Cuban leaders criticize both bureaucracy and private sector
April 19, 2016
HAVANA (AP) — Some of Cuba’s most powerful officials criticized the
creaking inefficiency of its state-controlled economy on Monday but
tarred its vibrant private sector as a potential source of U.S. subversion.
The comments illustrated the conundrum faced by a Cuban government
simultaneously trying to modernize and maintain control in a new era of
detente with Washington.
The Cuban Communist Party ended the third day of its twice-a-decade
congress with a vote for the 114-member Central Committee, which in turn
selects the powerful 15-member Political Bureau. The bureau’s first and
second secretaries are the country’s top officials.
Monday’s vote, like the rest of the congress, was open only to 1,000
delegates, 280 hand-selected guests and state journalists, whose reports
revealed virtually no concrete details of the policies that will guide
the government for the next five years.
The Seventh Party Congress has been criticized for its extreme secrecy
by ordinary Cubans and even members of the Communist Party itself. State
media said the results of the voting would be revealed Tuesday.
Cuban President and First Party Secretary Raul Castro opened the meeting
Saturday with a somber evaluation of the state of reforms he introduced
after taking over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008. Raul Castro
blamed “an obsolete mentality” and “attitude of inertia” for the state’s
failure to implement reforms meant to increase productivity.
First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, long seen as Castro’s successor,
repeated that criticism of the bureaucracy in a speech Monday announcing
the congress’ formal acceptance of Castro’s evaluation. He said obsolete
ways of thinking led both to inertia in enacting reforms and “a lack of
confidence in the future.”
“Along with other deficiencies, there’s a lack of readiness, high
standards and control, and little foresight or initiative from sectors
and bureaucrats in charge of making these goals a reality,” Diaz-Canel
said in an excerpt of a speech broadcast on state television.
However, lengthy state media reports on the four-day congress focused
less on proposals for reform than on debates about political orthodoxy
focusing on the need to protect Cuba’s socialist system from the threat
of global capitalism and U.S. influence in particular.
A month after President Barack Obama’s visit to Havana, the first by a
U.S. president in nearly 90 years, Cuban leaders have begun to
consistently portray his trip as an attempt to seduce ordinary Cubans
into abandoning the country’s socialist values in favor of a desire for
free markets and multiparty democracy.
On Saturday, Castro said “the enemy” was targeting young people,
intellectuals, the poor and the 500,000 members of Cuba’s new private
sector as vulnerable to persuasion.
On Monday, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez went further, calling
Obama’s visit “an attack on the foundation of our history, our culture
and our symbols.”
“Obama came here to dazzle the non-state sector, as if he wasn’t the
representative of big corporations but the defender of hot dog vendors,
of small businesses in the United States, which he isn’t,” Rodriguez said.
Rene Gonzalez, a former intelligence agent held in the United States in
a case resolved by the declaration of detente with Washington, made an
unusual call for the consideration of political reform in Cuba.
Saying the party had focused excessively on the economy for 10 years, he
said, “Let the party call for a broad public discussion that goes beyond
concepts of economic development.”
“Let’s arrive at the eighth party congress for the first time in human
history with a consensus on that human aspiration that some call
democracy, and that’s possible through socialism,” Gonzalez said.
State media did not indicate whether his proposal was included in any of
the formal documents put up for a vote during the congress.
Aged 55 and 58, respectively, Diaz-Canel and Rodriguez are members of
the generation expected to move into the highest ranks of power in Cuba
as early as Tuesday when the congress’ vote is announced.
Castro said Saturday that he was proposing an age limit of 60 for
election to the Central Committee and 70 for lower-ranking but important
posts in the party.
Castro is 84 and his second secretary, hardliner Jose Ramon Machado
Ventura, is 85.
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: twitter.com/mweissenstein
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