Raúl Castro Puts His Stamp on the Communist Party

Raul Castro in Congress
Cuban President Raúl Castro during a speech. Photo by Alejandro Ernesto (EFE)

Raúl Castro Puts His Stamp on the Communist Party
The President of Cuba attacks the PCC for hindering his reforms and calls for it to “abandon an inflexibility founded in dogma and empty slogans”
El País: Raúl Castro pone firme al Partido Comunista
Mauricio Vicent reporting from La Habana, April 17, 2011

Raúl Castro inaugurated the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) with an historic scolding of the political organization that has monopolized the country for half a century. The Cuban president and Second Secretary of the PCC harshly criticized the party for meddling in the administration’s work and usurping functions for which it isn’t responsible, and he also demanded that it “abandon an inflexibility founded in dogma and empty slogans” and not stand in the way of economic reforms his administration is undertaking in search of a new economic model. Castro made a proposal to the one thousand delegates that no one expected: a limit of two five-year terms for all those holding principal roles in the executive branch and congress.

The head of state – visibly upset – affirmed that the PCC had blocked many of his decisions, turning them into useless paper. “We must dispossess the Party of functions which don’t belong to it,” he said in his speech, which was very tough on the most orthodox wing of the party, which is opposed to the changes. Castro recognized internal resistance and spoke of his work domesticating the bureaucracy and the dogmatists in bellicose terms: “Soon we’ll see where the lines will be drawn and how the battles will be fought…but we expect to win.”

The Cuban president assured that the reform process, officially called “the update of the model,” will continue, although he said it’s complex work which will require “at least one five year plan.” He spoke of the necessity to decentralize the state and reduce its role, and he also confirmed that the state will increase the role of private enterprise – in recent months, over 200,000 more work licenses have been issued. Yet he clarified that the transformations will preserve socialism, not destroy it. There will be no “neoliberal politics of conflict,” although the rationing book’s days are numbered and social spending will be reduced, he indicated. The process of cutting work rolls – about 500,000 state jobs are expected to be liquidated – will continue, but the state will be “flexible” in its installment.

Regarding new economic methods, he cited three which have been prepared and are in the legal redaction phase: the expected law reforming the buying and selling of homes and cars, an easing of the limits on idle land which the state can give to private farmers, and a resolution which will permit banks to provide credit to self-employed workers.

He also referred to the process of freeing political prisoners – contrarrevolucionarios according to official terminology – which has occurred in recent months. He said that it was a superb decision; he praised the Catholic Church, especially Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and Spain’s ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel Ángel Moratinos, for their contributions to a humanitarian solution. Raúl Castro assured that the collaboration he has begun with the Church has also consolidated the Cuban people, a sentence which must have screeched in the ears of the Jacobins in attendance.

Last Congress of the Historical Figures
Raúl’s words had special relevance because this is the last Congress for the historical leadership. Fidel, 84 years old, has been out of power since 2006, and his health has impeded him from continuing to work as First Secretary of the PCC. Raúl, soon to turn 80, has recognized on various occasions that the country is in a critical situation and his generation only has this “opportunity” to try to amend the “errors” of the past and “chart a new course.”

One thing is certain: los históricos will abide until the very end. But the reinforcements, in the midst of a difficult balancing act and with the necessity to substantially transform a model choked by inertia and excessive prudence, are asserting themselves. The ruler admitted that the passing of power is a delicate matter, letting slip that in coming years a new reserve of directors must be prepared owing to errors committed by the PCC.

Nothing less than the survival of the system is at stake. This must come from the opening of the economy and the reform of the regime, as it did in Asian socialist countries: less State and more Market and private initiative, but without ceding political power or abandoning the image of the revolution, and done in a Cuban rhythm.

It is no coincidence that the Sixth Congress of the PCC opened – after nine years of delay – with a grand military parade in the Plaza de la Revolución. Sculptures of José Martí and Commanders Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos and a giant photograph of absent but omnipresent Fidel Castro stood as witnesses, and of course, there were tanks, artillery pieces, and MIG plane flights displaying the aged socialist arsenal.

The scene was thoroughly planned out: a great parade to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the victory at the Bay of Pigs and to proclaim the socialist character of the revolution, reaffirmed by the labels “anti-Imperialist” and “anti-Yankee”; of course, in his speech Raúl again offered the United States dialogue on equal terms and said he would accept “the challenge of having normal relations with Washington.” Olive green and stripes were also front and center, an omen for the future of an island where the military already occupies important ministerial positions and a good part of the seats at the State Counsel and the Politburo, now to be renovated. In any calculation of the future, the military is the key.

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