And there was light

Jesús Arboleya Cervera

In recent months, the Cuban government has announced measures related to the economy of the nation and its financial links overseas.

The elimination of US dollar circulation in the domestic market and the imposition of a fee to the exchange of the US dollar into the Cuban convertible peso, the revaluation of the peso against other currencies, and the 7 percent increase in the value of the inconvertible peso constitute measures intended to increase the population's purchasing power and to strengthen the national currency, which has been much favored by the changing dollar and the increases of revenue as a result of improvements in tourism and the production of nickel and crude oil.

At the same time, measures of a social nature have been taken, some of which have led to a savings in energy. One such measure is the distribution of electrical appliances for the home elaboration of food, an effort to replace other energy sources such as bottled gas, kerosene and other fuels that have been very much utilized heretofore, to the detriment of the environment and the quality of life of our citizens.

Other measures of this type have been an increase in the pensions for retirees and the distribution to the entire population of a series of standardized articles. Plans have been announced for the construction and refurbishment of homes and improvements in transportation.

Even more important than the immediate result of these measures -which are by themselves very popular- have been their strategic connotations and the outlook for the future they bring to Cuban society. The gradual increase in the value of the peso has a direct impact on wages, which means not only improvements in the standard of living but also a stimulus to production and a lesser dependence on foreign currency, including the remittances sent by émigrés to their relatives.

This will permit appreciable improvements in the productivity of labor, increased by a policy of technological modernization in key items of the national industry and an increase in the competitive capacity of Cuban products against their foreign counterparts.

Although a strategy to substitute imports at any cost has not been formulated, evidently there are lines where national production can improve its market share, especially in the field of tourism.

These measures in effect bring an end to the so-called "special period," the name given to the economic crisis that resulted from the disintegration of the socialist camp in Europe. As a result of that crisis, aggravated by the US blockade, Cuba's economy found itself suddenly deprived of the markets and sources of financing that provided it with support. Almost the entire world predicted the end of the Cuban Revolution under those conditions and indeed those were very harsh times.

As Fidel Castro said, "the sun suddenly went out" and no one could see the light at the end of the road.

In those years, people survived out of a need for survival. Worse than the immediate shortages was the lack of perspective for the future, a subjective element that had a tremendous psychological impact, especially among young people, who could not find adequate channels for the educational potential the Revolution itself had given them.

Many adopted the idea of "living day-to-day" and looking for any kind of alternative for survival. This originated problems of an ethical type that became evident in an increase in illegal activities, prostitution and a lack of interest in one's job, or the degradation of professional values, so long as they did not bring direct material advantage. In recent years, emigration also was a product of this crisis.

These problems have been publicized widely by the international media, which are always ready to divulge the calamities of the Revolution and to exaggerate them. In a way, they were measuring the Revolution by Cuban standards, not by others. Such flaws are not acceptable for a social project of the magnitude of the Cuban Revolution, even if they are perceived as normal anywhere else in the world.

The importance of this moment is that the objective bases that will enable us to face these inconveniences and solve them through adequate social methods are being created. There is no reason to believe that this cannot be so. The alienation of people is not a natural fruit of socialism, as it is in the case of capitalism.

Socialism is, by definition, an inclusive model of society, where all of society feels responsible for each citizen, no matter how disadvantaged he or she may be. The Cuban Revolution will cease to be what it is the day it does not assume this responsibility. This explains why the "special period" was overcome without a social upheaval.

The emergence of a new international scenario has contributed to the recovery of Cuba. In Latin America, the failure of neoliberal policies has strengthened social struggle and led nationalist governments to power. Such governments, led by Venezuela, posit a new integrationist vision, in which Cuba is inevitably included.

The United States' unilateralism, boundless ambition and aggressiveness has created enemies everywhere, some more discreet than others but enemies nevertheless. Within the US itself, there is a polarization of values and political trends that has no parallel in recent history. Bush's policy is unsustainable and that includes the case of Cuba.

No one knows what path Cuba's recovery will take or what new obstacles it will have to evade to advance and consolidate, but the light shone anew and the only way out of a hole is upward.

Jesus Arboleya, a Doctor in Historical Sciences, is a history professor at the University of Havana and has written books and numerous articles on Cuban emigration and US-Cuba relations.
April, 2005
Publicado en CubaNow

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