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#405180 - 04/15/11 11:42 AM Cuba Set For Crucial Communist Party Congress
Marty Online   happy
Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- With a few taps of the hammer and some expertly placed glue, Elio Mendoza can extend the life of even the most well-worn shoes.

Now, he hopes the Cuban government can do the same for the country's sagging economy when it holds the first Communist Party Congress in nearly 14 years, starting on Saturday.

"It's up to the Congress to improve things," Mendoza says as he replaces the heel on a pair of red flats. "We need a new culture: If you work you get ahead. If you don't work, you lose."

Mendoza is part of a small, but growing class of micro-entrepreneurs, self-employed barbers, plumbers, taxi drivers and other artisans in a country where nearly 90 percent of the economy is still run by the state.

A former steelworker, Mendoza says he wouldn't go back to working for the state.

"It's better than before," he says. "Before it was, yes boss, no boss. Now I'm the boss."

President Raul Castro has begun the biggest shakeup of the Soviet-style economy in decades.

The government plans to eliminate more than one million state jobs-- a full 20 percent of the workforce -- by 2015.

At the same time, it has set down guidelines for the expansion of the private sector to soak up some of the unemployed, allowing Cubans to take out licenses for 178 different occupations.

Since November, more than 170,000 people have bought licenses, most of them related to food preparation.

High-end restaurants like El Carruaje offer imported cheese and wine and a gently gurgling fountain to attract tourists and big spenders.

But most new establishments are modest affairs.

Julia, who like several people interviewed for this story asked that her full name not be used, does a brisk business selling coffee and homemade éclairs at a stand in her driveway.

"It's a good place because we're across the street from the hospital," she says. "It's all about location."

Clients also line up for pizza and pastries at a private stall next door, while the state-run fish restaurant down the street stands empty.

"The private places are better quality, better price and better service," says Victor, a construction worker.

Even so, many of the newly self-employed have had to shut down within a couple of months, unable to pay state taxes.

Economic reforms will be the focus of the Congress that kicks off on Saturday, with a military parade to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Cuba's victory over the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion. The summit will continue through Tuesday.

Castro has to ease concerns about massive layoffs in the public sector and encourage alternatives once scorned.

"We need to change the negative perception that so many of us have for this kind of private work," he said during a speech in December.

Castro insists the changes will not undermine Cuba's socialist system but help strengthen it.

"Either we rectify the situation or the time is up as we close in on the precipice," he said in the same speech. "We will fall and along with us entire generations will fall."

He called for Cubans to debate the proposed changes openly.

In the days ahead of the Congress, Cubans were doing just that.

"I'm not afraid to talk," said one man as he snacked on one of Julia's eclairs. "For years, the government was the only one who didn't want these changes. But they had to, because they were up to their neck."

For the construction worker Victor, more changes are still needed.

"Cubans also need the freedom to buy and sell their own home, paying taxes to the government, of course," he said.

A group of nurses standing outside the hospital said they also want to see improvements for the millions of Cubans like themselves who still do work for the state.

"Right now, I don't think the Congress is doing anything at all for people like us," one woman said.

#405181 - 04/15/11 11:44 AM Re: Cuba Set For Crucial Communist Party Congress [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy
CUBA: Today's Youth, As Diverse As the Times
By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Apr 13, 2011 (IPS) - Mariana García is a child of the 1990s, when Cuba was in the grip of the severe crisis that hit the island after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the East European socialist bloc. She grew up bombarded by the first video games and surrounded by people who talked more about how to get by than about their dreams and ideals.

Aware that she and other young people have been assigned the role of continuing the process of social changes that began with the Jan. 1, 1959 triumph of the revolution led by Fidel Castro, García says she prefers to avoid "big words" and that she sees Cuba as "a country where a lot has been done, but there is still a great deal to do, and, especially, to improve."

The Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), to be held Apr. 15-17 in Havana, places its hopes for continuity of the country's socialist system and for fresh blood to replace the long-time leaders of the revolution on people like García, who are sometimes impetuous and hypercritical.

The 22-year-old university student complains of the tendency to criticise Cuba's younger generations. "My father says young people today are lost, but he forgets that my grandmother said the same thing about him," García says, citing an old proverb: "People resemble their times more than they resemble their parents."

And they are not only different from their parents. Studies show that, in keeping with international trends, young Cubans are increasingly diverse.

