Friday, 7 December 2007

"At stake, a new model of socialism" in Cuba

Interview with political scientist and academic Rafael Hernández

"A new model of socialism is at stake" in Cuba

"All changes should be placed under popular control"

"We are facing new tasks, objectives, strategies, means, resources, needs and demands, not because they would never have become manifest, but rather because at this moment answers are more urgently required than ever," the director of the magazine Temas ("Themes") emphasised.

Gerardo Arreola (Correspondent)
La Jornada
Havana, November 29. In the discussion opened by Raúl Castro on July 26 of this year, "a new model of socialism is at stake", and such a debate, at the most complex moment for this country in almost half a century, reveals "the urgency" of introducing change, said political scientist and academic Rafael Hernández to La Jornada.

A "structural" change such as Raúl has suggested is not only an economic one, but above all a political one: it includes property and the market under socialism, the method of doing politics, the decentralisation of power and a consensus which assumes disagreements and might face resistance from sectors of bureaucracy and technocracy, pointed out Hernández, Director of the magazine Temas, one of the Cuban publications enjoying the greatest intellectual standing in decades.

The Cuban Communist Party (PCC), and the broader population, addressed – in massive meetings held in the past few months - a very wide array of social and economic problems, using as a starting point the address delivered by the acting President. According to the official message, this stream of voices will lead to changes within the system.

Hernández pointed out that this discussion had already taken place in various forms over the last few years, although now it is more organised and has collected "over two million proposals". In his view, all this would give rise to the Sixth PCC Congress, which should have been held in 2002 "and is not something than can be postponed for a long time".

It is necessary – said the researcher - to think of socialism without "the mental blinkers of our own historical experience, which we cannot renounce, but which must not become a shackle. Will we continue to resemble ourselves forever? We must finally take off the theoretical and conceptual goggles through which we continue to envisage socialism."

These are some extracts from the conversation:

LJ – In the last issue of Temas you speak of transition in Cuba as a continuous process begun in 1959 but with various phases, or as a succession of transitions. How do you relate the present-day situation to this concept?

RH – In this issue of Temas (…) everyone agrees with the fact that we are undergoing a transition, not because it was initiated now, but because this is necessarily a new stage. I believe that it is a phase of transition: I do not think that the foundations of the system should be essentially altered and, consequently, I do not think that we are undergoing a new transition. We are facing new tasks, objectives, strategies, means, resources, needs and demands, not because they would not have been manifest before, but because at the present moment answers are more urgently required than ever.

LJ – What is the cause of this urgency?

RH – There are deep problems that are nothing to do with buses in Havana, nor with tomatoes at the marketplace, nor – even more importantly - the fact that people lack the means to build or repair their home. They are problems that touch on what Raúl calls structural questions. None of the above are structural questions. These have to do with the Cuban model of socialism (conceptions about social property, the role of the market under socialism, citizens' participation in decision-making and policy control, consensus building). All of this is, right now, at the centre of Cuba's problems, and there can be no structural solutions, as Raúl demands, if these topics are not addressed. What is at stake, under debate, is a new model of socialism, and I believe that this is quite urgent.

LJ – In other words, Raúl was not only speaking of "structural" issues in agriculture or the economy...?

RH – Ra
úl's address has a profundity that has allowed many people to reflect over the course of these debates. The example he brought up concerning the distribution of milk is a parable about hyper-centralisation. The old model has been "maimed" by the remnants of actually existing socialism. In his book El socialismo y el hombre en Cuba ("Socialism and Man in Cuba"), Ché spoke of the defects of capitalism. And recently, in the course of a survey about that text written by Ché, university students were asked their views about the "defects" of the past. And the students said: bureaucracy, hyper-centralisation, the lack of attention to social problems, the lack of participation. Because, for most Cubans who did not live under capitalism, the "defects" of the past are the remnants of the old socialism that we continue to drag along with us.

LJ – There has been a great deal of discussion
prior to each of the last congresses ("the rectification of errors" in the 1980s, 1992, 1997), so what are the differences or similarities with the present time?

RH – The main difference is that the course of history now progresses much faster, while politics can count on less credit before it produces changes that can be felt. That is why I speak of urgency. We seemed to be in a more critical situation in 1993 or 1994; nevertheless, the political consensus at that time was much more favorable to our resistance. Nowadays, when we do not suffer the great blackouts that we experienced then, nor find ourselves with our heads barely above water, consensus requires a much faster tempo. Now, the issue is the method of making politics, from the Party and the organs of People's Power to the mass organizations. These conceptions have to change. It has nothing to do with material resources, but with the famous "subjective problems".

