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Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Comunista de Cuba - PCC)

The Cuban Communist Party (PCC), the nation's only political party, wass long seen as unquestionably the most influential organization in Cuba. The PCC and its youth group, the Union of Young Communists (UJC), are active at all levels of the civilian and military establishments. The leaders believe that a strong military, steeped in Marxist-Leninist ideology, is crucial not only to Cuba's defense against external enemies, but also to the construction of a Socialist society. Political indoctrination at all levels stresses military discipline and the necessity for every person to defend the fatherland in any situation regardless of the cost. The indoctrination and tight PCC control have produced an extraordinary cohesion within the armed forces and unparalleled obedience to the regime.

Another perspective argues that, while the PCC has been weakened as an institution in Cuba's ongoing transition, the FAR has been able to adapt and consolidate its role as the pre-eminent institution behind the Castros. The FAR is still seen as one of the more pro-mass institutions in Cuba, as opposed to the PCC, to which less than three percent of the Cuban population belongs. Unlike Cuba's communist Party whose legitimacy has eroded because of the worldwide collapse of communism and the island's severe economic crisis, the FAR has emerged as the most powerful institution in Cuba today. The FAR possesses not only the weapons but also the organization, command structure, and leadership skills needed to take over in a crisis situation.

The Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Comunista de Cuba - PCC) was founded in Havana on August 16, 1925 and led in the early 1930s by Ruben Martinez Villena, a popular poet and intellectual, who directed the organization's activities and used it to influence the student movement. Espousing the usual anti-United States and nonintervention communist propaganda and advocating measures of social and economic significance for the less privileged sectors of society, in the 1930s the students monopolized the rhetoric of revolution. In 1940 Fulgencio Batista officially assumed the chief-executive office, securing his election through a coalition of political parties that included the communists. Batista initially catered to the left, allowing the communists complete freedom of operation.

Mter Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, the Cuban communists ended their denunciation of the United States as an imperialist power and began defending President Roosevelt as a "great statesman" and the war against Germany as a 'Just war." In 1944 the communists changed the name of their party from Communist Revolutionary Union (Union Revolucionaria Comunista - URC) to the People's Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Popular - PSP) and issued a mild political program that called for racial equality and women's rights. The program failed, however, to attack the United States or even to request agrarian reform or large-scale nationalization of foreign properties in Cuba. On April 7, 1943, Maxim Litvinov arrived in Havana and was accredited as Ambassador from the USSR. He was replaced by Andrei A. Gromiko a few months later. Not until very late in the anti-Batista struggle did the communists join the revolutionary forces, and even then their participation contributed little to the final overthrow of the regime.

Scholars throughout the years unceasingly have debated Castro's communism and the question of when Castro became a communist. By one view, ideologically, Fidel Castro was at first far from being a Marxist. Although strongly influenced by Falangist and fascist ideas while a high school student, and by Marxist ideas while at the University of Havana, Castro embraced none of these ideologies and was instead more a product of the Marti-Chibas tradition, although he broke with it in several fundamental respects. Whereas Marti and Chibas had envisioned reforms in a democratic framework in a nation politically and economically independent of the United States, they both advocated friendly relations with the "northern colossus." Castro did not. He had been anti-United States since his student days, when he distributed anti-United States propaganda in Bogota, Colombia, in 1948.

The growing radicalization of the regime was accompanied by the destruction of possible opposition and by the growth in influence of the PSP. Political parties were not permitted to function, with the exception of the communist PSP, which later merged with Castro's own Twenty-Sixth ofJuly Movement and adopted the party's original name, the PCC. Abetted by Castro, communists progressively occupied important positions in the government, gaining in prestige and influence. As a result, former Castro allies became disenchanted with the Revolution, believing that Castro had betrayed the ideals that he espoused while in the mountains.

Evidently, Castro saw significant advantages in using the PSP. The party provided the trained, disciplined, and organized cadres that Castro's movement lacked. But more importantly, the party had Moscow's ear, and therefore could serve as the bridge for any possible Cuban-Soviet rapprochement. Castro knew well that as he developed an anti-American revolution and insisted on remaining in power, a conflict with the United States would ensue. Only the protective umbrella of the Soviet Union could defend him against possible United States pressures or attack. No other power, Castro reasoned, could or would confront the United States over Cuba.

