Five years ago expectations were high with regards to the selection of the new government elite. Many people speculated about who would be the next first vice president. Bets focused on two candidates: Carlos Lage Davila and Jose Ramon Ventura. Whoever was chosen, observers theorized, would suggest Raul Castro’s orientation over the next five years. Speculations centered on two conflicting approaches: Raulista, or reformist; and Fidelista, or conservative. Apparently, one of them would mark the pace and type of reforms.
The result is not only confirmed in the act of selection, but was signalled when Carlos Lage and his friend Felipe Perez Roque were ousted along with other senior officials. The accusations were known: they betrayed the confidence of the maximum leaders through the improper conduct of “cadres” under their control. It later emerged that on several occasions they had mocked their long-time bosses and that they wanted a greater share of power.
In 2008 the international context was different. Raul Castro attempted to launch a renewed image with the signing the United Nations human rights covenants in New York, along with shallow but widely publicized and promoted reforms. Hugo Chavez had become an inexhaustible source of resources and support for the disastrous economy bequeathed by Fidel Castro. Barack Obama was emerging as the probable next president of the United States, one who would, according to his calculations, widen the chances of ending, or at least relaxing, bilateral differences without his having to give up too much in return. That same year three hurricanes lashed the Island, the precarious economy fell even further, and the dependence on Venezuela deepened.
Despite the measures taken by the new U.S. administration, the Cuban government offered very timid signs that it wanted to created a new dynamic. Clinging to a society totally controlled by State Security and a huge army of informers, the Cuban government preferred to send a signal of loyalty to those in its pay. In November of 2009 the contractor Alan Gross was arrested to turn him into a bargaining chip for the five spies involved in the hysterical attack that pulverized four Brothers to the Rescue pilots in the air.
The year 2010 brought an outbreak of greater activism from the opposition. The Guillermo Fariñas’ hunger strike, the Ladies in White activism, the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s after a prolonged hunger strike, unleashed strong internal and external pressure around the issue of political prisoners, which ultimately proved unsupportable. The need to put an end to a situation, which by all lights was becoming dangerous, brought about the intervention of the Catholic Church, which served as a liaison between the government and the pro-democracy forces.
Showing signs of political folly, the Government maintained its expectations of achieving favors from the Obama administration at very little cost. According to the counselors of tolitarianism, the “reforms” of the “economic model,” supported by Venezuelan subsidies, would bring about neo-Castroism at an “adequate” pace and without too many tensions.
However, the much-vaunted transformations have not taken off. Foreign investors have not approached, unlike in the ‘90s. The economic dependence on the “brother from the Bolivarian country” – Hugo Chavez – and the death of that Venezuelan president, have shaken the planned scenario.
The Venezuela situation has now become more complicated with its own economy is reeling with soaring inflation and shortages. Chavez’s chosen candidate, Nicolas Madura, is unable to project a sense of confidence in a situation that clearly exceeds his political arsenal.
For the Cuban government, the need for a Plan B is urgent, and all eyes immediately turn to the United States.
The Cuban Government’s Plan B
The Cuban government would need, at the very least, a relaxation of economic sanctions. Only now is the government aware of the magnitude of the mistake it made in imprisoning Alan Gross. The release of the contractor would send the worst possible message to all Cuban secret agents, but would at least guarantee the start of a more fluid process of exchanges, with the final objective of relaxing the embargo. Everything seems to indicate that the old tantrums don’t have the same impact.
Within Cuba, great expectations created by Raul Castro are fading and the government needs to take steps so that Cubans can breathe a little more freedom. Relaxing the controls of the iron-fisted travel and migration policy, in hopes of easing the growing shortages suffered by Cubans, is one of the more “audacious” steps taken by the totalitarians.
The naming of new figures to fill the senior government posts occurred within this scenario. Esteban Lazo, named president of the National Assembly, symbolizes everything about the system that is old and unworkable. He will take the reins of an assembly that has never had a divided vote, not even on the very trivial issues which they discuss. Lazo represents a retaining wall to block any initiative that might arise or come to this governing body.
Substituting Miguel Diaz-Canel for José Ramón Machado Ventura – as first vice president, and presumptive heir – is an attempt to provide a needed succession. Diaz-Canel, younger, obedient, uncharismatic, lacking his own popularity, got the call. A person who will depend entirely on the willing consent of a military apparatus that has strengthened its influence in recent years, indicating that this is the social design intended to be perpetuated. I do not think that these designations generate new dynamics. The elite only intends for these people to execute the plan designed to their and their heirs’ specifications.
The opposition, then, begins to play an interesting role. The collaboration among different groups is ever more articulated. Work in recent months has been woven around the campaign “For Another Cuba,” which demands the ratification and implemention of the United Nations covenants on human rights as a road map for a process of transition, thus signalling that it is possible, here and now, to find a viable path. Civil society is prepared to take bolder steps and we hope this will be the case for all actors.
What can we expect in the short and medium term?
The Government will continue to assign key positions to its most reliable cadres, people who will guarantee that “neo-Castroism” is set in stone. They will also gather a set of bodies who will be allowed to show a certain “renewed” face to the world, and so try to relaunch and normalize their international relations.
This new design requires an economy that can afford it, this is the critical point How can a completely disjointed and broken economy be made viable? This can be achieved only with an injection of capital, an injection that today could come only from our northern neighbor. Nobody wants to invest in a country that doesn’t pay its debts.
The U.S. embargo and the European Community Common Position are key pieces in this political chess game. If the government receives an infusion of resources in the current, unchanged, situation, it would enable it to keep its hyperatrophied repressive apparatus intact and we could say goodbye to our democratic dreams for the next 20 to 30 years. When I hear several pro-democracy actors advocate for the immediate and unconditional end to the embargo, I perceive a lack foresight with regards to the possible political scenarios. Are they unaware of previous experiences in other regions? Are they unaware of the famous phrase, “economic opening with political opening”? Is the massive debt we have already left to our children and grandchildren not enough?
If the democratic community signals the totalitarian government that ratification and implementation of the fundamental rights set out in the UN Covenants is the only path to a solution to the Cuban dilemma, and if it conditions any measure relaxing the economic sanctions to the fulfillment of those international agreements, it will not take long for us to see results.
The Cuban government has not been and is not reckless, still less so in the current context. It is illogical that the elite would want to pass on a time bomb to their family and close associates. The opposition, for its part, in its vast majority, is promoting peaceful change. Changes that transition us to a true democracy with the full and absolute respect of individual liberties, and not the typical totalitarian monstrosity of failed nations. A monster that in the medium term, totally secure, would be burdened with more corruption, more insecurity and more social conflicts.
It is extremely understandable that the Cuban people desire the opportunity to live in peace, to be prosperous, to enjoy their families and their land. We need to leave behind this whole nightmare of warnings of combat, wars of the entire people, territorial militias, socialism or death, and impregnable bastions. We need to overcome crazy ideas like the Havana cordons, microjet bananas, “open airwaves,” battles of ideas, guidelines, and this string of stupidities and mediocrities. Things that have plunged us into this disaster which today we all, absolutely all of us, have the inescapable obligation to overcome. We urge another Cuba.