Cuba Undergoes Historic Change in a Climate of Political Apathy

Most Cubans go about their daily lives, doubting the presidential transition will significantly alleviate their problems. (Poster: In Ourselves, The Victory) (Kapa, 14ymedio).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 16 April 2018 — D-day is fast approaching but the Cuban parliament’s selection of the country’s new president on Thursday has raised few hopes among the population. For more than half a century someone with the surname Castro has led the country. However, the sentiment on the street, as well as in conversations between friends and family members, is that nothing will really change.

The presidential transition, initially scheduled for February 24 but postponed until April 19, represents a historic transfer of power from a generation that is more than eight decades old and has ruled the country with an iron fist for more than half a century. The current president’s retirement, however, will be limited.

Raúl Castro will remain secretary general of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), an organization with just over 600,000 members which the Cuban constitution recognizes as “the leading force of society and the state.” His term in office could last until 2021, when the next congress is scheduled to take place.

Although it is not yet known with certainty who the successor will be, all indications are that it will be the current first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, someone who did not participate in the assault on the Moncada Barracks, did not fight in the Sierra Maestra, did not have a role the execution of political prisoners during the early years after the Cuban revolution and was not responsible for the confiscation of private property or businesses.

“It does not matter what his name is; what matters is that he will be different,” observed Danilo, a rabid baseball fan involved in a spirited discussion on Saturday at the Esquina Caliente sports club in Havana’s Central Park. In the discussion there was the occasional comment about what would happen on Thursday.

“Brother, everything is the same, nothing will change,” responded Mandy, a twenty-one-year-old who claims to have no illusions about the arrival of a reformist figure to guide the country on the path of economic and political change. “They know that any movement can derail the system,” he says.

The presence of Bruno Rodríguez in place of Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Lima this week aroused speculation about the Cuban chancellor’s possible ascent. His name, along with that of Díaz-Canel, the economist Marino Murillo and the head of the Havana PCC Mercedes Lopéz Acea are those most often mentioned as likely candidates to lead the Council of State.

These four apparatchiks lack the historic credentials that their predecessors have long relied upon to wield power.

“I don’t want to even think about much less watch television that day,” says Acela, a sixty-eight-year-old retiree. “The biggest problem for me is that my income is not enough. I spend all my monthly pension in less than a week and even that does not go very far,” she adds.

For weeks, there had been speculation that Castro might begin the complex process of currency unification before leaving office. But with “19A” — as some refer to it —rapidly approaching, expectations are falling.

“He is leaving his successor with a huge problem if he does not fix the two currency situation, because that is something that will cause people a lot of problems and a lot of headaches,” says Omar, a taxi driver who transports customers from Havana’s Chinatown.

A few meters from the taxi driver’s Soviet-made vehicle, a young man hawks a restaurant menu in which Chinese dishes alternate with Italian ones. “This week we have the ’president’ pizza,” he says. “It has a little of everything: seafood to please some and ham to please others …” he jokes.

The restaurant hawker believes Díaz-Canel will be designated the succesor. Brought up through the ranks of the PCC, the current vice-president has survived purges to which others fell victim. His lack of charisma has kept him in office and protected him from being sacked, as was the fate of other former heirs-apparent such Roberto Robaina, Carlos Lage and the energetic Felipe Pérez Roque.

Many students in the School of Civil Engineering at the Instituto Superior Politécnico José Antonio Echeverría are not shy about expressing their positive opinions of Diaz-Canel, a fellow graduate whose his professional life has been spent in the PCC.

“He is a practical man, trained to operate in a collegial work environment, like all of us engineers are,” says Raydel, a recent engineering graduate who maintains close ties with others in the field.

“The fact that he has a university degree shows he is well-prepared and I hope his training is useful when the time comes to make decisions because there are a lot of things that need urgent solutions,” says one engineer.

In Havana, however, others believe his strength lies in his image as “a family man who has been seen in photos out in public with his wife,” as Karla Lucía, a self-employed hairdresser who works in a small beauty salon on San Rafael street, explains.

“This speaks well of him, going out with his wife. And this country might finally have a first lady,” she adds.

Most of those interviewed confined themselves to trivial comments and avoided expounding on possible political changes. “No, people here continue to wonder if they will be able to go on vacation or buy a house but aren’t really thinking about the president,” says María Dolores, a fortune teller who throws snails in ritualistic gestures outside a church dedicated to the Virgin of Regla in a town near Havana Bay. “If you already know the answer, you don’t ask the question,” she says.


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