Conclusion of Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba

The final three days (April 17-19) of the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba featured criticism of President Obama’s words during his March visit to Cuba, adoption of the Party’s Central Committee’s report, election of the Party’s leaders for the next five years, a concluding speech by Raúl Castro and a surprise appearance of Fidel Castro.[1] These topics will be discussed in this post. Prior posts provided an overview of the Congress, Raúl Castro’s discussion of Cuba-U.S. relations and his discussion of socio-economic issues.

Criticism of President Obama

Bruno Rodriguez
Bruno Rodriguez

The most direct criticism of Obama came from Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodriguez Parilla. He said, “Obama came to stand here and dazzle the non-state sector of the economy [the so-called cuentapropistas] as if he was not the defender of big corporations but the defender of those selling hot dogs and small businesses in the U.S.”

Moreover, according to the Foreign Minister, “In this visit, there was a deep attack on our ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols.” However, “Socialism and the Cuban Revolution are the guarantees that there can be a non-state sector that is not that of big North American companies. ”

The Foreign Minister also referred to Cuba’s constitutional referendum in the near future as “a battle” in a different context, with “a very heterogeneous society…in which there are changes in the perception of the enemy, which remains the enemy. And it is there, in the North.”

René González, one of the Cuban Five, said Obama was “the ‘Pied Piper’ . . . [who] came to play to our children and steal their hearts. He played the flute very well, because he has specialists who tell him how to play it.”

But Rene González also made an unusual call for the consideration of political reform in Cuba by saying the Party had focused excessively on the economy for 10 years. “Let the party [now] call for a broad public discussion that goes beyond concepts of economic development. Let’s arrive at the eighth party congress [in 2021] for the first time in human history with a consensus on that human aspiration that some call democracy, and that’s possible through socialism.”

Another member of the Cuban Five who was released from U.S. prison on December 17, 2014, Antonio Guerrero, dedicated a few verses from Cuban poet Cintio Vitier to Obama and his policy of rapprochement: “Don’t attempt with your delicacy to have me betray myself. Do not pretend you are going to believe in my situation.” According to a report in Juventud Rebelde, Guerrero turned to poetry, “as a resonant symbolic exercise against those who approach us today with fake softness.”

Adoption of the Central Committee Report

As reported in an earlier post, on April 16 Raúl Castro as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, spent two hours reading the report of the Party’s Central Committee.

Miguel Diaz-Canel
Miguel Diaz-Canel

Two days later Miguel Diaz-Canel had the important, but boring, job of making a resolution for the Congress’ adoption of that report, which meant that he had to re-read that report. This included the report’s criticism of the Cuban governmental bureaucracy as having obsolete ways of thinking led both to inertia in enacting reforms and “a lack of confidence in the future. Along with other deficiencies, there’s a lack of readiness, high standards and control, and little foresight or initiative from sectors and bureaucrats in charge of making these goals a reality.”

That resolution was adopted unanimously by the 1,000 delegates to the Congress.

Election of Party Officials

Castro y Machado Vedntura
Castro y Machado Vedntura

Raúl Castro was re-elected as the Party’s First Secretary as was 85-year-old Machado Ventura as Second Secretary, who is known as the enforcer of Communist orthodoxy and an opponent of some of the biggest recent economic reforms. Raúl added that the “inexorable law of life” means that the Seventh Congress will be the last headed by the historical generation.

There had been speculation that Miguel Diaz-Canel might have replaced Machado Ventura as a clear sign that Diaz-Canel was the successor to Raúl as President. But Diaz-Canel was re-elected to the Political Bureau of the Party.

Raúl addressed the composition of the Party’s Political Bureau, noting that its 17 members include a four women, five Black or mixed-race members, two heads of mass organizations, five Council of State vice presidents, three Council of Ministers vice presidents, and four generals, including the First Secretary. Five new members were elected to this body.

The Central Committee was composed of 142 members, of which more than two-thirds were born after the triumph of the Revolution and the average age was 54.5 years, lower than in 2011. More than 98% of Central Committee members have university-level education, the representation of women has grown and now reaches 44 or 37% and blacks and mestizos with 35 or 92%

Fidel Castro’s Valedictory Remarks

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro

I’ll be 90 years old soon [in August],” Castro said in his most extensive public appearance in years. “Soon I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without a truce to obtain them.”

