Those interested in the plight and prospects for Cubans are keeping an eye on the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba now on in Havana. Every ten years, since 1961, Fidel et al has pulled together all his acolytes and cronies to design and plan Cuba’s economy for the next decade. Something Fidel learned from his friends in the Soviet Union that worked so well for them.
Those who love whiskers on kittens, raindrops on roses and re-read Pollyanna every spring have expressed some belief that this Congress will finally be the place and time of huge progress for Cuba. According to them, Fidel is going to announce his total withdrawal from public life (again), his odd brother Raul will announce his successor and succession plan and the hated rationing system will come to an end.
This is, of course, to laugh. ‘Cuanto más cambian las cosas, más permanecen igual’.
According to Raul, in a massive public consultation program, almost 9 million Cubans contributed to the principles of the new ten year plan and they provided 3 million suggestions to the way the island should be governed. But using the well known Castro sleight-of-hand ability, he’s been able to distill these down to six, to wit: ration books, prices, transportation, education, monetary union and health services.
A little bit like Canada’s list, except for the ration books, at least to this point in our history.
To Cubans, ration books are a symbol of everything wrong with the place. They are a reminder of the control the government has over their lives and they don’t work for their desired purpose; as often as not rationed items don’t exist and people are forced to participate in the black market to survive. People want them gone.
But Raul, in a rare moment of clearthink, warned against any optimism that the ration system will change; “Nobody in their right mind in this country can suddenly decree the elimination of the system without first changing the conditions for it."
But then he went on to describe how they will, “move progressively to the support of people with no other support” instead of subsidizing mass programs available to all. In stating this, Raul is enunciating the obvious; for anyone able to sell a trinket or get their picture taken, the value of the rationing system is irrelevant.
He avoided commentary on the other suggestions, probably because he knows he can’t really do anything about them. They really can’t afford to stop trafficking workers to hotel chains (charging in dollars while paying in pesos). And while China is giving them shiny new buses, it doesn’t make much sense to build a transportation network when residents are prohibited from leaving their designated place of residence without permission. And to unify the value of Cuban pesos with currency equivalents raises the question of whether to inflate one up or deflate the other down. As far as the concern relative to health services (aspirins are a luxury) ask Michael Moore.
Raul promised that more and more jobs would be created in the “non-state economic sector” but made sure that people understand this is not privatization, “but an enabler of the construction of socialism in Cuba”. In truth, this “job creation” initiative is a massive job shedding program that has already eliminated 200,000 government employees. But this is no big deal because none of the government employees can survive on their wages alone and all feed themselves in the black market; now they’ll have an extra forty hours a week to hustle.
There are a few other ideas revealed in Raul’s opening comments that deserve a little attention. He’s promising to de-centralize government and to simplify laws associated with the ownership and sale of cars and homes, as well as allow farmers to extend their boundaries to encompass vacant land.
And now that he and his brother are facing their mortality after fifty two years in command, he said that they should stop the tradition of Cuba being run by octogenarian, white, Spanish men and that anyone who succeeds them should be limited to a maximum of ten years in power. Which allows him to keep his job until he’s ninety. So, will he and his brother be retiring to Miami Beach any time soon? Ah. No.
Brian French is a political consultant and commentator, a blogger and author of a soon to be released book, “Mojito” about Cuban politics and culture.
Brian Lloyd French
I am a great admirer of the strength and talents of Cuban people and will share some of my experiences here.