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Communist Congress set to vote on economic reforms

Latest update: 16/04/2011
- Communist parties – Cuba – – Reform

Communist Congress set to vote on economic reforms

Delegates of Cuba's Communist Party are meeting to vote on economic
reforms ushered in under Raul Castro, as the country's aging leadership
struggles to relax its grip on the while affirming a socialist
By Virginie HERZ (video)
Joseph BAMAT (text)

Military fanfare and a parade of children and revolutionary veterans in
the streets of Havana on Saturday opened the sixth congress of Cuba's
Communist Party, an event many hope will lead to a new economic era for
the island nation.

Revamping Cuba's economic strategy has been the central focus of the
congress ever since it was announced in November by Raul
Castro, who has already launched limited initiatives that are meant to
promote entrepreneurship and loosen the state's control over business.

"This is an effort to give the Cuban people more in the
marketplace, but this does not mean the establishment of free labour
unions or free political parties," explained Eduardo Cue, a writer and
specialist on Cuba based in .

Communist conference kicks off with military march
By Virginie HERZ in La Havana
Raul has turned over tens of thousands of hectares of government land to
small farmers, allowed citizens to open up small shops, and has
gradually cut some of generous and subsidies since he took
over from long-time Cuban leader and brother Fidel nearly five years ago.

The Communist delegates are expected to make these reforms official at
the congress, and to pass a number of other laws. These include relaxing
regulations on buying and selling homes and automobiles and opening some
170 new categories of self-employment.

The reforms also include cutting back hundreds of thousands of state
employees. According to Janette Habel, a Cuba specialist and lecturer at
the French Institute for Latin America (Ifal), the massive layoffs can
only be possible by allowing private enterprise to grow. She told FRANCE
24 in September that the new laws would permit commerce "which
already thrives on the island" to be integrated into the authorized system.

"Reaffirming" the socialist model

Raul Castro has acknowledged publicly that the congress – the first
Communist Party congress in 14 years – would be the last for what the
Cuban leadership calls the "historic generation" – the aging group of
men and women who launched and lived through the 1959 revolution.

Speaking to Cuban lawmakers last December, Castro acknowledged that the
old guard had committed "errors" and insisted on a "path of correction
and a necessary renewal of our economic model". But he warned that in no
way would the country return to "the capitalist and neocolonial past."

While the reforms are clearly meant to open up Cuba's economy, the
communist party is struggling to reaffirm its socialist ideology. Castro
has sworn the changes are meant reaffirm the "socialist character of the
revolution," not toss it out.

According to Eduardo Cue, the Cuban government is willing to establish
an economic model "such as the one in , for example, or ."

The party's official news agency, Granma, said that Saturday's parade
would end with a parade by tens of thousands of youths, who were
"symbolic of the New Generations of Cubans and the guarantee of the
continuity of the Revolution."

But beyond this symbolic show, the Communist establishment could give a
more tangible sign of its willingness to empower younger Cubans.
Delegates will also vote for a new party leadership at the congress.
While no longer the country's president, Fidel continues to be the
Communist Party's first secretary, a job he has said he no longer
expects to keep.

With Raul, 80, all but certain to be voted to the party's top post, the
real signal of the potential change to come in Cuba could be in the
congress' choice for the number two spot: perhaps a fresh face who is
not the object of commemorative parades, but who belongs to the next
history-making generation.

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