The Congress' political balance
by Jesús Arboleya Cervera, 20 April 2011
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, 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 characterized 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 analyzed to determine the extent of the changes and their consequences, the strategic sense of their proposals is obvious.
The decentralization 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 rationalization of social benefits are measures, among others, that seek to give value to labor 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 organization 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.
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, s well as the purposes and standards established for the functioning of the leading organizations 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.
Raúl'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 Jan. 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 Congress' most important political balance has been to understand this reality and prepare to break the inertia to face the reality, as Raúl said, “without haste and improvisation and with our feet and ears glued to the ground.” Amen.
Twenty years are really something
by Luis Sexto, 20 April 2011
Between the Fourth and the Sixth congress 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. 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 realize that 1997 saw the legitimization 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 decentralization of foreign trade, the legalization of individual work and small businesses, such as the paladares [home restaurants], and the leasing of state-owned farms to labor 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 U.S. 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-centralized economic management, strengthened the bureaucracy and with it corruption. Above all, the 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.
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 decentralization.
The guidelines approved involve some radicalness, whose understanding by the people is not unanimous after so many years of fearing the specter 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 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 organization 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.