Panel “Último Jueves” [The Last Thursday], carried out via Telegram, November 25, 2021
Luis A. Montero Cabrera. Doctor in Sciences, Specialist in Computational Chemistry and Physics. Full Professor, Full Researcher. President of the Consejo Científico of the Universidad de La Habana [Scientific Council, University of Havana]. Member of the Consejo Científico de la Universidad de Ciencias de la Información (UCI) [Scientific Council, University of Information Sciences]. Member of the Sociedad Cubana de Física [Cuban Physics Society]. Coordinator of the Natural Sciences of the Cuban Academy of Sciences.
Raúl Alejandro Palmero. Bachelor in Law. Legal Counselor and Secretary of the UJC in Antillana de Acero. Deputy to the National Assembly of People´s Power (ANPP). He was national president of the Federación de Estudiantes Universitarios (FEU) [Federation of University Students].
Miguel Alejandro Figueras. (La Habana, 1938). PhD in Economics. He worked as Che Guevara’s collaborator in the Ministry of Industry as Director of the Perspective Plan; Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Sugar (for eight years); Vice-President and First Vice-President of the Junta Central de Planificación [Central Planning Board] (for13 years); Advisor at the Minister’s level to the Comité Estatal de Colaboracón Económica [State Committee on Economic Collaboration]; Ministry of Foreign Investment and the Ministry of Tourism (for 26 years). He is currently Full Professor at the University of Havana’s Center of Study on the Cuban Economy. He has published several books and more than 70 articles on Cuban industry and economy, foreign investment and tourism. National Economics Prize, 2007.
Norge Espinosa Mendoza. (Santa Clara, 1971). Poet, essayist and playwright. Advisor to the Teatro El Público. He has published books of poems, essays, commentary and theater. He won the Literary Criticism Award, together with Rubén Darío Salazar, with Mito, verdad y retablo: el Guiñol de los Hermanos Camejo y Pepe Carril. He has had his works performed in Cuba and in foreign countries. He is a frequent collaborator in specialized periodicals and journals. He is currently editing the memoirs of the choreographer Ramiro Guerra.
Marilyn Garbey Oquendo (Guantánamo, 1967). Specialist in theater. MA in Cuban Cultural Processes the University of the Arts (ISA), where she is Head of the Dance Department, of technical studies on Dance. She is Director of the Centro de Documentación de las Artes Escénicas. Her book La danza en el siglo XXI: Diálogos, cuerpos, escena will be published shortly, by Ediciones Cúpulas.
Michel Amodia. Director of the Grupo Empresarial de Comercio Interior (GECI) [Domestic Trade Corporate Group], in Camagüey.
Rafael Hernández. Political scientist.
Rafael Hernández (Moderator): Welcome to the Último Jueves panel, which today is dedicated to “¨Post-Pandemic Recovery,” the last panel of this year. The questions we will discuss today were presented to the panelists so they could choose to which ones they would like to respond to, and some have responded to all of them. As we will see, there is a wide array of views and different perspectives with which to approach today’s topic.
So, my first question is: What main challenges does our recovery face in the various spheres? Not only relating to the economy but also in education, culture, communication, legislation, external relations, etc.
Luis Alberto Montero: The greatest economic challenge should be to complete the Tarea Ordenamiento [Task of Reorganization of the Economy] and establish the right monetary policy, giving money the unrestricted value it should have in all mercantile operations—both state and private, both in the internal as in the external market. Much of everything else depends on this essential first step.
The greatest challenge in the political field should be a profound transformation, continuous and persistent, in the social communication of the revolutionary political agenda, adapting it to the times in which Cuba and the world are living, using all the most appropriate means for all levels of society, privileging the most advanced and effective contemporary technological forms at all times, and in agreement with the recipients. We are in a world of access to information that is unprecedented in human life, and this is what is going to be the world of the future. We cannot think that these are the same means of communication of ideas as those of twenty, thirty, a hundred years ago; today there are other procedures, and we have to adapt, and aim to communicate the best ideas with these procedures.
The greatest challenge in ethics would be to reduce economic and commercial corruption to the minimum possible, using both persuasion and conviction, as well as contemporary technologies in order to manage value and exemplary punishment of proven cases.
The greatest challenge in social awareness would be to establish a permanent need for innovation based on science and knowledge in all aspects of society and the actions of all Cubans, motivated by need and by the natural creativity that we have had to develop to maintain this country during the last 200 years, since being Cuban. However, in practice this has to be based on science and knowledge, not only in creativity and innovation as such, and this has to spread throughout the whole of society.
The great challenge in social management would be the restructuring of the governmental executive apparatus beyond dictating new laws, in agreement with the principles of the Constitution, and including the remodeling of the ministries, separating them from the business and public functional framework.
The ministries and other governmental organization should concentrate on designing policies that would be approved by the National Assembly, regulating them and executing them correctly, and controlling their operation. The public business system should be separate from the ministries; it should be diverse, avoid monopolization of activities, be innovative, dynamic and competitive. The non-profit institutions, traditionally called “service units” [“presupuestadas”] should function according to flexible economic standards that would allow them to put all their assets to the use of the social policies of the Revolution. A driving private sector, original and innovative, is now surging and the public sector is not accustomed to competing but rather used to producing according to a set plan. This contradiction could destroy it, but that is precisely the one we need to prioritize.
The greatest challenge in science would be to maintain it, to make it progress and stop the accelerated deterioration that it is suffering in its human and material resources. The government is working hard on this, but it is a very complex and difficult task. The increased prestige it has gained because of its success in facing the pandemic should be used in order to move forward in this area.
Raúl Alejandro Palmero: Science is still studying the impact of COVID-19 in all aspects of life. For Cuba, the effects it has had on health have been aggravated by a terrible blockade which, because of its fascist character, has become stronger during the pandemic. And to this must be added the problems that persist in our economy.
Based on these assumptions, today we are living in a Cuba with high inflation rates, in which the supply breaks down when faced with the daily needs, and the prices have gone higher than what was forecast in the Tarea Ordenamiento. And this has a direct impact on the salary-labor relation, the availability-price relation of food, as well as on the effective access of the population to many indispensable services.
These factors place us before the permanent priority of the last few years: to increase productivity in order to balance the scales.
But I would say more: today we are in a scenario that displays a scarcity of essential raw materials, obsolescence of part of industry, a lack of assets to stimulate the needed investments—all obstacles caused by the blockade, which prevent access to external financing and easily convertible currency. And similarly, subjective iniquities converge, such as the lack of a business mentality, an enterprising and innovative spirit in some executives, as well as the lack of an industrial culture or labor organization and of the technological component in some sectors.
All this leads to the fact that not only are we facing the need to increase the productive capacity of the country, but it is also essential to begin to use the existing capacity to its maximum: productivity and efficiency, making effective use of science, social communication and innovation, together with the substitution of imports, an increase in exports and a growth—well organized and respectful of our sovereignty—of foreign capital in the investment processes. Improving state enterprises, harmonizing and systematizing the chains of the different economic stakeholders, moving forward on municipal autonomy, local development and the functionality of local administrative management are all vital economic challenges.
Fragments of egalitarianism remain in the different payment systems. The way to consolidate labor as the fundamental manner to satisfy needs must be continued, and at the same time generate decent jobs. However, unlike a classical perspective, one does not arrive at socialism only through greater productivity, nor is full social justice achieved only through economic indicators. There are plenty of examples of rich countries with badly distributed wealth.
Che was a fervent defender of this idea, supporting the development of a socially emancipated cognizance, of cultivating values and moral incentives. That is why in the programmatic and strategic documents that regulate the country goals are established in key sectors.
