Saturday, July 31, 2021

Domingo Amuchastegui «Cambiamos o nos hundimos» ["We Change or We Sink"]--The Current Central Contradiction of Cuban Society Under Current Conditions



Like all things that have even the slightest connection with Cuba, the popular protests of the Cuban masses that erupted in globally noticed form on 11 July 2021 have presented the situation in Cuba in very specific and ideologically conscious forms. It is one given particularly pointed discursive form in the shadow of the intensifying disagreements between the Cuban state and its artistic and intellectual communities since the reinforcement of Leninist discipline on their work, and spiced by the divisions among the U.S. intellectual left (the U.S. right is divided but its discourse does not drive policy in the US at the moment),  The same is true of the countermeasures--discursive and physical--of the Cuban state apparatus. Both discursive approaches tend to skew analysis if only because analysis has bee aligned with political and ideological objectives at least since the ate 1950s. In all of this Cuba continues to play its critical global role as an abstract terrain into which other materialize their own fantasies about idealized political normative realities.

It is in this quite lively and heated context that Domingo Amuchastegui has published a clear eyed analysis that is worth reading. I agree substantially with its viewpoint and assessments. I particularly appreciated the subtext: that the reason that things remain unchanged for the last 40 years or so is because it is in the interests of the major players (and their intellectual servants) to ensure that everyone is committed to change but that change does not occur. The bottom line, as it always tends to be in these erupts of popular protest, revolves at a conceptual level around battles for control of the narrative of representation, of oppression, and of legitimacy offering solutions (abstract or concrete.  Domingo notes that this narrative remains up for grabs.
On the other hand, both parties claim the monopoly of embodying "the people" [its demos]. Big mistake. Vast segments of the polity populate both sides of this conflict. There are thousands of Cubans protesting and thousands still loyal to the government; a scenario that recalls that of "masses against masses." Such polarization stems from the current situation of hardships, extreme shortages, total lack of incentives (both material and socio-cultural), dollarization (beyond what is usual in the Cuban context) and, in particular, the reaction to the effects of the so-called «Ordenamiento».
That is, of course, less obvious to most people than I would have thought possible, but people tend to be blinded by their desires—and so both left and right (and especially in this country what passes for its intelligentsia) can be easily managed with the appropriate inducements. And Cuba has been an ideological fetish object for consumption by global intellectuals (of all political schools) since 1959. The current situation in Cuba has produced a stability (with the appearance of dynamic possibilities) that serves those who have made careers or fortunes or achieved positions of prominence on their maintenance.  The cultivation of hope, and the jabbing of the status quo at the margins is a very profitable endeavor for everyone on all sides of the  conflict.  The overarching themes are frustration.  And the undertones of that frustration tend to be avoided precisely because of the ideological investment in the resolution of the "problem" of Cuba by the antagonists on both sides of the Straits of Florida. Those undertones underline the constant disjunctions between what the antagonists say (their discursive positions) and what they do (their performance of meaning).

