Congress or Funeral? In Cuba, You Never Know

Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel during the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba. (Revolution Studies)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 April 2021 — In the illegal Cuban lottery, the number eight means death, the same number as this edition of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) Congress that concluded on Monday in Havana. The conclave has had all the solemnity of a political funeral for a generation that is vacating its high positions, but it has offered few optimistic signs for our national life which is going through its worst crisis in this century.

The departure of Raúl Castro from the secretariat of the most powerful organization in the country is not surprising. The irremediable footsteps of biology have pushed him to step aside, at least publicly. Even so, although no one at the top of the Party now bears the surname of the family clan that has ruled Cuba for 62 years, it would be naive to think that the lineage that came from the small town of Birán will not try to continue to control the national destiny.

To remain at the helm of the ship without being visibly in the main cabin, Raúl Castro drew up a plan in advance that is consistent with the methodical discipline of his personal motto: “without haste but without pause.” The naming of Miguel Díaz-Canel to lead the Communist Party, a ‘favored youngest son’ trained to maintain the continuity of the system at all costs, has been a fundamental step in this plan for the transfer of public responsibilities.

The intrusion into the Political Bureau of  Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, Raul Castro’s former son-in-law and head of the military consortium that controls a large part of the island’s tourism business, suggests that the priorities of the outgoing Party leader are to prevent a reformist turn of events from collapsing the system with the result that the family would lose the management of the most succulent pieces of the national economic pie.

This is the roadmap that the general has defined to spend his last days safe from courtrooms and prison bars, but it is not enough. The country that has been passed along, at least nominally, is experiencing its moment of greatest citizen dissatisfaction with, and unrest over, the political and economic model. The absurd bans, centralism and poor productive management have contributed to a material disaster that the pandemic has deepened in the last year.

Public demonstrations of disagreement are no longer exclusive to the opposition and rare is the week in which a street protest, a confrontation between the people and the police, or a denunciation of the excess of State Security is not broadcast on social networks. The entire nation seems like a vast expanse of dry grass under the inclement sun of misery and repression, which could be ignited with a small spark or lead to another of the many migratory crises that Cubans have cyclically lived through.

In this Eighth Congress, the outgoing leaders of the Communist Party preferred to send the message of persistence on the current path instead of promoting change, and opted to stick to the script of passing on the ideological baton to the detriment of announcing a plan of openings that a part of the population was expecting. In the coming weeks, as more details of the event are released, there will be a few who will rub their hands, many who end up assembling a makeshift raft to emigrate, and others who will light a candle for the nation that continues to expire.

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