Tag Archives: Communist Party of Cuba

WHY CUBANS PROTESTED ON JULY 11. Is this the beginning of the end of fear in Cuba?

Samuel Farber July 27, 2021

Original Article

he street demonstrations that broke out all over Cuba on July 11 are an unprecedented event in the more than 60 years since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. But why now? This essay explores the historic, economic and political factors that help to clarify the causes of Cuba’s July 11, considers the role of the United States, and briefly reflects on Cuba’s future.

On Sunday, July 11, Cuba erupted in street protests. Unlike the major street protest that took place in 1994 and was limited to the Malecón, the long multi-lane Havana road facing the Gulf of Mexico, the July 11 outbreak of protest was national in scope. There were protests in many towns and cities, including Santiago de Cuba in the east, Trinidad in the center of the island, as well as Havana in the west. The growing access to social media in the island played an important role in the rapid spread of the protests; no wonder the government immediately suspended access to certain social media sites and brought all telephone calls from abroad to a halt. 

The street presence and participation of Black women and men was notable everywhere. This should not be surprising since Black Cubans are far less likely to receive hard currency remittances from abroad even though over 50% of the population receive some degree of financial support through that channel. These remittances have become the key to survival in Cuba, particularly in light of the ever-diminishing number of goods available in the peso-denominated subsidized ration book. Cuban Blacks have also been the victims of institutional racism in the growing tourist industry where ​“front line” visible jobs are mostly reserved for conventionally attractive white and light skinned women and men. 

The demonstrators did not endorse or support any political program or ideology, aside from the general demand for political freedom. The official Cuban press claims that the demonstrations were organized from abroad by right-wing Cubans. But none of the demands associated with the Cuban right-wing were echoed by the demonstrators, like the support for Trump often heard in South Florida and among some dissident circles in Cuba. And no one called for ​“humanitarian intervention” espoused by Plattistas (Platt Amendment, approved by Congress in 1901and abolished in 1934, gave the United States the right to militarily intervene in Cuba), such as biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, himself a victim of government repression for his independent ecological activism. The demonstrators did speak about the scarcity of food, medicine and essential consumer items, repudiated President Díaz-Canel as singao—a phrase that in Cuba translates as ​“fucked” but means a wicked, evil person, and chanted patria y vida (fatherland and life). ​“Patria y Vida” is the title of a very popular and highly polished rap song by a group of Cuban Black rappers (available on YouTube.) I have seen and heard the song more than a dozen times to enjoy it as well as to search for its explicit and implied meanings including in its silences and ambiguities.

“Patria y Vida” counterposes itself to the old Cuban government slogan of ​“Patria o Muerte” (“Fatherland or Death”). While that slogan may have made sense in the 1960s when Cuba was faced with actual invasions, it borders on the obscene when voiced by second generation bureaucrats. It is certainly high time that the regime’s macho cult of violence and death be challenged, and this song does it very well.

But what does it mean to implicitly repudiate the year 1959, the first year of the successful revolution, as the song does? There was no Soviet style system in Cuba at the time and the year 1959 is not equivalent to the Castro brothers. Many people of a wide variety of political beliefs fought and died to bring about the revolution that overthrew the Batista dictatorship. The song does express many important democratic sentiments against the present Cuban dictatorship, but it is unfortunately silent about the desirable alternative, which leaves room for the worst right-wing, pro-Trump elements in South Florida to rally behind it as if it was theirs. 

True to form, President Díaz-Canel called on the ​“revolutionaries” to be ready for combat and go out and reclaim the streets away from the demonstrators. In fact, it was the uniformed police, Seguridad del Estado (the secret police), and Boinas Negras (black berets, the special forces) that responded with tear gas, beatings and hundreds of arrests, including several leftist critics of the government. According to a July 21 Reuters report, the authorities had confirmed that they had started the trials of the demonstrators accused of a variety of charges, but denied it according to another press report on July 25. These are summary trials without the benefit of defense counsel, a format generally used for minor violations in Cuba but which in this case involves the possibility of years in prison for those found guilty. 

Most of the demonstrations were angry but usually peaceful and only in a few instances did the demonstrators behave violently, as in the case of some looting and a police car that was overturned. This was in clear contrast with the violence frequently displayed by the forces of order. It is worth noting that in calling his followers to take to the streets to combat the demonstrators, Díaz-Canel invoked the more than 60-year-old notion that ​“the streets belong to the revolutionaries.” Just as the government has always proclaimed that ​“the universities belong to the revolutionaries” in order to expel students and professors that don’t toe the government’s line. One example is René Fidel González García, a law professor expelled from the University of Oriente. He is a strong critic of government policies, who, far from giving up on his revolutionary ideals, has reaffirmed them on numerous occasions.

But Why Now?

Cuba is in the middle of the most serious economic crisis since the 1990s, when, as a result of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Cubans suffered innumerable and lengthy blackouts due to the severe shortage of oil, along with endemic malnutrition with its accompanying health problems.

The present economic crisis is due to the pandemic-related decline of tourism, combined with the government’s long term capital disinvestment and inability to maintain production, even at the lower levels of the last five years. Cuba’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) fell by 11% in 2020 and only rose by 0.5% in 2019, the year before the pandemic broke out. The annual sugar crop that ended this spring did not even reach 1 million tons, which is below the 1.4 million average of recent years and very far below the 8 million tons in 1989. The recent government attempt to unify the various currencies circulating in Cuba — primarily the CUC, a proxy for the dollar, and the peso — has backfired resulting in serious inflation that was predicted among others by the prominent Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago. While the CUC is indeed disappearing, the Cuban economy has been virtually dollarized with the constant decline of the value of the peso. While the official exchange rate is 24 pesos to the dollar, the prevailing black market rate is 60 pesos to the dollar, and it is going to get worse due to the lack of tourist dollars. This turn to an ever more expensive dollar, may be somewhat restrained in light of the government’s recent shift to the euro as its preferred hard currency. 

Worst of all, is the generalized shortage of food, even for those who have divisas, the generic term for hard currencies. The agricultural reforms of the last years aimed at increasing domestic production have not worked because they are inadequate and insufficient, making it impossible for the private farmers and for the usufructuarios (farmers who lease land from the government for 20 year terms renewable for another 20 years) to feed the country. Thus, for example, the government arbitrarily gives bank credits to the farmers for some things but not for others, like for clearing the marabú, an invasive weed that is costly to remove, but an essential task if crops are to grow. Acopio, the state agency in charge of collecting the substantial proportion of the crop that farmers have to sell to the state at prices fixed by the government is notoriously inefficient and wasteful, because the Acopio trucks do not arrive in time to collect their share, or because of the systemic indifference and carelessness that pervade the processes of shipping and storage. This creates huge spoilage and waste that have reduced the quality and quantity of goods available to consumers. It is for reasons such as these that Cuba imports 70% of the food it consumes from various countries including the United States (an exemption to the blockade was carved out in 2001 for the unlimited export of food and medicines to Cuba but with the serious limitation that Cuba has to pay in cash before the goods are shipped to the island.)

The Cuban economist Pedro Monreal has called attention to the overwhelming millions of pesos that the government has dedicated to the construction of tourist hotels (mostly in joint ventures with foreign capital) that even before the pandemic were filled to well below their capacity, while agriculture is starved of government investments. This unilateral choice of priorities by the one-party state is an example of what results from profoundly undemocratic practices. This is not a ​“flaw” of the Cuban system any more than the relentless pursuit of profit is a ​“flaw” of American capitalism. Both bureaucracy and the absence of democracy in Cuba and the relentless pursuit of profit in the United States are not defects of but constitutive elements of both systems.

Similarly, oil has become increasingly scarce as Venezuelan oil shipments in exchange for Cuban medical services have declined. There is no doubt that Trump’s strengthening of the criminal blockade, which went beyond merely reversing Obama’s liberalization during his second period in the White House, has also gravely hurt the island, among other reasons because it has made it more difficult for the Cuban government to use banks abroad, whether American or not, to finance its operations. This is because the U.S. government will punish enterprises who do business with Cuba by blocking them from doing business with the United States. Until the events of July 11,the Biden administration had left almost all of Trump’s sanctions untouched. Since then, it has promised to allow for larger remittances and to provide staff for the American consulate in Havana. 

While the criminal blockade has been very real and seriously damaging, it has been relatively less important in creating economic havoc than what lies at the very heart of the Cuban economic system: the bureaucratic, inefficient and irrational control and management of the economy by the Cuban government. It is the Cuban government and its ​“left” allies in the Global North, not the Cuban people, who continue, as they have for decades, to blame only the blockade. 

At the same time, the working class in the urban and rural areas have neither economic incentives nor political incentives in the form of democratic control of their workplaces and society to invest themselves in their work, thus reducing the quantity and quality of production. 