On the other hand, and here Domingo and I tend to disagree; I still believe the Cuban state apparatus will follow some contextually appropriate variant of the Hong Kong playbook (because that is what they want and because the utility of that approach is likely being whispered in the ears of those with authority over such matters in Cuba by those whose whisperings tend to be influential). That playbook involves patience, provocations on the ground to change the optics, a strong focus on discourse and optics (the listening sessions with local academics was a nice touch); and then discipline of everyone identified as a "troublemaker" or "instigator" certainly since 11 July, especially those who it may be worth making an example (and those who have not made some sort of accommodating arrangement with the state or PCC).  And the efforts of intellectuals to foment some sort of "internationalism form below" will meet the same fate as the similar movement toward international autonomy within sovereignty movement at the heart of the Hong Kong street protests--especially given the anemic support from international actors "from above." But again ideology and the fantasy-fetish that is the "ideal-ideal" of Cuba drives these actions on both sides.
I think that Domingo's objection that might be made to this line of reasoning also has power: that Cuba is not HK and the local conditions and historical circumstances will not produce a similar result. That also is correct I think—but it will not prevent people from trying the HK approach—especially those very panicked members of the Cuban nomenklatura who refuse to face the changing economic and social conditions that their lack of vision since the VIth Congress has produced. For them this is personal, ironically in the same way that it has become personal for the masses on the streets (once one wades through the post hoc ideological discourse that is packaged for the consumption by prospective allies). And it ia always worth remembering that Raul Castro and the Cuban military establishment (FAR) have not yet disappeared.  Domingo is absolutely correct in noting that this is a problem brought on by the stubborn intransigence of the Communist Party itself--not merely one of implementation, but of a deliberately rigid dogmatism that refused to acknowledge the emerging realities even as other Marxist Leninist states showed that this was not merely possible but power reinforcing in ways appealing to the sensibilities of developing states (discussed at length HERE).  What made this intransigence tragic was that any number of officials have understood this since almost the beginning of the 21st century but have been unable to move the core Party leadership. U.S. policy provides the cover. . . and the excuse (echoed by nomenklatura sympathizers in the US Congress and the social movement intelligentsia in the US. . . an ironic pity) . . . but is it its cause. That lies squarely with the leadership whose choices and ideological risk aversion has brought current conditions to this point. 
Domingo's discussion of this point is worth careful consideration. His closing suggestion, that "The short term will be decisive, and it will be undertaken on the basis of the forgotten premise that: 'We change or we sink'" is nicely juxtaposed against the action of decades by the state and other actors.  It is a reminder that explosions occur in an instant, but that its character is the product of layers of decisions, of personal and institutional politics, of changes caused by or exogenous to, the society now confronted by the central contradictions all of this actions finally bring to their decisive stage. In this case the central contradiction  is not those critical to the development of Chinese Marxist Leninism (class struggle to the development of productive forces to the more equitable distribution of social goods). It is instead this: the alignment of the political vanguard with its people, and of its ideology with the conditions of the present historical era.The failure of the Party's leadership to do either (or to do them well, even though its leaders know very well what must be done) will contribute to the factors that will determine a decisive outcome in the short term.

The essay was originally published in Spanish in the blog La Joven Cuba, auspiciously enough on the 26th July 2021 (a very important date in the Cuban revolutiobary calendar which marks this year the 68th anniversary of the Fidel Castro led raid on the Moncada Barracks that marks the start of the revolutionary movement).  La Joven Cuba was started by students at the University of Matanzas in 2010. It describes itself as "un proyecto de análisis e incidencia política en Cuba con más de una década de historia. Sus miembros y colaboradores se extienden por varias provincias de la isla, América Latina y Estados Unidos." (a project of analysis and political events in Cuba with more than a decade of history. Its members and collaborators can be found in several provinces of the island, Latin America and the United States. LJC emerged in 2010 as a blog based at the University of Matanzas). 

It is republished here with permission, along with my translation of the original Spanish into English. 
Domingo Amuchastegui has had a long and distinguished career. He has served as Cuba's Chargé d'Affaires in Guatemala, was Department Head of Socialist Countries at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department Head of the Organization Departament at the Tricontinental Organization (1960s-70s), Chief Analyst in the Intelligence Directorate and "Liberación", and a Professor of Contemporary History and Regional Conflicts at the Universidad Pedagógica and the Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales (Cuba). He is the author of Historia Contemporánea de Asia y Africa (4 volumes), Palestina: Dimensiones de un Conflicto, Angola in the XX Century (1988)and the co-author of Intelligence and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In addition he has written hundred of articles and essays for Cuba News, Cuba Standard, and various Cuban publications. He participated in fact-finding missions throughout Africa, Asia and Chile, served as Chief analyst during Fidel Castro's visit to Chile and adviser to the Angolan Government (1986-1988). He has resided in the United States since 1994.



«Cambiamos o nos hundimos», sentencia que anunciaba profundas transformaciones, fue pronunciada por Raúl hace más de una década. Un poco después, Fidel Castro sentenciaba al referirse al socialismo: «Esto no nos sirve ni a nosotros…». Semejantes afirmaciones —además de ser verdades indiscutibles— parecían prometer cambios significativos. Falso. Ha ocurrido todo lo contrario.

