Cuban Leaders Criticize Both Bureaucracy and Private Sector

Some of Cuba's most powerful officials criticized the creaking inefficiency of its state-controlled economy on Monday but tarred its vibrant private sector as a potential source of U.S. subversion.

The comments illustrated the conundrum faced by a Cuban government simultaneously trying to modernize and maintain control in a new era of detente with Washington.

The Cuban Communist Party ended the third day of its twice-a-decade congress with a vote for the 114-member Central Committee, which in turn selects the powerful 15-member Political Bureau. The bureau's first and second secretaries are the country's top officials.

Monday's vote, like the rest of the congress, was open only to 1,000 delegates, 280 hand-selected guests and state journalists, whose reports revealed virtually no concrete details of the policies that will guide the government for the next five years.

The Seventh Party Congress has been criticized for its extreme secrecy by ordinary Cubans and even members of the Communist Party itself. State media said the results of the voting would be revealed Tuesday.

Cuban President and First Party Secretary Raul Castro opened the meeting Saturday with a somber evaluation of the state of reforms he introduced after taking over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008. Raul Castro blamed "an obsolete mentality" and "attitude of inertia" for the state's failure to implement reforms meant to increase productivity.

First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, long seen as Castro's successor, repeated that criticism of the bureaucracy in a speech Monday announcing the congress' formal acceptance of Castro's evaluation. He said obsolete ways of thinking led both to inertia in enacting reforms and "a lack of confidence in the future."

"Along with other deficiencies, there's a lack of readiness, high standards and control, and little foresight or initiative from sectors and bureaucrats in charge of making these goals a reality," Diaz-Canel said in an excerpt of a speech broadcast on state television.

However, lengthy state media reports on the four-day congress focused less on proposals for reform than on debates about political orthodoxy focusing on the need to protect Cuba's socialist system from the threat of global capitalism and U.S. influence in particular.

A month after President Barack Obama's visit to Havana, the first by a U.S. president in nearly 90 years, Cuban leaders have begun to consistently portray his trip as an attempt to seduce ordinary Cubans into abandoning the country's socialist values in favor of a desire for free markets and multiparty democracy.

On Saturday, Castro said "the enemy" was targeting young people, intellectuals, the poor and the 500,000 members of Cuba's new private sector as vulnerable to persuasion.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez went further, calling Obama's visit "an attack on the foundation of our history, our culture and our symbols."

"Obama came here to dazzle the non-state sector, as if he wasn't the representative of big corporations but the defender of hot dog vendors, of small businesses in the United States, which he isn't," Rodriguez said.

Rene Gonzalez, a former intelligence agent held in the United States in a case resolved by the declaration of detente with Washington, made an unusual call for the consideration of political reform in Cuba.

Saying the party had focused excessively on the economy for 10 years, he said, "Let the party call for a broad public discussion that goes beyond concepts of economic development."

"Let's arrive at the eighth party congress for the first time in human history with a consensus on that human aspiration that some call democracy, and that's possible through socialism," Gonzalez said.

State media did not indicate whether his proposal was included in any of the formal documents put up for a vote during the congress.

Aged 55 and 58, respectively, Diaz-Canel and Rodriguez are members of the generation expected to move into the highest ranks of power in Cuba as early as Tuesday when the congress' vote is announced.

Castro said Saturday that he was proposing an age limit of 60 for election to the Central Committee and 70 for lower-ranking but important posts in the party.

Castro is 84 and his second secretary, hardliner Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, is 85.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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