14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2017 — On February 24 of next year Raul Castro must leave the presidency of Cuba if he is to fulfill the promise he has made several times. His announced departure from power is looked on with suspicion by some and seen as an inescapable fact by others, but hardly anyone argues that his departure will put an end to six decades of the so-called historical generation.
For the first time, the political process begun in January 1959 will have a leader who did not participate in the struggle against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Nevertheless, Raul Castro can maintain the control of the Communist Party until 2021, a position with powers higher than the executive’s and enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic.
In the 365 days that remain in his position as president of the Councils of State and of Ministers, the 85-year-old ruler is expected to push several measures forward. Among them is the Electoral Law, which he announced two years ago and that will determine the political landscape he leaves behind after his retirement.
In the 365 days that remain in his position as president of the Councils of State and of Ministers, the 85-year-old ruler is expected to push several measures forward. Among them is the Electoral Law
In the coming months the relations between Havana and Washington will be defined in the context of the new presidency of Donald Trump and, in internal terms, by the economy. Low wages, the dual currency system, housing shortages and shortages of products are some of the most pressing problems for which Cubans expects solutions.
Raul Castro formally assumed the presidency in February of 2008, although in mid-2006 he took over Fidel Castro’s responsibilities on a provisional basis due to a health crisis affecting his older brother that forced him from public life. And now, given the proximity of the date he set for himself to leave the presidency, the leader is obliged to accelerate the progress of his decisions and define the succession.
In 2013 Castro was confirmed as president for a second term. At that time he limited the political positions to a maximum of ten years and emphasized the need to give space to younger figures. One of those faces was Miguel Díaz-Canel, a 56-year-old politician who climbed through the party structure and now holds the vice presidency.
In the second tier of power in the Party is Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, an octogenarian with a reputation as an orthodox who in recent months has featured prominently in the national media. A division of power between Díaz-Canel and Machado Ventura (one as president of the Councils of State and of Ministers and the other as secretary general of the Party) would be an unprecedented situation for millions of Cubans who only know the authority being concentrated in a single man.
However, many suspect that behind the faces that hold public office, the family clan will continue to manipulate through pulling the strings of Alejandro Castro Espín. But the president’s son, promoted to national security adviser, is not yet a member of the Party Central Committee, the Council of State or even a Member of Parliament.
Many suspect that behind the faces that hold public office, the family clan will continue to manipulate the strings of Alejandro Castro Espín
For Dagoberto Valdés, director of the Center for Coexistence Studies, Raúl Castro leaves without doing his work. “There were many promises, many pauses and little haste,” he summarizes. He said that many hoped that the “much-announced reforms would move from the superficial to the depth of the model, the only way to update the Cuban economy, politics and society.”
Raul Castro should “at least, push until the National Assembly passes an Electoral Law” that allows “plural participation of citizens,” says Valdés. He also believes that he should give “legal status to private companies” and “also give legal status to other organizations of civil society.”
The American academic Ted Henken does not believe that the current president will leave his position at the head of the Party. For Henken,a professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College in New York, Castro’s management has been successful in “maintaining the power of historic [generation] of the Revolution under the authoritarian and vertical model installed more than half a century ago” and “having established a potentially more beneficial new relationship with the US and embarking on some significant economic reforms. ”
However, Henken sees as “a great irony that the government has been more willing to sit down and talk with the supposed enemy than with its own people” and points out “the lack of fundamental political rights and basic civil liberties” as “a black stain on the legacy of the Castro brothers.”
Blogger Regina Coyula, who worked from 1972 to 1989 for the Counterintelligence Directorate of the Interior Ministry, predicts that Raul Castro will be remembered as someone “who could and did not dare.” At first she saw him as “a man more sensible than the brother and much more pragmatic” but over time “by not doing what he had to do, nothing turned out as it should have turned out.”
Perhaps “he came with certain ideas and when it came to reality he realized that introducing certain changes would inevitably bring a transformation of the country’s political system,” says Coyula
Perhaps “he came with certain ideas and when it came to reality he realized that introducing certain changes would inevitably bring a transformation of the country’s political system,” says Coyula. That is something he “is not willing to assume. He does not want to be the one who goes down in history with that note in his biography.”
Independent journalist Miriam Celaya recalls that “the glass of milk he promised is still pending” and also “all the impetus he wanted to give to the self-employment sector.” She says that in the last year there has been “a step back, a retreat, an excess of control” for the private sector.
With the death of Fidel Castro, his brother “has his hands untied to be to total reformist that some believed he was going to be,” Celaya reflects. “In this last year he should release a little what the Marxists call the productive forces,” although she is “convinced… he won’t do it.”
As for a successor, Celaya believes that the Cuban system is “very cryptic and everything arrives in a sign language, we must be focusing on every important public act to see who is who and who is not.”
“The worst thing in the whole panorama is the uncertainty, the worst legacy that Raul Castro leaves us is the magnification of the uncertainty,” she points out. “There is no direction, there is no horizon, there is nothing.” He will be remembered as “the man who lost the opportunity to amend the course of the Revolution.”
“He will not be seen as the man who knew, in the midst of turbulence, how to redirect the nation,” laments Manuel Cuesta Morua. Cuesta Morua, a regime opponent, who belongs to the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD) and to the citizen platform #Otro18 (Another 2018), reproaches Raúl Castro for not having made the “political reforms that the country needs to advance economically: he neither opens or closes [the country] to capital and is unable to articulate another response to the autonomy of society other than flight or repression.”
Iliana Hernández, director of the independent Cuban Lens, acknowledges that in recent years Raúl Castro has returned to Cubans “some rights” such as “buying and selling houses, cars, increasing private business and the right to travel.” The activist believes that this year the president should “call a free election, legalize [multiple] parties and stop repressing the population.”
As for the opposition, Hernandez believes that he is “doing things that were not done before and were unthinkable to do.”
Dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello is very critical of Raul Castro’s management and says she did not even fulfill his promise of ending the dual currency system. “He spoke of a new Constitution, a new economic system, which aren’t even mentioned in the Party Guidelines,” he says.
“To try to make up for the bad they’ve done, in the first place he should release all those who are imprisoned simply for thinking differently under different types of sanctions”
“To try to make up for the bad they’ve done, in the first place he should release all those who are imprisoned simply for thinking differently under different types of sanctions,” reflects Roque Cabello. She also suggests that he sit down and talk to the opposition so that it can tell him “how to run the country’s economy, which is distorted.”
Although she sees differences between Fidel’s and Raul Castro’s styles of government, “he is as dictator like his brother,” she said. The dissident, convicted during the Black Spring of 2003, does not consider Diaz-Canel as the successor. “He is a person who has been used, I do not think he’s the relief,” and points to Alejandro Castro Espín or Raul Castro’s former son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, as possible substitutes.
This newspaper tried to contact people close to the ruling party to obtain their opinion about Raúl Castro’s legacy, his succession and the challenges he faces for the future, but all refused to respond. Rafael Hernández, director of the magazine Temas, told the Diario de las Américas in an interview: “There must be a renewal that includes all those who have spent time like that [10 years].” However, not all members of the Council of State have been there 10 years, not even all the ministers have been there 10 years.”
This is the most that the supporters of the Government dare to say.