HAVANA TIMES – “The end of the Castro era in Cuba” is the headline worldwide to cover Raul Castro stepping down at the helm of the Communist Party: for the first time in over 60 years, nobody with this surname will hold a high-ranking position of power on the island.
The Cuban general and former president publicly announced his decision on Friday April 16th 2021, during his Address at the opening of the 8th Cuban Communist Party Congress. The event held at the Palacio de Convenciones ends on April 19th, with 300 representatives taking part.
“My duty as the first secretary of the PCC’s Central Committee has come to an end, with the satisfaction of having fulfilled my responsibility and having confidence in the country’s future, with the contemplated certainty that I shall not accept proposals to stay in the Party’s top organs, but I will continue to serve in its ranks,” the former president said. “Nothing is forcing me to (make) this decision,” the general added. Raul Castro turns 90 years old in June and has been in this position since 2011, when he succeeded his brother Fidel.
It came as no surprise: in 2018, Castro announced that he would be leaving his position at the head of the “leading force of society and the State,” as it is consecrated in Article 5 of the Constitution. His replacement is Miguel Diaz Canel, who is also the president of Cuba.
1. The many pending issues in updating the economy
Raul Castro spoke about the persistance of “negative consequences linked to excessive bureaucracy, the poor control of resources, (…) corruption and other illegal activities that restrict economic growth and efficiency. Structural problems of the economic model continue to be present, that don’t provide sufficient incentives to work and innovate.
“… the updating process of the economic and social model needs to be a lot more dynamic,” in order to promote a suitable combination of a centrally-planned economy “with the autonomy and decentralization needed in intermediary bodies and the business sector, at a grassroots level, and in local government.”
“… the investment plan needs to be consolidated (…) without any room for botched work and improvization, boosting productivity and efficiency in the (…) public sector of the economy, in fields that determine national development, while making private management projects more flexible and legal.
“The list of self-employment activities was recently extended, quite significantly, going from just 127 authorized activities to over 2000.” He mentioned that the decision was labeled insufficient “by those who dream of restoring capitalism in the country and mass privatizing the Cuban people’s property in the main means of production.”
He also accused those who demand the authorization of private commercial imports of “blowing up the socialist principle of the State’s monopoly over foreign trade (…) in the attempt to establish a private system in domestic trade.”
The 89-year-old general stated that “we have to change old bad habits and develop entrepreneurial and proactive characteristics in the boards of our companies and establishments, which will operate with greater autonomy each day, striving for greater and more efficient production,” before he insisted on his appeal for a change in mindset, saying that “saving was the fastest and safest investment within reach” and that nobody will be abandoned to their fate.
2. Dollarizing the national economy
“The extreme liquidity crisis has forced us to reintroduce sales in freely convertible currency (US dollars) in some of our retail network, and later on in our wholesale market,” Castro said in regard to this “necessary measure”, which had “the initial objective of guaranteeing the presence of a series of products in the domestic market, that have been disappearing from state stores over the past five years, leaving room for illegal purchases abroad and reselling these items with exceptionally high profit yields.”
Over the past year, sales in US dollars have been extended to other products, including food items, “with the objective of promoting remittances from Cuban citizens abroad, who send money back to their relatives on the island. Along with this measure, the Government has secured the allocation of a significant amount of foreign currency to ensure sustainability in a reduced number of basic food items being sold in Cuban pesos, as well as personal hygiene and cleaning products, and they are working on reestablishing the presence of domestic suppliers in this market.”
He mentioned that confusion had been created among management level leaders “as a result of an inadequate social communications policy and the publication of incorrect views in much of our media.” Opinions appeared “fighting against the alleged inequality that comes from these [USD] sales and calling for all domestic trade to go back to being administered via the rations booklet”. However, “we were able to make them understand that sales in freely convertible currency is necessary, and that such will last for as long as it takes for us to recover and strengthen our economy, therefore guaranteeing a real exchange rate for our national currency.”
