In the view of some analysts, the crisis makes it even more urgent to hold the PCC Congress. The Sixth Congress, postponed since 2002, had been announced for the end of this year. However, the party's Central Committee decided to postpone it until an analysis is carried out "with the entire population." "> In the view of some analysts, the crisis makes it even more urgent to hold the PCC Congress. The Sixth Congress, postponed since 2002, had been announced for the end of this year. However, the party's Central Committee decided to postpone it until an analysis is carried out "with the entire population." ">

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Although it has been postponed until further notice, the Sixth Congress of the governing Cuban Communist Party (PCC), the only recognised party, must meet this challenge in the context of an international crisis which has aggravated the economic difficulties facing this Caribbean island nation and has had a major impact on the living standards of its 11.2 million people.

Meanwhile, a National Conference will be held at an as yet unspecified date, to elect the new leadership of the PCC, including the Central Committee, the Politburo and the Secretariat, which will be responsible for continuing and finalising preparations for the Congress.

The Secretariat was abolished in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc, but was restored in 2006 to strengthen the structure of the PCC. Its role is to organise and ensure the fulfilment of the decisions of the party's highest authority, the Politburo.

Many current members of the Central Committee no longer occupy the posts they had when they were elected 12 years ago, at the Fifth PCC Congress in 1997, while the Politburo and the Secretariat are still headed by 83-year-old Fidel Castro, who has not appeared in public since 2006 for health reasons.

According to President Raúl Castro, who is Second Secretary of the PCC, the task that lies ahead for the Communist Party and the Cuban people is enormous, because it involves defining a socialist society that is fitted to the country's aspirations, and that can be built "in Cuba's present and future circumstances," as well as the economic model to be applied.

"In other words, Cuba must change over from an old model - called 'real socialism' - to one which really satisfies the needs of this country. I think Raúl is aware of this historic need, and is trying to make it happen," a former member of the PCC told IPS.

An academic source said the Cuban economic model has proved ineffective, and still resembles "in essence the Soviet model, based on state ownership of virtually the entire economy, and on centralisation of resource allocation and price setting.

"The failure of real socialism in Eastern Europe and the persistent inefficiency of our economy should prompt us to radically change our model. We should not debate our problems in isolation from what has happened in the rest of the world," said the economist, who requested anonymity.

The changes regarded as necessary by some academic sectors include transforming the management system within state enterprises, to allow workers to receive a greater share of the profits and give managers more independence in decision-making and price setting.

As well as changing the internal workings of state enterprises, the framework in which they operate should be changed, with regulation systems that permit greater autonomy and competition, and allow the market to fix prices. "The market is an objective tool, it just needs to be regulated by the state," the source said.

He also said it would improve the health of the economy to open up property ownership beyond the state monopoly. The private sector and cooperatives should extend their activities into services and small industries. And opportunities for foreign investment should also be expanded, for instance into the sugar sector, the researcher said.

In his view, "transformations should be conceived by studying the rest of the world, looking at the best international experiences, and taking as references, for example, the Chinese and Vietnamese models."

While he recognised that the Cuban economy requires a new approach, Presbyterian pastor Raimundo García told IPS that the "profound changes" needed in this country require, among other things, "that the PCC take on what should be its primary role, and stop being a second tier of government within the state."

The Cuban pastor said this implied that the political organisation should "become a centre for research and debate, in which, focusing on a common purpose, different opinions can be expressed by people representing the different spheres of society, including civil society.

"Unanimity is non-existent, as our president has often said, and in any case it would be bad for dialogue and decision-making," said García, who is head of the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue (CCRD) in Cárdenas, 150 kilometres from Havana.

Article 5 of the constitution defines the PCC as "the highest leading force of society and of the state, which organises and guides the common effort toward the goals of the construction of socialism and progress toward a communist society." The party has some 850,000 members.

President Castro, speaking to parliament early this month, said he was elected to "defend, maintain, and continue to perfect socialism, not to destroy it," which clarified the context and scope of the changes and transformations that can be expected. However, he added that "it has to be the people, with the party at the vanguard, that decides." Some analysts take this as a hint that the future Sixth Congress may be preceded by another popular consultation, like the broad public debate carried out at neighbourhood and workplace meetings in 2007 to discuss Castro's landmark Jul. 26 speech that year.

According to President Castro himself, these debates produced 1,301,203 concrete proposals, just under half of which expressed criticism. "The results of that consultation have not been forgotten or discarded," said Castro, who also mentioned that it had been conceived as a "rehearsal, with the party's highest event in mind."

Among the many issues debated at those meetings were the dual currency system, the real value of wages, the deteriorating quality of the education system and public health services, and the limitations on self-employment and private initiative.

Source: IPS

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