‘The Problem Is Not the Ministers, It Is a Failed Model’ Summarizes a Cuban Economist

The change in economic leadership, at the gates of the ’paquetazo’, was disconcerting. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 February 2024 — The discreet headline about the dismissal of three Cuban ministers that remained on the front page of Granma since yesterday has been overshadowed, this Saturday, by a triumphant photo of Prime Minister Manuel Marrero and the announcement of a “complex meteorological situation for Sunday and Monday.” But while the official press downplays the dismissal of Alejandro Gil – economic helmsman of the regime and one of its faces – analysts and newspapers of different ideological stripes try to read between the lines of the “cadre movement” that has just shaken the leadership in the can.

Even Sputnik, Vladimir Putin’s star news agency and reference point for the island’s official press, in its Latin America Spanish edition is clear: the Cuban Government “dismissed” Gil for the “recent brake on a package of measures that included an increase in fuel prices and electricity.” However, Moscow, which took the lead on many financial measures taken during Gil’s administration, has not commented on his replacement.

In the antipodes of the Russian agency, Cuban economist Pedro Monreal agreed with Sputnik in relating Gil’s fall to the “slowdown” of the “macroeconomic stabilization” that Havana intended to implement. The replacement of the three ministers – along with Gil, Manuel Sobrino, from the Food Industry, and Elba Rosa Pérez, from Science, Technology and Environment, were dismissed – indicates that “some type of incident” occurred at the top, between two key dates: the Council of Ministers held on January 29 and the postponement of the increase in fuel prices, on the 31st.

The Council of Ministers had presented an “action plan” and an “update of the implementation schedule” about whose internal criticism there is no information, Monreal alleges. “Nothing predicted – with the public information available – that they were going to ’change horses in midstream’. The crisis and the problems of the package are systemic, but it is problematic to make substantive changes in the team that designed an approved and recently started package.”

The only sense, Monreal believes, is that Havana has retreated when foreseeing the social consequences of the so-called ’paquetazo’

The only sense, Monreal believes, is that Havana has retreated when foreseeing the social consequences of the so-called paquetazo*, “a potentially irritating measure at the citizen level.” “Perhaps apprehensions regarding possible social and political instability, plus possible bureaucratic disagreements regarding the distribution of currencies ’burst’ the schedule and caused changes in the economic team,” he summarizes.

In his analysis of the defenestration of the three ministers, economist Mauricio de Miranda Parrondo dismantles Granma ’s terminology to refer to Gil. “Release from his responsibilities” is a more serious phrase than that applied to Sobrino and Pérez, replaced “for renewal.”

De Miranda also notes the rapid rise of Joaquín Alonso Vázquez, Gil’s successor in the portfolio and until now president of the Central Bank – and architect of the bancarización (banking reform) process recommended by Moscow – and he comments on Havana’s option for a faithful cadre to occupy his position: Juana Lilia Delgado, with a lot of banking experience and former Vice Minister of Economy.

“The list of changes could be longer,” warns De Miranda, but an essential issue will remain unresolved. “The problem is not the ministers. The problem is the system. The problem is that we continue to appeal to a failed model,” he summarizes. The brakes on entrepreneurship, the lack of support for farmers, poor industrialization, repression, these are some of the evils that no defenestration will solve.

What will happen when the ordinary Cuban’s table continues to be a table of hunger? What will happen when it continues to be an odyssey to go to work because there is no transportation?

“The problem is that the State is gigantic and ineffective. And also, authoritarian and despotic,” he continues. De Miranda ended his reflection with a series of disturbing questions: “What will happen when the economy does not grow sufficiently? What will happen when the population’s already very deteriorated standard of living is not recovered?

What will happen when macroeconomic stabilization is not achieved, which will not be achieved with the announced measures? What will happen when the table of ordinary Cubans continues to be a table of hunger? What will happen when it continues to be a odyssey to go to work because there is no transportation? What will happen when the electricity cuts continue? (…) Once again, nothing?”

None of the former ministers have offered their views on their respective dismissals. However, Gil’s sister, presenter María Victoria Gil Fernández, celebrated from Spain that the former Minister of Economy was free “from the ties of an authoritarian, dictatorial, obsolete and failed system.”

“It is public knowledge that the Cuban Government, throughout its sad history, has used its leaders at will and, when they are no longer useful to them, when they confront each other and stop being puppets, they disappear and despise them. My brother, the only thing he has done has been to work tirelessly, to try to save the unsalvageable, to adopt measures that in practice are insufficient because the problem is political,” she said.

Alejandro Gil, one of the defenders of the “pure utopia” that his sister describes, will be remembered for his phrases of incredible optimism during his last appearances on national television: “May our people not be confused like this, so easily… The people in general support and understand that what we are doing is necessary.” Or another one, uttered with a smile in September, on State TV’s Round Table program: “We know that life is hard. But trust, that the only way out is the Revolution.”

*Translator’s note: “Paquetazo” is basically ‘package’, but the ending ‘azo’, signifying a blow, adds a certain heft to it. (See “Maleconazo“) See also from Spanishtogo.app: “Paquetazo, a term used predominantly in Latin America, refers to a package of economic reforms implemented by the government that often includes a series of austerity measures. Over time, it has become a popular term among citizens to express discontent with these policies.”


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