HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 21 (IPS) — The Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) began a wide process of consultation among its members this week with a view to an upcoming national conference charged with charting policies on issues that range from generational renewal and the internal functioning of the party to dealing with corruption and other social problems.
Several active party members confirmed to IPS that they were asked to organize meetings of their local chapters to discuss a document that will be the focus of the national conference.
The conference is an unprecedented event, although according to the party’s internal rules, a national meeting of this type may be held between party congresses to address “important matters of party policy.”
“I’m going to take my thoughts with me in writing so I won’t forget anything,” said a 48-year-old party member, who declined to be identified. “One of the ideas I will raise is that the party should outline a more concrete policy on youth, and create the conditions that can satisfy the aspirations of so many young people in the country who are emigrating in search of better prospects,” she said.
The conference, which has the power to make changes to the party’s Central Committee, comes on the heels of the PCC’s Sixth Congress, held in April, which focused on defining the course and depth of reforms now underway, described by authorities as the “updating” of the country’s economic model.
A key objective of the upcoming conference, therefore, is to determine the changes needed to be able to ensure that the PCC – the country’s only political party, which has some 800,000 members out of a total population of 11.2 million – is able to live up to the demands of the current circumstances.
According to President Raul Castro, this means leaving behind a mentality tied to “dogma and obsolete points of view.”
Discussions at the conference, to be held on Jan. 28, 2012, will concentrate on a 97-point central document, which has been in public circulation since last week, both in printed tabloid form and on the government website Cubadebate.
The economic and social policy guidelines debated at the April congress were also widely circulated prior to that event.
Unlike that document, however, which was submitted for mass debate in assemblies and meetings involving more than eight million people, the conference document will be formally discussed only by PCC members, the Young Communist League (UJC) and mass organizations “on all different levels,” according to official announcements.
The draft document has sparked different reactions among party members interviewed by IPS. For some, “it doesn’t say anything new,” while others say it is poor and does not contain any core concepts or lines of work. Nor does it expressly mention key issues for party functioning, such as the “dysfunctionality” that exists between the party, government and State.
In his central report to the Sixth Congress, President Castro said that one pending problem is the confusion of tasks and functions among those three powers, manifested in the “weakening of political work” by the party and the “deterioration” of government and State authority.
The conference agenda devotes several points to the strategic generational change in key political and government posts, and makes proposals such as ensuring that leaders have “solid professional and technical training,” in addition to ethical, political and ideological qualities.
It also proposes term limits based on time and age, including a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms for political and State offices, which would also cover the president of the councils of State and Ministers.
On social questions, some of those who talked to IPS said they expected “more,” expressing a certain amount of disappointment.
“I think mention of the race issue is weak,” said Tato Quiñones of the Cofradía de la Negritud (CONEG), an association of black people aimed at raising awareness about racial issues. “Maybe it is not given enough importance, or perhaps we put too much of a priority on it, but we believe that it is a very important issue that should be discussed seriously,” he said.
CONEG, which promotes periodic debates at the community level on the persistence of inequality and discrimination based on skin color, is one of the groups that hope the national party conference will analyze the race question in depth, and will produce a working program to address the issue.
“I agree that the issue should be mentioned more strongly in the document, but there is material for debate,” Esteban Morales, a leading researcher on race relations in Cuba, told IPS. “I think it is a conceptual document, and that modifications will emerge out of the consultations.”
In any case, the text clearly expresses that the PCC proposes “dealing with prejudice based on race, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and others that can limit the exercise of people’s rights, such as holding public office and participating in political and mass organizations.”
It also emphasizes a determination to deal with gender-based and domestic violence and violence in the community. According to experts, the abuse of women is an issue that has been silenced for decades, and changing that situation requires political will and a multisectoral approach.
The conference document also says it is necessary to step up efforts to deal with the causes and conditions that generate “social indiscipline,” “illegality,” corruption and other phenomena that, together with bureaucracy and negligence, “are undermining the foundations” of Cuban society. In that sense, the PCC proposes stronger actions to prevent and deal with these problems.
In 2009, the president created a special Comptroller General’s Office to audit and investigate public companies. Headed by Gladys Bejerano, vice president of the Council of State, the Office was tasked with exercising closer scrutiny and taking direct action in response to any sign of corruption.
Since then, several dozen officials and executives of Cuban companies and joint ventures with foreign firms have been tried and convicted in corruption cases, including a former minister, a former vice minister and at least three foreign business executives.
More recent cases involve the communications sector and at least three foreign companies with investments in Cuba, which are also subject to investigation. No official information on the cases is available, and the state-controlled media has not reported on them.