Analysis from Havana: Irritated by the slowness of reform

By Ariel Terrero

I have a friend who is irritated by the word ‘change’ as a denomination for the transformations begun in the Cuban economic model, already visible or announced in various fields and activities — in agriculture, in the investment strategy, in the decentralized financing rules for export sectors, in the salary systems …

Some of the modifications that promise to bear fruit soon can be seen in the ways state property in services to the public is managed. Already, experiments in the lease of barbershops, taxis and cafeterias have begun, or are being prepared.

But other changes are not that novel. Since the late 1990s, for example, the “Perfeccionamiento Empresarial” program has been in force, in an effort to modernize management rules for enterprises. But very early, its implementation lost momentum, due to the resistance, laziness, or sheer incapacity of many entities to adopt change.

Truth is, it’s not the first time — nor will it be the last — that the Revolution plunges into a process of “modernization of the Cuban economic model,” as President Raúl Castro put it before the national assembly in December.

What irritates me is not the word ‘change’, but the slowness of some changes. Although Raúl urged the deputies to avoid the risks of improvisation and haste, I don’t think that the slow speed obeys in all cases to cautiousness, which is recommendable in any act of government. Some of the announced modifications — such as straightening out the dual monetary system — and others that have already begun — such as the adjustments to gratuities and subsidies — will inevitably take time. These are not things that can be fixed with a pen stroke. They require a much more solid productive foundation than the one available today in Cuba.

But in the delay, I also perceive the ballast heaped on by those in charge of bringing one or another measure to port. I am talking about those in charge on all levels, because these are economic restructuring measures that cannot be accomplished simply by turning the central government helm. Their success depends on the participation and commitment of each work center, of each worker in the nation.

While some companies, for example, devote themselves with better aim and speed to introduce salaries in agreement with the results of work, in accordance with Resolution 9 of the Ministry of Labor, others falter, holed up behind a desk or stumbling over the obstacles of a planning process that does not achieve moving from paper to fact.

The transformations undertaken by agriculture are suffering such slowdown and wear and tear, as they clash with a distribution and retail system marked by nakedly bankrupt rules and regulations.

The change in the Cuban economic model must put in line an inefficient, bureaucratic-administrative management system that excessively centralized decision-making and, therefore, tended to dilute the responsibility of each economic actor. The state, as I heard a minister say recently, has functioned like the country’s big store, to which ministries and companies flock to ask for their ration, without considering costs nor yielding benefits to the nation in many cases.

If I understand well what’s happening, these concepts and practices have begun to change. The country evolves towards a model that seeks a more real commitment of each functionary and worker with economic objectives within reach, with gradual decentralization of administration and decision-making and, above all, with a decentralization of responsibility, which has long been one of the most feeble elements in the functioning of the Cuban economy.

The most evident evidence of this weakness is the tendency to spend without considering the availability of resources, or worse, to spend on investments and purchases that won’t yield revenues in reasonable time and quantity. This perturbs practically nobody, particularly those involved, nor does it have repercussions on salaries.

We are forced into a rectification not only by the severe limitation of resources the country is facing today, caused by the combination of global economic crisis, U.S. blockade, and internal inefficiencies. The compass points that way, I believe, most of all to find a sustainable way towards development.

Far from abandoning the political mark of the Revolution, this change will move the nation closer to a model of economic rationality. Without such a model, socialism is painfully unsustainable, no matter how pretty its social justice principles are.

This is the translation of a column by Ariel Terrero, published on the Cuba Profunda blog, a forum created by official Cuba in response to the opposition blogger phenomenon, which carries opinion pieces by official journalists. Terrero, information director at Bohemia magazine, is known for his frank economic commentary on Cuban state TV.

You May Also Like