BY CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER | FirmaPress.com
Hurriedly, some days ago, Fidel Castro sent an enigmatic note to Round Table, a TV program staged by his most fanatic disciples. The sentence that sparked a furor in the international press could be interpreted as his definitive retirement: ``My fundamental duty is not to cling to posts, much less to obstruct the path of people younger than me, but to contribute experiences and ideas whose modest value comes from the exceptional era I was fated to live through.’‘
Still, he wasn’t retiring. When he indulges in polemics with his people, Castro always talks with his mouth twisted and his tongue tied, like the mediums at séances. The statement meant something else. He was expressing his displeasure at some changes that, against his heretofore absolute will, are happening in Cuba. For example, the old dictator disagreed with the announcement on Dec. 10 that Cuba would sign an agreement with the United Nations in March on the subject of economic, social, cultural and political rights.
He feared, and he so stated in writing, that the agreement might open the door to independent labor unions. Freedom horrifies him.
Right to enter, leave
And, from his perspective as Grand Warden, he was right. Several days later, engineer Oswaldo Payá, one of the most creative and restless brains among the democrats in the domestic opposition, dared to submit to the National Assembly a bill that would allow Cubans to enter and leave the country freely. After all, that’s a right consecrated in the agreement that the Havana government swears it will sign.
Within the circle of power, the struggle is between the reformers and the hard-liners. Another way to say it (the one Fidel likes) is between the pragmatists and the ‘‘principleists.’’ The pragmatists are willing to promote changes that will make the disastrous Cuban system of production more efficient. The principleists, clinging to the revolutionary principles and convinced of the virtues of egalitarianism (even if it makes everyone equally poor), believe that the important thing is to be consistent with Marxist ideology and to insist on collectivism.
The pragmatists, dazzled by the success attained by China and Vietnam, are willing to coexist with the capitalist methods of production and to maintain good relations with the First World nations, including the United States. The principleists, led by Fidel Castro, believe that the duty of revolutionaries is to fight against the hated capitalist world, on to victory forever, Comandante, and they postulate the supremacy of ‘‘the policy’’ over ``the economy.’‘
On the other hand, the correlation of forces is very unequal. The principleists are only Fidel and a small group of acolytes willing to follow him even into hell. The pragmatists, led by Raúl Castro, account for a huge majority in the governing cupola. However, they all acknowledge Fidel’s enormous weight and know that they cannot carry out the reform against the opposition of the moribund Comandante.
What is, in effect, the reform that Fidel opposes? In essence, six lines of change:
• The true decentralization of economic decisions.
• The introduction of material incentives linked to results, in the knowledge that the incentives will generate inequalities, in exchange for greater indices of production that will alleviate the never-ending shortages in society.
• The authorization of the unfettered sale and purchase of homes.
• The reintroduction of small private properties in the agriculture and cattle sectors.
• The legitimization of clandestine work activities and black-market transactions (the creation of a sincere economy).
• The drafting of a new, less-repressive penal code that eliminates the death penalty and alleged crimes—such as showing disrespect for the state—that are unacceptable in the modern world.
Fidel is right when he maintains that these reforms, though minor and intended to bring a minimum of material well-being to the population, run totally counter to his model of an egalitarian communist beehive that will be the great showcase of orthodox Marxism. Raúl is right when he posits that, half a century after that system was imposed, it has unquestionably become a disaster that cruelly mortifies the Cubans.
Fidel is right when he claims that by accepting those changes at the end of his life he would be admitting that his governance has been a total failure. Raúl is right when the states that he has neither the authority of his brother, nor the control over the government and society that he needs to govern amid the rubble and poverty generated by a system in which almost no one believes.
Among his closest people, Raúl repeats, with great preoccupation, that either the subhuman conditions in which Cubans live are improved or he will soon have to call out the troops to repress mass demonstrations of discontent.
Who will win this conflict? This time, probably the reformers. Why this time? Because the problem is not new: It came up in the 1970s, the ‘80s during the perestroika, the ‘90s after the disappearance of the Soviet Union, and is coming up again. In the previous episodes, Fidel invariably crushed the reformers. But now he is dying, can hardly move out of his bed, and has lost the ability to impose his will. To him, all this must be an unbearable punishment.