3. Other setbacks in implementing reforms
In terms of the Guidelines approved in 2011, even though it is “generally believed that they lean towards progress,” Raul listed problems and serious shortcomings: “deficiencies in planning, organization, control and monitoring processes, and slow and late reactions in some cases to rectify the misuse of resources, as well as a lack of a comprehensive approach and vision in regard to risk management and shortcomings. Training and social communication strategy have fallen short in the opportunities, quality and reach needed.” The list doesn’t end there: “Resistance to change persists, as does the lack of an innovative mindset, manifested in inertia and paralyzed attitudes when it comes to applying adopted measures, the fear of exercizing the authority that has been granted and preconceptions of private ownership and management.”
According to the General, the Committee for the Guidelines’ Implementation hasn’t managed to organize the participation of all players involved in implementing the Guidelines and “has taken on functions that overstep those granted by the Congress.” This is one of the reasons why the Politburo decided “to distribute responsibilities in leading the Guideline’s implementation between the Committee and the State’s Central Administration bodies and national institutions. “Greater progress has been made like this.”
4. The Reforms Process
“… will allow (…) to order and make the performance of different economic players transparent, promoting love for work as a means and a meaning to Cuban people’s lives. We have to get rid of this harmful notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where you can live without working, which has arisen from the State’s paternalistic and equal protection for all. Cuban people’s quality of life and consumption needs to be determined by the legal income they make, and not by excessive state subsidies and free things for no reason,” he stated.
After celebrating the “undeniable achievements” of currency and exchange unification, general wage reform, pension and social security reforms, the cut in state subsidies and gratuities, the former president once again went on to list the problems: “shortcomings as a result of weak preparation and training, negligence, a lack of expectations, control, political sensitivity and not enough institutional communication between [Communist Party] cadres and the officials responsible for their practical implementation,” which can be seen in the “establishment of high prices and the public’s inconformity with public service fees.”
5. A willingness to negotiate with the US
Raul Castro reviewed US-Cuba relations during Donald Trump’s administration. “Sometimes the objective statistics are not understood or looked at close enough about how much damage the US has caused the Cuban economy and the objective impact of the over 240 coercive measures adopted since 2017. We have to understand that it isn’t only a matter of simply stepping up the blockade, but new methods have been employed, some of which are unprecedented, which have taken the US’ economic warfare to a much more aggressive level, which is reflected in the material needs in every Cuban’s everyday life.”
“The aggressive behavior of the former US administration clearly reaffirms that any perspective of real positive change in US-Cuba relations will have to be connected to the elimination of the economic blockade and the legislative framework that upholds it, if this change is to be sustainable.
“Let’s not be swept away with the illusion that this is an easy and simple task; on the contrary, it will require a lot of good political sense and will of whoever is leading the US. Cuba has maintained and maintains that we don’t identify the US people as our enemy, that our political and ideologicial differences are not a barrier for a respectful and civilized relationship with our neighbor.
“We have even said that we can develop cooperative efforts in many aspects, which could benefit both countries and the region.
“Let me ratify in this Party Congress, our willingness to develop a respectful dialogue and build a new kind of relationship with the US, without this country wanting Cuba to renounce principles of the Revolution and Socialism in order to do this, or make concessions that are connected to its sovereignty and independence, or ask us to give up on defending our ideals and exercizing our foreign policy, which is committed to just causes, defending the self-determination of countries and our historic support with our brother countries.
6. One-party democracy
Raul Castro stated that the existence of a one-party state in Cuba “has been and will always be the focus of the enemy’s campaigns, which is determined to break up and divide the Cuban people with siren calls of the sacrosanct bourgeois democracy, stemming from the age-old tactic of “divide and conquer”.
“Unity of the vast majority of Cubans with the Party and the Revolution’s work and ideals has been a key strategic weapon for us to successfully face every kind of threat and attack that has come our way. This is why we have to look after this unity with great care and never accept division among revolutionaries under the false pretext of greater democracy, as this will be the first step of the Revolution and socialism imploding, with our national independence falling next in line and once again falling under the control of US imperialism.”
