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Why Vietnam and Not Cuba?

Coffee production in Vietnam

In an article entitled Vietnam, a Country in Constant Doi Moi, published in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde on Sunday April 8, Niliam Vazquez Garcia stated that “the people feel it in the streets, in the prosperity of the family business, perhaps even in the air, the achievements of more than two decades of Doi Moi, a process that provides for the introduction of market logic in the economy, but with socialist orientation.”

She added that the Vietnamese “in a short space of time have become exporters of oil and other products as well as the second largest coffee producers in the world.” I join in the well-deserved recognition of this industrious and tenacious people, but I think it useful, along with the tribute, to promote reflection about why Vietnam can and Cuba cannot.

During the last of the wars of that country, ended in 1975 against the world’s largest military power, with the number of bombs dropped on its own territory three times higher than those used during the Second World War, 15% of its population perished or injured and 60% of the 15 thousand villages in the south were destroyed. As if that were not enough, they then had to face the economic blockade and cross-border attacks.

After the end of the war and the reunification of the nation, Vietnam started from scratch. The system of a planned economy, which extended from north to south, plunged the country into famine and hyperinflation.

Given the failure, the reformist Communist Party supported by younger cadres overcame the conservatives and, in 1986, proclaimed Doi Moi (renovation), under the theme “Economic reform, political stability,” and began by introducing market mechanisms, the autonomy of producers, the right of nationals to become entrepreneurs and the granting of land ownership to farmers.

Doi Moi, focused on developing the initiative, the interest and responsibility of producers, from the very beginning faced an economic crisis caused by the laziness, the bureaucracy and the enemies of change, which ended with the wholesale dismissal of the conservative Party cadres.

Then, upon the collapse of the socialist camp, the reformist trend continued the path of deepening and permanent renewal of the Communist Party cadres. The result was so clear that the United States in 1993 withdrew its opposition to the granting of loans, in 1994  discontinued the embargo, and in 1995 restored diplomatic relations.

In 2001, Vietnam became the second largest exporter of rice. To achieve this, besides the allocation of a further extension to this crop and technological changes, the determining factor was, without doubt, the political will of the rulers who placed the interests of the nation first and began, in fact, to make changes in everything that really needed to be changed: they generalized the market economy, defined multiple forms of ownership, eliminated the monopoly of state property and placed socialist planning second.

Thus, with Doi Moi, unlike Cuba, and focusing on internal changes, the economy managed to produce food for its 80 million inhabitants and to occupy second place in world grain exports;  second place in the export of coffee (the President of the Council of State of Cuba acknowledged that Cubans, who taught the Vietnamese how to grow the aromatic grain, must buy their coffee abroad); first place in pepper exports; to which is added sales of oil, shoes, electronics and other products, while foreign investment reached tens of billions of dollars. These results allowed Vietnam to reduce poverty from 60% to 5% of its population.

Meanwhile in Cuba, which also has people who are industrious, intelligent and gifted with a high level of training, has lacked the political will to implement an economic model capable of arousing interest in production.

In 1986, when Vietnam applied Doi Moi, Cuba opted for the Correction of Errors and Negative Tendencies, a project, if I may it call that, aimed at blocking the influence of Perestroika, than beginning in the Soviet Union.

Then, in 1993, forced by circumstances, facing the effects of the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe, Cuba implemented a small group of measures — limited and isolated — that three years later were paralyzed by the counter-reform initiated in 1996.

Similarly, but with the opposite results of Vietnamese rice production, facing the decline of sugar production in Cuba from more than 8 million tons in 1990 to just 3.5 million in 2001, the government announced the restructuring of the Sugar Industry and the Alvaro Reinoso Task, in order to produce six million tons. To meet that figure — which had been achieved in the country in 1948 — they closed 71 of the 156 sugar mills and redistributed 60% of the land used for cane plantations to other crops.

The result was the decline in the harvest in 2005 to 1.3 million tons (a figure that had been produced in the year 1907). Twelve years after that failure, last March 31, Vice President of the Council of Ministers, Marino Murillo stated that the Ministry of Agriculture “presents a financial and economic condition unfavorable for several years, impacting negatively on business management” and recognized “that have been insufficient actions and measures taken so far to reverse it.” [1]

The difference is obvious. The Cuban government remains committed to an obsolete and unworkable model, and so far refuses to have its own citizens included as true subjects of the changes. Still pending is reform of the current ownership structure, whose foundation has to be political pluralism and opportunity for participation.

The big difference with Vietnam is that the delay in undertaking the changes in Cuba has led to the structural crisis, making it impossible at this stage to limit the changes to some isolated aspects of the economy. Now, simultaneously, changes need to be made in the field of civil liberties; it is the only way that Cuba, like Vietnam, can do it.

1 Puig Meneses Yaima. Working with integrity on each problem. In the newspaper Granma April 5, 2012, p.3

Published in Spanish in Diario de Cuba.

April 27 2012

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Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Corruption and the Morality of Survival

April 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Corruption — the action of corrupting — is the result of many causes, that range from personal conduct to the political-economic system of each country. It is an ancient social phenomenon to that occurs to a greater or lesser extent in all societies and has been present throughout the history of Cuba.

