Cuba: Sixth congress of the Communist Party concludes -- three assessments

Cuba's President Raul Castro addresses the sixth congress of the Communist Party. 

[For more analysis and discussion on the economic changes in Cuba, click HERE.]

By Jesús Arboleya Cervera

April 20, 2011 -- Progreso Weekly -- With the enthusiastic support of Fidel Castro, the sixth congress of the Communist Party of Cuba has just ended. Not by happenstance, the date chosen for the meeting coincided with the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the victory of Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs], an event that had enormous repercussions for the Cuban revolutionary process, not only for its military significance but also because it defined the revolution's socialist character and instilled in the masses an awareness of their own strength that translates into the political capital necessary for the preservation of the revolution.

On a symbolic level and also explicitly, this adherence to the continuity of the Cuban socialist project set the tone for a congress that at the same time was characterised by the promotion of substantive changes in the country's economic model.

Aside from the fact that the content of the Economic and Social Guidelines can be later analysed to determine the extent of the changes and their consequences, the strategic sense of their proposals is obvious.

The decentralisation of the administrative apparatus, including greater authority and autonomy for the enterprises and regional economies, the emphasis on production efficiency and its control through funding mechanisms, the empowerment of the contracts as a rule for the relationship between the producers and the traders, the expansion of work in cooperatives and self-employment and its adequate relationship with the state's economy, the strengthening of the tax system as the regulator of social income distribution, the improvement of the legal system and the economic rationalisation of social benefits are measures, among others, that seek to give value to labour and to establish its correspondence with the standard of living of people, abandoning excessive egalitarian criteria, which, as the country's leaders argued and congress ratified, limit the development of productive forces.

In many cases, they are not even new initiatives but are part of established policies that were violated in the practical management of the economy. Therefore, more than reforms, they are, in the words of Raul Castro, ways to perfect an institutional system that works with “order, discipline and exigency” at a pace that matches the domestic objective situation and the international reality.

Such a statement does not exclude the fact that important changes are coming in the life of the country. So much so that, from my point of view, this call to improve the nation's economic and political organisation is the basis of the social consensus around these proposals, irrespective of specific disagreements with the Guidelines and the real fears of many people regarding their implications for specific sectors of the population.

Racial and gender representation

On the other hand, helping to articulate that consensus was the democratic will demonstrated in the assembly process prior to the congress, where virtually the entire population participated, as well as the purposes and standards established for the functioning of the leading organisations at all levels. Outstanding in this regard are the policies for better racial and gender representation, the progressive access of young people to leadership positions and the term limits on the performance of these positions.

Raul's call to eliminate discriminatory political practices that impede the access of non-party members to administrative positions or religious people to the ranks of the party demonstrates the existence of a will far more inclusive in the articulation of a national front where everyone feels equally represented.

To rectify the proper functioning of the party has been set as the objective of the conference to be held on January 28, 2012. To strengthen internal democracy, eliminate bureaucratic methods and dogmatic views, change the policy of promotion of the leaders, and strengthen the role of the press by eliminating “secrecy”, “triumphalism” and lack of objectivity are some of the expressed purposes with a view to change a “mentality” that obstructs journalism's influence in society.

Clearly, these are not new purposes. Such principles have been part of the revolutionary political discourse since its inception. The question is: what guarantees that these negative trends will not be repeated? and the obvious answer is that only practice will show otherwise, although it is also true that there is nothing more practical than a good theory.

Once, a friend told me that Cubans are sublime only in extreme situations. If that is true, we are bound to be sublime, because we have no alternative.

Perhaps the sixth congress' most important political balance has been to understand this reality and prepare to break the inertia to face the reality, as Raul said, “without haste and improvisation and with our feet and ears glued to the ground”. Amen.

Twenty years are really something

By Luis Sexto

April 20, 2011 -- Progreso Weekly -- Between the fourth and the sixth congresses of the Communist Party of Cuba, which have so many similarities, there was an interval of exactly 20 years.

Also a logical numerical break, because you cannot leap between them without skimming the back of the fifth congress. But in political terms, the 1997 congress, between the 1991 and 2011 congresses, which logically should have been a step forward following the rules of order and the dialectics of development, was a step backward to earlier views and concepts.

