Cuba to impose austerity on workers?

Much as been made of a brief quip by Fidel Castro in his recent set of interviews with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic. To wit: “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.” These nine somewhat ambiguous words, offered without any further elucidation from the Bearded One, have sparked a voluble reaction across the political spectrum…

Most typical, of course, is smarmy right-wing gloating (see, e.g., “Thanks, Fidel, but you’re 50 years too late” by James Delingpole in The Telegraph Sept. 10). Extremely atypical is the optimistic left-wing view offered by Pedro Campos in Havana Times (“open-minded writing from Cuba”), who notes: “At no moment did [Fidel] speak of socialism, but of the ‘model.'” Campos anticipates a move away from “neo-Stalinist components” and “state socialism”—”a model that Lenin himself termed ‘state monopoly capitalism'”—and towards a “cooperative/self-management system of freely associated workers.” He entitles his screed, “Agreed, We Need a Different Model: A Truly Socialist One, Not Disguised Capitalism.”

What can be gleaned from Fidel’s actual exchange with Goldberg? Not much:

“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, “Never mind”?

I asked Julia [Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations] to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, “He wasn’t rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under ‘the Cuban model’ the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

Goldberg’s time with the Bearded One must have been limited if he had to turn to a gringa policy wonk for clarification rather than asking a follow-up question. However, considerably greater light is shed by a front-page story in the New York Times Sept. 14, “Cuba’s Public-Sector Layoffs Signal Major Shift”:

MEXICO CITY — In perhaps the clearest sign yet that economic change is gathering pace in Cuba, the government plans to lay off more than half a million people from the public sector in the expectation that they will move into private businesses, Cuba’s labor federation said Monday.

Over the past several months, President Raúl Castro has given stern warnings that Cuba’s economy needs a radical overhaul, beginning with its workers. With as many as one million excess employees on the state payroll, Mr. Castro has said, the government is supporting a bloated bureaucracy that has sapped motivation and long sheltered a huge swath of the nation’s workers.

“We have to erase forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where one can live without working,” he told the National Assembly last month…

In its statement Monday, the Cuban Workers’ Central, the country’s only recognized labor federation, openly acknowledged the nation’s troubled economy, saying that changes were “necessary and could not be delayed.”

“Cuba faces the urgency to advance economically,” the statement said. “Our state cannot and should not continue supporting companies” and other state entities, “with inflated payrolls, losses that damage the economy, which are counterproductive, generate bad habits and deform the workers’ conduct,” the labor federation added.

So let’s get this straight. Cuba’s president states in terms that are barely even veiled that austerity and discipline are to be imposed on the nation’s workers. In any other Latin American country, this would be viewed as Washington-imposed neoliberalism, and the labor unions would pledge to resist it. But in Cuba, the one state-controlled union actually echoes the rhetoric, and is the chosen conduit to announce the new economic policy. And (we can be certain) dissident workers who even contemplate protesting the policy will be baited (or worse) as Washington’s counter-revolutionary agents.

We really, really hate to say it, but the right-wing gloaters appear to have been vindicated…

See our last post on Cuba.

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.