Por Patricia Grogg (IPS)
The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the US economic blockade and other adverse factors, have severly exhausted the Cuban economy in 2020.
HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) will hold its 8th Congress between April 16-19, its most important event that is held every five years. It will now take place in a context that experts are calling extremely difficult due to economic problems that have been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe that our Party has never had to hold such a difficult Congress amidst so many challenges like this one,” Esteban Morales, one of the economists consulted by IPS, said. This expert didn’t forget to mention the “harsher blockade” applied by Donald Trump’s administration (January 2017-January 2021).
Morales believes the impact of the embargo joins the loss of “all hope” that the current US president, the Democrat Joe Biden, will do good on the promise he made during his presidential campaign, when he said that he would follow the same policy adopted by Barack Obama (2009-2017), under whom he acted as vice-president.
“Even with the challenges it entails, it would have been a little respite amid Cuba’s current situation, especially in the economy,” Morales weighed in. Cuba and the US reestablished diplomatic ties in 2015, during the normalization process that was interrupted with Trump entering the White House.
The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the US economic blockade and other adverse factors, severly exhausted the Cuban economy in 2020. The gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 11% and while the Cuban government hopes to return to positive numbers this year, there are still signs of weakness that dull the possibility of a sudden economic recovery.
Up until Wednesday April 7th, and ever since the epidemic arrived in Cuba in March last year, 82,601 people have become infected with COVID-19, of whom 5220 are currently admitted into hospital and another 442 have lost their lives. Meanwhile, Cuban science is working on five vaccination projects to fight the disease.
Amidst an upturn in COVID-19 cases in the past three months, two of the five vaccination projects developed in just nine months, are now heading into phase 3 of clinical trials. National health authorities are hoping to be able to implement a mass vaccination program for the 11.2 Cubans living on the island, in August.
Economist Omar Perez Villanueva warns that economic problems have also been the result of domestic shortcomings. These he said have kept the country from producing the food it needs. In this regard, he hopes that the PCC’s 8th Congress – where 300 representatives will take part – will propose “bold measures, that go to the root of the economy’s structural distortions.”
“Profound changes are needed in relations of production, in every economic sector and especially in agriculture. Food producers are demanding greater autonomy, it is being worked on but innovative and daring proposals need to be implemented and quickly,” economist and researcher Armando Nova said.
According to information published in official Cuban media, the 8th Congress of Cuba’s only legal party will focus on “central issues for the country’s present and future” included in documents approved in past congresses, including the aforementioned Conceptualization of Cuba’s Socio-Economic Model of Socialist Progress.
This text summarizes the key concepts needed to drive socio-economic development in line with the current aspirations and features of the Cuban revolutionary process. It is predicted that this document will be amended and updated in keeping with progress made since 2011, the year of the 6th PCC Congress, onwards.
The execution of the Guidelines for the Party and Revolution’s Economic and Social Policies for the 2016-2021 period will also be analyzed and updated. Approved in 2011, the Guidelines are a roadmap for the reforms process that seeks to modernize the socialist development model.
It is expected that the 274 guidelines in force today will be reduced to 200, and future plans include strengthening state-led companies, tweaking and developing cooperatives and other new economic players and to continue the reforms process, that covers currency unification and exchange prices, as well as a series of measures such as wages and getting rid of state subsidies and things for free.
According to political scientist Daniel Rafuls, the PCC event will have many challenges including “getting rid of every obstacle (human and material) that prevents implementation of the agreed upon reforms, and the new currency reform in particular.”
“This is a matter of continuing to tweak mechanisms approved to raise production and productivity at work, getting rid of outdated mechanisms that prevent production forces from developing and finding others that allow them to develop instead,” he explained.
He also said that “unlike many doubts in official media abroad and on social media, there is nothing to suggest that the PCC will reject private enterprise, neither in its role as foreign investment, nor in its relationship with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs),” that are waiting for a law scheduled to be passed in 2022.
Rafuls believes that another important challenge will lie in perfecting the country’s leadership apparatus, in the Party, as well as the State and government, and social and mass organizations.
“Without the right cadres (bosses) who are professionally trained, and in a comprehensive manner, who have moral integrity in their family and work lives and take on the political commitment to defend and make Socialism move forward, as well as our political project, we will materialize the Sisyphus myth climbing the mountain without ever reaching its peak, with the inevitable regression towards capitalism,” he said.
In his opinion, this explains the priority given to cadre policies, ensuring a proper handover of the historic leadership and for these roles not to become eternal. This matter is considered “crucial for the country’s destiny” in official Cuban media and was the subject of studies carried out before the PCC event.
During the 8th Congress of Cuban Communism, the PCC’s next first secretary will be elected, and it will be the first time that this position will be filled by someone other than a historic leader of the Cuban Revolution. If official plans are realized, this responsibility will fall upon 60-year-old president Miguel Diaz-Canel.
The 2016 Congress approved 70 years old as the maximum age limit for PCC leadership positions, a decision that will come into force as of the 2021 Communist congress. Current First Secretary, Raul Castro, will turn 90 years old on June 3rd and has said that he will pass on power to the new generation “without the slightest trace of sadness or pessimism.”