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CUBA: Havana Jamboree

4 minute read

Not since the revolution of 1958 had Havana sparkled so elegantly. For two months volunteer workers had hauled away debris, cleared vacant lots to build parks and playgrounds, and given 38,100 houses their first coat of paint since Fidel Castro came to power. Cuban flags and bunting decorated the streets of the capital; there were even ranks of shiny new Ford Falcons, imported from Argentina, waiting at José Marti Airport to chauffeur delegations from 87 countries to their hotels. The foreign visitors included Soviet Party Ideologue Mikhail Suslov, North Viet Nam’s General Vo Nguyen Giap and others, who were joining 3,136 Cuban delegates for a spectacular six-day jamboree in suburban Havana’s Karl Marx Theater. The occasion: the first Congress of Cuba’s Communist Party.

The purpose of the Congress, which ended early last week, was to “institutionalize the revolutionary process,” as Castro put it in his closing address. The intention was to put the party’s legal approval on the present political system and thus ensure that whatever happens to Castro or his top lieutenants, Cuba’s peculiar style of Communism will survive unchanged. “Men are very fragile,” said Castro, who abandoned his customary battle fatigues and appeared in a newly tailored uniform. “We disappear and go up in smoke for almost any reason.” During sessions of the Congress, which usually lasted well into the night, the delegates 1) approved a new constitution that reaffirms the existing Communist political system, 2) adopted a lengthy platform for the party and 3) enlarged the ruling Politburo from eight to 13 members.

At the end of the Congress, Castro addressed a wildly enthusiastic throng of 1 million Cubans gathered in Havana’s Revolution Plaza. He asked the immense crowd whether it approved the resolutions. Back came an affirmative roar. “Is anyone opposed?” asked Castro. There was a roar of “No!” “Is there anyone abstaining?” More roars of “No!” “Then,” proclaimed Fidel happily, “the Congress agreements are unanimously approved.”

In eleven hours of speeches to the Congress, which included some self-criticism for failures in economic planning, Castro boasted about the achievements of his government: the elimination of social ills like drug addiction and gambling, increased sugar production (currently about 5.5 million tons—still well below the 10 million tons per year he had once projected), the construction of new schools and the cultivation of new land. Predictably, Castro was profuse in his praise of the Soviet Union, crediting Moscow’s $6 billion in total aid with having staved off the attacks of “Yanqui imperialism.” He strongly criticized the U.S., recounting at great length the “tenebrous and ghastly assassinations [the CIA] planned against the leaders of the Cuban revolution”—mostly against Castro himself.

Never Give Up. There have been a few tentative moves by both Washington and Havana toward building some kind of U.S.-Cuban detente. The Cubans, for example, signed an antihijacking agreement, and Washington lifted a ban against overseas subsidiaries of American firms trading with Havana. Since then, however, President Ford has warned that the presence of 6,000 Cuban soldiers fighting with the pro-Soviet side in the Angolan civil war “destroys any opportunity for improvement in relations.”

In response, Castro did not repudiate forever any chance for detente, but he did admit that “we will go on helping the people in Angola.” He even boasted that the U.S. no longer poses a threat to Cuba. “With what can the imperialists threaten us?” he asked. “What can they take away from us that they have not already taken away? Nothing. This can be called total impotence.” Cuba, he went on, would never give up aiding revolutionary movements in order to get along with the U.S. “At this price,” he told cheering delegates, “there will never be relations with Washington.”

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