Hoy nos asomamos a una realidad que insinúa, dolorosamente, un señalado revés. El 11 de julio e incidentes posteriores marcan el hundimiento del viejo modelo sobre el cual quiso perpetuarse una experiencia agotada.

Examinemos algunos puntos clave:

1. No le concedo el mérito a EE.UU.; al Miami cubano; a la oposición pagada (como siempre la he caracterizado) que lleva más de seis décadas tratando de hacer reventar el país cual olla de presión (tesis propugnada desde 1960); y tampoco a los delincuentes que siempre acompañan semejantes estallidos sociales, de ser los gestores e inspiradores del 11/7/21.

En especial, dejemos de echarle la culpa de todos nuestros males al imperio. Desde Washington hasta la Calle 8, y a los asalariados en la Isla; a todos los tomó por sorpresa los hechos de ese día, como también ocurrió con los gobernantes cubanos. Obviamente, los factores hostiles de inmediato tratan de capitalizar lo ocurrido por medio de su andamiaje mediático.

2. Sustento el criterio de que lo ocurrido es, típicamente, una explosión social espontánea de considerable extensión, que abarcó numerosas provincias y ciudades e involucró a miles de personas. Se aprecia en ella una composición social donde se distinguen zonas y barrios de reconocida pobreza y en la que sobresalen negros y jóvenes, pilares de la revolución en décadas pasadas.

No han faltado expresiones de una  suerte de neo-anexionismo, al enarbolar no pocos símbolos de EE.UU., en tanto que en las calles de Miami se pedía, una y otra vez, la intervención por parte de Washington, cual suma absoluta de todas las soluciones.

Cambiamos (1)

Cubanos en Miami piden la intervención tras las protestas del 11-J (Foto: Pedro Portal/Miami Herald)

3. Por otro lado, ambas partes reclaman el monopolio del término pueblo. Gran error. Amplios segmentos de pueblo se hallan a ambos lados. Hay miles de cubanos protestando y miles todavía del lado del gobierno; un escenario que recuerda aquello de «masas contra masas». Una tal polarización se  deriva de la actual situación de penurias, escaseces extremas, falta total de alicientes (tanto materiales como socio-culturales), la dolarización (más allá de lo habitual en el contexto cubano) y, en particular, la reacción frente a los efectos del llamado «Ordenamiento».

 A esto último le concedo especial importancia. Durante treinta años se dijo y repitió que la dirigencia cubana nunca aplicaría una «terapia de choque», pero, en la práctica, el «Ordenamiento» se tradujo precisamente en una monumental «terapia de choque» que dejó a la inmensa mayoría de la población en una situación en que precios y salarios devenían categorías antagónicas, alimentada por una hiperinflación.

4. La informatización y las redes sociales introdujeron una dinámica multiplicadora y súbita sin precedentes, que se trató de silenciar por parte de los monopolios cibernéticos del Estado. Esto fue un acto inútil y de cobardía política. 

¿A quién beneficia el cierre de Internet y otros servicios? ¿Al gobierno cubano? Ciertamente no. Beneficia a los oponentes y desacredita al que lo hace.

5. La responsabilidad esencial de todo esto descansa en la resistencia institucionalizada a cualquier cambio significativo, con enfoque abarcador y que suponga un rediseño integral del modelo probadamente inoperante que ha descansado en un conjunto de dogmas absolutistas-estatistas como Partido-Estado, Partido de la Nación Cubana, totalmente inadecuados y superados tras sesenta y dos años del triunfo revolucionario.

La urgencia de semejantes cambios se hizo patente en 1980 con el episodio del Mariel. Nada se hizo, se trató de descalificar a todos como «escoria», y la rigidez del sistema se reforzó. La llamada Rectificación de Errores de 1986 originó esperanzas de cambio, pero sin aportar nada efectivo. En 1991, previo al IV Congreso del Partido, se suscitó una ola de propuestas de cambios radicales en el momento de la discusión del Llamamiento al IV Congreso. 

La respuesta de la dirección del Partido fue de rechazo total y severas recriminaciones y advertencias. Una vez más, esta dirigencia liquidaba toda posibilidad de cambio, incluyendo la expansión del proceso de Perfeccionamiento Económico por ellos promovido y que era propugnado por las FAR desde inicios de los ochenta.          

