The following is my translation of the comments delivered by Cuban dissident Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo at the 24th annual congress of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) given on August 1st, 2014 in Miami, Florida:
Investment in Cuba? What for?
ASCE XXIV / 2014 Annual Conference, Miami Hilton Downtown Hotel, Florida, USA
Panel 12. Concerto Ballrom B – Friday, August 1st, 2:45-4:15pm
In Cuba during the 1970s, historian Manuel Moreno Fraginals challenged poet Jose Lezama Lima with his trendy scientific notions about the laws of objectivity and the transition to a colonial/pseudo republic/revolution from the slave mills to the Slavic sugarcane cutters; the now forgotten Soviet KTP. Exhaling an asthmatic counterpoint through his cigar, Lezama Lima responded to Moreno Fraginals without foregoing the Marxist irony of a convenient Catholic: “Ah… But when will we have a history that is qualitative?”
Are we Cubans lacking the type of analysis that at the margins of academic exactitude and author-centered erudition would also require ethicality? Is a qualitative economy that can escape the comparisons of percents and profits and the tendency to always side with the expounder at all conceivable? Is a qualitative political system that rises above the lowbrow politics practiced in our country unthinkable? How about a qualitative sociology without ideological determinism and infallible founders? When all is said and done, is the anthropology of a quality Cuban one that is multidimensional, subjective, and liberated from the consensus imposed upon on us with the rhythm of a conga drumbeat?
No wonder the Professor did not answer the Master’s question. Today, when it comes to Raul Castro’s reforms that in an ever-changing and capricious landscape that hides a clan’s control while a new image of legitimacy is created, would Moreno Fraginals rely on the laws of objectivity in a transition from communism to capitalism? And would Lezama Lima respond to him with an “Ah… And when we will Cuba have a history of qualitative capitalism?” Poetry asks impossible questions that history can answer, though it finds it inconvenient to do so.
Today, by either vocation or duty, Cubanologists discuss their theories about the island. They have placed their bets for quantitative changes on the seat of power, avoiding any consultation with the will of the Cuban people. For many of them the Revolution is a victim, not the victimizer, and as such is granted the right to not disappear. Because of this, throughout all of American academia, an anti-Castro stance is practically considered intellectual harassment.
Therefore, Cubans are supposed to have no other alternative than to collaborate with the government in the construction of controllable capitalism that is already irreversible while the country’s socialistic constitution remains “irrevocable.” In this scam of a transition, borne of short memories where horrors become simply errors, liberty becomes an encumbrance threatening to make everything end in a debacle. And it is this astute death threat that forces us to be loyal as a post-socialist substitute for legality.
“A country is not run like a campsite,” another poet once told to another general. But those who once dressed in olive-green uniforms and now as the new generation wear business suits, have turned the country into a campsite so as not to fully contradict Jose Marti’s words to Maximo Gomez. Citizens are abundant, but soldiers are saviors: the disinterest of the former is secondary to the discipline of the latter. The year 2018 is being called the new 1958. After 60 years of solitary power, biology finally brings us a calendar without the Castros. But after waiting for so long, we Cubans can now wait a little more. We have become accustomed to the family legacy that leaves us the choice between a parliamentarian sexologist and a colonel –like Putin– from the Ministry of the Interior. One is in charge of reproduction and the other of repression; she is in charge of pleasure, he of power; academia and military; diplomacy and impertinence; masquerade and malice.
The inverted logic behind investing in such a Cuba is that after the profits, it would precipitate a multi-party political system: vouchers that will promote voting; underdevelopment erased by cash flowing through banks; from Che to checks. Like dissidents without God, layman Lenier Gonzalez might call them “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” because the nation teeters on collapse between a war of economic action from the outside and peaceful resistance from the inside.
Perhaps to sidestep such suspicions, foreign investors avoid showing off the profit gained from a captive and insular market. They seem to invest with almost-humanitarian intentions, although their “good deed” will be repaid by having their property seized and not a few of them will end up deported, imprisoned, or dead from a heart attack during interrogations performed by State Security. As for Cuban exiles, they are not even given the right to live in their own country. And the illusion of investing in the island — out of nostalgia or some kind of labor therapy — is justified by the notion that money can make a dictatorship dynamic much more effectively than dynamite. If we cannot live in a democracy, at least we will be able to live in a dictocracy. One-party companies and a tinsel opposition. Like a person who draws a North Korean doodle and ends up with an exquisite Chinese calligram. Or like in those childhood cartoons where a tyrant is defeated by a golden antelope that drowns the villain by throwing gold coins at him and when he can no longer take the weight screams “enough!”