LJ – In other words, consensus-building is not only more urgent now, but a more complex task...

RH – Exactly. When we speak of consensus we never speak – except when we confuse the terms - of unanimity. Consensus assumes a contradictory support, a non-opposition that is mediated because the individual has a group of things that leads them to extend their support, but keep a – however large - amount of reservations and disagreements. Consensus is criss-crossed with disagreement. Disagreement is not strange, but is an organic thing. It is a part of consensus to include the fruitless, negative, rejecting elements. In Cuba this consensus is, of course, much more complex now than it was in the 1980s, because this society is a much more heterogeneous one.

LJ – Should some resistance within bureaucracy be expected?

RH – Inside the bureaucracy you can find people more or less inclined to change, but among the bureaucracy placed in positions of power there is a resilient sector that would not want to yield an ounce of power, de-centralise, give people more participation in decision-making. This is something that seems quite logical to me. But I would differentiate between the bureaucracy, the administration in general, and the technocracy, which is a distinct social group that may be very much in favor of changes, only we have to ask ourselves which changes, and that scares me: economic growth, with market mechanisms, through liberalisation and reforms that might serve the purpose of a growing economy, but affecting the majority of the population, with the lowest incomes. This sector of technocracy is as dangerous as the other, that of the bureaucracy. This technocracy has power and has the potential to influence changes and debate. This is why I believe that it is so important not to consider the economy as a separate sector. Every change, including economic ones, and particularly those, must be placed under popular control. The director of a firm will always have more power than a representative of the people, and this is very serious in a socialist system, because it amounts to its negation.


Frank Partisan said...

Very important post.

Raul should know about those within the bureaucracy. Raul wants to adapt a model similar to the Chinese model of capitalism. The opposition is real socialists.

Hopefully the model of Venezuela will have an impact.

Red Wombat said...

There is also this very interesting article from Juventud Rebelde, the Cuban Communist Youth organisation:

Youth Employment in Cuba, a Never Ending Story?
Detecting which and how many young people in Cuba do not study or work seems an endless story.

* State Solutions

By: Gusel Ortiz Cano, Julieta García Ríos, Osviel Castro Medel and Lisván Lescaille Durand.

2007-11-26 | 13:11:49 EST

It’s 10:00 a.m. on any day. If one walks down the street of any city of the country they will see a considerable number of young faces on the corners of their neighbourhoods or in their houses – their favourite space.

One feels the urge to ask them like in a popular song: Hey man, what are you doing sitting on the sidewalk!?

However, a megaphone with a national range would be needed in that case, because those being posed this question are abundant in the Cuban landscape today.

In a discussion with the Center for Youth Studies’ researchers, social workers and young people from different provinces of the country, it was confirmed that there have been created mechanisms to socially insert youth, though these are not always effective.
Not everyone who should be is economically active

To detect who and how many young people are neither working nor studying has become something hard to pin down. In addition, one must be bear in mind that young people join these programs with the same frequency that others turn their back on this opportunity.

Despite the effort of the organizations and institutions involved, the figures never show the reality, and there are many causes.

For Irma Luisa Vargas, president of the Federation of University Students in the Municipal Faculty of San Miguel del Padron, the unemployment figures of young people in the community are not real, because they only reflect critical cases. “If a young person does not cause problem, they don’t count it”.

According to social worker Mabel Díaz Vázquez, director of the Front for Attention to Unemployed Youth in Havana, social insertion is advancing slowly because administrators spend most of their time calculating the numbers.

Another of the causes masking the number of dislocated young people is related to the “universalization” of education, a program that has created a situation of “passive enrolment” of young people.

Those enrolled in this program are not officially considered economically dislocated. So, some appear on paper as “collage students,” while others go to classes in the late afternoon for three hours and spend the rest of the time doing the same things they did before entering the program.

“I have students who only came to the first class, and others that have been enrolled for two years and I’ve never seen them,” says Néstor Illa Marrero, professor of Political Economy at a Municipal Faculty in San Miguel del Padron.

However, Ángel Valdés Placencia, director of the University Council in the abovementioned municipality, does not consider passive students as young people who are not working or studying.