While one segment of today's youth – in which women outnumber men – attends the university, others have decided instead to join the job market. Cuba also has a fast-growing counterculture movement, with hundreds or even thousands of youngsters gathering in their different "urban tribes" on weekend nights along Calle G, one of Havana's main avenues.

The tribes are largely differentiated by their musical tastes: the rockers (rockeros), who are divided among metalheads (metaleros), new metalheads, punks, hippies and freaks (frikis); the "emos," devotees of a subgenre of dark, broody rock music; the "mikis," who listen to electroacoustic, disco and Cuba's native-grown trova music; and the "reparteros," who follow reggaeton, hip hop, rap and timba (often referred to as Cuban salsa).

The youngsters, in Havana and other cities, form part of the generation of the MP3, the flash drive and the condom tucked in the pocket.

Although young people have not turned their backs on the common features of their national identity, there are different elements that reflect "the evident diversity among today's youth," sociologist María Isabel Domínguez told IPS.

Domínguez, the director of the Centre for Psychological and Sociological Research (CIPS), said the major differences arise from gender, place of residence, race, social background, educational level and access to opportunities.

The crisis generation

Four or five generations coexist in Cuba today in constantly shifting relations. Some, like the generations of the 1970s and the 1980s, are starting to merge, while others have not developed a specific identity. Then there are the generations marked by periods of transition.

Those who were young during "the 1960s transition are the generation of the revolution, while the people of the 1990s are the crisis generation," Domínguez said.

The former group, made up of those who were older children or young teenagers in 1959, intensely experienced the changes ushered in by the revolution as well as a radical break with earlier generations, in both the private and public spheres.

The latter is the generation of the economic crisis of the 1990s, the most difficult period in the second half of the 20th century in Cuba. The revolution may have equalled "opportunity" for their parents, but circumstances were markedly different for those who were young during the so-called "special period" – the euphemistic name given to the crisis.

It was not just about the economic impact of the fall of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc, Cuba's main aid and trade partners, or of the stiffening of the U.S. embargo, but about a widening of social inequalities and a deterioration of living conditions.

The generation gap is reflected by the evolution of the different groups' biggest aspirations and hopes, according to studies carried out by CIPS.

Among those who were between the ages of 14 and 30 in the 1980s, the chief aspiration was a good education, and material living standards were ranked in fourth place. But among people who were young in the 1990s, the top priorities were family, living conditions, improving one's life by means of higher incomes, and spiritual satisfaction.

"When I was a teenager I had just one pair of jeans, only two different shirts, and a pair of Russian boots," says Rafael Sánchez, a 46-year-old cultural promoter. "I would have wanted more, but it wasn't a big deal, because that's how most people lived. We were also constantly dreaming of a better future. The young people of today don’t live in the future, but in the present."

New approaches

A look at the half century since the Cuban revolution shows "a common context, values and practices" shared by the few generations that have lived in that period, but also "variations and a need for readjustments and reconstructions of the ways of thinking and doing, new approaches," Domínguez says.

The author of several publications on young people says Cuban society "is in need of these constant adjustments," because the country's institutions are often tied to "learned ways of doing things, formulas that worked at one time" but have been enshrined as "permanent and immutable."

"The process of generational succession is didactic, made up of continuities and ruptures," she says. "Each new generation inherits things, while at the same time it builds and creates new approaches to whatever stage of life they are in. That is the story of humanity."

Young people, defined by the United Nations as those between the ages of 15 and 24, make up 18 percent of the world population. Around 87 percent of youths live in developing countries.

In the case of Cuba, where the experts include people up to the age of 30 in that category, 2.2 million of the 11.2 million people who lived in the country in 2009 were between the ages of 15 and 29, according to the National Statistics Office.

#405351 - 04/17/11 09:42 AM Re: Cuba Set For Crucial Communist Party Congress [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy
By PETER ORSI, Associated Press

HAVANA – Raul Castro proposed term limits Saturday for Cuban politicians — including himself — a remarkable gesture on an island ruled for 52 years by him and his brother. The 79-year-old president lamented the lack of young leaders in government, saying the country was paying the price for errors made in the past.

Castro told delegates to a crucial Communist Party summit that he would launch a "systematic rejuvenation" of the government. He said politicians and other important officials should be restricted to two consecutive five-year terms, including "the current president of the Council of State and his ministers" — a reference to himself.

