ARE WE READY FOR THE FUTURE?
by Ricardo Calvo
The future has reserved for Cubans the most challenging enterprise we shall have to face yet in our history: the end of and the emergence from Marxism – the opportunity to get rid of the irrationalities and injustices of an old discredited regimen and to build on its ruins a new country.
This will come the moment it loses the faith of its supporters and the fears of those who oppose it. For us then the question will be: are we ready for it ?.
Cuba has come out of dictatorships in the past but the transformation to be experienced has very little resemblance to those in the past. More than four decades of communism will not be easy to erase. Approximately 75 % of the actual Cuban population in the Island has been born and educated by the Communist Party.
Clear concepts of freedom, respect for individual initiatives, protection for human rights and the Rule of Law are foreign to the vast majority in the Island. There are no political o civic institutions to be salvaged. The basic building block of society is non existent: the family. Material subsistence is achieved by receiving subsidies in the form of hard cash from the outside or from engaging in very limited self initiated and risky entrepreneurial activities such as paladares, prostitution or renting rooms to foreigners among others – not to mentioned the vast wide habit of stealing from the government outlets.
Is this at all new to most Cubans? No. It is stated again to remind each one of us of the hard and difficult tasks that ill entail to move from a command political and economic society to one in which the individual is sovereign and the State is at the service of the citizen.
Are we the first ones to face such tasks? No. Ten years ago the Berlin Wall fell and with it the soviet apparatus collapsed in Eastern Europe. Without a detailed and profound analysis , it is clear to see that most of these post Marxist countries have fallen into a vicious circle of incomplete reforms measures, of increasing inflation, of public budget deficits, of devaluations of their currencies and of myopic policies resulting in socialism with a thin layer of "democracy". In many countries of the world, including Russia, "democracy" has been combined with wholesale corruption of liberty, law and political institutions. Result: most Russians dislike the "system of free political and economic initiatives" and eventually ask: "What is democracy all about?".
Are we going to be immune to these same tribulations and difficulties? No. Some will say that the geographic position of Cuba in this continent and the existence of an economic and intellectual affluence of the "Cuban community in foreign lands" will play a decisive factor in altering the past experiences of "those far away European countries". Perhaps we should remind ourselves of the self assurance statements heard in Cuba in relation to the unimaginable advent of communism and its permanence in the Americas in 1959 and 1960.
For a successful transformation we need to formulate a straightforward vision which appeals to the heart of men and women who have spent their lives under a spiritually empty communist regimen. We must bring to the forefront proven and time-honored principles upon which democracy and pluralism will rest on.
At no time should the advocacy of sound principles to be sacrificed to notions of political expediency and therefore advanced under the banner of being "practical". The only practical course is to enumerate and then defend rationally the principles and then seek to gain the public opinion to support such principles. It would be unforgiven to favor unrealistic principles and institute programs even if held by a majority. That would represent an abandonment of the fight for a fundamental change in a post Marxist Cuba.
In the future of Cuba there will be a great need of clearly naming and explaining short and long range programs that promote the excision of marxism and socialism. This may be a shock to some and displeasure to many but it should be welcomed. This can contribute to the first steps in awakening from their long held beliefs.
Do we know where we are moving towards?. To gain democracy and pluralism in the future we must consider the factors which will produce such resulting product. These products are not given by decree or wishful thinking or mandate from national political groups or foreign governments. They must be home grown. The resulting products do indeed depend on the order of the factors opposite to the traditional rule of algebra.
We must strive to be a society in which the role of government is to serve the citizen and not vice versa. A society where government does protect individual rights and uses force only in their defense and in retaliation against the initiation of force.
We desperately need a society in which private property is recognized as the foremost human right – a society in which no one is made to suffer for his success or by being sacrificed to the envy of others or the coercion of government. A society where the individual could rest assure in the knowledge that their persons and property are free from aggression. We should have a country where it is firmly discarded the belief that the individual initiative rather than the government force is the evil that must be controlled.
