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Has Cuba lost its last chance?

 

Carlos Pérez Llana, The Guatemala Times   

 

BUENOS AIRES – Raúl Castro’s consolidation of his position as successor to his brother Fidel confirms that his Cuba will give the military domestic hegemony, which makes any serious political or economic opening in the near future seemingly impossible. The Cuban Communist Party’s recent Sixth Congress reflected this, offering little new and rehashing a lot of the old.

 

Since ill health forced Fidel Castro to retire from Cuba’s leadership, Raúl has opened the doors to the military and pushed out even those civilians who had been his brother’s trusted associates. While Fidel wrote doctrinaire articles in the official press, the armed forces took over politics and production. Fidel’s appearance at the Party’s congress – an event full of political significance, because he has only rarely participated in public events since becoming sick in 2006 – seemed to confirm his support for this outcome.

 

We now know that the congress had been put off for 14 years, owing to deep divisions among Cuban leaders. The civilian group that was ousted wanted to adapt the “Chinese model” of gradual economic reforms initiated by the Party. Raúl and his military cronies, however, cornered Fidel and imposed their group’s criteria.

 

In Asian communism – as practiced in China and Vietnam, in particular – the Party leadership rotates periodically, and a civilian leadership controls the military. Systemic nepotism in the top political and military leadership exists only in North Korea.

 

By contrast, Cuba’s new Raúlist political structure takes its inspiration from the purest tradition of Latin American military caudillismo, using communist ideology pragmatically. The model is clearly revealed in the nature of Raúl’s proposed reforms. The economy’s most dynamic industries – namely, mining and tourism – are reserved for the military, which manages them in a business-like, profit-seeking way.

 

Only in these privileged sectors can some reforms be seen. The “new class” that populates them does not demonize foreign capital. Indeed, there are talks centered on debt, with some creditors interested in the mechanics of capitalization.

 

For the rest of the economy, the Party’s position recalls the famous line from Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard): something must change so that everything else can remain the same. The sale of buildings and vehicles will be legalized and self-employment authorized, mainly in the service sector. But, lacking capital and forced to pay taxes, what fate awaits industries driven by the state into the market?

 

Nearly 1.5 million Cubans will never have a stake in the industries controlled by the military bourgeoisie. Nor was the issue of land ownership resolved: only a few plots will be leased in some form.

 

As a result, Cuba will continue to import a lot of food, most of it at a price that the population cannot afford. Moreover, ordinary Cubans fear that their ration cards – their only means of getting food – will be canceled. Indeed, according to Raúl, the state-controlled food-rationing system is a “factor of immobility,” but no one knows what might replace it.

 

The Sixth Congress ignored questions of human rights. Neither freedom of the press nor access to information was on the agenda, and the opposition will continue to be ignored, its only options being conditional freedom or exile. Migration, an option financed by remittances from relatives in the United States, was not made any more flexible, either.

 

When the Soviet Union collapsed, many believed that the Cuban regime would take the road to reform, however grudgingly. But the democratic transitions in Eastern Europe made Fidel Castro wary, so the first opportunity for a similar transition in Cuba was lost. Now an opportunity to introduce young blood and new ideas has similarly been missed: although the Sixth Congress adopted a ten-year limit for holding office, the two people designated to succeed Raúl Castro are both octogenarians.

 

In the 1980’s, Deng Xiaoping warned that China would collapse if it didn’t change; Raúl has said the same thing. But Deng chose real reform and real change, appealing to overseas Chinese, whom the Party had demonized for many years, to bet on the country’s future and invest. The diaspora listened – the beginning and the secret of the reforms that put China on the path to its current economic success.

 

Cuba cannot remain isolated, dependent on Venezuelan petrodollars and penalized by America’s ill-conceived trade embargo. Any realistic agenda for change in Cuba inexorably requires opening up to the world, along with ensuring full freedom within the country. Unfortunately, the Sixth Congress demonstrated that the Cuban Communist Party remains in denial about the country’s prospects and options.