Cuba to signal next steps after President Obama’s visit
By Will Grant
Cuba correspondent, BBC News
16 April 2016
As the Cuban Communist Party prepares for its Seventh Congress, the
BBC’s Will Grant looks at what message is coming from the party in the
wake of US President Barack Obama’s historic visit.
Just a glance around Havana’s latest trade fair is enough to demonstrate
the global interest in Cuba’s gradually opening economy.
This month, it’s the turn of the construction industry – a growing
business in Cuba – and companies from France, Mexico, Brazil and Chile
are among those with stands at the event.
The exhibition hall is thick with prospective clients leafing through
glossy brochures, watching slick promotional videos or testing the
products on show.
Everyone, it seems, is keen to get in on the ground floor of the
island’s emerging real estate and hospitality markets.
“We’ve heard there are over 120 hotels that are going to open here or
begin construction over the next year and we want to be part of that,”
says Scott Banda, the marketing director of Bostik, the multinational
Noticeably, US companies have also made the short trip to Havana in ever
greater numbers since the thaw with Washington picked up pace.
“I’ve always had a real interest in Cuba and Cuban culture and art. It’s
an amazing art scene here,” says Ted Acworth, the chief executive of
Artaic, a Boston-based firm that makes mosaics from ceramic tiles for
swimming pools and hotel lobbies.
“When I heard Obama had come here to more or less open up the
relationship, it seemed to me like an interesting opportunity to come
here, to learn about Cuba and see if there’s any interest in my products.”
President Obama’s historic visit to the island is still fresh in the
memory for Cubans, many of whom never thought they’d see the day a
serving US president would address them live on state television in Havana.
His words of reconciliation moved many viewers to tears as the years of
hostility seemed finally to be brought to an end when he quoted Cuban
independence poet Jose Marti’s immortal line: “Cultivo una rosa blanca”
(“Cultivate a white rose”).
‘Obama is a showman’
But not everyone was entranced by President Obama’s performance or his
offer of “extending the hand of friendship to the Cuban people”.
In the days immediately after the trip, Fidel Castro wrote a column in
the state newspaper calling President Obama’s words “honey-coated”.
In essence, Castro argued that Washington wasn’t to be trusted and that
“we do not need any gifts from the empire”.
“Obama is a showman,” says Hector Hernandez, vice-president of the
state-run Institute for Studies of Jose Marti and long-standing member
of the Communist Party.
“He’s charismatic, he makes jokes, they prepared him well with Cuban
phrases to say while he was here. He’s a showman.”
But as the Cuban Communist Party’s Seventh Congress gets under way,
critics say the Cuban government’s exact position on President Obama and
the thaw with the United States still isn’t clear.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a mixed message,” says Hector Hernandez. “I think
Fidel and Raul think the same way.”
But he does acknowledge that “there are two visions” within the party of
how best to proceed when it comes to the US.
“There’s those who don’t want to forget the past and those who say they
just want to turn the page. But I think these two things can complement
each other. You can turn the page while still recognising and respecting
While the improved relations with Washington have dominated the
headlines, a great deal has happened in Cuba since the last CCP congress
was held five years ago.
Cuba’s Communist Party Congress
– The Seventh Congress meets on 16-18 April
– Meets every five years
– Key body in determining Cuba’s future economic and political course
– About 1,000 party members will attend
Dissent in the ranks
At that meeting in 2011 a whole raft of economic reforms were agreed,
313 to be exact, intended to open the economy and allow a greater role
for private enterprise. To date, by the government’s own admission, only
21% of those measures have been implemented.
Before the previous congress, a nationwide debate was held with party
activists and grassroots organisations to determine the country’s new
economic course. On this occasion, though, no such national debate has
been held, prompting some open criticism from the party ranks.
One activist, Francisco Rodriguez, even took to writing an open letter
to Raul Castro, the first party secretary as well as President of Cuba,
in which he spoke of his “dissatisfaction” at “the lack of discussion of
the central documents” before the congress.
Normally the youth wing of the party leads the calls for greater
transparency and democracy within the organisation. Yoerky Sanchez is
one of the youngest deputies in the National Assembly and an editor at
the state newspaper, Rebel Youth.
But he is firmly on message when it comes to the party’s hierarchical
“There could always be more democracy, a greater spirit of openness. You
can never have too much democracy,” he concedes.
“But the agenda for the party congress wasn’t cooked up in secret by a
handful of bureaucrats. It was debated by many representatives of
society, including parliamentary deputies.”
Maybe so, but the final documents are still not public and the sense of
behind-the-scenes political negotiation contrasts sharply with the open
demeanour of President Obama, who impressed ordinary Cubans with his
Still, most Cubans will be watching the event closely.
The Party’s Seventh Congress could involve some important announcements
– including hitherto unprecedented changes to the political system. Raul
Castro is 84 years old and has already made clear his intention to step
down in early 2018.
The party hierarchy may choose to prepare the ground for his succession
sooner rather than later.
When asked about the recent changes in Cuba, Communist Party activists
often recite a popular slogan: “The changes will move Cuba towards more
socialism, not more capitalism.”
As Havana’s construction fair makes way for the party congress, the next
few days may show whether there is any substance to that oft-repeated claim.
Source: Cuba to signal next steps after President Obama’s visit – BBC
News – www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-36053390