Cuba: War Against Corruption and Settling the Score at the Same Time? / Iván García

Photo: AP. Raúl Castro and Ramiro Valdés during the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party, in April 2011.

The political and fiscal plot against corruption has obvious political overtones. Many are asking if Raul Castro is playing hard ball or leaving the road to his political and economic adversaries.

Let’s wait and see. Meanwhile, the mystery continues on the island. Detentions after detentions. Surprise audits of Gladys Bejerano’s accounts. And the Chinese padlocks on the prison cells open to welcome new groups of guests.

In their crusade against corruption and crime, for the last year almost a hundred officers of all ranks have been sleeping in triple bunk beds. From those who are on the top of the pyramid, like Alejandro Roca, to the nurses and doctors who emulated the Nazis in the way they mistreated and killed patients in a psychiatric hospital.

Now, on the threshold of autumn, Havana is not setting off firecrackers. The opposition becomes ​​increasingly bold every day and loses its fear of blows and insults.

The police know that any street protest, even a small one, can cause a spark. And they suffocate it with violence. Alarms go off everywhere. Palma Soriano, Guantánamo, or a plaza in Havana where a group of women shout for freedom and political change.

The fear of any event outside the official program is palpable. Go down Infanta Street, at the corner of Santa Marta, Centro Habana, where you find the Assemblies of God Pentecostal church. A month ago, 61 parishioners decided to lock themselves in for a spiritual retreat.

And faced with doubt and the novelty of the event, just in case, the police blocked the streets around the temple. When they saw that the “enlightened” pastor Braulio Herrera and his followers were not newly-minted dissenters, they yielded.

You can now pass through the neighboring streets. But a large number of civilian police and special services prowl the area. In addition to certain social tensions, there is the widespread discontent of the people, tired of the old government and its economic inefficiency.

Cuba is now a tinderbox. The slightest touch of a match could ignite it. If there haven’t been street explosions of any magnitude it’s because the political map of the island is so strange.

You could say that 15% of the public supports the Castro brothers. Another 15% is affiliated with the opposition. While the rest, 70%, is fearful and indifferent. They are simply spectators.

To add insult to injury we have the pitched battle, without much informative fanfare, unleashed by General Raúl Castro against corruption. The main enemy of the revolution, he said. It’s a war of survival. And the clans. The winner will have free rein to design the political road map for Cuba in the coming years.

If you analyze the chess moves of that eternal conspirator named Raúl Castro, you can deduce that, despite denying the supposed differences of opinion with his brother Fidel, in practice he has been dismantling, patiently, all the framework erected by the historic leader of the Revolution over five decades.

From grandiose mandates like the “Battle of Ideas,” schools in the countryside, the excessive use of television as a teaching method in primary and secondary schools. And, of course, he has removed almost all the men loyal to Fidel.

He has made a vast change in the furniture. From the fidelistas, there are only three important figures left: Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, 79 years old, José Ramón Machado Ventura, 80, and Esteban Lazo Hernández, 67.

Lazo is the classic loyalist. If he accepts the new direction, he will continue as vice president of the Council of State. It’s true that he won’t liven things up, but he will be guaranteed his foreign trips and the amenities that belonging to the Politburo confers. For now he’s not a threat to Raul Castro’s crusade.

With Machado something else is happening. The General wants to keep him close. Ramiro is the dangerous type. Because of his history and the influences created in his years as the Minister of the Interior and the head of special services.

The blows against the Canadian businessmen of Armenian origin, Sarkis Yacubian and Cy Tokmakjian, could be interpreted as a warning message to Ramiro.

It’s a match between two big-headed men. In my opinion, Raúl Castro and Ramiro Valdés are the most important and the most powerful men in Cuba of the 21st century. Some believe that the crusade against corruption is one of Raúl’s strategies to dethrone Valdés.

It seems to me that the upcoming party conference in January 2012 will be a reckoning. Only one of the two will remain.

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Translated by Regina Anavy

September 18 2011