Censorship in Cuba – Censura en Cuba
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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

Economic Reform.

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,

truckers, distributors.

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).


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