Friday, May 14, 2010

Letters to Granma push for change

What to do about employment in Cuba, a issue that is of greater-than-usual interest since Raul Castro noted in a speech last month that the state’s inflated payrolls may include up to one million excess workers?

Some ideas are appearing in the letters to the editor of Granma, and today three letters advance the idea of converting small state enterprises into cooperatives or some similar scheme.

None mention the initial changes already made in this direction in barber shops and beauty shops, a development that to my knowledge has not been noted in Cuban media.

A letter from one J. Martinez Montes, titled “Regarding the workforce restructuring that the country will have to implement,” says this:

“Whether private, cooperative, mixed association, or however we want to label the way of setting up non-strategic economic activities…food service, sweets shops and bakeries, small stores, workshops, repair shops, etc., could very well become new sources of employment and opportunities for the creativity of Cubans…There are very good examples of these practices; take China, Vietnam, and other countries where the state sets taxes and provides raw materials…”

Then a letter signed by J. L. Marichal Castillo, headlined “The issue is not to privatize, but to socialize,” emphasizes the need for rules and enforcement:

“In many opinions the term ‘privatize’ is used, as if there didn’t exist formulas to socialize production and services such as cooperatives, production or service associations, etc. The name can vary, what is important is the content…The food service sector is often discussed, but these changes should include all possible sectors and for those that remain state entities, changes will have to be introduced too… The state should continue to own installations, buildings, etc. It should charge fair prices for everything, require social security and tax payments, and without doubt, have the legal capacity to intervene and even dissolve any type of organization when its auditors or other police organs (and that is not constant harassment) detect infracions incompatible with socialist legality.”

J. Miguel Valdes, a student at the CUJAE engineering and technology university, agrees. He gently urges Randy Alonso of the Mesa Redonda television program to turn his analytical powers toward measures that Cubans themselves can take to fix the economy:

“In my opinion I believe that changes are urgently needed in the economic thinking of our country. I am not an economist but I believe that to permit, for example, the existence of private property in non-strategic means of production, such as food service – and always in a controlled way with taxes, fair licenses, assurance of the delivery of raw materials, etc. – far from overturning advances already achieved or creating a national bourgeoisie, would combat the diversion of resources that causes so much harm to the nation and would improve substantially the quality of services that is now terrible in almost all public establishments… I am of the belief that such important programs as the Mesa Redonda should analyze more frequently and more rigorously the domestic economic problems and inform the public in a concrete way of the measures taken to solve them. Although it is beyond doubt how much the economic blockade and all the aggressive policy associated with it harms us, I think that much more can be done to improve the economic situation of the country.”

The Cuban economy has many advantages, foremost among them the capabilities of its people. There are many formulas that could be employed to lift the economy, generating new jobs and income without changing the socialist character of the Cuban system.

But the system must first permit itself to accept that some new forms of property and organization – such as cooperatives, already employed in the farm sector – are fully compatible with socialism when employed in cities.

The presentation of these ideas in the Organo Oficial del Partido Comunista de Cuba doesn’t indicate that the system has made that leap, but it indicates a clear decision that it’s time to talk about it. Which can’t be a bad thing.

For another look at employment issues, see this article from El Pais.

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