First, prioritize the Poder Popular [People’s Power] at all levels, which strengthens the backbone of the Cuban project. Strengthen the role of the delegate, his faculties and training, to consolidate him as a popular dictator at the base. To inform him is a very easy task, but to actually empower him is the greatest challenge we face. Revolutionize the institutional system that takes care of the population, and the alternative ways for the people to resolve conflicts. Encourage the higher levels to participate and to have popular control as a conscious process that involves the possibilities of initiatives and decision making. Faced with greater autonomy for the enterprises and achievement in the faculties of the directors, the role of the unions should be rethought, as well as the mechanisms of participation on the part of the workers, and standardize the accountability of all administrative directors.
The government of the country has supported the dialogue with the various sectors that form the current social fabric, which is novel and in constant transformation. It is up to the local authorities to respond and begin to apply these same practices.
The challenges in education are also immense, now that the students have been away from classrooms for about two years, and without direct interaction with the teachers. New methods are urgently needed, with a different approach for those students who, because of different vulnerabilities or family situations, could not work effectively with distance education. It is necessary to exploit the new technologies and emotional experiences and practices wisely. And on this topic, but with special emphasis, I should mention the importance to radically transform the teaching programs of History.
Specifically, I work in a factory that produces steel—the most important one in the country—which is currently immersed in an investment process. Our fundamental challenge is to complete the investment stage and produce steel. And at the same time, improve the quality of life of the workers and consolidate the labor democracy.
Miguel Figueras: TOURISM – The main challenges facing our recovery are related to international tourism. Conventionally it is accepted that mass tourism started around 1950, with 25 million tourists. It grew constantly. Neither the wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Six Day war, the Yom Kippur conflict, nor the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, nor the world economic crisis of 2009 could stop it. In 2019, 1,459 million tourists travelled in the world, 58 times more than in 1950, and they spent $1,700,000 million.
Then COVID-19 appeared and it shrank world tourism by 70% in 2020. There is a lot of conjecture in the world regarding its recovery. The experience of the last seventy years indicates that tourism is part of modern life; people feel more desire to enjoy new experiences, know new places and other cultures. It will recover, but the patterns of demand will change; some destinations will lose priority and other will benefit. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) forecasts that towards 2023-24, it will return to the total levels achieved in 2019.
During the years prior to the pandemic, the main tourism market for Cuba was Canada, which was already showing some downturn, a slow growth and relapses. However, the travels of Cuban emigration were the second largest market, and in terms of income contribution, it may possibly have been the largest in 2019, when 623,000 Cuban emigrants visited the Island, 553,000 as stayover tourists coming from the United States. One out of five stayover tourists was an émigré or his/her descendant.
MINTUR [Tourism Ministry] does not pay enough attention to our emigrants and lacks a specialized team to generate measures that would neutralize or soften the aggressions provoked by the North American blockade. When ONEI [National Office of Statistics and Information] gives information on the income produced by tourism, it undervalues the money spent by émigrés.
The promotion of international tourism traveling to Cuba should absolutely be modified. The country is successfully emerging from the pandemic, with excellent results obtained by its scientific and public health human resources. In addition, it has offered assistance to countries in nearly all continents. This should be emphasized in all future promotion: Cuba is a clean, secure destination, with great protection for its visitors and its own population.
REMITTANCES – Some $4,000 million in remittances was received from outside of Cuba, 85% of which came from the United States. At the end of the Trump presidency strong attacks were launched to avoid the payment of these sums to recipients. In the ten months of Biden’s government the abusive Trumpian measures have not been eliminated, depriving many Cubans of receiving help from their families. These measures are so ridiculous that, sooner or later, they will have to be eliminated, because while in the world remittances have grown by 7%, in Cuba’s case they were cut in half. Maintaining strong international political pressure is indispensable for some return to normal relating to this situation.
Norge Espinosa: I’m going to go through some of the issues that the questions touch on; fortunately, several of them have already been lucidly discussed by those who preceded me, so I hope to contribute a view of someone who is seeing this new context from a cultural standpoint.
In reality, I wonder whether it is not premature to talk about post-pandemic times. Right now, European countries that had already surpassed the critical point of the effects of COVID-19 are reestablishing a confinement policy. And the coming of the New Year, with its festivities, the coming and going of people through airports and other recently opened routes, is again going to be a cause of worry for the most careful people. Therefore, survival continues to be the greatest challenge.
At this point, all of us are survivors of a phenomenon that has placed on the edge of collapse many of the structures and ideas that were the foundations on which we built a concept of life together, of a coexistence between people who are closely related, and even among nations. And so, everything must be rethought.
We were already in a state of crisis before the badly named “Chinese virus” appeared, and as it happened with other pandemics, like HIV, its impact is not limited to the sphere of health. Dynamics, procedures, rituals and protocols have been changed. Geopolitics have not been excluded from these severe readjustments that the virus has imposed on us.
In many cases, in addition to being the cause of more than five million deaths at the global level, COVID-19 has been a catalyst for making visible many of the tensions that the planet brings together. The echoes of the Trump administration, the discussions in the heart of the European Union, the struggles in Latin America and other regions, the handling of bitcoin, the legal status of Julian Assange…—all combined ferociously with the extraordinary images of cities deserted because of the obligatory confinements. The Pope, officiating before an empty Plaza, the Capitol in Washington being overtaken; the 11th of July events in Cuba, etc., in a world portrayed through the immediacy of its motives and the frenzy of data that inundate the networks. All of this, although it may come from distant realities, is connected to the about COVID data map. The world is redesigning itself under the rigors of a virus that has not yet disappeared and which, like the malaise that persist after all this, will continue to be among us, mutating and transforming itself, perhaps as a broader symptom of the anxiety and the challenge of our era. And, of course, this is also the case for Cuba.
Rafael Hernández: Thank you, Norge. In this panel we have the privilege to have not only natural and social scientists who can present different views on the economic situation of the country and on the problems of development and the Cuban society concerned, but also, in the particular case of Norge and of Marilyn Garbey, they offer perspectives from the cultural sphere, of the arts and letters. Marilyn has not yet been part of a debate of Último Jueves, and we especially welcome her to this conversation.
Marilyn Garbey: I have not participated in the Último Jueves of Temas, but I am a reader of that magazine, and so for me it is a privilege to be here today together with other colleagues who have such a profound view of life in our country.
In the sphere of theater arts, one of the principal challenges is to get the public to come back to the theaters. In Camagüey, with the Teatro del Viento [of the Wind] and in Matanzas, with the Teatro de las Estaciones [of the Seasons], the response of the spectators has been extraordinary. Sold out performances, and people who could not get into the theater. But in other places the response has not been so strong. We will have to find out why.
During the time of confinement, the social networks became heated debating forums: state decisions on how to manage the pandemic, the opening and closing of the borders of the country, the soap opera that was on at the time, the anchor of the Evening News, the cost of living, etc. Another of the post-pandemic challenges is for the theater to recover its place as a space for dialogue on issues that affect the whole society. Theater can contribute to develop citizens’ awareness on topics like marginalization, racism, the effects of patriarchy among us, the consequences of climate change, the responsible exercise of power.
It is also important to reorganize the system of management and production of the performing arts. In Cuba, all the collectives of theater and dance are subsidized by the State, and the number of existing groups is high. The performance artists received state protection during the pandemic, contrary to what happened to our Latin American colleagues who were left in extremely vulnerable situations. There are groups that have not premiered new works, that do not perform their known repertory, that no longer come before the public and yet get their salaries every month. This is a situation that is becoming unsustainable. The challenge is to be fair in the difficult task of separating the wheat from the chaff.
In the sphere of teaching art, the challenges are also multiple. In the social media the lives of famous people are made public, and it would seem as if they had achieved success without hardly trying. The number of likes [sic] and the million-dollar cost of their mansions attract the youngest people. And then the values become blurred: the value of studying is questioned, everything coming out of the internet is accepted, creativity is discouraged. How can we contribute to the teaching of citizens’ values to the artists of the future?
Michel Amodia: Retail trade does not escape these challenges. In tune with the policies of the leadership of the country, we have the great challenge of revitalizing commerce in goods and services that were so seriously impacted by COVID and the escalation of the blockade, and doing it in a modern environment, with a strong presence and expansion of electronic and digital commerce.
Another great challenge is to broaden and diversify the outlets for retail sale, using all possible economic stakeholders for that goal, in this great responsibility we have towards the population.
Rafael Hernández։ And which are the most important areas for economic recovery particularly?
Luis Alberto Montero: The most important element in the economic recovery should be the currency regularization. Everything else will succeed or fail, depending on this factor. There cannot be, as it was affirmed in the National Assembly, “inflation of retail prices”—which is a somewhat strange concept—meaning that there will be inflation for the population that is creating value, and not for the state sector, because it handles macro-economic accounts that have to be supported through the accounts of the entire population. Therefore, there is a very serious incongruence which is happening, because there is an official exchange rate of 25 pesos to one [dollar], and another, non-official, of 60 or 70 to 1. And in that case, of course, private enterprise will follow the exchange that is convenient for them and will take advantage, while the state enterprise will be obliged to follow the official exchange rate.
Raúl Alejandro Palmero: This is a difficult issue, because from the popular point of view, the most important area is the one that insures the family’s needs. For example, for a rural town, which depends on a sugar mill or on the production of a specific type of food, the first priority is not to develop tourism but rather the best functioning of the mill, or to be able to count on the necessary supplies to boost its production. Therefore, local development and a differentiated treatment of the regional gaps are decisive for a recovery.
So now, analyzing the phenomenon in a holistic manner, I think that there are sectors that drive the rest of the economy, and they have a decisive weight in our goals for development.
In the first place, there is public health, because if Cuba cannot manage to control the pandemic, it can hardly begin its road to economic development. The last two years confirm this idea.
Then, we should evaluate tourism, the famous motor of the Cuban economy, which cannot be understood as an independent sector, but rather as a direct source of financing for the revitalization of the rest of the economy. A national and international tourism with many challenges to be analyzed and overcome in the short and medium term.
The production of food is a life-or-death issue. Fulfilling the goals of per capita production of meats, greens and root vegetables is a priority that cannot be put off if we hope to achieve social well-being.
Buildings and the development of infrastructures are other items that I consider fundamental. The need to build homes, the modernization of the living spaces, repairing roads, hydraulic infrastructures, etc. are topics that are among those that most affect the population. Together with this, the production of construction materials should be made more flexible, and as I have explained, we at Antillana de Acero hope to make our contribution next year with the restart of production.
We have to continue to outsmart the blockade and encourage direct foreign investment in the sectors that now require an investment stimulus.
Science, with biotechnology at the lead, is key. The new production center of vaccines at CIGB [Centro de Ingeniería Genética y Biotecnología] in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZDEM) is already a fact.
Cuba should continue to support the tertiary sector of the economy, i.e. services. In spite of the United States program to sabotage Cuban services offered outside of Cuba, we have to continue to insist on taking the science and knowledge of the professionals educated through the Revolution to those regions of the world that need them.
Norge Espinosa: The economy has been at the core of some of the more arduous confrontations during this period. While the deniers (not too many in our society, luckily) resisted the use of face-masks or vaccinations, the tension unleashed by the shutting of businesses and industries had an effect that was no less devastating than the pandemic itself. In Cuba a plan was initiated to protect salaries which, let us say, turned out to be advantageous for the artistic sector which from one day to the next lost their public and therefore, their earning power.
But COVID also showed our dependence, as a nation and a system, on specific productions and industries such as tourism, as well as the shortages and the scarce development of other commercial options which even now do not achieve real effectiveness among us. The use of virtual networks and platforms, online sales, for example, was a vital resource during the greater part of the COVID crisis in a large part of the world, but here we still continue with numerous obstacles in the use of electronic banking and other possibilities.
The epidemic exacerbated the already noticeable lack of food, medications, and other products of first necessity, which had been weighing down the Cuban people long before December 2019. In a short period, making use of the networks, a large number of complaints about these problems surfaced, and to which a solid response has not always been given by the representatives of the different sectors of the government, also showing a lack of training in managing these ways of dialogue. And this, quite often, has caused a rise in the degree of frustration.
The measures that the Trump administration applied against Cuba in a cyclical form, were often directed towards cutting remittances, applying commercial sanctions, closing channels of exchange, all of which did not alleviate the panorama in which COVID became more present—rather, the contrary. There is no doubt that the production of food is essential now, as much as restarting the production of medications.
And at the same time, it is also necessary that the level of investments be balanced in favor of this, in a country which, in order to go forward, depends almost entirely on tourism and on the flow of currencies that tourism provides.
Cuba lives with a pride in its human potential, in its professionals—among them the scientists, creators of our vaccine candidates. And today, quite a few of them, be they State workers or self-employed, live in a scenario in which the flexibilization of standards and laws cannot be put off; they would assist the country’s recovery in a more concrete way, not only from COVID, but also from a centralism and lack of initiatives which are no less dangerous.
Michel Amodia: The most important areas for the economic recovery have to do with context, as someone already mentioned. Perhaps in a community in which there is a sugar mill, the most important thing would be the recovery of its production levels. However, when seen from the commercial viewpoint, the country and all its stakeholders had to first adjust plans, modify goals and adapt them to the current possibilities and conditions in which the economy is now taking place, paying close attention to the sanitary conditions.
In my view, one very important area are basic services, and we have an important influence in securing these services, especially those related to food, water supply, energy, etc. And, in the long term, exploiting the internal potentials of our economy, especially prioritizing food production, with which we are also involved. We have to stimulate a structure that will respond to the small businesses that produce food, in order to assist trade and food services, which are so important.
Rafael Hernández: What are the priorities for our society and the prospects for our post-pandemic recovery? With the understanding that when we speak of society, there are things that affect the entire society, but there are others that refer to certain groups only.
Luis Alberto Montero: For society the priority is to rebuild itself and make effective the principles of the new Constitution of the Republic. This reconstitution should take place under conditions that make optimal use of social information and communication technologies, for which we need a speedy recovery from a decades-long lag, in order to place ourselves among the most advanced societies of the world, with ample access and use for all Cubans, in all areas, every day of the week, at all times. In this world, no enterprise that generates or organizes information suffers from a lack of resources, because it is the users who pay, and the more services offered, the more people subscribe and pay. For example, in Cuba the Empresa de Telecomunicaciones apparently has no resources for growth, but then it does not collect money. This shows one of our most serious incongruences as seen from the economic standpoint. And this applies to every social group as applied to its most applicable format—and always paying attention to the fact that the social appropriation of information inevitably passes through individuals and the characteristics of each citizen.
Norge Espinosa: When the review and the precise chronology of what COVID-19 has left us is produced, what Cuban society exchanged through the networks will be of great use. Numerous groups appeared on Telegram or Facebook, where Cubans of both genders, inside and outside of the Island, have begun to sell products, from the basics to the unimaginable, but where also political issues, emergencies, specific tastes and a series of more or less immediate reactions to the complex reality of their daily lives are exchanged. With a fluidity—and also a fugacity—which challenges the chronicle, journalism and the always “short” memory of Cubans, reactions and conflicts remain, which show a Cuba that, while it was suffering from the virus, was also active in political and social terms, and in a way seldom seen in its recent history. In this Cuba, sectors have begun to become clear which are beginning to produce speeches and become empowered through other activist areas besides those affiliated to the government. Women, people from African descent, LGBTQ+, animal activists, small businesses, religious people, etc. are evidence of a nation that is adding other textures to its representational display—which often generates conflicts—dilemmas which, although they are expressed in the new Magna Carta de Cuba (approved by 80% of those who voted), are not resolved in reality, although this document is sometimes quoted to give that impression.
