The Sixth Cuban Communist Party Congress and the Cuban people learned on April 19 that Fidel Castro is now fully retired. The Bearded One has become, so it appears, just another private citizen.
Showing up wearing a blue track suit, helped to his seat by an aide, and appearing every day his 84 years of age, Fidel Castro relinquished all party and state posts for the first time in over a half a century.
The four-day Party Congress was convened to accomplish two things: (1) open the doors for a revised economic strategy and (2) rejuvenate leadership on the island.
It accomplished neither.
The Cuban economy is in shambles. The Cuban state is broke. Raul Castro, Fidel’s successor, is dispensing band-aids rather than cures. A modicum of reforms are being introduced in order to accommodate the 1.5 million workers who will enter the privatized twilight zone of Cuba’s non-state sector as they struggle to replace the $24 a month salary they receive from the state. The Cuban hope is that “new businesses such as flower stalls, beauty parlors, barber shops, taxis and restaurants” will soak up a million workers laid off from the state sector and ignite economic development. The regime wants to scrap the ration book and may allow more private ownership of property.
Communism and economic un-freedom still prevail. “I assume my post to defend, preserve, and continue perfecting socialism and never permit the return of capitalism,” vowed Raul Castro at the closing of the congress.
As for leadership, Raul let it be known that the country’s top leadership positions still belong to the same old revolutionaries—the historical ones—who have repressed and ruined their nation for the past five decades. In addition to his current position as President, Raul assumed the post of First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party. Although Raul spoke of a 10-year term limit for himself and his successors, their real concern is for the biological clock rather than any legal limit.
Sobering news for Cubans, anxious for change, was the selection of José Ramón Machado Ventura as Cuba’s Number Two. He is 80 and potentially the Cuban dictatorship’s next “president.” “They’re keeping to the hard-line, ideological old guard,” said Uva de Aragón, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. “The problem is you can’t have Stalin and Lenin trying to be Gorbachev at the same time.” Or as one Cuban tersely observed, “Same dog with a different collar.”
Fidel Castro’s long overdue retirement, the complete ascension of Raul, and the uncertain economic path ahead scarcely moved the long-suffering Cuban people any closer to the individual liberty, democracy, and economic changes that could rejuvenate the island’s economy and open the door to genuine friendship with the U.S.