The Role of Cuba's Legislators
August 4, 2011
HAVANA TIMES, August 4 – Foreign journalists were not invited to the
last session of the Cuban parliament, which is held every six months.
In any case, there was no surprising news. No one had the slightest
doubt that these representatives would approve the reform guidelines
issued by the Communist Party.
Nor did the deputies show themselves to be overly inquiring with respect
to the presentations by the government officials. On television we
didn't see anyone questioning the reports made by the various
ministries, not even in those cases where there have been recurrent
On the contrary, the delegates listened impassively to explanations
about the objective and subjective causes for those failures and about
how people are working earnestly to overcome those difficulties.
However, while days, months and years pass by and ministers change, many
of the problems remain, completely intact.
This is the situation, despite Vice-president Jose R. Machado's words to
the plenary session of the Central Committee saying, "Self-criticism
will not be accepted when it is no more than pure justifications; nor
will commitments be admitted when year after year goes by and these are
That's why I was surprised by some of the reports presented to the
deputies by the ministries. I'm particularly thinking about the report
on Cuba's agriculture, which has continued without showing any signs of
improvement, despite it being a priority because of its economic as well
as its national security implications.
The Farmers Know the Answers
When one hears the reports they might believe that it's an excessively
complicated task, but the fact is that it's not so involved. Any
campesino knows the problems they face in the field and how to solve
them in order to produce more and better yields.
The first obstacle that all of them mention is the existence of the
large and powerful bureaucracy that is inefficient in making decisions
concerning small farmers – telling them what to plant, how to plant, on
what land, how to market their produce and how much to charge for it.
A tobacco farmer told me not long ago that in Pinar del Rio Province
they were ordered to centralize all the nurseries and that they were
prohibited from having their own. Thanks to this top-down directive, a
plague spread throughout the entire province with the greatest of ease.
It's necessary to be optimistic that someday in one of these biannual
meeting the deputies will raise their voices to question incompetent
leaders. We have to have faith that they'll query them and, if those
functionaries deserve it, the representatives will request their
dismissal – without waiting for such an action to be proposed by the
president or the party.
Costly Incompetence in the Nickel Industry
A leader doesn't have to be taken to prison for being incompetent, but
nor is it necessary to suffer through years and years of errors to
replace them. A good example of this is reflected in the costs and
damage that such leniency brought about in the nickel industry here.
I find it difficult to believe that there are no people in the
parliament from Moa who are connected to nickel production who could
have confronted the minister about what was happening before things got
to the sorry state point they did.
Similarly, it's difficult to believe that the deputy from the Alta
Habana area was unaware that an electric power station was built there
but that was useless because of its negative effects on the households
in the community. (Just in case, we're publishing the photo of the
facility before it rusts out and is taken over by the underbrush,
thereby losing forever the millions that it cost to build.)
If ordinary Cubans have to work, save and sacrifice, it seems only fair
that explanations about these white elephants are due to them. The
deputies, who are the people's representatives, are the ones who should
demand that the ministers assess the damage and identify those responsible.
This would involve thoroughly analyzing each error and, as
Vice-president Machado demanded, "explaining why what was necessary
wasn't done, who were the people responsible, what plan there is to
correct the problem, what is the impact and in what period of time will
the situation be solved."
Instead of this, circulating on the Internet is resolution OM-863 from
the Ministry of the Basic Industry (responsible for nickel and
electricity production), which is an order to leaders in that sector
informing them that "you will not be able to coordinate coverage with
the national or foreign media (press) without previous authorization by
the central office."
But such an order shouldn't affect the deputies. They are the direct
representatives of the people and it is their duty is to protect the
interests of their constituents. They are also the counterbalance to
the executive office; in their hands should be the power to regulate and
monitor the government's efficiency.
Their role could be much more important in the immediate future when, as
is being projected, the provinces and municipalities will acquire
greater power. However, "Without changing the mentality, we won't be
able to undertake the necessary changes," Raul Castro told the deputies.
The problem is that for the institutionalization of a nation, it's not
enough for the central government to surrender attributions. It is
indispensable that the parliament, the municipalities, the unions, the
courts and the rest of the social actors also battle to become
independent and recover their true identity.
An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original)
published by BBC Mundo.