Health Situation in Cuba 

After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the early spring of 2020, Cuba did relatively well during the first year of the pandemic in comparison with other countries in the region. But in the last few months the situation in Cuba, for what are still unclear reasons except for the entry of the Delta variant in the island, made a sharp turn for the worse, and in doing so seriously aggravated the economic and political problems of the country. Thus, as Jessica Domínguez Delgado noted in the Cuban blog El Toque (July 13), until April 12, a little more than a year after the beginning of the pandemic, 467 persons had died among the 87,385 cases that had been diagnosticated as having Covid-19. But only three months later, on July 12, the number of the deceased had reached 1,579 with 224, 914 diagnosed cases (2.5 times as many as in the much longer previous period).

The province of Matanzas and its capital city of the same name located 100 kilometers east of Havana became the epicenter of the pandemic’s sudden expansion in Cuba. According to the provincial governor, Matanzas province was 3,000 beds short of the number of patients that needed them. On July 6, a personal friend who lives in the city of Matanzas wrote to me about the dire health situation in the city with a lack of doctors, tests, and oxygen in the midst of collapsing hospitals. My friend wrote that the national government had shown itself incapable of controlling the situation until that very day when it finally formulated a plan of action for the city. The government did finally take a number of measures including sending a substantial number of additional medical personnel, although it is too early to tell at the time of this writing with what results.

Cuban scientists and research institutions deserve a lot of credit for the development of several anti-Covid vaccines. However, the government was responsible for the excessive and unnecessary delay in immunizing people on the island, made worse by its decision to neither procure donations of vaccines from abroad nor join the 190-nation strong COVAX (Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access) sponsored by several international organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO), an organization with which the Cuban government has good relations. Currently only 16% of the population has been fully vaccinated and 30% has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The medical crisis in the province and capital city of Matanzas fits into a more general pattern of medical scarcity and abandonment as the Cuban government has accelerated its export of medical personnel abroad to strengthen what has been for some time its number one export. This is why the valuable family doctor program introduced in the 1980s has seriously deteriorated. While the Cuban government uses a sliding scale (including some pro bono work) in what it charges its foreign government clients, Cuban doctors get an average of 10 – 25% of what the foreign clients pay the Cuban government. Needless to add, Cuban medical personnel cannot organize independent unions to bargain with the government about the terms of their employment. Nevertheless, going abroad is a desired assignment for most Cuban doctors because they earn a significant amount of hard currency and can purchase foreign goods. However, if they fail to return to Cuba after their assignments are over, they are administratively (i.e., not judicially) punished with a forced exile of 8 years duration. 

The Political Context 

Earlier this year, the leadership old guard, who fought the Batista regime and are in their late eighties and early nineties, retired from their government positions to give way to the new leadership of Miguel Díaz-Canel (born in 1960) as president and Manuel Marrero Cruz (born in 1963) as prime minister. This new leadership is continuing Raúl Castro’s policy of economic and social liberalization without democratization. For example, in 2013 the government liberalized the regulations that controlled the movement of people to make it easier for most Cubans to travel abroad. However, at the same time, the government made it virtually impossible for many dissidents to leave the country, by for example delaying their departure so they could not make it on time to conferences held abroad, and by creating a list of some 200 ​“regulados” (people subject to regulatory rules) that are not allowed to leave the country at all. It is important to point out that as in the case of other measures adopted by the Cuban government mentioned earlier, these actions continue the policies of Fidel and Raúl Castro, in which political and administrative decisions are made outside of the regime’s own judicial system. The same applies to the hundreds of relatively brief detentions that the government of Raúl Castro carried out every year, especially to try to impede public demonstrations not controlled by the government (a police method that only works for previously planned political protests, unlike the ones that took place on July 11). 

The One-Party State

The one-party state continues to function as under Fidel and Raúl Castro’s rule. In reality, however, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC, its Spanish acronym) is not really a party — that would imply the existence of other parties. Neither is the PCC primarily an electoral party although it does firmly control from the top the periodic so-called elections that always result in the unanimous approval of the political course followed by the authorities.

Sometimes people disillusioned with the existing corrupt parties in Latin America and even in the United States itself, react with indifference if not approval to the Cuban one-party state because they perceive elections as reinforcing corrupt systems. Thus such people think that is better to have one honest political party that works than a corrupt multi-party system that doesn’t work. The problem with this type of thinking is that one-party bureaucratic systems do not work well at all, except perhaps to thoroughly repress any opposition. Moreover, corruption sooner or later works its way into the single party system as history has repeatedly shown. In the case of Cuba, Fidel Castro himself warned in a famous speech on November 17, 2005, that the revolution was in greater danger to perish because of endemic corruption than because of the actions of counterrevolutionaries.

The organizational monopoly of the PCC — explicitly sanctioned by the Cuban constitution — affects far more than elections. It extends its power in a highly authoritarian manner to control Cuban society through the so-called mass organizations that function as transmission belts for the decisions taken by the PCC’s Political Bureau. For example, the CTC, the official trade union, is the transmission belt that allows the Cuban state to maintain its monopoly of the organization of Cuban workers. Beyond enforcing the prohibition of strikes, the CTC is not an organization for the defense of working class interests as determined by the workers themselves. Rather, it was established to advance what the ruling PCC leadership determines are the workers’ best interests.

The same control mechanisms apply to other ​“mass organizations” such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and to other institutions such as editorial houses, universities and the rest of the educational system. The mass media (radio, television and newspapers) continue to be under the control of the government, guided in their coverage by the ​“orientations” of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the PCC. There are however, two important exceptions to the state’s control of media organs: one, is the internal publications of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the Cuban Catholic hierarchy is extremely cautious, and the circulation of its publications is in any case limited to its parishes and other Catholic institutions. A far more important exception is the Internet, which the government has yet been unable to place under its absolute control and remains as the principal vehicle for critical and dissident voices. It was precisely this less than full control of the Internet that made the nationwide politically explosive outbreaks of July 11 possible. 

Where is Cuba Going?

Without the benefit of Fidel Castro’s presence and the degree of legitimacy retained by the historic leadership, Díaz-Canel and the other new government leaders were politically hit hard by the events of July 11, even though they received the shameful support of most of the broad international Left. The fact that people no longer seem to be afraid may be the single largest threat for the government emerging from the events on July 11. In spite of that blow, the new leadership is on course to continue Raúl Castro’s orientation to develop a Cuban version of the Sino-Vietnamese model, which combine a high degree of political authoritarianism with concessions to private and especially foreign capital.

At the same time, the Cuban government leaders will continue to follow inconsistent and even contradictory economic reform policies for fear of losing control to Cuban private capital. The government recently authorized the creation of private PYMES (small and medium private enterprises), but it would not be at all surprising if many of the newly created PYMES end up in the hands of important state functionaries turned private capitalists. There is an important government stratum composed of business managers and technicians with ample experience in such sectors as tourism, particularly in the military. The most important among them is the 61-year-old Gen. Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, a former son-in-law of Raúl Castro, who is the director of GAESA, the huge military business conglomerate, which includes Gaviota, the principal tourist enterprise in the island. It is significant that he recently became a member of the Political Bureau of the PCC. 

Perhaps this younger generation of business military and civilian bureaucrats may try to overcome the rentier mentality that 30 years of ample Soviet assistance created among the Cuban leadership as witnessed the failure to modernize and diversify the sugar industry (as Brazil did) during those relatively prosperous years that ended in 1990. To be sure, the U.S. economic blockade contributed to the rentier mentality by encouraging a day-to-day economic survival attitude rather than of increasing the productivity of the Cuban economy to allow for a more prosperous future. 

Finally, what about the United States? Biden is unlikely to do much in his first term to change the United States’ imperialist policies towards Cuba that were significantly aggravated by Trump. Whether a possible second Democratic administration in Washington beginning in 2025 will do anything different remains an open question.

There is, however, a paradox underlying the U.S. government’s Cuba policy. While U.S. policy is not at present primarily driven by ruling class interests but, rather, by electoral considerations, particularly in the highly contested state of Florida, it is not for that reason necessarily less harsh or, what is more alarming, less durable. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, probably the most politically active business institution in the United States has advocated the resumption of normal business relations with Cuba for many years. Thomas J. Donohue, its long-time director who retired earlier this year, visited Cuba in numerous occasions and met with government leaders there. Big agribusiness concerns are also interested in doing business with Cuba as are agricultural and other business interests in the South, Southwest and Mountain States represented by both Republican and Democratic politicians. However, it is doubtful that they are inclined to expend a lot of political capital in achieving that goal.

This places a heavy extra burden on the U.S. Left to overcome the deadlock, which clearly favors the indefinite continuation of the blockade, through a new type of campaign that both zeroes in on the grave aggression and injustice committed against the Cuban people without at the same time becoming apologists for the political leadership of the Cuban state. 

