Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, April 16, 2021 — There is expectation, and even a certain morbid curiosity, about what Raul Castro will say in his speech before the upcoming Communist Party Congress, a conclave that will serve as his final farewell as leader. The feelings are understandable given that he will be the last Castro to occupy such a prominent position in Cuban political life.
His brother Fidel used to have the starring role at these events, eliciting tears and applause from many of his followers, both national and international, without saying much of anything. Can we expect the same of Raul. I don’t think so.
Do not expect a panoramic speech, with dramatic overtones and triumphalist rhetoric, full of revolutionary fervor and messages intended for domestic consumption. No one buys that stuff anymore. From 1971, when the first speech was given, to 2021, our year of living dangerously, these speeches had to be carefully crafted if they were to reach their target audience. They are now aimed at those who still do not understand the collective madness of trying to assimilate into society a political party whose propaganda has continually distorted political and social reality.
And that’s Raul’s problem. Having survived for so long, anything he says at this congress will be applauded by the opportunists. But it will not reverberate with large segments of the population whose minds will be elsewhere and who long ago learned to tune out the official dogma. The revolution and everything it represents have grown old, which is why preparing the speech now requires so much care.
First of all, Cuban society has changed. People want to move forward, improve their quality of life, increase prosperity, end poverty. They know the government is responsible for the never-ending system of rationing, that it is a tool the regime uses to keep the population under its economic control. How to get out of this quandary, not even Raul Castro knows. Who would ever have imagined that Cuba’s communists would one day open foreign currency stores to sell basic products? Let’s see if Raul says something about that in his speech.
Secondly, at this point it is hard to fool people with obsolete, outdated messages which have no relevance in the face of worldwide trends such as globalization, digitalization and a new industrial revolution. Cubans have travelled overseas, they own cell phones and personal computers, they talk to foreign tourists. They are not isolated they way they were during Fidel Castro’s first congress. It is a historical oddity that Raul Castro, the person responsible for restoring some basic freedoms, became the victim of a process he started. That’s how it goes.
Thirdly, there is the issue of time. There is no going back, no matter how much we might want to do so. The train only moves in one direction, towards the final destination. Rewinding the clock is not an option. One could talk about the present but it is complicated, difficult, chaotic, and there are no concrete solutions. No one is interested in the future because all that matters now is getting by day to day. And any mention of past congresses is just a waste of time.
We will have to keep in mind what he says is largely determined by what the scribes, the guardians of official ideology and the bootlickers allow him to say. They exercise their influence by correcting speeches and inserting their own thoughts and ideas into the words of others. It would be a shame if this gang were responsible for Raul Castro’s last words to his party comrades. I am still hoping that the last of the Castros will pull a rabbit out of his hat and then retire to his eastern refuge.
The dream of any matador is to leave the bullring through the main gate of the plaza after a great performance, basking in the adulation of the crowd. But a time of severe economic crisis unlike any in the last five years is no time for communist fanfares. The people, the masses, would not understand. Though the crowd will not reward Raul with spoils of battle, he can at least try to leave the communist conclave with a good taste in its mouth. What will matter to the rest world, which in this case will be listening in, is that this will be the last time.
Therefore, if I were writing Raul Castro’s official farewell speech, I would recommend that he acknowledge the following:
That he did not have the courage to see the reform process he started to its conclusion. That he ended it too soon, succumbed to pressure and left things unfinished, with only 13% percent of the workforce employed in the private sector.
That he made a mistake in choosing his successor. That Diaz-Canel has not been up to the job, working on his doctorate in the middle of a crisis.
That the Castro family is out of control and possibly in danger. That they can be seen coddling their puppies while driving their high-speed luxury cars and hosting lavish banquets while most Cubans go hungry.
That, like his brother, he will not write anything in his final years of life. That he will retire and go fishing. That he will be happy.
That he has missed the chance to leave Cuba a big inheritance. That he no longer blames the U.S. embargo, or “blockade,” admitting it was always a secondary issue, that it was his brother’s thing, not his.
That he has left the nation’s economy in much worse shape than he found it. That he was not able reform the system and make it viable. That he acknowledge it is not viable and that he is leaving it to those who come after him to change it. That he insist this is something that must done.
That the momentum to restore relations with the United States faltered because he lacked political will and because his brother used his position as an influential writer to wreck the process from the sidelines. That there were too many missteps before Trump came along and everything fell apart.
That he has been unable to overcome the legacy of his brother, no matter how hard he tried. That people now speak less and less about Fidel and that, for this, we should all be grateful.
That there were too many years were spent stalling for time. That, yes, things should have changed during Perestroika, but Gorbachev upstaged Fidel, and Fidel never let anyone get in his way.
That, with him, the Castro dynasty ends. Once and for all. That he does not really care might happen to them other than that they stay safe, that he will leave them what he can. That they do not cry for him, that he doesn’t deserve it, that he be cremated and his ashes scattered in the Sierra Maestra, that they forget about him as though he had never existed.
That he ask forgiveness and walk away in silence.
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