2007-02-01 / Fredo Arias King
Ahead of Central Europeans: Draft of “All Cubans” and the traps of the past transitions
The Working Document (El Documento de Trabajo – DT) set a basis for a Program “All Cubans” that was published after a long and nation-wide discussion. The Program prepares Cubans for a difficult transition process.
In 1989 and 1991 many democratic leaders in Communist regimes did not rely on a similar program when they suddenly had to form governments. In that sense, our friends from the Varela Project (Proyecto Varela) have taken a lead over other democratic activists in such phase.
It seems that authors of The Working Document have studied other transition processes and they know very well what is necessary for the successful leadership of government in the Post-Communist system.
Nevertheless, I would like to point out few details which, according to my opinion, need to be considered and discussed in greater depth. It seems political aspects have been studied more than the economic ones. With this I refer to the parts of The Working Document that remained almost unchanged in the final document entitled All Cubans (Todos Cubanos).
Strong points of the Working Document: Handling power
• The CNGT (national council for the transition government) seems to have all capacities that are necessary for governing the country and dismantling the obstacles inherited from the previous regime. The council takes seriously the recommendation to the democrats to concentrate all political powers in their hands during the initial stage of transition, in order to later create the “checks and balances” contemplated by Montesquieu. Democrats in Eastern Europe often associated authority with dictatorship. They kept their hands tied prior to undertaking the hard work and later had to pay the price.
• The Working Document considers the abolition of current constitution and summoning the constituent assembly to discuss new fundamental laws. Several transition systems have used their existing constitutions (in curtailed form) but that made the political work more difficult.
• It acknowledges the mechanisms used in some countries of Eastern Europe (by coincidence, politically the three most successful – the Czech Republic, Estonia and Eastern Germany), where an interim transition government was established to manage the difficult tasks and to give society time to get organized and prepared for free elections. Hungary and some other countries did not have the advantage of an interim government, introducing immediately the political party system. Consequently, the country’s reconstruction was slightly delayed.
• Unlike others, The Working Document does not confuse punishment with measures of decommunization. When contemplating the dissolution of the Communist Party and its related organizations, the Document uses the right arguments and emphasizes at several points that the ideology is not to be punished. The authors are aware that the Communist Party of Cuba is rather a network of complicities (or a “control mechanism”) than a party pursuing certain ideology.
• It discusses an immediate dissolution of the major Communist entities (Ministry of Interior, shock troops, militia), while the CNGT will carry out changes of the lower level ranks (judges, municipal authorities and other public officers) according to its own needs. It will assume the executive and legislative powers.
• Unlike several transition leaders in other parts of the world, the authors of the Document are aware that the repression could “be transferred in liquid form” to the foreign bank accounts of the Communist officials and later again be transformedinto political power. Therefore, they consider finding and confiscating “the liquid repression” of the Communist Party of Cuba and its related organizations, including also what is referred to as “mixed enterprises”.
• The authors of the Working Document are aware that true reconciliation can be achieved only if the regime’s archives are opened to the public in order to make the relationships, abuses, etc., more transparent and possible to prove, and to ensure that the amnesty will not bring impunity.
Countries that did not carry out such steps gave an artificial advantage to those who knew the content of the archives (the abusers) at the expense of those who did not (the victims). The Document therefore considers finding, confiscating, guarding and using the archives for the purposes of democratic powers.
• It considers a takeover of all means of communication by the CNGT board. During the transition period the media should promote pluralist information but stay under firm control of liberal powers (of all ideological orientations). Later the media should be privatized, their owners being, ideally, both former dissidents and foreign investors, as in the case of the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza of Adam Michnik.
Vojislav Koštunica (former president of Yugoslavia) refused to confiscate the means of communication from the allies of the deposed president Slobodan Milošević. Consequently, the democratic powers and the government of Zoran Djindjić (who was later assassinated) very rapidly lost their popularity, since the media represented an illiberal opposition irreconcilably loyal to a different project.