Be that as it may, people on the Left in the United States have two key tasks. First, they should firmly oppose the criminal economic blockade of Cuba. Second, they should support the democratic rights of the Cuban people rather than an ossified police state, in the same way that they have supported the struggle for human rights, democracy, and radical social and economic change in Colombia and Chile in Latin America as well as Myanmar and Hong Kong in Asia.

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CUBA: POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES

Freedom House

By Ted Henken, 2021

Overview

Cuba’s one-party communist state outlaws political pluralism, bans independent media, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite a generational transition in political leadership between 2018 and 2019 that included the introduction of a new constitution.

Key Developments in 2020

  • The government achieved some success in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting just 145 deaths to the World Health Organization by year’s end, but the global crisis took a heavy toll on the economy. In July, partly in response, the government announced that it would liberalize rules regulating the tiny private sector, including by allowing private businesses to trade more freely and obtain legal status as enterprises, eliminating the restrictive list of permitted occupations for self-employment, and expanding experiments with nonagricultural cooperatives.
  • The government at times cited the pandemic to justify crackdowns on dissident gatherings. In November, when members of the Movimiento San Isidro (MSI)—a collective of dissident artists—gathered and went on hunger strike to protest the arrest of rapper Denis Solís, police violently detained them on the pretext of controlling the spread of the coronavirus. This led to a sit-in by numerous artists and intellectuals at the Ministry of Culture. While the government initially agreed to negotiate with the group, protest participants later reported police harassment, intimidation, and charges of violating health restrictions.
  • During the year, the government continued to expand its list of so-called regulados, the more than 200 Cuban citizens who are not allowed to travel abroad due to their dissident political activities, human rights advocacy, or practice of independent journalism. The government also stepped up interrogations, threats, detentions, raids, and exorbitant fines targeting independent journalists and activists who publishing critical stories on foreign websites or social media.

Complete Article: CUBA: Political Rights and Civil Liberties[AR1] 


National Assembly Session, April 2018

 


 [AR1]

 


 [AR1]

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New Book by Vegard Bye, CUBA, FROM FIDEL TO RAÚL AND BEYOND

I have just read Vegard Bye’s Cuba analysis – a bit late as it was published in mid-2020.  It is indeed an excellent analysis of Cuba’s current situation and prospects.  


This is one of the very best general analyses of the inter-relationships between Cuba’s economic conundrums and reforms, its socio-economic transformationsand the character and functioning of the political system.  Bye has drawn from his own experience in Cuba over a number of decades and from a careful and examination of the broad ranges of literature from within Cuba, from Cuban analysts outside Cuba, and from Cuban-American and international analysts. His chapters on the economic changes since the death of Fidel and their social implications is masterful.  Even better is his analysis of Cuba’s political system in Chapters 4, and 6 to 8.  

This volume is a tremendously valuable resource for a comprehension of Cuba’s current situation and its possible future.  

INFORMATION ON THE BOOK:

Title:               Cuba, From Fidel To Raul And Beyond

Format:           Paperback

Published:       August 14, 2020

Publisher:       Palgrave Macmillan

Language:       English

ISBN –             13:9783030218089

OVERVIEW FROM THE BACK COVER:

This book analyzes the economic reforms and political adjustments that took place in Cuba during the era of Raúl Castro’s leadership and its immediate aftermath, the first year of his successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel. Faced with economic challenges and a political crisis of legitimacy now that the Castro brothers are no longer in power, the Cuban Revolution finds itself at another critical juncture, confronted with the loss of Latin American allies and a more hostile and implacable US administration.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Introduction
  2. Retreat of State as Economic Actor?
  3. Achieving the Required Surge in Investment and Growth?
  4. Political Implications of Socio-economic Changes
  5. T he Evolving International Arena: Fitting into a New Context
  6. More Pluralism or Continued Authoritarianism/
  7. Evolution of Party and State Relations
  8. Towards the End of Gerontocracy
  9. Into the Critical Juncture: Principal Dilemmas and Possible Scenarios

EDITORIAL REVIEWS

“The text that Vegard Bye presents to us summarizes the ideas and visions that he has been developing after years of observing closely the evolution of the Cuban social, political and economic model, especially during the reforms process led by Raul Castro since 2008. His proposals and analysis have the virtue of not falling into common places and stereotypes so usual in the Cuba subject. He found originality from his firsthand knowledge of the Cuban reality, seen from an international perspective and from the prism of modern concepts of political science.” (Pavel Vidal Alejandro, Professor of Economics at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia)

“This is a timely book and a well-informed contribution to the ever-going debate about Cuba’s future. The author has accumulated decades of experience in assessing and living in the Cuban reality, and the book offers just that, a scholarly as much as a personal view of the events in the Island. Whether you share or not his opinions, this piece will greatly contribute to your knowledge about this fascinating country, in a way that is both enjoyable and useful.” (Ricardo Torres, Professor at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, University of Havana, Cuba)

“Displaying an expertise gained through several decades of closely watching developments on the island, Bye delivered a very perceptive and informed analysis of the economic and political changes in the post-Fidel era, the outcomes of Raúl Castro’s reform and the political scenarios for the future. A most-needed assessment of Cuba’s contemporary realities from a political science perspective.” (Nora Gamez Torres, Cuban-American journalist covering Cuba and US-Cuban relations for Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald)

“A timely and thankfully heterodox volume that gives readers a front row seat and fresh and locally informed analysis of contemporary Cuban political economy. The book provides both a sober assessment of Raúl Castro’s 10 years of economic reforms (2008-2018) and an early analysis of the first year of Miguel Díaz-Canel’s―Raúl’s hand-picked successor―government. Its unique perspective derives equally from the author’s immersion in progressive projects of national renovation in Cuba and Nicaragua as a war correspondent, United Nations official, and representative of various Norwegian development agencies. Bye’s ongoing collaboration with various leading Cuban NGOs and civil society groups gives his book an insider’s insight and balance rare for a volume by a non-Cuban about such a controversial topic as Cuban politics.” (Ted A. Henken, Associate Professor of Sociology at Baruch College, City University of New York, USA)

“A study on Cuba focused on its most pressing issues. A must-read for any researcher―carefully researched and accessible to anyone interested in the past, present and future of the Cuban Revolution.” (Harold Cárdenas, co-founder of the Cuban blog La Jóven Cuba)

VEGARD BYE is a Norwegian political scientist, writer, consultant and ex-politician. He has represented the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Angola and Bolivia, written extensively on Latin America, and is a consultant specializing on human rights, democracy, conflict and post-conflict societies as well as solar energy. He served as a Substitute Representative (Vararepresentant) to the Norwegian Parliament for the Socialist Left Party from Oslo (1993-1997), meeting in the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs.  He is currently a Partner at Scanteam a.s., an Oslo-based consulting company focusing on international development and responsible business.

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CUBA AFRONTA EL RETO DE REFORMAR LA REVOLUCIÓN SIN NEGAR SU ESPÍRITU

Una nueva generación de dirigentes se encuentra frente al dilema de cómo reestructurar la economía para hacer el socialismo sostenible en la isla5

Mauricio Vicent, La Habana 

EL PAÍS,  22 ABR 2021 – 19:04 EDT

Continuidad política y reformas económicas de calado, y más lo segundo que lo primero, he ahí donde se juega el futuro de la Cuba tras el VIII Congreso del Partido Comunista, que tuvo lugar el pasado fin de semana en La Habana. El encuentro unificó todo el poder político en el presidente cubano, Miguel Díaz-Canel, y en una nueva generación de líderes nacidos después del triunfo revolucionario. Su principal desafío será realizar una apertura económica e introducir transformaciones profundas, que necesariamente deben ampliar el marco del mercado y de la iniciativa privada, avanzando hacia un modelo mixto, para tratar de hacer sostenible el sistema heredado, sin negar su espíritu..

Es la primera vez que se alinean el Gobierno y las estructuras de la cúpula del partido, hasta ahora encabezado por la vieja guardia, en la figura de un civil que no luchó en la Sierra Maestra, Diaz-Canel, que ya ejercía la presidencia desde 2018. Hasta este jueves el Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) rendía cuentas a Raúl Castro y a los históricos, que ahora abandonan todos los cargos.

Sabido es que el modelo de partido único no va a cambiar, pero mantenerse en el inmovilismo y en las reformas rácanas sería el mejor modo de que la economía se vaya a pique, lo que equivale a decir todo el sistema, dado que la crisis y la situación por la que atraviesa la isla es de extrema gravedad. Los problemas estructurales acumulados y la ineficiencia de la empresa estatal, agravados por la epidemia y el recrudecimiento del embargo norteamericano, no se resuelven con parches, se admite en las altas instancias, y también que las reformas introducidas hasta ahora claramente han sido insuficientes para garantizar un mejor nivel de vida a los cubanos, principal reto de los nuevos dirigentes, que no cuentan con la legitimidad “histórica” sino que la valoración que se haga de ellos dependerán de lo que logren.

