The recent Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba displayed the difficulties Cuban leaders are having in developing a mixed economy with private enterprise (the non-state sector) competing against the dominant state business enterprises. As prior posts have reported, Cuban leaders at the Congress admitted that the state-owned entities were having difficulty in such competition and the non-state sector was increasing its share of the Cuban economy while the leaders simultaneously railed against President Obama’s effective advocacy of free enterprise to the Cuban people.
Now we see two other signs of the Cuban regime’s near panic over this situation.
Firing of Professor Omar Everleny Perez
First, it is now being revealed that on April 8 (three weeks after Obama’s visit to Cuba), the University of Havana fired Professor Omar Everleny Perez, one of the country’s best-known academics, an expert in developing economies who served as a consultant for Castro’s government when it launched a series of market-oriented economic reforms in 2011. He has made many well-known trips to universities and conferences in the U.S. and frequently received foreign visitors researching the Cuban economy, but was fired for allegedly having unauthorized conversations with foreign institutions and informing “North American representatives” about the internal procedures of the university.
Perez said he believed Cuban authorities were seeking to make an example of him not because of the allegations in the letter, but because of his critical writings about the slow pace of economic reforms. Armando Chaguaceda, a Cuban political scientist based at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico, shared that view. He said, “His call to speed up the reforms and make them coherent may have served to frighten some of the forces of immobility in the bureaucracy. It’s a terrible message to economists that will affect the government’s own capacity to hear feedback about its reforms.”
Perez is not the only Cuban academic to be sanctioned by the authorities in recent years. Political scientist Esteban Morales was expelled from the Communist Party in 2010 for two years for denouncing corruption. Sociologist Roberto Zurbano lost his job at a state cultural center after discussing racism in Cuba in an editorial published in the New York Times. In 2013, musician Roberto Carcasses was temporarily barred from cultural institutions after criticizing the government during a concert, and director Juan Carlos Cremata was prevented last year from putting on a production of Eugene Ionesco’s “Exit the King,” a play about a once-powerful dying leader.
Cubans Fleeing the Country
The second sign of Cuban leaders’ distress is the increasing number of Cubans leaving the island.
As discussed in other posts, many Cubans have been leaving Cuba and seeking to get through the U.S. through Central America. Inspired in part by a fear that the U.S. would be eliminating its special immigration benefits for Cubans, their departures also show fear that their dire economic situation in Cuba would not significantly improve in the near future.
The arrival of Cubans by land with “dry feet” in the U.S. is documented in a report by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Since October 2014 it has processed nearly 75,000 Cubans who arrived at ports of entry, many of them in Laredo, Texas.
The phenomenon of Cubans leaving the island is seen too by Cubans trying to make the dangerous sea crossing to Florida. U.S. Homeland Security Department documents show the highest number of such attempted crossings in the past eight years.
During the 2015 fiscal year ending September 30, 2015, more than 4,400 Cubans set out for the U.S. by sea, a 20 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, according to Coast Guard figures. Of these the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted 2,927, which was up 42.2% over fiscal 2014 and 115.7% over fiscal 2013. Between October 2015 and this March, more than 4,300 people have tried to make the dangerous trip.
The U.S. Coast Guard has had to step up its presence in the Florida Straits to deal with more people on overcrowded, makeshift rafts or barely seaworthy boats. Would-be immigrants caught at sea are returned to Cuba, so the rush has made people more desperate, with some actually wounding themselves with knives or guns in the hopes they will be taken to a hospital in the U.S. instead of sent back. Others try to flee rescuers and refuse life jackets.
These developments show this outside observer from the U.S. that Cuba needs to step up the pace of economic reform and that the U.S. needs to end its embargo as soon as possible.
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. 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
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.
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
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
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.”
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.”
The major event of the first day (April 16) of the four-day Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba was the two-hour, live televised address by Raúl Castro, the First Secretary of its Central Committee (and also President and General of the Army).
A word of caution is necessary for my interpretation of what Castro had to say through an English translation and through his way of speaking about and around an issue. I especially invite corrections and amplifications.
The Congress’ Agenda
The Congress, Castro said, would consider theses principal draft documents: (1) a summary of the performance of the national economy over the five-year period from 2011-2015, including a report on the results of the implementation of the economic and social policy guidelines of the Party and Revolution and updating of the guidelines for the period 2016-2021; (2) the fundamental elements of the national economic and social development plan through 2030, the nation’s vision, priorities and strategic sectors; (3) the conceptualization of Cuba’s socialist socio-economic model of development; and (4) progress towards meeting the objectives agreed upon by the First Party Conference and directives of the Party Central Committee’s First Secretary.
These documents, he insisted, must not be considered finished works, or an ideological prism, but will be enriched during the Commission’s debates, and subsequently submitted to periodic review, maintaining a dynamic vision of their content.
On this occasion, he clarified, a major process of public debate and consultation on these documents was not held, because they are considered a continuation of the lines agreed upon five years ago, to update the country’s socio-economic model
Additionally, he said, these documents reflect the collective work of many different professionals, and were analyzed during two Central Committee Plenums, a process which led to the submission of 900 opinions and suggestions, included in the latest version.
Raúl noted that this is the first time a Party Congress has considered the conceptualization of the country’s socio-economic model, one which outlines the essential foundations of the society to which Cubans aspire, to be reached via the process of updating underway.
The conceptualization and the basis of the National Economic and Social Development Plan through 2030, following their analysis during the Congress, will not be approved at this event, but rather will go on to be debated by Party and Young Communist League members, representatives of mass organizations and different sectors of society, with the aim of enriching and perfecting said plan, Raúl noted.
Status of the Guidelines Established by Sixth Congress
Raúl noted that when the economic Guidelines were adopted five years ago at the prior Party Congress, it was made clear that “the process of implementation will not be an easy path, free of obstacles and contradictions,” and that the fundamental transformations in the updating of the economic model would take over five years to implement.
Efforts to implement the Guidelines have been systematic, he stated, although only 21% of the 313 approved guidelines had been implemented, while 77% are in that process and 2% have yet to be initiated. However, he admitted, the slow implementation of legal regulations and their assimilation have delayed approval of approved policies.
“The main obstacle we have faced, just as we had predicted, is the issue of out-dated mentalities, which give rise to an attitude of inertia or lack of confidence in the future. There also remain, as was to be expected, feelings of nostalgia for the less difficult times in the revolutionary process, when the Soviet Union and socialist camp existed. At the other extreme there have existed veiled ambitions to restore capitalism as a solution to our problems.” (Emphasis added.)
“When evaluating the pace of transformations underway, we must not lose sight of the fact that in Cuba, we will never allow so-called ‘shock-therapies’ to be applied, frequently used to the detriment of the poorest sectors of society. This premise, which corresponds to our principle that no one will be abandoned to their fate, greatly affects the speed of progress made in the process of updating the country’s economic model, while the impact of the global financial crisis and specifically the effects of the economic blockade against Cuba, are also undeniable.” (Emphasis added.)
“Neoliberal policies which encourage the accelerated privatization of state property and social services, such as health, education and social security, will never be applied under Cuba’s socialist model. Even with its current economic limitations, Cuba has preserved and perfected social services for the population in the spheres of Education, Health, Culture, Sports and Social Security. However, we must continue to stress the importance of progressively improving the quality of these services.” (Emphasis added.)
“Decisions made with regard to the Cuban economy will never, under any circumstance, mean a break with the ideals of equality and social justice of the Revolution and much less rupture the strong union between the majority of the people and the Party. Neither will we allow such measures to generate instability or uncertainty within the population.” (Emphasis added.)
Cuba’s Economic Performance
“Amid an unfavorable international environment, characterized by the global economic crisis that began at the end of the last decade, in the five-year period between 2011-2015 the gross domestic product of our country grew at an average annual rate of 2.8%.” But this was “not enough to ensure the creation of the productive and infrastructure conditions required to advance development and improve the population’s consumption.” (Emphasis added.)
Indeed, “wages and pensions are still unable to satisfy the basic needs of Cuban families. Although the average wage increased by 43% in the period 2010-2015, this was concentrated in the last two years, a result of decisions benefiting Public Health workers, foreign investment, the sports sector and through the decentralization of state enterprise sector payment systems. However, it has not been possible to extend wage increases outlined in the approved policy to the majority of budgeted activities.”(Emphasis added.)
Although “a set of measures are being introduced designed to remove obstacles that discouraged the different productive forms of our agriculture, . . . these have not yet matured, and the growth rate of agricultural production is still insufficient. . . . [As a result,] on average, each year the country must spend approximately two billion dollars on food imports, half of which we could produce in Cuba and even export the surplus.” (Emphasis added.)
There has been an “increase in prices for agricultural products.” The “fundamental factor in the rising prices resides in insufficient production levels unable to satisfy demand.” Rising prices, however, have resulted in “the resurgence of a trend of speculation and hoarding, benefiting the few and negatively impacting the majority of the population.” The Party and the government “cannot remain unresponsive to citizen’s frustration at the unscrupulous manipulation of prices by intermediaries whose sole consideration is to make more money.” (Emphasis added.)
As a result, “despite the reduction or elimination of certain subsidized basic family goods, that is, from the famous ration book, which are now available in the unregulated market at non-subsidized prices, a high number of basic products and services continue to be subsidized.” (Emphasis added.)
“The export of medical services and tourism continue to expand, contributing more than half of the hard currency earnings of the country, while the influence of [Cuba’s] traditional exports [nickel], hit by falling prices, was reduced.”
“The undeniable international prestige of Cuban medicine . . . holds huge potential which is still not exploited in all its dimensions, for example the provision of medical services to foreign patients in Cuba, for which investments are being made which will also ultimately benefit the Cuban population, which accesses public health care free of charge.” (Emphasis added.)
