Cuba: The statements of Silvio Rodríguez

Can the Cuban bureaucracy reform itself?

April 09, 2010

In an act with much impact, on March 26, the famous Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodríguez presented in public his new record, "Second Date." Produced a few months after the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the Revolution, its exclusive subject matter is the internal situation on the island. His statements revived the discussions about the crossroads that Raúl Castro’s government is going through, the Cuban political regime and the urgent problems that confront the masses.

The “Che Guevara†hall of the Casa de las Américas in Havana was packed with fans and journalists. "It seems to me, it has always seemed to me, not now, very well that the possibility is expanding, the access to saying, commenting, criticizing, expressing an opinion, discussing," said Silvio shortly after beginning. Although he explained that "I have many more reasons for believing in the Revolution than in its detractors" (an affirmation that got a lot of applause from the audience), he also asked for going beyond "the R of revolution" and stated that "at the top of its voice, the country is asking for a revision of lots of things, from concepts to institutions ... I have heard, always unofficially and certainly never sadly in our press, that those things are being revised. May God grant that it is so."

Even in referring to the US economic blockade of Cuba, he said, "I believe that there are certainly responsibilities for the harassment that Cuba has suffered, undoubtedly, but we also have a responsibility ... we cannot put all the blame on them, because that’s a lie."

Silvio Rodríguez is a member of the Communist Party of Cuba [PCC] and, up until a few years ago, a Deputy in the National Assembly. His statements show that the Castro regime is going through a big crisis. His questioning of the impossibility of "criticizing, expressing an opinion, discussing" shows the exhaustion of the single-party regime as a method of control. The legitimacy that the historic leadership of the Revolution knew it had is coming to its end. It can no longer be maintained on the basis of moral exhortations to "defend the Revolution" and confront the imperialist "enemy." The masses have already had to endure twenty years of enormous hardship (since the Special Economic Period after the fall of "actually existing socialism").

The bureaucracy at a crossroads

Two roads are open for the bureaucracy: trying to keep the status quo (which includes the current process of disintegration and liquidation of the revolutionary conquests) through greater repression, or trying to open some "pressure valve" for the dissatisfaction of the masses and the different pressures in Cuban society. But, strategically, either of the two options is very dangerous and could pave the way for greater crises. When all is said and done, in order to survive and adapt, the bureaucracy will find itself pushed to become a junior partner to international capital, by jumping with bag and baggage into the process of capitalist restoration. The ideas of "going beyond the R of Revolution" and accepting "our responsibility" in the continuance of the imperialist blockade, very possibly express groups that are betting on a bigger process of economic opening and liberalization.

The crisis, although it is not clear how far it can escalate, is striking especially at that which, because of its greater nearness to the masses and their organizations, and because of the ideological weight that it carries, is the most sensitive pillar of the regime: the Cuban Communist Party [PCC]. The other key support is the FAR [Cuban armed forces], which because of their military character and their history (led by Raúl Castro since their creation), for the moment, do not exhibit any fissures with the governing faction. The PCC, in spite of the utter secrecy of information, at every step displays different internal groups that fight to impose themselves. The disputes continually become harsh, as shown by the smear campaign that led to the expulsion of Pérez Roque and Carlos Lage, who represented a more conservative wing tied to Fidel, who continues to be the Chairman of the party.

In view of Cuba’s economic difficulties, Raúl has been promoting a series of austerity measures and reductions in workers’ gains (like the workers’ dining halls or the subsidy to the unemployed) by demanding greater "productivity" and attacking old acquisitions of the workers as "irrational" or "egalitarianism."

Although Raúl has announced "structural and conceptual changes" in the economy and politics since he assumed power, he now appears to ponder every step and to prefer immobility to making an error. Perhaps it is not even clear to him what path to follow, and he opts for more of the same. In this way, he is gaining time but ceding the initiative in front of the different actors that go on gaining more political weight, like the right wing, denouncing the government’s repression and intransigence, or the dissatisfied groups that find no response to their hardship.

We could locate the wings of the bureaucracy lining up behind Fidel and Raúl politically in the center, as defenders of the current status quo of the bureaucracy, moved by their own interests as chiefs of the central state apparatus, although at the same time divided by spaces of power and by their international alliances (Venezuela and Brazil, respectively). For the historic leadership, it is very difficult for them to lead the capitalist restoration themselves, that would entail defeating the masses, the way the Chinese bureaucracy did at Tiananmen. Besides the obvious difference in economic structure with China, that would prevent Cuba from having any space for maneuver while facing imperialism, control by the Cuban bureaucracy, beyond its current loss of prestige, was always based on appearing as the defenders of the Revolution. However, their continuing in power will lead, sooner rather than later, to the collapse of the Revolution and the reconquest of Cuba by international capital, with the resulting semicolonization.