“El PCC necesita ampliar las zonas de legitimidad de su mandato con un desempeño económico que lo justifique o se le va a complicar la gobernabilidad”, opina el académico cubanoamericano Arturo López-Levy, señalando que “a mediano plazo, la economía es el primer renglón para medir sus capacidades”. Hay bastante consenso en este punto, y también en otro asunto que menciona López-Levy: “Se necesita orientar prioridades y recursos hacia la seguridad alimentaria, pues sin comida no hay país, por muchos hoteles que se construyan o reparen. Díaz-Canel ha enfatizado el discurso de la continuidad para asegurar la confiabilidad de los que lo han elegido, pero para resolver las demandas y quejas de una Cuba globalizada y signada por una crisis estructural, va a tener que prometer y hacer grandes cambios, tanto sustantivos como en la forma de gobernar”.

¿Qué lectura puede hacerse del VIII Congreso? ¿Defraudó las expectativas de los que esperaban una apuesta decidida por la apertura? ¿O era lo que podía esperarse de un cónclave cargado de simbolismo en el que lo que se escenificaba era la despedida de Raúl y la generación histórica? Hay diversas opiniones. En su informe central, Raúl Castro criticó el “egoísmo” de los que demandan el ejercicio privado de algunas profesiones y reclaman la importación comercial privada para establecer un sistema no estatal de comercio, advirtiendo que hay “límites” que no se pueden rebasar porque implicarían la destrucción del socialismo. La mención cayó como un jarro de agua fría en los sectores que defienden la apertura y en muchos emprendedores, aunque pasados los días, y tras el primer discurso de Díaz-Canel, algunos de los analistas consultados se inclinan a pensar que “la reforma va” y que cada vez será más profunda. Hasta donde se llegará, sea por propia voluntad o por necesidad, es la gran incógnita.

“El VIII Congreso del PCC no ha traído grandes sorpresas, pero tampoco ha significado un retroceso en lo que al sector privado se refiere”, asegura Oniel Díaz Castellanos, fundador de Auge, empresa consultora que brinda asesoramiento a decenas de emprendedores privados. Admite que “ciertas palabras en el Informe Central alarmaron a varios colegas”, entre los que se incluye, pero dice que “una mirada serena” a las intervenciones de Díaz-Canel así como a las resoluciones emanadas de la cita, confirman que “hay una combinación de voluntad política para abrir más espacios económicos, a la vez que se establecen límites que no se deberían pasar según la lógica del PCC”. Su conclusión: “en ninguno de los Congresos anteriores se ha hablado y escrito tanto” sobre el sector no estatal, de las pymes y la iniciativa privada, de lo que deduce que “no hay marcha atrás” en la reforma.

Es de la misma opinión el economista Omar Everleny, que apunta que “el Congreso tiene varias lecturas: podría parecer que no hay cambios ya que se critica a personas que quieren obtener más ingresos y se precisa que Raúl estará presente en la toma de las decisiones fundamentales; pero por otro lado, se ha apelado a hacer ingentes esfuerzos por salir de la crisis económica, de implementar en el corto plazo medidas para potenciar el trabajo, la necesidad de descentralizar decisiones, de utilizar las formas no estatales, de implementar las pequeñas empresas….”. El camino, cree, no es inmovilista sino “reformista, pues si no será complejo producir los resultados económicos que espera la nación”.

En la composición del nuevo Buró Político, destaca Everleny la entrada de dos figuras “con un corte empresarial”: Manuel Marrero, que hoy es primer ministro, “pero que fue presidente de la corporación turística Gaviota”, y Luis Alberto López-Callejas, que al frente de GAESA (el grupo empresarial del ejército) “controla el mayor por ciento de los negocios en divisas cubanos sean tiendas, hoteles, marinas, aviación, y la zona Especial de Mariel, y no es un político al estilo de los que se conocen, sino un hombre de negocios clásico”.

Rafael Hernández, director de la revista Temas y miembro del PCC, consideró fuera de la realidad a los que pensaron que el Congreso iba a “rifar” el sector estatal y que “ahora sí era el turno de la privatización”. “Naturalmente, esos augurios no tenían sustento”, opinó, aclarando que ninguna “las resoluciones aprobadas desandan lo avanzado durante el año y pico de pandemia respecto a la legitimidad y consolidación del sector privado”. “La Resolución sobre la Conceptualización del modelo reitera ‘reconocer y diversificar las diferentes formas de propiedad y gestión adecuadamente interrelacionadas”, asegura.

Diversos economistas han puesto énfasis en que tan relevante como el Congreso fue lo sucedido justo antes de su inauguración, cuando Díaz-Canel presidió un inédito encuentro con emprendedores privados y representantes de la empresa estatal, en el que se habló del necesario impulso a las pymes y el papel creciente que ocupará el sector no estatal. En otra reunión con el sector agrícola, en la que resulto cesado el ministro del ramo, se aprobaron un conjunto de medidas para incentivar a los productores privados y reactivar esta esfera de la economía, vital en estos momentos de crisis, y allí el presidente advirtió de que no había “tiempo para pensar en el largo plazo”.

Sobre los “límites” en la apertura al sector privado de los que habló Raúl Castro —pero que no especificó—, López-Levy considera que no es la cuestión más relevante. “Los límites y las líneas rojas irán moviéndose con la vida. Las reformas traerán más presión de otras reformas, y otro tipo de cambios llegarán por carambola”. Los más escépticos indican que otros intentos de reforma se frustraron en el pasado, cierto, aunque hoy la situación es distinta, el tiempo y el ritmo son ahora vitales, pues la crisis es gravísima y las urgencias son cada vez mayores. Habrá que ver los próximos movimientos de los encargados por los ‘históricos’ en asegurar la “continuidad” y hacer sostenible el socialismo cubano.

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CUBA EMPHASISES CONTINUITY AS IT EXITS THE CASTRO ERA | FINANCIAL TIMES

The Castro era in Cuba came to a carefully choreographed end on Monday, as President Miguel Díaz-Canel was elected head of the ruling Communist party, replacing the retiring leader, 89-year-old.

Marc Frank

Financial Times, April 19, 2021

Original Article: Cuba Exits Castro Era

The Castro era in Cuba came to a carefully choreographed end on Monday, as President Miguel Díaz-Canel was elected head of the ruling Communist party, replacing the retiring leader, 89-year-old Raúl Castro.

The reshuffle in the top ranks also saw the departure from the politburo of the final survivors of the 1959 revolution that brought brothers Fidel and Raúl Castro to power. For those hoping for a significant shift in policy, however, there was little to cheer about.

The changes came at a four-day party congress held largely behind closed doors under the banner of “Unity and Continuity”. During the proceedings, many dissidents found their phone and internet service was cut, and they were not allowed to leave their homes, making it all but impossible to comment.

Among those promoted to the politburo was Brigadier-General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, once married to Raúl’s daughter Deborah and head of the armed forces’ civilian holding company, GAISA, which controls important swaths of the economy such as tourism and the retail trade. Rodríguez López-Callejas is close to Díaz-Canel, who has referred to him as his economic adviser, according to two European diplomats. He is also a competent businessman, according to three foreign counterparts who have worked with him.

“He comes by early in the morning once a week to check on everything and tour the place,” said one manager at the Mariel Special Development Zone just outside Havana, requesting anonymity. He is already under sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

The appointment of the head of the military’s civilian companies will anger hardline Cuban exiles in the US and is unlikely to please the Biden administration, which has already signalled that it does not plan any overtures towards Havana in the near term.

As part of its tightening of restrictions on Cuba, the Trump administration placed sanctions on nearly all military-run companies on the island from hotels to financial services. The Biden administration has given no indication that it plans to lift these.

Monday’s appointment consolidates the power of Díaz-Canel, who has risen steadily through the ranks of Cuba’s bureaucracy with a reputation as a capable but cautious leader focused on economic reform. His Twitter account is peppered with the hashtag #SomosContinuidad (We are continuity).

Raúl Castro said upon stepping down at the weekend that “as long as I live, I will be ready with my feet in the stirrups to defend the motherland, the revolution and socialism with more force than ever”, a remark taken to indicate his continued involvement. Díaz-Canel confirmed this on Monday, saying his mentor “will be consulted about strategic decisions”.

Raúl Castro has been effectively running the country since his ailing brother Fidel handed power to him in 2006. Fidel Castro died in 2016.

One of the new leadership’s first orders of business will be to conduct a nationwide discussion of Raúl Castro’s last central committee report, in which he doubled down on existing foreign policy, the need for a single-party system and cautious market reforms to avoid “a restoration of capitalism and dependence on the United States”.

