Paris is worth a laugh
Cuban President Raúl Castro has just been received with honors in the French Republic, the cradle of brotherhood, equality and freedom, by Primer Minister François Hollande. The news would be trivial if not for the context surrounding it. Beyond the many ideological similarities between the two leaders, the socioeconomic situation on the island and the future of its political stability depend greatly on this and other meetings to come.
The Cuban president, though without the “vision” and charisma of his brother, is much more organized and detail-oriented. In case many readers were not aware, and as another party congress is coming up, Raúl Castro was the "chief supervisor" of the so-called "institutionalization” process prior to the Communist Party of Cuba's first Congress, held on 17 December, 1975.
A topic fit for another article, Fidel's younger brother called together a group of young economists, philosophers, jurists and sociologists to create new institutions and to decentralize the economy and certain territorial policy decisions. He also demonstrated an ability to summon old Communists and former soldiers from the Sierra Maestra and recruit them, symbolically and faithfully, to draft a new Constitution, to cooperate with the new ministries and state committees, and give the Party the air of "old-fashioned" democracy that it sorely needed. Years later Fidel Castro, invoking the shortcomings inherent to real socialism, centralized command and snatched back the reins of absolute power through the "error rectification" process.
One of the Commander-in-Chief's "rectifications" was to cease from paying debts owed to capitalist creditors forming the Club de París. This informal group of lenders is connected to the IMF and the major banking institutions. Nobody in his right mind would think about challenging them. But Castro thought Soviet solidarity would be eternal. Though it is not known if it was he who slammed his fist down on the table, or whether his creditors, never saints, forced his hand.
The fact is that the Commander declared his own war on big business. From his trench of ideas Fidel Castro convened international conferences against international debt, published books, made documentaries, and children memorized the mantra that international debt (not internal) was immoral and unpayable. And we Cubans were left holding the bag, without a financial institution since then willing to lend us another peso.
Now many are surprised to see the general in Paris, smiling for the cameras. We shouldn’t be. It sometimes seems that Raúl Castro, 40 years later, is striving to undo what was done: "re-institutionalizing" the island and rebuilding international economic relations, in tatters after his brother tore them up, and the unimaginable fall of the socialist camp.
Time has passed and most of those young teachers and specialists, the best in their respective fields, who were recruited in the 70s to revive the economy and Cuba's international prestige, are no longer in the country, were asked to retire, remain in "pajamas," or have died in the most scurrilous anonymity.
The Guidelines could be nothing but a re-issue, ex tempore, of that ill-fated Economic Planning and Management System, of the National Assembly and the Constitution of the Republic, of that Political/Administrative Division - now not 14 but 16 provinces - of the dialogue with the Cuban Community Abroad, today turned anti-embargo embassies and groups. We should not doubt that the Communist Party's next congress will be an "updated" version of that first one. It will be doomed to fail, just as before, due its his erroneous Marxist-Leninist vision of society and the economy. But it has become the only serious attempt to give the island an institutional framework beyond the will or whim of one man.
In this new survival strategy, Europe plays an essential role. The regime doesn't need so much a political whitewash, as this has been provided by generous visitors in recent months. What the Government needs most is to clean up its finances by accessing new lines of credit with low interest rates, and urgent investments for vital works of infrastructure. Cuban advisers know that it will be very difficult to negotiate with the Americans in an election year. This time Raúl Castro's reform measures will not be thwarted by his brother, or the traditionally conservative forces. It is time that is against him. And time is relentless and finite.
Paris is, without doubt, a critical stage. After the re-negotiation of the debt from the Soviet era, it was the next step. The Island's narrative is revived: Cuba reinserted into the real world. Paris, the city where meetings between creditors and debtors are chaired by officials from the French treasury. Paris, with modernity and classicism in every corner, cultured and simultaneously medieval, liberal and Catholic, earthy and sophisticated, haughty and forgetful. Paris, a site of conventions, interests and priorities. Paris, the city where shared laughter is a tolerant way to ignore the pages of history.