For all that, the period marked significant transitions, some already mentioned. Let me contextualize those a little more. First there were personnel changes at the top of the state and vanguard party hierarchies—but not too much change. Raúl Castro has made a point of seeking to move forward from the rapidly diminishing cohort of históricos to a (relatively) younger generation of new leaders. The ascent of Miguel Mario Diaz Canel to the Cuban Presidency was the much publicized poster child of that movement. The appointment of a premier this year may be another if, as suggested it may well be a woman of Afro-Cuban ancestry. Second the adoption of the Conceptualización del modelo económico y social Cubano de desarrollo socialista suggested an ideological forward movement. That forward movement suggested that the vanguard was willing to move away from the traditional model firmly established during the 1st PCC Congress in the mid-1970s to a model better suited to the times. Third, the 2030 Economic Plan (Plan national de desarrollo económico y social hasta 2030: Propuesta de vision de la nación, ejes y sectores estratégicos) suggested reform not just of the political but also of the economic model “as applied” to the challenges of actual practice. Lastly the process of constitutional reform suggested a move toward political reform that was distinct both from traditional liberalization and from the Chinese Communist model. Reconceptualization, constitution, 2030 Plan and Lineaminetos were to varying degrees the product of a well publicized new model of endogenous socialist democratic action. That process was undertaken under the string guidance of the vanguard party but also permitted well managed interventions by both the representative assembly of popular power, and the (well organized and managed)) masses themselves.
Does this suggest a new “Cuban Adjustment Program”? The reference, of course, is ironic and looks back to a different sort of adjustment program, the US program that permitted Cuban emigration to bypass the usual procedures Cuban Adjustment Act, Public Law 89-732, is a United States federal law enacted on November 2, 1966. The context just described thus frames the central issues of these remarks: First, the nature and extent of internal Cuban legal adjustments necessary for Cuba to enter into a fully normalized relationship with the rest of the world. Second, the constraints of Cuban geo-politics on the possibility of realizing is trajectory. And that, in turn, gives rise to the questions with respect to which the rest of these remarks will focus: What adjustments might Cuba have to undertake if it is to embed itself within the structures of global trade and finance? To what extent is Cuba is disposed to consider these possible reforms? What may be possible in the aftermath of the U.S. tilt toward the Caribbean of 2019?
What I will suggest is that the fundamental expectations of the global economic order for a organization of the economic and political life of the state are fundamentally incompatible with the emerging Cuban political and economic model. That incompatibility stands at the center of the fundamental contradiction facing the Cuban state. But it is one that is not the product of serendipity but one of a quite deliberate calculation. For Cuban policymakers, the way around the fundamental contradiction is to bifurcate the state from out of a cordon sanitaire that is constructed at the borders of the national territory. While the Cuban state, as a representative of the nation is willing to reintegrate itself in global production, projecting that participation outward. Within the national territory, however, the Cuban state has adopted a policy of strong segregation in order to preserve its ideological model from contamination by what it sees as the corrupting capitalist principles at the heart of global production. The success of this strategy has yet to be seen.
This sensibility was well evidenced in the 2018-19 Constitutional reform project. That project set quite firm boundaries to the space within which popular consultation would be treated as worthy of consideration, and as well the forms within which legitimate engagement could be recognized. At the same time the state tolerated a substantial amount of “unofficial” and “off the books” discussion and engagement, even on the constitutional reform websites it maintained. The key element was the transposition of the central ideological elements of the Conceptualización. The focus was on the construction of the administrative apparatus. Left intact, of course, was both the underlying political ideology and the authority of the PCC as the vanguard party in power and the holder of supreme political authority through its leadership and guidance role. That it changed the vocabulary of power—from Marxist and Leninist to socialist was of little moment; the structures remain well entrenched. One understands the Cuban constitution as Nkisi—as the means of channeling power that is not inherent in the object (the constitution) but which is derived from an extra-constitutional source (the PCC Basic Line and its Conceptualización).
But one must end where one started--with ideology. The analysis presented is neither a legal nor political analysis. It is an analysis grounded in the exposure of the ideological premises that both constrain and direct thinking and responses (to events, threats and opportunities) from a very specific worldview. For those who read the documents--Lineamientos, Conceptualizacón, and 2030 Plan as political or legal documents, of course, a very different type of analysis is plausible. One can always make documents read the way one wants--two centuries of US Constitutional hermeneutics has made that abundantly clear as a matter of law and politics. But we are not speaking here of the use of the documents to some specific end--a freer market, political liberalization or the like. Instead we are speaking here about how the documents themselves reveal their own hermeneutical constraints, constraints that are deeply embedded in the documents and then shape the ends that seem plausible variations of the legitimately possible. They also expose the disjunctions of communication when systems with divergent ideologies seek to speak and respond to each other through a communication that uses the same words but in which the words acquire quite different hues and suggest quite distinct interpretive possibilities. It is within these ideological clashes that the realities of macro and micro engagements within and beyond Cuba will take place, and choices made about the way that Cuba engages with global production. It will also determine the way that Cuba's friends and allies respond. Both are very much in evidence in 2019.
For further reading on these issues, please see: Backer, Larry Catá, Cuba’s Caribbean Marxism: Essays on Ideology, Government, Society, and Economy in the Post Fidel Castro Era (Little Sir Press 2018). Thank you.