Nevertheless, many analysts believe the crisis that has led to widespread food shortages and long queues in shops for basic necessities will push forward economic reforms, particularly now that younger generations hold almost all positions.   “A new cohort of leaders will have a much freer hand to implement policies permitting a gradual turn to a more market-driven economy,” said Brian Latell, a former CIA Cuba analyst who followed the Castros for decades.

For example, Raúl Castro in the report castigated party members for their reticence to fully support the integration of small- and medium-sized private business into the national economy, while simultaneously drawing a red line over the extent of changes.

He said allowing private businesses to engage in foreign trade without going through the state was unacceptable.  “There are limits that we cannot exceed because the consequences . . . would lead to . . . the very destruction of socialism and therefore of national sovereignty and independence.”

Similar words were uttered before just about every reform undertaken over the past decade, signalling that serious resistance remains in the ranks.

The party congress spent a great deal of its time on the need to improve cadres and strengthen ideological work as the internet smashes its information monopoly at a time of crisis and destabilising monetary reforms. Opposition to the system was characterised as part of a US plot.

Bert Hoffmann, a Latin America expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, said Cuba’s old guard might remain influential behind the scenes, particularly in the military. He added: “To weather the current crisis, further economic policy change will be imperative for Cuba.”

Brigadier-General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas

President Miguel Diaz-Canel

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CONVOCATORIA AL VIII CONGRESO DEL PARTIDO COMUNISTA DE CUBA

CubaDebate, 2 diciembre 2020 

“El Congreso de la continuidad histórica de la Revolución Cubana”

Articulo Original: Convocatoria

Después de hacerse pública la decisión de efectuar el VIII Congreso del Partido en abril de 2021, un evento extraordinario marcó de forma crucial la vida de la nación. La pandemia de la COVID-19 puso a prueba la capacidad y la voluntad de la Revolución, y el temple de nuestro pueblo para enfrentar cualquier dificultad, por compleja que esta sea.

Una vez más se mostró ante el mundo la verdad de Cuba, sus valores, su probada vocación humanista, solidaria y de justicia social que, junto a la capacidad organizativa del país y el desarrollo científico alcanzado, nos ha permitido traducir en resultados visibles el compromiso con la vida y el bienestar de nuestros compatriotas y de otros pueblos, a pesar de la constante agresividad del Gobierno de Estados Unidos.

El capitalismo y sus defensores neoliberales demuestran no tener solución alguna ante problemas cardinales de la humanidad. Sus teorías del papel mínimo del Estado y la magnificación del mercado, solo reforzaron su incapacidad para salvar vidas.

Inmersos hoy los cubanos en la superación de los dísimiles obstáculos derivados de la pandemia, en particular los vinculados a nuestra economía, sumados a otros que ya venían gravitando sobre nosotros, el Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba ratifica con esta convocatoria la decisión de desarrollar el VIII Congreso en la fecha prevista.

El Congreso centrará su atención en la evaluación y proyección de asuntos medulares para el presente y futuro de la nación, lo cual incluirá la actualización de la Conceptualización del Modelo Económico y Social Cubano de Desarrollo Socialista, los resultados alcanzados y la actualización de la implementación de los Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución, así como los resultados económico-sociales obtenidos del VII Congreso a la fecha; analizará de igual forma el funcionamiento del Partido, su vinculación con las masas, la actividad ideológica y valorará la situación que presenta la política de cuadros en el Partido, la Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas, las Organizaciones de Masas y el Gobierno.

Será un escenario oportuno para la actualización de nuestra estrategia de resistencia y desarrollo. Significará un estímulo a la participación de militantes, revolucionarios y patriotas en las soluciones que se demandan para enfrentar la aguda crisis mundial que nos impacta y continuar las transformaciones que fortalezcan la economía nacional. Para lograrlo contamos con una vasta experiencia de lucha en la construcción del socialismo como única opción de desarrollo, y con el ejemplo imperecedero del Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz.

Digno heredero de la confianza depositada por el pueblo en su líder, nuestro Partido, único, martiano, fidelista, marxista y leninista, asume una alta responsabilidad en la preservación de la unidad, factor estratégico para la victoria.

En estos años el Gobierno de Estados Unidos ha acentuado su hostilidad contra Cuba, arreciando el genocida bloqueo económico, comercial y financiero, y la subversión político-ideológica. A ello se suman las consecuencias de la crisis económica mundial. Frente a estas dificultades, el pueblo ha respondido con firmeza, disciplina y conciencia, lo cual requiere traducirse aún más en aportes de eficiencia y superiores resultados en la economía. Ello implica nuevas formas de pensar y hacer para alcanzar la prosperidad, fruto de nuestro trabajo diario.

En este escenario, la implementación de los Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución enfrenta amplios desafíos. Se afrontan problemas objetivos y subjetivos que influyen en el ritmo de aplicación de las políticas y medidas aprobadas.

La situación actual no puede convertirse en justificante que retarde los procesos; por el contrario, impone la necesidad de dar un impulso a la actualización de nuestro modelo económico y social para cumplir lo que hemos acordado y eliminar las trabas que aún persisten en el desarrollo de las fuerzas productivas y la eficiencia, asunto definido como problema estratégico principal por el General de Ejército Raúl Castro Ruz.

Urge incrementar la producción de alimentos en el país, empleando todas las reservas internas, que incluye, como en el resto de los sectores de la economía y la sociedad, la investigación, la innovación y el desarrollo tecnológico, además de la sistematización de los resultados.

Los vínculos entre el sector estatal y el no estatal de la economía han de seguir desarrollándose, como parte de la estrategia económica definida. La industria nacional deberá responder cada vez más a la demanda interna. Es imprescindible desterrar la inercia, la apatía y explotar con creatividad todas las potencialidades existentes, estimulando el aporte de todo el pueblo, sus ideas e iniciativas.

Debemos avanzar en la eficiencia de los procesos productivos y la calidad de los servicios, así como en el ahorro de los recursos, el incremento de las exportaciones, la sustitución de importaciones y la participación de la inversión extranjera directa. En ese empeño, la empresa estatal socialista está llamada a cumplir el papel principal que le corresponde en la economía nacional.

Nuestro objetivo es llegar al VIII Congreso con definiciones precisas y concretas, que fortalezcan y den continuidad al programa de gobierno emprendido, en cumplimiento de la Estrategia Económico-Social para el impulso de la economía y el enfrentamiento a la crisis mundial provocada por la COVID-19.

La prevención y enfrentamiento constantes a la corrupción, el delito, las indisciplinas sociales y otras manifestaciones negativas incompatibles con las esencias del socialismo que construimos, deberá ser una tarea de todos.

Para alcanzar este y otros objetivos, debemos continuar fortaleciendo el funcionamiento del Partido desde el núcleo hasta las instancias superiores, a partir de la ejemplaridad de quienes militan en sus filas. A la par, resulta imprescindible contar con cuadros que mantengan en todo momento una actitud revolucionaria frente a los problemas, desarrollen la capacidad de análisis en la búsqueda de soluciones, estimulen el diálogo franco y se caractericen por una ética intachable en su actuación cotidiana.

El Partido mantendrá una prioritaria atención a la Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas, sus cuadros, militantes y las nuevas generaciones, en cuya formación y educación en valores tiene una responsabilidad especial. Igualmente, apoyará a las organizaciones de masas y sociales, en sus misiones de integrar, movilizar y representar a nuestro pueblo, propiciando una participación superior de sus miembros en los procesos políticos y socio-económicos que deciden nuestro futuro como nación.

Hoy adquiere mayor importancia el trabajo político-ideológico para enfrentar los intentos de restauración capitalista y neoliberal. Las redes sociales e Internet se han convertido en un escenario permanente de confrontación ideológica, donde también deben prevalecer nuestros argumentos frente a las campañas enemigas.

Ante la guerra cultural y de símbolos que se nos hace, la defensa de la identidad nacional, y la cultura, así como el conocimiento de nuestra historia, reafirman nuestra soberanía e independencia.

El imperialismo estadounidense no ha podido cumplir su objetivo de destruir la Revolución Cubana. Insiste en provocar la inestabilidad en el país, legitimar la oposición mercenaria y fracturar la unidad de los cubanos, convertida en valladar infranqueable para garantizar la libertad, la justicia y la democracia socialista que no se negocian.

Ratificamos una vez más la importancia estratégica de mantener la defensa y seguridad nacional del país como asunto de máxima prioridad.

Compatriotas:

En el 64 Aniversario del Desembarco del Granma, fecha que trasciende por mostrarnos el valor del sacrificio, la confianza en el triunfo de las ideas que hace suyas el pueblo y la voluntad de vencer, ratificamos que este será el Congreso de la Continuidad, expresado en el tránsito paulatino y ordenado de las principales responsabilidades del país a las nuevas generaciones, con la certeza de que la Revolución no se circunscribe a quienes la llevaron al triunfo aquel glorioso Primero de Enero, sino a la voluntad y el compromiso de quienes la han hecho suya en todos estos años y los que continuarán la obra.