When I hear the word “economy,” I reach for my gun.
First-world paradoxes: The possible Democrat party candidate for the White House mumbles something to President Obama in the latest of her hard choices: “Lift the embargo on Cuba because it’s holding back our broader agenda across Latin America”. And from the Chamber of Commerce, its president travels to a country that is presided over by a general that for decades has denigrated chambers of commerce, and tells him: Yes, you can.
The economy is too important to be left in the hands of economists.
Executives from the goliath Google land in David’s kingdom of ruins and are received at the University of Computer Sciences, a bunker of digital censorship, the cradle of Operation Truth, where there is daily smearing of those Cubans convinced that it is still possible to live a life of truth. How do you google a government that like the dog in the manger will not allow us to connect to the internet or allow anyone else to connect us?
Within the economy, everything.
The president of a hemispheric organization who since 2009 has been begging Cuba to rejoin the international community goes to Havana and does not dare to ask the reason behind Cuba’s snub of the world. He is accompanied by a Secretary General who gets a haircut there but does not question why there were dozens of illegal detentions taking place during his visit.
Outside the economy, nothing.
Former brigadier generals of the military and intelligence agencies, ambassadors to NATO, the OAS, and the Interests Section in Havana (in their heyday categorized by Castro propaganda as torturers, coup instigators, agents of the anti-Cuban dirty war, and other extremists etc.). Hawks now clothed in sheep feathers who advocate an ultimatum not to their archenemy in the continent, but to the President who extended his open hand and in return received a closed fist, including weapons smuggling, the kidnapping of an American to trade as a hostage for Cuban Talibans, agreements with enemies of democracy and the free market, and the State-run attempts on our Sakharov Prize winners for Freedom of Thought: Laura Pollan and Oswaldo Paya.
Economy or death; we will sell.
Contrary to the stampede of Cubans mentioned in Wendy Guerra’s novel Everyone Leaves, everyone is going to Cuba, everyone is investing in the first opportunity that presents itself. No one wants to miss out on their slice of the despotic pie that is on the brink of transition.
Investment is critical for the material development of the country, but investment should not come regardless of the political price. It would be a shame to fall into an economy that would leave us dependent on foreigners and no less vulnerable to domestic impunity. Under those conditions, sovereignty is nothing more than a joke.
Foreign capital has not brought democratization to the island, but neither has denying investment been a fountain of political liberty. Although they are opposite concepts, investments are just like the commercial embargo the United States has against Cuba: they have had no influence on the blockade imposed by the Castro regime on Cuban citizens. Oswaldo Paya believed in a human personal redemption that would transcend the State as well as the market. And that simple but ethical vision proved to be qualitatively impracticable for a perpetual seat of power that relies on complicity by the majority of the nation. Because if a people elect a single leader and a single party, that single leader and single party have a moral obligation to downplay that quantitative blindness, not enthrone themselves upon it. Along with the Anglicism of a “loyal opposition,” Cubans deserve a government faithful to the people that will step down according to logical legislation, even if it goes against the popular will of the people.
For now, the private investment initiative in Cuba does nothing to obtain or guarantee rights to association, property, participation, expression, or the means of production. Self-employed Cubans exhibit their implausibility even in Washington D.C., but in the Plaza of the Revolution, they can only march en masse with their propaganda banners. For that very reason they are not invited to invest in Cuba and their self-employment licenses are nothing more than economic privileges. As soon as they achieve some type of cash liquidity, they will escape without much noise or fuss, as our population pyramid tends to do since that is always preferable in a transient nation: post-totalitarianism is the same as post-trampolinism. That plebiscite with one’s feet is unstoppable, with investments or sanctions, with lack of solidarity or interference. After spending so much time exporting guerillas and wars, we learned to make our living at the expense of someone else, allowing ourselves to be exploited by taxes rather than enjoying state security (or suffering it if the words are capitalized).
At the start of the Revolution, throughout the paternalistic lying during the march to power, Fidel Castro strictly applied his repetitive slogans: “Elections? What for?”; “Guns? What for?”; Amnesty? What for?” These were among the other “What for?” slogans that emptied out all the common sense that previously existed in our nationality. The Revolution not only installed itself by decree as the source of all rights, it also made itself the arbiter of reason. Everything else became an afterthought: money, for example. We should then publicly confront that same philanthropic octogenarian before senility turns him into ashes and ask him: “Investment? What for?”
And maybe he will respond with that European fascist plagiarism of himself in 1953: Invest in Cuba, it does not matter, history will confiscate you.
The original text of this presentation in Spanish is available at Pardo Lazo’s website, Lunes de Post-Revolución