On the way to have a different Cuba in the post Marxist era we must analyze what courses have favored those who preceded us in the task of ending communism. Most of these countries in Eastern Europe have already 10 year in the process and only some have started to make progress in escaping the statist system of government even when appearing dressed as "democracies".
Since the break up of the USSR in 1990 – corruption has swamped the region slowing growth, delaying reforms and discouraging foreign investments. Nepotism and payoffs do undermine the faith of the young people in the governments of these regions. Transactions costs are 25 to 30% of any economic deal in Central Asia. The average cost of bribery ranges from 6 to 8% of company revenues in some of these areas. Another reason for a deepening corruption: the leadership is largely the same as during the soviet era. (WSJ 7/5/00 pg A17).
Democracy without protection of individualism and property and the Rule of Law (all citizens are treated equal and due process is enforced) will be a hollow shell.
We must remember that a negotiated transfer of power requires compromise and there must be something in it for those who surrender power. In Eastern Europe this something was to trade political for economic power and people in those countries will readily point out that " the same old people are still on top" and the "old Marxists " are the worst "capitalists".
Bulgaria had a transition so soft that left the old marxists in power. Romania was violent but is not different. Only in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Germany have made serious attempts to wrestle with the past.
The future of Cuba needs serious and careful considerations now while we are still on time to avoid and repeat again the failures of 10 years of post communism in Europe.
Many excuses will be at hand – some will say: "first is to overthrow today's hierarchy and restore democracy, create parties and have elections" – along with thoughts that "we have overthrown dictatorships before and the U.S. will help us" etc – these and others will be mentioned but the real and difficult issues ahead of us must be handled with concrete principles converging towards a vision of what Cuba will be in the future.
The intention is not to initiate a program of social and political engineering. That would take us back to what has already been done for 41 years. The issues at stake are principles which will guide the nation. What is freedom and how do we establish it and even more important how do we safeguard it?
Shall we continue with a mixed economy with strong influence of the State or do we revert to the instauration of private property which protects humans rights and makes the individual sovereign?
Do we favor the establishment of the Rule of Law (Estado de Derecho) or do we develop a country governed by influential political groups and financial interests?
Do we demand fiscal responsibility from the government and take control of the currency from the politicians or do we allow the ruling class to spends what the nation does not have with possible recurrent devaluation of our currency?
Do we support and develop social institutions which will help the initiation of the Rule of Law or shall we be governed by the "old nomemklature"?
It is important to look at our own past and at the experience of others which have had the bitter and difficult experience of attempting to leave behind Marxism. Let us learn but more important let us think, argue and analyze now what path we are going to follow.
Sometimes is not what we do not know that is of concern but rather the strong opinion about something we do not understand but we think we know.
Either we take the comforting path of modifying communism to end up in the hands of socialism under the banner of a weak democracy or we let freedom rest on the bases of private property, unprescriptible individual rights, the Rule of Law and economic stability to allow then and only then the birth of democracy and pluralism so they become our way of life.
Make NO mistake. Nobody will do this for us. We are fortunate to have the time and the resources to confront this dilemma now. Good faith and improvisation are not guarantee of success. On the contrary. It is time not to ask socialism or death. It belongs to the pages of history. We must ask: is it possible socialism and democracy?
I have said in the past and I will repeat it: socialism and democracy together is a folly. Socialism and democracy is an attempt with disastrous consequences. The former carries in itself the seed of destruction for the latter. Together they are not the "third way" but the path to continue living in the political and economic miseries of the "third world".
Complacency and apathy are not helpful now. The future is now available and very fast will become the present – what it will bring depends on what we do now.
Closing with eloquent final remarks is the goal of many speeches and assays – this one leaves you with a question to ponder— Can we afford another failure in the history of Cuba? The answer has to be given by the conscious of each one of us.
Ricardo E. Calvo MD PhD