Talking About the Party (IV)
On the VIII Congress that has just concluded.
By Rafael Hernández
April 20, 2021
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews
The congress that has just ended was announced as the one of continuity and unity. And so it was.
Raúl Castro had warned five years ago of his decision to retire. Three years ago, he proposed that, despite the fact that the positions of president and secretary of the Party held for decades by Fidel would remain separate, that President Miguel Díaz-Canel would take over the leadership of the PCC in 2021.
As is classically the case among many observers of Cuban politics, it would seem that none of this was taken, once again, seriously; nor did it prevent all sorts of scenarios from being constructed. For example, that he wasn’t really leaving; that he was going to be inherited by some other “Castro;” that the old guard wasn’t retiring either; that the critical situation was pushing Cuba into the Chinese or Vietnamese model; that the state sector was going to be raffled off. So, for some observers, it seemed that now it was the turn of privatization. Naturally, these predictions were not supported by any of the documents of the Model Update (2011), such as the Conceptualization (2016), much less the Constitution (2019).
Indeed, the resolutions approved by the Congress do not undo the progress made during the year and a bit of pandemic regarding the legitimacy and consolidation of the private sector. Much less do they justify the predictions about the self-employed being used once again to solve “the most serious problems” and then condemned to “anathema.” Instead, the Resolution on the Conceptualization of the model reiterates “recognizing and diversifying the different forms of ownership and management appropriately interrelated,” as well as “the decentralization of powers to territorial levels, with emphasis on the municipality as the fundamental instance.”
The Central Report indicates that “the market must be regulated, but through the use of non-administrative” or indirect methods; and we must “ensure that the unsatisfied demands of our population constitute an incentive for national producers,” and “provide them with greater incentives for work and innovation.” None of this leaves out non-state producers.
As I noted elsewhere, the roadmap under the perfect storm of the pandemic, cumulative crisis and intensifying gridlock under Trump, has been, since July 2020, the Economic-Social Strategy to Address Covid-19 (EES), especially mentioned in the Report. This expands to more than 2000 the number of permissible self-employment activities and relaxes the rules for their exercise, in addition to reiterating the agreement on SMEs [Small and Medium Enterprises].
The Report’s emphasis on limits to the private sector is clearly explained to be correcting “those who dream of capitalist restoration in the country and mass privatization of the people’s property.” While reiterating the stated policy of not privatizing domestic trade, nor authorizing private commercial importation, assurances were also given that there would be no reversal of stated commitments.
Bank deposits in MLC and CUP were again guaranteed to savers, as well as cash in the hands of the population, and foreign and domestic entities; as well as the commitment to pay the debt to creditors who negotiated its restructuring due to maturity, as soon as the economy recovers.
Continuity is also confirmed in the concept of “continuing to rejuvenate administrative and party positions.” Although many commentators continue to repeat the mantra that Raul was ruling within a circle of only “octogenarian generals,” the Political Bureau lowered its average age from 70 to 63 at the VII Congress, which established an age limit of 60 for joining this body.
However, this Congress of continuity has brought about some things not exactly foreseen.
For example, it started by announcing a considerable revision of the main document of the economic reforms, the Economic and Social Guidelines. This revisionism, which was not announced by the new leadership of the PCC, but by the same Raul Castro who proposed and defended it in previous congresses, eliminated one-third of the guidelines, modified 60% of the total, added 18, and left only 17 intact. Although we cannot know for sure without having read it, I wonder if, say, a novel by Leonardo Padura were to be modified in this way by its Spanish editors, would we still call it “a version” or would we say that it is a new one?
Although the Central Report does not applaud any sector of the national economy, it extends exceptional recognition to scientists, who have achieved the pharmaceutical industry and vaccines against COVID. Science, along with culture, hardly appeared in the first version of those Guidelines (2011).
Those objections to the implementation of the Guidelines concern, of course, the commission in charge of putting them into practice, not only for its shortcomings, but for having “exceeded its attributions with respect to other agencies of the economy.” That is a good example, with the permission of my economist friends, of a problem not associated with the proper macroeconomic vision or the sequence of measures, but with the use of power and its concentration in a single command, that is, with politics strictly speaking.
The Report directly blames the State and government cadres in charge of implementing the recent Task of Ordenamiento, for their excesses and clumsiness with prices and other measures, and for resisting the agreed-upon policies. Anyone who has heard or read Raul Castro’s speeches knows that this criticism of the bureaucracy is nothing new.