“This may be one of the last times I speak in this room,” Fidel Castro said. “We must tell our brothers in Latin America and the world that the Cuban people will be victorious.”

Raúl Castro’s Closing Speech

In a reprise of his two-hour speech on Saturday, Raúl Castro said the development of the national economy, with the struggle for peace and ideological firmness, was the main task of the Party. “This will be a revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble, as defined by comrade Fidel.”

Conclusion

I agree with other U.S. commentators that the harsh language against Obama at the Party’s Congress is a sign that the Cuban people had and still have a very positive opinion of President Obama, his speech to the Cuban people and his meeting with Cuban entrepreneurs. As Richard Feinberg, a former national security adviser to U.S. President Bill Clinton, put it, “The harsh rhetorical push-back by the ideological wing of the Communist Party suggests their heightened sense of vulnerability.”

“Clearly the Cubans are on the defensive after President Obama’s trip,” said Ted Piccone, a Cuba analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Ted Henken, a Cuba analyst at Baruch College in New York, said Mr. Obama’s visit “was very effective in rattling” the regime. “Instead of taking Obama’s visit as a chance to open up and speed up the transition to a younger generation, they have circled the wagons.”

Carlos Alberto Pérez, who writes under the name La Chiringa de Cuba, said that he was not surprised by the party’s decision to keep President Castro and Mr. Machado in place. “The transition is planned for 2018 when Raúl steps down. Anyone who thought there would be a change now was dreaming.”

“Party leaders are trying to set up continuity in the context of reform — but it will be the type of reform managed by conservative politicians,” said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a lecturer at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, and a former Cuban intelligence analyst. He added, “Generations do matter. Their formative experiences are different. The younger leaders will take up their posts at a time when the party is becoming more nationalist and less Communist. Younger militants also are less adverse to market mechanisms in the economy than their elders.”

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[1] Reuters, Cuba Calls Obama Visit ‘an Attack’ as Communists Defend Ideology, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2016); Assoc. Press, Cuban Leaders Criticize Both Bureaucracy and Private Sector, N. Y. Times (April 18, 2016); Assoc. Press, Cuba congress says state’s obsolete mentality is holding back economy, Guardian (April 18, 2016); Loforte, There is, and will be, a single Party, Granma (April 18, 2016); Torres, Riled Cuban Communists deploy colorful arsenal against Obama, InCubaToday (April 18, 2016); Whitefield, Cuba’s Communist Party Congress wants change, but also more of the same, Miami Herald (April 18, 2016); Raul Castro: The development of the national economy, with the struggle for peace and ideological firmness, main tasks of the Party, Granma (April 19, 2016); Assoc. Press, Fidel Castro gives Rare Speech Saying He Will Die Soon, N.Y. Times (April 19, 2016); Reuters, Cuba’s Castro Keeps Top Job but Leadership Changes to Come, N.Y. Times (April 19, 2016); Torres, Fidel Castro bids final farewell to his Communist Party comrades, Miami Herald (April 19, 2016);Whitefield, Raúl Castro and hardline deputy remain at helm of Cuba’s Communist Party, Miami Herald (April 19, 2016); Burnett, In Farewell, Fidel Castro Urges Party to Fulfill His Vision, N.Y. Times (April 19, 2016); Morales, Raúl reelected as First Party Secretary, Granma (April 19, 2016); Assoc. Press. Cuba’s Aging Leaders to Remain In Power Years Longer, N.Y. Times (April 20, 2016); Córdoba, Raúl Castro Re-Elected to Top Post in Cuba’s Communist Party, W.S.J, (April 20, 2016).

 

U.S. and Cuba Squabble Over U.S. Sanctions Against Certain Venezuelans

The U.S. and Cuba (and indeed most of the rest of Latin America) are in a squabble over recent sanctions imposed against certain Venezuelans by an executive order issued by President Obama. After reviewing immediate events leading up to the imposition of sanctions, this post will discuss the executive order and the reactions thereto from Venezuela, Cuba and the rest of Latin America.

