The July 26 event started early, in fear of the evening rains and to avoid the sun that makes the neck itch and annoys the audience. It had the solemnity that is already inherent in the Cuban system: heavy, outdated, and at times dusty. Nothing seemed to jump out of the script; Raúl Castro didn’t take the podium, nor was the speech addressed to a nation waiting for a program of changes. His absence at the microphone should not be read as a intention to decentralize responsibility and allow someone else to speak at such a commemoration. The general did not speak because he had nothing to say, no launching of a reform package, because he knows that would be playing with the power, the control, that his family has exercised for five decades.
In previous speeches, on this same date, the phrases of the Cuban Communist Party’s second secretary have created more confusion than certainty, so this time he avoided analysts reinterpreting them. Enough doubts have already been created with his 2007 predictions of mass access to milk, his unfulfilled forecast of having Santiago de Cuba’s aqueduct completed, and the unfortunate phrase “I’m just a shadow,” with which he began his speech last year. Perhaps because of this he preferred to remain silent and leave the address to the most unyielding man of his government: José Ramón Machado Ventura. Some portentous cannon shots shook the city of Havana just as the first vice president approached the podium and began his harangue filled with platitudes and declarations of intransigence.
Referring to the postponed measures to address the economy and society, Machedo Ventura declared that they will be made, “step by step at a pace determined by us.” The old confusion with the first person plural, the well-known ambiguity of the apparently consensual. The pace, the velocity and the depth of these long-awaited apertures are decided by a small group which has much to lose if they apply them, and time to benefit if they delay them. Some will say Raúl Castro’s silence is part of his strategy to avoid bluster and bravado. But, more than political discretion, what we saw today is pure State secretiveness. To make no public commitments to change, no visible implications of transformation, can be a way of warning us that these do not respond to his political will, but rather to a momentary despair which — he thinks — will eventually pass. By saying nothing, he has sent us his fullest message: “I owe you no explanations, no promises, no results.”