The issues that will be missing, and the shadow that won’t
From 16-19 April the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) will be held – possibly the last to feature among its highest-ranking leaders historical figures who formed part of the revolutionary process in 1959.
The initial information released on this event indicated that some 1,000 delegates (the lowest figure from the six congresses) would be there, representing all the party's members, and the percentages were announced with references to the representatives: men and women, ages, educational level attained, professions, trades and other factors, as if these figures, in and of themselves, would ensure a fair and democratic representation of its membership. The same thing has happened before, when there was talk about the composition of the National Assembly. However, we all know that this does not ensure different points of view or controversial discussions, but rather a grey unanimity that contributes nothing. At the previous PCC congresses (1975, 1980, 1986, 1991, 1997 and 2011) the formula was the same, and nothing indicates that anything will change.
Issues are conspicuously missing from the agenda, which only aims to "analyze compliance with the guidelines approved at the previous Congress," the approval of a so-called "conceptualization of the Cuban socialist model," "the plan for social and economic development until 2030," and how that adopted at the Party's First Conference has been achieved. It seems that "our" longstanding leaders have decided to place a kind of straitjacket on the Cuban people, for when they no longer physically exist. This decision includes "the irreversibility of socialism," annexed to the Constitution via a questionable referendum.
Instead of focusing on the major problems facing Cuba today, those troubling most citizens, they continue to look towards the future. Nothing is said about how to resolve the country's paltry productivity, dual currency, corruption, social indiscipline, housing shortage, crumbling streets and sidewalks, collapsing sewer systems, inadequate an unmaintained aqueducts, deteriorating public health and education systems, lack of transportation, low wages and pensions, lack of civil rights, and many others. Nor does it address the failed policies that it is necessary to change and redefine.
The press, moreover, has reported that the delegates already chosen have been going over the contents of these main documents, which were drawn up by the organizers (without engaging the members, and far less the citizens) and previously given them with a view to their participation in the Party event. Does this mean that everything is set in stone, and that the Seventh Congress will only approve what has already been decided? If so, what is the whole point of this event and all the expenses it entails? Is this just another formal Party ritual? Everything seemed to indicate that it would be.
And yet, the visit by President Barack Obama and its energizing impact on most Cubans, and, even more, his words, have disrupted its organization. Proof of this was the rapid reaction by the authorities and their spokespeople in the press, who have unsuccessfully scrambled to downplay it all, parroting old, worn-out arguments that convince no one. Despite their desires, Obama's shadow will inevitably imbue the Congress, as his visit has marked a turning point.
Rather than just considering a list of predetermined points that interest very few Cubans, the Congress must define a credible roadmap for change. It significance will depend on the degree to which it does this. The preceding event, in practice, limited itself to eliminating some absurd prohibitions and implementing tepid and slow reform measures. That will no longer be enough. Citizens are expecting and demanding more.
Some argue that almost everything is agreed to and approved in advance, behind the people's backs, and that the Cuban authorities' rhetoric, which must be repeated out of a historic commitment, does not reflect reality. That might be true. There will have to be follow-up after the Congress on what is said and done there.
I'd like to be wrong, but, despite the extensive editorial section in the daily Granma on March 9, which sought to “spur” Cubans' “combative spirit,” in response to the US President's visit, offering a look at “ancient history,” congruent “statements” by governmental organizations in civil society, and by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the many articles subsequently published and the opinions of some fossils trapped in the ice of the Cold War, it seems that the two most important events that took place in Cuba in March were the American president's visit and the concert by The Rolling Stones. Thus far the VII Congress remains in the background, although fragments of old speeches about the Party's importance, and its unity, are published daily. Presumably, in the coming days there will be a massive campaign by officials to promote the event.