Sunday, April 24, 2011

Changes Lie Ahead, on Obstacle Course

Changes Lie Ahead, on Obstacle Course
By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Apr 22, 2011 (IPS) - Although it failed to bring about the
hoped-for generational renewal at the highest level of Cuba's governing
Communist Party, the recent party congress may have marked the start of
a new stage of socialist development, if the resistance to change among
the most conservative sectors is overcome.

Not a few observers lamented that the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) sixth
congress ended Apr. 19 with the presentation of a 15-member political
bureau mainly made up of the old guard, with an average age of 67.
Others stress that any real change in the country will depend on new
ways of thinking.

"Years of reductionist thinking and simplifications, of wilfulness,
weigh down on those who must push the changes through," psychologist and
professor of communications José Ramón Vidal told IPS. "Awareness of
these limitations and barriers is the first condition for preventing
them from distorting or frustrating the proposed changes."

Vidal said it is clear that the "desired scenario" would require
strengthened institutions, a break with the state monopoly over all
economic activities, greater autonomy for public enterprises, and
administrative decentralisation to make management of municipal
governments more independent.

However, "popular participation is still limited to consultation
processes, to listening to public demands, and no new ideas have been
set forth for how to boost the role of citizens in political
decision-making or how to increase citizen oversight over the country's
institutions and leaders," he said.

The new first secretary of the PCC, President Raúl Castro, acknowledged
the need for a change in mentality.

At the four-day party congress, he said Cubans would have to overcome a
"mentality of inertia," and the only thing that could threaten the
revolution was "our inability to rectify errors."

However, the resistance to change is not only identified with a specific
generation, but with sectors that could see the proposed transformations
as a threat to privileges they have gained in their careers as
politicians or civil servants.

Since Raúl Castro first became acting president when his brother Fidel
fell ill in 2006, he has insisted on the need to be wary of a false
sense of unanimity and to respect diversity of opinion.

But in Castro's case, that respect may end where dissident groups start.

In the party congress, Castro called for doing away with prejudice
against private enterprise or "self-employment," insisted on delinking
the party and the government, and reiterated the need to move forward
without "haste or improvisation."

The party congress's "approval of the Guidelines for Economic and Social
Policy gave us the main tool, the 'what'; now we need the 'how': the
legal framework, regulations and even changes to the constitution,"
economist Armando Nova, a researcher at the Centre for the Study of the
Cuban Economy (CEEC), told IPS.

In the analyst's view, the country is facing "a realignment, more than
an updating," of the social economic model. "There is the development of
different forms of property, spaces are opening up to a non-state sector
in the economy, and more rational labour and wage policies" are being
introduced, he said.

The touchiest changes, he said, are the restructuring of the labour
market – which involves the dismissal of half a million public sector
workers this year alone – and the elimination of the ration card, which
guarantees heavily subsidised food and other basic products to the
entire population.

These changes are necessary for economic reasons, "but it is good that
it has been clarified that conditions will be created for these things
to happen, that the process will be gradual, and that in the case of
cuts to state payrolls, the modifications will be linked to the workers'
employment possibilities and options," added Nova, one of the leading
scholars on agriculture in Cuba.

Gender and racial inequalities acknowledged

One of the questions that drew the most attention from civil society was
the recognition of the persistence of gender and racial inequalities –
issues that tend to be ignored and denied by government authorities, who
prefer to highlight the achievements and downplay the shortcomings of
the socialist system.

"We have to remain alert, to avoid falling into the traps of the past,
when the idea was that by declaring the abolition of a society divided
into antagonistic classes, all social, political and cultural problems
would disappear," writer Tomás Fernández, a member of the Cofradía de la
Negritud – an association of black people aimed at raising awareness of
the problem of racial discrimination – told IPS.

"Social problems have always been shouldered aside by economic and
political problems; let's not fall into this same mistake again," said
Fernández, who warned against "closing our eyes to the social problems"
that plague the segments of the population in greatest need of
assistance, like blacks.

Blogger Sandra Álvarez recognised that the number of women and blacks on
the 115-member PCC Central Committee had grown. But she called for close
monitoring of "racial inequalities that could be generated or
exacerbated" in the process of the implementation of the new economic
and social policy guidelines.

"I hope the debate on race-based inequality in Cuban society will also
be taken up by the PCC National Conference," added the writer of the
blog "Negra cubana tenía que ser".

The conference, which will focus on internal party questions, is slated
for Jan. 28, 2012.

Professor Vidal commended Castro's criticism of the party's policy of
hastily promoting "inexperienced and immature cadres" based on the
mistaken "idea that an unspoken premise to occupy a leading position was
to be a member of the Party or the Young Communist League."

Castro linked the errors of this policy to the impossibility of
"rejuvenating" the political bureau.

The professor also mentioned the president's call for the eradication of
prejudice against religion and people of faith.

With respect to the national press, Vidal said it would live up to its
"social responsibility" when it overcame its current role, which is
heavily focused on "propaganda," and once it strengthened its
informative and educational functions and became a vehicle for the
exchange of ideas for "the construction of inclusive consensuses."

Analysing the significance of the congress, historian and anthropologist
Jesús Guanche said "it is still necessary to struggle with those who
have not yet understood that the means and the end of development are
human beings, in all their diversity of cultural expression and personal
choice, and that the economy, no matter how successful it is, is only a

"All of the necessary changes, especially the loosening up of the knot
of productive forces, must head in the direction of dealing a
devastating blow to corruption, at both the low and, especially, the
high levels, which also contributes to blocking everything that can be
blocked," he told IPS in an email interview.

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