“In the national Public Health system, a series of measures designed to reorganize, rationalize and regionalize services is being carried out, with the aim of improving the health of the population, the quality of patient care and satisfaction, and the efficiency and sustainability of the sector, while also ensuring its continued development. The perfecting of management structures and adjustments to staff rosters led to a reduction of 152,000 [physician] positions and over 20,000 doctors reallocated. These decisions, in addition to others geared toward ensuring a more rational use of resources, saw the Health budget decrease by more than two billion pesos.” (Emphasis added.)
“In regards to tourism, [since 2011], more than 10,900 new rooms were put into operation and a further 7,000 were renovated, complemented by an increase of over 14,000 rooms rented in CUC by self-employed workers, and the deployment of additional hotel facilities and services, which have facilitated the continued upward trend in this important branch of the economy, which has great potential to promote the development of other sectors and generate production linkages.”
Future Issues for the Cuban Economy
“Cuba’s increasingly aging population and high number of people migrating from the countryside to the cities, due to a series of socio-economic and cultural factors which are difficult to reverse, represent a strategic problem to the nation’s development. A policy to combat this situation was created, which included 76 measures and 252 actions, to be implemented gradually and in accordance with the performance of the economy with results seen over the long-term.” (Emphasis added.)
Eliminating the duel currency system
Eliminating Cuba’s dual currency system–the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP)–will continue to be difficult but necessary for “updating of the Cuban economic model.” Such a change “will contribute to establishing the necessary conditions to overcome the damaging effects of egalitarianism and fulfilling the socialist principle: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.’” (Emphasis added.)
Such a change will allow correction of the so-called “inverted pyramid” situation where lower-skilled workers like hotel bus boys and gas pump operators earn more through tips In hard currencies and illegal sales of gasoline than higher-skilled workers like physicians. This lamentable situation “does not allow work to be compensated in a fair manner, in accordance with its quantity, quality and complexity, or living standards to reflect citizens’ legal income.” This situation also generates “an unmotivated workforce and cadres, which also discourages employees from seeking out positions of greater responsibility.” (Emphasis added.)
Maintaining state ownership of the means of production
“We reaffirm the socialist principle of the predominance of the ownership of all the people over the basic means of production, as well as the need to relieve the State of other activities not decisive to the development of the nation.” Yet “state employment was reduced from 81.2% in 2010 to 70.8% in 2015.” (Emphasis added.)
“In socialist and sovereign Cuba, the ownership of the basic means of production by all the people is and will continue to be the main form of the national economy and the socio-economic system and therefore constitutes the basis of the actual power of workers.” (Emphasis added.)
“In an effort to strengthen the role of the socialist state enterprise and its autonomy, we have advanced in the separation of state roles from those of enterprises, gradually modifying relations between government bodies and enterprises, with directors afforded greater faculties in order to successfully carry out their responsibilities.”
“The state enterprise system, which constitutes the main management mode in the national economy, finds itself in at a disadvantage when compared to the growing non-state sector which benefits from working in monetary system with an exchange rate of one CUC to 25 CUP, while the state system operates on a basis of one CUC to one CUP. This serious distortion must be resolved as soon as possible and a single currency reestablished.” (Emphasis added.)
“This anomaly in addition to the modest performance of our national economy, has prevented us from making substantial progress in the implementation of guidelines linked to the gradual elimination of unnecessary gratuities and excessive subsidies, bearing in mind that a general salary increase for all workers has still not been achieved, nor has the stable supply of certain goods in the unregulated market.” (Emphasis added.)
Encouraging private ownership of property
“One of the novel aspects that has attracted the most attention and even some controversy, is the question of property relations, and logically so, as depending on the predominance of one form of ownership over another, a country’s social system is determined.”
The recognition of the existence of private property has generated more than a few honest concerns from participants in the discussions prior to the Congress, who expressed concerns that on doing so we would be taking the first steps towards the restoration of capitalism in Cuba. In my role as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party, I have the duty to assert that this is not, in the least, the purpose of this conceptual idea.”
“This is precisely about . . . calling things by their name and not hiding behind illogical euphemisms to mask reality. The increase in self-employment and the authorization to contract a workforce has led in practice to the existence of medium, small and micro private enterprises, which today operate without proper legal status and are regulated under the law by a regulatory framework designed for individuals engaged in small business conducted by the worker and his/her family.
“Guideline No.3 approved by the 6th Congress and which we intend to maintain and strengthen in the updated draft categorically specifies that ‘In the forms of non-state management, the concentration of property shall not be allowed’ and it is added ‘nor of wealth;’ therefore, the private company will operate within well-defined limits and will constitute a complementary element in the economic framework of the country, all of which should be regulated by law.” (Emphasis added.)
“We are not naive nor do we ignore the aspirations of powerful external forces [i.e., U.S.] that are committed to what they call the ‘empowerment’ of non-state forms of management, in order to create agents of change in the hope of putting an end to the Revolution and socialism in Cuba by other means.” (Emphasis added.)
“Cooperatives, self-employment and medium, small and micro private enterprise are not in their essence anti-socialist or counter-revolutionary and the enormous majority of those who work in them are revolutionaries and patriots who defend the principles and benefit from the achievements of the Revolution.” (Emphasis added.)
