HAVANA TIMES, Feb 12 — Recently, when I was asked by the editor of Havana Times to share my impressions about the recently held conference of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) my intial response was that I didn’t have much to say.
The news coming from that assembly didn’t point to dramatic shifts in the island’s politics, and the fragments of the televised speeches showed rhetorical abuses recommended only for those suffering from insomnia.
However, the subsequent capability afforded to access videos and documents from the conference through media sources such as Cubavision Internacional and Cubadebate have allowed me to sort through the ideas and information, and to jot down these few lines.*
One has to remember that this conference was preceded by the reforms and public consultations that accompanied the Sixth Congress, actions that led to a healthy and almost unprecedented discussion across the island.
Magazines, alternative forums for analysis and opinion, and the ever-restless voice of the street served as channels that amplified the demands of the people around basic needs as well as rights that rarely get reflected on television or in the official press.
Issues such as longed-for changes in immigration policy, the demand for greater scope and guarantees to private enterprise, and the need to protect the disadvantaged established a kind of public agenda that didn’t always match the rhythms and directions of those in power.
However, I think we can interpret the results of the recently concluded National Conference of the PCC in terms of pointing in the direction of the strengthening of the specific agenda of the dominant players, though they are disconnected from the legacy of the revolution and general sentiments of the population.
Ratified in the conference “discussions” was the new division of labor within the structure of the Cuban political elite, where real power (economic and coercive) rests in the hands of the military and business sectors, leaving the party bureaucracy the role of legitimizing current policies, much like the support given by the priests in ancient Egypt to the pharaoh’s decisions and the privileges of their powerful generals.
This new arrangement explains the abstract — and terribly boring — speeches on topics such as debate or diversity, without their expounders analyzing the structural factors that affect either phenomenon in Cuban society. Instead, they were content with leveling generic criticisms at “functionaries” and the bewildered journalists.
Steadfast in holding onto the idea that “the strength of the revolution is having a party that unites the entire nation,” the conference delegates approved a set of guidelines that indicate the horizons of national political life. These can be summarized as follows:
– The priority of the agenda for changes in traditional party politics; a situation that was approved to insist on the role to be played by the grass roots organizations and party organizations regarding matters relating to the implementation and enforcement of policies adopted by the 6th Party Congress.
The role that the party itself plays in this activity was critically assessed, proclaiming the objective of permanently eliminating party interference and appropriation of governmental functions and administrative decisions.
– Limiting the power of the party, which was evident when people spoke about the need to adjust the local structure of the PCC to the needs and characteristics of each territory and to free local party groupings (composed of retired individuals who constitute a sort of the party’s shock troops) from all those activities that do not correspond to the content of their work in their communities.
– The persistence of a model of citizens’ participation and debate bounded and controlled by government agendas and structures; as only from those coordinates can there be interpreted the calls for increased participation that is informed and that plays a leading and transforming role in the people’s implementation of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines adopted at the 6th Party Congress; correctly exercising criticism and self-criticism at the appropriate place and time; and giving due attention to the proposals made members of the public.
– The decision of the leaders to keep social discontent under control and to prevent the growth of dissent, are factors that prompted calls for transforming political and ideological work with young people, making systematic evaluations of the impact of the economic and social measures, alerting of departures from the party line, demanding the protection of state property, and fighting corruption and unruliness.
Likewise — in a message addressed to the new entrepreneurs and self-employed workers — a directive was issued to strengthen political and ideological work with those who work in the various forms of private employment and to combat the existing prejudices against them.
As such, the conference in itself didn’t come up with anything new or substantial for those who are still committed to peaceful, democratic reform of the socialist content of the existing order.
However, what was unprecedented was the set of critical voices — here on the island — that expressed themselves prior to the holding of the conference concerning the limitations of the draft document that accompanied the call for the meeting.
The holding of the conference served to corroborate the poverty of the words and deeds condensed into reformism for the survival of the most rancid of those making up the Cuban bureaucracy, and in their unfocused perception of the time available to them.
Given this course of events, what come to mind are two famous anecdotes from world history.
The first was when Julius Caesar, having won over the resistance of his own men, uttered the famous phrase “The die is cast.” He then crossed the Rubicon to march towards Rome in defiance of the powerful Senate.
The second anecdote concerns a handful of Soviet soldiers who halted the advance of Nazi tanks in the village of Kriukovo, just 41 kilometers from Moscow. They shouted: “There’s no place to retreat, we have the country at our back.”
These facts remind us that there are extreme situations in history where only the decision of governments to move towards the unknown and the firmness of citizens to defend their interests make possible a decent future for the children of a nation.
* To access a record of the debates and official positions in the conference, see (in Spanish) http://www.cubadebate.cu/opinion/2012/01/29/el-espiritu-del-partido-frente-a-la-realidad-nueva/ and http://www.cubadebate.cu/especiales/2012/02/01/dictamenes-de-la-comisiones-1-y-2-de-la-conferencia-nacional-del-pcc/