The Cuba of COVID intensely lived a process that put almost all its definitions to the test—from the applause at 9 PM in support of our health workers, to the silence when we were all overloaded by the effects of the pandemic.
And to that we have to add the economic downward turn which is now reverting, after the application of the Tarea Ordenamiento, and the delayed monetary changes, with an inflation that reminds us of the one we lived during the Special Period, which reminds us of the existence of the controversial MLC shops [Moneda Libremente Convertida – which sell only in hard currency] and the resilience which is becoming part of everyday existence. An unmistakable priority is to open the possibility of areas of dialogue to where this monolithic view of Cuban society will not only be recognized as a pile of diverse components, but which, in addition, would create bridges and spaces of interchange between its representatives and the State, and which, as part of the citizenry, would also have to include those that did not vote in favor of the new Constitution. The political practices of this period have made negotiations more difficult, have emphasized the extreme positions for and against socialism in Cuba, and have generated debates that are still unresolved, and which—whether we like it or not—also confirm the notion of change in a country that is still alive, not only through its allocations, but also through the published or secret biographies of those who form part of today’s real Cuba.
Marilyn Garbey: I think that the highest priority for society is to eliminate COVID-19, exile it out of our lives, with its burden of pain and death. We have to support all those who suffered the illness, collaborate so they can recover from the consequences. Children and older people deserve special care. We have to invest in science; we have to prepare strategies for our hospitals to function better; we have to improve the health workers’ quality of life and of work—from the doctors to the cleaners.
It is important to lighten the burden of daily life: scarce food supplies and at very high prices; long lines to get medicines, nonexistent public transport, the streets dark. The fact that you can only satisfy the most basic needs by paying with currency that is not yours is humiliating for those of us who work.
As much as possible we have to de-bureaucratize all procedures. We have to create new organizations, which anyone can join consciously and voluntarily. It is not a question of paying a membership fee to a particular organization so they leave me in peace, but rather to convert them into spaces for real social activism.
Another priority should be to stimulate the participation of citizens in finding solutions to the problems of their community. That should become a habitual practice, and not as an everyday slogan for the events of July 11th.
As a society, we should listen to the social group classified as “youth,” whose expectations are so very different from those of their parents and grandparents. Conditions should be created so they can find in Cuba the possibility to realize their dreams. We should not forget that the young people went into the red zone to save lives.
It is up to the press to reestablish links with the youngest readers. I hear them say that they don’t read Granma and don’t watch the Nightly News. However, they do believe in the information that the social networks bring.
It is up to the Ministry of Culture to de-bureaucratize the dialogue with the artists, to encourage new forms of cultural organizations, to form new types of public for art, to attend to those men and women who do not go to cultural events because the cultural centers of their area are so far away.
Rafael Hernández: What policies and laws are foreseeable in the recovery? Which ones will be prioritized? And what will be the obstacles for their implementation? What expectations do you all have?
Raúl Alejandro Palmero: The country has not stopped moving during these difficult times. Still frequent are the meetings and measures taken by the Council of Ministers and other governmental groups: the National Assembly of People’s Power has met even more frequently than during the past years, adopting hygienic measures and using virtual methods; the 8th Congress of the PCC was held, and we are currently in a process of open assemblies which are not limited to the municipal level, but will radiate towards regional party cells and work centers.
A legislative schedule was also approved; it has undergone modifications in its details because of the epidemic, but this, instead of reducing its reach, has broadened it. And thus, it is not surprising that in the next session of the National Assembly, there will be more modifications in order to include or prioritize topics that are key to a recovery.
What I am saying is that the policies and measures for recovery began to be implemented even during the worst moments of the pandemic.
On the economic front, we made a reference to the improvement of the various economic actors, which will necessarily conclude with a Law for Enterprises. Important steps have been taken to begin the process of municipal autonomy, which includes laws for the organization and functioning of the Municipal Councils of the Poder Popular, one referring to municipal governments, and the elimination of the Provincial Assemblies. The approval of a Law of Municipalities is also expected.
The effort to guarantee the functionality of the public administration, the aptness of the people who perform the duties in these areas should be continued. In the legal sphere, laws came into effect that regulate provincial and local governments, the Council of Ministers and the Presidency of the Republic. Very soon there will be laws proposed for the approval of regional and urban regulations, and a standard which regulates the central administration of the State.
More than sixty measures have been taken to stimulate agricultural development and food production, with broad acceptance on the part of the farmers. Their short-term effectiveness needs to be evaluated.
From the socio-political point of view, there has been a revolution relating to the protection of human rights and citizens security, often not supported by the appropriate social communications.
Recently, version 23 of the Proposed Code of Families was published, and will be submitted to discussion during the next session of the National Assembly [December 2021], and general consultation with the population at the beginning of next year . This is a regulation which, because of its inclusive and human character, and also because of its advanced technical judicial content, will place the country at the vanguard of this branch of comparative law.
In January new laws will come into effect dealing with Administrative, Penal, Civil, Mercantile, and Labor legislation and the Law of the Tribunals of Justice. We are talking of a huge judicial and procedural reform, in which full access to justice and the security of due process are strengthened; and the Law for Claiming Constitutional Rights before the courts is in the process of preparation.
And just to give you an idea, only with the Law of Administrative Processes, once the citizens’ complaints and claims have exhausted their path through the public administration system, they can present their case before the courts of justice.
In other spheres, we have spoken of the improvement of the Popular Power system, of participation and the accountability related to it. This indicates a marked political intent to have dialogue with minorities and social groups that lack attention and participation.
As a short-term priority, it is necessary to streamline and revise the policies directed towards youth, as well as to continue to strengthen the security of the social assistance programs and care for people in vulnerable situations.
A migration reform, which would harmonize the relation of the State with its emigration and with those Cubans who do not have an effective residence in the country, is also urgent. To reform the political, social and economic rights that émigrés can exercise; to simplify procedures, lower the procedural costs, encourage investment on the part of nationals who reside outside Cuba, and overcome the barrier of the industry of hate built by the United States, in order to unite families, build cultural, academic and collaborative bridges in various spheres.
Miguel Figueras: In the medium term, tourism income may be reduced, and so the existing capacities are more than sufficient. It would be convenient to put the main effort towards intelligent and strong promotional actions, full of new initiatives, and to use all the knowledge we have acquired about the markets to stimulate travel to Cuba.
A major element will be to project a strong image of Cuba as a true power in health and safety issues. In addition to this, although it would take more time, medical tourism should be developed, so that thousands of people would come to be cured here. No other Latin American or Caribbean country can compete with us in this area. Pain and pity reflect the numbers of deaths in Brazil, Mexico, Peru and Ecuador. This is reliable proof of the difference.
During the past decade a Canadian enterprise was contracted to carry out the main [tourism] promotion campaign. A solid evaluation of this measure is required to see whether it was beneficial, or whether, on the contrary, it limited more than it contributed to bring the campaign to potential clients.
During the past few years the Trump administration, with the rabid counselling of men like Marco Rubio, Díaz Balart and other counterrevolutionary ringleaders, who have access to significant monetary resources, were able to influence the Cuban community and modify their feelings towards their native land. This revived hostility will inhibit their travel. The little attention given them by MINTUR and the lack of capacity of the Central Bank, which bans the circulation of the US dollar, are additional and unnecessary obstacles, which will make it more difficult to attract more travelers of that community.
