By Editorial, Sunday, April 24, 7:52 PM
IT HAS NOW been five years since Raul Castro assumed control of the
Cuban regime from his ailing older brother, Fidel. In that time, the
younger Mr. Castro — an accurate, if strange, description for a man who
will turn 80 in June — has repeatedly reflected on the economic failings
of the Cuban Revolution and promised to correct them. Over the past
year, in fact, Raul Castro has sounded almost apocalyptic. "Either we
change course, or we sink," he declared in December. "We have the basic
duty to correct the mistakes we have made over the course of five
decades of building socialism in Cuba." Such rhetoric raised
expectations that Raul would at last bring the free enterprise and
political opening that Cuba so desperately needs.
But Cuba's Communist Party congress last week, the first such meeting
since 1997 and the first ever under Raul's direction, confirmed that
talk of reform in Cuba is mostly just that. Instead of liberating the
economy, Raul sketched a program of limited privatization that could
take "at least" five years to phase in. The most dramatic measure would
authorize Cubans to buy and sell houses and cars for the first time
since 1959, but Raul provided few details, except to assure Cubans that
no one would be allowed to accumulate too much property. The plan calls
for more licenses for small service businesses — a measure partly aimed
at converting black market enterprises into taxable ones.
Even more disappointing was the lack of political reform — or even a
shake-up of the Communist hierarchy. Yes, Raul suggested choosing more
non-Communists for government posts, but he offered no plan for
elections or actual party competition. Instead, Raul promoted Jose Roman
Machado Ventura, a longtime crony and fellow octogenarian, to the No. 2
spot in what is still the "vanguard" Communist party. Nor was there any
indication that Cuba plans a conciliatory gesture toward the Obama
administration, such as the release of Alan Gross, the 61-year-old U.S.
aid worker recently sentenced to 15 years on trumped-up subversion charges.
The Cuban "revolution" has devolved into a confused gerontocracy. Raul
ostensibly recognizes that the "mistakes" of the past half-century have
left the country nearly bankrupt; yet this clashes with his "firm
conviction and commitment of honor that the First Secretary of the
Central Committee of the Communist Party has as his main mission and
meaning of his life: to defend, preserve and continue perfecting
Socialism, and never allow the capitalist regime to return," as the
Cuban state media put it. This is a contradiction that his bid to
"update" the Cuban model cannot square — any more than the previous
reform campaigns that litter the revolution's history could.
Raul Castro's speeches at the congress were full of the usual attacks on
slothful Cuban workers, inefficient party cadre and perfidious U.S.
imperalism. But the truth is that Cuba's problems are mostly of the
Castro brothers' own making. They may never end until the Castros'