Beneath the Jargon Raul Castro May Be Signaling Change
There is something curiously endearing in reading Raul Castro's address to the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party. First it evokes nostalgia for the old Soviet Union with its turgid prose and the need to sift through endless paragraphs of party jargon to zero in on the nuggets of interest. But let there be no doubt that amidst the triumphalism over the 50th anniversary of the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion where communist Cuba repelled 1500 CIA trained refugees who attempted to invade the island, the younger 75-year-old Castro raised a number of problems with which the regime must cope.
Castro hinted that the Cuban government would have to retrench since it could not spend more than it earned. The slack would have to be taken up by what the Cuban Communists refuse to call private enterprise, but rather "a big insertion of the population in self-employment." The self-employment that will be backed by law will, according to the party daily Granma, "be a facilitating factor in construction of socialism in Cuba (another nostalgic thing about Cuba are the stilted English translations, reminiscent of Soviet Russia and Maoist China)
In some places Castro actually spoke clearly when he promised to do away with rationing: "Two generations of Cubans have spent their lives under this rationing system that, despite its harmful egalitarian quality, has for four decades ensured every citizen access to basic food at highly subsidized derisory prices." In other words, Castro was telling the party that it would have to take make use of the market in determining prices rather than dictate prices by ideological wishful thinking. That thinking is what caused shortages and necessitated rationing.
"Since the ration book is designed to provide equal coverage to 11 million Cubans, there are more than a few examples of absurdities, such as allocating a quota of coffee to newborns. The same happened with cigarettes until September 2010, as they were supplied to smokers and non-smokers alike, thus fostering the expansion of that unsafe habit in the population."
The parents of the infants who did not drink the coffee and the non-smokers simply used the subsidized items to trade for items that they did have need of.
The following statement was of particular interest.
"The growth of the non-public sector of the economy, far from an alleged privatization of the social property as some theoreticians would have us believe, is to become an active element facilitating the construction of socialism in Cuba since it will allow the State to focus on rising the efficiency of the basic means of production, which are the property of the entire people, while relieving itself from those management of activities that are not strategic for the country."
This type of rhetoric recalls Lenin's New Economic Policy (1921-1928), abolished by Stalin in 1929. It also recalls the perestroika of Mikhail Gorbachev and the reforms of Deng Xiaoping that created today's Chinese economic giant. To retreat from communist ideology was defended as a way for improving the system and allowing the party to concentrate on the commanding heights of industry, while allowing agriculture, small business and services to be run by private initiative.
The big problem of communist regimes, seeking to encourage private enterprise while maintaining the Communist system, is how the two worlds are expected to coexist. If would-be entrepreneurs eventually fear a political crackdown because their profits contribute to rising inequality, they will be reluctant to stick their necks out. Castro realized that this is a problem
"The lesson taught by practical experience is that an excessive centralization inhibits the development of initiatives in the society and in the entire production line, where the cadres got used to having everything decided 'at the top'…
Our entrepreneurs, with some exceptions, settled themselves comfortably safe and quiet “to wait” and developed an allergy to the risks involved in making decisions, that is, in being right or wrong."
Castro called for encouraging nonparty people with talent to take a more influential role
"Membership in a political organization should not be a precondition for holding a leading position with the State or the Government."
The question is whether the party will allow the top leadership to carry through this policy, because it means a demotion of the party and abolition of its monopoly over top jobs. Castro conceded that this was a problem when he made the following exhortation: "What we approve in this congress cannot suffer the same fate as (what was approved) in previous ones (congresses), as those have not been fulfilled..."