Cuba Debates Turn from Soviet Model

By Patricia Grogg

Bust of Cuban National Hero Jose Marti.  Photo: Caridad
Bust of Cuban National Hero Jose Marti. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Aug. 25 (IPS)  – The government of Cuba is faced with the challenge of revitalizing its system towards a more inclusive and participatory socialism that can offer economic well-being while responding to the social and political demands that have been accumulating and expressed in one way or another over the past few years.

Although it has been indefinitely postponed, the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) -the country’s only party and the one in power- will have to respond to this challenge in an international context of financial crisis that has exacerbated the economic difficulties in this Caribbean country, directly affecting the standard of living of its 11.2 million inhabitants.

Some analysts believe that this situation has made the most important event of the PCC -[supposed to be] held every five years to examine and find solutions to the most pressing national problems- even more urgent.

Put off since 2002, the Sixth Congress was going to be held at the end of this year.  However, the Central Committee of the governing party decided to postpone the meeting until it is able to finalize partisan preparation and after an analysis “involving the population as a whole.”

Meanwhile, a date is to be set for a National Conference to elect the new party leadership, including the Central Committee, the Politburo and the Secretariat: the bodies responsible for continuing and finishing preparations for the Congress.

Coinciding with the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the Socialist Bloc, the Secretariat was dissolved in the early 1990s.  In 2006 it was restored in an effort to strengthen the role of the PCC.  It has the task of managing and assuring the performance of the agreements made by its chief governing body, the Politburo.

Fidel Castro Still Heads the Communist Party

Many of the current members of the Central Committee no longer have the same responsibilities they held when they were elected 12 years ago during the Fifth Congress of the PCC in 1997.  Meanwhile, the Politburo and the Secretariat continue to be headed by 83-year-old Fidel Castro who has been outside of public life since August 2006 due to his delicate health.

It’s about transforming Cuba from an old model —so-called real socialism— to one that truly accedes to the needs of this country.  Photo: Caridad
It’s about transforming Cuba from an old model —so-called real socialism— to one that truly accedes to the needs of this country. Photo: Caridad

According to Cuban President Raul Castro, the second secretary of the PCC, the task that lies ahead for the communists and the Cuban people is daunting.  It consists of defining the socialist society that the people aspire to achieve within “the existing and future conditions in Cuba,” and defining the economic model that will govern the nation.

“In other words, it is about transforming Cuba from an old model -so-called real socialism- to one that truly accedes to the needs of this country.  I think that Raul is aware of this historic need and is trying to bring it to the fore,” a long-time PCC activist told IPS.

A Cuban academic source, argues that the Cuban economic model has demonstrated its inefficiencies and continues to “in essence look like the Soviet model (put into practice by the Soviet Union, which dissolved in 1991), based on state property in almost the entirety of the economy, and in the centralization and designation of resources and price setting.”

“The failure of real socialism in Eastern Europe and the continual inefficiency of our economy should compel us to introduce radical changes in our model.  We should not discuss our problems in isolation from what has happened in the rest of the world,” said the Cuban economist who preferred to remain anonymous.

Some academics believe that among the necessary transformations are changes in the administrative mechanisms that run the state businesses to allow for greater participation of the workers in the results and more independence for managers in decision-making and price setting.

In addition to transforming the internal functioning of state-owned businesses, the environment in which it works must also be modified, permitting regulatory formulas that provide greater autonomy and competition, and allowing the market to set prices.  “The market is an objective tool that only needs to be regulated by the state,” the source commented.

The academic also believes that it would be healthy to expand opportunities for other forms of non-state forms of ownership.  The cooperative and private sector should extend into services and small industry.  The range in which foreign investment is allowed could also be opened a bit, for example in the sugar industry.

In addition he added, “Transformations should be considered looking outward towards the rest of the world, taking into account the best international experiences.  Models such as the Chinese and Vietnamese should be used as reference points.”

The Party Should Not Be A Second Government

Baptist Minister Raimundo Garcia, head of the Cardenas Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue, told IPS that while he acknowledges that the Cuban economy needs a new direction, he believes that the necessary “profound changes” require that “the PCC assumes what should be its real role, instead of being a second government within the State.”

The government of Cuba is faced with the challenge of revitalizing its system towards a more inclusive and participatory socialism.  Photo: Caridad
The government of Cuba is faced with the challenge of revitalizing its system towards a more inclusive and participatory socialism. Photo: Caridad

Only then would it become “a center of studies and debates where the divergent opinions of people from the different sectors of society, including civil society, are represented, although within the space of a common goal,” added the Cuban Minister.

“As our president has repeatedly stated, unanimity does not exist because it is a bad practice for dialogue and decision making,” said Garcia.

The fifth article of the Constitution defines the PCC as “the highest leadership of society and state, responsible for organizing and guiding the common efforts towards the higher goals of building socialism and moving towards a communist society.”  The organization has some 850,000 members.

In a speech before Parliament on August 1, President Raul Castro made clear the context and extent of the changes that can be expected when he said, “I was elected to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism, not to destroy it.”

However, he added, “It must be the people, with their party in the vanguard, who decide.”  Some analysts interpreted this point as suggesting that any future Sixth Congress could be preceded by another public consultation process, like the one held in 2007.  At that time a series of meetings were held in neighborhoods and workplaces throughout the country to discuss a speech delivered by Raul Castro on July 26, 2007.

The Cuban president stated that during that process, 1,301,203 concrete opinions were gathered, of which 48.8 percent were critical.  “The outcome of that activity was not thrown into a bottomless pit,” said Castro, who added that the consultation process was conceived of as a rehearsal, looking towards the maximum party event.”

Among the topics debated during these meetings was the dual monetary system and the purchasing power of salaries, the decline in the quality of the public health and education systems, and limitations on self-employment activities and private businesses.

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