Encouraging private enterprise
Non-state employment increased from 18.8% in 2010 to 29.2% in 2015. “Just over half a million Cubans [now] are registered as self-employed; they provide services and generate much-needed production. An atmosphere that does not discriminate against or stigmatize duly authorized self-employment is being defined; however there have been cases of corruption and illegalities, the confrontation of which has proved, once again, to be too little too late, as is the example of evasive behaviors in terms of tax payments and illegal exercise of prohibited activities.” (Emphasis added.)
“Just as we aspire to greater efficiency and quality in state sector production and services, we also favor the success of non-state forms of management, on the basis, in all cases, of strict compliance with current legislation.” (Emphasis added.)
“The creation and operation of non-agricultural cooperatives continues in an experimental phase, mainly in trade, gastronomy, technical services, mini-industry and construction.” (Emphasis added.)
“Within this activity, some achievements have also been made, but deficiencies have likewise been revealed, which stem from insufficient preparation and dissemination of the approved policy and regulations issued . . .– inadequate organization and accounting control, price increases and limited access to supplies and services in the wholesale market.”
“At the same time, the management and control of this experiment by the corresponding bodies has been unsuitable, which is why we decided to focus efforts on consolidating already created cooperatives and to advance gradually.”
Recognizing the role of the market
“Recognizing the market in the functioning of the our socialist economy does not mean that the Party, government and mass organizations are no longer fulfilling their role in society – which is to combat any situation which may harm the population, nor must we adopt the attitude that ‘t’s a government matter, so I can’t get involved.’ We must remember that I, the party, I, the government, at any level, I, a member of a mass organization am involved in solving any problem that might affect our people.” (Emphasis added.)
“The introduction of the rules of supply and demand is not at odds with the principle of planning. Both concepts can coexist and complement each other for the benefit of the country, as has been successfully shown by China’s reform process and the renovation process in Vietnam, as they call it. We have used the term updating to describe our process as we are not changing the fundamental objectives of the Revolution.” (Emphasis added.)
“Positive aspects of this process are the experiences seen in several provinces with the recent adoption of a series of organizational measures, among them, an increase in stockpiling in order to guarantee products in state markets, prompting a reduction in supply and demand chain prices: a matter which requires constant monitoring by all institutions involved..”
Encouraging foreign investment
“The Foreign Investment Policy was approved, recognized as important and necessary to the development of the country, and a new law put into effect, which while offering incentives and legal protection to investors, also preserves national sovereignty, ensures the protection of the environment and rational use of natural resources.” (Emphasis added.)
“The Mariel Special Development Zone was built and offers additional incentives to attract national and foreign investors. The Zone also benefits from a legal framework and the necessary infrastructure to establish and expand production with the aim of generating exports and substituting imports; promoting exchanges of technology and management systems about which the country knows practically nothing; creating jobs and long-term sources of financing; and developing logistics to facilitate high levels of efficiency.”  (Emphasis added.)
“Without underestimating in the slightest the obstacles presented by the U.S. blockade and its extraterritorial application, we must do away with archaic prejudices toward foreign investment and continue to advance with the formulation, design, and establishment of businesses.” (Emphasis added.)
The destination of investments has changed substantially. “Five years ago the production and infrastructure sectors received 45% of investments, [whereas in 2015, it was] 70%. Furthermore, greater rigor and control in ensuring that investment plans are successfully carried out has also been seen, with an overall improvement seen in relevant indicators. However, issues still remain with regard to quality assurance and availability of a suitably qualified and motivated work force, while poor planning and a lack of comprehensiveness persist, the result of inadequate training, which leads to deadlines not being met and problems with the quality of work.” (Emphasis added
Limiting foreign indebtedness
“A series of measures aimed at the reorganization of the external finances of the country and in particular the restructuring of debt were implemented, an area in which significant results have been achieved which, together with the fulfillment of financial commitments made, contributes to restoring the international credibility of the Cuban economy and favors greater possibilities for trade, investment and financing for development.”
“We cannot pull back in this sphere and with this aim we must ensure a proper balance in the taking of loans and their structure, the payment of restructured debts, the current debt, and compliance with the plan. We must never again fall into debt.” Emphasis added.)
Issues for the Communist Party of Cuba
“In Cuba we have a single Party, of which we are proud, which represents and guarantees the unity of the Cuban nation, the main strategic arm on which we have relied to build the work of the Revolution and defend it from all kinds of threats and aggression. It is therefore no coincidence that we are attacked and demands made of us, from almost all over the planet, to weaken us, to divide us into several parties in the name of sacrosanct bourgeois democracy. These are concepts that should not give rise to confusion, not today, not ever. If they manage some day to fragment us, it would be the beginning of the end, never forget that! If they manage some day to fragment us, it would be the beginning of the end in our homeland, of the Revolution, socialism and national independence, forged with the resistance and sacrifice of several generations of Cubans since 1868.” (Emphasis added.)
