US Think Tank View of Raul's Cuba Today
August 3, 2012
The following is a review of Philip Peters' A Viewer's Guide to Cuba's
by Samuel Farber
HAVANA TIMES — This is a comprehensive account of the economic changes
that have taken place in Cuba since Raul Castro assumed power that was
prepared for the Lexington Institute by Philip Peters, an expert on Cuba.
It describes in detail the economic measures adopted in recent years,
ranging from the growth in self-employment to policy changes in
agriculture and tax reform, and contains a summary and "A Viewer's
Guide" that groups the changes by economic sector. The appendices
include a detailed chronology of those changes.
As informative and useful as it is the report lacks perspective. It
doesn't ask, for example, whether the thousands of tiny businesses that
have recently opened in Cuba are conducive to an economic take-off.
Peters does not analyze the impact that different policies are likely to
have on the Cuban economy.
So, for example, the Cuban government has authorized private farmers to
sell directly, without going through the government, to tourist
enterprises. This policy may be of greater consequence than the
sprouting of thousands of tiny businesses.
Assuming that farmers can acquire the inputs and transportation
necessary to take advantage of this opening, this measure could have
substantial consequences, such as raising prices for Cuban consumers and
encouraging the growth of new prosperous strata of private farmers,
The reforms approved at the sixth congress of the Communist Party of
Cuba (PCC) in 2011 include the possibility for state enterprises to
declare bankruptcy and their being privatized or converted into
cooperatives, and the freeing up of some prices, which would lead to
price competition among state enterprises and private firms. These
measures would facilitate large-scale privatization for the benefit of
enterprise managers as it happened in many other post-Communist transitions.
In light of these proposed reforms and given Vice President Esteban
Lazo's prediction in April of 2012, that private sector production will
grow from five to 40-45 percent of Cuba's GDP in the next five years,
one would expect Philip Peters to have asked what kind of a state and
economy is likely to emerge should all these changes be carried out.
Is Cuba going to end with a model similar to Vietnam or China? It is
unfortunate that the material so patiently assembled by Peters does not
address this issue.
The report is written in a bland tone that plays down any criticism of
the regime and places a positive spin, sometimes bordering on
cheerleading, on Raul Castro's reforms. What could pass for a very mild
sort of criticism appears in the occasional sections titled "What to
Watch?", and it is often expressed in the form of questions, instead of
stating directly what the author really thinks.
So, for example, instead of stating outright that the practice of
limiting self-employment to only 178 occupations is a mistaken policy,
Peters mildly "asks" whether the government will change its policy and
allow for self-employment everywhere except, perhaps, for a certain
number of occupations or sectors not open to private initiative. (p13)
When it comes to human rights, Peters becomes even more timid. For
example, he mentions the release of 2,900 common prisoners but does not
explain that this is a rather small percentage (4.8%, a figure I
calculated based on Cuban government data) of the total number of common
prisoners in the island (26).
Cuba is still among the states with the highest rate of imprisonment,
just a few countries below the United States, the world's number 1
jailer. He also has a long section on the media (27-30) where he cites
the diversity of views published in the Catholic press, plays up the
occasional instances of investigative reporting in the official press
and especially the complaints published in the weekly letters section of
the PCC daily Granma.
However, he doesn't even mention the systematic and widespread
censorship that is practiced in the official media.
The Ideology Department of the PCC, headed by Central Committee member
Rolando Alfonso Borges, "orients" the mass media, whose circulation
dwarfs that of the Catholic press, as to what topics to cover and the
political line to be followed.
This includes foreign events, such as in Syria, with its uncritical
support for Assad, as well as domestic news that, for example, conceal
the nature and extent of official scandals involving high government
officials as in the case of the state airline Cubana de Aviación.
At the same time, it maintains a total silence about questions of
national interest like what happened with the once celebrated fiber
optic cable from Venezuela to Cuba, which the government promised it
would greatly increase the connectivity of a very deficient system.
Giving credence to Raul Castro's vaunted opening of the system to allow
for public debate, Peters quotes him to the effect that "opposing views,
when not antagonistic as in our case, are an engine of development."
This is an oxymoron especially in light of the fact that it is Raul
Castro who defines what is and what is not "antagonistic."
As Rosa Luxemburg pointed out, freedom is for those who disagree, and
that freedom has very clear limits on the island. Similarly, Peters
presents the discussions at meetings that preceded the sixth party
congress in April of 2011 in a very favorable light as having allowed
for the open airing of grievances.
He does not even consider whether this was a truly democratic process.
He ignores that in the first place, the official party media had the
exclusive control of what and how to report on what transpired at those
meetings; that the people who participated in those discussions had no
organization of their own, nor were they allowed to communicate and
organize on behalf of their grievances with people participating in
discussions in other workplaces.
As a result, the participants confronted the organization of the rulers,
that is, the PCC, as isolated groups. Instead of having been a
democratic debate, this process was far more akin to a nationwide
suggestion box. The PCC leaders responded to the thousands of opinions
that the Cuban people submitted to them much like the managers of a
capitalist enterprise who implement the suggestions that they find most
helpful to run their business.
The report was sponsored by the Lexington Institute, a think tank
located in Arlington, Virginia near Washington that seeks to advise the
empire's policy makers, particularly on military and defense matters. A
look at the Institute's website displays works on matters such as
"Modernizing the Department of Homeland Security Aerial Fleets" and
"Should the Chinese Be Allowed to Buy Hawker Beechcraft?
The author of the report, Philip Peters, is Vice President of the
Institute, and an advisor to the Cuba Working Group of the House of
Representatives. Before joining Lexington, Peters served as a State
Department appointee of Presidents Reagan and Bush and as a senior aide
in the House of Representatives. This is very good and very bad news.
It is good news because it suggests that sections of the empire's policy
advisers no longer fear the blackmail of the Cuban-American right wing
and have stopped justifying the criminal economic blockade among other
aggressive actions taken by the U.S. against Cuba.
It is bad news because this group apparently supports a Cuban transition
oriented towards liberalization, especially of the economic system, with
political concessions for elite circles such as secular and Catholic
intellectuals, and is at best, unconcerned and, one expects, hostile to
the democratization of the economy – in the sense of worker
self-management – and the polity – in the sense of freedom to organize
politically, abolishing the one-party state, and creating a truly open
and democratic mass, and not merely elite, media.
The politics of the Lexington Institute is bound to carry weight if an
end of the blockade is brought about not as a result of a principled
recognition of Cuba's right to self-determination against foreign
interference but, much more likely, as the outcome of a real-politik
negotiated transition from above between Washington and a Cuban
government probably headed by Raul Castro's assigned successors.
(*) Samuel Farber, the author of this review, was born and raised in
Cuba and is the author of many books and articles dealing with that
country. His most recent book is Cuba Since The Revolution of 1959. A
Critical Assessment (Haymarket Books, 2011).