Raul Castro Closes the Wall*

Cuba today is more of an island than ever before.  The discourse which took place this past Sunday, 4th of April, by the Cuban general and president, Raul Castro, has slammed the door to any anticipated reforms.

During the closing ceremony of the IX Union of Young Communists (UJC), Castro II, with his hoarse voice, guttural and worn out, returned to Cold War discourse, a tone that unmistakably resembles that of his brother Fidel.

When Raul rose to power two years ago, various “Cuba experts” predicted that an era of reforms was on the horizon.  The supposed tropical “perestroika” limited itself to changes in design. Pure make-up. A slight touch of the brush, no substance.  Cubans were allowed to rent cars and hotel rooms.  They now could own cell phones and surf the web, as long as they paid the equivalent of the minimum salary on the island.

The rest was just a war between clans.  It is a fact that the tough guys exert power with a clique of men who are loyal to their man.  And Castro II did not even remotely trust in the men who were trusted during the Fidel era.

And there was a change of furniture.  When you move the furniture around in your house you get a new look, another perspective.  But it doesn’t change the fact that you continue living under the same exact roof.  That was what the General did.  With his chess moves, he dethroned 12 ministers and a hundred lower-ranking functionaries.

He surrounded himself with his people.  He was advised by his son-in-law Jose Luis Lopez Callejas, the type who stays away from the cameras and the limelight, but actually ended up being one of his most valuable advisors in everything dealing with businesses that report in hard currency.

At his side on each foreign trip or public act within the island, one can see his grandson Alejandro, also known as the “Crab,” and of whom it is rumored he will eventually have an important role in the future of Cuba.

Mariela, the daughter, pretends to be the First Lady.  She is supposed to be the tolerant one of the family, reaching out to gays and lesbians who decide to come out of the closet.  Pouting, she asks her dad to allow homosexuals into the military.

Another one of his trusty men is the Minister of the Armed Forces (FAR), General Julio Casas Regueiro.  The Cuban military, just like that of China, has become excessively involved with businesses.  The majority of those companies that are succesful just so happen to be those that are being run by military-businessmen.

Abelardo Colome Ibarra, Furry, another of Castro II’s right hand men, is in a delicate position. The current Minister of Interior, it is whispered – on the island almost everything is rumor or speculation – is very ill. Also, he might be involved in acts of alleged corruption.

Among the key personalities in the era of Castro II is Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, Minister of Computing and Communications, now with super minister powers. He is the same one who goes to Caracas to whisper advice in the ear of Hugo Chavez, who travels to the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, 900 kilometers from Havana, to monitor water rehabilitation works.

The economic changes that lie ahead are timid. First aid for an economy that has called for help for many years. There is talk of giving autonomy to a number of state establishments that have never worked, such as barbers, cafes and small domestic appliance repairers. They would work as cooperatives. But everything is still on the table in the hierarchy.

In this year of 2010, the death of the opponent Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the hunger strike that Guillermo Fariñas is staging have become a big fat problem for General Castro.

Much of the world openly criticizes the political inertia of the Castro brothers. The European Parliament signed a condemnation that has greatly upset the regime in Havana.

In his speech on April 4, Castro closed the wall. He hid in his shell. He said more of the same. To increase productivity, to respect disagreement and he criticized the submissive unanimity in all sectors of Cuban society.

Of course, all these disagreements are within the Revolution. For the others, dissidents, free journalists and opposition supporters, he shot them with the usual verbal shrapnel: mercenaries and traitors paid by U.S. or European imperialism.

The hardship of this Numantian policy is that they speak in the name of the people of Cuba and of ethereal ideals that do not put food on the table. General Raul Castro has had a hard job. To bring to safe harbor a leaky old boat, worn out by 51 years of hazardous travel.

Now nothing is the same. A high percentage of the population does not believe in its leaders. And does not look favorably on a course that takes the country back to polarization and the speech of the bully. And worse, nobody knows the final destination.

Iván García

(*) “To close the wall” is an expression used in Havana as in other cities. In the seventeenth century, due to the constant attacks of corsairs and pirates, the Cuban capital had to be walled. The wall was closed at 9 pm, when a cannon was fired from the fortress of El Morro-La Cabaña. More on the history of the Wall of Havana. In 1958, Nicolás Guillén, national poet, wrote a poem called The Wall, which became famous when set to music and performed by the Spanish duo Víctor Manuel and Ana Belén.

Translated by: Raul G.