• The program contemplates renegotiating the exterior debt contracted by the Communist regime. The debt represents an important issue and foreign governments and banks are usually generous towards the transition countries (as in the case of Poland). Hungary decided not to renegotiate its debts, affecting thus the priorities of liberalization and privatization process. The debts with Russia, Venezuela and Brazil should be unilaterally repudiated.
• It emphasizes economic freedom with social approach. If interpreted correctly, the model leads to an economy with better performance. However, if interpreted differently (the well-known “Third Way”), it results in a weak economy and “the equal distribution of poverty” plus exclusive opportunities for elite insiders.
Pitfalls: Economic reform
Every transition program of this type is replete with contradictions as they strive to please all the groups that need to coalesce. These of course can be ignored once the breakthrough happens. However, keep in mind that the Working Document has some pitfalls that could turn serious.
• The Working Document contemplates various social guarantees and their related costs. It is perfectly understandable why that is included in the Document, but at the same time it is necessary to consider that such measures can raise expectations among the population and minimize the feelings of sacrifices which will have to be made at the beginning.
Helmut Kohl and Lothar de Mazière made a similar mistake, promising to Western Germans that the union with the German Democratic Republic would not imply any additional costs, and to Eastern Germans that their standards of living would in five years reach the level of the Federal Republic of Germany (in Russia, Yeltsin assured the economic slump would last one year).
Some think Kohl and de Mazière should have been honest and introduce a policy similar to Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat”. Calls for sacrifices meet with a surprisingly good reaction among the population, which enables the reforms during the “Window of Opportunity”. Although the call for sacrifice is not mentioned in the Document, it will have to be made immediately after the fall of the Communism.
• The Working Document does not clearly state how long it will take before it is approved in a referendum once the Communist regime has collapsed. In such case, who will be holding power?
Most probably, an interim committee will be established even before the referendum; or the Communist parliament could feel obliged to elect one of the dissidents for a new president of Cuba before the elections will take place (as in the case of Czechoslovakia and Václav Havel in December 1989).
In any case, the democrats should enter into any agreement with the Communist authorities to break their monopoly. However, once the Communist power has collapsed, these agreements should not be kept. Unlike Lech Wałęsa and Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Havel was aware of that. He kept changing the rules when negotiating with the Communists until they lost their power; contrary to Havel, Wałęsa and Mazowiecki carried on their anachronistic “round table” commitments even after the Communist Party in Poland had collapsed.
• The Document seems to guarantee to the Communists positions in the government. If this proposal is somehow adopted, the Communists who will feel affected by the lustration and decommunization measures could use it as an argument before court, as on p.48 the document explicitly says that “the citizen members of the Communist Party of Cuba that hold administrative offices…or are in the Government, will be allowed to remain in their offices at their request, being submitted only to the administrative authority, and following the direction defined by the PCP (el Plan Cuba Primero – Cuba First plan)…”.
• The Working Document considers introducing several measures of a state-controlled economy, which will not be necessary – and could even represent an obstacle – in a well-managed market economy. I am afraid that such measures, as proposed, will encourage corruption, the lack of property rights, bureaucracy and unnecessary prolongation of the painful transition period.
• The part of the Document concerning the banking system does not consider what could be one of the most important reforms of the post-Communist transition period, i.e. to remove the elements of the previous banking regime, prevent them from opening new banks, and adopt a strict banking legislation that will allow only the most prestigious and transparent banks to enter the country’s market.
It is well known, as the former prime minister of Estonia said, that in the post-Communist transition processes, all problems start in banks. Communists are interested in banks because through them they will have the capital and information to capture industry and then politics. Because Laar Mart was aware of this fact, he did not let that happen in Estonia—the only country in the area that did not suffer a banking crisis (or a return of the Communists).
• The Working Document presumes that a group of bureaucrats will have “the necessary up-to-date information concerning the needs of enterprises and the Cuban nation in general… Using these presuppositions theSCNCE (national subcomission on external trade)will impose regulations on external trade”.
However, in a liberal First-World economy the government does not aim to directly “control” financial flows, external trade, its conditions, etc. The above-mentioned approach represents the dirigiste and anti-liberal spirit of a Third-World country present in other parts of the Document as well.