Raúl Castro and the Genie from the Lamp

There is a story circulating in Havana. On a roof of the Central Committee building Raúl Castro came across an old lamp. He rubbed and polished it and the classic genie popped up. “You can ask me for two wishes”, the creature told him. “Shouldn’t I get to make three wishes?” asked Raúl a bit surprised. “The situation is very bad,” the genie replied “and we have had to reduce the number”. “All right then,” said Raúl “turn the Hotel Nacional into a gold building. I’ll sell it and we’ll clear up all of our debts”. “Don’t be stupid, Raúl,” said the genie “that would be a very bad idea – This is impossible. I am a genie, not a magician”. And he added: “When have you seen a building turned into gold? Ask me for the second and last thing!” Raúl sighed, thought for a little while and then said: “What I want you to do something about Cuban Communism so that it would be an efficient and productive system and can overcome the crisis.” The genie stared at him for a while and then said with resignation: “Ok, where is that building you want me to turn into gold?”

Raúl Castro is determined to turn Cuban Communism into an efficient and productive system. He does not share the genie’s pessimism from the story. These reforms are not meant to introduce political and economic freedoms as the biggest dreamers hoped for, but to save and re-launch the centrally planned economy. A system managed by the wise and well-intentioned Party officials and where the State predominantly owns the means of production, which are to be supplemented by cooperatives and a meager bunch of private business. These are, however, also subjected to general objectives defined by the State and fall under strict governmental control to make sure that the accumulation of the wealth is not excessive. In other words, it is the same monster, just imperceptibly mutated.

In order to achieve his plans, Raúl has issued a 32-page document called Lineamientos de la política económica y social (Outline of the Economic and Social Politics), which will be the focus of discussions until April 2011 when the 6th Congress of the Communist Party is to be held. Nothing looks at the underlying political system. There is a total lack of fundamental questioning of the dictatorial system that has been keeping Cubans in increasing misery for more than fifty years. The discussion is strictly limited to economy.

This was to be expected. Raúl is not an ideologue. Moreover, he does not view himself as a politician. He views himself as a manager, pragmatic, organized; someone who is capable of putting a work team together, assigning responsibilities, setting deadlines and uncompromisingly making sure tasks are taken care of with a heavy hand. He has always considered his brother to be superior, a genius, who is more intelligent than himself, but chaotic, erratic, not very competent in selecting his subordinates and incapable of delineating long-term plans. He recognizes that if it had not been for Fidel there would never have been the revolution. However, he is also of the view, like many Cubans, that because of Fidel and his fits of anarchic insanities the revolution has been a disaster.

Raúl believes that he can sort out this disaster. He will be the great victor in the secret competition that he maintains with his brother. Throughout his life he has been the number two; enduring humiliations such as [his brother] being the Maximum Leader, while Raúl is sometimes quietly called the Minimal Leader, but this is his historic opportunity to win this intimate and painful battle and to show him that he is capable of winning exactly where the others failed stupendously. He aspires to ensure that the plain epitaphs of the media tomb where they surely will be buried one day will read: “Fidel Castro was the most intelligent and courageous one, who made the Communist Revolution possible. Raúl was the most sensible and organized one, who saved it and made it possible for it to remain after both of their deaths”. This will be his victory.

Although the reform is to serve economic purposes, the mid and long-term objectives are of political nature. Raúl is aware of the fact that the governmental failure is of such a magnitude that the regime will struggle to survive when he and Fidel are not in charge. Already there is almost no one that believes in the system, since the system, as Fidel’s slip hinted, “is not working”. In order to be able to systematically transfer the authority within the party institutions and to avoid a post mortem collapse, it is necessary to legitimize the dominant class by making sure that people are provided with food, housing, drinkable water, infrastructure and a transportation system, electricity, clothes, health care, education and a little bit of entertainment.

Up until now, they have managed to survive thanks to the Soviet charity initially, and to Venezuelan support later on, but Hugo Chávez is unpredictable and could disappear tomorrow like the USSR did. The Cuban Communist system has to be self-sufficient, especially if the goal is to continue with the dynasty in power, leaving the leadership to Alejandro Castro Espín, the head of Cuban intelligence services, who is also the son and right hand man of Raúl.

Regardless, all this is just a fantasy. This reform of the productive apparatus is going to fail just like all of the other six reforms that preceded it and that the government has implemented over the course of more than fifty years. Raúl believes the system can be salvaged if only companies run by the State become efficient and productive. He is going to run them using Communist principles and evaluate them with capitalist principles. That is foolish. He wants the companies to always produce more while having less resources at their disposal, which is the essence of Capitalist production and which, over two years, will lead to a lay-off of a million three hundred thousand people, a quarter of the labor force. What he does not realize, though, is that the original sin of the Communist model lies precisely in that the state ownership of the means of production and the existence of central planning power in hands of bureaucrats who make decisions, artificially set prices and quashed creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit of the society.

Raúl assumes that the Communist model is based on good ideas whose sad misfortune is that they just have been badly executed. He will die without being able to understand that the huge faults of the Communism in practice have been a natural consequence of the absurd ideas of Marx, Lenin and the like. He will be disappear without being able to understand the pessimism of the genie of the lamp.

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer, who has published more than 25 books on Cuba and democracy in Latin America. He helped to found the Cuban Liberal Union in 1990. This piece was originally published on his website www.firmaspress.com