14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, February 4, 2019 — If someone wanted to find a definition of what is most current and important from what is happening in Cuba, they could assert that today there is happening a transition of authority from symbol to force of law.
For almost half a century Cuba was basically driven by the personal decisions of Fidel Castro. There are at least two different lines of reasoning, but not opposing ones, to explain how it was possible that an entire nation could be submitted to the will of one individual. One is fear, the other, fascination that cancels all disobedience.
But as fascination can be interpreted in this case as a shift, a collective sublimation to not recognize the humiliating reality one gives into under the pressure of fear, then everything is reduced to the intimidating authority that was built around one person who tried to embody all the symbols: the homeland, the flag and the history, among others.
This authority distributed shares of power among those who made up what later came to be called ’the historic generation’ of the Revolution. All those who were chosen by him formed a reduced army of untouchable archangels whose superiority depended on their degree of concomitance with the supreme leader. On that personal closeness depended the fear or fascination that they provoked.
From the first of January of 1959 until the constitution of 1976 was proclaimed, the country was practically governed at whim by a pair of military boots. “We are not going to leave even a single trace of private property”; “We will build socialism and communism at the same time”; “We will produce 10 million tons of sugar”; “Here we are going to build a dam”; “We will surround Havana with a cordon of coffee plantations”; “We will have better cows than in Switzerland, the biggest zoo in the world, and hundreds of schools in the countryside to combine study with work.”
The ostensible failure provoked by such political will ended up leading the country to compromise its sovereignty to the dictates of the Soviet Union, the only provider of what was euphemistically called “a just trade between two peoples.” The leaders of the USSR demanded guarantees to continue maintaining “the pipeline” of the subsidy and to convince them it was necessary to carry out the First Congress of the Party in 1975 and, one year later, present a new constitution.
The head of the drafting commission of that constitution was Blas Roca, the last Communist leader from the republican era, as a guarantor that the Law of laws would be backed by the tenth five-year plan of the Soviet Union (1976-1980). As payment for the solidarity of the older brother, the Cuban constitution recognized in its text “the brotherly friendship and cooperation of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.”
With the formalities covered, the supreme leader continued behaving with his habitual political will. On one occasion in which a representative warned him that what had been planned could not be carried out because it contradicted a law, the commander-in-chief responded that if a law didn’t permit an aim of the Revolution, the solution was to change that law immediately.
Those were the times in which the representative Fidel Castro, embodiment of authority emanating from the symbol, inspiration of all fears and of all fascination, consumed at least half the time that the Parliament sessions lasted in front of the microphone. The last feats of his political will as a response to the desmerengamiento* (dismantling and collapse) of the socialist bloc of eastern Europe were to decree the Special Period, put the American dollar into circulation, drive the Battle of Ideas, and announce the Energy Revolution.
In the summer of 2006 an unexpected intestinal ailment forced the supreme leader to rest and transfer his legally recognized powers to his brother Raúl Castro. Knowing that he lacked the charisma of the comandante en jefe, the division general understood that the moment had arrived to work out compulsory norms to guarantee the continuity of the system.
It was then that reforming the constitution of the republic began to be discussed, more to adapt it to the reality of the new times, where there was no longer a socialist bloc, than to retract what had been proposed until that time.
The general president had ten years to accustom the governed to the idea that he was the successor. Although he never received public congratulations from his brother for his performance, not even a lukewarm approval of what he was doing, in November of 2016 it became evident that from that moment on Raúl Castro would make the decisions, among other reasons because there no longer remained anyone alive with the power to give him orders.
Once the main influence that emanated from the authority of the symbol had disappeared and calculating that biology would probably give the successor at most a five-year grace period, it could be concluded that from now it only remained to appeal to the pure and harsh force of the law to subdue the citizenry. That appears to have been the essential reason for formulating a new constitution.
This law of laws not only imposes that the socialist system is irrevocable, but also gives the system’s sympathizers the right to use arms against whomever would try to change it and confirms again that the only permitted party, the Communist Party, is “the superior ruling political force of society and the State.”
That constitution will be submitted on February 24 to the consideration of an electorate that is very distant from the one that in 1976 overwhelmingly approved a constitution that was practically mirrored those that ruled in the socialist countries.
This new constitution, if ratified, will institutionalize the dictatorship of one party and, as a consequence, will be the instrument of control of some inheritors, chosen for their loyalty, who will no longer need the merits of heroism nor the revolutionary mystique to govern.
The factor in favor of the government in this referendum, in addition to those who think that socialism still has reserves to solve the problems of the country, is the apathy of those who believe that the new constitution will change nothing and that even if the majority decided to vote No, nevertheless, they would implement it.
Others bet that a majority of negative votes could not be hidden or falsified and that, by performing the miracle of a massive civic rebellion at the ballot box, sooner or later it would be known and the government would have to recognize its defeat.
Not being able to implement the force of law and without any possibility to revive the authority of the symbol, they would only be left with two options, either resorting to plain force or packing their bags.
*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro coined the term “desmerengamiento,” which can be literally translated as “the collapse of the cake” to refer to the dismantling of the USSR and the collapse of the Eastern European Socialist Bloc.
Translated by: Sheilagh Carey
The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.