Ivan Garcia, 17 July 2017 — Hunched and wearing an oversized military uniform, helped by his grandson-cum-personal-bodyguard, Raul Castro rose from the beige leather armchair at the presidential desk and with the air of an exhausted old man, and went to the dais to give the closing speech of the conclave.
He placed a folder with several pages under the microphone, adjusted his glasses and in his rough voice began reading the speech that closed the eighth legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power, an imitation of a Western parliament, one without opposing voices.
Castro II’s speech lasted little more than thirty minutes. As he spoke, Melissa, a high school student, exercised in the living room of her home in front of the flat screen of a 32-inch television. In the courtyard, her father and three of his friends played dominoes. When asked about what he said, the girl shrugs and smiles.
“I just had the TV on without sound. I was waiting for Raul to finish to see the soap opera. I’m not interested in politics and these meetings are always the same,” says the young woman.
At that time, nine o’clock in the evening in Havana, very few had followed the words of Raul Castro. In shorts and a Miami Heat jersey, Fernando was chatting with two neighbors in the doorway of a bodega.
When they were asked for an assessment of the speech of the country’s president of the country, offered a poke face. “About the speech I an’t tell you, but about the assembly of people’s power I know that, among other things, they talked about how expensive toys are, that more than half of the agricultural harvest is lost in the fields, and that there is a deficit of more than 800 thousand houses,” responds one of the neighbors.
Of 14 people surveyed, 11 said they had not heard Raul’s speech, they did not know that according to government forecasts, the economy grew 1.1% in the first half of the year and confessed that they were not interested in the topics discussed in the sessions of Parliament.
“Dude, it is always the same old blah blah blah. These people (deputies) do not really represent the true interests of the people. They meet twice a year carrying on about the same issues and in the end they do not solve anything. You have to be crazy or smoking something to pay attention to that on television,” says Ignacio, a metalworker.
Carlos, a driver for a bus co-operative, believes that ordinary people “are tired of the same thing. You see the deputies and leaders, most fat and potbellied, who gather, study and propose measures that never improve the quality of life of the people. That is why the majority of Cubans do not follow these meetings.”
And he adds, “I myself work in a transport cooperative, which is a cooperative in name only. The members are puppets. Government institutions are in charge. The State has set up a parallel business with public transport. They give the cooperative a lot of old cars and buses, the workers must pay for the spare parts and then they exploit us like slaves. The biggest percentage of the money is pocketed by the Ministry of Transport and nobody knows where that silver goes.”
Although the economy is taking on water and there are obvious shortages in agricultural markets, foreign exchange stores and pharmacies, a considerable segment of Cubans looks with indifference on the national political landscape.
“There is chronic fatigue. Apathy consumes a good part of the population. They do not want to know anything about politics. They are tired of everything. What they want is to live as well as possible and the youngest want, if given a chance, to emigrate. That apathy favors the regime because it governs without any upsets,” says a sociologist.
During his speech, Raúl Castro hammered his strategy of doing things without any hurry, so as not to fall into errors when promulgating new measures. In a rare exercise of self-criticism, he acknowledged he himself was at fault for several erroneous decisions. He emphasized capital control of new businesses and greater control of private entrepreneurship, although he stressed that the State supports and intends to expand self-employment and service cooperatives.
The pace of the reforms is what bothers Leonel, owner of a cafe west of Havana. “Raul does not lack grub and everything he needs is assured, so he makes changes with that slowness. But on the street people want reforms to be done more quickly. Right now I have grandchildren and everything is still at a standstill.”
Of the fourteen people surveyed, they noted that Castro II did not mention the resignation of his position next year.
“With these people (the regime) you have to be careful. Before, Raúl repeated that in 2018 he was withdrawing from power. Now that he is a short timer, he did not say so. At the end you will see that for any situation, whether because of Venezuela or an alleged US threat, the man is still in office,” says Diego, who works in a pizzeria.
Seven months before the hypothetical date of abdication of the Cuban autocrat, no one can certify what will happen. Although the presumed retirement of Raúl Castro will not prevent that a military junta continues administering the Island.
The end of Castroism is not near.
Translated by Jim