There is a broad spectrum of incentives that would increase the visits of the Cuban émigrés and their descendants. The simplest of these, and of immediate application, would be the reduction of the cost of a Cuban passport and of its renewal every two years; the flexibilization of the customs rates on accompanying baggage; the design of offers appropriate to the interests and specific expectations of this sector, salvaging the place of origin and its traditions as a fundamental scenario for this tourist category; and an increase in the promotion and offers of bundles of medical services that are specifically designed for the émigrés.
Thinking optimistically, if after the pandemic Cuba could recover its previous levels of long-term tourism (3.8 million), its greatest possibilities of growth can be found in the émigrés, in Russia and in the volatile market of US travelers, always either cherished or lambasted by their rulers.
There is no up to date information on projections of the viable potential of the émigré market. We know that ten years ago 670,000 passports were issued for Cubans residing outside the Island. Two-thirds of these were held by Cuban-Americans resident in the United States.
One of the immediate tasks would be to establish a team with specialists from different agencies and research centers to design a plan of action with the goal to raise future numbers of émigré arrivals. Is it possible to go above a million visitors? Yes, it is possible, if it is worked as an important market.
Below I will summarize some of the ideas that could be evaluated by the Cuban government:
- Reduce the cost of passports and their renewal every two years. This is a long-standing petition.
- Recognition by the Cuban government authorities of the tourist sector consisting of the émigrés and their importance from the economic point of view. One of every five or six tourists that come by air is an émigré or a descendant of one.
- For the Ministry of Tourism to set up a team that specializes in reconstructing the information of the émigrés, to know the institutions that exist outside Cuba and that accommodate them; design how to approach these organizations without provoking hostile reactions. This team should systematically visit and exchange ideas with the provincial or municipal authorities.
- Develop offers that are appropriate to the specific interests and expectations of this sector. No country with a strong tourist activity disregards its second market nor ignores it in their research.
- An offer of medical service bundles could be designed for this sector. In Cuba, the services of Health Tourism are stagnated or have gone backwards. Reversing this situation cannot be delayed. One of the immediate actions could be to organize offers of medical services to émigrés who visit their country of origin. In addition to raising income and giving satisfaction to these patients, this would contribute to reducing the medical services that émigrés find illegally and for which they use documents of family members and friends who are residents, and corrupt the medical personnel that provides the services.
- Recognize the importance of the territory of origin as a fundamental scenario of this tourist modality. The questionnaires on the place of birth of these émigrés are insufficient. MINTUR and the municipal services can organize studies on the visits of émigrés to their birthplaces and hear the opinions of the family members (their hosts) relating to other services that could be offered.
- Take action against the aggressive measures that were imposed by the Trump administration and that directly affect travel of émigrés and their descendants. For example, the prohibition of the leasing by Cuba of airplanes made in, or with parts from the United States seriously affected internal flights and prevented their necessary continuation to their final destination. Even greater effects were produced by the prohibition of commercial airlines from the US to land in other airports except José Martí in Havana. This measure affected the passengers that travelled directly from the US to Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Camagüey, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba (I do not have current information on the numbers of these passengers). If this arbitrary measure by Trump is not eliminated by Biden, the country needs to react in support of their émigrés. Remember what Fidel said during the 1978 Dialogue: “Why leave the community abandoned? Why not take it into consideration?”
In the Arrival Terminals #2 and #3 of the José Martí airport it would be appropriate to have offices that sell tickets that would allow travelers to continue by land transportation to their provinces. A simple analysis of the statistics of the flights to the excluded airports would make it possible to set aside a reserve of bus transportation. And in the same Terminals #2 and #3 they could sell an additional service of small buses which would transfer passengers to the Interprovincial Omnibus to continue their trip. And in choosing the type of microbus to use it should be remembered that these passengers travel with a large amount of baggage. The analyses could also include the possibility to organize a microbus service to take passengers directly from these Terminals to their destination provinces. This service was started in July of 2020 from Batabanó, for the travelers who arrive from the Isla de la Juventud. This same service could be sold with normal fares, in convertible currency. They should be leasable services, but avoiding abusive prices, which would irritate Cuban institutions.
What is needed is to show the willingness of the country to help, against the abusive measures of the United States government.
Norge Espinosa: In a Cuba where Fidel Castro no longer occupies the highest political responsibility, where his brother has ceded the main tasks to the first leader who was not part in the so-called “Historic Generation,” more things are moving than just names in a headline or file cards on a bulletin board. The Revolution built its reality and its myth, and in its trajectory from these concepts to another group of functionaries and leaders, it will have to recognize other challenges and adversities, in accord with what both these things mean for Cuba and for the world. An essential policy is one that emphasizes Cuba’s sovereignty and its capacity to reformulate itself in a time in which it cannot depend solely on the mystique that the Revolution created. The new Constitution and its approval and, finally, the start of legislation in favor of the small and medium businesses, for example, support an economy that can take advantage of potentials that have so often been passed over. The mechanisms of real popular participation in these and other procedures must be made visible, and more effective. COVID has put this formula of transition to the test, and it has clarified good things as well as weaknesses in these procedures, while it has also made possible to mobilize more rapidly the necessary elements for the coming of changes for the better.
The events, the demonstrations of July 11, have shaken all of this. The official narrative has designated the events of that day in different ways, changed details progressively, and has then responded with different projections to some of the demands that were formulated, with great tension and urgency on both sides, in numerous places of the Island. The intervention in marginal neighborhoods, the response to demands that had accumulated for years, the reaching out of officials and leaders to the population which took place after that day, are mixed up with the impact of COVID and its statistics, in such a way that those who study and do research will have the analyze it all together, which will hopefully be useful to advisors at the highest levels to properly understand this scenario—which cannot always be televised—of a Cuba that has resisted all kinds of battering, including this epidemic. The new economy brings its laws and its own tariffs. And with this, it brings other divisions to a society which for some time has not been as equitable as was once thought, based on an ideal design. Perhaps this ideal design does not exist. But through the voices of those who hoped to be part of it, not only does the government formula need to change but, faced with its immediate future, so must the whole country.
Marilyn Garbey: I am not an expert on laws, but there are expectations with the new Family Code, which faces many obstacles for its approval, although it would be of great benefit to many sectors of the population.
Another example is the possibility that the architects will be able to exercise their profession through cooperatives. The cities are becoming uglier day by day, but there are obstacles to the work carried out by the talents that we have trained and who could contribute to making our lives easier in a beautiful and healthy environment.
I think we have to continue to encourage the creation of laws that regulate the conduct of the citizens, of the State and private entities. And hope that we can achieve that they are respected, and that we all contribute to order: that the neighbors turn down their loud music, that the empty cans of soft drinks are not thrown into the street, that the grocer doesn’t steal, that we don’t have to bribe the official on duty to do his job.
We should also sponsor regulations on how women are treated in the mass media; we need to get rid of the sexist language that still exists, which objectifies the female body and encourages violence.
The images of July 11—people breaking into the stores, and the black berets in every square—should not be repeated. This is a question of encouraging policies that favor the creation of wealth, as a result of honest labor, to create an appropriate environment for the development of the country and of those who live there. Now, tomorrow it will be too late. We have to change the course of this earth right away.
Michel Amodia: The next policies and legislation—some have already been publicized and are known—that will have an impact on the whole country have to do with the reconfiguration of the structures to improve management in the organization. In the trade sector, our principal objective should be to stimulate the supply, to improve the structures, the management and power to make them be incentives in the midst of today’s conditions.
