Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Cuba’s Commission of Prevention and Social Assistance (PAS)

The Commission of Prevention and Social Assistance (PAS): Supporting people locally, regionally and nationally.

Interview with Xiomara González, President of the Taller de Transformation Integral del Barrio “El Principe,” and Coordinator of the Prevention and Social Assistance (PAS) group, circumscription 40, Plaza de la Revolución, Havana city.

RATB: What is the Commission of Prevention and Social Assistance (PAS)?
XG: The Commission for Prevention and Social Assistance (PAS) is a permanent commission under the National Assembly. The National Commission of Prevention and Social Assistance was set up over 50 years ago, to ensure that nobody in Cuba would be left without social protection. At the moment the work of the PAS is composed of a National Commission, Provincial Commissions in all 14 provinces, Municipal Commissions in all municipalities and local groups of PAS in circumscriptions [the smallest division of political administration of a territory or community]. In Havana city, there are 15 municipalities. In one of the municipalities, Plaza de la Revolución, there are 19 groups of PAS. The PAS groups have an elected coordinator and representatives from the local CDRs (Committee’s for the Defence of the Revolution), the FMC (Cuban Women´s Federation), the chief of the PNR in the circumscription (Policia Nacional Revolucionary) and the ACRC (Asociación de Combatientes de la Revolución Cubana). Representatives from other organisations often attend also, including delegates from the Consejo’s populares (Council’s of Popular Power), workers groups, education ministers or Tribunal ministers depending on the needs and make up of each meeting. The president or a specialist from the Municipal Commission of PAS also attends each local PAS group meeting. Most PAS groups meet once a month to discuss and formulate action plans for general problems that affect the whole circumscription. This is to form plans of prevention against social problems and also develop solutions for identified problems. In between meetings the existing action plans are used by the different groups and representatives in the PAS group in order to solve individual problems and strengthen communication between different groups. Issues that are often tackled include unemployment, truancy from school, hygiene and street lighting. For example if there is no representative from a local school who participates in the PAS group and a generalised problem of truancy develops, they will invite someone from the Municipal Ministry of Education to attend the meeting and develop an action plan and link up with the local school.

RATB: What are Tallers de Transformation Integral en Barrios?
XG: This is an initiative of the Consejo’s populares that has been practiced for 20 years. At the moment there are 20 in Havana city alone. Other provinces have other projects depending on needs and methods of work that have been developed in their respective areas. I’m president of the Taller for the “El Principe” barrio (neighbourhood). This was created in 1996 and developed a casa communitario (community centre) that we use today for lots of different projects and activities, including music concerts, children’s choirs, alcoholics anonymous, theatre groups, modelling classes and painting. The purpose of Tallers is to provide activities to occupy free time in a healthy, productive way, and so the Tallers function to prevent social problems. Although the Tallers are separate from the PAS, in practice many of the same people are involved in both and the work is integrated.

RATB: How does the local PAS group relate to the National Commission and the National Assembly?
XG: The President or a specialist from the Municipal Commission of PAS attends the local PAS group meetings. This facilitates the communication of ideas, action plans and specific problems from the group level, feeding into the work of the municipal level and also allows the municipal representatives to feed back decisions of provincial and municipal meetings to the group level, as well as suggesting action plans that have worked in other local groups. As the coordinator of the local PAS group, I attend municipal meetings when necessary and at times the Provincial Commission will invite coordinators from local PAS groups to discuss specific issues. If a specific problem is identified in many of the circumscriptions in the municipality, the Municipal Commission will call a meeting with all of the coordinators and other representatives from circumscriptions of the whole municipality. This October 2009 there was a meeting with all the local coordinators of PAS groups and presidents of Tallers de Transformation in Havana City province in order to discuss issues and proposals for the National Assembly in December 2009. This meeting collaborated the results of investigations into problems in all municipalities and local areas of the province to form a plan of action to be discussed at the National Commission of PAS. One of the main findings of the provincial meeting was that areas with functioning PAS groups had fewer social problems, and areas with Taller de Transformation Integral in Barrios had even fewer social problems. The Provincial Commission proposed a plan of action to the National Commission which was approved and proposed to the National Assembly. The plan of action for 2010 is now being put into action locally.

RATB: What are the new challenges for 2010?
XG: At the moment there isn’t a PAS group in each circumscription in our municipality. This is because a few years ago it was decided that there should only be groups of PAS in circumscriptions that had identified social problems. However this December 2009 the Consejo Popular for “El Principe” barrio decided to develop PAS groups in each of the 7 circumscriptions in our barrio. This proposal was also agreed at the municipal level and so this year we will be setting up 89 new groups in Plaza de la Revolución municipality. This is in order to focus on prevention of social problems rather than just solving existing problems. So, one of the main focuses of the 2010 Havana city plan of action was for the experienced workers in the PAS groups to assist in setting up new groups and help to train existing workers and PAS groups. In Havana, this entails workers like myself assisting and training groups in 30 different communities in the 15 different municipalities. In both my roles within PAS and Taller de Transformation, I will be assisting with the development of groups and projects within my municipality. Within our circumscription, we will continue developing community work with a focus on music and arts for children, adults and families and to encourage participation of the whole barrio in something productive.

(Translated by Sam McGill, RATB correspondent in Havana, Cuba.)