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CUBA: Countdown to First Communist Party Conference

HAVANA, Jan 18 2012 (IPS) - In the run-up to the first National Conference of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), the insistence of government sources that the meeting will concentrate on internal party matters seems to imply that social issues are to be excluded from the agenda.

The meeting is to be held Jan. 28-29 as a continuation of the Sixth PCC Congress in April last year.

According to analysts, modernising the PCC – the sole legal political party in Cuba, in power since the 1960s – is a strategic priority, but so is finding a comprehensive solution for the aspirations of civil society sectors regarding problems that were not adequately addressed or went without mention at the 2011 PCC Congress.

However, President Raúl Castro dampened expectations for the forthcoming First Party Conference. “The party congress was the definitive meeting, so there should be no great illusions about the conference, which… is an internal party matter,” he told the international press Jan. 12.

The Sixth Congress laid out the road map for economic policy changes on this Caribbean island, and left the conference to decide matters such as changes in the country’s political “nomenclature” and whether to adopt a rule limiting terms in the party and the government to a maximum of 10 years.

According to official sources, the conference should also “examine, with a realistic and critical spirit” the work of the party and the changes required for it to exercise its role as “the highest leading force of society and of the state”, as defined by the constitution.

The conference is also empowered to update the work style and methods, cadre policies and structures of the party and to continue what Castro calls “a gradual process of renewal and rejuvenation of the chain of political and state positions”.

The National Conference may be convened between Party Congresses to deal with important matters of party policy, and this is the first time that this internal instrument is being made use of by the PCC.

The conference agenda was made public in a “basic document” which includes social issues as well as internal party organisational matters.

Unlike the document on Economic and Social Policy Guidelines prepared for the April congress, which was discussed by the population in open debates before being approved by the congress, the key conference text has been analysed only by members of the PCC and the Young Communist League, the PCC youth organisation.

In the view of essayist Víctor Fowler, the forthcoming party conference could have made more of a splash if the media – and in general, the life of the country – had put their energies into a citizen-driven, public national discussion of the work style of the PCC, as well as its role and proper place today.

Participating with other Cuban intellectuals in a debate on the conference convened by the Catholic Church publication Espacio Laical, Fowler contrasted the “anaemic” information available for this meeting with the great social assembly, based on discussions in local neighbourhoods and workplaces, that was held on the congress guidelines.

In December, the second secretary of the PCC Central Committee, José Ramón Machado Ventura, said that as a result of the consultations with PCC members, 78 out of the 96 goals proposed in the basic document for the upcoming conference had been modified, while five new ones had been added. The new text has not been published.

Both the original and the modified versions of the basic document refer to particularly sensitive problems that have been kept silent for a long time, like confronting “prejudice on the basis of race, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation and any other that can give rise to any form of discrimination”.

Pre-conference working committees have even collected concrete proposals for solving these problems.

“We have made a lot of progress in the last five years, and a large number of barriers that hindered certain issues have been removed,” psychologist Sandra Álvarez, the author of the blog “Negra cubana tenía que ser” (Had to Be a Black Cuban Woman), told IPS.

The basic document also proposes analysis and agreement on actions to “confront gender and intra-family violence, and the violence that is manifested in communities”, as well as strengthening “actions directed at preventing and confronting manifestations of social indiscipline, illegality, corruption and other crimes”.

The key documents for the Sixth Congress and the National Conference, however, did not meet the expectations of some of the experts.

“Both should have had much stronger and more explicit social content,” sociologist Mayra Espina said in an interview with IPS.

In Espina’s view, the guidelines lacked an explanation of how the platform of social change would be brought about in practice, something that should have been made clear because they are the principles on which the Cuban reform is based. The conference text, meanwhile, lacks a more explicit commitment to social equity, she said.

Coincidentally, as 2012 begins, a government regulation came into force Jan. 15 that provides a state subsidy to persons on low incomes who need to repair or build their homes. This is the first step in a gradual change toward subsidising persons, rather than products, as has previously been the case.

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