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Cuba and the European Union: The Ratification of the Treaties

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

On the 25th of October, 2010, almost four months after the beginning of the release from prison of political prisoners in Cuba, the Council of the European Union (EU) considered insufficient the steps taken by Havana and decided to maintain the Common Position. In its place the European Commission was granted a mandate to negotiate and explore, inside the framework of the critical dialog, new forms that might stimulate its Cuban counterpart to continue more deeply on the path it set out upon.

The Common Position adopted in 1996 — when the member nations of the EU had bilateral relations with Cuba — was reaffirmed in 2005. In it is stated that the goal of its relations with Cuba “is to encourage a process of transition to a pluralistic democracy and towards the respect of human rights and of fundamental freedoms, as well as a sustainable recovery and the improvement of the living conditions of the Cuban people”.

Despite the opposition of the Cuban government to the aforementioned measure, the events on the Island between February and July of 2010 caused a turn that lead to a compromise to liberate all the political prisoners of the Cause of the 75*.  A little before this decision, the government itself had recognized the inefficiency of the Cuban economy, classified the production of foodstuffs as a national security problem, and announced a reform baptized as an “update of the model“. The relation between these events lies in the fact that this reform requires foreign sources of financing, access to which must pass through the demands for democratization of those who have the money, among them the EU.

The failure to meet the deadline given to the Government by the Catholic Church for the liberation of those imprisoned in the spring of 2003 demonstrates that the Cuban authorities remain bound to their totalitarian vocation. In this complex context the European Commission has the mission to search out some formula that permits the completion of releases and undertaking new measures. The final decision, be what it may, will have to consider some aspects that remain crucial — from the Common Position or from bilateral relations — to contributing toward the democratization of Cuba:

– Three characteristics of the present moment.

One, the Cuban Government is the same one that debuted in 1959, such that in addition to the interests it is disposed to defend, it is responsible for all the good and all the evil that has occurred in this half century. Two, despite being almost the sole owner of the means of production and of the absence of an autonomous, juridically endorsed civil society, the government ignored the role of time in social changes; thus it lost the opportunity to undertake limited reform in a specific social sphere such as the economy, and to decide the starting point, the speed, the depth and direction of that reform, which would have permitted them to introduce partial changes without opposition from private interests. Three, as a result of the delay, along with the structural character of the crisis and citizen discontent, the changes have to be integrated.

– The absence of a true political will.

The revolutionary government, in its zeal to impose state property in absolute form, to eliminate small and medium property that offered production and services that the State never managed to supply, generated disinterest by the producers; adding to this, the fact that salaries never corresponded to the cost of living meant that the results was economic inefficiency. Nonetheless, through totalitarian control over society, reinforced by the almost total absence of an independent civil society and by the ideological solidarity with the Soviet Union, first, and with Venezuela later, the Government managed to save an exhausted, obsolete, and nonviable system for decades, despite a galloping rate of deterioration, until finally facing a profound structural crisis.

– Limited and contradictory character of the measures in the process of implementation.

Not only can the government keep in prison those who refuse to accept its terms and be exiled, by not effecting changes in current legislation the government can refill the prisons with new prisoners charged with the same offenses as those who now leave them. Adding to this the non-existence of human rights and civil liberties, the two work together to impede the resurgence of an autonomous civil society. In short, the anti-democratic and totalitarian mentality hasn’t changed. Labor reform, the consequence of a mistaken policy of “full employment” imposed against all economic logic, began to be applied after approving “majority employment” and increasing the age necessary for retirement: two means that suppose the need of labor, when it really exceeds 20% of what is used. The expansion of Self-Employment, which with few exceptions is limited to the legalization of activities that formerly occurred on the margins of the law, comes accompanied with high tax rates imposed in a country where no fiscal culture exists. Not to mention the lack of a wholesale market, bank loans, and the basic right of independent association.

Such measures cannot make up for the incapacity of the State to produce, being ignorant of the necessity of small and medium businesses, the formation of a business community, and the payment of salaries that correspond to the cost of living. But the worst of all is that these transformations are being applied to a society disarmed of rights, liberties, and civic institutions for its defense.

The interesting thing about the present scenario is that, as opposed to earlier times, the decision to change emerged from the need of the government itself, which makes it much more difficult to retreat, in a context in which the international community is paying attention to the state of civil liberties in Cuba and citizen discontent accelerates. Nonetheless, by the contradictory characteristics of the sociopolitical situation in Cuba, the change process — although zigzagging — is probably irreversible. In this sense, as much for the external agents as for the internal ones, the road to democracy will depend on critical dialog, which must build itself on a departure point, an essential concept, a governing principle, and permanent strategy.

