January 23, 1998

In this issue:

Pope's Cuban visit will ease, not eliminate tensions

Associate Professor, Department of Political Science

In the first years of the Cuban Revolution, relations between the Catholic Church and Fidel Castro's government were disastrous. The mutual hostility, expressed both in the Revolution's official Marxist atheism and in the counter-revolutionary activity of some of the Church hierarchy, was complicated by Cuban society's relatively secular attitudes and by the presence of lively and popular Afro-Cuban religions. For more than twenty years, though, there has been dialogue. As liberation theology developed throughout Latin American, it sought to engage with Cuba, while Marxist revolutionaries and secular democrats struck up political alliances with Christians. Very astute Vatican representatives in Cuba maintained communication links with the government, including Fidel Castro. The Cuban Communist Party now admits believers as members, normal religious ceremonies are permitted, and no longer are believers discriminated against in education and employment.

So the papal visit is the culmination of a decades-long process, but we should not expect, whatever the Pope may say in Cuba, that the visit will achieve what U.S. policy has not: multi-party election, full-blown capitalist market relations, Castro stepping down, political freedoms on the Western model, the Cuban government saying it has had it all wrong since 1959. Even less will the expectations of U.S. Senator Jesse Helms and the more strident elements of the Cuban-American political lobbies based in Miami be met. Nor will the Pope's presence in Cuba make the U.S. move towards normalizing relations.

But what we have reason to think is that the visit will occupy and expand the political space for further developments. Both the Church and the Cuban government stand to gain more room in their relations with each other. Christmas and other Christian holidays will have a higher profile, remaining restrictions on individual Cuban Catholics will be relaxed; the Church will speak out even more about the material hardships Cubans are undergoing, even explicitly blaming the U.S. trade embargo.

Certainly, to the degree that Cuba has to deal with criticism from the rest of Latin American and the Caribbean, the Pope's visit will relax some of those tensions. At the same time it will also stimulate those voices who wish to push Cuba towards their versions of democratization and market relations-but they will be talking to Cuba, not shouting at it.

The core of the visit's meaning for North Americans pertains to U.S. policy. Here again, it's the expansion of political space which matters, and it is not necessarily a situation of direct correlation: If the Pope can go to Cuba, why not Jesse Helms or Bill Clinton? It doesn't work that way. But a U.S. president who was not enthusiastic about the Helms-Burton legislation, who is actually obstructing its application, who is increasingly pressured by very powerful U.S. business interests to move towards some kind of normalization, may very well welcome the space the visit provides. With the Pope's visit, the balance of power within the Cuban-American community can also shift towards flexibility and tolerance, thus reducing the disproportionate attention to strident lobby voices at election time. It would be refreshing to see the U.S. take some initiatives perceived as positive within Cuban government circles.

The real beneficiaries of expanded space are ordinary Cubans, who for the most part support their government and President Castro, who work hard, who feel proud to be Cuban while lamenting the material hardships of the 90s and who believe the normalization ball to be mostly in the U.S. court. Curious and excited by the many significances of the Pope's visit, they are too experienced, resilient and cautious to burden it with unmeetable expectations. But they will be the ones to move into the space created, the ones to take Cubas into its future.

CBC Radio "Commentary" aired January 21 on Edmonton A.M.

Company loyalty replaced by collectives of entrepreneurs

Principal, St. Stephen's College

Dr. Christopher Levan

Here's the all too familiar scenario. Ray is a "golden watch" employee. For over 30 years, he has given everything to his company-the best years of personal energy and intellectual insight.

All right, let's be honest. Of late, he can't compete on the efficiency scale with the young up-starts arriving from university. But at two score years and ten, surely his wisdom and experience count for something in this volatile, market-driven world. Last week, Ray was cut loose. Another victim of company policy. Downsized, rightsized, permanently outsourced, expendable-whatever the current jargon, he's now looking for work. The lack of salary for Ray presents a long-term dilemma, but the real issue is what he feels. The organization that took the finest he had to offer now considers him redundant.

On reflection, his sense of failure is compounded by the fact that his recent performance was exemplary. He and his company were making record profits. How does it happen? Double digit returns on investment and he still loses his job.

How is that for a kick in the self-esteem?

Apart from the pain we feel for him, Ray represents a frightening and critical problem. The economic contract is unravelling.

In the past, it was an unspoken but binding covenant that if an employee arrived at work on time, gave it the "college try," accomplished what was asked, avoided dalliance of a fraudulent or sexual nature, and remained loyal to the boss, they kept their job.

That may sound simplistic, but the majority of people who live and work in this province depend on that principle.

Alas, this axiom no longer holds true. In the ivory towers of industry, a new ethic is being invented-the tyranny of profit. Stockholders, mutual fund managers, and other globe-trotting money moguls demand superlative returns for their investment. There is no such thing as a "decent" profit any longer. The only acceptable dividend is the highest one.

I make no pretence to understand the finer points of economic activity, but it does strike me as ironic that the greed of this generation of investors is causing a shift in priorities which, in turn, is undermining the very security we seek. The "Rays" of this world are the victims of an insatiable appetite for an increase in wealth.

His case poses two problems which the university might well try to address. First, how do we re-establish the economic contract? As many CEOs will admit, company loyalty is a thing of the past. If there is no assurance of keeping a job by dint of hard work and high achievement, how do we motivate employees to give their best when the pursuit of excellence only goes so far? On what is the employer-employee relationship to be based?

Some analysts suggest that what appears to be emerging is career-based motivation. Each worker has to look to his or her own ambitions for inspiration. Almost like sub-contractors, their loyalty is first and finally to themselves. No more team work. We now have collectives of self-employed entrepreneurs.

Is that healthy? Is that what makes for long-term profitability and financial stability?

The second issue is more spiritual in nature. How does one confront the drivenness of avarice which has captured the imagination of the wealthy? In a privatizing culture where the shop floor or office tower no longer provide a community of compassion, how do we provide for the sense of security and belonging sufficient to overcome the drive to hoard our riches?

While I have no answers, perhaps the beauty of the university is that we can still fulfill our side of the economic contract by asking good questions.

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