Some panelists have said that the ministries should be disengaged from the entrepreneurial network, and this is already happening in the Ministry of Domestic Trade. In all its units, steps have been taken on this issue; the entrepreneurial functions are being separated from the political functions. I agree that the next laws on this subject should be to improve the whole structure of the Ministry. In fact, there are some well-known laws whose implementation has already produced results, such as Law-Decree 28 for gastronomic services, and Law-Decree 39 that reorganizes the whole structure of the organization and at the same time reorganizes all the management structures at all levels.
I consider that future policies and legislation will continue to focus on the decentralization of faculties and resources for the utilization of regional capacities faced with the worsening of the blockade and the economic barriers. The commercial system is an active stakeholder in this process, and the entire entrepreneurial sector is trying to give its best to the municipal government so that they can manage better and so that the supply, the sale of merchandise and the services are improved.
Rafael Hernández: What spheres and challenges that have not been mentioned before would need to be prioritized?
Luis Alberto Montero: It is necessary to act as soon as possible in all areas for the reconciliation and alignment of emigration with the policies and the economic and social governmental organization of the country. A considerable proportion of the Cuban population is living permanently or temporarily outside the country. Without a doubt, their most important achievements are based on the educational opportunities and capacities that the Cuban Revolution offered. All émigrés who do not support actions contrary to the national interests and have not associated themselves to foreign countries in furthering the loss of our national independence are potential allies towards advancing the most important goals of the Revolution. We should attract them so that each can contribute what they can, to the degree they desire, for the well-being of all the Cuban people, and not only that of their families, which is what is happening with the remittances.
Norge Espinosa: I really want to encouraging criticism, real debate, not that negotiated among voices that do not dare go beyond a certain prudent or cautious stand, as part of this new reality. There have been debates, but there is still the complicated effort to train us to get to the bottom of things, to give the right to respond to those who have other points of view, and the right for them to present these. The force of the arguments will work in favor of their opinions—or not. We need policies and mechanisms that heal the wounds of the social network, that re-establish bridges of credibility between the citizenry and its leaders, starting by taking effective actions for our neuralgia, and which will not get comfortable in a triumphalism nor in the celebration of the achievements which in any case should be the starting point for of other guarantees. This is an issue that should be the concern of both the State and civil society, at the macro and micro levels, and which will contribute a new vocabulary, beyond the concept of continuity, which will place us in a context that is less unbalanced between the official viewpoint—its reactionary counterposition based on other political contexts that deny them—and people who, in the midst of COVID, have had to reformat their lives, standing in long and exhausting lines just to buy food.
Dialogue with young people, young talent, is essential. Without it there would not be any continuity except in some headlines. And I’m writing this after the 11th of May, 2019 and San Isidro, [activist Group] 27N and 15N[ovember] and other dates that are also redesigning our political agenda, with severe consequences that should not be diluted—as the effects of the pandemic seem to be disappearing in the face of the indifference of many and which, in spite of the reduction in the number of cases and the broad vaccination campaign, is still a danger among us. Young people should inherit and become responsible for an idea of a Cuba that would include their own utopias, not only those of a legacy that comes to them like an anecdote of an epic that is already written. Ours is being rewritten every morning. I want to send a hug to all health professionals who have not had any rest during these times. The pandemic has not ended, but the Cuba that is already approaching 2022 should have it marked in red, together with other concerns that are also urgent, so as to conserve the health—in a broad sense—of an entire nation.
Rafael Hernández: At this time, we open the floor to questions and comments by all those who are connected with us.
Iztván Ojeda (Journalist of the newspaper 26, of Las Tunas): Good day to everyone, it is a pleasure to participate in this panel. First, I would like to make some comments, and then I will ask some questions. I have the impression that now that we are in this recovery process there may be a tendency to attempt to go back to the starting point, that is, go back to the context, the practices or the processes that existed before COVID-19 came and changed everything. So, I would like to ask the panelists how they conceive this new normality, how they feel we could take on this new scenario that comes from living with COVID-19. And also, I would be very interested to hear your opinions relating to the challenges facing the regions. I think that the pandemic has evidenced many of the regional differences, and the municipal contexts.
Antonio Díaz (Professor, Universidad de La Habana): I am very impressed with everything I have been hearing, and anxious to see the written references so as to immerse myself more in these ideas which are so very important. I would like to make two or three comments, and have one question to ask [Michel] Amodia, the last panelist that spoke.
Regarding the challenges, I have two or three ideas I would like to share. The most important is how to shake the tree so as to reduce and even minimize the bureaucracy and corruption in the State and the government at every level, something I have been presenting, analyzing, thinking and writing about for some time. I don’t think that just education, training, and teaching the teams that have serious problems in their outcomes will solve the problem. We need to “shake the tree,” something that Fidel did at the beginning of the revolution—now at a different scale, but still with urgency because of everything we have hear here today.
I think the Popular Power needs to be revolutionized at the deputy level, as it is being done at other levels. The pandemic confronted us directly with this, and my students also clashed with it when they were working in the Family Assistance System (SAF), in the COVID red zone, etc., but I think this needs to happen at all levels right to the top. There are two issues; one: the need for all those who become delegates and deputies to be professionals, and second: to eliminate once and for all the condition of being judge and jury, like many of those who are public officials. In my opinion, this has nothing to do with our way of organizing the government.
In relation to the economy, I was positively impressed with everything Montero and Figueras said. And there is something I would like to add. We have economic relations with many friendly countries that are close to us, but these relations exist only at the state level. I believe they need to be completely liberalized so that all stakeholders in our economy now can participate, freely exchange with their peers in those countries—I’m talking about Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia, China and Vietnam.
And relating to the directors of enterprises, I think that is where the tree needs to be shaken most, because that is where the load of management problems that affect the country is located. The fears, the inability to manage the market and the new economic conditions is rampant, and I think that this enterprise management must be revolutionized, their role and operations changed as well as, and above all, the so-called board of directors [juntas], which are so important but don’t include the participation of its base, the workers.
And the unions—which are mute bumps on a log, from what I have seen, at least on TV—also have to be revolutionized, and empowered, in the same way that the Popular Power has to be revolutionized. If that is not done, we cannot make the Popular Power effective—the power of the working class, which today constitutes ninety-something percent of this country.
And finally, I would like to ask a question to the Ministry of Commerce panelist on something that has been presented, but which seems absurd. It refers to how they deal with not having control of the domestic trade of this country, which is in two currencies—one being MLC [convertible currency] and the majority in CUP [Cuban peso], how they deal with the fact that the key and basic supplies are not in the hands of the Ministry. I imagine this may be an obstacle that clouds the issue, because it cannot be managed strategically, which also happens exactly in the same way with tourism.
Tania García (Economist): This has really been a very rewarding debate panel; a variety of opinions and ideas were offered, which leaves us with a rich agenda for all our exchanges. I would just like to note three small points.
First: I think that the knife of the pandemic-blockade has clearly brought out the depth of our underdevelopment and for me this has been one of the most painful elements—together with the loss of lives—which has made me think a lot. The level of scientific, technological and innovative development applied to public health has saved the Cuban people. And I say this not only with conviction, from the academic point of view, but also with emotion, because truly what was done by our whole health sector made it possible to save our people, at least for now, from this pandemic. However, in conjunction with this, it has not been possible to build an effective structure of national distribution as a sector, as a stage of development—neither in person nor virtual—and that to me really seems to be contradictory and a challenge for the future. It means that we live in the definition of underdevelopment that Che Guevara left us, and it sets us totally in a Cuban frame.
The second element, which to me seems to be a very important challenge, is the increasing inequality. I think that with all the efforts we may make, from all points, in all sectors, we cannot allow that the building of a socialism such as the one we are looking for ignores or bureaucratizes the care for the most vulnerable sectors. This is something which is being tackled; great efforts are evident on attention to the areas and the people that are most vulnerable—the housing situation, the conditions of the streets, etc.—but this needs to be established as part of the general way of functioning of the country and of the economic system.
