Cuba: Bloggers Reflect on Reforms at Communist Party Congress

The sixth congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), which was held in Havana from April 16 – 19, may have marked a major turning point for the Cuban economic system, and for Cuban society at large.

As detailed by the BBC, party members approved measures to institute term limits for top party and government leaders, legalize home ownership and sales, and restructure state salaries so that they will be determined in part by the amount and quality of labor performed by workers.

Capitol Building, La Habana. By titoalfredo de Semana Santa (BY-NC-SA)

While many US and European news organizations viewed the changes as a great stride towards a market economy, with headlines like “Havana frees up markets—with a caveat” (The Miami Herald) and “Raúl Castro apuesta por reformar la economía y el Partido Comunista en el VI Congreso” [es] [“Raúl Castro is committed to reforming the economy and the Communist Party at the VI Congress”] (El Pais), the rhetoric of the congress itself demonstrated a commitment to strengthening and modernizing, but not marketizing, Cuban socialism.

Bloggers in Cuba, and those who follow Cuba from other parts of the world, offered a diverse range of reactions.

Deisy Francis Mexidor, author of Kimbombo que resbala [es], asked various Cubans for their opinions on the proposed changes. Many were enthusiastic about the ideas proposed, but concerned about how they would be implemented. A journalism student interviewed by Mexidor commented that,

[La] cuestión es cómo se logrará mantener el socialismo como proyecto sin caer en la economía de mercado.

The question is how we’ll be able to maintain the socialist project without becoming a market economy.

Another interviewee, the manager of a state-owned business, remarked,

[D]ebemos ser capaces de lograr una mayor productividad, de bajar los gastos y hacer las cosas con mayor eficiencia, de lo contrario no se puede hablar de elevar salarios.

We should be able to achieve greater productivity, to lower production costs, and to do things with greater efficiency—if we can’t do this, we cannot talk about raising salaries.

Pedazos de la isla [es] interviewed various bloggers and journalists who are known for their criticism of the government, including Laritza Diversent, of Las leyes de Laritza [es]. Diversent noted that while some Cubans closely followed and opined on the Congress, many were ambivalent about the outcome because of the lack of progress in years past.

Desde mi punto de vista el Congreso fue totalmente intranscendente, porque una cosa es lo que hablen ahí, y otra cosa es la que se haga. […] No hay una restructuración del partido o una restructuración democrática.

Pero nada de esto tiene ningún tipo de importancia entre los ciudadanos dentro de Cuba. No tiene ninguna importancia como yo creo que tiene afuera de Cuba. Por supuesto, es porque muy pocos cubanos le interesa la política, o no la entienden, precisamente por estos “va y bienes” de que hoy deciden algo, mañana deciden otra cosa, y entonces vuelven a cambiar. Por toda esta inseguridad nosotros no le hacemos ningún tipo de caso a ese Congreso.

From my point of view, the Congress was totally insignificant, because what they say is one thing, but what they do is another. There is no restructuring of the Party, nor is there democratic restructuring.

But none of this is important for the citizens of Cuba. It has no importance in comparison to the importance it has outside of Cuba. And this is precisely because very few Cubans are interested in politics, or they simply do not understand it. And they feel this way because of the “back and forth” of the government, while one day it says one thing, tomorrow it’ll say another, and so on. Because of this insecurity, we do not pay any attention to this Congress.

In the most radical change brought by the Congress, Raúl Castro himself proposed that top-level positions be limited to two, five-year terms. He emphasized the need for current leaders to encourage and educate younger politicians who would ultimately form the next generation of government on the island, and lamented the party’s inability to do this in the past. Contrary to this rhetoric, the party has elected the now 80 year-old Jose Machado Ventura, former party secretary and an original member of the July 26th Brigade, to the vice presidential seat that was left empty when Raúl took leadership of the country in 2008.

The irony of this choice has been criticized by Cubans on various sides of the political spectrum. Blogger Rogelio Díaz, author of Bubusopía [es] criticized the government’s inability to move forward, in spite of the consensus that this will be the only way for the original revolutionaries to build a sustainable legacy.

[Lo] más preocupante es que [el liderazgo] todavia está en manos de los mismos sujetos estancadores de todo lo bueno y dinámico y prometedor y renovador y revolucionario de etapas anteriores.

The most worrisome part is that leadership is still in the hands of the same, now stagnating, originators of the great and dynamic and promising and innovative and revolutionary developments of past eras.

Octavo Cerco’s Claudia Cadelo [es] expressed a similar sentiment, writing that the implementation of the economic and political reforms agreed upon by the Congress could only move forward with new leadership in place.

[Raúl] sabe, tiene que saberlo, que sus promesas sólo se cumplirán cuando él ya no esté en el Comité Central, cuando ya no sea el Primer Secretario de ningún partido, cuando verdaderamente una nueva ola de cargos públicos asuma los poderes.

[Raúl] knows, he has to know, that his promises will be fulfilled only when he is no longer on the Central Committee, when he is no longer First Secretary of any party, when a truly new wave of public officials assume power.


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