By Ron Ridenour
The Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) has set April 2011, the 50th anniversary of the revolution's victory over the US-Cuban exile mercenary force at the Bay of Pigs, for its 6th Congress. I follow this process with special attention, in part, because I participated in the PCC's 4th congress preparatory discussion, in 1991.
Like millions of others around the world, I feel the Cuban revolution was (and is) fought for me too. Cubans, including their leader Fidel Castro, help make us feel so. For instance, as recounted in the book Castro's Cuba, Cuba's Fidel Fidel told Lee Lockwood: "Those who are exploited are our compatriots all over the world; and the exploiters all over the world are our enemies... Our country is really the whole world, and all the revolutionaries of the world are our brothers."
Although I was not a Party member, and not a Cuban citizen, I was permitted to participate in the PCC discussions because I was working as a volunteer on an oil tanker in Santiago de Cuba, one of five I sailed on. (My experience was recounted in the article "Cuba at Sea" in the London journal Socialist Resistance.)
After hours of discussing ideas, including my own about the need for greater journalist freedom and citizenry participation in the media, the seamen passed two motions: my proposal, and democratization of decision-making generally. After the meeting, most said these discussions were a waste of words. In the end, they saw no results from their motions, but the Party did listen to some of the one million complaints and proposals.
Several times in the last half-century of revolutionary Cuba citizens have been allowed to discuss national policies (not international ones) but the results have been consultative rather than binding--with the exception of adopting a new constitution in 1976, and modifying it in 1992. Three years ago, shortly after Raul Castro took over the presidency, the Party launched a national discussion about the future of the revolution. Millions contributed ideas, but there was no real mechanism to implement anything debated.
Last November, the leading members of the PCC, several of whom hold key government positions, announced 291 proposals for reforms in 12 areas of economic and social life Cubans. A burning question is if the 800,000 Communist Party members' discussion, plus that of non-members, will actually affect the policies to be taken at the forthcoming PCC VI congress.
There is no proposed mechanism to assure this happens in the 32-page document. Nor is there any procedure for introducing other matters.
The aim of the proposals is to increase production, decrease the budget deficit, balance exports-imports, and pay off the country's $20 billion foreign debt. The guidelines call for reducing the state's role by delegating more authority to local governments and some work sites, increasing taxes and other revenues, while cutting back on social benefits and subsidies.
While it calls for more private enterprise and foreign investments, the document maintains that "only socialism is capable of overcoming the difficulties and preserving the conquests of the Revolution".
Some of the proposals for discussion have, in fact, already been made into temporary laws by the "interim" policy-making body, the Council of Ministers. The Parliament of unpaid elected delegates meets once or twice a year for two days. One of its tasks is to make the temporary laws permanent, which it always does.
The PCC wants the state to continue as the central economic planner, using the budgetary method, but it will permit more farmland as usufruct property, greater self-employment (in 178 areas) and small businesses which, for the first time, will be allowed to employ people outside the family.
In Overall Terms
I find positive and worrisome some aspects in the guidelines.
Positive goals are those aimed at becoming self-sufficient in foodstuffs; uniting the two currencies into one which all Cubans posses; some decentralization of decision-making and use of more finances by local governments and companies. They affirm that Cuba is too dependent on foreign capital and imports, that Cuba must cut back on excessive costs and waste, strengthen the desire to work and eliminate companies operating at a loss, which often leads to producing less than a company spends.