In order for the projected changes to have a positive effect, besides completing the liberation of political prisoners, they have to ratify the Treaty of Civil and Political Rights and the Treaty of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights — in effect since 1976 in other nations and signed by the Cuban Government since February of 2008 — as well ensure that internal laws conform with these documents. Therefore, in the agenda of critical dialog with the Cuban government the urgency of its ratification cannot be absent.

Havana, 7 November 2010

* Translator’s note: The “Cause of the 75” is the release of 75 political prisoners who were arrested, tried on trumped-up charges, and imprisoned in what is known as the Black Spring of 2003.)

Translated by: JT

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Property, A Fundamental Problem

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(Published Friday, 12 November 2010 in number 3 of the digital magazine Voices, on the site http://www.vocescubanas.com/voces)

The Cuban crisis continues to become more profound. The ideological ties, created interests and the totalitarian vocation rise as an obstacle to the transformations that society requires; to it are added the incomprehension of the role of time in social processes, the errant road to encourage an efficient economy and an obvious lack of political will. For all that, the changes that once were feasible to produce in a private sphere are today impossible, since the depth of the crisis and its structural character demand integral reform. The Cuban economy, whose Gordian knot has its roots in the relation of property, constitutes a proof of this necessity.

Different from animal life, human beings, gifted with cognitive capacity and structured communication with his own species, are not starting from zero, rather each generation supports itself on accumulated culture. During thousands of years, the economy — which moved forward together with the human race — was hoarding experiences and conforming with norms that regulated its function. Thanks to culture, today’s man has very little in common with his forebears, while the chimpanzee — the animal with greatest similarity with the humans — lives and does the same things he did hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Long before psychology became a science and would describe the role of interest in human activities, economic relations had demonstrated that this constitutes a powerful source of motivation, without which it is impossible to obtain advances in production in a sustained form. When a political system arbitrarily alters this reality, the stubbornness of economic law leads to results such as that of the structural crisis in which we find ourselves. Ideology is a more recent phenomenon. It arose precisely thanks to advanced development in economic relations, especially those of property. The same interacts with the economy and can serve as much as an accelerator as a brake, depending upon the understanding its subjects have of its laws and functions. It is unjustifiable that well into the 21st Century — in the midst of globalization and the information society — those who govern Cuba cling to an ideology, behave like animal species, repeating what humanity has demonstrated down the length of its existence and has accumulated and organized in databases placed at their disposition.

Private property emerged from the first forms of community life, extended itself with slavery, changed form with feudalism, returned to mutate itself with the capitalist system, and into the few spaces that totalitarian socialism has permitted its subsistence, it has demonstrated to be a highly efficient form of economic development. That which has changed with time and will keep changing is the proportion in which what is produced is distributed — that is to say, referring to social justice, what comes from redistribution but that does not depend only on the globally created product, but also on other factors such as the natural differences in people, their dispositions and aptitudes, of invested capital and technology. The product of work, therefore, cannot correspond integrally to the producer, who doubtlessly is an essential factor but not the only one who intervenes and makes redistribution possible. If private property has been employed for the exploitation of some men by others, the solution is not in abolishing it, rather in perfecting the form of redistribution of the product of work.

The violation of this principle makes the economy unnatural and converts it into a prisoner of ideology, which is the same as condemning it to death, as the dissimilar projects of socialism based on the artificial imposition of State property have evidenced. In the Soviet Union it ended in a round defeat. In China, it led to generalized hunger until they undertook the reforms that have converted it into one of the motors of the world economy. In Vietnam, the planned economy system sunk the country into misery until they started the little Vietnamese Renovation, with which a sustained growth was achieved in production and productivity until they occupied second place in the world in the exportation of rice, by which the United States stopped opposing the concession of credits, suspended the embargo and established diplomatic relations. North Korea doesn’t qualify, since it deals with a feudal-slavery socialism in its final phase. And Cuba has managed to survive thanks to a solidarity-based subsidy coming from ideological alliances.

With regards to real property or the means of production we have to add knowledge. The technological revolution and communication are transforming the industrial society into the informational society. These changes interfere with the totalitarian intent to subordinate the universal right to education and information to ideology. The University cannot be only for the revolutionaries and information cannot be edited to suit the ideological interests of the State.

