Despite speculation of major changes, none were visible at Cuba’s first party congress in sixteen years. The delegates formalized Raul’s replacement of the ailing Fidel Castro (this actually happened three years ago), it re-elected the old revolutionary guard to the key positions, and it approved some trivial reforms. Their heralded reforms reduced the size of the public work force (which accounts for some nine out of ten jobs), allowed private ownership of homes, and approved several hundred other changes that were kept from public view but are surely trivial.
All the talk of making way for a new generation of leaders proved empty. The newly-elected leadership consists of Raul Castro at 76, his first deputy at 77, and a Politburo whose average age is in the 70s. The Congress’s “dog that did not bark” was it failure to elevate younger party members to the party elite. This omission will have a profound effect on Cuba’s future.
The failure of the April 2011 Cuban party congress to address fundamental reform was entirely predictable. We have no historical case of fundamental reform during the lifetime of the “great” revolutionary leader. The Chinese reforms began shortly after Mao’s death in 1976. Gorbachev’s reforms, three decades after Stalin’s death, had to wait the passing of the Stalin clones who served after him. Any fundamental restructuring of the “Great Leader’s” political and economic system questions his lifetime achievements and is not feasible.