HAVANA TIMES, Jan 26 (dpa) — This weekend, Cuba will hold an unprecedented conference of its political leadership, who are immersed in implementing a deep economic reform program.
Though generally viewed with skepticism and indifference, the meeting of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) is also generating certain hopes for a “political updating” on the island.
Officially, the discussion within the core of the sole party authorized in the Caribbean nation is designed to bring the membership in line with the new model for economic “updating” under the Raul Castro government.
But this First National Conference of the PCC is also an unfamiliar event after more than 50 years under Fidel and Raul Castro. Though cited in the constitution as an instrument of the government, this meeting set for January 28 and 29 will be the first of its kind in the history of socialist Cuba.
True to its traditional secretiveness, Havana has yet to provide many clues. Moreover, in a country that lacks classical forms of public expression, the meeting has raised expectations that are difficult to decipher in Cuban society.
While important stakeholders such as the Catholic Church are asking for political changes, the discussion around the conference seems to be going unnoticed by average citizens.
Skepticism is common in a society that on several occasions has experienced abrupt apparent changes that were subsequently reversed, like the “rectification of errors” process under former president Fidel Castro in the 1980’s.
His brother Raul recently played down any hopes of significant reforms in an announcement concerning political change.
“One mustn’t whip up so many illusions about the conference, which has raised many expectations,” said the current Cuban president at the end of a visit to Havana by his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The younger Castro pointed out that the Sixth Congress of the PCC in April 2011, which institutionalized the economic liberalization program of the “updating,” was the “definitive” meeting, adding that the upcoming conference is only an “internal matter of the party.”
The fears of opposition sectors are also pointing in that direction. The so-called Documento base (Discussion Paper) for the conference contains no hint of the “political updating” called for by the religious representatives.
Having become an important social actor and the main partner of the regime in recent times, the Catholic Church is calling for more fundamental political changes that allow democratic pluralism.
Despite the hopes of some observers in the middle of the reform process, the conference is to others what they consider the old mechanisms of power of the Castro regime. The discussion appears not to have filtered down to general society.
Encapsulated in the usual bureaucratic language of the Party, the “Discussion Paper” is not a source of trust for an opposition that has been marginalized in political life.
“Not even on government television can one perceive any enthusiasm for the event,” recently noted the blogger Yoani Sanchez, one of the most recognizable faces of dissent and criticism. Others, however, believe in the maturity of the current circumstances.
The conference “is the last opportunity for the historic generation of the Cuban Revolution to undertake deep and lasting reforms,” ??noted Lenier Gonzalez, the deputy-editor of “Espacio Laical,” a publication close to the Catholic Church.
At the Sixth Congress Raul Castro recognized the need to prepare for generational change in the upper echelons of power. “Those of us who are here are not perfect, but that’s the best we can do for now,” he said in April 2011 after introducing only three new faces to the Politburo.
The president, 80, said the renovation of the PCC ranks as one of his priority tasks.
Up to the last minute, the government has not cleared up the uncertainties about the conference. “Renovation is indispensable in everything,” was the only thing Parliamentary President Ricardo Alarcon said a few days ago.
The veteran 74-year-old politician gave no details on possible changes in the gathering’s agenda.