Monday, April 25, 2016

Fidel Castro Brings a Transitional Communist Party Congress to a Close

Fidel Castro Brings a Transitional Communist Party Congress to a Close /
Iván García

Fidel Castro speaking at the close of the 7th Congress of the Cuban
Communist Party in Havana in April (AP from Info 7)
Ivan Garcia, 21 April 2016 — He is no longer the beefy guy in the olive
green uniform with a Russian pistol in his holster who would give
improvised, hours-long speeches in a public square or television studio
until he became hoarse.

It was a stale, slouching version of Fidel Castro — his hair combed back
like an elderly man after a bath in a nursing home and dressed in a blue
Adidas track suit — who gave a brief diatribe in a shaky voice, a man
decidedly brought down by kryptonite.

But he strikes fear even in his henchmen. And his scribes. One example
is Cubadebate editor Rosa Miriam Elizalde, who in North Korean style
prose recently chronicled how the Communist party delegates, "dressed
for the most part with a humility befitting their salaries, gave him a
standing ovation as they wept."

This was probably his last public speech. But maybe not. Fidel Castro is
unpredictable. It was not long ago that he lost his good friends Nelson
Mandela and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the old comandante has been
around for a long time and knows how to survive in this Latin American

According to a member of the Communist Party in the town of Cerro,
Fidel's appearance was a subtle political marketing operation intended
to give the appearance of unity. "That was one of the key aspects of
this congress," he notes. "In this new age, with an imperialist enemy
extending its hand to us, they are hoping political unity will help
resist the siren calls of Obama's speech in Havana, which has
anesthetized so many Cubans."

In fact, the conclave failed to meet the expectations of dissidents,
private sector entrepreneurs and even mid-level officials, who were
hoping for more substantive changes.

For opposition figures like Manuel Cuesta Morua, "it was a congress that
turned its back on the public. It tried to mend socialism and slow
economic reform. It is clear that Cubans have to take charge of their
destiny. Cuba will remain an obstacle. That is both good news and bad
news for dissidents, who will have to refine their efforts on behalf of

Self-employed workers were expecting something more from this
get-together. Adrian, the owner of a cafe in the Tenth of October
district that sells Creole food and fruit-flavored milk shakes, notes
there is still no solution to the problem of a wholesale market for
private businesses. "There was talk of a new legal framework," he
observes, "but they did not delve into that subject. And there was
nothing said about authorizing foreign investment or allowing us to
invest in our own country. It was a disappointment. Yet another one."

Joel, the manager of a grocery store and a party member, is convinced
that Cuba needs "a real economic, political and social revolution, not
detours. Every minute lost means another person leaving his homeland out
of disillusionment with the government's mismanagement. Perhaps the
state gained some time, but it lost its last chance to gain supporters
through profound democratic change by opting for socialism and
cooperativism instead."

The youngest do not expect much. Dagoberto, who sells internet cards
illegally in Monaco Park, never thought the congress would produce
legislation or regulations that would benefit large sectors of society.
"Look, these guys are a clan," he says. "They gained power through force
and without force they will never give it up. Some people thought
something positive would come out of that assembly, but I don't expect
anything from those old guys. Like a lot of Cubans, I go about my
business and try to figure out how I can emigrate."

From April 16 to 19, a thousand delegates and two-hundred fifty guests
met in four commissions to debate topics dealing with the economy,
sustainability, aspirations for the country's political system and
economic projections through the year 2030.

With wayward jargon and atom-bomb-proof optimism, delegates and leaders
unanimously approved several proposals previously cooked up by the
executive branch, including reducing the minimum age for membership in
the Central Committee to sixty.

The average age in the recently elected Central Committee has been
reduced to fifty-four. Forty-four percent are women and in one
brushstroke the number of mulatos and blacks has increased. Of the
seventeen Politburo members, five are new faces.

Given the laws of nature, this congress should be the last one led by
the old warriors who accompanied Fidel Castro on his rise to power at
the point of a carbine. It was a transitional event, with the autocrats
pulling on the handbrake.

Press coverage was minimal. Information was released in trickles. Only a
few official journalists were accredited. The sessions were reported
through redacted excerpts and its conclusions were disseminated in
delayed broadcasts. The foreign press and independent journalists spent
hours listening to radio news shows and scrutinizing every news item.

After the elder Castro delivered his pep talk in a halting voice, his
brother took the microphone and said a few words. It ended, as usual,
with the delegates standing, joining hands and singing "The Internationale."

Twenty kilometers from the Palace of Conventions, where the party
congress was being held, Adrian's family is waiting impatiently for the
speeches to end so they can sit in front of the television and watch a
Brazilian soap opera.

For them and millions of other Cubans, life goes on.

*Translator's note: Fictional town and phantasmagorical setting for
Gabriel Garcia Marquez' novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Source: Fidel Castro Brings a Transitional Communist Party Congress to a
Close / Iván García – Translating Cuba -

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