Unusual dissent erupts inside Cuban Communist Party
By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ and MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN
ANA (AP) — Days after President Barack Obama's historic visit, the
leaders of Cuba's Communist Party are under highly unusual public
criticism from their own ranks for imposing new levels of secrecy on the
future of social and economic reforms.
After months of simmering discontent, complaints among party members
have become so heated that its official newspaper, Granma, addressed
them in a lengthy front-page article Monday. It said the public
dissatisfaction over the lack of open discussion before the upcoming
Communist Party congress next month is "a sign of the democracy and
public participation that are intrinsic characteristics of the socialism
that we're constructing."
The article did little to calm many party members, some of whom are
calling for the gathering to be postponed to allow public debate about
the government's plans to continue market-oriented reforms for Cuba's
centrally controlled economy.
"The base of the party is angry, and rightly so," party member and noted
intellectual Esteban Morales wrote in a blog post published before
Obama's visit. "We've gone backward in terms of democracy in the party,
because we've forgotten about the base, those who are fighting and
confronting our problems on a daily basis."
Across the country, Cuba's ruling party is facing stiff challenges as it
tries to govern an increasingly cynical and disenchanted population.
Struggling to feed their families with state salaries around $25 a
month, many ordinary Cubans see their government as infuriatingly
inefficient and unresponsive to the needs of average people. The open
anger among prominent party members in the middle of sweeping
socio-economic reforms and normalization with the United States hints at
a deeper crisis of credibility for the party that has controlled
virtually every aspect of public life in Cuba for more than a half century.
The article in Granma appeared less than a week after Obama won an
enthusiastic response from many ordinary Cubans by calling for both an
end to Cold War hostility and for more political and economic freedom on
the island. The unsigned article shared the front page with Fidel
Castro's sharply worded response to Obama, in which the 89-year-old
father of Cuba's socialist system said, "My modest suggestion is that he
reflect and doesn't try to develop theories about Cuban politics."
Many Cubans are skeptical of free-market capitalism, wary of American
power and cannot envision a society without the free health care and
education put in place by the 1959 revolution. Party member Francisco
Rodriguez, a gay activist and journalist for a state newspaper, said
Obama's nationally televised speech in Old Havana, his news conference
with 84-year-old President Raul Castro and a presidential forum with
Cuban entrepreneurs represented a sort of "capitalist evangelizing" that
many party members dislike.
Rodriguez told The Associated Press that Obama's well-received addresses
to the Cuban people had nonetheless increased pressure on the
700,000-member Communist Party to forge a more unified and credible
vision of the future.
"Obama's visit requires us, going forward, to work on debating and
defending our social consensus about the revolution," Rodriguez said.
While Cuba's non-elected leaders maintain tight control of the party and
the broader system, the last party congress in 2011 was preceded by
months of vigorous debate at party meetings about detailed documents
laying out reforms that have shrunk the state bureaucracy and allowed a
half million Cubans to start work in the private sector.
In the run-up to the party congress scheduled to begin April 16, no
documents have been made public, no debate has taken place and many of
the party's best-known members remain in the dark about the next phase
of Cuba's reforms.
Granma said 1,000 high-ranking party members have been reviewing key
"My dissatisfaction is rooted in the lack of discussion of the central
documents, secret to this day, as much among the organizations of the
party base as the rest of the population," Rodriguez wrote in an open
letter Sunday to Raul Castro, who is also the top Communist Party leader.
Under Castro's guidance, the 2011 party congress helped loosen state
control of Cubans' economic options and some personal freedoms, moving
the country toward more self-employment, greater freedom to travel and
greater ability to sell personal cars and real estate. The Granma
article argued that the months of debate before the approval of those
reforms made a new round of public discussion unnecessary. It also
acknowledged that only 21 percent of the reforms had been completed as
The April 16-19 party congress "will allow us to define with greater
precision the path that we must follow in order for our nation,
sovereign and truly independent since Jan. 1, 1959, to construct a
prosperous and sustainable socialism," the article said.
Rodriguez, who works closely with Castro's daughter Mariela, the
director of the national Center for Sexual Education, said the Granma
piece was unsatisfactory. He called for the Seventh Party Congress to be
delayed, saying many fellow party members share his point of view.
In the days after the Granma article appeared about two dozen people,
many identifying themselves as party members, posted lengthy comments on
the paper's government-moderated website that criticized the article and
the secrecy surrounding the upcoming party congress, which is widely
seen as helping mark the transition of power from the aging men who led
Cuba's revolution to a younger generation.
"It is one of the last congresses directed by the historic generation,"
wrote one poster identifying himself as Leandro. "This is, I think, a
bad precedent for future leaders, who will feel like they have the right
to have party congresses without popular participation."
Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mweissenstein
Source: Unusual dissent erupts inside Cuban Communist Party - Yahoo News