I keep noticing that judging what happened is less complicated than predicting what will happen. But I retain the experience of both the fourth and the fifth congresses. I witnessed them as a journalist.

If the congress held at the Heredia Theater in 1991 was basically an attempt to readjust, to transform the socialist model that had just passed away without violence in the Soviet Union and the socialist countries of Eastern Europe, it did not require very keen eyes to realise that 1997 saw the legitimisation of a trend that asked for the removal of the reforms sought six years earlier, expressed in its allegations that the fourth congress had paved the way to lead Cuba to a mixed-economy society.

From the 1991 debate emerged the direct election of provincial and national deputies, the right of religious believers to be active in the Communist Party and the designation of the constitution as secular.

In the economic field, the debate brought us the acceptance and expansion of foreign investment, the decentralisation of foreign trade, the legalisation of individual work and small businesses, such as the paladares [home restaurants] and the leasing of state-owned farms to labour collectives for cooperative usufruct. It was not so much what that congress approved as the space that its theories foreshadowed.

In the early years, our optimism was based on the certainty that real socialism – that is, everything Cuba had built from the failed Soviet socialism – would disappear through the search for a Cuban path. The new era, which began with the implosion of the Soviet Union, began in Cuba with two blockades: the US blockade, which worsened opportunistically, and the blockade that developed upon the disappearance of the so-called socialist camp, the basic source of Cuban trade.

The fifth congress tightened the third blockade: the internal one. And things began to travel back in time. The government over-centralised economic management, strengthened the bureaucracy and with it corruption. Above all, the fifth congress adopted a line that dispensed with thought because it dispensed with intellectuals. One paragraph of the fifth congress' economic resolution was emphatic in stating that “the changes will be aimed at maintaining the preeminence of socialist state property [...] as an element inherent to socialism”.

But it is still too early to write history. The “fog of yesterday” is not yet dense enough to judge the immediate past with nuances and from multiple angles. The present and its problems and difficulties, acknowledged by President Raul Castro, as “teetering on the brink”, suggest, however, that today's mud is the result of yesterday's dust.

Overdue correction

The sixth congress made the inevitable and overdue correction. Why nine years after schedule, according to the statutes of the Cuban Communist Party? This commentator believes that the celebration of a political congress requires an examination of what was done and a decision to overcome old and new errors, and to move ahead by taking advantage of the dialectical force of change.

It appears that, in the past decade, there was no internal consensus to adopt strategies for improvement, not even when Fidel Castro, in November 2005, warned us about the possible collapse of the revolution, a victim of the mistakes of the revolutionaries. History tells of revolutions that devoured their children, and children who devoured their revolutions, because some revolutionaries were skilled at gaining power but less able to defend it and make it grow.

The sixth congress arrived with a handicap. When making policy, arriving too early may be a mistake; so is arriving too late. Reality tells us that the sixth congress of the Communist Party of Cuba has had to start from zero, i.e., from an accumulation of problems and economic distortions, cracks and breaks, so the strategy adopted needs to go farther in less time than the fourth congress, precisely for the reason already indicated: more than a decade of immobility.

Therefore, it will be necessary, despite official caution, to diversify ownership almost at one blow, to use market resources, to issue tax rules, to cut social security and articulate a process of decentralisation.

The guidelines approved involve some radicalness, whose understanding by the people is not unanimous after so many years of fearing the spectre of the market without distinguishing between the constructive and the demonic, so many years of authoritarian and paternalistic relations and restrictions on the individual citizen, although the guidelines came to the congress tempered to a great degree by the opinions of the citizenry.


Notwithstanding any defects or excesses, this strategy is superior to the alternatives coming from the right and left. The former, entrenched in Miami thanks to the US federal funding of subversion, only uses the 19th-century rhetoric of freedom, democracy, private property and free assembly. It never refers to equality, without which freedom is not possible, or to brotherhood, social justice or political independence.

The leftist strategies, some extreme or naive, propose an untested socialist organisation that would make Cuba, in the midst of internal swirling and world chaos, a kind of laboratory of theories that so far exist only in dreams.