“One of the objectives of the tutorship program is to prevent these young people from ending up in jail, which is why they work with tutors who are paid to reinsert them in society and to do their follow-up.”

From the eastern province of Granma, Angiolina Morales Pompa, an official with the Provincial Social Workers Office, explains that the objective of the program is to bring the students to the classrooms, to work with them until convincing them to come back to school.

“It would be good if when they were not in school, these young people got involved in tasks of social benefit,” Morales suggested.
Misleading figures

Some time ago, the province of Granma was proud of having achieved full employment, with a rate of unemployment of only two percent. It was even said that the number of people who were not working or studying was of approximately 2,000.

However, one question remains: why are there so many people on the streets who are not working?

One recent inquiry made by social workers in that province undisclosed figures closer to reality: there are more than 37,000 people who are not working or studying in that province. This, of course, shot the unemployment rate way up.

It was known that the numbers would go up, because this time the age range was extended to 45; but the results were still surprising.

These statistics includes housewives, who are not considered unemployed by the Ministry of Work and Social Security. In this case, we could advocate for not calling them so, but it’s amazing that there are 13,000 men who are not working either. Could it be that they all are also househusbands?

One of the areas with a most worrisome situation is the town of Yara. With a population smaller than Manzanillo, the main city of the province, it has a higher number of unemployed people – more than 5,530. One question comes to mind: if Granma was one of the reference points for areas with low unemployment rates, what are the real figures for the provinces with the highest numbers?
We are not social waste

It still echoes in her ears the words of that teacher “You are nothing but social waste.” It also hurts that this is the opinion of many people in the streets. “Not all people studying here were offenders; the school for us is not a space to rescue us, but one to achieve our dreams,” Irma Luisa Vargas Reina acknowledges.

She is 30 years old and has been the president of the Federation of University Students at the Pepe Prieto Secondary School in the Havana borough of San Miguel del Padrón. This program allows her to again study, after she had given up that idea.

“When you are given this opportunity at the age of 27, you just take it. All the conditions for studying have been created here and you can do it in the same municipality where you live,” she says.

Yoelsys Noa Lage, 28 years old and father of two, also decided to become a lawyer. He wanted to share his experience:

“The classes give me the chance to move forward as a person. I feel that since I’m studying, I express myself better, and I analyze things from another point of view. Now my family sees me differently, because I used to be the “lazy one.” I have more experience and have realized how important is to better oneself, to know that my kids will feel proud of their father.”

To pursue university studies was not in the plans of Yusleidys González Oviedo, 27. She could not finish high school when she was supposed to, but she praises the advantages of the upgrading course while admitting to the sacrifices it takes to get through.

“People talk of those who were involved with drugs, quit them and enrolled in the course, but there are also lots of single and young mothers who have to make a lot of sacrifices to study.”

“There were classes every day, and many times we had to take our children to school not to miss classes. Fortunately, our classmates helped us a lot. There were study groups at in my house, so I could take part and look after my child,” recalls Yusleidys, who is now studying at a municipal faculty.
How to make a living legally?

The Ministry of Work and Social Security (MTSS) says that the young people are not interested in the jobs available through their offices. However, it is difficult to believe that —according to the data provided by Maday Iglesias, a member of the National Bureau of the Young Communists League— 90 percent of the more than 146,000 young people discovered to not be working or studying (in 2006) would like to study or work and could find acceptable options.

Researcher María Josefa Luis, from the Center for Youth Studies, confirms that the number of positions offered by the municipal bureaus is very limited, therefore what happens is that the young person or their family find the youth a job.

“In tourism, firms and companies, this happens six percent more than in State-run organizations. Twenty-five percent of the young people working in tourism said they had access to their work through their parents or other relatives, which is twice the proportion of young people who obtained employment in these industries through state employment agencies.”

Maria Josefa comments that these irregularities bring about serious difficulties, not only because the possible violations and the lack of control, but for the implications it has for the society in the deformation of values, inequity and the reproduction and deepening of social differences. In addition, incomes in hard currency (from tips and work incentive pay) become concentrated in a small group of families.

Dissatisfaction that causes work fluctuation were found to included: the salary not meeting their needs, the workplace being located far away and with no transportation, and the lack of relation between the profession studied and the work the youth are assigned to perform. Also among the causes were the insufficient work orientation and the few chances of upgrading.

