- Created: Thursday, 23 April 2009 16:11
FRFI 189 February / March 2006
On 1 January 2006, Cubans celebrated the 47th anniversary of the Revolution and the dawn of the Year of the Energy Revolution in Cuba. This signifies a major state initiative to save and rationalise the use of energy resources: to install efficient new power generators, to experiment with renewable energy and to replace old durable goods with energy saving equipment – light bulbs, refrigerators, televisions, pressure cookers, kettles, electrical hobs and microwaves. Within a short period, Cuba’s capacity for electricity generation will be four times its needs. From Havana, HELEN YAFFE reports.
However, this ‘revolution’ is also the culmination of many processes ongoing in Cuba since the initiation of the Battle of Ideas in 2000, which involved an intensely critical examination of society, resulting in increased emphasis on education, health and culture as key tenets in a humane socialist society. The campaign also ties together the de-dollarisation process and centralisation of financial resources introduced in November and December 2004 (FRFI 182 & 183), the free distribution of new cooking equipment announced in spring 2005, the salary and pension increases of summer and winter 2005, the increase in ration quotas, the beneficial trade deals with China, Canada and Brazil, among others, cooperation with Venezuela through the ALBA treaty and increasing links, via medicine and education, with the rest of the world.
There is a complex, multifaceted and fascinating process underway in Cuba. Revolution is a process and a socialist society must be self-consciously constructed by those who live within it. There are many issues to resolve: the balance of responsibility for provision between the individual and the state; how such class antagonisms as remain under socialism are mediated; ensuring discipline with resources and at work; how the wealth of socialist society should be distributed; how much control and centralisation is appropriate; whether the socialist revolution is reversible. These questions are being addressed in Cuba in the face of a brutal blockade and terrorist attacks.
On 17 November, President Fidel Castro skilfully drew all these issues together in an important speech to university student leaders in Havana, sparking a national debate via the media, in workplaces, in homes, in the streets and in the National Assembly of People’s Power, with 609 delegates elected from the Cuban population. Castro declared that the US is waiting for him to die to overthrow Cuban socialism. For the first time he publicly questioned the future of the Revolution in Cuba. ‘I ask you all, without exception, to reflect on it: Can the revolutionary process be irreversible, or not? Which are the ideas or the degree of conscience that would make the reversal of the revolutionary process impossible? When those who were the forerunners, the veterans, start disappearing and making room for the new generations of leaders, what will be done and how will it be accomplished? After all, we have been witnesses to many errors, and we
didn’t notice them.’ Castro declared that while the Revolution could not be overthrown by imperialism: ‘This country can self-destruct; this Revolution can destroy itself, but they can never destroy us; we can destroy ourselves and it would be our fault.’
War on corruption and the ‘new rich’
In 1989/90 the Soviet Bloc collapsed. Cuba lost 85% of its trade and GDP fell 35% over four years. In the following years of austerity and isolation, the Special Period, measures were introduced to defend the gains of the Revolution which permitted a degree of market enterprise to provide scarce goods and accumulate hard currency. The dollar was introduced and tourism became a mainstay of the economy.
The Revolution survived the economic crisis, but the Special Period had negative social and political effects. Inequalities grew as access to dollars, via tourists, remittances or joint ventures with foreign companies, created a ‘new rich’. A small percentage of the population benefited from the free welfare and education provision while refusing to contribute anything to society. Castro recognised that ‘there are several dozens of thousands of parasites who produce nothing’. Low salaries and scarce material goods generated widespread pilfering of state resources. This problem has always existed under socialism, as Castro pointed out, ‘don’t think for a moment that stealing resources and materials is just a present-day illness, nor is it an exclusive phenomenon of the Special Period. The Special Period aggravated it, because in this period we saw the growth of much inequality and certain people were able to accumulate a lot of money’.
In a speech to the National Assembly on 23 December, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque referred to the Cuban youth, some three million, who have reached adulthood or adolescence during 15 years of the Special Period. They ‘have grown up in a society in which these vices developed, these negative tendencies that comrade Fidel denounced in the university; they didn’t grow up in a country in which each one receives according to his work, they have known the epoch in which individualistic tendencies have developed in our country, every man for himself’.
Capitalism uses fear of unemployment to control workers. Under socialism, only a highly developed collective consciousness can prevent self-interest jeopardising the social project. Creating this consciousness is the challenge of the present ‘revolution’ in Cuba.