“That said,” he explained, “if we only have one party, we need to promote the most far-reaching democracy and a permanent and sincere exchange of opinions, about how it operates and in our society on the whole, and these opinions won’t always coincide, but they form a link with the working masses and the population and ensure growing civic participation in key decisions.”
7. Expression of gratitude to creditors
The now former head of the Communist Party dedicated some words to thank “most” of Cuba’s creditors, for “their willingness to restructure outdated debts and also of Cuba’s commitment to picking up and meeting international financial commitments as the national economy recovers.”
He mentioned that “a tougher blockade has made it harder to meet international financial commitments, in spite of their firm determination to honor them and the efforts we have gone to to make payments, which are only modest contributions, but they have implied great sacrifice.”
8. Hopes on foreign investment
“It’s time for us to clear our heads of any past preconceptions linked to foreign investment and we need to ensure the proper preparation and design of new mixed ownership enterprise with foreign capital,” Raul Castro said, before mentioning “the results achieved in the Mariel Special Development Zone” as an example of a magnet for foreign and national investors.
9. Ideological war
According to the former Cuban president, “the subversion program has doubled down, as have ideological and cultural influences targeted as defaming the socialist development model, and presenting the reestablishment of Capitalism as our only alternative.” He said that “priority is being given to actions led by young people, women and academics, the artistic and intellectual sectors, journalists, athletes, people with different sexual identities and religions. Matters of interest for specific groups linked to the protection of animals, the environment, or cultural and artistic protests are being manipulated, so as to not recognize the institutions that do exist.”
He reported that “attacks using radio and TV stations based in the US,” continue to be funded, “while financial support for the development of new-generation platforms with ideological content that openly call for overthrowing the Revolution, call upon the Cuban people to hold protests in public spaces, inciting acts of sabotage and terrorism, including the murder of public order officials and representatives of the Revolutionary government. They boast about how much those carrying these criminal acts are paid from the US.”
“Lies, manipulation and the propagation of fake news have no limits today. A virtual image of Cuba as a dying society with no future is being fabricated and spread worldwide. They say we are on the brink of collapse and that the social explosion they long for will soon take place. However, our reality is completely different. The domestic counter-Revolution, that lacks a social base, leadership and ability to mobilize the masses, continues to wane in its number of members and its social impact, concentrating their activism on social media and the Internet.
“We firmly believe that the streets, parks, and squares are and will always belong to the revolutionaries, and we will never deny our heroic people their right to defend their Revolution,” he concluded.
10. Criticism of State media
“… there are still manifestations of triumphalism, stridency and superficiality in the way (our media) deal with our national reality. Sometimes, journalistic features are published that tend to confuse the public, rather than clarify. These perspectives damage the credibility of the State’s approved information and social communication policy. The immediacy of covering national news should not come into conflict with objectivity, professionalism and, above all else, political intentions.”
11. Military service for all
After stating that “colleagues who have not served active military service, for unjustifiable reasons, should not be promoted to higher-ranking positions.” Raul Castro said that in the face of low birth rates and population aging in Cuba, the Party’s Superior Institute of International Relations experience (that students of both sexes need to serve their military service before enrolling) needs to be studied with the objective of making it a requirement for all higher education students to serve this time before enrolment.”
This measure will fall under the “strategic conception of Every Cuban’s War”, which according to the Army general “continues to be in force.”
12. Gender, racism and rights
“Party support will continue for the Federation of Cuban Women and other institutions that defend women’s rights and call out gender-based violence,” he said, before promising that “the battle against preconceptions linked to a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity will gain new force.”
The State Council approved “the committee that will draft the Family Bill for Parliament analysis and later discussion with the people, something that we’ve already been working on,” he announced.
Another promise was linked to the “racial discrimination issue” about the Government’s plan, as well as that of the committee headed by President Diaz-Castro, “and how it will encourage a more effective fight of this backwardness from the past and better cohesion in exposing and leading the public debate about this issue.”