Sunday, April 17, 2016

Cuba's Path to the Future Is Shrouded in Secrecy

Cuba's Path to the Future Is Shrouded in Secrecy

Cuba's ruling Communist Party is expected to announce a series of
economic and political reforms next week that it hopes to put in place
as the country prepares for the end of the Castros' rule in 2018.

The proposals will be announced at the party's seventh conference, which
starts on Sunday. But their content and scope remain a mystery to all
but a few senior leaders of the party. While the policy review that
preceded the last party conference, in 2011, included broad debate by
rank-and-file party members, this time top officials have not shared
information with them or solicited their views.

This surreptitious approach is shortsighted at a time of change and
rising discontent. Ordinary Cubans, including those who are critical of
the Communist Party, should have a say in how the country will be run
and by whom, without fear of reprisal and persecution.

For many Cubans, the island's languishing economy is the most pressing
issue. In 2011, party leaders promised to overhaul the centrally planned
economy, but they have moved too slowly in opening up the country to
foreign investment and allowing a private sector to take root. The main
obstacle has been the Cuban military, which has long exercised monopoly
control over large segments of the economy, creating an oligarchy in
uniform that is reluctant to spread the wealth.

"If the state monopoly is not dismantled, nothing they do will work,"
Pavel Vidal, a prominent Cuban economist who is now based in Colombia,
said in an interview. "Cuba's greatest asset is a well-educated
population, but it must do more to reap the benefits of that."

The type of transformative changes many Cubans yearn for will require a
visionary leader. But it remains unclear who will lead the country when
Raúl Castro — who became president after his brother Fidel became ill in
2008 — steps down in 2018. Also uncertain is whether ordinary Cubans
will have a say in the new government.

The probable successor, Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, has
offered few clues about how he would govern. His relatively low profile
has led to speculation that he would be a far less powerful president
than either of the Castro brothers. Cuba analysts think it is likely
that Raúl Castro's son, Alejandro Castro, who was the main contact in
secret talks with the Obama administration that led to normalization of
relations with the United States, will continue to wield considerable
power behind the scenes.

Last year, the Cuban government said it was updating its electoral law.
That process, which has been shrouded in secrecy, fed hopes that the
country's Communist leaders could be contemplating a more democratic system.

"If they embrace true economic reforms and start a process that improves
the situation of civil and political rights, many Cubans would be
willing to forget the harm they have caused to date and the historical
judgment will be much less severe," José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of
the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the largest dissident group on the island,
said in an email.

If reforms continue at a glacial pace, young Cubans will keep fleeing
the island in droves, fueling a exodus that has become a referendum of

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