I also believe that the great dependence the country has and the structural distortions that have become evident with the delayed reforms, is showing us the need that this recovery develop a new model of socialism for a society that is the fruit of that very same Revolution, qualitatively more demanding, qualitatively more thoughtful, and a youth ever more reflective. These are global challenges.
Inflation is the most socially explosive economic ailment, and I believe that it has been the result of, but was also provoked by the process. I think that all this must be submitted to a permanent introspection, so that we may be systematically confronted by our own problems and our own deficiencies.
Marilyn Garbey: At times I lost my connection and could not always follow the flow of the conversation, so there is the chance that I may repeat something that has already been said. I agree with Norge when he said that it may be too soon to imagine the world after the pandemic, but I also believe that it is a spiritual necessity to somehow leave behind this whole period which we have lived through, and devote ourselves to building the country that many of us dream of or the many countries we dream of, because the expectations for the post-pandemic Cuba are huge. There are many people who want to work; there are many people who were already thinking before the pandemic to give their lives here in the country a new direction, and there are many expectations about the laws that are about to be passed, to make it easier for people who want to work honestly and contribute to the well-being of the country. For now, this is the only thing I would dare to say; I prefer to listen to you all.
Raúl Alejandro Palmero: I am not at all a government representative, but the intervention of István Ojeda came to my attention with the topic of how the country sees the challenges at the regional level, and also—without wanting to repeat—I gave him an opening when I answered the question on the most important areas in the economic recovery, and mentioned the hypothetical example of the sugar mill, of the production of a kind of food for a town that depends on these sectors, and for which it is perhaps difficult to “think like a country,” as they say, because everyone works in that mill, the resources of that region depend on it—and that is like being life itself.
Now, I do think that there is an economy that could apply the principle of solidarity between its different economic stakeholders, between the regions, as it is regulated in the Constitution on the topic of autonomy—meaning: autonomy but maintaining solidarity. Ours is a planned economy, more or less, and it will continue to be so. Of course, this is an important instrument, even if, for various reasons, today it is not sufficiently effective to be able to set up sectorial policies and be successful in eliminating the gaps and differences that can be present in the development of the different regions and locations of the country. Municipal and local autonomy will help this a lot, whenever they are connected to this principle of solidarity. The results of the proclaimed autonomy at the economic level, in public administration, will be interesting, and I think they will take us to a higher level.
What is being done today in more than 60 neighborhoods in Havana, from the point of view of applying differentiating policies—because they have problems that are different to other localities in the country—should not only be systematized, but should be a policy in all sectors. And also, in fact, set up sectorial policies—not only talk of a general policy for commerce, or for housing, but understand that in specific localities the housing policy cannot be the same as in 80% of the national territory.
I will give an example that may not be very “economistic,” but it has to do with the social participation of young people, which is a topic that I hold very dear. Today we can’t talk of young people, but rather of young peoples: there are multiple sectors that now make up this network of youth, and that’s why I spoke of revolutionizing the policies towards young peoples. I’m speaking of young people who are not being as participative as others in the network of organizations and institutional areas of the country; I’m speaking of young people who perhaps do not have jobs, and we have lately seen a marked intention of offering jobs, especially for the youth work force, not only for demographic reasons but also because of the need to secure the future. The youth organizations that we have today do not reach the new social youth network, with numerous sectors that are emerging, perhaps because they are based on a representation of a conventional society, but one which has changed substantially during the last ten or fifteen years, starting from the economic changes that the country has undergone and which have their correlative impact on the social framework and the social infrastructure. I’m talking of the LGBTQ+ community, which also has a large youth representation; I’m talking of religious groups, environmentalists, animal activists, of certain sectors of our culture that we have not reached with the same intensity; I’m speaking of young people who are working in the non-state sector and with how much strength the Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas or the union, the FMC [Federación de Mujeres Cubanas] have an influence there.
Let us remember that already almost half the workforce of the country is employed in the non-state sector. This is an enormous challenge. And I say this because it is precisely there that we can see how the policies should be directed specifically towards these gaps, these differences, and not talk of general policies, but attend to the inequalities among non-equals.
I think that the real, substantive equality, which is the one that we defend—not the official equality before the law, nor that mentioned in political pamphlets—consists in treating unequally the non-equals, in order to balance the scales, to reduce the gaps. That’s where my personal analysis goes, because this is really a question directed to the government and to the structures that decide on policies.
I think it was Tony [Antonio Díaz] who spoke of the challenges of the Popular Power at all levels, not only for the delegates—and I agree completely. I put a little more emphasis on the delegates because I think that to a great extent, it is at that level where—as we Cubans say— the ballgame is decided, at the base. But this does not mean that because the Provincial Assemblies were eliminated, we won’t have millions of challenges, formalities, dogmas, taboos, which constrain the optimum functioning of our mandates as representatives, which is a distinction of the Popular Power system and should be improved.
I don’t think—and this is my personal opinion—we should aim to professionalize the workings of the Popular Power in the country. We have very many examples of election lists, of payments, of the large figures of corruption and of the abysmal separation that exists between professional representatives in different systems, and the real popular interests.
I recently had the opportunity in the factory to spend some time with Manu Pineda, a Eurodeputy and great friend of Cuba, and he told us of the disaster of the Spanish government representatives, of the wide corruption that exists around this function, and I think it would be a new, very complicated problem for our country. In addition, I think it is part of the principles of the Popular Power to maintain its social base, for a deputy to continue taking the bus, stand in line for his chicken, go and get a scolding when they treat him the same as others when he makes some specific effort to get served. That doesn’t mean I agree, nor that I feel happy with the current system of care at the base, of the links with the regions, but in any case, I am not in favor of the idea of professionality. However, several measures have been taken to secure a better management; for example, I can say that the majority of the presidents of the Popular Councils are professional in their work. Through an action of the President of the National Assembly, the delegates have obtained one day off per week so as to be able to look after the population during the pandemic, but they also have free office time during the weekends. We know this is a very complicated topic for those who are representatives, not only as delegates but also in specific organizations: they have to coordinate their free time, work, and study at the same time.
The essential thing is not to professionalize the workings of politics, but that we fulfill the function with professionalism, training, perspective—and here I speak from a personal point of view: I’m not on this panel as a deputy, but this is a uniform we cannot take off—those of us who in specific moments have to represent the people. That is, it is not a question of being a professional, but of professionalism, of skill, outlook and, of course, of how we face the systemic obstacles of the Popular Power itself, which we will have to continue to analyze in the future.
Luis Alberto Montero: I just want to make a comment on a couple of points relating to the first question one of the participants asked about whether there are people who think that returning to the new normality is going back to how things were in January of 2020. I would like to invite you to share some thoughts.