6. Con el desplome del socialismo real y de la Unión Soviética (1989-1991), se presentó la coyuntura idónea para impulsar una remodelación abarcadora; sin embargo, no se hizo cosa alguna, sino que se profundizaron los mecanismos absolutistas, el abroquelamiento. La adopción de algunos parches, aquí o allá, poco lograban en la ya urgente necesidad de transformaciones profundas.

El argumento de que «si aflojamos, la situación se nos va de las manos», prevalecía una y otra vez. Mientras, se hacían cada vez más visibles —deviniendo comidilla popular— la corrupción y enriquecimiento de muchos dirigentes, sus hijos y nietos —incluyendo cuentas y viajes al extranjero— y, con ello, un desgaste acentuado de la autoridad moral que debe distinguir a cualquier dirigente.

7. Los dirigentes cubanos empezaron a vivir de espaldas a la realidad, rehusando percibir que las épocas y valores habían cambiado, que las generaciones más jóvenes ya no eran los entusiastasrevolucionarios de los sesenta ni los obedientes militantes de otras décadas; que sesenta años no transitan por gusto y que los mecanismos de comunicación e interconexión de una generación a otra se modifican raigalmente. Para estos dirigentes, el tiempo al interior del país parecía haberse detenido.

8. A la altura del VI Congreso del Partido parecieron soplar vientos de cambios, pero sin culminar en nada real. El VII Congreso se traduciría en la supresión de tales posibilidades y una fuerte contracorriente a algunas de las medidas o parches Una vez más se imponía la marcha atrás.

9. Llegó entonces el VIII Congreso (abril del 2021) sin que se construyeran amplios debates y consensos preliminares, a pesar de que los niveles de pobreza y carencias alcanzaban niveles insospechados y de una gravedad casi imposible de imaginar, empeorados por la guerra económica de Trump y la pandemia. El VIII Congreso pudo representar el hito o viraje hacia una ruta de transformaciones profundas. Pero no fue así.

Cambiamos (3)

El presidente Miguel Díaz Canel en su discurso durante el VIII Congreso del Partido (Foto: Estudios Revolución)

Fue esta la última posibilidad que hubiera podido tal vez apaciguar las tensiones y alentar la remodelación. Y todo esto es lo que conduce directamente al estallido social del 11 de julio, sus secuelas y ulteriores y renovadas tensiones, interrogantes e incógnitas.

10. ¿En qué direcciones se proyectan tales tensiones, interrogantes e incógnitas? Lo primero y más urgente a definir es: ¿colapsa el gobierno? Categóricamente no… por ahora. Pero su imagen interna e internacional, su prestigio y legitimidad se han visto seriamente erosionados; no volverá a ser lo mismo ni remotamente; el estigma del 11 de julio será imborrable.

11. Serán su disposición y capacidad para rediseñar integralmente el sistema las que digan la última palabra. Un factor agravante a tomar en cuenta y que limita en extremo cualquier diseño de cambios es que el gobierno cubano enfrenta una situación notable de bancarrota, endeudado en extremo en todas las latitudes (Club de París, China y Rusia), es un paria en las relaciones financieras internacionales.

Dicha situación se agrava tras el 11 de julio, pues a los ojos de potenciales inversionistas y turistas, una situación como esa no es nada atrayente. En un contexto tal, únicamente cabe acometer el rediseño integral en el orden interno y de cara a la inversión extranjera y a la reinserción de Cuba en las instituciones financieras internacionales, si es que se desea asegurar flujos de capital y tecnologías a mediano plazo.

12. A corto plazo habrá que hacer maravillas en materia de política agraria; de pleno y fácil acceso de las MPYMES a todas las actividades, su respaldo financiero sin asfixias fiscales; sustancial reducción del monopolio estatal y muchas otras que, repetidamente, han sugerido y aconsejado economistas cubanos. No se trata de parchecitos como los adoptados en estos días (cero restricciones a los viajeros cubanos que traen mercancías para familiares y pequeños negocios, pagos a plazo y otros) que parecen sacados de una tienda de antigüedades y que eran urgentes desde los ochenta.