The Party now has 670,000 members, which has declined, “impacted by the negative demographic trends affecting the country, a restrictive growth policy maintained since 2004, and shortcomings in efforts to train, retain, and motivate potential members. It is also true however, that this trend has decelerated over recent years.” (Emphasis added.)
“The existence of a single party presupposes stimulating the broadest and frankest exchange of views, both within the party organization and in its link to the grassroots with the workers and the population. The Party is obliged to permanently strengthen and perfect our democracy, for which it is essential to definitively overcome false unanimity, formalism and simulation. The Party has the duty to promote and guarantee the increasing participation of citizens in fundamental decisions of society. We have no fear of different opinions or disagreement, as only frank and honest discussion of differences between revolutionaries will lead to the best decisions. (Emphasis added.)
We know that the Party and the Revolution have the majority support of the people, this is a fact that nobody can deny, however, we are aware that in certain sectors of the population there are manifestations of a lack of commitment and interest in the affairs of our political life, and negative opinions remain regarding the merit of some members and cadres, as well as their disengagement from our people.” (Emphasis added.)
“In the most recent period we have seen an increase in actions aimed at fostering the values of a consumer society; division, apathy, discouragement, alienation, and a lack of confidence in the leadership of the Revolution and the Party, sowing a matrix of opinions that attempts to present us as a society without a future. (Emphasis added.)
“In these circumstances, it is necessary to strengthen intelligent, solid and systematic preventive work and raise the demands and supervision by the bodies responsible for confronting political and ideological subversion, and increase the combativity of members, vigilance in work places and ideological work with younger generations, strengthening the irreplaceable role of the family and school. I repeat: Strengthening the irreplaceable role of the family and school!”
“In the Central Report to the 6th Congress[ in 2011] I referred to the need to gradually undertake, without precipitation or improvisations, the creation of a properly prepared reserve of cadres, with sufficient experience and maturity to take on the new and complex tasks of leadership in the Party, the state and the government. I also expressed the benefit and need to limit the exercise of fundamental political and state positions to a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms, which will be determined by the Central Committee in the case of the Party and mass organizations, and our Parliament as regards the State and government. (Emphasis added.)
“I believe that this matter of strategic importance has also advanced, although the next five years, for obvious reasons, will be decisive and we must introduce additional limits on the composition of the higher bodies of the Party, that is to say, the Central Committee, the Secretariat and the Political Bureau, a transitional process that should be implemented and conclude with the celebration of the next Congress. This is a five-year period of transition to avoid doing things in haste. It is not about getting rid of one person to replace them with another who is 10 years younger and so on. We are behind, and what we want to do, precisely, is to ensure that this flows naturally, and it must be well stipulated in the laws or regulations to be established.”
We propose establishing 60 as the maximum age to join the Central Committee. (Emphasis added.)
The inclusion of younger alternate members on the Central Committee could also be established at another time. The idea is to have a method, a route, a proposal to ensure that we are never surprised by things,that they evolve naturally. In this case, in the future, new members must be less than 60 years of age. No one should think that if you can’t be at a certain leadership level of the country, you can’t do anything, but the experience of some countries has shown us that this is never positive, and even though it is a well-known secret, never forget, that during the final stage of the Soviet Union, over a short period of time, three First Secretaries of the Party died.” (Emphasis added.)
That is why we propose establishing 60 as the maximum age to join the Central Committee, and 70 to assume a leadership position in the Party, which in addition to the limit of two consecutive terms in political positions will guaranteethe systematic rejuvenation of the entire system of Party cadre, from the grassroots. And I repeat that subsequently this will need to be regulated precisely, because there will be those who at 75 or 80 years of age can undertake an important task, but not an important leadership activity, for obvious reasons, and because of the very experience with which we are speaking to you.” (Emphasis added.)
‘If this proposal is approved by the Congress, appropriate modifications will be made to the Party Statutes. We believe that this same policy must be implemented in state and government institutions, and in mass organizations.”
“In my case, it is no secret that my second term as President of the Councils of State and Ministers will conclude in 2018, and I will relinquish these responsibilities to whoever is elected.” Emphasis added.)
“These modifications in the area of positions and age limits on the assumption of leadership roles must be established in the Constitution of the Republic, which we propose reforming in the next few years, taking into account the important transformations associated with the updating of our economic and social model, and its conceptualization. Everything we have been doing must be reflected in the Constitution, at the moment that modifications which must be included are ready, and above all, when they have been discussed by the population.”
“The current Constitution, approved by popular referendum in 1976, 40 years ago, and partially reformed in 1992 and 2002, reflects historical circumstances, and social and economic conditions, which have changed with the passing of time, and the current implementation of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution.”
“The process of reform, which must be previously approved by the National Assembly, in accordance with its constituent powers, implies broad popular participation, including the holding of a constitutional referendum.”
“This will be an opportunity to codify in our Magna Carta other issues which require a constitutional foundation.”
“I must emphasize that within the scope of these constitutional changes, we will propose reaffirming the irrevocable nature of the political and social system established in the current Constitution, which includes the leadership role of the Communist Party of Cuba in our society, which is Article 5 in the current Constitution.” (Emphasis added.)
