Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, 16 September 2017, Havana – In these post-hurricane days, rumors are circulating through the streets of the Cuban capital: where is Raúl Castro? Why has he not made an appearance in the areas most affected by the ravages of Hurricane Irma or before the television cameras to deliver some message of hope and support to the victims? Isn’t it true that the person that holds by force the highest leadership of the Government and the single Party should go directly to the people and be more at hand, the greater the calamity that’s devastating the country?
A week after of the hurricane’s destructive passage deployment of leaders has been taking place throughout the devastated countryside and towns. The entire olive-green aging caste seems to have mobilized. Except for the general-president, whose invisibility is, at least, scandalous. He was barely seen in the official media this Friday, September 15th, presiding over a meeting of the National Defense Council that took place last Wednesday the 13th, where, according to the same media, “damages caused by Hurricane Irma and the actions to be developed during the recovery phase were evaluated, as were actions to be taken during the recuperation phase.” On that occasion, the head of government also maintained a very low profile.
As usual, speculations and rumors have been rampant in trying to explain the head of state’s unlikely behavior: “He must be very ill”, say some people; “They did not have a contingency plan for this disaster,” conjecture the more malicious. However, the most widespread impression is that the country’s situation is so complex and its solutions so difficult that it is too big a task for the old ruler. In fact, Raúl Castro doesn’t time to live, or good health, or political will, or courage, or sufficient talent not just to solve the deep national crisis, but to lead the destinies of Cuba to a good port.
To make matters worse, the Cuban president’s only message was the “appeal to our dynamic people,” published in the media on Tuesday, September 12th, where – in the absence of a more realistic proposal – he appealed to “the legacy” of the Specter in Chief “with his “permanent faith in the victory” to face the country’s recovery. Nothing seems as absurd and desperate as to invoke the ghostly guidance of the main maker of the national ruin in this horrible hour.
But the icing on the cake was the unfortunate clumsiness of stating in the same text that “we have the human and material resources required” to repair and put into operation before the high season (beginning in November) the main tourist destinations that suffered severe damages in the hurricane. In a country where a large number of families have lost their homes and their meager assets, such an impudent statement, which transcends the greed of the top for monopolizing hard currency is not only untimely and cynical in the present circumstances, but it constitutes an irrefutable demonstration of the Government’s insensitivity to the human drama that tens of thousands of Cubans on the Island are experiencing.
For many, the distance that the general-president of his troubled people has taken is multiplied by contrast, compared to the extreme populism of his predecessor. Everyone remembers that Castro I – whether out of his proverbial thirst for the limelight, his egocentrism, or his colossal narcissism – took advantage of the opportunities offered by hurricanes to descend from his high green Olympus to take a dip in town and appear as protector and generous patron, especially in those places where the poorest sectors lived and where the worst damage had occurred.
There, in the midst of the rubble, the rubbish and the mud, the egregious autocrat pressed some hands, clumsily patted some children’s heads, dictated the patterns of an imaginary recovery, provided for the free distribution of some odds and ends, flung impossible promises that ended up in oblivion, and pronounced inspired speeches. He looked as if he were sincerely concerned about his endowment of slaves. Because Castro I knew that it was not enough to be the maximum leader: he also – and perhaps this was the most important thing – had to look like one.
And the trick always worked because, at the end of the day, warped politicians (forgive the redundancy) know that people simply just need to believe that, in reality, despite losses, calamities and wreckages “they will not be left helpless” by their leaders. And they certainly believe it, if only for a while.
But it happens that “time” is what neither the general-president nor the millions of Cubans who await improvements that never arrive have. So, even admitting that his age, his declining health or his justified fears of the unpredictable reactions that the impatient multitudes may exhibit, could have prevented Raúl Castro from mixing with the people, what is true is that, as sitting “president,” he may not evade his responsibility at the head of the nation.
So, Hurricane Irma could turn out to be one of two options for Castro II: the opportunity to correct the course and remove the restrictions and obstacles that impede the development of the nation’s private sector, recognizing its important role in moving the internal economy; or – otherwise – the nail that seals the coffin of the so-called “updating of the model” with all its failed plans. The General’s insoluble dilemma is to try to improve the national economy without liberating its productive forces; but his personal tragedy is that he can only save the country if he betrays the so-called “socialist” legacy, inherited from his brother and mentor.
The signals of government weariness and the popular discontent are already clear, as has been shown in recent outbreaks of protest, in the looting of state businesses, in the obvious fear of the government that seeks to exacerbate popular discontent with “exemplary” measures and repress the heated minds with an unprecedented deployment of power of the Special Forces that only spur a climate of tension and of a plaza besieged, especially in the country’s capital. And to aggravate the scene, there is no longer a “wet foot/dry foot” policy in the United States, offering an outlet for Cubans’ expectations of prosperity. Now only frustration and powerlessness are left.
Meanwhile, Irma has been a fatal unforeseen event for the Government, which, at first glance, creates serious disturbances in different levels of national life.
At the economic level, it shatters the official plans of increasing the gross domestic product by 2% by the end of 2017 from an announced tourism growth that would see the arrivals of foreign vacationers surge to a number of 4 million visitors or more.
At the political level, it also alters the plans for the electoral farce that had just begun with the nomination process of base candidates, which now must be hastily reprogrammed, with all the flaws and unforeseen implications that this might entail.
At the social level, Irma’s saga has increased the tension between the fragile social power balance and the governed; which is the same as saying between the beneficiaries and the eternally sacrificed.
The reasons the General does not offer his face to the storm is understandable from all this. He does not give answers because he does not have them. He is old, tired and fearful. Perhaps the months, weeks and days that remain before giving the presidential chair are counted, and with it, all the problems and tensions that it arouses. Except that Hurricane Irma has also stamped an unthought-of turn in those plans. It is already known that in an uncontrolled Cuba everything that is harmful is possible.
Translated by Norma Whiting