13. Y si unido a esos hipotéticos cambios, se produjera el milagro de alguna mejoría de relaciones con EE.UU. —que parece difícil con Biden pues su administración busca a cualquier costo el colapso del gobierno cubano con el fin de ganar la Florida para su Partido— y una igual mejoría de la pandemia, entonces mejorarían las cosas, pero nunca a corto plazo. No es ni siquiera previsible en un tiempo cercano llegar a los cinco millones de turistas ni tampoco a un flujo de 600 mil cubanos como visitantes.

14. El corto plazo será el que decida, y lo hará sobre la olvidada premisa de que: «Cambiamos o nos hundimos».

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 "We change or we sink"
written by Domingo Amuchastegui

"We change or we sink", a sentence that announced profound transformations, was pronounced by Raúl more than a decade ago. A little later, Fidel Castro declared when referring to socialism: "This does not serve us or us ...". Such statements — apart from being indisputable truths — seemed to promise significant changes. False. The opposite has happened.

Today we look at a reality that hints, painfully, a marked setback. July 11 and subsequent incidents mark the collapse of the old model on which an exhausted experience wanted to perpetuate.

Let's examine some key points:

1. I do not give the credit to the US; to Cuban Miami; the paid opposition (as I have always characterized it) that has been trying to blow up the country like a pressure cooker for more than six decades (thesis advocated since 1960); and neither to the criminals who always accompany such social outbreaks, to be the managers and inspirers of 7/11/21.

In particular, let's stop blaming all our ills on the empire. From Washington to Calle 8, and to wage earners on the Island; Everyone was taken by surprise by the events of that day, as was also the case with the Cuban leaders. Obviously, the hostile factors immediately try to capitalize on what happened through their media scaffolding.

2. I support the criterion that what happened is, typically, a spontaneous social explosion of considerable extension, which encompassed numerous provinces and cities and involved thousands of people. It shows a social composition where areas and neighborhoods of recognized poverty are distinguished and in which blacks and young people stand out, pillars of the revolution in past decades.

There has been no lack of expressions of a kind of neo-annexationism, hoisting not a few symbols of the United States, while in the streets of Miami, the intervention by Washington was requested, time and again, which appears as the absolute sum of all solutions.

Cambiamos (1)Cubans in Miami call for intervention after the J11 protests (Photo: Pedro Portal / Miami Herald)

3. On the other hand, both parties claim the monopoly of embodying "the people" [its demos]. Big mistake. Vast segments of the polity populate both sides of this conflict. There are thousands of Cubans protesting and thousands still loyal to the government; a scenario that recalls that of "masses against masses." Such polarization stems from the current situation of hardships, extreme shortages, total lack of incentives (both material and socio-cultural), dollarization (beyond what is usual in the Cuban context) and, in particular, the reaction to the effects of the so-called «Ordenamiento».

 I attach particular importance to the latter. For thirty years it was said and repeated that the Cuban leadership would never apply a "shock therapy", but, in practice, the "Ordinamiento" was precisely translated into a monumental "shock therapy" that left the vast majority of the population in a situation in which prices and wages became antagonistic categories, fueled by hyperinflation.

4. Computerization and social networks introduced an unprecedented and sudden multiplying dynamic, which the cybernetic monopolies of the State tried to silence. This was a useless act of political cowardice.

    Who benefits from the shutdown of the Internet and other services? The Cuban government? Certainly not. It benefits opponents and discredits the one who does it.

5. The essential responsibility for all of this rests on the institutionalized resistance to any significant change, with a comprehensive approach and involving a comprehensive redesign of the proven inoperative model that has rested on a set of absolutist-statist dogmas such as Party-State, Party of the Cuban Nation, totally inadequate and overcome after sixty-two years of the revolutionary triumph.

The urgency of such changes became clear in 1980 with the Mariel episode. Nothing was done, they tried to disqualify everyone as "scum", and the rigidity of the system was reinforced. The so-called Rectification of Errors of 1986 gave rise to hopes of change, but without contributing anything effective. In 1991, prior to the IV Congress of the Party, a wave of proposals for radical changes arose at the time of the discussion of the Call to the IV Congress.

