At the VII Communist Party Congress, Raul Castro warned of the perils posed by imperialism (American), foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez strongly tried to diminish Obamas' influence on the Cuban population, and all delegates voted to strengthen the ideological campaign.
Just a month earlier, the general-president welcomed the president of the United States, blessed by the American and Cuban flags and anthems at the official ceremony in the Palace of the Revolution. Strong speeches were intended to please the hardliners within the system, warn the people of the limits to the "socialist civil society" and internationally disguise weakness. The Cuban government needs improvement of the relations with the former enemy to ameliorate the economy with foreign investments from partners not frightened by sanctions.
The Party is the principal power, thus the meeting had the paramount importance of taking place when the so called historic leaders in their late eighties had to place their protégés, leaving the guidelines to assure a safe life until they depart from this world. Raul Castro had promised to step down as president of the Councils of State and Government in 2018, but remaining as first secretary of the party until 2021, he will keep the reins of power to draft a new Constitution and other legislations as to bring about the economic, social and political measures, suitable to maintain the so-called Cuban socialism -- Castrism in fact.
Nevertheless Cubans have changed a lot. Almost 80% of the population was born after 1959, expecting improvement of their harsh daily life. Blaming the American imperialism after decades became a practical joke. Common strong supporters of the Revolution have miserable pensions, middle aged is underpaid and youngsters search for opportunities impossible to envisage. Raul Castro promised economic changes, but fears of the old guard at all levels, tight State control, insufficient financial resources, low exports and high imports, lack of motivations to work and corruption deepen credibility loss. The decisions of the VII Congress and the statements of the delegates published are commented with disdain, while Cubans criticize the intend to diminish president Obama's proximity and the positive impact of his ideas, expressed standing next to a Raul Castro without any response.
The party congress in course, a delegation led by the chairmen of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Smithsonian Institution (SI) arrived April 18th. Seventy-two leaders and artists, including Usher, William Adams, Dave Matthews, Kal Penn, Smokey Robinson, George Stevens, Alfred Bell, and Alfre Woodard followed President Obama. After a four-day visit, David Skorton, chairman of the SI and Gradys Collazo, president of the Council of National Heritage, read a joint declaration expressing the intention of further exchanges and to dedicate the Folklife Festival 2017 to Cuba. Jane Chu, chairman of the NEA, announced that, for the first time, the U.S. government would fund visits of American artists to Cuba through the U.S. Artists International program, and a separate program will welcome Cuban artists to the United States. The University of Delaware posted that soon a delegation will head to Cuba with support from the NEH, to learn about preservation and methods, and see Cuban collections and visit museums, libraries and archives.
An important sign that Raul Castro is paving the way was government lifting the restriction to Cuban citizens to enter and leave the island on merchant vessels and cruise. Tourism has become a major priority for the economic recovering plan, and while Americans are banned to travel beyond 12 categories, Cuban-Americans will be most of the passengers. The 704-passenger Adonia of Carnival's Fathom brand was scheduled to make the first trip, but Cuban policy provoked a discrimination suit by Cuban-Americans and criticism by Secretary of State John Kerry that led Carnival to accept booking from Cuba-Americans.
Moreover, Cubans living on the island will be able to work in the vessels, under contract to a State-owned enterprise. The Note published April 22 by Granma newspaper said authorities were also reviewing a ban on citizens boarding recreational vessels such as fishing boats and yachts. The first cruise of Carnival Corp should arrive in Havana from Miami May 1, while Cubans must be rallying in support of the VII Congress decisions.
And in the heart of Havana, the frenzy of government workers repairing streets, mending telephone and electric systems, and painting buildings continued after Obama departure. A lot of people are hired and cuentapropistas (self-employed) smiling comment they must close their businesses for some days, but they are going to be well paid by the Americans. For the first time an American company was allowed to film in Cuba. An installment of the Fast and Furious franchise is being shot. From April 22 to May 5 transit will be altered from 7am until work ends informed a long Note in Tribuna de La Habana, on April 24. Dwellers and commuters do not complain. Amazingly, neither the VII Congress of the Communist Party nor May 1 rally, but Americans are making a difference in decades of destruction and government's disdain.
The same officials roaring against the hegemonic influence eagerly welcome U.S. entrepreneurs, investors, politicians, academics, scientist, artists and musicians. In Cuba nothing is what it seems. But Cubans can make a difference, seizing the challenges in a unique time of opportunities for changes.
Havana, April 24, 2016
Miriam Leiva is an independent Cuban journalist