Issues for Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (CTC)
“In any Western press agency where you might read something that refers to [the CTC] . . . they add in parentheses: ‘the only one,” as if that were a crime. They want to shape the world – you already know who I mean: the [U.S.] and all those accompanying them – to adjust the world to their advantage, that is what they want to do, and that’s why today we must be more alert than ever. They themselves have said: 50 years of blockade did not work and we could not isolate Cuba, on the contrary, we were running the risk of isolating ourselves in Latin America. We [the U.S.] must change that. And how [is the U.S.] . . . going to change this? With other methods, more difficult to combat. Hence the importance of these issues which must be sufficiently clear in our minds and in our people. (Emphasis added.)
“These are concepts that should not give rise to confusion, not today, not ever. If they manage some day to fragment us, it would be the beginning of the end in our homeland, of the Revolution, socialism and national independence, forged with the resistance and sacrifice of several generations of Cubans since 1868.”
The influence on our reality of the complexities of the world in which we live, the [U.S.] policy of hostility and harassment, the actions aimed at introducing platforms for neoliberal thought and the restoration of capitalism supported by a perverse strategy of political-ideological subversion, which undermine the very essence of the Revolution and Cuban culture, history and the values forged within it, the undeniable existence of accumulated problems in society, to which are added the process of the implementation of the Guidelines itself and the profound changes in which we are immersed, as well as the new scenario of relations between Cuba and the [U.S.], are facts that present greater challenges to ideological efforts. These programs target sectors that the enemy identifies as the most vulnerable and include young people, intellectuals, workers associated with non-state forms of management, and communities with greater material and financial difficulties. (Emphasis added.)
At the same time as we safeguard the historical memory of the nation and perfect differentiated ideological work, with special emphasis on youth and children, we must reinforce anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist culture among ourselves, fighting with arguments, conviction and resolve the attempts at establishing patterns of petty bourgeois ideology characterized by individualism, selfishness, the pursuit of profit, banality, and the intensifying of consumerism. (Emphasis added.)
The best antidote to political subversion is working with integrity and without improvisation, doing things well, improving the quality of services to the population, not allowing problems to accumulate, enhancing knowledge of the history of Cuba, national identity and culture, exalting the pride of being Cuban and fostering an atmosphere of legality, defense of public property, respect for the dignity of people, values and social discipline across the country. (Emphasis added.)
It was not easy to unpack Raúl Castro’s lengthy address, which came without any captioned divisions and subdivisions and which, in my judgment, did not have a precise logical structure. The above is my attempt to add such captions, highlighting and structure to better understand what he was saying.
Obviously Cuba is struggling with how to integrate free enterprise and free markets into its state-run economy. It is finding that is not an easy endeavor.
However, I am reminded that as a senior college student in 1960-61 I read a book on that very subject by a Polish economist, Oskar Lange, The Economic Theory of Socialism, in which heput Marxian and neoclassical economics together. He advocated the use of market tools (especially the neoclassical pricing theory) in economic planning of socialism and Marxism. He proposed that central planning boards set prices through “trial and error”, making adjustments as shortages and surpluses occurred rather than relying on a free price mechanism. Under this system, central planners “would arbitrarily pick a price for products manufactured in government factories and raise it or reduce it depending on whether it resulted in shortages or gluts. After this economic experiment had been run a few times, mathematicians capable of solving complex simultaneous equations would be able to plan the economy If there were shortages, prices would be raised; if there were surpluses, prices would be lowered. Raising the prices would encourage businesses to increase production, driven by their desire to increase their profits, and in doing so eliminate the shortage. Lowering the prices would encourage businesses to curtail production in order to prevent losses, which would eliminate the surplus. Therefore, it would be a simulation of the market mechanism, which Lange thought would be capable of effectively managing supply and demand. Proponents of this idea argue that it combines the advantages of a market economy with those of socialist economics.
I also was struck with Castro’s frank admissions of the many problems in the economy and the Party: failure to provide most Cubans with an adequate income, inadequate production of food, declining Party membership and the competing ideology of capitalism, wealth and consumerism. There was some irony to Castro’s admissions or complaints. As president of Cuba and head of the Party, he maintains near-total control of the country. And the slowness he derided is an essential part of his own policy. Castro repeated Saturday that Cuba’s reforms would be “with neither haste nor pause” and that the country would never feel the “shock therapy” experienced by other socialist states.
Castro touched on the problems associated with an aging and urbanized population. However, he did not connect the increasing departure of young Cubans seeking better economic opportunities, such as those recently transiting through Central America, as contributing to the aging population. Aren’t those young Cubans voting with their feet on the current and future economic prospects in Cuba? And there is no countervailing movement of great numbers of young people to come and live in Cuba. Neither of these groups see Cuba as utopia.
Like most observers, I was surprised to hear Castro, age 85, call for term and age limits for future leaders of the Party and the government.
Unsurprising was the continued hostility towards the U.S. and its ideas.
