Carlos Alberto Montaner
Slowly, without haste, Raúl Castro has begun a journey to the past. He wants to return to March 13, 1968. The voyage, he believes, may take several years. It will be his economic reform and his timid way to fix the mess he inherited. On that day, his brother Fidel, in a collectivist fit that was not recommended by almost anyone – especially not by Vice President Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, an old communist who displayed some vestiges of prudence – confiscated and nationalized almost 60,000 small businesses that still remained in private hands after the big and medium businesses had been swallowed up in the first two years of dictatorship.
That impoverishing blunder was described by Fidel as “a revolutionary offensive.”
With a Stalinist snap of the fingers, the Comandante abolished small restaurants, family enterprises, shops that repaired all kinds of objects, tailors and seamstresses, barbers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and the rest of the artisans and specialized technicians who managed to alleviate the horrors of the public sector of the economy, already badly affected by bureaucratic bumbling, shortages and inflation. In a few months, the communist purgatory became a true hell: almost nothing could be fixed or replaced. The country's material decadence accelerated to the point where it is today: a country in ruins that seems to have been bombed by some pitiless enemy.
Why did Fidel commit such a stupidity? Besides the political power, which is always in his calculations, and his pathological need to control everything, he did it for moral reasons. “We do not want men to follow the selfish instinct of individuality, the life of the wolf, the life of the beast,” he said. To Fidel, the entrepreneurial Cuban who wished to break through and struggle to improve his and his family's quality of life was a scoundrel without a sense of solidarity, a fellow who had to be reeducated and transformed into “the New Man,” or someone who had to be wiped out because he didn't fit into the wonderful society of disinterested and angelical revolutionaries that he was creating.
It was an era of frustrations and radicalism. In October 1967, Ernesto Che Guevara died in Bolivia and, with him, the mumbo-jumbo of “foquismo” [or focalized guerrilla war.] The event provoked in Cuba an official declaration of mourning that included the permanent shutdown of all cabarets and entertainment halls. To enjoy oneself was not fitting for revolutionaries. In January 1968, Fidel disposed of several critics of Marxism who had emerged in the Communist Party, whom he called “the microfaction” before imprisoning them. In March, he launched the abovementioned “revolutionary offensive” against small entrepreneurs. In August, he supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. He had been unleashed. It was “the Year of the Heroic Guerrilla.” Prozac had not yet been invented.
Today, almost everyone in Cuba, Raúl included, recognizes that Fidel's ultracommunist spasms exponentially increased the economic disaster that that poor country has experienced. But many revolutionaries, Raúl included, have been unable to rid themselves of their moral censure of the entrepreneurial spirit. Although they know that it is necessary to restore private property so everything may work, they see that transformation not as something positive but as an embarrassing, unpleasant concession. They continue to be convinced that Guevarism is, theoretically, a superior form of conduct, though in practice it is inapplicable and useless because of the accursed human nature.
That is why Raúl Castro's reform will fail. Because he bogs down the changes with all kinds of cautions, limitations and punishments. He does not believe in freedom. He does not concede changes convinced of what he does and repentant for what he did. He acquiesces reluctantly, as if gagging, forced to do so by the catastrophe he and his brother have provoked. He is trying to knit a thin cloth of capitalist entrepreneurship only to save his communist, one-party dictatorship. He thinks that, if he succeeds, he will be able to organize the transmission of authority without losing one gram of political power. He does not understand that the apparatus they eliminated at one stroke had developed spontaneously in the course of centuries, as a consequence of the free market and trial and error. That climate cannot be recreated by decree with measures of social engineering. That's not the way to travel to the past.