14ymedio, Ariel Hidalgo, Miami, August 8, 2022–Following a trip to Russia in 1992 to attend a seminar on the transition in Cuba, I published La transición que los cubanos no debemos hacer [The Transition We Cubans Should Not Make] in the Miami Herald. The Soviet Union had just crumbled and Yeltsin was in power. I posed the following question to the vice-director of Izvestia, a newspaper that was part of the old USSR, “To whom does Izvestia belong?” For me, this was a key question to which the response was, it “theoretically” belongs to the Russian Federation.
In a way it made sense, because at that time the newspaper was already in the process of being handed over to a great businessman, Vladimir Potanin who, at the same time, was the country’s Vice President. Marxism was no longer discussed and neither was socialism. Russia was taking its first steps, still wobbly, toward a business mafia camouflaged by a discourse that was beginning to be tinged with nationalism. The man charged with directing the transition to the end, Vladimir Putin, had resigned from the KGB a year earlier, and four years later would become part of the Yeltsin administration.
A similar process had begun in Cuba, except that the person supposedly destined to lead it died suddenly. General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, who is the father of one of Raúl Castro’s grandchildren, was referred to as the “tsar of the Cuban economy” for his role as the head of Gaesa, the most economically powerful conglomerate which controls the most important companies in the country. Last year he became a delegate of the National Assembly and a member of the Politburo, the senior leadership of the totalitarian party which governs the country.
The only thing missing was to replace President Díaz-Canel, who was provisionally placed in that position by Raúl Castro to take the fall for the disastrous results of the policies implemented by the leadership. His resulting unpopularity would justify this substitution. However, this last step for López-Calleja did not come to pass. Thus, the potential Cuban Putin was aborted before birth, and the consolidation of the system of a business mafia under the “godfathership” of the Castro family is on hold for the moment.
This occurred amid the deepest crisis it Cuba’s history and of uncontrollable popular protests across the country.
At this crossroad, what can the Castroist elite do? And when I say “Castroist elite,” I refer to what remains of the octogenarian — and now nonagenarian — “historic leadership.”
A. It could do nothing, just allow all the businesses to disintegrate under their own weight and let civil and military bureaucrats appropriate those means of production as new capitalists, on condition of being accountable to that leadership and in particular, to the “family.” This is one form of abandoning that antiquated model which has been proven unsustainable, and spawning another model more similar to the Russian than the Chinese. However, because the public is already aware and desperate, this would require violently repressing popular protests and demonstrations in a new kind of Tiananmen — a very dangerous thing as it could face sedition by young generals whose loyalties are not beyond doubt.
B. Secure asylum for themselves in an allied country without extradition laws, while abandoning their minions and underlings to face the chaos and grave dangers of an overwhelming popular tsunami, while they peacefully live out their few remaining years or months with their families and their ill-gotten funds, but clear of danger.
C. Replace Díaz-Canel and his team with reformist officials whose image is more acceptable to the people and international public opinion, to spur hopes for short- and medium-term solutions, and allow them to implement changes toward a partial economic and social opening, at least until the so-called historic leaders disappear naturally. In that case, it would be a revolution in reverse, to release from the state the assets that had been under state control, still under the supervision of this elite who would retain some power, at least until their physical disappearance.
Any one of these three options is possible, but regrettably the most likely, in my opinion, is option A, due to the obstinacy they’ve always demonstrated to remain in power at all costs; and the least likely, for the same reason, is option B.
Option C would be the most intelligent, and there are several possible candidates, all unthinkable under normal circumstances. For example, one recently mentioned by several media sources would be Armando Franco Senén, the former director of Alma Mater, who was fired in April for tackling controversial topics which apparently caused discomfort among authorities. The expulsion, which spurred the resignation of the entire editorial team, occurred at the urging of the National Committee of the UJC and, in particular, Nislay Molina (at the time in charge of the ideological arm of the organization of young communists) who said, “We should have fired you a long time ago.”
I mention Senén due to the unexpected fact that, shortly after, Molina was relieved of her duties. In contrast, he was promoted to an important position at Palco, a state group less powerful than Gaesa, but with several companies under his control. This promotion was celebrated with much fanfare by Palco exactly one month after López-Calleja’s death. For a bureaucrat “to fall up” is a common event among the acolytes of the regime who make mistakes, put never among critics of the regime, no matter how moderate.
We must remain vigilant to facts such as these because López-Calleja’s death and the growing protests may have resulted in the elite discarding option A to lean toward C.
But all this is hypothetical. The only thing we can say with clarity is that in the near future, Cuba cannot continue being what it has been until now. Continuity of the current model will not be possible. History itself has shown this.
The model of a state-run centralist monopoly, misnamed “real socialism” is not viable and that is why it did not require military interventions, coup d’etats nor armed insurrections for all of socialist Europe to implode. Even China, to avoid collapse, had to make capitalist reforms. This is why Cuba, to sustain itself, always needed subsidies from a foreign ally, something which it no longer has and is not on the horizon. Nonetheless, its leaders are dead set on keeping it.
In Russia, the formerly communist oligarchs were able to impose a business mafia system because a strong opposition did not exist, but rather a few groups with notable personalities such as the Committee on Human Rights in the Soviet Union, the Helsinki Group and Memorial, all of whose members together do not exceed the double digits.
In contrast, in Cuba there is a dissidence, which totals about a hundred organizations with thousands of members with a history of almost 40 years of struggle, and a movement which has resulted in a popular trend of civic activists in the arts, known as “artivism,” which along with access to new telecommunications technologies has gained a meteoric strength impossible for the powers that be to stop, let alone extinguish, it.
Translated by: Silvia Suárez
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