Castro boys up to same old tricks
Alvaro Vargas Llosa
From: The Australian
April 29, 2011 12:00AM
THE point of the recent Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, we had
been led to believe, was to rejuvenate and modernise the structures of
the state – even though the 15-member Politburo elected during the
gathering was dominated by septuagenarians and octogenarians who have
been rejuvenating and modernising Cuba for 52 years.
The real purpose was to maintain the way in which power is allocated.
The Castro brothers, ever the cunning tacticians, are ready to make
concessions in many areas. But not on the definitive issue: the monopoly
One need only look at the Politburo to see that Cuba is not an
ideological dictatorship, but a purely military one. Raul Castro, who
now succeeds his brother as First Secretary, has traditionally been the
chief of the armed forces.
The small clique of old-guard members who have been "elected" to the
Politburo have proved their loyalty during decades of collaboration with
him in the military.
The fact that all these men called to inject new life into the system
are aging revolutionaries who have been with the Castros since the
beginning is not the most farcical aspect of the party congress. That
would be the assertion by Raul Castro, during a 2 1/2-hour charade, that
"the country lacks a reserve of well-prepared substitutes", meaning that
he and his clique will deign to serve a bit longer before they can cede
power to a new generation.
And how long, might one ask, will it take for a well-prepared generation
to be allowed to emerge? Ten years, according to Castro, who seemed dead
serious when he proposed that party leaders only serve two five-year
terms. This should give him enough time to come up with a new proposal,
just before he turns 90 in 2021, to prolong the rule of his old guard
for a wee bit longer. He was not entirely wrong about the lack of
preparation. The reason there is no new generation in the party is . . .
well, the Castro brothers have a habit of applying the political
guillotine to younger figures.
Carlos Lage, the former secretary of the Council of Ministers, and
Felipe Perez Roque, the former foreign minister – two young
"apparatchiks" seen, until a few years ago, as spearheads of an
up-and-coming leadership – were purged as soon they stuck their heads
out. And how exactly could a new generation become "prepared" when the
Castros let 14 years elapse between party congresses?
Raul Castro, a greater admirer of the Chinese way than his brother, has
launched what he calls "the updating of the socialist model". He wants
private enterprises to absorb about 50 per cent of the island's workers
as part of a plan to eliminate half a million state jobs now and another
500,000 later. Government-owned companies will enjoy more "autonomy",
and local governments will control more of their budgets.
Self-employment will be allowed in 178 activities.
The aim is to sustain the political bureaucracy by raising the
productive capacity. In its current state, and with Venezuela's
subsidies to the island under constant threat due to that country's
stagnation, Cuba risks social and political stirrings. There have been
signs of this in recent years with various groups gaining some
notoriety, and paying a heavy price.
But Castro's reforms are insufficient for any major economic leap to
take place. The case of Elia Pastrana, who resigned from her government
job, owns a fast-food stand and has one employee in Artemisa, about 40km
south of Havana, is typical. She is having to close her business because
the cost of the licence, income and payroll taxes,and pension does not
allow her to make enough to sustain herself.
Fidel Castro's presence during the congress should be enough to put a
stop to speculation about how much Raul wants to deviate from his
brother's orthodoxy. Fidel said it all when he summed up the purpose of
the party session: "To preserve socialism." Both Castros are in total
agreement about this.