Juan Juan Almeida, 27 March 2017 — At age 85, infirm, and ten months from his much trumpeted retirement, Raul Castro directs the Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces to modify Order Number One of the deceased Commander in Chief.
According to an unexpectedly transparent account from a corpulent and not very young Cuban official, “Cuba has a rusty army that, taking into account all its forces — land, sea and air — as well as reservists, exceeds 700,000 troops [in a country of just over 11 million people]. Every unit, regiment or battalion chief dictates an Order One, that rules the behavior of the men under his command.
“For his part, the Commander in Chief, which in Cuba is the same person as the head of state, decrees an Order One, that governs the conduct of the members of all institutions, be they military or not, charged with the defense and security of the state.
“To violate this precept, as many of us know, could be considered an act of high treason and imply a penalty that ranges from a warning to the death penalty. It is so stipulated in martial law.
“But Fidel is water under the bridge, he’s dead, and although Raul has chosen not to call himself Commander in Chief out of respect for the memory of the leader of the Cuban Revolution, the reality is that when he inherited the post of head of state, he also inherited that ’honorific rank.’ So now, that he is the Commander in Chief should he change the Order? Not necessarily.”
“The Order One,” he continues, “obliges all the military, among other things, not to have relations with foreigners, counterrevolutionaries or emigres, and to endure with stoicism the rigors of service. That has to change, not because the Commander died, it is transformed because the operative situation changed, the world scenario and the sociopolitical conditions of Cuba.
“We see,” he reflects, “Today, there are fewer trees among the so-called Amazons, family and friends of Cuban leaders, officials, military and revolutionaries living outside this country. Some are coming back,that’s great; but it is not fair, nor ethical, nor moral, that so long as it is forbidden for many, some, I among them, have an exemption to engage with our exiled relatives, which, to a large extent, I must admit, left because of us. That is why the law changes, by the force that, with great dignity, some officers are doing that which we don’t want to call attention to.”
“The other reason is more obvious,” he adds. “At the time that mandate arose, back in the 60s, there was no economic conglomerate of Cuban soldiers with the force today held by the military run GAESA Group (Business Administration Group SA). The negotiations of this group, or of the Universal Stores, the Mariel Special Economic Zone, or ANTEX, ALMEST, GEOCUBA, GAVIOTA, TECNOTEX, any of the 57 companies owned by the Armed Forces or other civilian companies run by the military are carried out with foreigners, or with emigrant Cubans who now reside abroad. The order fell into obscurity, so that, following it closely, even Luis Alberto Rodríguez Lopez-Callejas [Raul Castro’s son-in-law] should be tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment for violating the regulations.”
“We have to change things,” he tells me like a punch line, “but modifying Order One is only one part of an integrated agenda that includes repealing outdated laws and instituting others that don’t hinder the transition to a more democratic, more participate and open society, without abandoning our principles.”