Castro officially took over from his brother Fidel in 2008, meaning he would be at least 86 at the end of a second term, depending on how the law is written.

The proposal was made toward the end of a 2 1/2 hour speech in which the Cuban leader forcefully backed a laundry list of changes to the country's socialist economic system, including the eventual elimination of ration books and other subsidies, the decentralization of the island nation's economy and a new reliance on supply and demand in some sectors.

Still, he drew a line in the Caribbean sand as to which reforms should remain, telling party luminaries that he had rejected dozens of suggested reforms that would have allowed the concentration of property in private hands.

Castro said the country had ignored its problems for too long, and made clear Cuba had to make tough decisions if it wanted to survive.

"No country or person can spend more than they have," he said. "Two plus two is four. Never five, much less six or seven — as we have sometimes pretended."

Dressed in a white guayabera shirt, the Cuban leader alternated between reassurances that the economic changes were compatible with socialism, and a brutal assessment of the mistakes the country had made. Fidel Castro was not present for the speech.

Raul Castro said the monthly ration book of basic foods, perhaps the most cherished of subsidies, represented an "unbearable burden ... and a disincentive for work."

He said the changes he is proposing will come "without hurry, but without pause."

Still, he added that "there will never be room for shock therapy" in Cuba.

Of term limits, Castro said he and his brother had made various attempts to promote young leaders, but that they had not worked out well — perhaps a reference to the 2009 firing of Cuba's photogenic foreign minister and vice president, who were later accused of lusting too obviously for power.

"Today we face the consequences of not having a reserve of substitutes ready," Castro said.

Like the proposals on economic changes, the term-limit idea does not yet carry the force of law since the party gathering lacks the powers of parliament. But it's all but certain to be acted on quickly by the National Assembly.

The Communist Party is the only political organization recognized on the island, and most politicians are members. Cubans vote for municipal and national assemblies, which in turn elect senior leaders including the president. Currently there is no set limit on their terms.

Since taking office, Raul Castro has leased tens of thousands of hectares of fallow government land to small farmers, and enacted reforms that allow Cubans to go into business for themselves, rent out homes and hire employees.

Cubans are watching to see whether other changes emerge from the Congress — such as the end of a near-total ban on buying and selling private property, or details on promises to extend bank credits.

Raul Castro has also pledged to end Cuba's unusual two-tiered currency system, where wages are paid in pesos, while many imported goods are available only in a dollar-linked economy beyond most people's reach. The president, however, has said little about how or when he will accomplish that.

The other major prong of the modernization drive — a goal of laying off half a million state workers in jobs that are unproductive and redundant — has been delayed indefinitely.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a Florida-based Cuba economics expert, said the changes so far have not been sufficient to revive the island's sputtering economy, and more must be done.

Authorities need to expand private business licenses to the professional class to stop the brain drain, reduce taxes on earnings and deliver badly needed credit and training, among other measures, Mesa-Lago said.

"If you want to get rid of all this dead wood which costs a lot of money, and have money to be able to pay better wages, then you have to give priority to job creation," Mesa-Lago said. "You shouldn't be punishing these people who are trying to expand these jobs."

Also key is the question of the Communist Party's top leadership, which will be decided at the close of the Congress. Raul Castro presumably will be named to succeed older brother Fidel as first secretary, but it is unknown who may be tapped to be No. 2.

Castro's speech about rejuvenating the political system added to hopes that a younger politician might take up that mantle, perhaps signaling a preferred successor.

Castro himself has said the party gathering will likely be the last of its kind under the generation that launched the 1959 revolution, many of whom are already in their graves. Since the last party Congress in 1997, Cuba has lost such giants as Vilma Espin, Raul's wife and a major revolutionary figure in her own right; and Juan Almeida, a vice president and commander of the revolution who died last year.

Earlier Saturday, Cuba put on a rousing military and civilian parade to mark the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs attack of 1961, when Fidel Castro's 2-year-old government routed an invasion force of some 1,200 Cuban exiles supported by the CIA.

Thousands of soldiers high-stepped through sprawling Revolution Plaza as a military band played martial music beneath the gaze of an iconic image of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Helicopters whirred and jet fighters in combat formation roared overhead while freshly painted amphibious assault vehicles and rocket launchers rumbled past a saluting Raul Castro up on the dais. Before becoming president, Castro was head of the armed forces.