The sixth congress, in short, will need to gestate enough consensus to protect national unity, enough consensus to move ahead, never to persevere in a Numantine effort whose strategy involves stopping. Instead, the nation's ability to generate general welfare, justice and participatory democracy on the basis of an emergency-proof institutionality will be the main defense of the ideals of the revolution, so maligned and so fought with so many weapons – almost never with the truth.

The sixth congress will be remembered not only because of the economic changes it approves, but also because of those that will be approved in the future, and above all because of the political decisions that will create a wider democratic space and restrict the role of a bureaucracy accustomed to using distortion with impunity.

Total reform in five years

By Gerardo Arreola

From the Mexican daily La Jornada

April 20, 2011 -- At the opening of the sixth congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), President Raul Castro confirmed the implementation of the ongoing reform without haste but without pause, announced that for the first time since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution the terms of office in the highest public posts will be limited to 10 years, and said the centralised economy will proceed to a new system that will recognise the trends in the market.

Castro confirmed his intention to remove the PCC from a direct operation in business management and government, called for the elimination of the tacit requirement of being a Communist Party militant to reach public office, and insisted on strengthening the functions of municipalities and provinces.

He asked the Cuban press to abandon its boring, improvised and superficial products, and announced the imminent opening of the trade in homes and cars, and an increase in the amount of land that is leased in usufruct.

The president illustrated the scope of the plan with this fact: it will be necessary to harmonise hundreds of standards and reach a constitutional reform, a process that takes about five years.

Castro acknowledged that US President Barack Obama has taken some positive steps toward Cuba, but accused him of causing the destabilisation of the island and tightening the economic blockade. Either way, Castro restated its bid to normalise relations with the United States, so we may "coexist in a civilised manner, our differences notwithstanding, on the basis of mutual respect and non-interference in [each other's] internal affairs".

For the first time since the congresses were instituted, Cuba's single party dispensed with its icons in the set. This time, the backdrop over the stage did not feature the images of the figures of communism, Marx, Engels and Lenin; national heroes Martí, Maceo and Gómez, or the revolutionaries Mella, Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara that loomed over the previous meetings. There was only the logo of the conclave, with a red background that descended on the green of a row of plants.

Raul Castro, wearing a white guayabera and joined on the front row by the political bureau, read the main report and improvised in several places. The thousand delegates to the conclave will elect a new leadership in which, predictably, the president will replace his older brother, Fidel, as first secretary.

With Fidel Castro, 84, out of public functions, this congress may be the last for the historic leaders like Raul (79) and Ramiro Valdés (78), the only remaining leaders of the uprising that began nearly six decades ago who remain at the forefront of command.

Expectations and consensus

Raúl Castro said that the discussion of the Draft Guidelines for the Economic and Social Policy – the basis for the congress – generated high expectations among the population, and became a virtual referendum on the scope of reform. Thus would consensus be reached, Castro said. "There was no unanimity", he said. "That is precisely what was needed."

The discussion focused on the chapters on social policy, housing, transportation and economic management, Castro said, but the point most heatedly discussed was that of the ration card (subsidised basic food basket).

The president confirmed that this mechanism will not be removed at once, but conditioned to decisions that raise the output and wages: "In Cuba, under socialism, there will never be room for shock therapies."

Something similar will happen with the mass layoffs, again according to the conditions. Private micro-enterprises, added Castro, may contribute to the construction of socialism by allowing the state to focus on strategic sectors and public services.

The Cuban leader illustrated other reform scenarios, such as the need to eradicate the “mentality of inertia” of public officials who wait for orders from above, without assuming responsibilities. He asked the press to eliminate the habit of triumphalism, stridency and formalism, though he acknowledged that journalists do not yet have the necessary access to official sources.

On term limits, which have never existed in the Cuban revolutionary period, Castro said only this: "It is advisable to recommend limiting the time of service in high political and state positions to a maximum of two five-year terms. This is possible and necessary under the present circumstances, quite different from those prevailing in the first decades of the Revolution that was not yet consolidated when it had already become the target of continuous threats and aggressions."

Religion and opposition

Apart from a brief passage on the international situation, Castro departed little from the reform to enter into other topics. Among them, he said it is necessary to continue to eliminate any bias towards religious believers.

