Seeds of a new economy
As Cubans begin to look for economic alternatives, what can an Economy of Communion offer?
By Paola Monetta
“Amistad social,” or social friendship, was the tool that Pope Francis proposed to the young people of Cuba during his trip last September, encouraging them to discern together among people of all different backgrounds and religions how to live for the common good. And it was with this message of social friendship that the Apostolic Nuncio Msgr. Giorgio Lingua of Havana opened the historic meeting of the Economy of Communion group on the island in April.
The 30 participants included lay people and priests, a bishop, members of various churches, believers and also those without a religious affiliation who have been shaped by socialism and who want to live for the common good.
All came together to more deeply understand the economic model based on communion proposed by Focolare founder Chiara Lubich in 1991. She had been struck by how the slum areas surrounding the modern Brazilian metropolis of Sao Paulo seemed to be like a crown of thorns. In response to the social problems and economic imbalance, the Economy of Communion project promotes a business model of sharing profits with the poor in a spirit of fraternity and reciprocity.
Those who came to the meeting were involved in proposing new socioeconomic models for Cuba, others were among the 5% of the country’s self-employed businesses, economists, entrepreneurs, accountants and people interested in the topic.
It was a chance to exchange ideas and a moment to look at alternatives for both the country’s mostly government-controlled economy and the capitalist alternative offered by other countries, which many Cubans are wary of embracing. At the same time there was an understanding that there are values and experiences that Cuba can offer the EoC as it celebrates its 25th year.
Young Cuban EoC business people and foreign entrepreneurs shared their experiences and exchanged advice and new ideas on how to bring the project ahead in this country. And this is just the beginning. Kike and Rene, two young people from the island, are excited about implementing the principles of the EoC in Cuba.
“What inspired us to have this meeting was our wish to bring together ideas, experiences and dreams of opening up a space for a civil economy and one of communion,” says Kike.
The event was “something very significant,” according to a professor of ethics and economy. “While the whole world highlights a capitalistic economy, the EoC is proposing something new, different, which can do much good in Cuba. It is a healthier way of doing things for Cuba and the whole world.”
They agreed that the EoC brings the opportunity to fully harness the potential offered by the human values and principles that exist in Cuba — values which could disappear if a capitalist economic model is chosen. It is a challenge to “plant” the EoC in a socialist regime that does not have a market economy, even if it is a land that has many basic values.
“The Cuban experience could contribute the idea of joining the values defended by a socialist system — like equality, solidarity — and incorporate them into an entrepreneurial logic that could be successful, profitable and productive without leaving those values behind,” shares Kike.
He explains that currently on the macro level, the state regulates a style of sharing. “But at the personal level in one’s neighborhood or in one’s block, the Cuban culture has this concept of giving that is intrinsic, and no one can erase that or control it. And it is upon these intrinsic values that the EoC is placing its bet.”
Seeds for the future are already planted. There are some small cooperative businesses, personal or family-owned businesses that are networking together and give witness that it is possible to have an economy of communion. There have been some specific events and on an institutional level, where the Institute of Ecclesial Studies named after Fr. Félix Varela is unfurling the EoC paradigm from the academic viewpoint through topics within a humanities program. Then there are also workshops, training and other non-academic venues where the sharing of life experiences are also contributing to these efforts.
Kike shares about Gestar, a team of young Cubans who are working in a cooperative. “We could call it ‘an incubator of EoC businesses.’” Gestar presented its work of small business affairs and productive projects, which included consultations and workshops. “They highlighted the way of living and promoting EoC values, making them part of the everyday practice within a social and economic reality that is different from those in which the EoC emerged and developed in other countries of the world.”
Rene was full of enthusiasm after this meeting: “The EoC, as a viable alternative of sustainable development, seems to be the fastest path to a better world. If we keep in mind that defending the values of brotherhood, justice and solidarity, and while those are being developed not forget to protect nature and the environment, then this better future world will not be one where the powerful elite get richer, but rather one where our neighbors will benefit from a more dignified and — why not say it — happy life.”
Upon returning from Cuba, American entrepreneur John Mundell, who also participated, told us: “Although there are many challenges that Cuba still has to face, it seemed that the EoC was made just for Cuba, and I am sure that God has plans in this regard.
“On my way home, I took the same plane as many American business people who were sent out with the specific mission of ‘people to people’ trips, all intent on talking about business opportunities that are opening up to Cuba … I said to myself, this time the EoC is making a move at the right moment to bring a new message, so much in tune with the social teaching of the Catholic Church!”
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