Friday, April 22, 2016

Steady as she goes

Steady as she goes
MIGUEL SALES | Málaga | 21 Abr 2016 - 1:05 pm.

"The garden of forking paths is an enormous riddle, or parable, whose
theme is time"

Jorge Luis Borges

The VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba was a rhetorical locus
amoenus at which Castroist bureaucrats set aside their anxieties for a
few days and rolled out archaic concepts like hopeful fans of Chinese
silk, which contrasted with the venue's grim National Revolution
aesthetics, complete with a grey Baliño and a transfigured Fidel.
However, in this garden of redundancy mysteries were cleared up,
illusions were shattered, and the course the island will be on, at least
until 2030, was clearly defined.

In the current situation, defined by the chronic crisis of chavismo in
Venezuela, the resumption of diplomatic relations with the US and the
decrepitude of the ruling elite, this meeting made sufficiently clear
the strategy that the regime will be applying during the changeover to
post-Castroism. The clarification is relevant because the PCC had before
it at least three possible courses of action, which, for the sake of
brevity, we will call the "bunker strategy," "democratic transition",
and "changes to preserve the status quo."

The bunker strategy

The first course, the bunker, was supported by 57 years of success in
the regime's essential task: the preservation, at all costs, of the
political class's monopoly. During this period industrialisation failed,
along with agricultural diversification, development plans, the
guerrilla strategy in Latin America, pro-Soviet campaigns in Africa, and
even battles against mosquitoes that carry tropical diseases. But the
authorities endured, like a steel pyramid, firmly built upon the
wreckage of the beleaguered nation.

However, the prolongation of the bunker strategy posed a dual problem.
On the one hand, the leaders had aged and did not retain the same
legitimacy or degree of contact with external reality. On the other,
funding sources were disappearing. Castroism had invented dependent
socialism: first on the Soviet Union, followed by Venezuela, but the
foreseeable collapse of Nicolás Maduro's government, and the successive
setbacks suffered by populism in South America doomed the Cuban economy
to a second Special Period, soon after emerging from the first. Under
these circumstances it was very risky to openly proclaim entrenchment as
a survival method. The consequences of absolute political control, 99%
of the economy subservient to the State, and the stabling of society
were all too well known: backwardness, impoverishment, mass exodus and
the maintenance of emergency rule, under which rights and freedoms would
continue to be suppressed. Under these conditions it was very difficult
to find new funding abroad and to fuel some illusions of change within
the country.

The transition to democracy

The second route seemed even riskier. It consisted of recognising, 27
years late, the failure of communism, taking the initiative and
undertaking a transition with all its predictable consequences: amnesty
for political prisoners, reforming the Constitution, allowing a free
press, liberating social forces and facilitating the development of a
market economy, slimming down the inefficient state apparatus and, at
the end of the journey, achieving national reconciliation through the
recognition of civil rights and the holding of free and plural
elections. Choosing this path, the funding problems and economic growth
could be resolved more quickly, but the PCC ran the risk of losing power
in the medium term, even if it had spearheaded the process. In return it
would have been able to secure the impunity of its hierarchs and the
assets of its children and grandchildren through negotiations with other
political forces and guarantees from the governments that had sponsored
it. And not only that: the Party could be renewed, regain some degree of
legitimacy, and continue to participate in public life, as has happened
in some European countries.

Change to avoid change

The third option was to change everything (or change enough), but so
that everything would remain essentially the same, like the Prince of
Salina in the work by Lampedusa (The Leopard). This option is,
obviously, what Raúl and his cadre chose. This roadmap is based on a
calculation that the government and the PCC can introduce limited doses
of the market economy and paltry political reform to take advantage of
the benefits that will be generated by the new relationship with the
United States and, at the same time, manage changes with enough
breathing room to neutralise their potential social and ideological

This agenda of controlled transformations, without a doubt, includes a
battery of measures ranging from eliminating the dual currency, to
authorising emigrants to invest in the island, to allowing athletes and
musicians to freely work abroad, to changing the slave-like system
governing the recruitment of personnel working for foreign companies in
Cuba. Other possible reform measures would include expanding access to
the Internet, streamlining immigration policy (the cancellation of some
taxes and even the elimination of entry visas for Cuban citizens), the
relaxation of prohibitions on address changes, authorisations for
freelance work in some professions (doctors, teachers, etc.) and other
provisions of lesser importance.

All these changes, applied drop by drop, would allow the system to
survive. In no way would they affect the regime's fundamental pillars,
which, through the sole party-Government-State symbiosis, dominates 90%
of the economy, commands the unswerving obedience of the military and
the political police, and monopolises education, culture and the media
in the country. The apparatus resulting from said reforms would be a
neo-Marxist sultanate, which would tolerate a bit more of a market
economy, thereby achieving the legitimization needed to acquire foreign
aid and further fuel the illusion of greater openness.

What are the prospects for this illusion-of-change strategy?

"Men die, the Party is immortal," the Castro regime's lackeys could be
heard repeating. The first part of the hackneyed slogan seems like a
funerary drum roll dedicated to the octogenarians making up the Central
Committee, while the second is a falsehood refuted by recent history.
Various forms of communism have failed in recent decades – some even
before their founders did. For practical purposes, the CP disappeared in
democratic countries like France and Italy, swept away by the shock wave
that caused the fall of the Berlin Wall. It also evaporated in Eastern
Europe, in the Soviet Union, in the Horn of Africa and, if we stretch
the concept, even in China and Vietnam, where the empty shell of the
Party harbours billionaire businessmen, gentrified mandarins, figurehead
generals and lifelong apparatchiks.

In Cuba the same thing is bound to happen. The only question is when,
the schedule for its demise. But if Cuban society fails to react now to
the roadmap sketched by Raúl Castro at this Congress, if fear and
indifference continue to prevail in the streets and in homes, the
leaders of the regime will retain all their power, be able to
comfortably manage the assets they've accumulated for the benefit of
their children and grandchildren, and real change will be deferred for
another two or three generations. Perhaps by 2030, the new date cited in
the final document of the PCC's VII Congress, which was approved (as if
there were any doubt) unanimously.

Miguel Sales Figueroa chairs the Unión Liberal Cubana and is the
vice-president of Internacional Liberal

Source: Steady as she goes | Diario de Cuba -

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