The limited administration capacities of some Municipal Employment Offices to control the available positions in their areas, and the non-fulfillment of labor entities reporting them, has greater consequences. This was illustrated by information provided by Lázaro H. Vázquez García, head of a youth agency in Ciego de Ávila.

“In the municipality of Chambas we had cases of people who had been sanctioned but who demonstrated good behavior were placed on probation; however, their release from the penitentiary was slowed because of the lack of job slots available in the area, though these were required by a 2004 resolution of MININT and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

Ministry of Labor in that town said they did noy have jobs available for those who had been sanctioned. For that reason, the social workers were given the task of going to all the companies in Chambas to look for possible employment.

“Our search allowed us to locate those who were on probation and even job vacancies. We found out that later the Ministry of the Labor wanted responses from those companies that didn't reveal their job vacancies,” Lázaro affirms.

I studied, then I reoriented myself

Though contradictory, technology centers and trade schools also generate graduates who become dislocated due to the divorce between training courses provided and the needs for future graduates.

"Only 78.9 percent of those trained said they had received a position when they concluded their studies; therefore, more than a fifth were not placed in accordance with legal responsibilities."

Examples confirmed this during a national workshop of social workers that took place in September in Havana, although these may seem laughable.

"In Ciega de Ávila every year cooking teachers graduate, and then there’s no where to locate them with that specialty. They finish accepting offers that have nothing to do with the art of cooking,” Lázaro complained.

“Seventy percent of those registered with the Armando Mestre construction school in Camagüey are women, and many of them are allergic to dust. Everybody knows that they will never be builders,” asserted Yácer Rodríguez, head of a youth program in that province.

"Every year in the eastern municipality of Palma Soriano, they continue to graduate students in technology – from programs like computer science, construction and electronics – despite this being an overwhelming agricultural-based province with little computer technology development in the area and where there hasn't been constructive works carried out for ages. Therefore, the graduates from these schools will have to be retained in other occupations", said Lázaro Bueno Hechavarría, head of a program that addresses the problems of youth unemployment in that municipality.

Miguel Ángel Tuero, head of the Social Workers Program in Santiago de Cuba, revealed that 1,058 twelfth-grade graduates in that province were not pursuing the pedagogic careers that they had studied. An analysis revealed that the educational institutions were not sufficiently concerned with employing them, while pre-universities from where they graduated stated that they are no longer responsible for those graduates. The reality is that they are in no man's land.

Cleydis Guerra Brenan, a member of the Provincial Bureau of the Young Communist League (UJC) in the province, feels that not only are educational authorities unable to come to agreement, but that it has also been impossible to unite the efforts of the Municipal Youth Employment Groups.

"The UJC, the ministries of Labor and Education, the FMC, the Popular Council, the CDRs and social workers each take their own side, while only through joint work will we be able to advance," said Guerra Brenan.

According to Yurdenis Miranda Arroyo, the head of a program dealing with marginalized youth and their continuing studies in the Provincial Office of Social Workers in Guantánamo, the number of youth without employment has reached 4,253.

"The most worrisome marginalization at this time is among graduates of polytechnic schools, mainly those from agronomy and computer science programs. Those who graduated last year from those schools were mainly studying education, and many didn't get jobs."

A specialist in youth studies, María Josefa Luis, considers that the advances reached with regard to job placement are not supported by significant changes at the organizational level. According to the researcher, there should be an improvement in the quality of the jobs proposed and there should be less formal job training, as this should be adjusted to the differentiated needs of youth.


The Young Communist League has proposed elevating their ideological political work so as to give greater attention to youths who are dislocated from study and work. A member of the Maday Churches National Bureau affirms that this task constitutes one of the main strategic directions of the organization.

The Ministry of Education has decided to exercise greater rigor over entrance requirements into the Integral Continuing Education Program and into community-based training programs in order to prevent youth from dropping out of the traditional courses of study.

The Ministry of Labor is demanding that companies make known any job vacancies that they have and offer more varied options to those who come to their offices in search of employment.

The Popular Council, the FMC and the CDR have committed to playing a more active role with each dislocated youth, every day, starting from the block level.

Likewise, social workers will continue looking for salvageable souls, and at each step they will be find possible solutions that require not only an initial idea, but of desire, courage, zeal and a budget.

They will all need to overcome the ghost of statistics. Only in this way will they see the problem of youth unemployment in Cuba with clarity. This implies solving old problems and straightening out many problems that people in the past assumed would always remain bent and twisted.