The major event of the first day (April 16) of the four-day Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba was the two-hour, live televised address by Raúl Castro, the First Secretary of its Central Committee (and also President and General of the Army). Most of this address concerned the country’s internal socio-economic and other issues, which will be covered in a subsequent post, while a prior post provided an overview of the Congress. This post will focus on his discussion of Cuba-U.S. relations. Here is what he had to say on that subject near the end of the speech along with this blogger’s reactions.
“Fifteen months have transpired since we announced, simultaneously with President Barack Obama, the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, on the basis of sovereign equality, non-interference in domestic affairs, and absolute respect for our independence. Hours before this speech, Fidel’s promise to the Cuban people was kept, with the completion of the return to the homeland of the Cuban Five.”
“We have reached this point thanks to the heroic resistance and sacrifice of the Cuban people, and their loyalty to the Revolution’s ideals and principles, supported by decisive international solidarity, made clear in multiple events and international organizations, in particular the overwhelming votes in the United Nations General Assembly against the blockade.”
“The political map of Our America had changed, given the advance of political forces on the left and popular movements, which contributed to progress in regional integration, symbolized by the constituting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), in December of 2011.”
“All of this placed the [U.S.] in an untenable situation of isolation within the hemisphere, and put the so-called inter-American system in crisis, as was made evident by the demand to end the blockade and opposition to the exclusion of Cuba from the 6th Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, in 2012.”
“On the other hand, changes have been occurring in U.S. society, and in the Cuban émigré community, in favor of the modification of the [U.S.’] policy toward Cuba.”
“In April of last year, we attended the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama, with our heads held high. . . .”
“Throughout the period . . . since December of 2014, concrete results have been achieved in the dialogue and in cooperation between Cuba and the [U.S.] Nevertheless, the economic, commercial and financial blockade, imposed more than half a century ago, remains in force, with unquestionably intimidating, extraterritorial effects, although we recognize the position taken by President Obama and high-ranking administration officials against the blockade, and their repeated appeals to Congress in the interest of eliminating it.”
“The measures announced prior to [President Obama’s] visit to Havana, to introduce some modifications in the blockade’s implementation, on the basis of his executive powers, are positive but insufficient.”
“As we expressed in the meeting between the two Presidents with the press, to advance toward normalization of relations, it is imperative to eliminate the blockade, which causes our population hardship and constitutes the principal obstacle to economic development of the country; and return the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo Naval Base against the will of the Cuban government and people.”
“Likewise, [U.S.] programs directed toward changing the political, economic and social system, which we have chosen sovereignly, must be ended, along with other damaging policies still in effect.”
U.S. immigration “policy continues to be used as a weapon against the Revolution. The Cuban Adjustment Law, the “wet foot-dry foot” policy, and the Parole program for Cuban medical professionals remain in effect, to encourage illegal and unsafe emigration, and seeking to deprive us of qualified personnel.”
“These practices do not reflect the stated change of policy toward Cuba, and generate difficulties for third countries.”
“There are more than a few U.S. government officials who upon recognizing the failure of their policy toward Cuba, make no attempt to disguise their affirmations that the goals remain the same, only the means are being modified.”
“We are willing to carry out a respectful dialogue and construct a new type of relationship with the [U.S.], one which has never existed between the two countries, because we are convinced that this alone could produce mutual benefits.”
“However, it is imperative to reiterate that no one should assume that to achieve this Cuba must renounce the Revolution’s principles, or make concessions to the detriment of its sovereignty and independence, or forego the defense of its ideals or the exercise of its foreign policy – committed to just causes, the defense of self-determination, and our traditional support to sister countries.”
“As the Constitution of the Republic stipulates, ‘Economic, diplomatic or political relations with any other state can never be negotiated under aggression, threats, or coercion by a foreign power.’”
“The road to normalization of bilateral ties is long and complex, and we will advance to the extent we are capable of putting into practice the art of civilized coexistence, or in other words, accept and respect our differences which are, and will be, profound; not making them the center of our relations, but rather concentrating on what brings us closer and not what separates us, promoting what is beneficial to both countries.”
“Relations with the [U.S.] have historically represented a challenge for Cuba, given their permanent pretension of exercising domination over our nation, and the determination of Cubans to be free and independent, regardless of the dangers to be faced, or the price we would have to pay.”
“The people’s unity with the Party, its profound patriotism and political culture, which have allowed us to confront the policy of aggression and hostility, will serve as a shield to defeat any attempt to undermine the revolutionary spirit of Cubans. This will be a challenge, especially for the youngest, who the Party recognizes as the continuators of the Revolution’s work and of the patriotic convictions of their grandparents and parents.”
Castro then launched into a defense of its Latin American allies against an unnamed foe (the U.S.):
“Latin America and the Caribbean find themselves experiencing the effects of a strong, articulated counteroffensive, on the part of imperialism and oligarchies, against revolutionary and progressive governments, in a difficult context marked by the deceleration of the economy, which has negatively impacted the continuity of policies directed toward development and social inclusion, and the conquests won by popular sectors.”