Events Leading Up to the Imposition of Sanctions [1]

In February 2014 there were opposition protests calling for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation that sparked violence killing 43 people. In February of 2015 protesters and security forces clashed sporadically around that anniversary, while a shrinking economy and chronic product shortages have sent Maduro’s popularity tumbling.

In early February 2015, Antonio Ledezma, who is an opposition leader and the Mayor of Caracas, and two other opposition leaders signed a published open letter to President Maduro calling for a “national agreement for a transition.”

On February 10, the government announced a new three-tier currency scheme that amounted to a de facto devaluation of almost 70 percent, spurring outrage among opposition critics. This was a response to tumbling oil prices that have left the country struggling to meet its budget needs amid bulging foreign debt payments.

On February 19, the Venezuelan government announced that Ledezma had been arrested in order to halt an alleged U.S.-backed coup plot. The next day the government said that Ledezma had been indicted on charges of conspiracy against the Venezuelan government and plotting an American-backed coup. His attorney will be asking a judge to dismiss conspiracy charges against him, calling accusations that he participated in a plot to overthrow Venezuela’s socialist government “totally unfounded.”

Also on the 19th Maduro called for the Venezuelan people to defend national peace and be prepared “to deal with any scenario that may occur in Venezuela as a result of U.S. imperial aggression against our country.” That same day the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice issued a statement reminding the U.S. that it had no jurisdiction to apply its laws outside its territory against the sovereignty and institutions of democracy in Venezuela. [2]

On February 20th the White House’s Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, responded to these charges. He said: “The United States is not promoting unrest in Venezuela, nor are we attempting to undermine Venezuela’s economy or its government.  In fact, the United States remains Venezuela’s largest trading partner.  The Venezuelan government should stop trying to distract attention from the country’s economic and political problems, and focus on finding real solutions through democratic dialogue among the people of Venezuela.  The Venezuelan government should respect the human rights of its citizens and stop trying to intimidate its political opponents.”

According to the Press Secretary, the U.S. continues “to call on the Venezuelan government to release political prisoners, including dozens of students; opposition leader; and Mayors Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledezma.” The U.S. “Treasury Department and the State Department are obviously closely monitoring this situation and are considering tools that may be available that could better steer the Venezuelan government in the direction that they believe they should be headed.  That obviously means that we’re continuing to engage other countries in the region in talking about operating in coordinated fashion as we deal with the situation there.”

The same day a Department of State spokesperson stated: The Venezuelan accusations “are false and baseless. And our view continues to be that political transitions must be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and legal. We do not support a political transition in Venezuela by non-constitutional means. We’re not promoting unrest in Venezuela, nor are we attempting to undermine Venezuela’s economy or its government. And this is a continued effort . . . of the Venezuelan Government to try to distract attention from the country’s economic and political problems and focus and try to distract and make these false accusations.”

In addition, the State Department official stated the U.S. had reports that the Venezuelan intelligence service had detained the Caracas metropolitan mayor and searched his office [and] . . . that military intelligence officials plan to move opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez from his prison cell and transfer him to an unknown location. We are deeply concerned by what appears to be the Venezuelan Government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents by rounding up these prominent leaders of the opposition. Venezuela’s problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent.”

President Obama’s Executive Order [3]

 On March 9th President Obama issued an executive order that blocked any U.S. assets of seven named Venezuelans and others who might be named by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, that barred these individuals from entering the U.S. and that prohibited U.S. persons from doing business with them.

These individuals were determined by the U.S. to be “responsible for the erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protesters, as well as significant corruption.”

The executive order was not directed at the people or economy of Venezuela.

The disputes over this executive order, however, are not over these provisions, but instead to its preamble, which states:

  • [T]he situation in Venezuela, including the Government of Venezuela’s erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant public corruption, constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and [the President] hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.” (Emphasis added.)

 Venezuela’s Response to the Executive Order [4]

On March 10 President Maduro requested the Venezuelan legislature to enact an Anti-Imperialist Enabling Law granting him power to enact laws by his decree for the rest of this year in order to “defend the peace, sovereignty and full development of Venezuela in the face of threats from the United States empire.” Maduro said “no one in the world could believe the assertion [that Venezuela posed a national security threat to the U.S.] since the Venezuelan people are known as ‘peaceful, democratic, humanist and have a foreign policy directed toward understanding and peace . . . leaders in the struggle for integration and unity.’”

