Juan Tamayo: Espacio Laical Urges Communist Party to Embrace Significant Reforms

From Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald, Wednesday, 11.16.11

Espacio Laical Article Here: Espacio Laical, November 2011 Rectificar el Rumbo

A Catholic magazine in Havana has  complained that a plan for an upcoming Communist Party conference shows the party is tied to “failed dogmas” and called for profound changes in Cuba’s economy, its tightly controlled news media and its rubberstamp legislature.

The editorial in the magazine, Espacio Laical, used unusually direct wording to argue that the published agenda for the National Conference of Cuba’s ruling and only legal political party on Jan. 28 falls far short of what is so desperately needed. While any changes must be well-considered, it noted, “we do not have the luxury of confusing gradualism with a lack of clarity or speed” because “it would be painful if the current generations of Cubans must suffer the pain of seeing their aspirations truncated.”

Yet, the agenda for the conference shows the party remains “attached to failed dogmas and obstinately holding on to a very vertical relationship with society,” added Espacio Laical, published by and for lay Catholics in the archdiocese of Havana.

The most important reform needed would be to give common Cubans more opportunities to run their own lives and truly influence government decisions, the magazine argued, calling it a “re-founding of citizenship.”

For its part, the magazine added, it favors allowing small and medium private enterprises as well as all types of cooperatives, and freedom for professionals such as doctors and lawyers, who can now exercise their professions only in government jobs. Cuba also must promote the growth of civil society — that part of a country’s life not controlled by the government — by allowing independent social organizations and opening the heavily censured mass media “to the diversity of criteria in the nation,” it argued.

Reforms also are needed within the Communist Party, the magazine added, as well as “the mechanisms of people’s power, so that the institutions of public power can have the authority they need.” Cuba’s rubberstamp legislature is the National Assembly of People’s Power.

Espacio Laical’s arguments coincided on many points with recent columns by Pedro Campos, a well-known Havana historian and former diplomat sometimes described as the voice of Cuba’s democratic communists. Campos has argued that the party must end its “neo-Stalinist” ways and develop a version of socialism that includes more direct citizen participation in government decisions as well as the productive sector, through workers’ cooperatives.

The Raúl Castro government has launched a string of reforms designed to improve the economy, by slashing public spending and allowing an increase in private enterprise. It also has legalized the sale of dwellings and expanded the legal sale of cars and trucks. But some of the reforms remain in the planning stages, and there’s been no sign that the government would agree to any political changes that could endanger the Communist Party’s hold on power.

The Espacio Laical editorial acknowledged the Castro reforms so far and noted that others no doubt will follow, but added that Cubans “feel that there’s nothing big, capable of renovating life and driving away the hopelessness.”
The announcement that the party would hold a conference in January sparked “great expectations” for change, added the editorial. But the recent publication of the agenda “worried many who had hoped for renovation.”

With most of Cuba’s revolutionary rulers in their 80s, the editorial called the conference “the last moment for the so-called historical generation” and urged it to “propose substantial changes and convene the people to carry them out. Don’t lose this opportunity.”


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