By Manuel Alberto Ramy
An interview with the president of the Cuban Parliament, Ricardo Alarcón
Just 48 hours ago, the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba came to and end, a congress that, from what I have read and heard, foreshadows a country and a society that will be qualitatively different.
The president of the National Assembly and member of the Politburo of the Communist Party, Ricardo Alarcón, has granted me this interview. I know that his time is limited, so I'd like to ask him three very specific questions. The first refers to the area of the People's Power.
Manuel Alberto Ramy (MAR): There was talk of giving a higher dose of autonomy to the people's governments, both provincial and municipal. How would this autonomy materialize? How far would it go?
Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada (RAQ): This has been a major topic in the discussion of the Guidelines, which was a major aspect of the Congress. When we discussed the reorganization of the economic system, we almost always ended in the centralization-decentralization dilemma. Of course, the cardinal focus is to go to a decentralization of management, of the management of the economy, and also of the exercise of state authority. That leads us to the role of the municipalities, upon which we have to delegate a lot more authority and a lot more power.
The municipalities will have the ability to raise funds to develop plans for production, development and social plans. This concept of territoriality was very present in the commission I was a part of. It surfaced everywhere, at every point, say in the tax system, because it is not the same for a person in Vedado to be able to rent a room in his apartment or house as it is [for someone] in Zapata Swamp. So, if they both have to pay the same taxes, you're discouraging the possibility of economic activity in a place because of the huge differences that exist.
In all this, Ramy, I think it's very important that we take into account the following: we are not spouting dogma; we are not saying, “Here we have a model of how socialism should be.” We are trying to reinvent it, to recast it. Therefore, everything is being looked at with a practical, pragmatic sense, as the Americans would say. Experience must be constantly revised and, as Raul said, we must keep our eyes and ears glued to the ground.
MAR: So, autonomy is a “go.”
RAQ: Yes, beginning in the provinces, but especially in the municipalities. Municipalities need to enjoy the ability and authority that they now lack. They had it before, nominally greater, but the crisis led to a process of centralization in the management of resources, in making decisions, which may have been understandable at those very complicated times, but that model cannot remain permanent.
That is why we talk about the pace, the means. It is not a question of taking measures and issuing a ukase: “Beginning tomorrow, this will not be as it was before but as it is now.”
Take the resolution that I introduced about the People's Power and the reform of the Electoral Act, etc., and the experience in Artemisa and Mayabeque. The National Assembly decided that the structures of government in these two provinces would not be the same as the others have right now, and that we should try to experiment with both to see if from them we can extract conclusions that are applicable to the rest of the country.
For example, one of the problems most frequently discussed within the structure of the People's Power is the issue of simultaneity of responsibilities between the president of the Assembly and the chairman of the Management Council. In other words, the mayor of the municipality, who is the president of the municipal government, is also president of the municipal assembly.
The same happens in the provinces. In the province and municipality, it is the same person, which limits the ability to control, to verify, that must be exercised by the legislature, which is the Provincial Assembly or the Municipal Assembly. In Mayabeque and Artemisa we will begin separating the two functions; we will implement other changes to the mechanisms being used now and also, of course, design much simpler structures in the administration that are associated with the need to reduce bureaucracy, administrative apparatus, etc.
MAR: The provincial and municipal bodies have many small industries, many of which present a negative economic picture. Because we have discussed other forms of property, other ways of organizing management, might we think that the creation of industrial production cooperatives is being considered at those levels?
RAQ: Yes, of course, that's one of the possibilities in the guidelines. But there is another issue that's also important: the separation between the functions. The Party should have nothing to do with the economic management, with the administration, with the decisions made at the company level, etc. Nor should the state or the provincial or municipal government.
In other words, we've got to really develop the entrepreneurial autonomy or the entrepreneurial independence. In other words, the company is directed by its director. The conduct of the business is up to the business, not to the local government, not to the local Assembly, not to the local Party. Now, apart from that, you spoke about the possibility of the establishment of cooperatives...
MAR: Industrial production cooperatives. They already exist in agriculture. Why not take them to...?
RAQ: Yes, there is nothing to stop that; on the contrary, there is talk of cooperatives First Grade, Second Grade. And there is a very important thing, Ramy, which may have been overlooked in media coverage: I think this Congress is as important for its results as for the process that preceded it, set it up and will keep it going.
This began on 9 November of last year with the publication of the Draft Guidelines, published in a massive printing. From December 1 of last year until 28 February of this year, they were discussed in more than 163,000 meetings in factories, student centers, neighborhoods, etc., and people proposed things.
I know that there was speculation outside and some people said: “Yes, but that does not matter, nobody will pay attention.” Out of these discussions, out of the proposals made by the people, 68 percent of the 291 original articles and guidelines were amended and more than 30 others were added. In the end, 311 guidelines came before the Congress.
Once in the Congress, the guidelines were again discussed by each Provincial Delegation, which in turn made proposals. And then they moved to the five committees that discussed all those proposals and again made changes to the modified text before the Congress.
To be honest with you, if you asked me now to give you the final text of the guidelines I would have to say: “Ramy, I don't have it,” because the document I saw in my committee was changed umpteen times. And I know other committees made changes too.
I'm waiting for the Congress Secretariat to finish putting it together, after it was modified in each of the five committees, modified in a very rich debate indeed, diverse, where many agreements were made. I remember that in my committee, what was approved was not the guideline but a proposal from a province, and that's the one that is in effect now.
