Viernes, 28 de Octubre de 2016
22:19 CEST.

The 7th Congress: A Reality Check

Without surprising those harboring low expectations, the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) dealt a reality check to Cubans and all those around the world who had hoped for news of major changes on the island.

The event not only did nothing to improve the lives of ordinary people, but also approved decisions that will actually aggravate the devastating national crisis that is choking the country.

If I were asked to sum up the Congress, in a nutshell, I would say that the civil-military elite of the West's only single-party state doubled down on its reactionary positions and presented the rawest evidence in 57 years of the disconnect between the dictatorship's leaders and the Cuban people.

In addition to approving greater restrictions on the self employed, the Congress decided not only to ban the concentration of private property, but also wealth (riquezas), a word that was not included in the Guidelines of the 2011 Congress. As did his brother Fidel in 1968, now, well into the 21st century, General Castro accused entrepreneurs of having "unscrupulous attitudes" and thinking only about "making more and more."

Nor were the self employed granted legal personality or recognized as owners of small businesses. The owner of a family restaurant, for example, will continue to receive a license, on a personal basis, as a "food vendor." Private property? No way. Also out of the questions is freely importing and exporting goods, or doing business with foreign companies.

The clearest message sent by the VII Congress was that, as long as Castro is in power, there will be no real change on the island. The two brothers are the problem and not the solution. They ruined the country, and they're not going to be the ones to save it. One thing is to think about what they should do for the Cuban people to progress, and quite another is what they do and will do.

The historical experience of "real socialism" shows that in no country has the old communist leadership undertaken processes of profound reform. In China it was only after the death of Mao Tse Tung that economic reform began. In the Soviet Union it was not Brezhnev, Andropov or Chernenko or who launched perestroika and glasnost, but Gorbachev, younger and without ties to the Stalinist past shared by his predecessors. In Vietnam, Doi Moi (renewal) occurred after the elderly leaders of the Ho Chi Minh era either died or stepped down due to illness.  Why should be believe that Cuba is going to be any different? 

The Cuba-US thaw, paralyzed

With respect to the "thaw" and the normalization of relations with the United States, the Congress has, in fact, frozen the whole process, and resuscitated the old rhetoric of Cuba as a besieged fortress, apparently for two basic reasons.  

First, the Castros and the gerontocracy are very concerned about rapprochement with the US, extremely rattled by President Barack Obama's visit and his popularity on the island. Hence, they ordered the Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez, to describe the US president's visit as an "attack" on Cuba. And that's what he did.

Moreover, as Obama clarified, he has made all the unilateral concessions that he can, and it is now up to Congress to lift the embargo, so the military junta cannot keep asking for more goodies without giving anything in return, which was the strategy thus far. It is very likely that, given the circumstances, the regime now wants to pressure Washington with the threat of unleashing another kind of Mariel crisis, or that of the balseros from 1994, if it does not put an end to the embargo in the short term.

Raúl Castro, a "hardline" leader

Moreover, the confirmation of historic dinosaurs in the Political Bureau (except for Abelardo Colomé) and, in particular, the ratification of Machado Ventura - who turns 86 in October -  as the second secretary of the PCC, and the country's second-in-command, was another clear indication of the party elite's Jurassic intentions.

As for Raúl Castro, who does not seem decided on withdrawing from the CCP in 2018, it is worth noting that his image as more pragmatic and moderate than other longstanding hardline commanders is errroneous. On the contrary, it is precisely Raúl who heads up the troglodyte wing of the Political Bureau and the entire nomenklatura, faithfully carrying out the mission entrusted to him by his beloved brother.

Something that has gone almost unnoticed, but it is important, is the announcement by General Castro that the Party's Central Committee (the dictatorship's political and administrative backbone) will only admit those age 60 and under, and the age limit to have a leadership position in the PCC will be 70. 

This smells like a first step paving the way institutionally so that Alejandro Castro Espin, age 50, can be the future dictator, heading up the PCC, though not the State, when his father believes that his time has come. Whether this will come about or not remains to be seen, but that is the general's intention.

Constitutional reform. What for?

The situation is similar surrounding the announced reform of the Constitution, which may involve wresting from the President of the Council of State his position as Supreme Commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), as is established by the current socialist Constitution; and also separating the positions of the President of the Council of State and the President of the Council of Ministers so that they are held by different people, and not just by one, as has been the case until now.

Looking at that future constitutional amendment in this light clears up doubts about the situation when Castro II steps down as president in 2018, at which point he could be replaced by Miguel Díaz-Canel as head of State – but without him holding the powerful Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces position, and, perhaps, neither that of the Head of the Government, who would be the Prime Minister. That is, within two years Díaz-Canel could be an updated version of Osvaldo Dorticós, or Manuel Urrutia, the two figurehead presidents who had no real power whatsoever.

Finally, if something evidenced the total disconnect between the PCC and the people it  claims to represent it was that the VII Congress did not even have one word of encouragement and hope for Cuba's increasingly exasperated young people, who will now, obviously, reject everything that the Castro regime represents even more vehemently.

And they will be more determined to leave the country. The dramatic exodus of young Cubans fleeing in search of opportunities for a better life, denied them by the manifestly anti-Cuban dictatorship, is one of Fidel and Raúl Castro's greatest crimes.