I had the privilege—let’s call it that—to visit East Berlin during the time of the Wall. When I had to go to the Cuban embassy—which was located in the northern part of Berlin—we had to go through the Wall, and I was always struck by the concern: “Is there some politician who thinks that this can be permanent, that this situation of the Wall and a divided city will never be resolved?” Well, we all know now how this was resolved, but what kept weighing down my conscience was that there were politicians who thought that this was going to be permanent. The lesson that I want to get at is that our problems, those which have prevented Cuban socialism to advance, can respond to certain dogmas, certain conceptions that equate socialism with its procedures, instead of with its principles. Evidently, there are things that need to change, and no one can think that certain abnormal situations in the organization of our society can be permanent, for life, because the lesson that history passes on is that the system will fall, this already happened. For example, there are those who think that launching the Tarea Ordenamiento when it was done was bad timing; I think it was launched too late: it could have been done ten or fifteen years ago, because it was the situation we had then that was abnormal. In those years we didn’t even know whether there was inflation; now, at least, we know that it exists, and that we have to solve it. At that time, we didn’t have the opportunity to know about it; theoretically we exchanged one peso for one dollar, at a fixed rate. I don’t want you to see me as a monetarist, but what happens is that money is the element of measuring the value that a society creates, and in some way we are all involved in creating spiritual or material value and receiving goods in exchange of this value we create. This is an essential part of life and also studied by the classics. Maintaining the situation that existed then was absurd, and the only thing to be done is move forward in the same direction in which progress began. Nothing can be the same as before, at least in this sense; the Tarea Ordenamiento happened one year after the pandemic began and so nothing can be the same. In fact, it would be suicide for Cuban socialism if it were. I am convinced that our leaders are completely clear on the fact that there are things that cannot continue, abnormalities that cannot continue, that many things were absurd, and when seen in the current light of the world, they will not be maintained.
My second comment relates to the municipal, local issue. One of the healthiest measures that appears in the Constitution, and on which there was consensus when the policies were being prepared, was precisely the mention of the concept of municipal autonomy. Of course this collides with the fact that we have lived for years without it, giving minimal value in the political establishment to those things that are essential, that are the roots, that happen where people live, so we have to accustom ourselves, we have to teach the directors so they can learn, or exchange them for directors that know, in order to make a powerful society, active, positive, creative, renovating and innovating at the base, at the municipality. Autonomy does not mean autarky; it can also mean a very strong level of relations with near or distant autonomies, especially during these times in which distances—at least in the sphere of information exchange—do not exist. But autarky is not advantageous, either, meaning that when a municipality decides to solve its supply of bananas, this does not mean they producing more bananas will not be profitable for them and allow them to exchange them, for example, with another municipality to help them pave their streets. We have to set up the social frameworks which unfortunately have been badly organized by a central planning process that is too strict. We have to look at the planning again; I have the impression that that is happening, but it cannot be, at all, the way it was before the pandemic.
Norge Espinosa: I just wanted to make a brief summary related to what this period has meant to Cuba which is dominated by the pandemic issue, as are other countries, but which here has had other characteristics.
It is also a moment of transition, in governmental terms, a moment in which at the head of power in Cuba there is not a representative of the historic generation, where the imaginaries and vocabularies of the revolution itself are being reformulated, and this also means a large group of challenges and tests —challenges which oblige those who now have these responsibilities to be creative, proactive, to be truly capable not only to face a global problem like COVID, but also to harmonize all that with the crisis that we are living in Cuba, and the new dilemmas and conflicts. I insist that for them it will be essential to allow spaces for debate, to establish a common space in which the population that actually approved the new Constitution with 86% of the votes can be present. But it is also necessary to give space to the other percentage that did not agree with the document, but who have the right to argue, who also form part of Cuba, and is also connected to the Cubas that exist in the world, where other émigrés and exiled people continue to think of this Cuba as a nation to which they still belong, and who also deserve having this type of voice and space. I think that among us all, by accelerating the process also based on the real and concrete utility of criticism, we could potentiate an idea of ‘nation’ that would really be the one which is slowly overcoming this complicated period that has been COVID, but which has to be redesigned, reformulated, and above all has to belong to all those of us who in one way or another, have been living it, suffering through it—losing loved ones, helping each other, and taking into consideration that tomorrow this struggle can continue in many different ways.
I also want to insist on the will to continue the dialogue with the young people, with the young Cuban intellectuals who are now at a very critical moment, and who should not be scorned in any circumstance, because to them also belongs the future of this way of thinking, to discuss is, to debate it, to reformulate it.
And as a farewell, I would like to send a deeply felt greeting and a great tribute to all the health workers, the scientists, to the people in the hospitals, in the red zones, who during all this time have been literally mobilized for war. Without them we would not be talking now about the possibility of approaching the post-pandemic. So, to all of them I send my respect and greetings. Many thanks.
Michel Amodia: Since a question was asked of me directly, I think I also should share my opinion on the issue. One of the participants mentioned the well-known phrase “to shake the tree,” and I wondered how we would face situations of corruption that might exist. Someone else mentioned some events that had happened and that would have an impact on the economy of our country. This is not a phenomenon that is inherent to the domestic trade system, it occurs in any society. In these processes of reorganization, our institution has a well-designed strategy in which the human being is at the center of everything we want to do in the new conditions in which our country, and the economy, is now operating. For example, there is a review of all the administrations of the service units; in this the ministry has carried out a policy of review of the different profiles or competencies, which include the administration and management, the technical-professional and political-ideological dimensions, the trajectory and undertaking of the persons, and the civic-social component. We are trying to develop this strategy with the people who really can do things properly. The precise review of the whole administration, of the structures—which we will leave to the regional governments to develop—consists in eliminating these conditions from all our administrators and functionaries, especially those that have greater economic and financial resources, and at the same time work so that these structures that we are creating will be simpler, more functional. One of the problems that the institution has today is its size, and we are trying to set up structures that are more practical, simpler, capable of operating correctly, and socializing the media and resources that will be decentralized in these new structures.
Someone said that the unions should be revitalized. That is right. We are carrying out this process in unison with the main union leaders because, and I repeat, the most important thing on this road towards change that the institution and the country is undergoing in order to prepare for the current conditions is, precisely, the human being. And that is one of the things that we will never lose sight of. We are doing this right here in Camagüey, and I am sure that in the whole country, anyone who has anything to do with internal commerce and is under the wing of MINCIN [Ministerio del Comercio Interior], has been a participant in this entire process.
The big [corruption] scandals should be gradually eliminated because these things are being looked after. Evidently, MINCIN will continue to administer large quantities of materials and financial supplies, but it will be conscious of the risks that exist and it will take care of them in this whole process of change.
Rafael Hernández: This panel is now ending, although we could continue, because the number of problems that you all have put on the table—which is a good thing—is enough to keep going for another long time.
This panel has seen participants of a range of ages, going from 26 to 83, which spans four generations. I invite those who would like to reduce things, perspectives and approaches in Cuban society and politics to a generational view, to consider the coherence of this exchange and the expectations of attributingg certain viewpoints to people of a certain stage in life. We have had almost fifty participants listening or intervening, and I think that in addition to this coexistence of very different stages of life and the experiences associated with them, we have had a very unusual meeting which, whenever we are able to do this in an Último Jueves session, makes us very happy.
Present here have been the natural sciences, the social sciences, arts, politics related to lawmaking, participation and representation, and even the functioning of the state apparatus and commercial activities.
This dialogue between different views and fields is extraordinarily rich if we take into account that there have also been interventions on the part of the public, journalists, economists, people who have devoted many years to the study of certain topics related to the economy and society, and that in this panel we have also had the views of what to me is one that probably gathers the contradictions of Cuban society in the most direct and complex way, and that is theater, and in general, the scenic arts.
This meeting has had this special quality, which is to show how we have communication channels, and that we have agreements, and also important differences in our ways of understanding, which cannot necessarily be ascribed to institutional characteristics, or to viewpoints from society, academia or politics, but they come from a much more complex network, much closer to the kind of society we have. This society experienced its turn with the pandemic and, as Norge said, it is not a question only of what this means from the point of view of the health challenge and the confrontation, but it put all of it under stress. And within a fairly short period we will look back and will realize how out of this critical moment of the pandemic new ideas also came about, new realities, and that new needs and ways to face problems also became necessary.
I very much thank all of those who have been connected and those who intervened, and those who have been listening, for giving us this last Último Jueves of 2021. Thank you all.
Traductor: Catharina Vallejo