Cuba news / FRFI 203 Jun / Jul 2008

FRFI 203 June / July 2008

Bank of ALBA founded
ALBA member states have officially established the Bank of ALBA with initial financing of US$1bn. The bank will promote economic integration between ALBA countries and invest in infrastructure and social projects within them.

ALBA (an acronym in Spanish for Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) is an anti-neoliberal alliance of countries that now includes Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Dominica. The bank aims to free member countries from dependency on the World Bank and the IMF, which has caused havoc in Latin America through the oppressive loan conditions these institutions impose on debtor countries. In contrast the ALBA bank will not impose loan conditions. All member countries have an equal vote on funding decisions, and contribute capital according to their ability to pay. Each member state will host a branch of the bank, with the head office based in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

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Cuba: strengthening socialism not consumerism

Recent measures introduced in Cuba have led to wishful thinking among Cuba’s enemies in the corporate media, who have seized on them as evidence of a return to capitalism. In reality they are the result of a profound process of self-criticism and debate within socialism.

On 24 February, following his election as President of the Council of State in the National Assembly of People’s Power, Raul Castro said that ‘the people’s mandate to this legislature is very clear: to continue strengthening the Revolution at a historical juncture which demands from us to be dialectic and creative’. He called for less centralisation and bureaucracy, giving the example of better milk production and distribution as testimony to local decision-making and arguing that this approach could work in other areas of the economy: ‘a more compact and operational structure is required, with a lower number of institutions under the central administration of the State and a better distribution of their functions’. There is, of course, no suggestion of a ‘Chinese-style’ market economy, so destructive to socialism: ‘Good planning is most important for we cannot spend more than we have.’

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A Cuban communist speaks / FRFI 204 Aug / Sep 2008

FRFI 204 August / September 2008

Teresita Trujillo works for the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. From Cuba, she kindly agreed to answer a wide-ranging series of questions from FRFI.

The EU has recently voted to formally end diplomatic sanctions against Cuba. To what extent does this open the way to improved diplomatic and commercial links with European countries? What barriers to these, if any, remain?

The recent decision adopted by the Council, to end the diplomatic sanctions introduced in 2003, is a step forward in the rectification of EU policy on Cuba and a defeat for the present US Administration, which put enormous pressure on its European allies to prevent such a decision.

The EU Common Position on Cuba, introduced in 1996 by the then Spanish Presi­dent Jose Maria Aznar, at the request of the US, remains the main obstacle for the normalisation of relations. The Common Position has been rejected by Cuba since its adoption for its discriminatory nature and its interference in the internal affairs of our country.

An entirely different framework is requir­ed for the improvement of relations be­tween the EU and Cuba, one which is based on mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs.

The recent announcement of removing wage caps for workers in state enterprises has caused speculation in the British press that this is a step towards capitalist restoration in Cuba. In your opinion what is the true content of these reforms, and why are they being implemented now? Could they increase inequalities in the standard of living among Cubans, and are there measures in place to limit this?
Some press, not only in Britain, is portraying current changes in Cuba as a move towards capitalism. I do believe there is a purpose behind it: to create confusion and demobilise the huge support the Cuban Revolution enjoys all over the world.

The changes introduced in the salary policy will not increase inequalities; they are aimed at raising efficiency levels of the socialist economy under current conditions, after the recovery from the crisis it suffered in the 1990s. The living standards of the Cuban people have been recovering in the last few years and their continuous improvement can only be possible through increasing the levels of production, productivity and efficiency. The distribution of wealth in our society is ruled by socialist principles: From every one according to his/her capacity, to every one according to his/her work.

What effect would you expect an Obama victory in the US presidential elections to have on US-Cuba relations?
History has told us not to expect much from either party administration. Their differences with regards to their policies on Cuba are not very significant.  We have always prepared for the worst and counted only on the will of the Cuban people to move forward against all odds.
Obama has made certain statements that could mean a slightly different approach. Cuba has always made it clear to the US its readiness to engage in talks. We will have to wait and see how things evolve while we continue relying on our own strength.

Increasing agricultural production in Cuba has been identified as a priority. What, in your opinion, are the most promising measures being implemented in this area? Can you describe some of the difficulties that have to be taken into account?
One of the major difficulties today is the lack of agricultural labour force. The social, cultural and educational development has had an impact on the labour structure of rural populations, which have moved to work in other areas.

Agricultural production in Cuba is handled by state farms, co-operatives and individual farmers. The bulk of the production is bought by state enterprises that provide food for schools, daycare centres, homes for the elderly, hospitals, workplace canteens, restaurants, hotels, etc. One of the measures already introduced, which is beginning to yield results is the increase of sale prices to the state.

Also there is a recent decision to grant land to any citizen willing to produce agreed volumes of agricultural produce, part of which will be bought by the state enterprises, with the remainder to be sold at the agricultural free market.

There are also plans for the intensive production of rice, in co-operation with Vietnam.

Food production is vital for any country, even more so today, given the current rise in food prices that make it almost impossible for developing countries to acquire the necessary volumes and to sell them at affordable prices for their populations.

This is definitely an area in which we need to do a lot to achieve the necessary results, and several other measures to that aim will be gradually introduced.

Exposing Cuba’s enemies in the British press / FRFI 204 Aug / Sep 2008

FRFI 204 August / September 2008

Exposing Cuba’s enemies in the British press

Recent changes in Cuba’s wage system, removing the cap on bonuses for workers who meet or exceed production targets, were portrayed in the international media as a step towards capitalist restoration in Cuba. Guardian reporter Rory Carroll, a long-standing critic of Cuban socialism, was cock-a-hoop. But his crowing is premature for, as HELEN YAFFE points out in this response, salary scales are not new in Cuba, and this measure has nothing to do with the return of capitalism.

Rory Carroll’s article ‘Cuban workers to get bonuses for extra effort’ (The Guardian, 13 June 2008) was yet another misrepresentation of recent developments in Cuba. There has never been an ‘egalitarian wage system’, nor has ‘every worker’s wages been the same from a doctor to a street cleaner’ – as stated in the website interview with Carroll.

Carroll declares the ‘death-knell of the “new socialist man”, promoted by Che and Fidel, but Che himself devised a new salary scale, introduced in 1964, with 24 wage levels, plus a 15% bonus for over-completion. This scale linked wages to qualifications, creating an incentive to training, which was vital given the exodus of professionals and low educational level of Cuban workers. Like Marx himself, Che recognised the socialist principle: ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his work’ – which Carroll associates exclusively with Raul. Cuba has never claimed to be communist and therefore has never embraced the principle: ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’, which expresses the attainment of communist society.

Barely mentioning the devastating effects of the US blockade, Carroll describes as ‘moribund’, the Cuban economy which has grown between 7 and 12% annually since 2005. And what kind of ‘impoverishment’ is Carroll referring to when he dismisses Cuba’s first-world standard, free, universal education and healthcare services – luxuries gradually being withdrawn in our own country? The Human Development Report now lists Cuba in the high-human development category.
The new regulation was introduced to standardise salary policy across the economy as part of the general implementation of the Enterprise Perfection System of economic management, operating in army enterprises since 1987. It also emerges out of the profound process of popular consultation in autumn last year, in which millions of Cubans made over 1.3 million concrete proposals for improving the economy. Low salaries and high food prices are a principal concern for Cubans, as they are for an increasing proportion of the world today.

Capped or not, bonus payments in Cuba are awarded for over-completion of the national plan in the production of physical goods or services, that is, in terms of use-values, not in terms of profitability or exchange values. Workers identify their own material interests with the material well being of the socialist state. Carroll also ignores the fact that bonus payments remain capped at 30% for various bureaucrats, technicians and economists, a measure to prevent the emergence of a technocratic elite.
The new salary incentives reflect Cuba’s push to reduce vulnerability to sharp rises in global fuel and food prices, rather than a return to capitalism. Recent policies aim to dramatically increase internal production and productivity, particularly in agriculture and exports. Carroll equates productivity with capitalism – but how efficient is this economic system which leaves millions unemployed because their work is not ‘profitable’, while millions of under-fives die every year of malnutrition and diarrhoea.

For 50 years, commentators on Cuba have predicted the collapse of the socialist Revolution. Carroll is repeating the same mistake.

*An edited version of this article was first printed in The Guardian newspaper on 20 June 2008.

Cuban 5 convictions upheld / FRFI 204 Aug / Sep 2008

FRFI 204 August / September 2008

On 4 June a US federal appeals court upheld convictions against the Cuban 5, political prisoners held in US gaols. At the same time it decided the sentences against three of them were too harsh, including two who are serving life sentences. These cases have been sent back to the Florida federal court for resentencing. HANNAH CALLER reports on the frame-up in the case of the Cuban 5.

At the time of their arrest in 1998, the Cuban 5 were working in the US for the Cuban government, infiltrating Miami-based terrorist groups and gathering information to prevent further attacks against Cuba. In September 1998 they were arrested and charged on 26 counts, including espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. None of the charges against them involved violence, weapons or damage to property. After 17 months in solitary confinement they were put on trial in Miami, which has a huge Cuban exile community, largely hostile to the Revolution. Defence attorneys argued for a change of venue but this was denied and the 5 were found guilty. In 2005 the convictions of the 5 were overturned by a three-judge panel of the Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta and a retrial was to be held outside Miami. However, a 12-judge panel of the same court reversed this decision and no retrial was held.

The latest appeal outcome
As a result of the latest appeal decision Antonio Guerrero (life sentence plus ten years) and Ramon Labanino (life sentence plus 18 years) have had their life sentences removed and Fernando Gonzalez (19 years) is due to have his sentence reduced. Unbelievably their sentences will go before Joan Lenard, the same judge who issued disproportionate sentences in the first place. In its 99-page ruling the appeals court found that Judge Lenard committed serious errors in the original trial. Despite this, the court of appeals is returning the case to her.

Rene Gonzalez (15 years) and Gerardo Hernandez (two life sentences plus 15 years) had their sentences upheld. In Gerardo’s case, the decision was split two to one. The judge who voted in his favour wrote a 16-page opinion stating that Gerardo is innocent of the charge against him of conspiracy to commit murder.

The legal team will now ask the three judges to review their decision, after which they will have the right to go to the US Supreme Court to review some or all of the issues presented.

The political battle continues
The case of the Cuban 5 exposes the hypocrisy of the US’s ‘war on terror’. Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles were leaders of terror networks in Miami. Now they are both free men in the US while the Cuban 5, who were trying to stop terrorism, are held in maximum security prisons.

In the week after the appeal decision protests took place in 18 cities around the world. These included protests in Glasgow, Liverpool and London led by Rock around the Blockade (RATB). 12 September 2008 will mark ten years unjust incarceration of the Cuban Five, and RATB is organising demonstrations all over the country. The struggle for their freedom is an international struggle. Join us to break the silence surrounding the case and show solidarity with the Cuban Revolution, which the Cuban 5 so rightly and so strongly defend.