What will happen at the VII Congress of the CCP?
Although there were rumors about a possible postponement, the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the western world's only single-party state, is to be held as scheduled, from 16 to 18 April ... and it will be a fiasco.
I say this because each PCC congress, rather than making things better, only makes them worse. None of these party gatherings thus far have done anything to improve the lives of the people. Rather, they have only served to bolster the personal power of the Castros, increase prohibitions of all kinds, place party members on a shorter leash, further restrict citizens' rights, and aggravate the socioeconomic crisis.
The delegates at the congress do not even debate, propose or change anything. Their task is to rubber stamp what has already been decided by the Party's ruling elite. As amazing as it may seem, there has never been any discussion at a PCC event of the real causes of the structural crisis that is eroding the very foundations of the nation.
And this one promises to be no exception. Everything has already been all lined up and predetermined by the dictator and his team. And their plans are embodied in rigid documents, akin to papal encyclicals, which will be approved with cosmetic modifications, but no substantial changes.
The documents in question are six: the assessment of the economy during the period from 2011 to 2015; an analysis of compliance with the Guidelines of the Sixth Congress; their updating for 2016-2021; the conceptualization of the socialist (i.e. neo-Castroist) economic and social development model; the socio-economic development program until 2030; and an evaluation of the objectives outlined at the 2012 National Party Conference.
This Congress will be the most problematic to date, as the regime's political and military leadership finds itself on shaky ground, tense and distracted by multiple factors, above all the visit by President Barack Obama.
The four keys
Therefore, no matter what the official documents state, there will be four keys to the Seventh Congress:
1) Appointing a new second secretary of the CCP and presenting an "orderly succession" plan to replace the gerontocracy of the Sierra Maestra.
3) Dealing with a devastating socio-economic crisis that reveals the futility of an economic model that "does not even work for us," as Fidel Castro admitted.
4) To outline the substitute for Cuba's (neo-Castroist) authoritarian state capitalism model, with a view to the future.
The succession plan includes relieving some longstanding leaders, now octogenarians. Rumor has it that the regime's second in command, José Ramón Machado Ventura, who is turning 86, will not be ratified as second secretary of the PCC.
If he is not, the appointment of the new second secretary will be strategically vital. The next Congress, if there is one, would be in 2021, and if Raúl Castro falls ill or dies before that date (he would be 90), he will be replaced by the second secretary, who will then become Cuba's dictator. And, if Raúl Castro steps down in 2018 (at age 87) not only as head of the Government, but also of the PCC, his second in command will take over the helm of the country.
Hence the secrecy about who might be named. It is known that General Álvaro López Miera, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, "only" 72 years old, is a well-positioned candidate. However, there is no evidence that Raúl Castro - age 85 in June - is going to give up his position.
Some ageing members of the Political Bureau may be relieved of their duties. General Abelardo Colomó resigned from his State position, but not as a member of the Political Bureau. And other generals will be promoted into the upper echelons of the PCC.
Ironically, the most active delegate at the sessions of the VII Congress will be an American, Barack Obama, whose shadow will be hovering over the heads of the more than 1,000 attendees.
The air of hope transmitted by his televised speech is still floating in the air, having isolated the regime's most hardline wing, and triggered an insulting and reckless "reflection" by Fidel Castro, who again exhibited his total disconnection from reality, his estrangement from his own people, and his history-making arrogance.
The Party's leadership is bound to scold members at the Congress, calling upon them, and all Cubans, to "understand" that the rapprochement between Cuba and the US must be seen as the "victory of the Revolution" over Washington, but also as a danger because it masks a new tactic by the "empire" to undermine that Revolution.
Authoritarian State capitalism
Regarding the situation in the country, changes will be announced, but not to open things up in any way, but rather to outline the bases for a political-economic model based on a kind of militarized State capitalism, with fascist, post-Soviet and Chinese features, but without the slogan "getting rich is glorious" which managed to spur China's private sector to generate 70% of the country's GDP.
In other words, we should not expect any substantial moves towards freedom in the economic sphere, and far less in the political and social arenas. It will be reiterated that the self-employed should be organized into cooperatives, obviously because individually they could become capitalists, and compete with the country's military masters.
Under this plan the Cuban military will continue to wield enormous economic power (hence its fascist undertones.) When this class monopolizes trade with the United States and the rest of the world, they will have more money to refine their machinery of political repression. And there will be a Russian tone to it all, as those generals and colonels will form a kind of mafia with whom everyone will have to negotiate: potential US businesspeople, the self-employed, farmers and cooperatives.
A possible miscalculation
Now, those six documents were drawn up in a bureaucratic bubble, and before Obama's visit. If the Congress does not wake up and make some actual changes, it will be making a miscalculation. The stifling national crisis will only continue to get worse, fanning the flames of social discontent.
Cubans today are demanding more than before. Young people, above all, are losing their fear of expressing themselves, emboldened by the US president’s visit. And the courageous struggle of Cuba's political opposition, despite brutal repression, goes on.
The regime must also have to deal with the likely collapse of chavismo, the movement once headed up by the late Hugo Chávez in Venezuela; Washington growing weary of Cuba's stagnation, which could hamper the lifting of the embargo; and the collapse of leftist populism in Latin America.
The American invasion finally did arrive. But not with any rifles and guns, but dollars, and smiling faces of people interested in trade and investing capital. Calls to the barricades are not going to work any longer. As much as the dictatorship might insist on returning to Jurassic-era, Fidel-like rhetoric, it will get them nowhere.
This is no time for that. Thus, the Castros and their cadre would do well to take advantage of the VII Congress to actually do something.