Cuban Co-ops: Legitimate Children or Bastards?
May 22, 2014
HAVANA TIMES — During a visit to a Cuban farm-prison, I interviewed a
very polite gentleman working as a teacher for the other inmates. In the
course of our conversation, he confessed he had ended up in prison for
misappropriating resources at the "socialist State company" he managed.
I thought it comical that a confessed embezzler continued to use
"politically correct" terms like those. These are so deeply rooted in
the mindset of high public officials that they make use of them even
after having been demoted or convicted for theft.
Then, I asked myself whether those who defend the system are wise to
refer to these unproductive and inefficient companies, eaten up by
growing managerial corruption, as "State socialist."
In the countryside, to mention one example, State socialist farms are
the least productive from the word go, even though they have the most
land, the best machinery and all of the State's resources at their disposal.
It is a contradiction to say that the current system must be
consolidated while calling some of these abominations, which discredit
the State and the viability of socialism, "State socialist companies."
Foxes and Cooperatives
Ironically, State companies look a lot less "socialist" than
cooperatives. The latter choose their leaders at worker assemblies, draw
up their statutes collectively and distribute benefits more fairly.
The process of creating cooperatives, however, is making slow progress,
with the government putting the fox to look after the hens. Cooperatives
must first secure approval from the ministries that manage many of the
"State socialist farms" that compete with them.
It is not unusual for these ministries to take more than a year to
approve each cooperative. The process is long, slow and complex. The
required documents are submitted to the Municipal Administrative Council
(CAM) and, from there, they are sent to the Provincial Administrative
When the cooperative has received the green light from these two lower
institutions, it is ready for the big leagues. The application is passed
on to the ministry, many of which have only one official to process
requests arriving from Cuba's 169 municipalities.
Not long ago, I told a story involving the Ministry of Construction,
where cooperatives had to wait months to receive approval because the
only official who processed their applications was sick and they hadn't
assigned anyone to take his place.
If the said officially ultimately approves the creation of the
cooperative, they convey the application to the minister. With the
minister's signature, the documents can be passed on to the Commission
for the Implementation of the Party Guidelines, which again goes over
the cooperative's application.
Those aspiring to establish a cooperative will have to fill up more and
more forms down this long, bureaucratic road. In addition to those
required by law, the CAM has its own form and the ministries others,
forms applicants will only find out about on reaching that level.
The request to form a cooperative is studied by each body before being
elevated to the next level, where they will again be analyzed. Finally,
they are sent to the Council of Ministers, which has the last word.
There are few other countries in the world where setting up a simple
air-conditioner repair or shoe manufacturing cooperative requires the
approval of so many different entities and the final green light from
the full ministerial cabinet.
This Kafkaesque process explains why only 246 of 498 cooperatives
requesting authorization have been approved. Some applicants, tired of
so much waiting, have begun to work together illegally, securing a
self-employment license and working collectively afterwards.
There is simply too much apprehension surrounding the members-owners of
cooperatives, despite the fact that they could well constitute the
ideological common ground in Cuba, for both collectivist socialists and
those who demand the existence of an owner.
They are also the quickest way of achieving a real wage increase. The
self-employed and members of cooperatives, in fact, earn three times as
much as State employees. On occasions, they earn as much as 10 times
what the State pays.
For cooperatives to flourish, however, Cuba must eliminate much of the
bureaucracy today deciding their fate and put behind its fears and
prejudices. Conceiving of cooperatives as a bastard-child that is
undeserving of the surname of "socialist" could be a serious mistake.
Perhaps one day Cuba's politicians and press will understand that
recognizing cooperatives as a legitimate child honors the system much
more than continuing to defend a first-born that everyone knows is both
clumsy and reckless.
(*) Visit the web page of Fernando Ravsberg.
Source: Cuban Co-ops: Legitimate Children or Bastards? - Havana
Times.org - http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=103816