The Cuban president has recognized that in nine years the cultivable area of the country has been reduced by a third; that without people who feel the need to work to survive … we will never stimulate love of work; that without the conformance of a firm and systematic social rejection of the illegal and diverse manifestations of corruption, they will continue — in no small measure — enriched at the cost of the sweat of the majority; that if we maintain inflated payrolls in almost all national undertakings, and we pay salaries unlinked with results, we can’t hope that prices will stop their constant climb, deteriorating the purchasing power of the people.

Nevertheless, the response has been limited to the promulgation of Decree Law 259 about the delivery in usufruct of land — land which the State was incapable of making productive — to the farmers capable of doing it; the labor reform that will leave more than a million unemployed; and a list — of a rather feudal nature — of approved self-employment activities that are practically limited to generating taxes “on personal income, on sales, public services, and for the utilization of the workforce, besides contributing to Social Security”, with a load of regulations and limits that impede self-employment from playing an important role in production and delivery of services.

On the other hand, nothing is said about the rights of association of those workers who face a scenario without organizations independent of the State to represent them, much less to encourage the founding of small and medium enterprises. To stimulate the growth of this sector, instead of trying to avoid the formation of a national business community, they would have to add a policy characterized by low taxes and bank credits, creation of a wholesale market, implementation of rights of association and free access to information, which implies the implementation of human rights, the basis of the dignity of the person. Only thus can the Cuban be converted into a subject interested in change.

The integral concept of property is the road to sustained and sustainable economic development and for the formation of a national business community. In Cuba, thinkers and politicians of all eras were worried about the widespread promotion of small and medium property. It is enough to cite Bishop Juan Jose Dias de Espada, Jose Antonio Saco, Francisco de Frias, Enrique Jose Varona, Julio Sanguily, and Manuel Horta Duque[1], and of course, among them Jose Marti, who considered rich a nation that has many small proprietors[2]. They and others argued the importance of encouraging a diverse economy of small agricultural producers and the formation of a national middle class.

If the end of whichever social model is the human being, then economic relations — and, inside of those, those of property — constitute a means subordinated to that end. Therefore, in any of its forms, property has a social function that consists in incentivizing economic development for human life. The dilemma is not in the choice of one or another form, rather in the capacity to consider, at a determined time, place, and conditions, which of the forms is most advantageous for development, that which makes the institution of property a fundamental of social order.

We all agree that Cuba needs an efficient economy, but that proposition becomes unviable if the producers are prohibited from being proprietors, from receiving a salary to satisfy the most elemental necessities, from having free access to the Internet and from enjoying such elemental rights as the freedom of association in the defense of their interests. We would convert property and salaries into levers of economic development, and the only guarantee of achieving it is in the implementation of human rights.

The ratification of human rights treaties signed in the year 2008 and the conformance of domestic legislation in harmony with those documents constitute unavoidable premises to get out of this present crisis. In this sense, we have to return to the vision of the 1901 Constitution, which recognized the freedoms of expression — written, spoken, or in any other form — the rights of assembly and association, and the freedom of movement to enter or leave the country. We also need to look at the Constitution of 1940 which, with the consent of the Communists taking part in the congress, added to the freedoms of 1901 the declaration that all acts of prohibition or limitation of the citizens’ participation in the political life of the nation is a crime, and the existence and legitimacy of private property in its highest concept of social function.

But it is enough that the Government, owner of nearly all the means of production, assume the political will necessary to put the citizen in first place, and proceed to untie the Gordian knot of relations with property, together with integral changes, so that the deepening of the present reforms are the rebirth of small and medium enterprises, the diversity of the forms of property, and the formation of a national middle class.

[1] Manuel Horta Duque (1896-1964), professor and jurist who laid out a plan of agrarian reform that he defended in the 1940 Congress.

[2] Marti, Jose. “Complete Works“, Vol 7, Havana, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1991, p 134.

Translated by: JT

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Training the Citizenry to Stop Being “The Masses”

Cuba is immersed in the deepest structural crisis in its history. To emerge from it will require an understanding of its causes and the political will to undertake changes, among which citizen participation in public affairs stands as an unavoidable necessity. Hoping to find new solutions in the behaviors of the past will lead nowhere.