On March 14, upon Maduro’s order, Venezuela conducted a military exercise to counter an alleged U.S. threat by deploying Venezuelan soldiers and partisans across the country to march, man shoulder-fired missiles and defend an oil refinery from a simulated attack. Venezuela’s navy also performed exercises in the Caribbean Sea.

On Sunday (March 15) Venezuela’s legislature granted the requested presidential decree powers, which Maduro says are necessary to defend the country from the U.S. and which his opponents say are to justify repression and distract Venezuelans from economic problems, including acute shortages. Indeed, the country is suffering the highest inflation in the Americas, long lines for food and medicine, and shortages of many basic products.

President Maduro immediately responded to the legislature’s action. He insisted that Venezuela was ready to talk, “one on one, face to face, with respect, without arrogance or hubris” with the U.S. The first item on the agenda for such a meeting, he said, would be the immediate rescission of President Obama’s executive order.

 Cuba’s Response to the Executive Order [5]

Since Venezuela is a major ally of Cuba and the supplier of oil to Cuba, it is not surprising that the Cuban press recently has been full of Cuba’s support of Venezuela, both before and after the issuance of the executive order. Here are some of those expressions of support:

  • On March 5, Granma, Cuba’s official newspaper, issued a laudatory article about Venezuela’s former President, Hugo Chávez. It said he was “remembered . . . for his charisma, his arousing speech, his sincerity, his constant anguish to deliver for his people. Those who knew him say he often felt as though he were plowing the sea with that desire, so characteristic of him, to remain loyal to the people.” Now, “two years after his departure, . . . Chávez will be awakened together with Bolívar, to continue guiding Venezuela and Latin America.”
  • On March 6, Cuban First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers (and the presumptive successor to Raúl Castro as President of Cuba), Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, was in Caracas to participate in the commemoration of the second anniversary of death of Chávez, and Díaz-Canel declared that Cuba always will be a true friend of the Bolivarian Revolution.
  • On March 9, immediately after the issuance of the executive order, the Cuban government reiterated “its unconditional support and that of our people for the Bolivarian Revolution, the legitimate government of President Nicolás Maduro Moros and the heroic sister nation of Venezuela.” The Cuban government stated, “Nobody has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign State or to declare it, without grounds, a threat to its national security.” Venezuela does not have the resources or officials to threaten the United States, and the executive order “reaffirms . . . the interventionist nature of U.S. foreign policy.”
  • On March 10, Fidel Castro in a letter to President Maduro said, “I congratulate you on your brilliant and courageous speech against the brutal plans of the U.S. government. Your words go down in history as proof that humanity can and must know the truth.”
  • On March 13 Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla said that any attack on Venezuela was also an attack on Cuba and that the U.S. “has provoked serious damage to the environment in the hemisphere on the eve of the Summit of the Americas.” He added, “I hope that the U.S. government understands that it can’t handle Cuba with a carrot and Venezuela with a garrote.”
  • On March 15 thousands of Cubans attended a concert in support of Venezuela at the University of Havana. One of the Cuban Five and a Hero of the Republic of Cuba, René González, addressed the crowd, saying, “We all had in mind the warning of Che that imperialism cannot be trusted,” and that warning was confirmed by the March 9th executive order.

Other Latin American Countries’ Reactions [6]

On March 14, at Venezuela’s request, the 12-nation Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) reaffirmed “their commitment to the full observance of international law, the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes and the principle of nonintervention” and reiterated their “call for governments to refrain from applying unilateral coercive measures that violate international law.” It, therefore, called on the U.S. “to evaluate and implement alternatives for dialogue with the government of Venezuela, under the principles of respect for sovereignty and self-determination of peoples.’ As a result, it requested “the repeal of that Executive Order.”

On March 17 the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), at the request of Venezuela, will meet in Caracas to declare solidarity with Venezuela in its disputes with the U.S.

Conclusion

Although I am not a close follower of events in Venezuela, I do know that the recent huge declines in world oil prices have devastated its economy, that it is suffering horrendous inflation forcing it to devalue its currency, that there are shortages of all sorts of consumer products and that its government has imprisoned dissidents, including the Mayor of Caracas.

I also believe that the U.S. government must have had good cause to impose sanctions on the seven individuals named in the executive order.

