Stubborn or Cowardly? Only Raul Castro Knows

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

Raúl Castro has begun 2014 with another sorry speech. Why does the general repeat a string of ideological nonsense in which nobody believes, not even himself? Hard to tell.

Apparently, Raúl remains subject to his brother's intellectual and moral authority, but by now the nomenklatura and almost the whole country take it for granted that the Comandante is the principal cause of the economic catastrophe afflicting the Cubans.

How do we know this? It's sufficient to simply watch and patiently listen to the lecture that Juan Triana Cordoví, professor of economics at the University of Havana, gave to the leadership of the political police in order to defend and explain Raúl Castro's reforms. (Go to elblogdemontaner.com to find a YouTube link.) This is a member of the regime haranguing his comrades with full authority.

Despite his speech, Raúl is convinced that Marxism and its collectivist sequel have failed. He acknowledges that egalitarianism is counterproductive and admits that the regime engaged for decades in imposing absurd prohibitions that have turned the lives of Cubans into hell.

Naturally, none of this means that he will accept political reforms. Marxism may be hogwash, but Stalinism is useful to him for ruling. He will try, however, to correct the economic disasters produced by his brother because he believes that the survival of the regime depends on that.

How? First, he has eliminated some unnecessary prohibitions. The dictatorship can allow the ownership of mobile telephones, the sale and purchase of houses and cars, the departure and return of dissidents, or the private hiring abroad of some athletes. None of that endangers the government and all of that cheers up the masses.

He also proposes to create a tenuous economic sideshow - "nonstate labor," that ridiculous euphemism - so civilian society may develop small private businesses, almost all of them service-oriented, that will provide jobs for more than a million and a half people. Those entrepreneurs would gradually leave the bulging payrolls of the state, produce some comestibles and alleviate the miserable lives of Cubans.

But that's unimportant. The essence of the reform is something else: The state, directed by military officers, will reserve the control and enjoyment of some 2,500 medium and large companies that constitute the heart of the country's productive apparatus. That's the lion's share.

It is in this economic space where the fate of the revolution will be decided, the Raúlists say pompously. Raúl has turned subsidiarity upside down: civilian society will take care of everything that the state cannot do.

A perfect blunder. How will the army brass manage to make the state-owned enterprises efficient to the point that they'll generate profits permanently? Raúl, a military man convinced of the usefulness of negative reinforcement, has a recurring fantasy. He believes that - through controls, audits, punishment and threats supervised by his son Alejandro, a tough colonel in the intelligence service - he will produce a miracle.

Nonsense. How long will it take Raúl Castro and the Raúlists to understand that the state is a lousy manager of enterprises, small and large? When will he understand that the objectives and methodology of the really efficient businesses are totally different from those of the state?

Why does Raúl think that all public enterprises everywhere end up being centers of corruption with bloated payrolls, technologically backward and unproductive? When will they admit that the communist system cannot be reformed, as Gorbachev confirmed in the 1990s? Or do they just want to die in power and let those left behind dismantle the errors and the horrors?

Is it stubbornness, cowardice, conviction, irresponsibility or all of them together? You decide, perplexed reader.

Carlos Alberto Montaner was born in Havana in 1943 and has lived in Madrid since 1970. A former university professor, he is an acclaimed writer and journalist. His syndicated column appears in dozens of newspapers in the United States, Latin America and Spain. Originally published in the Miami Herald. Republished with author permission.

(AP Photo)

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