Behind the troops marched hundreds of thousands of Cubans who waved to Castro. "Long live Cuba! Long live Fidel! Long live Raul!" they shouted.

"It is a really good party," said Anaibis Fernandez, a 54-year-old employee at a Havana sports facility who was among the marchers. "There are a lot of people here, and it's very well organized."


Associated Press writers Anne-Marie Garcia, Andrea Rodriguez and Paul Haven contributed to this report.

#405352 - 04/17/11 09:50 AM Re: Cuba Set For Crucial Communist Party Congress [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy
You Say Bay of Pigs, I Say ...
For the New York Times

FOR weeks, Cuba has been preparing for this weekend’s huge military parade, the first of its kind in many years.

Fidel Castro has been musing in his regular column about the disaster in Japan and comparing NATO’s intervention in Libya to the Nazi involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Although he says nothing about the parade, everyone knows it’s coming.

Children have been practicing for a performance that will take place on the stage that is the Plaza de la Revolución. Yadira, the daughter of a friend of mine, has had to stay up late for several nights now to hone her marching skills. She will hold a cardboard pencil twice as tall as she is, and will be dressed up as one of the militia members who fought off the invaders during what Americans and Cuban émigrés call the Battle of the Bay of Pigs, which began 50 years ago Sunday.

Thousands of workers have been mobilized by the government to take part in the parade. Semi-retired soldiers have been called back up and outdated Russian armaments dusted off so they can be dragged through the streets. Airplanes are supposed to fly above.

I am sitting in my kitchen with my friend Adrian and my mother when we hear them whirring in the sky. “That’s a familiar sound,” says my mother. A half-century ago, she bore witness to the chain of events that the Cuban government is now trying to relive by retelling the story of a victory and the fulfillment of a national dream.

In Cuba, we do not call it the Bay of Pigs. Instead we call it the Battle of Playa Girón, after the beach where the main battle was fought. As always, there are two ways of talking about what happened: Mercenaries (or patriots), under orders from (with the support of) the C.I.A., attacked (tried to liberate) Cuba, at a place called Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs).

“We can’t even agree on the name of the place,” says Adrian, who is a historian. Or its geography. For some people, it’s a beach. For others, a bay. While people here celebrate the defeat of an imperialist’s mercenaries, in Miami the survivors of the 2506 Brigade reconvene to commemorate the day Cuban patriots fought against a tyrant in the name of democracy and freedom.

Between sips of hot coffee mixed with ground split peas, which is the cheapest drink you can buy on the streets here, Adrian talks about the contradictions of Cuban history, beginning with the revolutionaries who came with Fidel Castro on a yacht from Mexico in 1956 through the civil war that followed the departure of the dictator Fulgencio Batista. “Many people died during those 10 years,” he says. “We don’t know the real history of that period, because everyone wants to push their version of the story, hoping that theirs is the only one that gets told.”

We hear another plane and for a minute the three of us say nothing.

“What we call Playa Girón is just one area within the Bay of Pigs,” Adrian points out, smiling, as if it’s that simple. “See? It doesn’t seem so difficult. But we love to contaminate words, fill them with extraverbal connotations. We even do it with people’s names. Calling him Fidel is not the same as calling him Castro.” Fidel is a close friend and Castro is a distant enemy. “Ideologically those are two irreconcilable terms.”

“And of course” — I am thinking out loud — “nobody is willing to compromise. The creation of a Bay of Girón is, for the moment, highly unlikely.”

My mother turns on the television. On every channel, there are announcements for the official event:

“The second secretary of the Central Committee and president of the Councils of State and Ministers, Raúl Castro Ruz, during his closing speech at the sessions of the National Assembly of People’s Power, announced that the Communist Party of Cuba would soon be holding its Sixth Congress ... to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the socialist nature of the Cuban Revolution and the Playa Girón victory.”

There will be many speeches in the Plaza de la Revolución this weekend, and I imagine in America as well. But when I look outside, the streets are quiet. Most Cubans are standing in the shade of front doors and building entrances, escaping the tropical sun and dehydration. They are selling toothpicks and homemade costume jewelry. They are taking advantage of the more liberal economic measures announced by Raúl Castro last year, which are intended to let more Cubans open small businesses.

When the pageantry is over, everyone knows that these liberal economic policies are what Congress, and the Cuban people, will really be talking about.

Lizabel Mónica runs the online magazine Desliz. This essay was translated by Kristina Cordero from the Spanish.


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