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Employees at a tobacco factory vote during a debate on new guidelines for the Cuban economy

The Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) took place in Havana between the 16 and 19 April 2011, marking the 50th anniversary of two historic events: the declaration of the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution on 16 April 1961 and the defeat of the Bay of Pigs invasion by CIA-trained Cuban exiles, within 72 hours, on the 19 April 1961.

The principal function of the Congress was to discuss, amend and approve the Draft Guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution and then to oversee their implementation. Distributed nationally in early November 2010, these guidelines contained 291 proposals for consolidating or amending social and economic policy in twelve broad categories:

  • economic management
  • macroeconomic policies (including monetary, exchange, fiscal and pricing policies)
  • external economic relations
  • investment
  • science, technology and innovation
  • social policy (education, health, sports, culture, social security, employment and wages)
  • agro-industry
  • industry and energy
  • tourism
  • transport
  • construction, housing and water resources
  • commerce.

The aim is to update and improve the efficiency of the socialist Revolution in meeting contemporary challenges.

The introduction of the guidelines affirm ‘the principle that only socialism is capable of overcoming the difficulties and preserving the conquests of the Revolution, and that in the updating of the economic model, planning will be supreme, not the market.’ Socialism, it states, means ‘equality of rights and opportunities for the citizens, not egalitarianism. Work is both a right and a duty; the personal responsibility of every citizen, and must be remunerated according to its quantity and quality.’

The short-term aim of economic policy is to eliminate the balance of payments deficit, increase national income, substitute imports with internal production, improve economic efficiency, work motivation and income distribution, ‘and create the necessary infrastructural and productive conditions to permit the transition to a higher stage of development’. The long-term aim is ‘food and energy self-sufficiency, an efficient use of human potential, a higher level of competitiveness in traditional production areas, and the development of new forms of the production of goods and services of higher added value.’

In an example of real democracy, every Cuban was given access to this document and then invited to participate in an open debate about its content. Between 1 December 2010 and the 28 February 2011, 163,000 meetings were organised by work or study centres, political and residential groups. Out of a total population of 11.2 million, almost nine million people participated in these meetings (it was possible to participate more than once), over three million comments were made about the draft guidelines. The CCP membership is around 800,000 but these meetings were open to every member of society, regardless of political or organisational affiliation.

This was no mere symbolism or public relations exercise. Every opinion stated was registered, analysed and organised into 780,000 distinct recommendations. The document was subsequently amended. In his inaugural speech to the CCP Congress, Raul Castro announced that 16 guidelines had been moved to other points, 94 remained unchanged, 181 were modified in content and 36 new guidelines were incorporated. 45 proposals advocating the concentration of property were not included because they ‘openly contradicted the essence of socialism’ (Raul, 17 April).

Over half of all proposals, Raul reported, related to the chapters on social and macroeconomic policies: ‘the highest number of proposals pertained to guidelines number 162, dealing with the removal of the ration book; 61 and 62, on the pricing policy; 262, on passengers’ transportation; 133, on education; 54, related to the establishment of a single currency; and, 143, on the quality of health care services.’ The essence of these details is not the numbers involved, but what they reveal about a revolutionary leadership which has its finger on the pulse of the people. 68% of the guidelines were modified following consultation with the Cuban masses.

The CCP Congress was attended by almost 1,000 delegates who worked in five commissions to discuss the guidelines and the populations’ recommendations. As a result, a further 86 guidelines were modified and two added. The now 313 guidelines will be submitted to the National Assembly of Peoples’ Power for legislative ratification. A Standing Committee will be set up to monitor the implementation and adjustments of the guidelines over a period of five years and as objective circumstances change. The Central Committee will analyse progress in its plenary meetings at least twice a year. Raul warned that the process must be undertaken: ‘without haste or improvisation’ and always maintaining the support and understanding of the Cuban masses.

Delegates voted on membership of the Party’s Central Committee, Politburo and Secretariat. The Central Committee was reduced in size from 150 to 115 members and the Politburo from 24 to 15. The Secretariat retains seven members pending the Party’s National Conference on 28 January 2012 (birthday in 1853 of Cuban independence hero José Martí), which will ‘objectively and critically’ analyse the CCP’s work with a view to improving its political performance and the training of cadre. Elected as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the CCP, Raul described his ‘principal mission and purpose in life’ as defending, preserving and continuing to improve socialism and never allowing the return of the capitalist regime (19 April).

Another resolution passed at the Congress was presented by head of the National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon to strengthen the institutions of the Peoples’ Power system of participatory democracy, giving more control to the local assemblies. This implies further changes in the political and administrative divisions of the country – a process which began on 1 January 2011 when the Havana Province was divided into two new provinces: Artemisa and Mayabeque.

