By Dmitri Prieto
Recent decisions made by several Cuban political institutions – particularly the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) and the National Assembly – have resulted in the following changes:
1. The Council of Ministers resolved that Cuban citizens can now hold more than one job at a time (multiple employment), allowing them to seek paid work beyond their principal workday. Working-age students, in particular, will be able to obtain part time work outside of their class hours, in this way allowing them to earn money to help support themselves. Nonetheless, for many jobs it will be necessary to wait for the administrations of the respective branch of the economy or public service (education, health care, scientific research) to approve specific enabling resolutions.
2. The new minister of Higher Education decided that it is necessary to increase “political-ideological work” in Cuban universities. He ratified the historic slogan that states, “The University is (only) for revolutionaries,” and it will be demanded that all graduates are both “good professionals and good revolutionaries.”
In Cuba, there exists a concept of revolution developed by Fidel Castro, but beyond one or another meaning of the word “revolution,” the word “revolutionary” in its “street use” is usually synonymous with a “defender of the policies established by the leadership of the 1959-to-date Cuban Revolution,” even though many of us are attempting to give it a meaning that is in agreement with its historical genealogy.
Concerning political-ideological preparation, university students will carry out agricultural and construction labor for one month out of each academic year (though latter year students will be able to substitute work that is more closely related to their future professions).
3. The Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party decided in its plenary session not to convene the previously scheduled 6th Party Congress at the end of this year. The Congress – the highest body of the Party – is supposed to take place every five years, but has not been held in almost 15 years.
4. The National Assembly of People’s Power (Cuba’s parliament) agreed to establish a General Comptroller of the Republic, and approved the corresponding legislation. The new office is essentially charged with monitoring the budget and the appropriate use of state resources. Previously these functions were executed by the Ministry of Auditing and Control, but the new institution is more autonomous because it is directly subordinate to Parliament and the Council of State. It is headed by the former minister of that now defunct ministry.
5. In the same session of the National Assembly, the Cuban President announced another decision of the Central Committee of the CCP: while there won’t be a Congress this year, there will be a Party Conference. That Conference will be authorized to restructure the composition of the Central Committee itself. Consequently, when the prospective Congress is held, the Central Committee – as President Raul Castro emphatically pointed out – should be made up of new and younger cadre, and therefore many of the body’s current members will lose their status.
What sense do those changes have for “ordinary Cubans”? It is obvious – which this too Raul pointed out – that the problems facing the island are tremendously complex. The general impression is that, beyond the impact of last year’s three hurricanes and the world crisis, the highest leadership of the Party and the State has realized that many of the nation’s problems have roots that are deeper than what was previously thought, and consequently that these should be approached with a more radical approach.
What will the proposed solutions be? An attentive reading of Raul’s last statements suggests that he intends to promote discussion and later implement a new socialist model. Notwithstanding, Raul did not atempt in his speech to establish the time period for that discussion nor define the terms of such a new model.
This is not the first time that the leadership of the CCP has raised a proposal of this type. Less than 20 years ago, in the middle of “Special Period” (the structural crisis that resulted from the collapse of the euro-Soviet socialist camp) there went out the “call for the Fourth Congress of the CCP,” which was widely discussed.
I participated in that debate when I was a university student, and I recall the radicalism of our proposals, though obviously not all were put into practice. The recent history of Cuba is full of contradictions, advances and setbacks, failures and spectacular strokes of luck, hopes and depression.
Raul emphasized both the need for a new model and the fact that the 6th CCP Congress will be the last one attended by the historic leadership of the revolution (because of biological laws). Thus he expressed the desire of the historic generation to take part in the discussion of the changes, and the fact that the model of Cuban socialism itself should be reshaped after 50 years of leadership of this historic generation.
Today, many people speak of “Chinese-style” reforms or of “self-managed socialism,” though with these proposals remain the traditional rhetoric about the need for “greater control.” Meanwhile, the situation is becoming increasingly complex and contradictory; sometimes surprisingly so, and perhaps making the path even more interesting.