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Cuba: Communist Party Ushers in Entrepreneurism and Term Limits

For the minority of Cubans who are within it, the blogosphere provides a space to exchange ideas. And there were plenty prompts for discussion this week, with the Castro brothers holding the first Congress of its Communist party since 1997 (it is supposed to be every five years) and announcing term limits for leadership on the island.

On Saturday 16 April, 2011, a parade was held to commemorate the Cuban victory over the United States (US) at the Bay of Pigs. Yoani Sanchez watched it from her roof [es]:

Me subo a la azotea para ver la coreografía de la guerra en toda su extensión. Mal van las cosas si el congreso del PCC comienza con esta procesión de bayonetas. Si realmente se quisiera dar una imagen de reformas, no serían estos uniformes de verde olivo los que se exhibirían en la jornada del sábado 16 de abril. ¡Cuánto desearíamos que ocurriera ese día una peregrinación de resultados, no de miedos!

I get on the roof to see the choreography of war in its entirety. Things go wrong if the CCP Congress begins with the procession of bayonets. If you really want an image of reform, it wouldn't be these olive green uniform that you show off on the day of Saturday April 16. How we wish that this day was about results instead of fear!

El Yuma was also there, and wrote:

As is usual in these massive demonstrations of revolutionary and nationalistic pride, state workers were bussed into the city center starting well before dawn, with delegations representing many workplaces, municipalities, schools and universities. Turnout was extensive as Cubans from many walks of life demonstrated their commitment to the revolution, reaffirming its socialist orientation, even with (or perhaps because of) the looming implementation of massive layoffs in the state sector and concomitant fear of losing one's job.

Billboard propaganda, Cuba. Image by Flickr user STML (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Billboard propaganda, Cuba. Image by Flickr user STML (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

New leadership announced

The march transitioned into the party meeting, where speeches were made and new policies, including shifts in leadership, discussed. The biggest announcement at the Congress may have been that term limits are to be imposed on the Cuban political system.

But, as Uncommon Sense points out, term limits presuppose free and fair elections. The blogger suggests that by announcing them, Raul Castro manages to imply that these are in store, when there's actually no reason to assume this to be the case. After all,

Raúl Castro's pronouncement today belies the fact that his term, and that of his brother, long ago expired.

Along with the term limits announcement came a shift in the leadership of the party, including an attempt to bring in some youth. But, as Babalu Blog points out, the supposed “young guns” ushered into the party at this week's Congress aren't so young at all.

And Yoani Sanchez expressed [es] general skepticism of the Congress and any changes it may bring:

También desternillarse puede resultar una medicina preventiva para evitar las decepciones que sobrevendrán. Quizás por esa razón, cada vez que pregunto a alguien acerca de las posibles reformas que brotarán del sexto congreso del PCC, me responde con una risita, con un “jijiji” de tono irónico. Acto seguido se encojeencoge de hombros y suelta una frase como “bueno, no hay que hacerse ilusiones… va y a lo mejor autorizan comprar casas y autos

Breaking a tendon can also be a preventative medicine to avoid the disappointments that will come. Perhaps for that reason, every time I ask someone about possible reforms that the sixth congress of the PCC will sprout, they answer \ with a giggle, with an ironic “hee hee hee.” Then shrugs and lets out a phrase like ”well, there's no need to create illusions… it's happening and maybe they'll let us buy houses and cars.”

Moving employment from the public to the private sector

Just as much skepticism has been directed at shifts to the Cuban economy as at the more recent term limits announcment. 1 Click 2 Cuba writes:

Mr. Castro’s proposals may be the most significant changes here since businesses were nationalized in 1968, though it is clear that he and his aides are struggling to set a course that will not be seen as a failure of socialism.

That sentiment was in clear view at  Tomas Estrada Palma‘s blog (based in the US):

In summation amigos – please don't allow yourselves to be exploited by the globalista's in this manner. Raul is selling you out right now and I just want you to understand this. You will receive a bit more at first but in the long run this economic model is not sustainable. The more wealth you create the more that will be stolen from you. Wouldn't you rather be free and simply own your own time, body and the fruits of your own labor?

Even those who aren't on the defense of socialism seem wary.  An opinion piece in the online magazine Diario de Cuba [es] gets at the details of the tack towards encouraging entrepreneurship (the other big reform recently announced), and why it has rightfully elicited doubt:

Cifras oficiales pronostican que en 2015 el 50% de los cubanos trabajará en el sector privado. Esto significa que la mitad de la población activa se dedicará a los pocos oficios autorizados…Despreocupado de una amenaza así, el Partido Comunista de Cuba parece solamente interesado en la gobernabilidad de un país de lechugas y paladares.

Official figures predict that by 2015 50% of Cubans work in the private sector. This means that half of the labor force will focus on the few trades allowed…Heedless of such a threat, the Communist Party of Cuba seems only interested in the governance of a country of lettuce and paladares [the popular name given to a small, family-run, private-owned restaurant in Cuba].

Disillusionment sparks street protests?

Uncommon Sense notes that, in the wake of the Congress, people may be more emboldened and/or motivated to take to the streets.

Four Cuban women, using [Rosa Parks']  name as their banner, took to the streets to demand their rights and to demand their freedom [es]…the women, members of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights — marched through Santa Clara shouting slogans like, “The streets belong to the people!” “Down with the Castros!” and “We don't want hunger, we want freedom!”…

Those women were reportedly followed by a mob of Castro supporters, while activist Sarah Martha Fonseca, was taken out of her home by a mob on Monday [es] allegedly for putting a sign up in front of her house which read “Down with the Communist Party.”

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