Cubanet, Paulina Alfonso, 26 December 2016 — What will become of Cuba in the new year now that Fidel Castro is gone? This is a question only foreigners ask. It is of no interest to most Cubans. They have other concerns: how to get out, how to survive and what number to bet on in the Florida lottery.
The ten years since the Comandante retired have been a period of transition during which his successor, Raul Castro propped up the regime and tested new economic methods.
Some political analysts believe that Raul Castro will now feel less pressured if he were to make attempts to alleviate the difficult economic situation threatening his government.
Although Raúl Castro has made a commendable effort in the last ten years to improve the Cuban economy, his reforms — he refuses to label them as such — have not gone much beyond changes in land distribution, emigration laws, and the freedom to buy and sell cars and homes. An expansion of the private sector has not had a significant impact or led to a vital economic turnaround.
The main goal, the lifting of the US embargo, was not achieved despite President Obama’s policy toward Cuba. There is still no realistic possibility of the embargo being lifted, at least for the next four years.
Thus, Raúl Castro’s only option is try to improve Cubans’ standard of living, which might allow him to at least regain some of their respect and discourage young people, for whom the current situation offers nothing, from emigrating.
Raúl Castro has publicly indicated he plans to retire from government in 2018. Most analysts agree that he will not be able to accomplish anything he set out to do in the time remaining.
All indications are that Raúl Castro has run out of ideas and has chosen to broaden the current economic reforms — he refers to them as “updates” — as much as he can to at least maintain the status quo.
Will Miguel Díaz-Canel be the means by Raúl Castro maintains this status quo? The fifty-six-year-old politician appointed to succeed the general appears to be a new and improved version of his predecessor, José Ramón Machado Ventura.
For example, Díaz-Canel is never without his smart phone, communicates through Facebook and has a Twitter account. His speeches, though far from eloquent, are more realistic and down-to-earth. He increasingly announces policies that appeal to young people, especially when they pertain to things such as internet access, though nothing that could be called transformative.
They do not include constitutional changes that would codify separation of powers or ten-year term limits. That is yet to be seen. And let’s not forget that none of this has anything to do with political power.
As has been the case since 1975, the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) presides over the Coucil of State and the Council of Ministers and is the country’s highest office. The post will go to the the person who is elected by the next Communist Party congress.
Miguel Díaz-Canel is not the second party secretary; that is Machado Ventura. Getting to be second party secretary will be Díaz-Canel’s main task, even though he is widely known to have been chosen as the successor.
The PCC has a large inventory of veteran cadres with their own ideas and more experience than Diaz-Canel. If they accept him — and this is especially true of members of the military — it will be out of discipline and not because they see him as a leader to be followed.
In reality, the Council of State and Council of Ministers posts are strictly formalities. If Raúl Castro were to disappear tomorrow, the real power would revert to the PCC and whoever is its leader.
Nevertheless, all the regime can do now is wait until Donald Trump takes office and see if he maintains the process of normalization of relations with Cuba or deals it a fatal blow.
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