Centralize, decentralize? Hitting the bullseye on the solutions to these problems

Traductora: Maya Bernstein


How to achieve effective decentralization of the provinces and municipalities? How to favor territorial development from increasingly important local autonomy? These were some of the questions that propelled the debate among the panel of experts “Decentralization: the experiment and the product,” that the journal Temas convened in its usual debate space of Ultimo Jueves, in the cultural center Fresa y Chocolate, on 23rd and 12th.

Conducted by Rafael Hernández, director of the publication, on this occasion the panel counted the presence of Ada Guzón, director of the Center for Studies of Local Development, Irving Martínez, head of legal affairs of the Provincial Assembly of Mayabeque, and history professor Mario Valdés Navia.

In a context in which Cubans debate the draft of the Constitution of the Republic, which states explicitly that the municipalities will become more relevant, Ada Guzón held the opinion that these instances need to break the dependence that has caused them to become executors of policies that are defined at other levels, instead of actors of their own development.

For his part, Irving Martínez highlighted the importance of understanding the concepts of centralization and decentralization based on the law, since they are administrative regimens established by the law. In the case of the first, he affirmed that it constitutes the relationship of hierarchy for the exercise of power, while the second is the exercise of that administrative power itself, but without necessarily a direct subordination between this power and those that executes it.

Another panelist, professor Valdés Navia, expressed that in order to speak of the decentralization of decisions, one must speak of the decentralization of resources and actions.

If the specialists agreed on something, it was that one should not speak of those themes in absolute terms, but rather find the dialectics between both concepts. As Valdés affirmed, decentralization does not necessarily have to lead to safe harbor, and various examples in Latin America demonstrate it. In the history of Cuba, for example, there are many processes “where centralization has achieved great successes.”

Nevertheless, in the current scenario that Cuba is experiencing, decentralization opens the way for the participation of all actors in an economy that has been for many years eminently top-down, he said.

Rafael Hernández incited the debate by appealing to the terms territorial, municipal, and local, as the most employed in the guidelines of the VI Congress of the Party. But, what are the principal problems that confront decentralization today?, he questioned.

In the opinion of Ada Guzón, the first issue is the lack of capacities, since we are accustomed to work through “functions and attributions” that can be the same in the province and the municipality. Futhermore, there is a need for an adequate legal framework, that happens not only through the Constitution, but also through the complementary laws that have been announced, specifically the law of municipalities. A final element is resources, which today depend on a variety of sources of financing.

While he agreed that competition is a primary issue, Martinez added that beyond a legal framework, mechanisms are needed to enforce it, and that means knowing "where my responsibility ends and where the responsibility of another begins." The economic aspect is paramount, he added, because today, to give an example, although the budgets are prepared from the bottom up, afterwards, the material allocation of resources is not adequate to implement it, and thus many tasks remain incomplete. The economic organization in Cuba is planned, so there must be a position of conciliation between national and territorial plans, and an efficient management of the economy, he said.


The sense of ownership with respect to the administration of the territory, and that each one of the civil servants feels that they form part of that government, are indispensable elements.

In the words of Valdés Navia, in order to achieve decentralization, there must be “a central authority that hands over parts of that power. It is not the same to delegate responsibilities than to surrender power.” Maybe the most important factor is to have achieved consensus around the necessity of decentralization, but the biggest challenge is in the transformation of “the top-down culture, accustomed to ordering and commanding.”

It is evident that decentralization can bring about a better use of the resources, and the willingness to do it is appreciated. In the Project of the Constitution, for example, it is stated from different angles, but it is not one element; they are all at the same time, which is the other side of centralization. “It is important that the state cedes attributions to civil society so that it also decentralizes, so that worker control exists,” he said.

Rafael Hernández called attention to the experience of Asian countries, where the most disadvantaged territories receive support from the central power and administer the excesses of the wealthiest, so that they do not become pits where corruption flourishes.

Guzón indicated that there are aspects that do not have to be decentralized. This is what must be defined and therein lies the importance of competencies.  In the case of the experience of Artemisa and Mayabeque[1], the culture of doing what is instructed has influenced the implementation, because although there are educated people, they lack the knowledge of self-management. 

On the other hand, she gave the example of the creation of the Popular Power as an important stage of the Revolution, since its initial role was precisely to decentralize all the functions of the state apparatus to the municipality, and all that was capable of unleashing the initiative, the creativity and to motivate development.

The public interventions dealt with the importance of transforming the cultural practices of citizens, promoting the culture of debate and consultation, as well as investigation prior to making decisions.

In addition, the participants in the debate recognized the necessity of not decentralizing without regard for knowledge management, to link academia to the production entities and service entities, as well as to carry out municipal strategic planning. “We are all united by a common factor, without decentralization Cuba is not going to achieve the development that it set out to achieve,” said one of the participants.

In the conclusions of the panel, Guzón added that there is a lack of strategic thinking in the municipalities, where there are sufficient productive reserves. Achieving the mobilization of those spaces could benefit planning. The municipality has to devise its local policies. We need strong institutions, where there are not officials, but public servants, she sustained.

Martínez assured that decentralization and the planning nature of the economy are not exclusive, and that the challenge is to complement the two. There is no unique model of decentralization that assures success.

Valdés, in turn, said that we continue speaking of decentralization when we assign tasks, when there should be a negotiation between different levels, in order to see what each one has achieved. This is achieved with the real participation of the workers in the economy. “If anywhere there is collective intelligence to achieve it, it is in Cuba.”



[1] Provinces that are experimenting with a model of decentralization.

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