Now, it does not end there. A committee is being established to implement those guidelines. At the same time, the information presented to the Congress explained what was done with all the proposals in that five-month-long debate. Some proposals are not included now, but not because they were rejected. The committee deemed that it was better to wait a while, but they're still viable, they remain under consideration.
Besides, don't forget that one of the resolutions of the Congress is to convene the National Party Conference on January 28 next year. That Conference may introduce new changes, new agreements, particularly in the Party leadership. The Conference will focus on the political issue, the Party's role, its character, his style of work, but the Conference is the nation's legislative authority. We (the National Assembly) pass the laws.
MAR: And that will happen now, this summer?
RAQ: Well, at least we'll start in the summer. No, we are now beginning to study what we do this summer, the rules that need to be proposed and adopted in the Assembly.
MAR: One last question about the rejuvenation of the party, a topic about which much has been said. What are the ways to rejuvenate the Party, both its Central Committee, the Secretariat and the Politburo?
RAQ: Raul was very explicit when he acknowledged that there were serious deficiencies in this subject and in the role of women, blacks and mestizos in leadership positions, let's say. The idea of octogenarians leading [the nation], presented by some international media, is not something you can say because it would not be really accurate.
Find me an octogenarian leading the Party or the Assembly or the government in any province in this country. Find me one, see if you can find a single one. In other words, there are octogenarians, there are colleagues of a certain age who continue to rank high, say, but, well, what can we do? The revolution is already 52 years old. From the beginning, an essential part of the policy promoted by the United States was the physical liquidation of the Cuban leadership, but [the Americans] failed. Because they failed, there's a lot of us left. So what are we going to do? Self-destruct? In other words, do what the CIA couldn't do? Why? Because that has neither head nor tail.
There's no need to remove an octogenarian from the Central Committee simply because the Empire couldn't kill him before. No, let them sulk. It may be that some colleagues have great historical merit and deserve all the credit from the Party. Then comes the little game from the media. True, some of these comrades are 70-some years old, some are 80, and then when you average them, the age goes up.
Okay, but why don't they talk about those who are under 40, or those under 50? Why don't they say that most of the Central Committee members were born after the triumph of the Revolution?
Now, where is the problem? The same happens with the blacks, mestizos and women. In the case of the women, I think that in this Congress good progress was made. In the current Central Committee, more than 40 percent, 41 percent I think, are women. In the case of blacks and mestizos, the proportion here is more or less as some say. I don't have a clear idea of the exact structure according to the skin color, but the blacks and mestizos add up to 31 percent.
I think that in both categories we have to climb, we must continue to increase. But, hey, I can assure you that I chair the parliament with the world's highest proportion of women deputies. I think we are in second place to a Scandinavian country. Those countries, as a rule, require equal representation, therefore half of the candidates from each party must be women.
The fundamental problem is not a policy of “tokenism,” as they say in the United States, but of really promoting – on merit and personal capacity – more women, more blacks, more mestizos, not for show but to see how you promote them so they may rise to positions of leadership.
Look, much has been said. I have been following the media and the different views on the Congress. In my opinion, sometimes we lose sight of the basics. I would say that this Congress is the Congress of patriotic unity, of the confirmation of the union of the Cuban nation beyond the Party. It is not a Congress of the Party. From the beginning, the Party conceived that the documents it would approve should be discussed by everyone.
I remember the statements made by His Eminence Cardinal Ortega when he urged Catholics to participate in the debate that took place in Cuba. And they did. They had every right and were called upon to do that.
Out of this Congress comes a very important message of unity among all Cubans, beyond philosophical ideas. In the main report, Comrade Raúl raised a very important element in my view: the reference to religion, to spirituality. About that – in this society as in every other – there is a wide range, a diversity of preferences among people that has to be taken into account as part of our social structure.
Raúl referred specifically to the role, the function of the Christian churches, the Catholic Church on one hand, to which he paid homage. He said the laurels belonged to His Eminence the Cardinal in relation to a process that permitted the release of a group of people who were detained in Cuba.
He acknowledged the very important role of the National Council of Churches of Cuba, which brings together the evangelical and Protestant churches, and the Jews, who are also associated with the Council and engaged in the struggle to bring the child Elián González to Cuba, but also mentioned the Jewish Community, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the spiritualists, the religions of African origin, which are very important all of them, and calling them all believers, all those members of religious denominations or communities, the Freemasons, the fraternal organizations that have been so important in the history of Cuba, called on them to unify, to work together for a nation that belongs to everyone, not just the communists but everyone.
Another very important thing, which is a criticism that he voiced, and it has to do with this, in relation to the trend based on arbitrary decisions (because there is no rule for this) when selecting, appointing people to certain responsibilities, the usual procedure is to look for a Party member or a [Communist] Youth member.
Raúl made it very clear – and he criticized all Party organizations – that the only thing for which anyone requires militancy is to be elected to positions of party leadership, which is logical, because to become a bishop one must be a priest first. Now, to assume any responsibility in the State, the Government, the People's Power, wherever, nobody needs to find out whether the candidate is a militant or not. You have to find out is if the candidate is a decent, honest, capable person willing to fulfill his or her responsibility.
MAR: I thank Dr. Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, president of the Cuban Parliament and member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Cuba.
Note: The text is a faithful but reduced version of the exclusive interview for Radio Progreso Alternativa. The full audio will be broadcast on the radio program “La Tarde Se Mueve,” Wednesday 27 and Friday 29 April. (In Spanish)