Castro's communist affiliations with the Third International for Latin America were not unknown; in the events of the so-called Bogotazo, some saw ample evidence providing proof that Castro was an agent of the Soviet Union intent on defeating the United States. As early as mid-1957, former Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs, Spruille Braden, who also served as U.S. ambassador to Cuba from 1943 to 1945, gave an interview to the Washington weekly, Human Events, citing Fidel Castro's communist activities. Vice President Richard M. Nixon expressed his concern over Castro's communism in a confidential memorandum distributed to the CIA, the State Department, and the White House following a three hour meeting with Castro during his visit to Washington in April 1959. Castro's trip had been arranged by Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, Roy Rubottom, who was fully aware of Castro's communist leanings and affiliations having been posted in Bogota, Colombia at the time of the Ninth Inter-American Conference in 1948, scene of the infamous Bogotazo.

In a 1987 book review entitled "Cuba and Its Critics," leftist Saul Landau referred to an interview he had had with Castro revealing his early dedication to communism. According to Landau, "Fidel Castro in 1968 explained to me that he had become a Marxist from the very time that he read the Communist Manifesto in his student days, and a Leninist from the period when he read Lenin while in prison on the Isle of Pines in 1954."

By the time Castro formally declared Cuba a socialist state on May 1, 1961(24) and proclaimed himself a "Marxist-Leninist" in a televised speech on December 2, 1961, communist power in Cuba had been consolidated. During the early period, the party remained small, disorganized, and relegated to a secondary position vis-a-vis the military. The decade of the 1970s was one of expansion and consolidation for the party. During the first half of the decade, membership expanded from some 55,000 in 1969 to 202,807 at the time of the First Party Congress in 1975. During the second half, the rapid rate of expansion slowed down somewhat. By the time of the Second Party Congress in 1980, there were fewer than 400,000 members and candidates. At the Third Party Congress (1986), Castro disclosed that full members and candidates numbered 482,000.

Mass organizations have served important social functions in Cuba since the early 1960s. As in former communist states such as the Soviet Union, mass organizations have been used to inculcate socialist values and to mobilize the population in support of the state. Mass organizations have also been entrusted with security, educational, and public health functions. Although in principle voluntary in nature-except for military service-mass organization membership since the 1960s has been a prerequisite for full participation in the country's political, economic, and social life. Almost every Cuban belongs to an organization controlled by the Communist Party: the party itself, a workers' union, the Cuban Federation of Women, a local cadre. Like Fidel, the party is all-pervasive. Ordinary jobs depend on ideological devotion. Report cards measure a student's political enthusiasm. Diligent schoolchildren receive the red or blue scarves of the Young Pioneers. Doubters about the revolution are gusanos, or worms. The three newspapers (different titles, one voice) retail the jargon of quotas, plans and exhortations.

Among the better known and largest Cuban mass organizations are the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (Comite de Defensa de la Revoluci6n-CDR), Federation of Cuban Women (Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas-FMC), Cuban Workers Federation (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba-CTC), National Association of Small Farmers (Asociacion Nacional de Agricultores Pequenos-ANAP), Youth Labor Army (Ejercito Juvenil de Trabajo-EJT), and Union of Young Communists (Union de Jovenes Comunistas-UJC). There are also several student organizations, such as the Federation of University Students (Federacion Estudiantil Universitaria-FEU) and the Federation of Secondary School Students (Federacion de Estudiantes de la Ensenanza Media-FEEM).

In the wake of the democratic tidal wave that swept away Cuba's allies in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1989-91, Castro defiantly maintained that Cuba's "socialist" system was unique and would remain unaffected by the sudden demise of East European socialism and the rise of democratic reformism. While the Castro government pursued a policy of fostering foreign relations with most countries, it simultaneously sought to keep the Cuban population from being contaminated ideologically, not only by the democratic revolution that had overpowered his former communist allies but also by other outside influences, such as democracy in the Americas, globalization, and capitalism.

The PCC's members were well regarded by their fellow citizens, but the party as such was not. The PCC as an institution weakened also in the early to mid-1990s, although an attempt was made to reinvigorate it in time for the Fifth Party Congress. The strengthening of the PCC in 1997 may have set the basis for a future "renewed communist" party, as in Poland, Lithuania, or Hungary in the mid-1990s.

