Raul Castro: Five Years in Power / Iván García

Last July 31st, Raul Castro completed his first five years in charge of Cuba’s destiny. Unlike Fidel, he speaks little and isn’t too inclined to self-adulation. He knows the Cuban economic model is a fiasco and bets on a miracle.

The old conspirator, now president of the Republic, has drawn his master plan. It relies on various cardinal sectors. And it isn’t the dream of a visionary or the fatherland’s little founder. If there is something he knows how to do, it is listen to those who know how and let them do it.

Of course, he is not a democrat. He is an old school Communist dinosaur. He is surrounded by a clan of military-entrepreneurs who have put away their striking uniforms and Spartan life in the barracks, and now they wear white guayaberas. They are informed on the latest innovative methods of business administration and finance.

The General has seen how the central planning of Marxist Socialism has failed. Therefore, he looks to China and Vietnam, two nations that still opt for the bizarre ideology, but are economically growing using capitalist methods.

He doesn’t want to improvise as his brother did. The sole commander got used to conceiving plans as if they were strings of sausages and, when they didn’t work, blamed others for it and turned the page.

Castro II, 80, knows that his principal enemy is time, and not the local dissidence or the lethal Creole bureaucracy.

But if he makes changes too fast he may lose the reins of reforms and become the Caribbean Gorbachev. The Revolution’s gravedigger. That idea terrifies the General. Therefore, his reforms go at a danzon pace. Slow, methodical and safe.

He doesn’t want surprises. When things get stuck, he shifts gears while the car is running. He knows how to improvise. As in the case of self-employment.

The gypsy cab drivers were unhappy about the taxes. He didn’t think twice, and made a tax reduction from one thousand to six hundred pesos.

The same with the paladares*; rumors and dislikes. He enacted an ordinance raising the number of seats in private restaurants from 20 to 50 chairs. With the land leases he has made ​​amendments. The number of private trades have been expanded to 181. If necessary he will make other changes, according to the circumstances.

Raúl Castro doesn’t stick to a dogma or fixed ideas. Publicly, he speaks of a planned economy. A speech to toss some bones to and provide pleasant music for the ears of the party orthodox wing. And also for his brother who looks on puzzles, from his bedside, at the chips that his successor has been moving.

Many think that Fidel Castro is abandoned to the mercy of God. We can not forget that the legendary partisan has an important asset in his hands: Hugo Chávez.

If Raul steps out of the script, Castro could convince Chavez to close the oil tap to the island. With this blackmail, he controls the excesses of the ‘olive green technocrats’ and their ambitions of founding state capitalism.

The Bolivarian is Fidel Castro’s wildcard, his counterpart. An unconditional. Because of these honors and attention, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias feels strong. And at times, with hidden criticism, sends his hurtful remarks to Raul’s followers.

The General needs oil from the infamous Chavez. And to play on both sides. Like the conspirator he has always been.

Do not forget that Raul was the “Machiavelli” behind the episode of sectarianism in the Communist Party in the ’60s, known as ‘the microfaction’. He and his intelligence apparatus were those who managed the children and carried out purges in the armed forces, in 1989-90, at the time of the Ochoa and Abrantes cases.

While Fidel was interested in enhancing his image as a world-class statesman, Castro II was conspiring in the shadows. Since the mid ’90s, the real power in the island has been held by the General. The intrigues and political maneuvers are his favorite sauce.

Raul Castro has drawn his master plan facing the future.

One of his pillars is the water hydraulic resource. For two years, he has been building a major water transfer system across the eastern municipalities of the island. The port of Mariel is one of his ventures for an economic resurgence. Some scholars think that when the embargo becomes history, this harbor could be the largest in the Caribbean, outperforming the port of Miami.

Another strategy is to expand tourism and especially to attract travelers with money to spend. Today, the tourists who visit Cuba are using all-inclusive packages and, on average, spend $ 36 a day which its too little.

The General aims for the wealthy and the businessmen to make their trips to the island. Therefore he has launched the construction of hunting grounds and 18-hole golf courses. There’s also an increasing lobby to resume real estate construction.

In his economic design for the coming years, offshore drilling on the Cuban shelf is crucial. If the geological survey has the desired results, the dependence on Venezuelan oil will be cut short. And he would not have to bear Chavez’s subtle insults.

Among the Castro II projects is future participation in the businesses of Cuban-Americans who haven’t been too critical of the regime.

Raul Castro wants to go down in history as the statesman who laid the foundations for economic development in Cuba. Many are wary of him. He looks like a bad guy. But there are bad guys, like Pinochet in Chile, who sometimes do good things.

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Translator’s note:
Paladares — literally, palates — are small private restaurants, where actually you eat in a home’s dining room.

Translated by: Adrian Rodriguez.

August 1 2011