In the colony, the gift of the Governor Don Luis de las Casas to the Creole classes was the diversion of funds for the construction of La Cabaña, the gambling den and cockpit that the leader Francisco Dionisio Vives had in the Army Castke for their entertainment. In the first half of the twentieth century the conduct of the political-economic-military elite, emerging from the wars of independence, who made use of public positions for individual purposes, a picture Carlos Loveira reflected in his novel General and Doctors; later between 1940 and 1958 politicians and officials turned corruption into one of the worst evils, to the point where Eduardo Chibas attacked this scourge during the election campaign for the presidential elections to be held in 1952. In the second half of the twentieth century, corruption, which had been confined to the political and administrative sphere, became a widespread social phenomenon.

Thus, corruption is not new, nor did it arise with the Revolution of 1959, what it new is its presence at all levels and spheres of society and the emergence of a dominant negative morality and threatens to become the culture.

The reason for this transformation is in the slide towards totalitarianism that is weakening civic responsibility; the implementation of an economic system unable to establish an appropriate relationship between wages and cost of living, generated frustration and despair. What was the dilemma of the Cuban family in such conditions, with regards to survival?

If, in addition, this behavior was socially accepted and each family of one form or another was forced to use it, then it had to predominate. Faced with the phenomenon, the government’s response was limited to repression, vigilance, and inspection, that is, actions on the effects without attacking the causes, as reflected in the official press during the first decade of this century.

The newspaper Juventud Rebelde, May 22, 2001, in Corruption Fighter. A people’s inspector in charge of trade violations explained that when he detects a crime, the violators would say, “We have to live, we have to struggle,” and tell him, when he tried to stand up for the rights of citizens, “they defend their own victimization”; and on the 1st and 15th of October, in The Great Old Deception, he reported that of 222,656 inspections conducted between January and August 2005, by comprehensive inspectors, they found price violations and alterations in products in 52% of the commercial centers examined, and in 68% of the agricultural markets.

The newspaper Granma, November 28, 2003, in Pricing Violations and the Never-Ending Battle, says that in the first eight months of this year, 36% of establishments inspected were found to have irregularities in markets, fairs, squares and in agricultural markets the index was above 47%, and in food service establishments it was 50%.

In the February 20, 2004, Granma, in Dealing Effectively with Irregularities and Economic Crimes, the Minister of Audit and Control, Lina Pedraza, said, “The causes and conditions that cause crimes and other violations are well know,” among which she mentioned a set ranging from “insufficient confirmation of the origin and final destination of the products,” to “insufficient supervision of the auditing system.”

In the edition of December 24, 2005, it was reported that the regular meeting of the Popular Power National Assembly, Pedro Ross, then Secretary General of the CTC [Cuban Workers Union], “Commented and said that there are employees who are responding, but others do not and continue to justify the thefts and other misconduct.”

On February 16, 2007, in Cannibals in the Towers, it addressed the theft of the pylons that support the transmission of high voltage electricity and acknowledged that “technical, administrative and legal methods implemented to date have not slowed the banditry,” while  on October 26, 2010, in the Price of Indolence, it was reported that in the municipality of Corralillo, in Villa Clara, over 300 homes were built with stolen materials and resources, for which they dismantled 25 kilometers of railway lines and used 59 of the aforementioned pylons from the high tension towers.

From official information, alternative media and rumors that circulate, a list can be compiled of companies and state agencies and senior officials involved in corruption cases between 2010 and 1011. Among them, the Sugar Industry, Basic Industry, Food Industry, Tourism, Aeronautics and Air transport, Internal Trade, Tobacco Industry, Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals, Sports, and Information Technology and Telecommunications. Many of these cases involved officials and members of the Communist Party.

In an interview of the political scientist Esteben Morales conducted by journalist Patricia Grogg, he characterized “corruption as an extraordinary danger” for its “corrosive power”, which makes it a matter of “national security.” That is, despite as army of inspectors and inspectors of the inspectors, of the hundreds of workers and officials convicted of bribery, diversion, theft and robbery, and the laws and resolutions, corruption continued on its march.

In an interview published in Juventud Rebelde on the 19th and 26th of February, 2012, Gladys Bejerano, Comptroller of the Republic, stated: I”n our experience, the causes of corruption range from the fact that there was no control of contracts, because those who should have done it did not, and those who had to review it did not review it, and if they did review it they did not do so in any depth.

It is known that the contracts and their reviews are an important mechanism for efficiency, but that aspect does not exhaust the causes of corruption. If this evil in the time before 1959 remained essentially in the political-administrative,realm, one must ask what factors caused its generalization. From my point of view, what is new is in the disappearance of thousands of homeowners who watched over their property and the replacement of this ownership by the Boss [Fidel Castro] with the concept of ownership by all the people, which combined with inadequate wages, led to theft, bribery and other negative manifestations.

Elsewhere in the interview the Comptroller said: If, for the Revolution, it is a matter of life or death to fight corruption, to protect state resources and also to work for greater efficiency, if that is so, and who made the Revolution? The people, because it is the people who have to struggle for it and the people who have to defend it.

The fact is that if the people made the Revolution it was not to be deprived of their property or to be paid a wage that is unable to meet basic needs, which explains that the same people had to adopt the morality of the survivor to survive, or escape to other places on the planet.

If to change everything all that is needed is to try, then there is no other way than to take the path of rights and freedoms for Cubans, like any other people, and to earn a salary that corresponds to the cost of living, to be able to participate in the economy of their country, not just as workers but also as owners and investors, so that in reality many Cubans, along with the State, will watch over their own property and not “the property of the whole people.” Without this, corruption will continue along an unstoppable path.

Published April 2, 2012 in Diario de Cuba.

April 13 2012

Categories: Dimas Castellanos