ALVARO VARGAS LLOSA
BUENOS AIRES— From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Apr. 27, 2011 2:00AM EDT
The point of the recent Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, we had
been led to believe, was to rejuvenate and modernize the structures of
the state – even though the 15-member Politburo elected during the
gathering is dominated by septuagenarians and octogenarians who have
been rejuvenating and modernizing Cuba for 52 years.
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The real purpose was to maintain the way in which power is allocated.
The Castro brothers, ever the cunning tacticians, are ready to make
concessions in many areas. But not on the definitive issue: the monopoly
One need only look at the Politburo to see that Cuba is not an
ideological dictatorship, but a military one. Raul Castro, who now
succeeds his brother as first secretary, has traditionally been the
chief of the armed forces. The small clique of old-guard members who
have been "elected" to the Politburo have proved their loyalty during
decades of collaboration with him in the military. The second secretary,
Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, as well as the likes of Ramiro Valdes and
Abelardo Colome Ibarra, are charged with preventing cracks in the
barracks, not with forging the socialist "new man."
The fact that all these men called to inject new life into the system
are aging revolutionaries who have been with the Castros since the
beginning is not the most farcical aspect of the party congress. That
would be the assertion by Raul Castro that "the country lacks a reserve
of well-prepared substitutes," meaning that he and his clique will deign
to serve a bit longer before they can cede power to a new generation.
And how long, might one ask, will it take for a well-prepared generation
to be allowed to emerge? Ten years, according to Mr. Castro, who seemed
dead serious when he proposed that party leaders serve only two
five-year terms. This should give him enough time to come up with a new
proposal, just before he turns 90 in 2021, to prolong the rule of his
old guard for a wee bit longer.
He was not entirely wrong about the lack of preparation. The reason
there is no new generation in the party is, well, the Castro brothers'
habit of applying the political guillotine to younger figures. Carlos
Lage, the former secretary of the Council of Ministers, and Felipe Perez
Roque, the former foreign minister – two young apparatchiks once seen as
spearheads of an up-and-coming leadership – were purged as soon they
stuck their heads out. And how exactly could a new generation become
"prepared" when the Castros let 14 years elapse between party congresses?
Raul Castro, a greater admirer of the Chinese way than his brother, has
launched what he calls "the updating of the socialist model." He wants
private enterprises to absorb 50 per cent of the island's workers as
part of a plan to eliminate half a million state jobs now and another
half a million later. State-owned companies will enjoy more "autonomy,"
and local governments will control more of their budgets.
Self-employment will be allowed in a total of 178 activities.
The aim is to sustain the political bureaucracy by raising the country's
productive capacity. In its current state, and with Venezuela's
subsidies to the island under constant threat due to that country's
productive stagnation, Cuba risks social and political stirrings. There
have been signs of this in recent years with various groups gaining some
notoriety – and paying a heavy price.
But Raul Castro's reforms are insufficient for any major economic leap
to take place. Rigoberto Diaz, a correspondent in Havana, recently
interviewed a number of Cubans who have tried to start businesses under
the new rules. The case of Elia Pastrana, who quit her government job,
owns a fast-food stand and has one employee in Artemisa, about 40
kilometres south of Havana, is typical. She is having to close her
business because the cost of the licence, income and payroll taxes, and
pension does not allow her to make enough to sustain herself.
Fidel Castro's presence during the congress should be enough to put a
stop to speculation about how much Raul wants to deviate from his
brother's orthodoxy. Fidel said it all when he summed up the purpose of
the party session: "to preserve socialism." Both Castros are in total
agreement about this.
Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute.