Thursday, November 22, 2012

Misleading Balancing Act

Misleading Balancing Act / Miriam Celaya
Miriam Celaya, Translator: Norma Whiting

At first glance, it would seem that nothing changes in Cuba. The system
seems to gently continue down its inexorable march toward a crash that,
nevertheless, doesn't seem to ever arrive, just like the future promised
by the defunct revolution. People continue to do everything related to
the three national occupations of the highest priority: subsistence,
illegal activities and emigration, mired in a riverbed of static
appearance in which each side is trying to achieve its own goals, as if
they were independent of each other… As if they actually were.

During the past four years the Cuban government has established the
methodology of making up time by wasting it. Perhaps this has been the
only political contribution of the General-President: a formula that is
based on the accumulation of experiments emanating from a group of
reforms and counter-reforms designed to create the expectation of
economic changes without essentially changing anything, while time
passes and circumstances continue to deteriorate.

The closest thing to a government program in recent decades was endorsed
in a few guidelines few had faith in and that no one seems to remember
(including General R. Castro himself), whose "implementation" has turned
into some incomplete and inadequate aberrations, such as the
distribution of leasehold land to agricultural producers, the granting
of licenses to the self-employed, the approval of sales or the donation
of private homes and cars, and the expansion of the use of cellular
phones, among other stunts. The most recent and spectacular official
scripted act has been, without a doubt, the so-called "migration
reform", a kind of myth that has taken hold over large sectors of the
Cuban population, eager to emigrate, a trick whereby the government
passed the ball to the opposing field: starting January, 2013, ordinary
Cubans who behave will be able to travel without requiring the
humiliating exit permit. Instead, they will just have to apply for an
extremely expensive passport. After that, it will all depend on the
overseas destination conditionally extending a visa. Skill and ineptness
combined into yet another perverse hand at a balancing act without
giving up control.

The giddiness that such a wealth of "change" should generate in a
country whose characteristic permanent hallmark has been its resistance
to change had barely a brief effect. While some journalists and foreign
visitors think they see a sign of progress for Cubans in the official
measures and the numerous street kiosks and carts, or an opening leading
to the Island's democratization, the fact is that there have been no
real changes resulting in the improvement of life, the increase of the
people's capacity for consumption, or in palpable economic growth, not
to mention the rights issue. The brief bubble of hope of early kiosk
entrepreneurs has faded in the face of reality: prosperity is a crime in

This is reflected, for example, in the fact that agricultural production
is still insufficient because of the many obstacles imposed on the
peasants (including defaults on contracts by government entities, or the
continuing delays in the same, bureaucratic obstacles, lack of
guarantees to growers, the shortage of materials, etc..), while the
proliferation of self-employed sellers engaged in the marketing of these
products, far from bringing about a decline in prices of agricultural
products — as would occur in a in a healthy and normal market — has
caused a disproportionate rise in prices, shrinking the people's
purchasing power, especially of those in the lower income brackets. The
formula is quite simple: about the same amount of goods and consumers,
plus an increase in the number of sellers, results in an out-of-control
rise in prices in a country where the State is unable to even meet the
most minimum requirements of the more fragile and dependent sector of
the population, while wages and pensions are purely symbolic.

The issue of house sales is one of the more sensitive, due to the
critical state of the housing market, as hundreds of thousands of
families do not own their own homes. While it's true that now those who
own property may sell their homes, the difficulty consists in that few
Cubans who do not have a roof over their heads have the means to acquire
even the most modest apartment, though, compared with home prices in
other countries, Cubans may, for the most part, be considered "moderate".

A similar picture is presented in the rest of the "liberated" activities
in virtue of the so-called government reforms. In fact, each
"liberalization" brings with it the implicit increase in the cost of
living and extends the schism between the nouveau riche and the
dispossessed, which is proof that the problem of Cuba lies in the very
core of the system. Nothing will change as long as they don't change the
principles underpinning the regime. Consequently, the government won't
be the one that will promote changes that the country needs, because
changing what needs to be changed would mean the downfall of the regime.

Though this is a simple enough principle to explain, both the failure of
the so-called Cuban socialism, strengthening of state capitalism
established by the same class and the same "communist" subjects,
architects of the national aberration for over half century, as well as
the continuing and deepening socio-economic crisis, there is a kind of
delicate sustained equilibrium in certain key factors that have
prevented a social explosion, among which the following are significant:
the state of permanent poverty which glaringly limits the expectation of
great masses, who prefer escapism or survival rather than taking the
risk of confronting the regime or of –- at least — not making things
easier for the government; the lack of civic culture of the population;
the still lack of development of independent civil society groups and
their limited –- though growing– social influence; the use of repressive
forces to harass any manifestation of freedom, and the monopoly of the
media and communication by the government.

Nevertheless, such equilibrium in an existence of supersaturated
frustrations could tumble at any given moment. Sufficient for one
component to exceed its limits for the landscape to be transformed,
especially considering that the discontent is growing and the long
contained frustrations are a depth charge in a society biased by
fractures and inequalities. It is not only the steady growth of internal
dissent and of other sectors that criticize the government. Migration,
corruption, illegal activity and all expressions of escapism — including
apathy and pretense — are all forms of dissent that now dominate almost
the entire Cuban population, a fact that the government is aware of and
seeks to control by applying the precision of the repressors: political
persecution to civic activists by the minions of the so-called Section
21; economic persecution of producers and traders through corrupt
inspectors of the Comptroller.

The growing frustration on the Island is the seven-headed Hydra lurking
between dark crevices of a structure that stands on miraculous static,
and whose balancing should, right now, be the General's utmost concern.

Note to readers: As you may have noticed, I am making changes to this
page little by little. I hope you forgive some slips due to my faulty
connectivity (which slows down the process of updating the image in the
new template), compounded by my lack of mastery of the technology.
Anyway, I'll keep updating the posts at least once a week … Don't give
up on me. Thanks.. Hugs.


Translated by Norma Whiting

November 19 2012

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