What is the plan for the CCP's VII Congress?
On 16 April, the anniversary of the day on which the Cuban Revolution was declared to be socialist, the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) will get underway.
Nothing is really decided at these events, which only rubber-stamp agreements already made by some 100 people. Rather, the affair serves to furnish the powerful elite's imperious will with a veneer of legitimacy.
The real opinions of the some 700,000 Party members, and more than 11 million citizens, count for little in practice. But there has always been an attempt to pretend that they are heard when some of the documents are taken up and assessed by the representatives attending the event. But this time around this has not been the case.
Great secrecy has enshrouded the preparations for Cuban socialism's latest work of political theatre. We only know that of the over 300 "Guidelines" approved by the previous Congress, 21% have been met. Now nothing has been said about the plan for the next five years, or the purportedly new model of "sustainable socialism" they claim to have come up with. Something is rotten in Havana, and it's not a Danish cheese.
Let us take a look at some dilemmas facing Cuba's powerful elite:
1. The inevitability of suffering a financial crisis in the short term. The business model of this private corporation which on April 16, 1961 was publicly registered as the "Socialist Revolution" – basing its financial and commercial dependence on an external patron - is condemned to a crisis. Whether the regime heir to Chávez's legacy falls or not in Venezuela, that country’s economy is in ruins.
2. The generational erosion of Cuba's reluctant and implicit pact between its government and its population: in return for resigning themselves a to lack of political, civil and economic rights, the State's role was to provide a system of employment, health and universal education. But without a Soviet or Venezuelan credit card to foot the bill, this arrangement is no longer sustainable. The people no longer consider the country’s failing education and health systems among the country's "successes achieved," and state employment is subject to increasing rationalization. Three generations have been living in the same dilapidated houses, plagued by plumbing and sewage problems, and then there is the transportation system, the miserable wages, the paltry pensions, the dietary deficiencies, and so on. Seniors feel disillusioned, and young people no longer harbor the hopes and dreams their parents and grandparents did. They do not dream about "building socialism," but rather of getting on a raft and off the island.
3. The need to replace the current system of governance with one that is economically efficient. It is evident that the Castros will not opt for a free market and a democratic political system. If they decide to make a move they will have to choose from a menu of various classes of authoritarian capitalism, as typified by Russia, China, Vietnam or Singapore.
4. The dawn of a new era. Cuba's postcolonial history can be divided into two stages, of almost identical duration. The first Cuba was born in 1902, and its death certificate was officially filed on April 16, 1961. It was based on a system of liberal democracy and a free market, and achieved levels of modernity, social development and economic growth far superior to those in its regional counterparts – and even to those found in some European countries.
The second Cuba saw the disappearance of the market, the implementation of an extensive and intrusive totalitarian state, and the replacement of Cuba's successful business class with a massive, incompetent bureaucracy at the behest of an omnipotent elite. In this new era enjoying certain privileges was a question of one's office, not his property. Such a system could not be sustained without a continuous injection of international loans to offset its inefficiency, and which no one intended to pay back.
The pervasive theme at the PCC's Seventh Congress - whether open or tacit - is how this inevitable third Cuba will be organized, and what the plan is to control this transformation without giving up the reins of power. The most likely option is authoritarian, statist capitalism, a road that can be combined with the exertion of pressure to lift the embargo. If they opt for this path, they could do four things: a) create a gigantic piñata with state enterprises in the guise of private cooperatives to exempt them from the embargo's sanctions; b) appoint as the ornamental head of state someone who does not bear the surname "Castro" (as was previously the case with Osvaldo Dorticós) to formally comply with that clause in the Helms-Burton Act c) make minor changes to the electoral system of the irrelevant Poder Popular in order to proclaim that they have democratized the political system; d) replace the inept bureaucracy with a technocracy that, in addition to being efficient, is able to manage a market economy.
In short: ten years after replacing his brother, Raúl Castro can no longer afford to introduce reform that does not essentially alter the system. The technique of pretending that progress is being made, when, in fact, the country is moving backwards, like Michael Jackson moon walking, is no longer going to fly. The average Joe is no longer buying it, nor are the at-first hopeful businesspeople who visit the island and depart without investing a penny upon comprehending the true state of affairs in Cuba.
Also worn out is the myth that "poor Raúl" cannot do what he really wants to because a conservative wing, led by his brother, controls and would depose him. Over the course of a decade the raulistas have managed to displace the fidelistas at every level of power and within the elite itself. Today Raúl simply avoids doing what he does not want to.
The key transformation that has come about in Cuba is a subjective one. Many of the men and women who were in uniform on the morning of that April 16, 1961 are smarting with frustration after having supported what proved a scam, and young people are no longer interested in hearing about the alleged glory days.
Cuban communism has not lost political power, but today it lacks another kind: the capacity to create hope. Beyond any other consideration, that is its main weakness. If in 1961 it was upheld as a vehicle for change and a harbinger of the future, today it is perceived as a hurdle to achieving prosperity and freedom. That is the central challenge facing this congress.