Cuba and the End of the Historical Generation

Three Cuban presidents (past, present and future) in a photo taken during the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 24 September 2018 — Nearly 60 years after its triumph, the Cuban Revolution today does not resemble what it was or what it pretended to be. In almost six decades, those bearded youth who came down from the mountains went from generating dreams to provoking fear or apathy. Their formula for staying in power has been a mixture of obstinacy and political cynicism.

Of those one hundred founding figures, rebaptized today as the “historical generation,” there are barely a dozen survivors of whom only four occupy key positions. Fidel Castro’s ashes repose in a stone and his brother Raul has passed on the powers of the Government while preparing for his replacement at the head of the Communist Party.

A quarter of a century after the collapse of socialism in the countries of Eastern Europe, and in the midst of a crisis of the left in Latin America, Cuban socialism has had to adapt to new times on a globalized planet where the concept of “capitalist countries” encompasses virtually the entire rest of the world. In order to not perish it has borrowed practices and formulas that it once rejected.

One of these cyclical make-overs is happening right now with the process of constitutional reform. This process is marked, on one hand, by the stubbornness of official thinking, which maintains that the system is irrevocable, and, on the other, by an excess of hopefulness among the reformist sectors which are betting on the Constitution being a step on the long road toward the transformation of the country.

Outside these two postures is positioned the extensive bloc of pessimists, who think that as long as there is no change in what has to change everything in Cuba will remain the same.


The Constitution, which is being cooked up under the strict surveillance of the only party allowed in the country, maintains the concept that “socialism and the established political and social revolutionary system are irrevocable.” Thus, when Cubans go to vote on the constitutional referendum, on 24 February 2019, they will be ratifying or rejecting a straitjacket.

Raúl Castro has prepared a meticulous framework of 224 articles to leave the new generation of officials with a cast-iron system, in which it is almost impossible to promote a change of direction from within. The Constitution is the road map that can’t be deviated from by a single inch, or at least that is what the ex-president has planned.

Not even Parliament has the power to reform this principle of irrevocability that functions as a legal constraint for the new generation preparing to take the helm of the national ship, a generation that may be tempted to take the reforms too far, once the group of the historical generation has finally been extinguished.

The extensive text is the last move by the olive-green octogenarians to control the country beyond their deaths, to win the game of biology and continue to determine the fate of Cuba.

Reformist hopes

The most optimistic believe that despite the rigid bars imposed by some articles of the Constitution, other articles open a space for greater economic and social freedoms.

In the new Constitution that is now being promoted, the use of the word communism to define the final goal of the Revolution has been removed, the explicit purpose of eliminating the exploitation of man by man has disappeared, private ownership of the means of production has been accepted and the market’s role in the economy is recognized.

These adjustments open the way for the eventual establishment on the Island of a model in the Chinese or Vietnamese style, where the Party maintains rigid political control while the State renounces its monopoly on property. Economic centralism is undermined by the acceptance of other forms of management, but it is clear to entrepreneurs that they cannot grow or enrich themselves beyond a strict limit.

Other points, such as the acceptance of equal marriage or the regulation of the maximum age of senior officials in the country, are part of an attractively wrapped package within which they want to hide the poisoned candy of the Constitution. With these flexibilities, the ruling party wants to attract the LGBTI community and other reformist groups to endorse the document, despite the fact that the rest of the articles have an immobile and reactionary character.

In the public debates being held on the project, many voices are heard calling for permission for nationals to have the right to invest on equal terms with foreigners and it has been proposed to eliminate the article that inhibits “concentration of ownership in natural or legal non-state persons.” But so far these are only proposals and nobody knows if they will be reflected in the final document.

Optimists also worry about the oscillations or the backward steps that accompany each advance.

While it appears that the long dreamed of aspiration to be able to access the internet will be realized by the end of this year through connections from mobile phones, the ruling party has launched an offensive against the independent dissemination of content and the non-governmental press, which has had its climax in the enactment of Decree Law 349, which tightens the screws on cultural censorship.

Laws have recently been enacted to control entrepreneurs, who are not yet allowed to export or import and who lack a wholesale market to supply them with resources. The new enemy of the Cuban Revolution is – and has been for some time now – the private sector that is outperforming the State in services and quality.

For the Government, self-employed workers are a group that they suck the blood out of with taxes and fines, but also a group that should not be given wings to expand too much or allowed to organize themselves in unions. It is precisely in this area of ​​civil liberties that the system is most reluctant to take steps forward, fearing that a small opening that allows free association will jeopardize the monopoly of the Communist Party.

All or nothing

Despite the surveillance and repression, the sector of discontented Cubans has grown significantly in recent years and numerous nuances have appeared. This critical sector encompasses citizens who suffer, without protesting, the harsh reality where a salary is not enough to feed a family, where market shelves are empty and public transport has collapsed, but also activists who take to the streets to shout slogans demanding democracy and respect for human rights.

Among the latter, especially, the idea prevails that the only solution to the country’s problems necessarily involves “the overthrow of the dictatorship.”

According to this point of view, there is no other way, given the fact that the generational change in power is being cemented by the irreversibility of the system and a single party that presents itself as “the leading force of society and of the State.”

However, outlawed and with few resources, without access to national media and constantly monitored, the likelihood of activists decapitating the system seem nil.

For the opposition, the constitutional referendum could become the only opportunity in a long time to send a message to the regime. For years, disunity, personal conflicts and the constant work of the political police have taken a toll on dissident groups. The diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana deepened that fracture and divided civil society between those who accepted the rapprochement and those who rejected it.

Now they are at the crossroads of uniting around a No vote in the constitutional referendum or allowing the Government to end up closing the cage with a Constitution that aims to perpetuate the system. In the coming months, the decisions taken by the most important opposition leaders will become clear.

For the moment, there are already many arguments which could convince the ordinary citizen of the need to reject the Constitution. The promise of a bright future that Castroism offered as one of its most important popular pillars has vanished from so much failure to deliver. Nor is there a charismatic leader capable of dragging the masses to new heights of sacrifice.

In the national context the new generations lack enthusiasm, both to surrender their youth to the socialist utopia, and to rebel against the regime. The escape valve of emigration that functioned for decades has been largely closed by the end of the wet-foot/dry-foot policy in United States, the main destination of Cubans.

It is a moment of fragility for that process called the Cuban Revolution. A system that arrives at six decades of existence without having been able to fulfill a good part of its promises, but with the intention of staying in power by force and with a Constitution that consecrates it for eternity.


Ed. note: This text has been published by the newspaper La Prensa Gráfica which authorizes this newspaper to reproduce it.

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