He also blamed the deficiencies and slowness in foreign investment policy, as well as in the extension and use of the private sector, on “prejudices” – what in Cuban political jargon is often called “subjective factors” – as opposed to material conditions that limit the implementation of a policy. Finally, this is the first time that a PCC document at that level refers to “remittances from Cuban citizens abroad” as a component of the economic outlook: “sales in MLC were expanded to other products, including food, with the objective of encouraging remittances that Cuban citizens abroad make to their relatives.”
What Raul’s Report says about the performance of the economy pales, however, in the face of his assessment of the ideological sector. As I mentioned before, the level of critical analysis with which the agreements collected in the First Party Conference (January 2012) characterized the problems of ideological work had been the most systematic and comprehensive that could be remembered since the Rectification policy (1985-1991). “It is not enough to do more of the same,” are his words to address the topic in the Report. He questions it for orienting the media according to old schemes, for exercising “triumphalism, stridency and superficiality.” And he concludes by calling for “a profound transformation.”
In fact, to put it in Cuban, the hard blow for the errors in the application of price policy on the part of the leaders are blamed on “an inadequate social communication policy and the publication of incorrect approaches in several of our press media,” which gave rise to the far-fetched idea of putting everything back in the libreta [ration book].
In spite of what Article 5 of the Constitution says, the question of the role of the Party in the Cuban political system, in practical terms, remains among the unresolved problems, according to the outgoing Secretary-General. “To go beyond the supplanting and interference in the functions and decisions that correspond to the State, Government and administrative institutions -we have been repeating that for more than 60 years and, really, it must be said that very little is fulfilled.”
I do not have space to talk here about other continuities, such as foreign relations, the confrontation with the US-sponsored opposition, the relevance of defense and national security, the olive branch to the Biden administration (“a respectful dialogue, for a new type of relations,” without “concessions in sovereignty and foreign policy”), social representativeness in the leadership bodies.
New leadership of the PCC
Going from top to bottom, the Political Bureau (PB) was recomposed, as expected, but also with some unforeseen changes. Out went 47% of the members, including all the historic members, starting with Raúl, the second secretary, José Ramón Machado Ventura, who had been in the Bureau for 46 years, and Ramiro Valdés, the only Cuban leader who has been in and out of the PB more than once, for a long time in civilian functions.
Two other military officers also left, both of them in the leadership of MINFAR, and very popular, especially for their performance in the Angolan war. The only military officer who remained in the BP, where he was before Raul took office in 2008, the current Minister of the FAR, was now joined by three others: the head of MININT, the president of the MINFAR Business Administration Group, and the retired general who has been secretary of the Council of Ministers since Raul’s government.
In addition to this replacement, the person in charge of the Guidelines Commission and two women (both mulattoes), one a provincial cadre of the PCC and the other a rector of university institutions and an expert in information technology. In the new BP, there is only one woman, also a provincial leader of the Party; and as expected, the Prime Minister. In this BP of 14 members, with three seats less than the previous one, five are new.
The most unusual aspect of this new leadership, however, is not numerical, but the absence of the position of Second Secretary. The tasks of the previous one, related to organization and cadres, fell again to a physician, the youngest of the previous BP, but now with the rank of member of the Secretariat, not number two. The other two replacements in the Secretariat, composed only of men, were two young men, the Ideological Secretary, who previously directed a newspaper, was ambassador to Venezuela and rector of the diplomatic academy [Rogelio Polanco]; and the Economy Secretary, a former ideological secretary of the UJC and leader of the PCC in a municipality of Havana [Joel Queipo, a nuclear physicist!]. It is not clear which of them will be in charge of the International Relations Department -or if it disappears, given the presence of the Foreign Minister in the BP.
A quick look at the new Central Committee (CC) also reveals continuities and discontinuities. There are, as always, all the main leaders of the PCC in the provinces, among them five women. But only ten members of the Council of Ministers and three deputy ministers; that is, the majority of the cabinet is absent – among these, Culture, Foreign Trade, Transportation, etc.
In the previous CC, both the military and the intellectuals of culture and higher education had already reduced their weight from 14% to only 9%. In this new, reduced CC, the military are 10.4%. However, there is no writer, artist, intellectual or representative of any cultural or social science institution – except for a young historian. There is, however, a large representation of researchers in the natural sciences, especially those in the health and medicine sector.
Finally, to know how the social composition of the PCC ranks has changed in the last five years, precise figures would be needed. According to the Central Report, they have grown again, after having been reduced by 13%, according to data from the previous Congress. Today there are more than 700,000. These data could also be useful for a dispassionate analysis of Cuban politics, a rarity in these times.