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Cuba prepares for life after Castro

Cuba prepares for life after Castro
By Marc Frank in Havana
Published: April 16 2011 17:06

Cuba prepared for the future with a blast from the past on Saturday as
the Communist party staged a military parade and huge popular march to
mark the 50th anniversary of its victory at the Bay of Pigs and Fidel
Castro's proclamation of the socialist goals of the revolution.

The spectacular was a prelude to what is expected to be a historic
Communist party Congress where it will elect a new leadership and adopt
plans to "modernise" the financially strapped and stagnating as
the post-Castro era nears.

The carefully choreographed march through Havana's Revolution Square
appeared a tribute to an absent and promise to remain
faithful to his legacy as his brother, Raúl Castro, and other
surviving members of his rebel troop presided.

The parade was staged as a show of unity behind the only legal political
party in the land and to portray the majority of Cubans, especially the
youth, as faithful and confident in their ageing leaders as they
prepared to adopt a series of major economic reforms at the four-day
Congress which opened later in the day.

Mr Castro advocates transforming Cuba's economic and social system from
one based on collective work and subsidised consumption to one where
individual initiative, reward and markets play a larger role.

There has been significant resistance to Mr Castro's vision as vested
interests manoeuvre, ideologues balk and common folk accustomed to
gratuities in a land where for half a century private entrepreneurship
was branded as counter-revolution, are forced to reset their views.

"It is necessary to change the mentality of the cadres and of all other
compatriots in facing up to the new scenario which is beginning to be
sketched out," Mr Castro said about the congress in his most recent speech.

"It is about transforming the erroneous and unsustainable concepts about
socialism, that have been deeply rooted in broad sectors of the
population over the years, as a result of the excessively paternalistic,
idealistic and egalitarian approach instituted by the Revolution in the
interest of social justice," he said.

Nevertheless, a major slogan at the march was Fidel Castro's
proclamation at the start of the revolution that it was "of the humble,
by the humble and for the humble".

According to proposals before the Congress the state should get out of
administering the economy in favour of using taxation and other
financial mechanisms to regulate it, even as state-run companies become
public holdings operating outside the ministries.

The proposals call for the state to shed 20 per cent of its work force,
or more than a million jobs, as it promotes an ever growing "non-state"
sector that would be composed of "mixed capital companies,
co-operatives, farmers with the right to use idle land, rented property
landlords, self-employed workers and other forms that contribute to
raise the efficiency of social labour."

Regulations on everyday life, such as those prohibiting the buying and
selling of homes and cars, would be loosened.

Cuba's leader Fidel Castro is approaching his 85th birthday and Raúl
Castro his 80th, while Jose Machado Ventura, first vice-president and
party organisational secretary, is 80. The average age of other top
party officials is over 70.

"We strongly believe that we have the elemental duty to correct the
mistakes that we have made all along these five decades," Mr Castro said
in December about the Congress.

That has been interpreted by most experts to signal Mr Castro will
replace his brother as party chief and a handful of others who fought in
the revolution will maintain their positions, though some new faces may
emerge near the heights of power.

Fidel Castro recently announced that he had given up his party job,
along with the presidency, after undergoing intestinal surgery in 2006
and simply hadn't thought it necessary to let the public know. He
remains listed as First Secretary on the party's Web Page and active
behind the scenes and occasionally in public.

"This is a clear message to Imperialism. The youth will not waver," said
the key note speaker at the march, Maildel Gómez, president of the
Students Federation.

Uniformed children, students and young adults marched by surrounding
such symbols of more glorious days as the Granma yacht that brought
Castro to Cuba, chanting "Fidel, Fidel,".

There were young troops, soviet vintage armour, MiG-21 and MiG-23
fighters and helicopters, all "ready to protect the fatherland no matter
what the difficulties," and "resist whatever Imperialist aggression," so
the script read by a narrator said.

Raúl Castro has long since replaced his brother's cabinet and advisers
with more reform minded technocrats, many from the military. Now,
despite the fanfare, it appears it is the Communist party's turn. Few of
the current members of the Central Committee were nominated as
candidates for the new one that will be elected at the Congress.

"The party leadership, the party style has to be changed, the same as
the government's is being changed," Rafael Hernandez, who runs the
reform oriented Temas Magazine, said.

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