Many Cubans regard the Granma newspaper as a supremely boring propaganda vehicle worthy of its status as the ``Official Organ of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.''
Yet in recent months Granma has published a jarringly lively and often critical set of letters to the editor on how to fix an economy ravaged by decades of over-centralization, inefficiency and corruption.
``Let us all . . . push for new mechanisms, structures or whatever one wants to call them. But let's do it without delay because tomorrow, tomorrow could be too late,'' wrote J. Rodríguez Pérez.
But a shift toward capitalism, J.L. Marichal Castillo warned in another letter, ``would no doubt generate another Revolution . . . but this time instead of 20,000 dead it would cost hundreds of thousands.''
Raúl Castro opened the doors to the polemic when he called for a frank debate of the shortcomings of Cuba's economy -- 95 percent controlled by the government -- after replacing his ailing brother Fidel, who disappeared from public view in 2006.
Academics, artists and others joined in with gusto, writing columns that ranged from calls to ``democratize socialism'' to attacks on ``neo-stalinism.'' But the columns mostly appeared in specialized journals or web pages where few average Cubans could read them.
Granma is Cuba's largest newspaper, however, with a circulation estimated at 400,000, and the two pages it has devoted every Friday to letters to the editor since March 2008 have drawn much attention.
Initially, most of the letters printed focused on mundane issues such as gripes against neighbors' loud music, a shortage of sanitary napkins and unruly pets.
But more recently they have focused on the market incentives -- some call it ``privatization'' -- being considered as a fix for Cuba's economy. They include turning over 30,000 state-run retail shops like bakeries and cafeterias to employees or workers' cooperatives.
``To fail to recognize that we're in a critical situation is to stick our heads in the sand. To . . . move toward fully capitalist formulas is to betray a homeland that has cost so much blood, sweat and tears,'' wrote Marichal Castillo.
``We cannot conceive of cooperatives, associations or whatever they are called, without rules that can swiftly `take out of circulation' those who [engage in] unlawful or disproportionate enrichment or any other negative social manifestation,'' he added.
A.J. Fernandez Alonso wrote that while he favored turning over the small shops to employees, ``many people, with complete justification, are terrified to say the word `privatization.' And the fear of someone getting rich is latent.''
But most of the opinions have favored the ``privatization'' -- some with daringly direct language -- although many of the writers tack on seemingly obligatory language saying that they want to preserve Cuba's ``socialist system.''
``Competition and privatization, which so many criticize and fear, are an engine driving good-quality services,'' wrote J.R. Cepero Donates. ``If my service is not good, I simply do not have a clientele, I do not sell, and therefore, I do not earn the necessary income to make my business profitable.''
``We must, without deviating from the socialist path, change everything that needs to be changed in our economic reality,'' added Cepero, a University of Havana student.
J. Miguel Valdés, a student at a Havana technical university, wrote that all socialist systems ``must be dialectic and adapt to new conditions in order to survive. It's useless to hold on to systems that perhaps worked in past times, if they are inefficient today.''
``I reaffirm again the urgency of adopting measures to prolong our socialism and the conquests that have cost the people so much to achieve,'' he added.
Stronger still was J. Rodríguez Pérez, whose May 7 letter described the two sides of the argument on economic reforms.
``On one side, recalcitrant defenders of a socialism that is dogmatic, pure and hard, state-run, unmovable and with a lot of rhetoric . . . pretty far from our daily reality. In sum, a socialism incapable of recognizing that times have changed,'' he wrote.
``On the other, defenders . . . of a socialism that is dynamic, changing, evolving like life itself . . . who tend to search for new forms and methods, always within socialism, for [fixing] our old deficiencies.''
But it was A. Ríos Hernández, who wrote one of the most scathing letters to editors.
``I oppose those who defend . . . the production and organizational schemes that have exhausted their role in history. For example, those who believe that all [small shops] must be maintained at all costs because that's socialism,'' he wrote. ``Lies. Socialism is the [state] control over the means of production, but not all, only the main ones, those that really define the economy of a country.''
``I disagree with those who believe socialism will collapse just because a group of bricklayers form a cooperative to build a house, or a plumber fixes a plugged drain or a mechanic fixes a car,'' he added.
``I disagree with those who believe that . . . any change will result in [socialism's] destruction,,'' he added. ``It's the other way: The socialism that does not change, that does not adapt to new situations, is condemned to failure. Remember the socialism of [eastern] Europe.''