The Communist regime desperately needs a fresh generation of leaders, President Raúl Castro told this week’s opening session of the ruling party’s congress, promising “to make Cuba’s sclerotic communist system more open and efficient, and [promote] younger, reform-minded apparatchiks.”
However, Raul was “duly elected as party first secretary, replacing Fidel,” The Economist notes. “José Ramon Machado (below), an 80-year-old Stalinist, will remain his number two, and Ramiro Valdés, aged 78, number three.”
The regime will remain in the hands of the generation that led the 1959 revolution, imposed one-party rule and created the statist command economy that Fidel Castro himself concedes has failed.
“What it means is any generational change and the implementation of reforms will be guided by the ‘historicos’ — or perhaps better put, constrained by the history of the Cuban revolution and the memories and goals of its founders,” said Christopher Sabatini, editor of Americas Quarterly.
“Fidel, Raul and other ‘historicos’ carry with them the spirit, vision and the dogma of the revolution. That sense of ownership over a movement, a historical moment, doesn’t allow for competing interpretations or the cultivation of new leaders,” Sabatini said. “For this reason, charismatic movements rarely outlive their founder.”
Analysts differ as to whether “we are witnessing a profound updating of the Cuban economic model, much like those of China and Vietnam” or observing an ideologically-exhausted regime playing for time.
The congress endorsed a series of reforms designed to replicate China’s Market-Leninism – unleashing a dynamic economy while maintaining one-party rule. But the package makes only the slightest gestures toward privatization and the market mechanisms needed to unleash the island’s skills and talents.
“I would characterize the changes to law as really timid ways of reforming and they face a whole series of hurdles,” said Sabatini. The proposals are “not radical neo-liberal reforms by any stretch” but “efforts to renew the socialist system by injecting market incentives into it.”
The congress was “another massive disappointment” to the island’s long-suffering people, writes Frank Calzón, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba.* The regime’s determination to maintain Communist rule was evident in the symbolism surrounding the party gathering and the absence of any proposals to reform the state or the party’s agencies of control, such as the official labor unions which “remain in charge of preventing worker unrest and insuring labor discipline.”
“Symbols are important,” he notes. “The recent congress opened with a military parade where tanks rolled past city streets. Meanwhile, small groups of dissidents were threatened, taken to police stations or forced to hole up in their homes.”
The preparations for the congress were “like a great public requiem for Fidel Castro,” writes dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez.
“Being there was like coming — still alive — to the reading of his own will,” she writes:
In the preparations to leave the country, at the end of a relationship, or of life itself, there are people who try to control the smallest details, draw up those limits that oblige the ones they leave behind to follow their path. Some leave slamming the door behind them, and others demand before taking off the great tribute they think they deserve. There are those who equitably distribute all their worldly goods, and also beings with so much power they change the constitution of a country so that no one can undo their work when they’re gone.
The resilience of Cuba’s dissidents was recognized today with an award to Las Damas de Blanco – or “Ladies in White” – a group of female relatives of many of the 75 dissidents arrested in the Communist authorities’ Black Spring crackdown on dissent in March 2003.
The group has held protest marches and vigils to demand the release of Cuba’s political prisoners, many of whom have been released into exile in Spain.
The women received the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005.
Despite the release of most of the Black Spring detainees, the group continues to agitate for the release of the island’s remaining political prisoners.
“There are still about 60 prisoners left to free,” said Laura Pollan, one of the Ladies’ leaders, and the group is preparing a list of activists still in jail.