In October 1991, the Fourth Congress of the PCC met to assess the wreckage of international communism. The Soviet Union was on the verge of disintegration, and the Soviet Communist Party was rapidly losing its hold on power. The Fourth Congress declared that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the communist regimes ofEurope was a "political disaster" that stemmed from avoidable mistakes, which the PCC would avoid. One consequence, according to the Fourth Congress, was the establishment ofa "unipolar world" in which United States military power reigned. And one manifestation of that power was the Gulf War on Iraq, which was designed to intimidate any government daring to differ with the United States.

Thus, the Fourth Congress took heart that Cuba had been invited to the first Summit of Iberoamerican heads of government, held in Guadalajara, Mexico, months earlier, and hoped that Latin American countries would join to advance their common interests. It hailed the world's remaining communist governments, all of them in East Asia. But it reached out generally to governments everywhere in search of support. It underlined the repatriation of Cuban troops from Mrican soil and Cuba's disposition to work within the United Nations system. It clearly sought to avoid needless trouble.

At home, the Fourth Congress affirmed its conviction that Marxism-Leninism remained its guide to the future, but it noted-for the first time in the history of these documentsthat this ideology "should not be applied dogmatically." Moreover, the PCC would apply these principles taking into account Cuba's new circumstances. The Fourth Congress recognized that "the world has changed. Today the enemies of the people feel stronger than ever." But it stated its conviction that a greater strength is the "will to independence, freedom, and development of every people. The duty of every revolutionary continues to be to make the Revolution, and to defend it." Thus, the Fourth Congress proclaimed that it would make no concessions, for concessions are the path to ruin. Defiant still, Fidel Castro's government was not ready to fold.

And yet, the Fourth Congress understood that it had to adjust to the changed international circumstances. One adjustment has already been mentioned: the full repatriation of Cuban troops, mainly from Mrica but also from other countries, which was completed by the time the Fourth Congress met. A more regime-changing adjustment was the reorientation ofeconomic policy. The Fourth Congress set its own priority clearly: "The supreme objective [is] to save the Homeland, the Revolution, and Socialism." The Fourth Congress endorsed the continued use of traditional instruments, such as mass mobilizations, to produce food or address other tasks; these measures had typically been inefficient in their use ofresources and often ineffective in terms ofreaching their objectives, however.

In Cuba's newly dire circumstances, the Fourth Congress understood that it had to authorize changes in economic policy. It endorsed the development of an international tourism industry as a new engine of growth that, by the late 1990s, had become a crucial earner of foreign exchange. The Fourth Congress authorized a slight liberalization of self-employment, especially in services, even though clear preference was expressed for centralization of ownership, management, and planning; such liberalization of self-employment would be implemented two years later.

More dramatically, the Fourth Congress authorized retroactively a new policy on foreign direct investment. In so doing, the Fourth Congress departed from a foundational decision at the origins ofrevolutionary rule in Cuba, namely, the expropriation of all foreign firms. The Fourth Congress affirmed that foreign investment should be notjust tolerated but "promoted" and that considerable flexibility should govern its terms of entry.

An important social and political change had also been authorized by the PCC's Political Bureau prior to the Fourth Congress and simply ratified by it. In the "Call to the Fourth Congress," the party pledged "sincere communication with ... members ofvarious religious denominations who share our life and endorse our program ... although some aspects of their ideology may differ from ours." At the Fourth Congress, PCC Statutes were changed to permit religious believers to join its ranks provided they otherwise supported the party's program.

Despite these significant changes, the main thrust of the Fourth Party Congress was to resist widespread political change. In December 1991, Carlos Aldana Escalante, PCC secretary for ideology and for international relations and Fidel Castro's principal political agent in the late 1980s and early 1990s, addressed the National Assembly. Aldana had been the only top PCC leader who had ever implied in public that he thought well of "reform communism" in Central and Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Aldana rectified his views. He denounced those who still advocated the implementation in Cuba ofreforms akin to those blamed for the collapse of communist regimes in Europe. Despite his adoption of this harder line, Aldana, too, was dismissed from office for various reasons in September 1992.

In October 1997, the Fifth Congress of the PCC convened, to the general relief of its members. They had survived. Their political regime had endured. Cuba had succeeded in resisting the sharper onslaught of United States policies during the 1990s. The Cuban economy had nosedived in the early years of the decade as a consequence of the ending of Soviet subsidies and the disruption of Cuban international trade, but the economy's decline had stopped in 1994, and a modest economic recovery had begun. Cuba was the only extant communist regime outside East Asia. The forecasts of many in Washington and Miami that the Cuban regime would tumble like other communist regimes had proved off the mark. From the perspective of the leadership of the PCC, Cuba's survival was a stunning triumph.

