Cuba: How radical will the changes be?

Cuba: How radical will the changes be?

The plans and agreements approved at the recently-concluded sixth congress of the Cuban Communist Party has left people with a wide range of reactions, from hope, to scepticism, to fear, satisfaction, the sense that old ideological principles have been renounced or that such certainties are no more than window dressing. But the congress left no one with a feeling of indifference. Cuba’s magnetism —sometimes morbid, sometimes admiring — prevents that from happening.

Although the news was not surprising, there was much discussion about the resignation from Cuban Communist Party leadership of Fidel Castro, the historic leader who for more than 45 years guided the destiny of Cuba and has now decided to be a simple activist of the party — though we all know that he will be anything but ‘simple.’ More surprising and moving (politically and even humanly speaking) was the proposal of the president and now new first secretary of the republic, Raul Castro, to reduce to two five-year terms the time that the future premier can stay in power, something unheard of in the ruling apparatus of a socialist country, where the upper reaches of power often stay in office until they die. How these changes will be implemented remains to be seen.

Exhausted model

In contrast, everyone expected the proposal of a broad overhaul of the obviously exhausted Cuban economic model. The new plan will try various alternatives like foreign investment, work, taxation, and private production, decentralisation of the government, the elimination of bureaucratic red tape, and cuts in government subsidies. All of these measures will introduce the element of market competition desperately needed in a country weakened by an interminable economic crisis, rock bottom production, and a society deformed by the way goods and services are provided.

The word ‘market’, demonised for decades in official Cuban circle has reappeared, though there was another word that was reintroduced and mentioned more times: ‘change’. How radical and profound will the changes be? Will they affect the economic and social essence of the system, including those that are political? This too remains to be seen, but there can be no doubt that change has arrived and more is coming, not always desired (by certain elements of the government leadership) but always inevitable, since many have already occurred in our society and others are being imposed by time itself and the reality of Cuba and the planet.

However, there has been too little, if any, talk of other profound transformations that will or should accompany the economic, social, and even political changes that have been proposed or approved so far. I am referring to changes that may be subtle but are indispensable and no less necessary, among which we should remember urgent changes needed in the top-down, fundamentalist orthodoxy, based on exclusion, which, fuelled for years, managed to convert into a suspect, if not an enemy, anyone who dissented from official positions and tried to think with his own head as opposed to a logic based on ‘the moment’, ‘the situation of the country’, of ‘top-down orientation’.

Too many years of political verticality, of an excessively powerful bureaucracy, of considering as an enemy anyone who doesn’t think the same way —these are burdens that the newly approved plan for the future must eliminate if Cuban society is to regenerate itself, more vital and audacious. The same is true of the tendency to stigmatise nonconformists, as was done all too frequently by that backwards and reactionary bureaucracy, which was responsible not only for innumerable economic disasters (for which no one paid the price, or if there was any accountability maybe some involved lost certain privileges). But the worst part of this practice was the removal from society of a culture of dialogue and the expression of nonconformist ideas natural elements of social diversity.

Today the necessity to allow in the new and different and heterodox is recognised even by government and party leadership: Raul Castro himself sees that “the first thing to change in the Communist Party is the mentality, which is what we will pay the higher cost for because it has been tied for years to obsolete criteria”.

Only in this way can there be real change in Cuba, not only by decree but also by consensus, not only imposed from the top but percolating up from every corner of the country.


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