By Lorena Canto
Havana, Apr 16 (EFE).- Raul Castro’s retirement as Cuba’s Communist Party leader marks the end of an era but not of the centralized economy, which will continue, as he announced Friday, with fewer concessions to capitalism than many expected in face of the island’s economic crisis.
“There are limits that we cannot exceed because it would lead to the destruction of socialism,” Castro said in his opening report of the Eighth Congress of the party, the last one he’ll lead, before he is expected to be relieved as first secretary by current President Miguel Diaz-Canel.
Surrounded by strong secrecy, behind closed doors and without televised transmission, the four-day event is held in Havana with reduced capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic: 300 members compared to more than 1,000 at the previous congress in 2016 (the party has 700,000 members.)
With the country into its worst crisis in 30 years and the generalized shortage making a dent in the population, hopes are pinned on the party pushing free market reforms announced a decade ago and that after years of stagnation began to regain traction this year.
Castro spoke Friday about Cuba’s “structural problems,” “which do not provide incentives for work and innovation,” but also spoke about the im`portance of the state’s control over the means of production, and the monopoly of key sectors of the economy. imports and trade.
Cuban GDP plummeted 11 percent in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, domestic inefficiencies and the tightening of the United States embargo.
Even though Castro’s tone does not presage a radical turnaround, the event’s decisions will not be known for another three days, once the documents that party members will debate in three large committees over the weekend have been approved.
Beyond the economy, the event will also mark generational change. With the last Castro, it is expected that other veterans of the “historical generation” such as Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, party No. 2, will leave to promote leaders who, like Diaz-Canel, were born after the 1959 revolution.
The youngest of the Castros, 89, said his work “concludes with the satisfaction of having fulfilled the trust in the future of the country,” that no one forced him to leave and that he will continue to be a party member “as a revolutionary fighter” to make a “modest contribution until the end of life.”
The appointment also comes in a radically different scenario from that of the Seventh Congress: little or nothing remains from the thawing of relations with the United States, after four years of hostility during the Donald Trump Administration. The expansion of the internet and social networks on the island has meant the loss of decades of information and discourse hegemony for the party.
Cuba’s political polarization and the debates about the current situation in the country have been transferred with special fury to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. This has included the live broadcast of protests or government criticisms and an opening of direct access channels of citizens to their leaders. EFE