The response of the Party leadership was one of total rejection and severe recriminations and warnings. Once again, this leadership liquidated any possibility of change, including the expansion of the Economic Improvement process promoted by them and that was advocated by the FAR since the early eighties.

6. With the collapse of real socialism and the Soviet Union (1989-1991), the ideal situation arose to promote a comprehensive remodeling; However, nothing was done, but the absolutist mechanisms were deepened, the buckling. The adoption of some patching up, here or there, did little to relieve the already urgent need for profound transformations.

The argument that "if we let go, the situation gets out of hand" prevailed over and over again. Meanwhile, the corruption and enrichment of many leaders, their children and grandchildren —including accounts and trips abroad— became increasingly visible — becoming popular talk — and, with it, an accentuated erosion of the moral authority that should distinguish any individual. leader.

7. Cuban leaders began to live with their backs to reality, refusing to perceive that times and values ​​had changed, that the younger generations were no longer the enthusiastic revolutionaries of the sixties or the obedient militants of other decades; that sixty years do not pass by pleasure and that the mechanisms of communication and interconnection from one generation to another are fundamentally modified. For these leaders, time inside the country seemed to have stopped.

8. At the height of the VI Party Congress, the winds of change seemed to be blowing, but without culminating in anything real. The VII Congress would result in the suppression of such possibilities and a strong countercurrent to some of the measures or patches. Once again, the reverse gear was imposed.

9. The VIII Congress then arrived (April 2021) without extensive debates and preliminary consensuses being built, despite the fact that the levels of poverty and deprivation reached unsuspected levels and of a severity almost impossible to imagine, worsened by the economic war of Trump and the pandemic. The VIII Congress could represent the milestone or turn towards a path of profound transformations. But it was not like that.
We change (3)

Cambiamos (3)

El presidente Miguel Díaz Canel en su discurso durante el VIII Congreso del Partido (Foto: Estudios Revolución)

President Miguel Díaz Canel in his speech during the VIII Party Congress (Photo: Estudios Revolución)

This was the last possibility that could have perhaps defused tensions and encouraged remodeling. And all this is what leads directly to the social outbreak of July 11, its aftermath and subsequent and renewed tensions, questions and unknowns.

10. In what directions are such tensions, questions and unknowns projected? The first and most urgent thing to define is: does the government collapse? Categorically not… for now. But its internal and international image, its prestige and legitimacy have been seriously eroded; It will never be the same even remotely; the stigma of July 11 will be indelible.

11. Your willingness and ability to fully redesign the system will have the last word. An aggravating factor to take into account and which limits any design of changes to the extreme is that the Cuban government faces a remarkable situation of bankruptcy, in extreme debt in all latitudes (Paris Club, China and Russia), it is an outcast in the international financial relations.

This situation worsens after July 11, because in the eyes of potential investors and tourists, a situation like that is not at all attractive. In such a context, it is only possible to undertake a comprehensive redesign in the internal order and with a view to foreign investment and the reintegration of Cuba into international financial institutions, if it is desired to ensure flows of capital and technologies in the medium term.

12. In the short term, wonders will have to be done in terms of agrarian policy; full and easy access of the MSMEs to all activities, their financial support without fiscal suffocation; substantial reduction of the state monopoly and many others that, repeatedly, Cuban economists have suggested and advised. These are not patches like those adopted these days (zero restrictions on Cuban travelers who bring merchandise for families and small businesses, installment payments and others) that seem to have come from an antique store and that were urgent since the eighties.

13. And if coupled with these hypothetical changes, the miracle of some improvement in relations with the United States were produced —which seems difficult with Biden because his administration seeks at any cost the collapse of the Cuban government in order to win Florida for his Party - and an equal improvement from the pandemic, then things would improve, but never in the short term. It is not even foreseeable in the near term for levels to reach five million tourists or for a flow of 600 thousand Cubans as visitors.

14. The short term will be decisive, and it will be undertaken on the basis of the forgotten premise that: "We change or we sink."

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