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HAVANA, Apr 21 2011 (IPS) - The plans and agreements approved at the recently-concluded Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party has left people with a wide range of reactions, from hope, to scepticism, to fear, to satisfaction, to the sense that old ideological principles have been renounced or that such certainties are no more than window dressing. But the Congress left no one with a feeling of indifference. Cuba’s magnetism -sometimes morbid, sometimes admiring- prevents that from happening.

Although the news was not surprising, there was much discussion about the resignation from Cuban Communist Party leadership of Fidel Castro, the historic figure who for more than 45 years shaped the destiny of Cuba and has now decided to be a simple activist of the party -though we all know that he will be anything but ‘simple”.

More surprising and moving (politically and even humanly speaking) was the proposal of the President and now new First Secretary of the Republic, Raul Castro, to reduce to two five-year terms the period that the future premier can stay in office, something unheard of in the ruling apparatus of a socialist country, where those in the upper reaches of power often serve until they die. How these changes will be implemented remains to be seen.

In contrast, everyone expected the proposal of a broad overhaul of the obviously exhausted Cuban economic model. The new plan will try a range of alternatives, such as foreign investment, work, taxation, private production, the decentralisation of the government, the elimination of bureaucratic red tape, and cuts in government subsidies. All of these measures will introduce the element of market competition desperately needed in a country weakened by an interminable economic crisis, rock bottom production, and a society deformed by the way goods and services are provided.

The word “market”, demonised for decades in official Cuban circles (even for the sale of books) has reappeared, but there was another word that was reintroduced and mentioned more times: “change”. How radical and profound will the changes be? Will they affect the economic and social essence of the system, including aspects that are political? This too remains to be seen, but there can be no doubt that change has arrived and more is coming -not always desired (by certain elements of the government leadership) but always inevitable, given much has already occurred in our society and more is being imposed by time itself and the reality of Cuba and the planet.

However, there has been too little, if any, talk of other profound transformations that will or should accompany the economic, social, and even political plans that have been proposed or approved so far. I am referring to changes that are subtle but indispensable, including change in the top-down, fundamentalist exclusionist orthodoxy, which, fuelled for years, managed to convert into a suspect, if not an enemy, anyone who dissented from official positions and tried to think with his own head as opposed to a logic based on “the moment”, “the situation of the country”,of “top-down orientation”.

If five or seven years ago, someone in Cuba had proposed measures like those adopted this week by the party congress, he would without a doubt have been branded as revisionist, even counterrevolutionary, and been stigmatised by some benighted sector of the ruling bureaucracy.

Without profound changes in this attitude towards controlling thought, and without allowing freedom of expression, it will be difficult to put in place a real culture that supports the need to “change everything that must be changed”, because the party agreements and decisions just made will not uproot from one day to the next the tendency to accuse (among those from higher up) and the habit of fear (in those below). Over many years, too much fear and too many accusations have built up in the lives and consciences of Cubans for this change to take place overnight, even though it is clear that in Cuba today the level of permissiveness and heterodoxy is light years ahead of that thirty or forty years ago, when any divergent opinion was condemned as “an ideological problem” or seen as “strengthening the enemy” -even when it was a clear and obvious statement of the truth.

Too many years of political verticality, of an excessively powerful bureaucracy, of considering as an enemy anyone who doesn’t think the same way -these are burdens that the newly-approved plan for the future must eliminate if Cuban society is to regenerate itself and become more vital and audacious. The same is true of the tendency to stigmatise nonconformists, an all-too-frequent practice of the backwards and reactionary bureaucracy, which was responsible not only for innumerable economic disasters (for which no one paid the price, or if there was any accountability, some involved may have lost certain privileges). But the worst part of this practice was the removal from society of a culture of dialogue and the expression of nonconformist ideas, which are natural elements of social diversity.

Today the need to allow in the new and different and heterodox is recognised today even by government and party leadership: Raul Castro himself sees that “the first thing to change in the Communist Party is the mentality, which is what we will pay the highest cost for because it has been tied for years to obsolete criteria.”

Only in this way can there be real change in Cuba, not only by decree but also by consensus, not only imposed from the top but percolating up from every corner of the country. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Leonardo Padura Fuentes is a Cuban writer and journalist whose novels have been translated into more than fifteen languages. His most recent work is The Man Who Loved Dogs, featuring Leon Trotsky and his assassin Ramon Mercader as central characters.

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