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Reuters, April 15, 2021

Marc Frank

Article: Pressure to Accelerate Economic

Cuban Communist Party leader Raul Castro promised a decade ago he would
transform the Soviet-style command economy into a more mixed and market-driven
one “without haste and without pause.”

Now, with
the Caribbean country in crisis and even the most basic goods in short supply,
the party is under pressure to act faster as it convenes this weekend for its
eighth congress since the 1959 Revolution

The April
16-19 congress comes as Cubans battle worsening shortages of basic goods,
including food and medicine. An economic crisis has been exacerbated by a
tightening of decades-old U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

“I hope
that the congress will take a deep look at our internal problems, not to
reiterate promises but to quickly solve them,” said Julian Valdes, a
government accountant in Havana.

experts say reform has been undermined by vested bureaucratic interests and
ideologues within the party. They will be reading the tea leaves as new leaders
emerge in the all powerful politburo at the summit.

congress will mark the end of the Castro era as the 89-year-old Raul Castro –
the brother of late revolutionary leader Fidel – resigns as party secretary,
the most powerful position in Cuba.

Miguel Diaz-Canel is widely expected to replace him. “If President Miguel
Diaz-Canel is given the post of party secretary, it would strengthen his
ability to take decisions and it might augur well for more expansive
reforms,” said Carlos Saladrigas, president of the Cuba Study Group,
composed of Cuban-American business people in favor of engagement with their

however, someone else is appointed, especially from the ‘old guard’, it would
possibly indicate… continuing economic stagnation,” he added.

long-time European investor in Cuba agreed, saying the government needed to
push ahead with reforms to improve competitiveness, including further
devaluation of the peso currency, liberalization of agriculture, and greater
incorporation of small- and medium-sized companies into the economy.

The pace
of that would be dictated by personnel changes announced at the congress, he
said, requesting anonymity.

60, said at a meeting last week on agriculture that “everything that
stimulates production, eliminates red tape and benefits producers is
favorable.”  That captures the
essence of reforms adopted by the party at its sixth congress in 2011 and again
five years ago at the seventh congress, but which have stalled amid resistance
from some party members and ideological infighting.

The party
has previously pledged to regulate and tax, not administer state-owned
businesses; allow markets more sway over the central planning system and
agriculture; do more to attract foreign investment; and support private


Kirk, a Cuba expert at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, said there was much
more to be done to free up the private sector, agriculture and foreign

Cuban government has taken only baby steps in all of these areas, and needs to
show greater initiative,” he said.

Over the
last nine months, following four years of stagnation and in 2020 an 11%
contraction of the economy, the government has made more forceful changes.

It has
granted more autonomy to state businesses to earn and spend hard currency and
loosened regulations on small private ones. It has also unified its two
currencies and devalued the remaining peso, cut utility and other subsidies,
and decentralized the pricing and sale of some farm products.

do not eat plans,” Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said this month,
expressing the new sense of urgency.

That will
be the underlying theme of the economic debate at the congress, according to
Cuban economist Omar Everleny.

said Cubans understood U.S. sanctions and the pandemic were partly to blame for
the hardships they faced, but also were tired of excuses and foot-dragging by

people demand more concrete actions and results from the party,” he said,
using agriculture as an example.  “It
is not enough to make an effort: there must be results. Thousands of measures
have been taken in agriculture, but the results are not yet on the shelves of
the average Cuban,” he said.