Cuba’s Communist Party Discusses Political Change

Fernando Ravsberg

Communist intellectual Aurelio Alonso argues that the party must not be above the state. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 28 — Little or nothing is known about the debate that will take place among Cuba’s communists at their National Conference taking place this weekend. One of the reasons is that the media is giving more attention to the Cuban Baseball League than to this gathering.

Nevertheless, in few countries are resolutions of a political organization as important as in Cuba, where the Constitution of the Republic defines the Communist Party (PCC) as “the highest leading force over society and the state.”

Therefore, any action taken at the conference will have repercussions for the lives of all Cubans.  Raul Castro himself said last year that to achieve further progress in making changes in society, it will be necessary to transform the PCC.

“To succeed, the first thing we have to change in the life of the party is its mentality, which as a psychological barrier is what we will have to work on most to overcome years of having been tied to obsolete dogmas and standards,” said the head of state.

Proposed changes

Since its foundation, the PCC has become state power. Its leaders occupy the top positions of government and public administration, making it effectively essential to be a party member in order to attain managerial positions in any sphere.

Some Cubans — more than out of ideological principals — saw party membership as the key that would allow them to climb professionally, socially and politically. Consequently, a part of the current membership joined the organization seeking to satisfy their own interests rather than to “serve the people.”

Political and governmental duality, a top-down social structure, eternal tenure and non-accountability led many to corruption. It’s no coincidence that most of those arrested for that crime in recent years were members of the PCC.

For dissident Oscar Espinosa, the changes to be proposed in the party conference are purely cosmetic. Photo: Raquel Perez

Now the conference is proposing that any citizen can run for public office; that these can be occupied for a maximum of two five-year terms; that efforts will be made to separate the functions of the government and the party; and work will be done to eliminate discrimination based on race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.

“The highest leading force”

Communist intellectual Aurelio Alonso believes “the party must transfer its power from the sphere politics to that of ethics” and he questions the hegemonic role giving to that organization in the constitution because “only the people can be above the state.”

He explained, “We must improve the mechanism of ‘People’s Power’ that was created in 1975 so that people feel responsible and are part of the decision making process. It’s not possible to continue in a society where everything is handled from the top down.”

In a discussion within a Catholic magazine, educator Ariel Dacal stated that through this conference the PCC “is internally ratifying the top-down method of control by higher-ranking authorities over lower ones (…) and obviously [that same] relationship with the rest of society.”

In this sense, Julio Cesar Guanche — an independent left intellectual — proposes to revitalize civil society by granting autonomy to grassroots organizations. He sees the need to allow them to function democratically and to establish a political relationship with the party.

“I’m not very optimistic,” says opposition leader Oscar Espinoza. He explained, “They’re going to lose the opportunity to reform the party and turn it into a real socialist party.” He asserts that they would have been able to do this because “there are many worthy people inside the party.”

The economist added, “To transform [the PCC], they should begin by acknowledging the mistakes it has made.” However, he added, “When you see the documents, you realize that it’s more of the same – they’re only proposing cosmetic changes.”

Raul Castro’s gamble

There is no question that the PCC is not very politically efficient today. It was born under a powerful “charismatic leadership” that started taking away power from the organization from the very first day. It reached the point that its congresses were suspended on several occasions, thereby disrupting internal democratic debate.

Last year’s party congress discussed economic reforms; the current conference aims to define the political changes. Photo: Raquel Perez

The duplication of party and government functions created a mentality of command and control that prevailed over the work of mass political convincing, which in theory should be the type of relationship between the party and the people.

Moreover, the standard of living of some of the leading “cadre” contrasts with those at the grassroots and is creating different views of reality. While some can afford to debate for years about the ideological purity of each reform, others are urging changes so that their families can make it to the end of the month.

Raul Castro’s gamble seems to be on transforming the PCC and turning it into an essential tool to achieve reform; but to accomplish this, the conference will have to convince, marginalize or winnow out those members who are hanging onto “obsolete dogmas and standards” that are slowing down the process.


An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by Cartas Desde Cuba.