Therefore, the protests of Venezuela, Cuba and the other Latin American nations, in my opinion, are not justified. The U.S. hopes for a cordial Summit of the Americas next month in Panama to celebrate a U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, however, appear to have been scuttled.

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[1] Pons & Ellsworth, Update 3-Venezuela announces new currency system, large devaluation seen, Bloomberg (Feb. 10, 2015); Reuters, Venezuela Arrests Opposition Mayor Accused of Coup Plot, N.Y. Times (Feb. 19, 2015);  White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, 2/20/15 (Feb. 20, 2015); U.S. Dep’t State, Daily Press Briefing (Feb. 20, 2015); Assoc. Press, Lawyer: Jailed Caracas Mayor to Fight Conspiracy Charges, N. Y. Times (Feb. 21, 2015); Gupta, Venezuela Mayor Is Accused of U.S.-Backed Coup Plot, N.Y. Times (Feb. 21, 2015),

[2] Cuba’s official newspaper, Granma, parrotted the Venezuelan government’s version of events. (E.g.Venezuela faces a stroke of continued fate, Granma (Feb. 20, 2015); Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba, Granma (Feb. 20, 2015).)

[3] White House, Executive Order—Blocking Property and Suspending Entry of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela (Mar. 9, 2015); White House, Fact Sheet: Venezuela Executive Order (Mar. 9, 2015); White House, Letter [to Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives]—Declaration of a National Emergency with respect to Venezuela (Mar. 9, 2015); White House, Statement by the Press Secretary on Venezuela (Mar. 9, 2015);DeYoung & Miroff, White House steps up sanctions against Venezuelans, Wash. Post (Mar. 9, 2015). The executive order was issued under (a) the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and (b) the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014. In section 2 of that latter statute, Congress found, among other things, that the Central Bank of Venezuela and the National Statistical Institute of Venezuela had determined that the annual inflation rate in Venezuela in 2013 was 56.30, the highest level of inflation in the Western Hemisphere and the third highest level in the world; that Venezuela’s currency controls have become the most problematic factor for doing business in the country; and that HumanRights Watch has reported the government intimidates,censors and prosecutes its critics.

[4] Editorial, In Venezuela, Punishing Scapegoats, N.Y. Times (Mar. 5, 2015); Toro & Kronicks, Venezuela’s Currency Circus, N.Y. Times (Mar. 6, 2015); Miroff & DeYoung, New U.S. sanctions lost in Venezuelan translation, Wash. Post (Mar. 11, 2015); Reuters, Mind Your Manners, Venezuela Tells U.S. Official, Jacobson, N.Y. times (Mar. 11, 2015); Neuman, Obama Hands Venezuelan Leader a Cause to Stir Support, N. Y. Times (Mar. 11, 2015); Editorial, A Failing Relationship with Venezuela, N. Y. Times (Mar. 12, 2015); Assoc. Press, Venezuela Conducts Military Exercises, Claims US Threat, N.Y. Times (Mar. 14, 2015); Reuters, Venezuela Stages Military Exercises to Counter U.S. ‘Threat,’ N.Y. Times (Mar. 15, 2015); Buitrago & Cawthorne, Elected officials grant Venezuela leader broad powers, Wash. Post (Mar. 15, 2015).

[5] Statement from the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Cuba, Granma (Mar. 10, 2015); Letter from Fidel to Maduro, Granma (Mar. 10, 2015); Pasiero, Venezuela is sacred and to be respected, Granma (Mar. 10, 2015); Pasiero, Cuba reiterates its unconditional support of Venezuela, Granma (Mar. 6, 2015); Chávez, forever present, Granma (Mar. 5, 2015); Pasiero, Mature relationships requires respect for the United States, Granma (Mar. 16, 2015); Venezuela Are All, Granma (Mar. 16, 2015); Prada & Rodriguez, Voices for solidarity with Venezuela, Granma (Mar. 16, 2015).

[6] UNASUR, Press Union of South American Nations Executive Decree of The Government of the Unites States of Venezuela (Mar. 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, South American Bloc Demands US Revoke Venezuela Order, N.Y. Times (Mar. 14, 2015). UNASUR members are Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela. ALBA members are Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenadines and Venezuela.