Cracks in the regime

In addition, other groups inside the party are fighting for more daring reform measures, to free them from the weight that state control exercises on the independent campesinos and other self-employed groups that sell part of what they produce in the free market or have considerable income in dollars. They are criticizing government measures as insufficient. More openly reformist, they are for eliminating state subsidies and the ration book, emptying out all the resources for the "dynamic" groups, like the mixed enterprises and some cooperatives, and attracting more foreign investment. This group, without being the dominant one, is tolerated since, in large measure, it is functional for the leading faction that has taken certain measures in that style.

Today these discussions are expressed through figures in art and among some intellectuals, because they are the most sensitive and those who have been suggesting the need for a turn for years. Days ago, another famous Cuban songwriter, Pablo Milanés, on a visit to Spain, also came out in favor of more changes. He said that "they are essentially those that Raúl Castro has been suggesting and that have not been carried out. People are waiting and wondering in an agonizing paralysis when they will arrive." He did this while presenting himself as "one who fights for the perfecting of the socialism that we have proclaimed for 50 years" (Clarín, March 20), and in December, 2008, he also said that he had no confidence in the fact that the leaders "are more than 75 years old, because they all, in my opinion, have passed their moments of glory, which were many, but now they are ready to be retired. The baton must be passed to the new generations, so they can build a different socialism, because this socialism has now come to a standstill" (

Can the bureaucracy reform itself?

A line of this type entails the illusion of a self-reform by the bureaucracy through a "generational change." But the bureaucratic apparatus that the PCC constitutes cannot reform itself. The silencing and repression of the different wings and political groups inside and outside of the party is a sign of that false illusion. Without becoming a bloody dictatorship, the Cuban regime has as a fundamental characteristic the regimentation of the masses both on the political level and organizationally. Fidel’s famous definition in the early years of the Revolution, "inside the Revolution, everything, outside of the Revolution, nothing," continues to express the essence of the bureaucratic character of the state. Concretely, it means "everything inside the PCC, nothing outside of the PCC," and accepting the political guidelines set by the leadership. Any position that departs from that framework is silenced by rejecting it and concealing it, or even repressing it. The expression of this in the mass organizations takes place through strict control by the Communist party, as also in the electoral system.

Cuba’s future is in the hands of the workers and campesinos

At every step, the bureaucracy is undermining the conquests of the Revolution that it says it defends, and the political support that the "friends of Cuba" give it only aids this destructive task. The only truly possible and progressive solution is the independent mobilization of the Cuban masses, to confront imperialism by defeating, in the first instance, the savage US economic blockade, which demands unity with the Latin American masses, in the first place, instead of trusting "friendly" bourgeois governments, like those of Lula and Chávez. It is necessary to draw up a program that, proceeding from defense of the conquests of the Revolution, and of the wages and living standard of the workers and campesinos, and the struggle against the privileges of the bureaucracy and the groups that have become wealthy, will fight for the revision of the entire economic plan under workers’ control, especially against excessive concessions to foreign capital and the "market measures," and will reaffirm the state monopoly over foreign trade, and include democratic demands, like release of political prisoners who have not participated in terrorist acts and are not financed by the CIA. For independent workers’ committees to review case by case. Freedom of the press and freedom for workers to organize, and legalization of all the parties that defend the Revolution. This will not be possible through the road of the "democratic opening" that imperialism desires, nor through a utopian self-reform of the bureaucracy. It demands sweeping away the governing bureaucracy, ending the reactionary one-party regime and imposing a real workers’ government, based on organizations of self-determination of the masses, of the type of soviets or councils. Only in that way will the Revolution be able to overcome the dangers of pressure from imperialism and its agents.

The oppositionist Guillermo Fariñas is continuing his hunger strike: Another headache for the government

On February 23, the death from starvation of the political prisoner Zapata Tamayo, after an 83 day hunger strike. Other hunger strikes by prisoners that are demanding decent treatment. The hunger strike that the oppositionist Guillermo Fariñas had been carrying out since February 24 to denounce the death of Tamayo and for the release of 26 dissidents imprisoned since 2003, with health problems. The demonstrations by the Ladies in White, who carried out marches through the city for 7 days, to condemn the Black Spring (the raid in 2003 where 75 oppositionists were arrested, thirty of whom remain in prison). US imperialism came out to condemn Tamayo’s death and the harassment of the Ladies in White, through the words of Obama himself, and the European Parliament, engaging in "humanitarian" demagogy, condemned the Cuban government’s attitude. Meanwhile, Castro enjoys Brazil’s invaluable support, while Spain is intervening directly so that Fariñas will end his hunger strike or agree to be exiled from the other side of the Atlantic.

However, if Fariñas continues with his refusal to give way and, as a result, if his health continues to deteriorate (according to sources, he has already lost almost 15 kilos, and on beginning his hunger strike, he weighed little more than 50 kilos, owing to the twenty days of fasting he did) to the point of causing irreversible damage and even death, the international context could change and the risk of political isolation could hover over Castro.