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Unusual Dissent Wracks Cuban Communist Party

Leaders of Cuba's Communist Party are under highly unusual public criticism from inside their own ranks for imposing new levels of secrecy on the future of social and economic reforms just days after U.S. Pres. Barack Obama's historic visit.

Complaints among party members have become so heated that its official newspaper, Granma, addressed them in a lengthy front-page article Monday. It said the public dissatisfaction over the lack of open discussion before the upcoming Communist Party congress next month is "a sign of the democracy and public participation that are intrinsic characteristics of the socialism that we're constructing."

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The article did little to calm many party members, some of whom are calling for the gathering to be postponed to allow public debate about the government's plans to continue market-oriented reforms for Cuba's centrally controlled economy.

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"The base of the party is angry, and rightly so," party member and noted intellectual Esteban Morales wrote in a blog post published before Obama's visit. "We've gone backward in terms of democracy in the party, because we've forgotten about the base, those who are fighting and confronting our problems on a daily basis."

Across the country, Cuba's ruling party is facing stiff challenges as it tries to govern an increasingly cynical and disenchanted population.

"Obama's visit requires us, going forward, to work on debating and defending our social consensus about the revolution," Communist Party member Francisco Rodriguez said.

Struggling to feed their families with state salaries around $25 a month, many ordinary Cubans see their government as infuriatingly inefficient and unresponsive to the needs of average people. The open anger among prominent party members in the middle of sweeping socio-economic reforms and normalization with the United States hints at a deeper crisis of credibility for the party that has controlled virtually every aspect of public life in Cuba for more than a half century.

The article in Granma appeared less than a week after Obama won an enthusiastic response from many ordinary Cubans by calling for both an end to Cold War hostility and for more political and economic freedom on the island. The unsigned article shared the front page with Fidel Castro's sharply worded response to Obama, in which the 89-year-old father of Cuba's socialist system said, "My modest suggestion is that he reflect and doesn't try to develop theories about Cuban politics."

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Many Cubans are skeptical of free-market capitalism, wary of American power and cannot envision a society without the free health care and education put in place by the 1959 revolution. Party member Francisco Rodriguez, a gay activist and journalist for a state newspaper, said Obama's nationally televised speech in Old Havana, his news conference with 84-year-old President Raul Castro and a presidential forum with Cuban entrepreneurs represented a sort of "capitalist evangelizing" that many party members dislike.

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Rodriguez told The Associated Press that Obama's well-received addresses to the Cuban people had nonetheless increased pressure on the 700,000-member Communist Party to forge a more unified and credible vision of the future.

"Obama's visit requires us, going forward, to work on debating and defending our social consensus about the revolution," Rodriguez said.

In the run-up to the party congress scheduled to begin April 16, no documents have been made public, no debate has taken place and many of the party's best-known members remain in the dark about the next phase of Cuba's reforms.

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