“This reactionary attack uses methods and technologies specific to the new doctrine of unconventional war, especially in the area of communications and culture, without ruling out attempts at destabilization and coups.”
“This policy is principally directed toward the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and has been intensified in recent months in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil, as well as Nicaragua and El Salvador.”
“Recent setbacks for governments of the left in the hemisphere are being used to announce the end of a progressive historical cycle, opening the way for the return of neoliberalism and demoralization of political forces and parties, social movements and working classes, which we must confront with more unity and increased articulation of revolutionary action.”
“We hold the firm conviction that the Venezuelan people will defend the legacy of our beloved compañero Hugo Chávez Frías, and prevent the dismantling of the accomplishments achieved. To the Bolivarian and Chavista Revolution, to President Maduro and his government, and to the civic-military union of the Venezuelan people, we reiterate our solidarity, our commitment, and energetic rejection of efforts to isolate Venezuela while dialoging with Cuba.”
“We demand that the sovereignty and independence of states be respected, and that interference in domestic affairs cease. At the same time, we reaffirm our firm support to all revolutionary and progressive governments, headed by prestigious leaders, whose economic and social policies have led to justice, dignity, sovereignty, and tangible benefits for the great majority, in the world’s most unequal region.”
“Also being renewed are efforts by the [U.S.] and their allies to undermine unity and the process of regional integration, frustrate the advance of CELAC, ALBA, UNASUR, and others, through a supposed reform of the inter-American system, in particular the OAS, attempting to promote the leading role of other schemes more compatible with their hegemonic interests.”
“We will never forget that the OAS – the Organization of American States – founded by the [U.S.]during the second half of the past century, at the beginning of the Cold War, has only served interests which contradict those of Our America. This organization, rightly described as the “Ministry of colonies” of the [U.S.] by the Foreign Minister of Dignity, compañero Raúl Roa García, was the one that sanctioned Cuba, and was ready to offer support and recognition to a puppet government, if the mercenary invasion at Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs] had been successful. The list of actions it took against the nascent Cuban Revolution, and other revolutionary and progressive governments, is interminable.”
Cuba’s diatribe against the U.S. was broadened to include the rest of the world with this statement by Castro: “Increasingly more serious are threats to international peace and security, as a result of U.S. imperialism’s attempts to impose its hegemonic position in the face of changes in the world’s equilibrium, and of the philosophy of usurpation and control of strategic natural resources, made evident by the increasingly offensive and aggressive military doctrine of NATO; the proliferation of non-conventional wars under the pretext of fighting “international terrorism;” the sharpening of differences with Russia and China; and the danger of a war in the Middle East of incalculable dimensions.”
Earlier in the address, Castro sought to rebut U.S. complaints about Cuban human rights with these words: Cuba is a party to 44 international treaties on human rights while the U.S. is only party to 18. Moreover, “equal pay for equal work, whether for a man or woman, is a human right [in Cuba]. In other countries, including the [U.S., it is not, women earn less and thus dozens of supposed human rights can be cited. Free medical care in Cuba is a human right. In many other countries, this is not a human right, it is a business. In our country, education is free, in how many countries of the world is education free? It’s a business, too. That is, we will discuss this issue of human rights with anyone and anywhere whatsoever, and we will recognize those who are in the right.”
Raúl then made a joke about political rights. “When they say to me that in Cuba there is only one party. And I answer them, ‘Yes, like you, you have a single party,’ and the North Americans answer me: “No, we have two.” And as if I did not know, they tell me their names, ‘Democratic and Republican.’ ‘Correct, that’s right, it’s the same as if we were to have two parties in Cuba, Fidel would head one and I the other.’”
Given the prior public positions of the Cuban government, Castro did not say anything new on the subject of Cuba-U.S. relations. As expressed in many earlier posts, I agree that the U.S. should end its embargo of Cuba, its special immigration policies regarding Cubans and its covert or “discreet” programs purportedly promoting democracy in Cuba.
I also recognize that Cuba repeatedly has alleged that the U.S. occupation of Guantanamo Bay is illegal, but saying so does not make it so, and this blog has suggested that the dispute on this issue is unlikely to be resolved in discussions and negotiations, but instead should be submitted for resolution to an independent court like the International Court of Arbitration at the Hague along with any damage claims asserted by Cuba with respect to the embargo.
Another point of disagreement with Castro is his assertion that the U.S. goal of Cuban regime change is the same, but that the means have changed. Yes, the U.S. vigorously advocates for the right of Cubans to elect their leaders by popular vote, for the right of Cubans to protest and demonstrate against the government and to express their opinions without arrest and arbitrary detention and for the empowerment of Cubans to engage in self-employment and business. If they had such rights, that might lead to changes in the Cuban economy and government, but those changes would be chosen by the Cuban people, not imposed upon them by the U.S.
 Earlier in the speech Castro said, “Illegal and disorderly emigration of youth and specialists from various sectors is encouraged under the Cuban Adjustment Act, the “wet foot-dry foot” policy and the Parole Program, that is, permission to reside in the United States, granted with absolute speed, for our doctors, who provide services abroad.”