The Sixth Congress of the Communist party of Cuba has convened, and although General Raúl Castro has announced that it should be the last of the historical generation that overthrew the dictator Fulgencio Batista some 50 years ago, the decisions announced in Havana are just another great disappointment for the 11 million Cubans.
For a half century General Castro has functioned as minister of the armed forces and as such is responsible for the military expeditions that sent Cubans to kill and/or be killed in Africa. He is likewise responsible for the execution of his colleague General Arnaldo Ochoa for the crime of being more popular than Fidel himself. This is in addition to acts of international terrorism such as shooting down two unarmed civilian planes surveying the Florida straits for stranded refugees. Worst of all, he proposes to make Cubans believe that the naming of another octogenarian as vice-president of the Council of State—in this case, José Ramón Machado Ventura—constitutes something new in the sad history of the Cuban revolution.
Raúl Castro now speaks of establishing a limit of two terms of five years each for the present Cuban leadership—this, when he himself is almost 80 years old! Those who see past the charismatically challenged brother of Fidel can easily pick out the figure of Colonel Alejandro Castro, his son and right-hand man. Alejandro also holds a high position in the ministry of interior, the agency of the regime in charge of foreign espionage and domestic repression. Also, General Castro has just appointed Luis Alberto Rodriguez Calleja to the powerful Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba—a man who happens to be married to one of his daughters.
“I will never permit a return to the capitalist regime,” declares Raúl Castro, which amounts to announcing that tomorrow the sun will not be allowed to rise on the eastern horizon of the island. Or that he will not permit subsequent generations to judge him, his brother or the revolutionary experiment that ended in tragedy and failure.
As to the much-balleyhooed “economic reforms,” only thing seen thus far is an expansion of the number of permitted categories of self-employment from 157 to 168. And what, precisely, are these professions that are suddenly legal? And what impact can they possibly have on the country’s uncertain future? After paying a stiff fee and going through all the bureaucratic imbroglios, Cubans will now be permitted to exercise such exotic occupations as dog groomers, refillers of fuel for cigarette lighters, cobbler, home production of paper flowers, salesman of toasted tropical delicacies, and so forth.
And on the subject of the cultivation, manufacture and sale of tobacco, one cannot forebear from observing that the present situation recalls the days of the Spanish colony two centuries ago, when the small-scale cultivators of the leaf—protesting against the monopoly of the crown—were publicly hung on the outskirts of Havana.
For the more than 50 years and up to the present time, no Cuban has been allowed to establish a factory to produce canned goods or furniture to sell at home or abroad. Meanwhile, the Department of Religion of the Central Committee of the Communist Party will continue to guide relations between church and state. It is to that very office that a priest must recur should he, for example, wish to buy sand and bricks to repair the roof of his parish church, or even, that he be allowed to lead a procession outside the church itself. And Cuban labor unions remain in charge of preventing worker unrest and insuring labor discipline.
Symbols are important. The recent congress opened with a military parade where tanks rolled past city streets. Meanwhile, small groups of dissidents were threatened, taken to police stations or forced to hole up in their homes.
*Frank Calzón is the executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington DC. The center is an independent, non-partisan non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights and a transition to democracy and the rule of law in Cuba. Established in November 1997, the Center gathers and disseminates information about Cuba and Cubans for different media sources, NGOs and the international community.