Domingo, 13 de Octubre de 2019
Última actualización: 10:47 CEST

Free market Cubans make their case

Fernando Palacio, National Coordinator of the Partido Solidaridad Liberal Cubano. (Y. RODRÍGUEZ LÓPEZ)

Until 2003 Fernando Palacio oversaw the Intensive System for Medical Emergencies (SIUM), a very prominent position in one of the sectors most tightly controlled by the Government. Today he is the National Coordinator of the opposition group Partido Solidaridad Liberal Cubano (PSLC), formerly the Movimiento Liberal Cubano (2005) and Partido Liberal Cubano (2007); the latter organization absorbed the Partido Solidaridad Democrática, yielding the current group.

Palace's decision to join the opposition spurred the authorities to subject him to various inspections and audits. Unable to find any irregularities, he was expelled anyway, as the Government classed him as "unreliable."

Palacio says that the PSLC will vie for power in a democratic Cuba. He talked to DIARIO DE CUBA about the group's positions and a range of other issues.

What will you do better than the current Party in power to meet the needs of people and bring the country out of economic crisis?

We believe that citizens who are free to invest in whatever they want, and competition between small and medium-sized businesses, will generate diversity and economic growth. For over 50 years now we have been under a regime that tells us what to do and how. I think this is one of the reasons why Cuba has ground to a standstill. Free markets constitute one of the options that will allow the country to overcome this crisis.

These freedoms exist in other countries with economic growth, but many are poor. Cuba is now opening up a little bit economically, but not everyone has the resources to open a business. They are doomed to be low-wage employees.

The perfect society does not exist. We have examples like Peru: there are poor and abandoned people, but since adopting the liberal model the economy has grown. We support free markets, but not without any social protection. There should be mechanisms, without threatening civil liberties, to help those in need. In any case, more smaller and medium-sized companies mean more employment opportunities. Poverty will decrease.

What about the vaunted cornerstones of the Cuban Revolution: health and education?

We will support anyone who wants to establish a clinic or hospital. There will be private hospitals, but also public ones. And public education, up to a certain level.

What kind of work do you focus on now, until you can compete in elections?

The strength of the entire party lies in its membership. We work with vulnerable minorities, such as blacks, women, and seniors. We offer leadership workshops. We visit communities, door to door, talking to people about our political platform. It is not easy to operate or increase our membership, due to the repression we suffer.

Do you consider women an unprotected group, despite the freedom to have an abortion, and maternity leave for State and non-State workers?

There are one or two good things, amidst a lot of bad ones. Women suffer domestic and State violence. A black woman in a slum is more likely to be asked for her identification by police.

Do you include the LGBTI community amongst those minorities? Is there male chauvinism and prejudice within the party?

We consider it a vulnerable and repressed community. Unfortunately, most Cuban opposition groups do not include working with the LGBTI community as part of their platforms. We included it about two years ago. We consider it a community that we must help and from which we must learn. Various LGBTI organizations have led workshops on sexual and gender diversity at our meetings. We have offered workshops on free markets and Information and Communication Techniques. We had a working relationship with AfroMás, which unfortunately no longer exists; and we still do with Arcoiris Libre (Free Rainbow) de Cuba, and Nelson Gandulla, with the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights in Cienfuegos.

You have participated at accountability meetings. Do you believe in this mechanism? How do the participants who know that you are a dissident react?

Although the Government considers it illegal, we do not violate any laws. We must respect them and fight to change them. If we remain outside the system we cannot do that. We must act within it, despite the obstacles and repression we face, and interact with the people, who have accepted my proposals: concrete and logical things, not a frontal attack on the system, which, according to Fidel Castro himself, does not even work for ourselves. Change can be achieved from the bottom up, by participating and demanding that those in power exhibit responsibility as public servants elected by the citizens.

In democratic countries there are multiple parties and the citizens choose. But that is where their power ends. The successful candidate often does the opposite of what he promised during the campaign.

In Cuba there are no options. For 57 years we have been subjected to a single party. In those countries, people stand up and oppose policies of which they disapprove. And there are legal mechanisms, such as impeachment, to remove a president from power. Here, even though the people might object to the president's performance, they cannot even protest. In the future, in a democratic Cuba, there will be mechanisms so that the citizens can remove a bad president.

You are also the coordinator of the Center for Leadership Study and Development (CELIDE), which focuses on identifying community leaders and training them, with a special focus on Afro-Cubans. Do you think that this could be interpreted as another form of racism, an attempt to impose black supremacy?

Although we do make a particular effort with Afro-Cubans, they are not the only ones we train. Cuba is headed towards change. How it is going to arrive is our concern at the CELIDE. The situation of Afro-Cubans is very unfavorable for democratic change. Most of those who have emigrated from Cuba are white, such that remittances are mainly received by white families. Most of those holding intermediate and high positions in the Government are white. Business owners are overwhelmingly white. At the universities, most are white. The racial problem was not born with the Cuban Revolution. We try to remedy this situation through knowledge; we have courses in which private business owners go to communities and teach them how to set up a small business, do market research, etc.

Does your interest in empowering Afro-Cubans include those who support the Government and may not vote for the PSLC in the future?

Of course. Our party will seek power in a democratic context. We believe that there is a place for everyone, even those who vote for the Communist Party. If they win democratic elections, fine.

Do you plan to run to be a district delegate?

We are supporting the Plataforma #Otro18. We train party members and sympathizers across the country to run. We hold workshops on constitutionality, communications and legislative issues. We want people who do not stick out, so as not to draw State Security's attention.

 * The PSLC currently has around 200 members (excluding sympathizers). Palacio admits that would not be many in a free and pluralistic society, without repression. And he recognizes that there are few women members, although they are working with several organizations that address women's issues. In the PSLC there are elections for each office every four years. Re-election is possible.