Nonetheless, there was a cloud hovering over the party. Fidel Castro had disappeared from public view during the preceding summer months. Now he looked gaunt, having lost much weight in the interim. As if seeking to reassure the 1,500 delegates to the Fifth Congress that he was still in fine shape, Castro spoke for six hours and forty minutes. He recalled the difficult days of the early 1990s and detailed the significance of their success in overcoming those problems. The PCC, he believed, had made "acceptable concessions" in its preferred policies in order to survive. As he had said so many times during the early 1990s, Castro emphasized that he did not like the policies that he and the government and the party had been compelled to authorize, in particular the large-scale development of the tourism industry and the welcome to foreign investment. But these policies were necessary to obtain capital, technology, and access to markets, and they had already proven successful, he said.

Fidel Castro noted new sources of concern. Market-oriented policies had generated new inequalities. Crime had increased. And some of the newly preferred strategies for development, such as Basic Units of Cooperative Production (Unidades Basicas de Producci6n Cooperativa-UBPC), which are semi-private agricultural cooperatives, were not working well. But he praised the party's resourcefulness in overcoming the "setbacks, bitterness, and deceptions" associated with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The PCC had rallied to the defense of the regime, said Castro, and it had prevailed.

The principal debate at the Fifth Congress centered on the new economic policy of the 1990s. Successful though it had been in rescuing the Cuban economy from further catastrophes, it was very different from the preferences of many Fifth Congress delegates for a centralized command economy. Vice President Carlos Lage, the political architect of the economic reforms, admitted that prices in those food markets and restaurants where demand and supply were allowed to play freely were often well above the purchasing power of Cuban workers. But he resisted suggestions for renewed state intervention in these markets, arguing instead for further incentives to increase production. Lage warned that renewed statism would stimulate criminality and the black market. Lage also resisted a generalized salary increase; the nation could not afford it. He preached the virtues of efficiency, balanced budgets, and control of inflation. Fortunately for Lage, he was publicly backed by Fidel Castro. Castro acknowledged the problems and reiterated his dislike of these "painful remedies," but argued that current economic policies were sound.

The Fifth Congress's resolution on the economy reflected the prevailing balance of power. The Fifth Congress took note that the United States should be expected to continue its "economic war" on Cuba. Consequently, Cuba would continue to face an adverse international economic and financial environment. Therefore, the "key objective of economic policy is efficiency," provided, to be sure, that all of the changes already adopted or about to be introduced "would always be directed to preserve the socialist essence of the Revolution."

The Fifth Congress stood firm on political changes. Perhaps its aversion to change is best summarized in the title of the political resolution approved by the Fifth Congress: "The Party of Unity, Democracy, and the Human Rights That We Defend." The closing phrase of the title implied that there were some human rights that this party chose not to defend.

In November 2009 the Cuban government suspended plans for the Communist Party's first congress in 12 years, as leaders focus on repairing the nation's battered economy. The state-run Granma newspaper quotes President Raul Castro as saying party leaders are analyzing the economy to determine, in his words, "what must be perfected and even eliminated." The congress, which last gathered in 1997, was scheduled to meet late this year in order to set a long-term course for Cuba's future. The congress was expected to consider Cuba's future for long after President Castro, and his older brother and former President Fidel Castro, are gone. Elections also were expected to be held to fill key Communist Party positions.

About 1,000 delegates convened for the four-day party convention in April 2011, which is only the sixth time the party has met in its nearly 50-year history. The last gathering was in 1997. On April 18, 2011 Cuban President Raul Castro was named the head of the nation's ruling Communist Party, officially replacing his brother, former President Fidel Castro, who held the post since the party's founding 46 years earlier. President Raul Castro was named First Secretary Tuesday during a Communist Party Congress in Havana. Despite raising hopes during the gathering that a new generation of leaders could step up to top posts, the 79-year-old president said 80-year-old Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura would be his No. 2 in the party. Raul Castro introduced economic reforms in Cuba, but told the party congress that he will never allow the return of capitalism.

Cuban President Raul Castro has proposed term limits for Cuban politicians serving on the island nation that has been ruled for 52 years by him and his brother, Fidel. In his opening address Saturday at the Congress for Cuba's ruling Communist Party, Raul Castro said politicians should be limited to two, five-year terms. He gave few details of the restrictions.

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Page last modified: 05-04-2013 18:26:22 ZULU