Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cubans to Debate Economic Reform Closed Party Congress May Consider Some Privatization, but Politics Won't Be on the Agenda

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cubans to Debate Economic Reform Closed Party Congress May Consider Some Privatization, but Politics Won't Be on the Agenda

Article excerpt

THE straws in the wind indicate Cuba's Fourth Communist Party Congress opening Oct. 10 will be a roll-up-your-sleeves working session where meaningful economic - but not political - reforms will be debated, analysts say.

For the first time since the Cuban Constitution officially established a one-party communist system in 1976, observer delegations have not been invited. Foreign reporters will also be barred. The closed doors signal the likelihood of open debate among the 1,800 delegates, analysts say. And given Cuba's challenges, it will be needed.

The August failure of the hard-line coup in Moscow and last month's announcement of Soviet troop withdrawals from Cuba point to dwindling support from its long-time benefactor as the Soviet economy worsens.

"Events in the Soviet Union have given Cuban economic reformists a lot more clout coming into this Congress," says Gillian Gunn, Cuba specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

In internal debates, reformists have pushed for privatizing small-scale manufacturing, farmers' markets, and services such as shoe repair, plumbing, and plastering. These are activities state entities do poorly and are already done on the black market.

"It's recognizing and legitimizing reality," Mr. Gunn says, "licensing private entrepreneurs and encouraging them, and introducing a taxation system to ensure profits don't get out of line."

Free farmers' markets - where farmers can sell produce directly to consumers at market prices after filling state quotas - were tried and shut down once before. The scheme created middle men who began reaping huge profits and building large homes.

"{Cuban leader Fidel} Castro was outraged," says Gunn. "It not only offended his ideological preconceptions, but more important, it created a power base for opposition to his regime. A merchant class with financial clout - that's the beginning of real opposition."

The farmers' markets did boost production and delivery of goods, however. …

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