Ivan Garcia, 11 April 2017 — Right now the most closely guarded secret in Cuba is the protocols for succession of the nation’s president, army general Raul Castro, after his retirement in February 2018.
I will tell you what is rumored among some officials close to the tight-lipped team of advisers and influential relatives in the Council of State.
A well-informed source claims, “The man is desperate to retire. He wants to spend more time with his children and grandchildren and travel around the world. He’s really going to retire. And it seems to me that he will probably pass his job on to the first party secretary. He has always preferred to be in the background.”
A technocrat with connections to powerful elites states, “The succession is not happening at the best time but Raul is serious when he says he is leaving. I have it on good authority that Miguel Diaz-Canel and his wife Lis Cuesta, around whom the media has been creating a presidential image in recent months, are studying English in depth and preparing to lead the country.”
A former personal security officials says, “Resources have been put at Diaz-Canel’s disposal, the kind of communication technology and logistical support that a president would have.”
Meanwhile, as the official media has been inundating us with reports of economic successes and the alleged loyalty of the population to Raul Castro and his deceased brother, the countdown to the succession continues.
There is only a little more than ten months until D-Day. At midnight on February 24 the republic will presumably be governed by a civilian president without the last name Castro.
One of the sources consulted for this article believes that “after his own retirement, Raul will force the retirement of several longtime revolutionary officials such as Jose Ramon Machado Ventura and Ramiro Valdes.* His son Alejandro, who is a colonel in the Ministry of the Interior, will retain a certain degree of power while his daughter Mariela will continue promoting an image of tolerance towards homosexuality but will no longer hold any really significant positions.
“The power behind the throne will be the military. Everything has been arranged. There will be major economic changes. If the purchasing power of the population does not increase, consumer spending will be encouraged while the monetary and intellectual capital of the exile community will be tapped.
“If not, Cuba will never get out of the swamp. Political exhaustion and systemic failures have created conditions conducive to the emergence of an acute social crisis whose outcome no one can predict. That is why there will be changes.”
In Cuba, where the state press’s greatest strengths are saying nothing and masking daily reality, rumors within the halls of power carry more credibility than the official news.
Raul Castro is a perpetual schemer. Let the analyst or journalist who foresaw the secret negotiations with the United States and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations on December 17, 2014 raise his hand.
Prognosticating in such a secretive country can be disastrous but there have been some signals. During the the monotone National Assembly’s 2015 legislative session a gradual rollback of Raul’s reforms began. And Marino Murillo, the czar of these reforms, disappeared from official photos.
In response to the Venezuelan crisis, which led to cuts of 40% in fuel imports, the economic initiatives promoted by Raul Castro came to an abrupt halt.
Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba in March 2016 was the final straw. The regime’s most conservative factions began changing the rules of the game.
While lacking the charisma or stature of his brother, Castro II has proved to be more effective at putting together negotiating teams and has had greater successes in foreign policy. They include reestablishing diplomatic relations with the United States without having to make many concessions in return, acting as mediator in the meeting in Havana between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, facilitating the peace agreement in Colombia and securing the cancellation of a considerable portion of the nation’s financial debt.
His agricultural reforms have failed. People are still waiting for that glass of milk he promised them in a speech given in Camaguey on July 26, 2007. On that day Raul Castro said, “We have to erase from our minds this limit of seven years (the age at which Cuban children are no longer entitled to receive a certain ration of milk). We are taking it from seven to fifty. We have to produce enough so that everyone who wants it can have a glass of milk.”
The Foreign Investment Law has not been able to attract the roughly 2.5 billion dollars expected annually. The sugar harvest and food production have not gotten off the ground, requiring the regime to import more than two billion dollars worth of food every year.
Except for tourism, the profitable foreign medical assistance program and other international missions, and remittances from overseas, all other exports and economic initiatives have decreased or not shown sufficient growth.
Vital industrial sectors are not profitable and its equipment is obsolete. Problems in housing, transportation and public service shortages are overwhelming. The price of home internet service is outrageous. Official silence has surrounded recent restrictions on the sale of gasoline** while public speculation about a return to the “Special Period” has not been discussed by the executive branch.
Raul Castro barely appears in the public anymore. Aside from attending Fidel’s funeral in November 2016, presiding over parliament last December and sporadic appearances at the Summits of the Caribbean and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, his presence is almost imperceptible.
He is governing in hibernation mode, on automatic pilot. There is no word on currency reform. The vaunted Economic Guidelines, only 21% of which have been carried out, seem to be dead in the water.
According to a former journalist who now lives in Miami and who dealt closely with Raul in the late 1980s, his seemingly erratic behavior could be interpreted in several ways.
“Raul is not doctrinaire like his brother. Nor does he leave tasks half done like Fidel used to do. I supposed he has his hands full preparing Diaz-Canal so he can finish the job and implement good, effective reforms. I think Diaz-Canal will play an important role in Cub’s future. Reporters should start lining up their canons now,” says the former journalist.
The sense on the street is that the island is going to hell. The outlook does not look good. The future is a question mark. The pathways to emigration are closing. And the average person’s salary remains a bad joke.
The optimists, who are in the minority, are praying the general has an emergency plan in his desk drawer. The pessimists, who are in the majority, believe that life in Cuba will go on as it has, whether under Raul, Diaz-Canal or any other members of the Communist praetorian guard.
*Translator’s note: Vice-president of the Council of State and governmental vice-president respectively.
** Though no public announcement has been made, as of April 1 sales of so-called “special gasoline” have been restricted to tourists with rental cars.