The Cuban government, having exhausted all possibilities of keeping the “model” unchanged, has decided to introduce some reforms, and although this is still far from getting to the root of the problems, it has broken the inertia. In the new context of citizenship education, lack of a history of our country must occupy a central place. In this regard it is interesting to recall the teachings of Cuban figures who were concerned about, and who addressed, this long-standing gap.

When Cuba was a colony, Father Felix Varela realized that civics was a prerequisite for independence and therefore chose education as a path to liberation, so he insisted this must be thought about first. José de la Luz y Caballero came to the conclusion that education came first, before the revolution and independence. Men rather than academics, he said, is what we need in our time. And José Martí began a critical study of the errors of the War of 1868, which revealed negative factors such as immediacy, strong-man rule and selfishness, which are closely related to a weak civic education.

During the period of the republic, Enrique José Varona, in “My Advice,” written in 1930, complained that the Republic had entered into crisis because many people believed they could ignore public affairs. Cosme de la Torriente and Peraza, convinced of the futility of the use of violence to found peoples and form nations, directed his steps towards reconciliation and dialogue as ethical and cultural foundations of political action. Gustavo Pittaluga, an Italian physician who lived in Spain and emigrated to Cuba in 1937, in his “Dialogue of Destiny,” showed that violence is the harbinger of the fate of Cuba and insisted that the settlement of disputes could only be reached from politics and understanding.

Fernando Ortiz, in “The Cuban Political Crisis: Its Causes and Remedies” (1919), emphasized that among our limitations are: the Cuban people’s lack of a historical preparation for the exercise of human rights; the psychological weakness of the Cuban character marked by impulsiveness and psychological laziness, which often lead to strong performances, but quick, hasty and unpremeditated violence. White Jorge Manach, said: “Every person has their little aspiration, their little ideal, their little program; but what is lacking is an aspiration, an ideal, a program for everyone. And,” he added,” the inhibited individualism in our race makes each one of us a Quixote on his own adventure. Generous cooperative efforts are invariably undermined. The selfless Leaders do not emerge. There is a vague anxiety for a better state; but this does not translate into a struggle to realize it.”

The above observations place us face to face with people’s lack of preparation for the exercise of political rights, which has led most Cubans not to pursue public affairs, a past and present weakness which constitute a serious obstacle to overcoming the current structural crisis.

To move from the present context to a democratic country requires training in a culture of human rights. In other latitudes the concept of affirmative action defines laws and projects focused on the social inclusion of groups traditionally neglected. Paraphrasing this for the Cuban context implies the need for a similar educational activity, because experience shows that efforts aimed at democratization will fail if there are not citizens capable of demanding, promoting and stimulating the changes.

Without that culture, even were the Government to introduce economic and political transformations, and restore rights and freedoms, people will never be able to assume the responsibilities imposed by living in a democracy. It is no accident that, in 1878, civil liberties were established across the whole colony, civil liberties that today no longer exist. It is therefore imperative, as we work to shape a culture of laws as the foundation of the new Cuba, to stop our march into the past.

In “The Revolt of the Masses,” referring to the crowds that are impetuously form as a subject of social changes, said José Ortega y Gasset said, “It ma,y in fact, be a transition to a new and unparalleled organization of mankind, but it can also be catastrophe in the destiny of humanity. There is no reason to deny the reality of progress, but we must correct the notion this progress is secure.” He added, “Everything, everything, is possible in history, the triumphant and undefined progress as well is the periodic regression. (1)

Despite the few spaces and the many difficulties we can progress along different paths: the study of the Universal Declaration and the Covenants on Human Rights which Cuba signed in 2008; the debate of ideas in the small circles that are emerging from public discontent; the growth of citizen journalism and the different seeds of autonomous civil society; the teaching of courses on law and the history of Cuba; and the airing of films and documentaries. These and other avenues should be encouraged and multiplied in order to promote analysis and exchange of views. In the future, these actions will have to be incorporated into the educational system

The challenge is to ensure that awareness of citizenship and the holistic vision of human rights become deeply and solidly incorporated into the culture. Undertaking this work in a context dominated by the moral of survival, mental frustrations, the trend towards escapism, and the lack of a humanist viewpoint, is a highly complex task, but an essential one. Educational activity, using a phrase from the Apostle, is where the seeds of tomorrow’s democracy will be planted. Where no political elite can offer itself as the representative of what it calls “the masses.”

(1) J. Ortega y Gasset. The revolt of the masses. El País. XX Century. Madrid. 2002, pp.119-120.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos