Friday, June 8, 2007


Communications minister and Comandante de la Revolucion Ramiro Valdes spoke about the economy recently; here’s La Jornada’s coverage from Havana correspondent Gerardo Arreola.

The first thing that comes to mind about Mr. Valdes, who is also a former interior minister, is this fishing story (translation at end):

Fidel va a pescar con Ramiro Valdés, el Jefe de Seguridad de Estado. Tira el anzuelo y después de un rato saca un pecesito chiquito.
Muy molesto le dice a Ramiro:
-Encárgate de esto, Ramiro.

Y se ve a Ramiro cuando coge el pececito y le entra a puñetazos, lo tira al suelo le pisa la cabeza y se le oye interrogándole:
-Díme, díme tú, afeminado ¿Dónde están los peces grandes?

Sorry, back to economics.

The Valdes speech is a window on the economic policy discussion in Cuba today. In it, he alludes to the 2005 Fidel Castro speech that identified economic problems that could possibly destroy the revolution from within. Valdes said:

“To strengthen the economy internally, in science and technology, in addressing social problems and the quality of life of our people, are ideas that we have to take on with greater efficiency, if we want the revolution and Cuban socialism to be truly irreversible, as Fidel and Raul wish.”

He goes on to say that the “struggle for order and discipline” is “perhaps the highest priority.”

There are two courses Cuba can take to attempt to solve the chronic problems identified in the 2005 Castro speech, and discussed with equal or greater bluntness by Raul Castro.

One is to squeeze more out of the current system: energy conservation, new state investment projects, new aid or credits from friends overseas, use of new technology, exhortations to harder and more disciplined work. That’s what “order,” “efficiency,” and “discipline” are all about.

The other involves changing the system through decentralization and the use of market mechanisms, as in the 1990’s.

So far, as the Valdes speech confirms, the official discussion follows the first course, as have recent policy measures such as the new labor regulations and the changes to customs regulations that allow personal, non-commercial imports of appliances and car parts.

The diagnosis of Cuba’s economic problems has been clear, even harsh, and the objectives the government has set forth are ambitious. (See this earlier post on a forthcoming salary policy.) The big question in economic policy today – a question that will get a lot more interesting when Fidel finally leaves – is whether Cuba can meet its goals through “efficiency” alone.

Now, back to the fishing story:

Fidel goes fishing with state security chief Ramiro Valdes. He casts his line, and after a while he pulls in a tiny little fish.

Very upset, he says to Ramiro: “Take charge of this, Ramiro.”

And he sees Ramiro taking the little fish, beating it, throwing it to the ground, stepping on its head, and interrogating it: “Tell me, tell me, you little fairy, where are the big fish?”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When they get back to the lakeshore, Fidel and Ramiro walk into a bait shop staffed by a wildlife fish specialist from the Center for the Study of Freshwater Fisheries. Fidel bitterly complains to the caretaker about the petty-bourgeous fish stock in this "People's Lake." Seeking to appease Fidel, the fish specialist casts a quick glance at some netting under the counter, then suggests that the two go back out on the water and use what's left of the little fish to bait the big fish. Fidel ignores the man and summons Raul, who berates the fish specialist and reassigns him to an aviary.