The Cuban government on Saturday will convene nearly 1,000 Communist Party officials from across the country in Havana for Cuba’s first national party congress since 1997. This meeting is likely to be the most significant since the first party congress in 1975, at which the Cuban government first formally adopted a Soviet-style economic system. This time, the most critical issues will be the ratification of market-oriented economic reforms—led by President Raúl Castro—and generational succession planning.
Since 2007, Cuba has taken a number of steps to update its economic model by building market-based incentives into its agricultural sector, reducing government subsidies to individuals and state-owned enterprises, and loosening restrictions on entrepreneurs and self-employed workers. Plans in 2010 to move up to 1.2 million workers into private-sector employment by mid-2011 have been scaled back, but 178,000 business licenses have already been granted. Many observers believe Cuba will have to announce even greater reforms in order to cure its economic woes. What, if any, additional reforms the government decides to undertake at the congress will be carefully scrutinized.
The other major issue at the congress is who from within the party is promoted to leadership-level positions. Cuba’s aging government is widely anticipated to begin promoting younger leaders as it plans for the inevitable transition of power to the next generation.
Sunday—the second day of the Havana meetings—is also the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961.