Forbes, by Mike Gonzalez
The Obama Administration hasn’t had a good Cuba week. Private companies showed that embracing dictatorships torpedoes mission statements, while the White House embarrassingly had to backtrack and re-invite a jazz legend who supports democracy in Cuba. Meanwhile, in Havana, the Communist Party shut the door on any reform.
All these developments are important, as they revealed the hollow middle of the President’s decision to engage the Castros. They’re not changing for the better—we are, for the worse.
The communist party meeting, which happens twice a decade, was the most important, but perhaps least understood, of these three stories. Most accounts focused on the fact that Fidel Castro, already looking like a cadaver, showed up, spoke some Marxist psychobabble and reminded his audience he may soon die. Well, he’s 89.
Fidel Castro during the closing ceremonies of the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in Havana on Tuesday. (Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate via AP)
Other things were more important. Fidel’s 84-year-old little brother, party honcho Raul Castro, had himself re-elected (unanimously, too, lest there be any doubt) for another five years. That is 2121, when he will be 90 unless he’s already departed for warmer climes.
Until now, all the talk had been of Raul stepping down in 2018. He might, as president of the government, which may be left in the troubled hands of a faceless functionary, but not in the more important role as head of Cuba’s only party.
On Cuba’s lack of political pluralism, Raul was firm. In an exhaustive and exhausting two-hour, 10,000-word speech (it’s not just dissidents who are tortured), he reminded the party cadre and the world that Article 5 of Cuba’s constitution “consecrates” the communist party as “the superior leading force of society and the state,” as it organizes all efforts for the construction of socialism.
Raul castigated the world for having the temerity to suggest that Cuba permit other parties “in the name of the sacrosanct bourgeois democracy.” With admittedly impeccable logic, he added, “if they succeeded in fragmenting us one day, it would be the beginning of the end. Don’t ever forget this!”
So now we have it directly from the Horse’s Mouth: the Communist Party would cease to exist if Cubans were actually given any other option.
There was more. The PCC actually reversed some of what little progress there had been.
Previously, the private sector had been barred from the “concentration of property.” As of the new congress, the private sector will also be barred from the “concentration of wealth.”
Commenting on his blog, CapitolHillCubans, the analyst Mauricio Claver-Carone made the point that this—not the political immobility—was the news coming out of the Congress that deserves world attention. I concur. Claver-Carone writes:
In other words, the Castro regime can crack down on any person for accumulating any amount of money, without any recourse, based on its own subjective standard.
Castro also reminded everyone that ’cuentapropistas’ (“self-employment”) are not juridical persons.
In other words, they are legal ghosts.”
Google “cuentrapropista” and you will get all sorts of wild-eyed expectations of growth by these small entrepreneurs and hopes that they will be the agents of change. Guess who else has done that? Raul. So just as with multi-partism, he closed the door on that.
“We are not naïve nor do we ignore the aspirations of powerful external forces betting on what they call the ‘empowerment’ of the non-state sector, with the goal of generating agents of change in the hope of ending the Revolution and socialism in Cuba,” he lectured those who were still awake.
And that is the problem that awaits the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and all the companies that want to make a deal with the Castros. Their main and only concern is survivability. Nothing else matters. That’s how you stay in power for 56 years.
Carnival Cruise found the hard way with its maiden cruise to Cuba, which was scheduled to launch on May 1 (International Workers’ Day, or communism’s high holiday). To comply with a rule by the Castros, Carnival told Americans born in Cuba they need not apply for a cabin.
A public relations fiasco ensued, of course, and Carnival retreated. The Miami-based company had to go back to the Cuban government and say, you let in the Cuban-Americans or we can’t come here.
What the experience showed was that companies will be only too happy to coddle the Castros until public pressure here gets too intense. In fact, even the White House behaves this way.
This week it emerged that the White House had disinvited 14-time Grammy winner Paquito d’Rivera—a strong proponent of human rights in Cuba—from playing there on April 30, International Jazz Day. D’Rivera wrote a letter to Obama reminding him of America’s values, but it wasn’t till the letter became public a week later, and again public pressure mounted, that the White House decided to re-invite him.
All in all it was a week that showed, once again, that dealing with the Castros will diminish us, not them.