; to the lack of material goods, theft from the State; and, when all possibilities were exhausted, escape from the country.

This scenario, which characterizes the Cuba of today, requires a cultural action, which as Paulo Freire[3] would say, “is always a systematized and deliberate form of action that bears upon the social structure, in the sense of, variously, maintaining it as it is, effecting small changes in it, or transforming it utterly.”

Why is this? Because, as the engineer López[4] would certainly affirm, “the properties of a system are ultimately determined by the properties of its components and the linkages among them, which therefore ensures that the quality of the system cannot be better than its components nor design, being that these act as limiters on the quality of the system as a whole.” Therefore, a better Cuba is not possible without better Cubans.

Building this culture requires, paraphrasing the concept of affirmative action, an educational action, equivalent to those that are put in place to ensure the participation and development of marginalized sectors. The realization of such a culture includes two simultaneous and interrelated processes: 1- Citizen empowerment, which will result from the measures implemented by the White House, and which the Cuban government will, on its part, need to implement if they are to be fully accomplished; 2 – Changes to the interior life of the individual, which contrary to the first process is not doable in the short term, but without which other changes will be of little use.

For the reasons outlined above, Cubans are excluded from the decision making process, but the participation in this process does not begin until there is awareness of each individual’s responsibility toward the destiny of his or her country. And this responsibility begins when each one makes a personal commitment and, based on this, seeks the collaboration of other people. It is a matter of a lengthy, but inevitable, process that proceeds from the interior to the exterior, from the individual to society, from the nation to the world.

The transformation of Cubans into public citizens, into political actors, is a challenge as complex as it is unavoidable, an unreachable goal without first feeling change to be not just something necessary, but something possible. And the only way forward lies in participation, in learning by doing, in making mistakes and starting over until we become effective, until we become true citizens.

Given all that has been outlined above, education curricula must include instruction in responsibility, which begins with the individual, flows to society, and extends ultimately to the international community. Thus, liberty, responsibility, rights and duties comprise an interrelated and indivisible whole.

Therefore, the effect of the concurrence between the failure of the totalitarian model, the aging of its leaders, and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States depends, above all, on our capacity to change so as to recover our condition as citizens which, in turn constitutes an inescapable necessity if we are to emerge from the stagnation in which we live.

[1] Félix Francisco José María de la Concepción Varela y Morales (1778-1853) was born in Havana and died in St. Augustine, Florida. He studied at the San Carlos Seminary, and the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Jerome in Havana, was ordained a deacon in 1810, and a priest in 1811. In the seminary where he studied, he occupied the chairs of Latin, Philosophy and Constitution.

[2] José de la Luz y Caballero (1800-1862), was born and died in Havana. He studied at the Convent of San Francisco, at the Royal and Pontifical University of Havana, and at the San Carlos Seminary. Educated in a religious ambience under the influence of his maternal uncle, the presbyter José Agustín Caballero, his love for his neighbor inclined him to the clerical life and the cloister.

[3] Paulo Freire (1921-1997), famous Brazilian educator. Among his most recognized works are Education as a Practice of Liberty (1967) and Cultural Action for Liberty (1970).

[4] José Ramón López, “Individual and Society,” article published in the digital magazine Consenso, Issue #5, 2005.

Previously published (in Spanish) in DiariodeCuba.com

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison