Iván García, 16 April 2018 — By all accounts it is like a bad divorce. No one remembers the exact moment when things went from applause for every revolutionary project, no matter how ludicrous it might have seemed, to a torrent of unfulfilled promises and hollow rhetoric.
Martí Noticias wanted to solicit opinions on Cuba’s social, political and economic situation and on the country’s future prospects. It first chatted with three well-informed people, then it asked thirteen ordinary Cubans if they feel they are represented in the current power structure.
One of those interviewed was fifty-five-year-old Igor, who worked in Moscow’s railway industry during the Cold War and views politicians as a necessary evil but believes that “they are the ones who rule the world.”
“Not everyone can be a politician,” he says. “They have to have leadership skills and a gift for oratory in order to mobilize large segments of society. They must rely on image consultants and experts in specific fields. They need surveys to gauge levels of popular support and to determine what people want.”
Igor believes that a government has to govern on behalf of all its citizens, not just its supporters. “That is the main problem with the Cuban system,” he says. “Its leaders don’t listen to those with different opinions. Most of the island’s current politicians don’t know how to behave or express themselves in public. They have trouble reading and problems with diction. They have no empathy and seem to be improvising. My impression is that both the old government and the new government have no idea how to get us out of the current quagmire.”
In Igor’s opinion, they are just throwing stones, stalling for time, unable to grab the bull by the horns. “[President-designate] Miguel Díaz-Canel isn’t unattractive like other Cuban leaders, who come off like stock characters from a Soviet-era movie. When he was the party’s first-secretary in Villa Clara province, he was more spontaneous. Now he seems like a remote-controlled robot. He speaks without moving a muscle in his face, which is a sign that he doesn’t believe what he is saying. I don’t expect anything new from Díaz-Canel. Exhaustion is what will bring about real change in Cuba, when they realize they are just thrashing around aimlessly.”
From the time he was an adolescent, twenty-one-year-old history student Damián, was that rare individual who actually felt compelled to read the Communist Party newspaper Granma and watch state television news shows. He followed politics like a soccer fan. “At first, I believed what the state press said. But not now,” says Damián. “I read between the lines. I realized that communism is a utopian dream. And a society cannot afford to waste several generations, as has happened in Cuba, chasing a fantasy. The socialist ideal sounds nice — to give voice and a better quality of life to the dispossessed — but Marxist-Leninist ideology has failed all over the world.”
Damián asks himself what kind of society Cuba aspires to be. “We went from the Batista dictatorship to a totalitarian regime with overtones of nationalism. It made excuses for the lack of democracy because it felt it was under siege by the United States. That era has passed but Cuba doesn’t realize it. Díaz-Canel, or whoever takes over, will continue following the same script. That’s why Cubans don’t have any expectations. I hope I am wrong but what the Castro regime most closely resembles is an aged boxer who refuses to leave to ring, who wants to keep fighting even after the bell has rung.”
What most bothers Carlos, a sixty-six-year-old sociologist, is having been fooled for so long by Fidel Castro’s rhetoric. Carlos is no dissident. He is an intellectual who, like so many others, believes that time is up for Cuba’s current system. “Its time ran out decades ago. Behind all the clatter about a ’sustainable and prosperous socialism’ is bad faith and a hunger for power. Planned economies don’t work. [The regime] could opt for the Chinese or Vietnamese models, which have capitalist economies and autocratic one-party governments, but they don’t dare,” he says.
The worst part, he says, is that it has killed the aspirations of many talented people. “Men and women alike, almost all with university degrees, have seen emigration as the only way out. The National Assembly only represents the interests of the regime. It doesn’t matter that blacks and women make up forty percent of its delegates; every measure it votes on is approved unanimously. I see Miguel Diaz-Canel as a Russian matrioshka doll. He always follows a prepared script. Maybe I’m wrong, but Diaz-Canel represents the continuation of a failed system.”
The perception one gets from conversations with less well-informed Cubans, people who are apathetic about politics, is that they are not part of the game. They live in another dimension, one focused on survival. Of the thirteen people interviewed by Martí Noticias, six did not care who succeeded Raúl Castro as president, whether it was Díaz-Canel or the ballplayer Yulieski Gurriel.
“Man, what problem is that stone faced parasite (Díaz-Canel) going to solve? Here people just want a few pesos to get drunk, have something decent to eat, capture some fresh ’mangoes’ (girls) and play pululu (a video game app),” says a young vendor who sells internet SIM cards in a Havana park.
Three of those interviewed believe things could get better under Díaz-Canel. One of them is Anselmo, a forty-nine-year-old bus driver. “We won’t be worse off,” he says. “If Trump can meet with the fat guy from North Korea, he can meet with the man from Villa Clara. We’ll see what happens. We can’t count on Venezuela or Brazil any more. It would be ironic if we find ourselves once again in the arms of the bolos (the Russians). If that happens, it will be the overseers who have to lose the most.”
Four people are very pessimistic, among them Dania, a thirty-six-year-old dentist. “This situation has been going on for a long time in Cuba,” she says. “The best solution is to leave the country, whether things change or not.”
One option for a large segment of the population is to decamp to other shores. Watching the situation from afar is pleasanter than fighting for democratic change from within. That is a job for patriots.