He cited the release of imprisoned opponents as a government decision, executed "in the framework of a dialogue of mutual respect, loyalty and transparency" with the Catholic Church, 
"which contributed with its humanitarian labors to completion of this action in harmony; in any case, the laurels correspond to that religious institution".

We have thus helped to consolidate the most precious legacy of our history and the revolutionary process: the unity of the nation, he added.

Castro also recalled the active role of former foreign minister of Spain, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, who facilitated the departure of some convicts to his country, but rejected the relentless campaign to discredit Cuba on human rights waged by the United States and European countries.

In any case, Castro spoke clearly about the public order policy: "What we shall never do is to deny people the right to defend their revolution, because the defence of our independence, of the achievements of socialism and of our streets and plazas will remain the first duty of every Cuban patriot", he said.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 05/15/2011 - 15:43


By Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, May 9, 2011 (IPS) - The new economic development guidelines to be put in effect over the next five years in Cuba, published Monday by the Communist Party, include reforms allowing the sale of real estate and cars and a possible loosening of restrictions on travel abroad by Cubans.

"The red tape will finally be eliminated," one middle-aged man told IPS after buying a copy of the 'Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy', approved by the sixth congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) in April.

"I came really early, which saved me, because the 300 copies that were dropped here sold out immediately," he added.

Although the document does not provide details about how the reforms are to be implemented, it says Cubans will be allowed to buy and sell vehicles and homes – two widely hoped-for changes. "I hope this can be done soon," said the source, who did not want to give his name.

Under the current system, Cubans are allowed to own cars and homes, but can only sell them to the state or swap them to other private individuals for property of equal value.

The guidelines mention more flexible and streamlined forms of property transfer – "swaps, donations and others" – and of construction or remodelling.

The decision is aimed at providing solutions to the need for housing in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people, where there is an estimated housing deficit of 600,000 units – one of the country's most pressing social problems, which is aggravated by frequent hurricanes.

The PCC mentions municipal-level housing programmes that are based on the specific raw materials and technologies available in each area, as well as facilities for people to build their own homes.

The document also states that the authorities will "study a policy to facilitate travel abroad by Cubans as tourists." Since the 1959 revolution, Cubans have not been able to travel, with the exception of collective trips to the Soviet bloc organised in the 1970s and 1980s as rewards for outstanding workers.

The programme agreed by the PCC to update Cuba's economic policy and rescue the economy is made up of 313 guidelines on strategies to be followed in the areas of economic management, macroeconomy, foreign policy, trade, debt, credit, foreign investment and development aid.

In terms of regional integration, a priority will be put on participation in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), an alternative bloc made up of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Ecuador, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

The government will also continue to pursue economic integration with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, "as a strategic objective," the guidelines state.

In addition, the document outlines comprehensive policies in the areas of science, technology and the environment, as well as the strategies to be followed in agriculture, industry and energy, which will include a priority focus on the environmental impact of development, particularly in the chemical, oil, petrochemical and mining industries.

In terms of social questions, the guidelines call for the preservation of "the revolution's gains", such as free universal health care, free education, advances in culture, sports, and recreation, social security coverage, and social assistance and protection for the needy.

But "undue" universal free services and "excessive subsidies" are to be replaced by targeted assistance to needy persons, the document adds.

The government plans, for example, to eliminate, "in an orderly and gradual" manner, the ration book, a system used to ensure that the entire population has access to a basket of basic goods at heavily subsidised prices.

In the nationwide meetings and debates in which Cubans discussed the draft guidelines ahead of the party congress, the most hotly debated reform was the loss of the ration book, created in 1962 to combat food shortages and speculation and hoarding.

The delegates at the landmark party congress approved an amendment to the clause on the elimination of the ration book system, adding the word "gradual," implying that conditions would be created to guarantee stable production levels and supplies of affordable basic products.

In response to worries among lower income sectors, President Raúl Castro clarified that under Cuba's socialist system, there is no room for "shock therapies" that hurt the needy, and that social assistance is being restructured to guarantee protection for "those who really need it."

The introduction to the guidelines states that the Cuban economy will continue to be based on socialist ownership of the basic means of production, and that planning rather than market forces will guide the "modernisation" of economic policy. But the economic model will incorporate cooperatives, small farms, and a broader range of options for self-employment. (END)