El VIII Congreso del Partido, que realizaremos del 16 al 19 de abril de 2021, será de todo el pueblo. Como en Girón, 60 años después, frente al imperio que nunca logrará doblegarnos, y ante dificultades presentes y futuras por poderosas que sean, una vez más proclamaremos ante el mundo nuestra convicción irreductible de Victoria.

Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba

See the source image
Primer Congreso
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THE NEW CUBAN EXECUTIVE BRANCH: CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES IN THE POWER STRUCTURE

RAFAEL ROJAS

BRIEFINGS ON CUBA, NOVEMBER 2020

CasaCuba, the Cuban Research Institute (CRI), and the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC) at Florida International University (FIU),

Original and Complete Article: The New Cuban Executive Branch

YouTube Presentation: The New Cuban Executive Branch

Introduction:

For a year now, a new scheme of executive power organization has been in place in Cuba. The issue has gone unnoticed in the increasingly less articulated debate on the Cuban situation. After four decades of the concentration of power in the person of Fidel Castro, the new Cuban Constitution approved in February 2019 has shifted to a division of functions among the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister of government, and the highest authority in the Communist Party. The current leaders of these bodies, Miguel Díaz-Canel, Manuel Marrero, and Raúl Castro, rather than a deconcentration of power, have projected a differentiation of responsibilities that acquires meaning through the recipients of their decisions and messages.

Although the wording of the articles of the Constitution that define these functions is not without contradictions and lends itself to more than one misunderstanding, it is possible to notice the difference in roles. As “chief” and “representative” of the State (art. 128), the President makes decisions involving national citizenship and the international community. On the other hand, the Prime Minister, as “chief” and “representative” of the Government (art. 142), is defined as “responsible to the National Assembly of the People’s Power and to the President of the Republic,” for his own management and that of the Council of Ministers.

The highest ideological and political authority residing in the Communist Party determines the difference in roles in Cuban presidentialism. Because the president must also assume maximum responsibility within the Party—at the next eighth congress, to be held in April 2021, Raúl Castro will cede the position of First Secretary to Miguel Díaz-Canel—, the responsibilities of both holders are divided into the spaces of the National Assembly and the Communist Party. The verticality of a single, non-hegemonic political organization is preserved through a pyramidal logic that compensates for the distribution of functions at the apex.

In the pages that follow I propose an approximation to some aspects of the discussion about the new format of the organization of executive power in Cuba. The most apparent peculiarity of this restructuring of presidential power on the island is the strengthening of the Communist Party as a maximum instance of national leadership. The risks of overlapping or reproduction of functions between the president and the prime minister are controlled by a merger between the figures of the head of state and the supreme leader of the Communist Party. This risk control ensures the preservation of the political command unit amid the administrative distribution of power.

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Conclusion:

I conclude by suggesting that the constitutional change that has taken place in Cuba gravitates towards a dispersion of the national executive power which, without some assimilation of parliamentary elements, the autonomization of civil society or, eventually, political pluralism, may be more conflicting than harmonious in a scenario, such as the one that will inevitably come, of a generational replacement of the country’s ruling class. Collegiate presidentialism such as that which aspires to be built in Cuba requires, for its own effectiveness, greater flexibility in the dimensions of political pluralism and electoral competence.
The move toward a presidential succession scheme, every two five-year periods, under a single Communist Party, as in China, seeks a permanent generational renewal in maximum leadership, which is secured with the sixty-year-old limit to be a presidential candidate in the first term. That would mean that in ten years most of the Cuban political class will be left out of the country’s top leadership. But as in China, generational renewal in executive power does not necessarily imply ideological and political easing or pluralization, given the immovable premises of the single Communist Party.

Given Cuba’s verticalist power structure, with a single Communist Party, which is supposed to be “the highest leading force of society,” and a vague distinction of roles between head of state (the President of the Republic) and head of government (the Prime Minister), a path to reform would be to truly strengthen the parliamentary elements of the system. In Article 128 the functions of the President are overreached, since he is given the power to “propose the election, appointment, suspension, revocation, or replacement” not only of the Prime Minister and the members of the Council of Ministers, but of the President of the People’s Supreme Court, the Prosecutor of the Republic, the Comptroller-General, and the authority of the Electoral Council.

Despite the sharing of executive functions, which would foster a collegial sense in presidential authority, the current constitutional regime engages in hyper-presidentialism, which subordinates legislative, judicial, and electoral powers to the head of state. An extension of the legislative powers of the National Assembly, in the process of division of powers, could help to better balance the Cuban political system. The increase in powers of the National Assembly would provide content for the representative government and the electoral process and would make it possible to compensate, at least in part, for the one-party system that limits political plurality on the island.

Rafael Rojas

Dr. Rafael Rojas is Professor of History at the Center for Historical Studies of the College of Mexico, where he also directs the journal Historia Mexicana. He is the author or editor of thirty books on the intellectual and political history of Cuba and Latin America, including Fighting over Fidel: The New York Intellectuals and the Cuban Revolution (2016) and Historia mínima de la Revolución Cubana (Minimal History of the Cuban Revolution, 2015). He is a member of the Mexican Academy of History since 2019 and was selected as one of the 100 most influential intellectuals in Ibero-America in 2014. He has been a visiting professor and scholar at Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and Texas-Austin. He is a frequent collaborator of the journal Letras Libres (Mexico) and the newspaper El País (Spain). He earned his B.A. in Philosophy at the University of Havana and his Ph.D. in History from the College of Mexico.

 

 

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CUBA’S NEW CONSTITUTION EXPLAINED

By Geoff Thale and Teresa Garcia Castro

Washington Office on Latin America, (WOLA), February 26, 2019

Original Article: Cuba’s New Constitution

On February 24, Cubans went to the polls to vote on the ratification of a new constitution, one that makes significant changes to the country’s political, social, and economic order. This was the first time in 43 years that the Cuban people had the opportunity to express either support or opposition to a proposal that fundamentally restructures aspects of the Cuban economy and political system.

 Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel, left, Cuban First Vice President Salvador Valdes Mesa, center and Cuban Vice President Ramiro Valdez, right.

According to the Cuban electoral commission, voter turnout reached 84 percent (slightly higher than in Cuba’s last election cycle in April 2018), with 87 percent of the votes in favor. The size of the vote suggests that, whatever misgivings or frustrations Cubans had with the new Constitutional proposal, they saw it as a step in the right direction.

The new Cuban Constitution retains language that proclaims the Communist Party’s guiding role in Cuban society and socialism as being irreversible. At the same time, the document includes several major changes to Cuba’s traditional economic and political model.Additionally, the drafting process that yielded the final text that was approved in the February 24 referendum involved a citizen consultation process that was relatively inclusive and even resulted in changes to the final document, an important indication that the Cuban government’s gradual process of reform is continuing.   

Overall, there was real and relatively open debate leading up to the referendum on the Cuban Constitution.

Cuba’s current constitution was drafted and approved by referendum in 1976. Since then, the government’s vision for the country’s economy has changed significantly, especially in the past decade.  Reform guidelines announced in 2011, alongside a Communist Party document approved in 2016, make clear that Cuba is moving toward a mixed economy that includes both a private sector and state-run sector, a more significant role for foreign investment, and where the central planning role, though not eliminated, is diminished. A small private sector has already emerged in Cuba, and grown substantially in the last few years.

Overall, the past decade has seen Cuba’s Communist Party shift (at least in principle) toward a less heavy-handed approach to exercising influence over both Cuban society and the economy. In addition, expanded internet access has helped spread access to information and enabled greater and more open political debate.

In the face of these ongoing changes, the government launched a process to revise and update the 1976 Cuban Constitution. Some people had hoped that the final text would incorporate more radical changes in the Cuban model, and were disappointed. Indeed, some rumored changes did not appear in the final version that was voted on, while other proposed reforms appear to have been postponed to later debates about implementing legislation in the National Assembly.

Still, Cuba’s new constitution includes some noteworthy overhauls.The document does the following:

  • Recognizes private property and promotes foreign investment as fundamental to the development of the economy.
  • Limits the term of the president—who is selected by the National Assembly, as in parliamentary systems—to two consecutive five-year terms, and requires that the president be under sixty when s/he is elected. (This is a dramatic change from the era in which aging revolutionaries monopolized key government positions, and were repeatedly approved in their positions.)
  • Restores the pre-1976 position of Prime Minister, an official selected by the president who leads government ministries on a day-to-day basis.
  • Forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • Guarantees women’s sexual and reproductive rights and protects women from gender violence.
  • Establishes the presumption of innocence in criminal proceedings and the right to habeas corpus.
  • Strengthens the authority of local governments.
  • Allows holding dual citizenship.