Raul confirmed that legislation is being formulated for the ‘purchase and sale of housing and cars…expanding the limits of fallow land to be awarded in usufruct [rent-free short term loan] to those agricultural producers with outstanding results and the granting of credits to self-employed workers and to the population at large.’ This should be understood in the context of his comment that ‘the concentration of property’ cannot be permitted because it ‘openly contradicts the essence of socialism’. Raul also reassured the population that the ration book would not be removed ‘by decree, all at once, before creating the proper conditions to do so, which means undertaking other transformations of the economic model with a view to increasing labour efficiency and productivity in order to guarantee stable levels of production and supplies of basic goods and services accessible to all citizens but no longer subsidised.’ Socialism would never use the ‘shock therapy’ of neo-liberalism, he said. ‘The social welfare system is being reorganised to ensure a rational and deferential support to those who really need it. Instead of massively subsidising products as we do now, we shall gradually provide for those people lacking other support.’ (17 April).

Other key proposals contained in Raul’s report and approved by Congress were:

1. Limit leadership roles to two terms of five years. This will open access for younger Cubans to leadership positions and strengthen the institutions of the Revolution.

    Fidel Castro supported this proposal with his reflection on 18 April which stated: ‘The Party leadership should be the sum of the best political talents of our people, capable of confronting the policy of the empire that jeopardises the human species…The duty of this new generation of revolutionary men and women is becoming an example of modest leaders, studious and tireless fighters for socialism. In the barbaric era of consumer societies, to overcome the capitalist production system that fosters and promotes selfish interests among human beings is, no doubt, a difficult challenge.’

    2. Increasing the proportion of women, black and mixed-race people in leadership positions. 48 of the newly-elected Central Committee are women who now make up 42%, three times the previous figure. Black and mixed race people are up to 36 – increasing the proportion by 10% to 30% (NB: around 35% of Cuban population are black or mixed race). Raul reported that:

      ‘The Party has been working for months toward this end with the objective of submitting a list of candidates that takes into account the necessity to have a fair representation of gender and race in the Central Committee membership…These are the children of the working class; they belong to the poorest segments of the population and have had a politically active life in students’ organizations, the Union of Young Communists and the Party. Most of these youths accumulate 10, 15 or 20 years of experience working at the grassroots level without abandoning their jobs in the professions they studied, and the majority were proposed by their respective Party cells during the process leading up to the Congress.’ (19 April)

      3. Greater separation between the CCP (political and ideological leadership) and the government (management, administrative and legislative functions)

        ‘The fortitude of the Party basically lies in its moral authority, its influence on the masses and the trust of the people…The fortitude of the State lies in its material authority, which consists of the strength of the institutions responsible for demanding from everyone to comply with the legal regulations it enacts. The damage caused by the confusion of these two concepts is manifested, firstly, in the deterioration of the Party’s political work and, secondly, in the decline of the authority of the state and the government as officials cease feeling responsible for their decisions’ (Raul, 17 April).

        4. The Cuban media has the role of clarifying debates and producing ‘objective, continuous and critical reports on the progress of the updating of the economic model’, breaking ‘the habit of describing the national reality in pretentious high-flown language or with excessive formality’ and ‘boring, improvised or superficial reports’. The media’s role is to stimulate public debate.

          In his closing speech to the Congress Raul pointed out that:

          Cuba is one of the few countries in the world in which conditions exist to transform its economic model and leave the crisis behind while avoiding social trauma. First of all because our patriotic people know that their force stems from their monolithic unity, the justice of their cause and military training as well as from their high level of education and pride in their history and revolutionary roots. We shall advance resolutely despite the US blockade and the adverse conditions prevailing in the international market, which among other things, limit Cuba’s access to financial sources and expose it to the oil prices spiral that impinges on the prices of the rest of the raw materials and food.’

          The annual plan finalised in December 2010 must be adjusted because the cost of imports for 2011 has risen by $800 million as a result of rising international prices.

          Raul concluded that: ‘Our brothers and sisters in the Third World, especially those from Latin America and the Caribbean, who are making great efforts to transform the legacy of centuries of colonial domination, should know that they can always count on our solidarity and support… [F]raternal greetings also go to the communist parties and other progressive forces all over the planet fighting restlessly with the deep conviction that a better world is possible.’

          New measures and legislation will be announced in Cuba in the coming months as the guidelines are implemented. Although there will be no surprises, we can expect these to be met by sensationalist exclamations about the advent of capitalism from the enemies of Cuban socialism. Cuba’s revolutionary people, lead by the CCP, will progress with patience and resolution to improve the efficiency of their system; maintaining the principles of socialism, while adapting, with creativity and innovation, to the challenging context of the global capitalist crisis.

          By Helen Yaffe