14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 1 February 2018 – In the case of Cuba, the figures hide more than they say. The data published by the official press on the composition of the next Parliament hide the fact that the nucleus of the National Assembly of People’s Power will remain unchanged after April 19, with the investiture of the IX Legislature. The new deputies who enter do not matter; the key to understanding this body of power lies in pointing out those who remain.
At least 231, 38% of parliamentarians, will fill their seats for the second consecutive term while the rest, which represents 62%, will be new to the legislature. This last group is composed mostly of Assembly members without positions in the highest spheres of the Government and the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), such that their decision-making capacity and ability to add items to the discussion agenda is almost nil.
But the case of the 93 deputies who remain is very different. They are precisely those who occupy the highest positions on the PCC Central Committee, the ministerial portfolios and positions on the Council of State. This group of “immovables” also includes the figures at the head of the so-called mass organizations and the People’s Power, the Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior.
Obviously included in this set are the members of the so-called historical generation: eight surviving elders including Raul Castro, Ramiro Valdes, Machado Ventura and others who passed retirement age years ago.
The hard core determines the course taken by the Assembly, the laws that are debated, the laws that are approved and even the behavior of the other legislators.
That hard core determines the course taken by the Assembly, the issues that are debated, the laws that are approved and even the behavior of the other legislators. Thus, the new members function as “filling” to balance the quotas of gender, race, social origin and professional diversity that are exhibited to the world as an example of “Cuban democracy.”
In this tightly rehearsed theater that is the Cuban Parliament, it is easy to distinguish the protagonists from those who are secondary actors, including the extras. In the next Assembly the most reliable “interpreters” remain, permeating the novices with their practice of obedience and imposing their partisan or military discipline on those who attempt any audacity.
This has been the case for more than 40 years.
During the VIII Legislature, thirteen deputies resigned their posts, five died and one was revoked. No bill was disapproved. In the main hall of the Palace of Conventions the hands raised in signs of approval continued the nefarious tradition of unanimity. During that time it was a Parliament without visible trends, without healthy altercations, without a re-counting of votes, without wings, without life.
That immobilism was determined precisely by the speed and direction imposed on the rest of the deputies by a group that represents barely a sixth part of the total. A handful of parliamentarians who behaved like sheep dogs – sometimes it only required one – who guide the huge herd with their barking and their attitude. They were the custodians of orthodoxy and the guardians of verticality.
The new deputies designated to share seats with that claque must be attentive only to the signals, the beginning of applause and the movement of the eyebrows of the veterans
The new deputies designated to share seats with that claque must be attentive only to the signals, the beginning of applause and the movements of the eyebrows of the veterans. Among those who remain is Raúl Castro, who has assured that he will retire from his position as president, but who will most likely be included as a member of the Councils of State and of Ministers.
Located in that “highest instance,” Castro will echo the scheme that rules in the rest of Parliament: the formal structure is accessory, what counts is the historical authority and the real power for decision making. It is the way the ruler has found to keep his word of not serving a third mandate, but to continue to lead.
The key to this move was revealed by the general himself seven years ago, during the closing ceremony of the VI Congress of the PCC when it was announced that José Ramón Machado Ventura was to head the Secretariat of the Central Committee. Castro said then that he had been asked who would preside over the meetings of the organization’s Secretariat if both he and Machado were in attendance at the meetings.
With a group of hard-liners controlling the National Assembly and such a powerful watchdog on the Councils of State and of Ministers, little can be expected from the next legislature
The answer was clear and direct: “Machadito knows that when I arrive at a meeting I assume [the leadership].” This attitude will be the one that repeats if he stays on the Council of State even though he is not president. What chair he occupies influences little, his authority over the possible heir of the maximum position of the country will be exercised from a short distance.
With a group of hard-liners controlling the National Assembly and such a powerful watchdog on the Councils of State and of Ministers, little can be expected from the upcoming legislature and the “new Government” or “next Government.” The structure that will be presented publicly this coming April does not deserve either of these qualifiers.
In 2010, when the previous Parliament had not yet been formed, the activist Carlos Ríos covered the walls of Havana with the slogan “No to the Eighth Legislature.” Today, the opponent lives in exile, his graffiti vanishes from the facades of the city and a group of parliamentarians are about to be sworn into their positions so that everything remains the same.
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