These changes, and others, will have to be implemented through legislation and regulation. That process is likely to be both gradual and complicated. However, the changes in the new Cuban Constitution are undeniably significant, both reflecting and advancing the process of economic reform, strengthening citizen protections, and making the political process more transparent. While not as transformative as some had hoped, they should not be dismissed as meaningless or cosmetic.

 

THE CONSTITUTIONAL PROCESS

The process by which the new constitution and referendum came about is also noteworthy, given the degree of citizen participation involved and the government’s response to some of the feedback it received.

Constitutional reform had been under discussion since 2013, but it wasn’t until June 2018 that a drafting commission (made up of senior government and Communist Party officials, the heads of several Cuban National Assembly committees, and academic and technical advisors) began to work on this issue seriously. The government, the National Assembly, and the Communist Party all engaged in ongoing internal debates about the draft constitution, reflecting a larger national conversation among political elites about the pace and depth of political and economic reform in Cuba

Despite Cuba’s image as a state that has suppressed religious freedom, prevented organized political campaigns, and been unwilling to listen to citizens’ views, the government responded.

The first draft of the constitution was approved by the National Assembly in July 2018. For a subsequent three-month period, Cubans were invited to suggest changes to the proposed draft. According to official numbers, more than 8 million people participated in nearly 112,000 debates in workplaces, schools, and community centers, and suggested a large number of proposed modifications to the constitution draft.

This participatory process was also significant in that, for the first time, Cuban expats were allowed to submit proposed changes to the constitution draft. However, other than diplomats, Cubans abroad were not allowed to vote in the referendum unless they returned to the island to cast their ballots.

Overall, the consultation process constituted a significant exercise in citizen participation. While officials were not required to make changes based on citizen feedback, there were some cases in which they did.

The most well-known example of this was the same-sex marriage provision: a draft of the constitution originally included language that defined marriage as a consensual union between two people, without specifying genders. This attracted significant pushback from evangelical churches and some sectors of the Cuban Catholic Church, who organized a campaign to get the provision withdrawn. Many Cubans supported this campaign and made their objections known by disseminating posters, stickers, and t-shirts, threatening to vote “no” in a constitutional referendum. Around 179,000 people signed a petition, backed by evangelical churches, calling on the government to withdraw the provision.

The new constitution and the constitutional drafting process mark important steps forward in the economy, the political system, and the decision-making process in Cuba…

Despite Cuba’s image as a state that has suppressed religious freedom, prevented organized political campaigns, and been unwilling to listen to citizens’ views, the government responded. The commission in charge of processing citizen feedback eventually withdrew the proposed language. The just-approved constitution now contains no language on marriage; the issue will likely be revisited in a debate over the Cuban Family Code sometimes in the next two years.

Meanwhile, the government launched a campaign to encourage “yes” votes with posters, advertising, and the use of social media. On the other hand, opposition forces also painted “no” signs, printed up T-shirts, and staged Twitter protests. While there were reports that some proponents of the “no” vote were harassed, overall, there was real and relatively open debate leading up to the referendum on the Cuban Constitution.

 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

Overall, the new constitution and the constitutional drafting process mark important steps forward in the economy, the political system, and the decision-making process in Cuba, and should be understood as signs of change in the thinking of the political leadership and in the population as a whole.

Indeed, the referendum comes at a complicated moment for Cuba. Economic growth has stalled in the past year, and is projected to be no more than1.5 percent in 2019. Austerity measures initiated in 2016 will continue this year, including cuts in energy and fuel to state companies and reduced imports of consumer goods. The government will struggle to maintain its investment in the social safety net, including free healthcare, education and other services

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is threatening additional economic sanctions on the island, which could make foreign investment riskier. These sanctions will damage Cuba’s already fragile economy, and hurt everyday Cubans. In addition, they are likely to discourage the process of economic reforms and will have a negative impact on the growing private sector. A more constructive approach, and one that would encourage rather than discourage internal reform, would be to return to normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations. Ultimately, recognizing that important if gradual changes are underway in Cuba—as the new constitution illustrates— is in the interests of both the Cuban people and the United States.

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CUBA’S STALLED REVOLUTION

Cuba’s Stalled Revolution: Can New Leadership Unfreeze Cuban Politics After the Castros?

By Richard E. Feinberg and Ted Piccone

 Foreign Affairs, September 2018

Original Article: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/central-america-caribbean/2018-09-20/cubas-stalled-revolution

For Cuba, 2018 marks the end of an era. For the first time in almost six decades, the country’s president is no longer a Castro—neither the late guerilla fighter, revolutionary caudillo, and international icon Fidel, nor his lower-profile brother Raúl, who succeeded Fidel as president in 2008. This April, the mantle was instead passed to former vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canel, a younger post-revolutionary politician who raised paradoxical hopes of both continuity and change.

Yet for those who imagined that the post-Castro era would quickly bring major reforms, Díaz-Canel’s tenure so far has been sorely disappointing. Five months in, progress in the country has come either slowly or not at all. The island’s economy continues to decline, just as it has since the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago, and this despite the carefully calibrated reforms Raul Castro instituted in 2011. Investment rates are alarmingly low, foreign exchange scarce, and shortages of consumer goods widespread. Many discontented Cubans, especially educated youth, continue to emigrate in search of higher living standards and better career choices, depleting the current and future workforce.

Miguel Díaz-Canel 

Reformers and hardliners continue to do battle within the Cuban Communist Party. A new draft constitution promises progress, notably on gender and gay rights, but it also reaffirms the hegemony of the Cuban Communist Party and institutionalizes outdated economic thinking. Recent government initiatives further restrict individual freedoms in business, the arts, and media. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has largely returned to the pre-Obama rhetoric of regime change and posture of hostility and isolation.

STAGNATION NATION

Díaz-Canel has inherited an economy in a state of transition. During his decade-long rule, Raúl Castro broke through once-forbidding ideological barriers on economic policy. He actively inserted Cuba into global commerce, opened the island to foreign investment, and promoted a burgeoning domestic private sector. Raúl also relaxed barriers to travel abroad, allowed private markets for real estate and automobiles, and gradually expanded access to mobile technology and social media. The private sector took off. By 2017, it provided jobs and income to as many as four out of ten Cubans of working age. Tourist traffic rose more than 80 percent during Raul’s tenure. Even though U.S. travelers became less common on the streets of Havana over the course of 2017, as the Obama bump gave way to a Trump dip, tourism is once again the brightest feature of the Cuban economy.

The government has not laid out a new economic policy agenda, much less a strategic vision for long-term development.

And yet, the Cuban economy has performed poorly overall. During the decade of Raúl Castro’s rule, Cuba’s GDP grew an average 2.4 percent per year—at least according to government statistics. At times, GDP growth stagnated at below two percent per year. Five percent would be the minimum necessary for Cuba’s growth to be considered sustainable.

The government has failed to create a truly receptive business climate, and outside the flourishing tourism sector, foreign investors remain skeptical. The precipitous drop in Cuba’s merchandise exports bodes particularly ill, signaling that the country’s state-owned enterprises are failing to compete in global markets. In 2016, these exports shrunk to less than $3 billion, their lowest level in more than ten years. In response, authorities slashed imports, from a peak of nearly $15 billion in 2013 to $10.4 billion in 2016. The loss of these imports has left Cuban stores empty of the most basic consumer items, from beer and paper products to spare parts for household appliances. All the while, restrictions on bringing capital goods into the country continue to exacerbate the already serious lack of factory machinery and farm equipment.

Change is unlikely to materialize soon. The Díaz-Canel administration, occupied with managing austerity policies, has not yet laid out a new economic policy agenda, much less a strategic vision for long-term development. In July, the government issued tough new regulations for the island’s emerging private enterprises. Aimed at preventing private companies and citizens from accumulating wealth—and nipping in the bud any potential challenge to the state’s monopoly on economic and political power—the new rules show that Cuban leaders are still extremely wary of, if not outright hostile to, private enterprise.

OLD RUM IN NEW BOTTLES?

Cuban politics are similarly resistant to change. Raúl Castro is still very present—as head of the Cuban Communist Party until 2021 and as leader of the government’s current efforts to revise the constitution. Every step of the relatively smooth succession process seemed designed to signal continuity with the measured pace of change that had marked Raúl Castro’s tenure, encapsulated by his maxim “sin prisa, pero sin pausa”—without haste, but without pause. It’s no wonder, then, that Díaz-Canel told the national assembly upon donning the presidential sash that “comrade Raúl will head the decisions for the present and future of the nation.”

Díaz-Canel has a lighter touch and is less camera-shy than his predecessor, but when it comes to policymaking, he has so far failed to deliver change. He retains a largely inherited team of senior bureaucrats, and his public remarks have been less about programmatic innovation than about maintaining party unity. Granted, this could be a temporary posture meant to reassure the old party apparatchiks while he builds a more autonomous governing class of technocrats. By this interpretation, the 58-year old is cautiously cultivating a power base of his own to set forward in the later portion of his five-year term, especially after Raúl steps down as party chief in 2021.

