HAVANA TIMES — The big news following the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) is that the new social model discussed there behind closed doors was not approved. This way, the model leaves the space accessed exclusively by the 1,000 government representatives who attended the gathering to be debated by all PCC members, the Young Communists League (UJC) and the population in general.
To take the debate about the nation’s future design to common folk is to pull it out of the theretico-ideological ambit of Party officials and place it in the hands of average Cubans, who are more pragmatic and, above all, in more urgent need to see changes that will improve their lives.
Raul Castro’s speech revealed some features of the proposed model. For the first time, he compared the changes taking place in Cuba to “China’s reform processes and the renewal of Vietnam, as they call it. We’ve called the process an updating.”
He also set all euphemisms aside and spoke clearly of the “existence of mid-scaled, small and micro private companies that operate today outside a proper legal framework.” This way, Castro legitimates a form of property that had hitherto been prohibited in Cuba.
He went a bit further than this, saying that “cooperatives, self-employment and mid-scale, small and micro businesses are not in essence anti-socialist or counterrevolutionary and that the immense majority of those who work in these are revolutionary and patriotic.”
That said, he made it clear that “the concentration of private property would not be permitted, and, as such, neither will the accumulation of wealth. Private companies will therefore operate within well-defined limits.” This was a warning to private entrepreneurs in the process of expanding.
They appear to fear the inequities of pre-revolution Cuba, when 90% of agricultural workers didn’t even have milk to drink, less than 1% ate fish, 2% ate eggs and only 4% had any meat all (1), while others made fortunes, lived in palaces, bought furs in Europe and jewels in New York.
The “fundamental means of production” will continue in the hands of the State and this will be the main form of ownership in the economy. However, the president failed to mention exactly what means of production fall under this category. Apparently, it is one of those issues they haven’t fully agreed on.
Raul Castro acknowledged that “certain controversy” was stirred up in connection with “property relations, and this is only natural, as it is the predominance of a form of property over others that determines the social model of a country.”
“The economy continues to be our main pending task and politico-ideological work is a permanent task that is intimately linked to the battle for the economy,” he said, and he is probably right, as they aren’t likely to secure the support of the people with speeches and study circles.
Politically, the most important change is the “regulated” generational change in command, as the calls for “voluntary retirement” have not been well taken. The new 60-year maximum for membership in the Central Committee and 70-year top for the Politburo has already allowed the government to “rejuvenate” these entities.
The new model ratifies the “irrevocable nature of the (socialist) political and social system that is described in the current constitution, which envisages the Cuban Communist Party as the leader of our society.”
A multi-party system is completely off the table: “if they managed to tear us apart one day, it would be the beginning of the end for our homeland, the revolution, socialism and the nation’s independence, forged through the endurance and sacrifice of several generations of Cubans since 1868.”
The 7th Congress appeared to reflect the political debate taking place behind the scenes between those communists who wish to preserve a Soviet-styled form of socialism and the other communists who wish to move forward towards a model that is closer to China’s and Vietnam’s.
Implementing reforms in Cuba is however a more complex process because its point of departure is different. The quality of life of the average Cuban is much higher than that of the Chinese or Vietnamese when the reform or renewal process started in those countries.
The Cuban government is forced to make headway while maintaining the “achievements of socialism,” such as universal access to education and public health and financing for culture and sports, all of which involves high State spending.
Now, the PCC base membership and the rest of society will have the opportunity to debate Cuba’s future development model. Every Cuban should come to understand the importance of having their voice heard, but that will only prove useful if they express their genuine points of view.
Some are confident their opinions will be taken into consideration, while others think it is a strict formality but that is better to take advantage of the opportunity than to regret not doing anything later, particularly when the future of the nation, our children and grandchildren is at stake.