© 2022 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Here Comes Another Cuban Communist Congress. And More Marxist Meltdown?

Ramon Espinosa
HOLD MY PLACE Cubans wait in line for food to become available at a store in Havana last year.

COMMENTARY Raúl Castro is stepping down as Cuba's top comunista. But can we still expect the same dogmatic disappointment from Cuban comunismo?

On Friday, Cuba’s ruling communists kick off their party congress – a stultifying, every-five-years convention that makes Vatican synods look like beehives of liberalizing reform.

WLRN is committed to providing the trusted news and local reporting you rely on. Please keep WLRN strong with your support today. Donate now. Thank you.

This time, though, the Party party’s got buzz! Raúl Castro is stepping down as Cuba’s top comunista, three years after he relinquished Cuba’s presidency. That means for the first time in 62 years — since Raúl’s late brother Fidel installed his revolution — a Castro won’t hold at least one of the island’s most important reins of power.

Like every retiree, the 89-year-old Raúl might want to keep active with volunteer work. And Cubans could suggest just the thing: taking a lawn chair out to one of the country’s chronically shortage-plagued grocery stores and holding someone’s place in line during interminable stretches waiting for chicken or soap to become available.

READ MORE: Party Time in Cuba – With Marx, Not Mojitos. Here's What the Congress May Do

As their economy keeps collapsing and their shop-waiting keeps getting longer, that place-holding service has become a big deal for Cubans. It would give Raúl a chance to see up-close the soul-crushing time and effort it takes regular Cubans to get through each day — thanks largely to the socialist dogma Cuba's geriatric revolucionarios, and a new generation of geriatric-spirited revolucionarios like President Miguel Díaz-Canel, keep cramming down the country's throat at every party congress every five years.

But oh! every lefty Cuba apologist is screaming at me now, how dare I blame la revolución when the imperialist U.S. economic embargo is the cause of Cubans’ suffering!

I am and always have been willing to walk down that road with you for a mile or so. I too favor lifting the embargo to give suffering Cubans relief and greater access to basic necessities. But I favor scrapping it just as much because it gives the Cuban regime an all too convenient scapegoat for its repression, mismanagement and corruption – which would still exist, comrades, without the embargo.

Cuba’s future looks hopeless until these ossified party congresses wrest more of the island’s economy out of the iron, wealth-grabbing fists of military commanders and into the industrious, wealth-producing hands of private entrepreneurs.

Which is why after that mile I turn off your road and arrive at this conclusion: Cuba’s future looks hopeless until these ossified party congresses wrest more of the island’s economy out of the iron, wealth-grabbing fists of military commanders and into the industrious, wealth-producing hands of private entrepreneurs.

If the last congress had done that in 2016, Cuba might have resisted the double economic cudgel of the pandemic and the pandering of Donald Trump to hardline Cuban exiles who wanted to turn the financial screws on Havana again. Instead, revenues from its most important cash cow, tourism, have plummeted more than 75 percent the past year. Meanwhile, the regime has only grudgingly, haltingly and minimally permitted private businesses – and prevented them from building the true microeconomic lifeboats the island so desperately needs.


In fact, 2016 may have been the Cuban regime’s last chance to retain the democratic world’s patience – and it blew it spectacularly.

President Obama had re-established relations with the island; he’d made concessions to Havana as well as the first U.S. presidential visit there in almost a century; hell, even the Rolling Stones had come to play. And so the U.S. and the international community waited to see if la revolución would reciprocate with even a Caribbean whisper of economic and democratic reform.

Ismael Francisco
Raul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel in 2018.

Instead, at the communist party congress that April, it had a Marxist meltdown. Los históricos, as Raúl and the geriatrics are known, panicked and doubled down on their Bolshevik bible. Their retrenchment’s led most recently to crackdowns on an unusually dynamic, artist-led free speech movement.

And yet, as los históricos convene this week, they’ll act bewildered that Obama’s party, having defeated Trump and returned to power, isn’t racing across the Florida Straits with open arms so it can get burned again by a regime that can see the world only through its own doctrinal demands.

They’ll look flabbergasted that President Biden hasn’t set the White House’s Cuba clock back to 2016 – that Biden sounds more concerned with pushing human rights openings on the island than opening the door as widely as before to dollar-spending U.S. travel there.

The Cuban government is finding it’ll have to wait longer than it thought to win back Washington’s spirit of engagement. Meanwhile, whether you blame it on communist incompetence, a yanqui embargo or both, Cubans will keep waiting longer for chicken and soap.