On the institutional side, recent changes are a mixed bag. The National Assembly chosen in March includes a mix of old and new faces. More than half of the deputies are new, 53 percent are women, and 41 percent are black or of mixed race. Likewise, the council of state, which is headed by Díaz-Canel and effectively governs the country year-round, has three new vice presidents between the ages of 48 and 52—young leadership for a country long ruled by former revolutionaries in their seventies and older. New rules mandate that deputies serve no more than two five-year terms and enter office at an age no older than 60. Taken together, the changes suggest that party leaders understand the importance of making the benefits of public office accessible to younger cadres and of diversifying the ranks of the governing elite.

A proposed constitutional reform, meanwhile, promises a modest but potentially meaningful political opening. The draft constitution divides power between a president serving as head of state and a prime minister who manages the government’s day-to-day functions. It devolves more autonomy over local affairs to provincial authorities, even though governors would still be appointed by the president. Other provisions suggest greater separation between state and party, even though the overlap in personnel would probably remain high. A new national electoral council would improve the image of the country’s elections, if not their actual integrity. Citizens who gather at least 10,000 signatures can propose legislation. Those who gather 50,000 or more will be able to initiate constitutional revisions.

Even if reformers manage to wedge open some cracks in the state’s monolithic apparatus, Cuba will remain a strictly one-party system.

The draft constitution explicitly grants important civil and due process rights, including habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence, the right to seek restitution for violations committed by state agents, non-discrimination regardless of sexual orientation, and religious liberty. But it makes such fundamental rights conditional upon “collective security, general well-being, respect for public order, the Constitution and laws.” The draft document is rife with such contradictory loopholes that ultimately confirm the state’s supreme power to override fundamental human rights.

Make no mistake: even if reformers manage to wedge open some cracks in the state’s monolithic apparatus, Cuba will remain a strictly one-party system. The draft constitution re-inscribes the Cuban Communist Party as the “superior leading force of [Cuban] society and the state.” Cuban socialism and its political and social system remain “irrevocable.” In the economy, the draft charter complements state planning and ownership with some space for domestic and foreign private capital, but these changes stop well short of formally embracing a more genuinely balanced, hybrid regime, such as the market socialist models of China or Vietnam.

At the moment, the Communist Party is holding forums to debate the draft constitution across the island. These forums are generating discussions among interested elites, but they are expected to yield only modest fixes to the issues outlined above. Once ratified by the legislature and by public referendum—likely easy hurdles—the new constitution will mainly cement the Castro legacy in constitutional, legal and de facto terms, while also bestowing some political legitimacy upon the post-revolutionary cohort Díaz-Canel now leads. For the many Cubans yearning for higher wages and more consumer goods, there is little relief in sight.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Havana’s economic and political inertia has left Washington with little room to elicit more progressive reforms. Either the United States can accept Cuba’s reality and find ways of getting along in order to protect its national interests, or it can maintain and perhaps even step up its efforts to pursue regime change through punitive measures. The latter policy, in place for nearly six decades, has demonstrably failed, but it is unfortunately entrenched in U.S. law, thanks to Congress’ codification of the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba in 1996. U.S. President Donald Trump, who has rolled back many of the openings granted by President Obama, has important pro-embargo constituencies in Florida and is unlikely to shift direction any time soon.  In effect, the Miami hardliners have won back the initiative from the diverse anti-embargo constituencies of the Obama era. This is probably fine and well with hardliners in Cuba, as it gives them some breathing space to seek better relations with Europe, Russia and China without Washington in the picture.

The new administration will likely split the country along generational lines.

The United States and Cuba still cooperate in some areas, but such exchanges face significant challenges. U.S. tourism to the island, especially cruise ship travel, is showing signs of recovery, after a sharp decrease in 2017 and in the first half of 2018. Bilateral cooperation in the areas of law enforcement, migration, and environmental affairs continues quietly, but depleted staffing at both U.S. and Cuban embassies, in part due to a wave of mysterious health concerns reported by U.S. diplomats in Cuba last year, has hampered basic diplomatic and consular functions. U.S. congressional activity has stalled, with the exception of efforts to lift financial restrictions on agricultural trade. All told, neither the punishing embargo nor anemic U.S. diplomacy is likely to prod Havana towards more ambitious reforms.

Domestically, the Díaz-Canel administration will likely split the country along generational lines. For many older Cubans, the new government’s commitment to the principles that guided the Castro era is reassuring. Many middle-aged Cubans will welcome the renewed guarantees of state-sponsored economic security and welfare. Some may also perceive glimmers of a more normal, open and, accessible polity, and will take heart in Díaz-Canel’s support for gradual, carefully monitored openings to foreign investment, the internet, and controlled private enterprise. Cuba’s restless youth, on the other hand, are likely to see only more missed opportunities, whether in a constitutional reform that prioritizes continuity over change or in a president who so far has proven more cheerleader for the status quo than agent of reform. Tragically, Cubans of all stripes, including too many of the best and the brightest, will continue to seek opportunities elsewhere.

 

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CUBA TO UPDATE SOVIET-ERA CONSTITUTION, ADAPTING TO REFORMS

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ,

 ASSOCIATED PRESS, HAVANA, May 28, 2018

 Original Article: CONSTITUTIONAL UPDATE

 When Cuba adopted its current constitution, the sugar-based economy was being bolstered by aid from the Soviet Union, citizens were forbidden to run private businesses or sell homes and gays kept their sexual identity a tightly guarded secret.

Now a rewrite is on the way as the country’s communist leaders try to adapt to the post-Soviet world in which hundreds of thousands of Cubans work for themselves, American remittances and tourism keep the economy afloat and the daughter of Communist Party chief Raul Castro is campaigning for gay rights.

The country’s parliament is scheduled on Saturday to name the commission to draft a new constitution, consulting with the citizenry and eventually bringing it to a referendum.

Officials have made clear that the constitution will maintain a Communist Party-led system in which freedom of speech, the press and other rights are limited by “the purposes of socialist society.” But Castro and other leaders apparently hope to end the contradictions between the new, more open economy and a legal system that calls for tight state control over all aspects of the economy and society.

The current ban on dual citizenship collides with the government’s effort to reach out to exiles. The definition of marriage as between a man and a woman runs up against Cuba’s growing gay rights movement. Many small businesses employ workers even though the constitution now forbids “obtaining income that comes from exploiting the work of others.”

The current constitution allows worker cooperatives, but only in the farm sector, and officials have allowed other types of cooperative but placed sharp limits on their growth and operations, keeping them as a marginal economic player.

The government, too, is likely to see changes. Castro, who turned over the presidency last month to Miguel Diaz-Canel, has proposed limiting presidents to two five-year terms and imposing an age limit — a dramatic shift following a nearly 60-year run of leadership by Castro and his late brother Fidel, who both ruled into their 80s.

“Cuba needs to change its constitution because our society has been radically transformed in recent years,” said political scientist Lenier Gonzalez, one of the directors of Cuba Possible, a think-tank aimed at promoting reform with the limits laid out by Cuban law and its single-party system. He noted the society has become more international, forms of property ownership have diversified and new social movements have emerged that now exist on the margins of the law.

He also said the revamp could help build the legitimacy of Diaz-Canel, 58, and other members of the new guard who are finally replacing the men enshrined as national heroes of the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma has reported that the new constitution could boost the role of the country’s parliament, which now usually meets for two days a year to listen to speeches and approve official proposals. It said the congress might be professionalized and its membership trimmed. The 605 deputies now receive no pay other than what they get from their other jobs.

Parliamentarian Mariela Castro, the daughter of Raul and director of the Center of Sexual Education, has said the reform will expand gay rights, partly by tackling the current wording of the constitution that limits marriage to a man and woman.

The current constitution was adopted four decades ago at a time when Cuba was a potential Cold War flashpoint and a pillar of the Soviet Bloc. The document proclaims Cuba’s adherence to Marxist-Leninist socialism and to solidarity with countries of the Third World, particularly Latin America. The Communist Party is described as the “superior guiding force” of Cuba’s society and it says the economic system is “based on socialist property of the entire people over the fundamental means of production and on the suppression of the exploitation of man by man.”

“It is a historic constitution, the only one that remains in our hemisphere” from the time of Soviet-style socialism, said Julio Antonio Fernandez Estrada, a law professor at the University of Havana. “It’s more than 40 years old … It continues speaking of things that now do not exist in the world, such as the formation of the citizen for communism.”

He said the economic reforms promoted by Castro, which sought to allow the limited introduction of private enterprise within the communist system, “have been carried out, if not against, then in large part in spite of the constititution.”

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