Posted on Sunday, 01.03.10
BY MARIFELI PEREZ-STABLE
Cuba's problems can't be addressed under the leadership's passé
reformism. Raúl Castro is neither Gorbachev nor Deng Xiaoping, both of
whom thought outside the box while in power. He is stuck in the old mold
of market socialism: a tinker here, a nudge there, even though Europe's
1989 should serve as warning. It's a dead end.
As a child I would often ask my maternal grandfather — a gallego who
emigrated to Cuba and did well on all counts — for a peso (it was real
money then). He'd hand it to me saying: “Mari, remember, money must be
respected.'' Turning the phrase differently, I pass his wisdom to my
students: “Remember, markets must be respected.''
Of course, I don't mean that markets should always be left alone. But,
politicians — dictators and democrats alike — who don't respect the
market don't respect the people either.
Ordinary men and women have the right to their dreams, especially giving
their children the best future possible. Politicians who won't give
markets their due have their sights set on their own glory, which ends
up costing the people dearly. For that alone, history almost never
On Dec. 20, Raúl Castro told the National Assembly: “In updating Cuba's
economic model, we cannot run the risk of improvisation and haste. We
simply do not have the right to make mistakes.'' So spoke a cautious man
well aware of what was better left unsaid: that too many mistakes had
been made over decades, and this time everything was on the line.
Raúl goes on to detail all sorts of absurdities that can only happen
when markets aren't respected. For example, he boasts about a success
story: In 66 municipalities (out of 169 islandwide), local delivery of
fresh milk reaches grocery stores in a timely manner, which saves fuel.
Presidents of normal countries don't have to worry about distributing
fresh milk. The private sector takes care of it.
In the past few months, high-ranking officials and the media have been
pounding the “paternalistic state.'' Since the same men have been in
power for more than half a century, I wonder who's responsible for
creating such a state and the mentality that flows from it? In Cuba,
work and earnings are largely divorced: Cubans pretend to work, the
state pretends to pay them. So it goes when people have their dignity
taken away, when they are denied the right to make an honest living.
Still, human beings do not live by bread alone. According to a Gallup
poll taken in Havana and Santiago a few years ago, only a quarter of
respondents thought they had the freedom to decide what to do with their
lives. When asked if they had laughed or smiled the day before the
survey, only 62 percent said yes. On these and other subjective measures
of well-being, Cubans rank much lower than the average Latin American.
Freedom is as important as social justice. Courageous Cubans on the
island have stepped forward and claimed their rights. Whether a blogger,
the ladies in white, a man on a hunger strike, a rapper singing truth to
power or a young woman reading a banned book, ordinary people are taking
their country back, bit by bit. Threats, beatings, detentions, mock
trials aside, some step back out of fear but others always take steps
forward. An unending nightmare for the regime!
Lately new headaches have developed.
• A group of prominent African Americans couldn't keep quiet anymore and
denounced the regime's “callous disregard'' for Cubans of color. Blacks
and mixed-race Cubans on the island are giving renewed testament of
• Twenty-one intellectuals and five cultural organizations signed a
statement denouncing the “rise of bureaucratic-authoritarian control''
to smash autonomous cultural projects.
• The leadership can't set the party congress date. Militants clamor for
change like everyone else. Being a Communist doesn't necessarily mean
Everything is on the line. For those at the head of the “line'' means
their own power. Everyone else has their dignity at stake, their rights
as citizens, their freedom. May 2010 be a year when ever more and
diverse Cubans find their voices, their smiles, with their heads held high.
Marifeli Pérez-Stable is a professor at Florida International University
and Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.
Raúl's nightmare – Other Views – MiamiHerald.com (3 January 2010)