Raul Castro: Seven Years of Governing / Ivan Garcia

castro-r-620x330Giving an accounting of their administration was never among the priorities of the Castro brothers. The modern caudillos are considered beyond good and evil.

Indeed, Fidel Castro managed the nation like a private bodega, with outlandish economic plans, bypassing the state budget, bleeding its finances, material resources and human lives sacrificed in civil wars in Africa or subversive plans in America. To Raul Castro has fallen the difficult task of saving and perpetuating the olive-green revolution.

It may seem a mission impossible. On July 31, 2006, Castro II inherited a country in the red. The domestic economy was a real mess. In bankruptcy and with a powerful cartel of corrupt bureaucrats pulling the strings of domestic trade behind the scenes.

Cubans, exhausted and with no future, living from campaign to campaign. The ideological factor was one of the keys of the bearded one. The nation was mobilized and industry paralyzed to plant burro plantains in the fields, to demand the return of Elián González and the release of five spies imprisoned in the United States.

Cuba was the closest thing to an asylum. Fidel, historical leader of the Revolution, transformed the continent’s third largest economy into a quagmire.

Little or nothing worked well. Inefficient public transport and unprofitable production. People went to work to lie around or steal. The best, health and education, began to recede.

The Cubans were not or are not happy. There is no way to express complaints publicly. The media is a caricature administered by the regime.

The solution of many, flee. In rubber rafts, as stowaways on a ship or commercial aircraft. Hijacking a boat passenger or marrying a European or Canadian gentleman or lady, three times their age.

The picture Comrade Raul had before his eyes on July 31, 2006, when his brother handed over power, was very ugly. Cuba was broken. Shut down.

The Cubans were fourth-class citizens in their homeland. “Prohibited” is the buzzword. We had no right to sell our homes and cars purchased after 1959. We could not stay in a good hotel and travel abroad; a commission of the Ministry of the Interior had to approve your departure.

The General came in as a relief pitcher, although by the mid-90s, military companies controlled 80% of the national economy through a network in key sectors.

The differences between one management of the government and another were glimpsed from the inception. Fidel Castro never learned to listen. He ran the country like a military camp. Meteorologist one day, cattle geneticist or national baseball coach others. He had no friends, only sycophants and partners of convenience.

For the comandante, democracy was an aberration created by liberal drunks . The people needed leaders of his stripe. After his studies at a Jesuit school, he became an incorrigible egomaniac.

Raul is another thing. Communist in his heart, without much political talent, likes teamwork and is a good listener. But it is a hard and pure autocrat.

Juan Juan Almeida, the son of a guerrilla commander who lived in Raul Castro’s home for a while, told me he came home from work, downed a shot of vodka, and sat and chatted with his children and grandchildren.

His fondness for his family did not mean he liked the people. He enlisted in the socialist youth and felt admiration for the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In his office hung a painting of the Georgian butcher of inordinate proportions. Those who suspected that Castro II would bury Real Socialism and lead the island within the canons of Western democracy, may have been wrong.

The timid economic reforms of the Raul Castro regime demonstrate the fear of losing control. Everything is slow  predictable and calculated. The general dislike surprises.

He surrounded himself with a team of colonels and generals converted into technocrats. Two of his trusted men, Abdel Yzquierdo, minister of economy, and reform czar Marino Murillo are military men who now wear spotless white guayabera, but years ago they worked in business development management in the armed forces.

Before initiating his economic proposals, Raul Castro swept out the barracks. All men loyal to his brother were retired discreetly, sent to jail for corruption, or, in the cases of Carlos Lage and Felipe Pérez Roque, dismissed dishonorably.

On July 26, 2007, Raul Castro publicly enumerated the financial problems and warned that Cuba needed structural reforms. Soon after, in February 2008, he was elected president of the republic.

In April 2011 he was appointed first secretary of the Communist Party. In its management he has introduced a dozen economic measures. According to renowned economist Carlos Mesa-Lago, some reforms have been structural and others nonstructural, because they do not change the nature of the regime.

For Mesa-Lago, Castro II reforms are positive, but slow, face excessive regulations and are insufficient. The ordinary people are of the same mind as the Cuban economist.

Richard, selling pirated discs, applauds the sale of cars and homes. “Cubans who have money can go sightseeing. The expansion of self-employment and immigration reform are also positive. The downside is that everything is designed so that those with a small business do not accumulate a lot of money.”

Seven years later, there is a less ideological atmosphere in Cuba. The tiresome speeches and campaigns have been minimized.

Politically, Raul Castro has moved few pieces. In 2010, after the death on hunger strike of dissident Orlando Zapata, and then the marches of the brave Ladies in White demanding the release of their husbands, fathers or relatives, Castro II initiated a dialogue with the hierarchy of the Cuban Catholic Church.

As a result, and thanks to the mediation of the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, hundreds of political prisoners were released and exiled. It was the only positive step. Because repression of dissent has not stopped.

Right now, opponents Sonia Garro and her husband Ramón Muñoz have spent a year and a half behind bars without a trial. They are in limbo, in deplorable conditions. Nationwide beatings of dissidents have risen. Countless arrests occur in a few hours. Surveillance and harassment of independent journalists has continued.

In the summer of 2013, more than 400,000 Cubans earned a living without the help of the state. With exaggerated taxes without a wholesale market, the self-employed learn the ABCs of capitalism.

The citizenry has been loosened its tongue. It’s common to hear coarse criticism against the regime in an old private taxi or at a bus stop.

After seven years under President Raul Castro, in Cuba there are things that have changed. Others, such as low wages and the unification of a single currency, should be addressed promptly by the regime.

But the future is still a dirty word. Without profound changes, the country will continue to drift.

Photo from the blog Solución Cuba.

3 September 2013