Battle of ideas
Following the massive national and international mobilisation to return the kidnapped child Elian Gonzalez to Cuba from Miami in 2000, the Revolution developed a new dynamic: the Battle of Ideas. This involves incorporating the Cuban masses into practical programmes to improve their own quality of life. Since 2000, there have been nearly 7,000 projects: constructing schools, adult education courses, expanding airports, building new medical and therapeutic facilities, video and computer clubs and, vitally important, the training of 28,000 social workers, many of whom were previously disaffected teenagers neither at school nor employed (see FRFI 187). Such has been the success and enthusiasm of the social workers that they have now been entrusted a central role in combating the vices which constitute the only real threat to the Cuban Revolution: wastage, corruption and thieving. Their efforts are also the precondition to getting the energy revolution underway.
Social workers and the ‘energy revolution’
On 10 October 2005, it was agreed to place social workers in petrol stations to monitor fuel consumption. The social workers decided their own salary and discussed the task at a conference with Castro. Their average age is 18 and 72% of them are women. The aim is twofold. Firstly, to stop the stealing of petrol for sale in the informal market. This will increase state resources and end the privileges of the ‘new rich’ who buy subsidised stolen fuel. Secondly, they will analyse the fuel distribution system, its vulnerability to natural disasters, such as hurricanes or military attack from the US.
By 5 December social workers were operating in every petrol station in the island. Next they were sent to the refineries and to accompany fuel distribution trucks. The results have been rapid and tangible. ‘We started in Pinar del Rio to ascertain what was happening in the gas stations that sell gas in dollars. We soon discovered that there was as much gas being stolen as sold’, revealed Castro. Referring to the refinery trucks, he said the social workers ‘have discovered private petrol stations supplied by these trucks’.
The social workers have been joined by university students and members of mass organisations, such as the Union of Young Communists, overseeing operations in numerous state enterprises. There will also be an end to the use of state vehicles and fuel for personal use. New devices will be installed on state vehicles to reveal if drivers are using these resources for personal trips. The intention is not to pursue culprits but to stop this corrosive trend and consequently increase the national wealth which can then be distributed fairly. In the National Assembly, the head of
the Cuban Workers Confederation (CTC) revealed that hundreds of workers assemblies had already held gritty debates about these issues. This revolution is stirring society at its roots.
Social workers are also leading the campaign to rationalise energy consumption. With rucksacks full of energy-saving light bulbs, they visited every home, replacing conventional bulbs for free and making inventories of electrical equipment. There is overwhelming support and enthusiasm for their work from the general population.
State subsidy for fuel is so high that bills are negligible. Castro told university students: ‘Simply stated electricity is a gift, and I can prove it to you’, and he did prove it with statistics and examples. ‘No one knows the cost of electricity, no one knows the cost of petrol, no one knows its market value.’
The world’s oil and gas resources are due to start running out within 30 years. As a socialist country, organised for the interests of the majority, not for profit, Cuba is in a unique position in the world to begin to tackle this problem today. The present distribution of energy saving equipment, mostly bought from China, is being monitored and assessed in pilot projects. Gas-guzzling vehicles are being replaced. There is also research into alternative energy, wind and solar power, and new technology which uses oilfield gas to boil water to produce electricity, highly efficient and less environmentally harmful.
Cuba is replacing its huge old inefficient power stations, bought from the Soviet Bloc, with small modern generators placed throughout the island. This improves national security, and reduces the potential for hurricane damage. The small generators, bought in secret to avoid machinations by the US, will provide four times more power. 80% will be installed by mid-2006.
Such investments have been possible because of substantial economic growth in recent years, rising to an astounding 11.9% in 2005. The investments will increase savings, which will increase national wealth for further investments. Castro estimates that Cuba can save two-thirds of its current energy consumption, more than US$1.5 billion a year, which is 25 billion Cuban pesos, nearly double the sum of Cuban wages. The total cost of Cuba’s higher education system is just 20% of what can be recouped by the energy revolution underway.
With this accumulation of wealth, salaries will be significantly increased and prices reduced as production increases, to achieve what Castro called, ‘the dream of everyone being able to live on their salary or on their adequate pension’. There will be no need for the ration book, which will be removed, undermining the parasitic layer in Cuban society, those who can work but won’t. The state will also reduce its subsidy on energy consumption, inducing awareness of consumption levels and saving. ‘Subsidies and free services will be considered only in essentials. Medical services will be free, so will education and the like. Housing will not be free. Maybe there will be some subsidy’ announced Castro.
‘Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society – after deductions have been made – exactly what he gives to it’. (Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme)
Novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez has said: ‘The explanation of Cuba is that Fidel is at the same time the head of government and the leader of the opposition.’ Still dressed in fatigues, Castro has declared war on ‘parasites’, ‘the dirty little crooks selling gasoline to the new rich’ and on the Bush administration, a ‘gang of shit-eaters (comemierdas) who don’t deserve any respect’. As Castro himself said, the Revolution is confident in its ability to tackle these enemies from within and without. ‘We invite everyone to take part in a great battle, it’s not just a fuel and electricity battle, it’s a battle against larceny, against all types of theft, anywhere in the world.’