Monday, December 17, 2018
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An experiment with questions
Lucila Horta
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Party conference approves measures to promote private enterprise.

“If five or seven years ago, someone would have suggested measures like those adopted by the party Congress, surely they would have been categorized as revisionist, in addition to counterrevolutionary, and stigmatized as such by an ultra-conservative sector of the ruling bureaucracy.”

So said writer Leonardo Padura at the conclusion of the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), which took place from April 15-18. During this frameworking event, proposals for economic change on the island were analyzed — improvements that, according to authorities, will not tamper with the social guarantees that define the system.

The working document for the event was comprised of 291 articles, 68 percent of which were reformulated based on suggestions made at popular assemblies and meetings of the rank and file of the PCC. The 1,000 delegates in attendance brought to the table proposals from those debates, which took place around the country over three months. After altering the text, eliminating lines and adding 36 new directives, 311 guidelines were ultimately issued.

The process was accompanied by practical developments, including the granting of greater dynamism and choices for private enterprise, announced in August of last year. Special development zones with foreign or domestic investment are still functioning and hard work is going into the recovery of certain fields, such as sugar and coffee production, which were severely weakened, leading to spending on overseas procurement, just as prices are soaring in the world market.

Changing mindset
“Over-centralization conspires against the development of initiative in society, and throughout the production chain, where cadres became accustomed to the fact that decisions were made ‘at the top´ and, consequently, they felt less responsible for the output of the agency they headed up. This bureaucratic inaction slowed the development of production,” President Raúl Castro admitted at the conference, referring to the proposal to give each province, municipality and town expanded administrative powers. The principle will apply to businesses, factories and co-ops.

“Implementing these concepts and regulations requires defining the capacities and duties of each person at all levels and solidifying control procedures for accurate accounting, financial and administrative control,” said José María Gutiérrez, an accounting professor.

When contacted by Latinamerica Press, tobacco producer Antolín Plasencia spoke of Fidel Castro´s formal resignation for health reasons, stating that while “he isn´t on the playing field, he still is an ideologue. If we believe in what he said, that ‘Revolution means changing all that should be changed,´ then there is a lot to be done. During the crisis of these last two decades, the behavior patterns and values that we thought were well established have greatly soured. It´s the moment to take big risks, but more than that, Raúl [Castro] said it well and I agree with him: changing people´s mindsets will be the most challenging.”

Plasencia observed as well that by authorizing the buying and selling of homes and cars, or independent labor, they are breaking with obsolete notions of property, which will stimulate the economy. “The most important thing really is that productivity be efficient,” he added.

Profound changes
Angelica Linares, who recently opened a hair salon business, spoke about a decision of the party events that is most cited by the international press, because it represents an important change in the rules followed for half a century.

“To reduce government and political positions to two five-year terms indicates that this is not just a superficial change being undertaken,” she said. And she is right, this is not shallow legislation. It implies that from the top leadership position in the county to the last rung of power, positions will not be held for more than 10 years.

Linares also makes reference of the requirement that the private sector pays for maternity leave and pensions for employees, saying that “paying for social security for all hired employees should be optional, not mandatory.”

Before the conference, it was announced that credit would be facilitated for those who work independently, or who would like to open a business, expanding a law that granted campesinos advance financing.

Another detail worth noting is that private businesses can now sell their goods and services to state agencies. This is a new relationship between the public and private sectors.

President Castro was highly critical of the errors committed economically and of the shoddy work with vulnerable sectors of society. Even though there are laws guaranteeing racial and gender equality, deep-seated prejudices are not eradicated by decree alone.

There is one significant preliminary result, however: the new Central Commission elected at the Sixth Congress has three times as many women and 10% more participants of mestizo and African descent than before.

The Cuban economic model continues to seek social equity, and while revamped, it is not “the panacea for all our ills,” the leader said, warning that changes require “political sensitivity, common sense, rigidity in the face of violations and discipline from everyone, foremost from leadership.”

The government´s Standing Committee for Implementation and Development will be responsible for monitoring, verifying and coordinating actions, or proposing the addition of new legislation if needed. Only the near future — because further delays are unadvisable now — will tell if the reforms succeed or fail.
—Latinamerica Press.

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