When Cuban dictator Raul Castro was handed the reins of power in 2006 by his brother Fidel, we were told by the “Cuba Experts” that Raul would lead the communist nation into an era of substantial economic and political reforms. More than a decade later and a year after the death of Fidel, all we have seen are a few “reforms” that are nothing more than cosmetic. Essentially, Cuba remains a totalitarian hellhole with no civil liberties, no respect for the rule of law, no real free enterprise, and a state-run economy under the complete control of the military.
Those same “Cuba Experts” are now telling us that when Raul “resigns” from his post early next year, we will begin to see major economic and political reforms on the island. For the Cuban people, however, these “Cuba Expert” predictions have about as much chance of becoming reality as their prior predictions.
For those who think Cuba will be run by someone other than individuals possessing the Castro surname, you will be sorely disappointed. But nowhere near as disappointed as the Cuban people who have been taught a bitter lesson over and over again, that the more things change in Cuba, the more they remain the same.
Cuba’s leaders are trapped between the need for change and the fear of it
A new study shows just how weak the Castros’ economy is
FOR decades Cuban exiles in Miami dreamed of the day that Fidel Castro would die. They imagined that Cubans would then rise up against the communist dictatorship that he imposed. Yet when, a year ago this week, Castro’s ashes were interred in his mausoleum, it was an anticlimax. His brother, Raúl, who is now 86, has been in charge since 2006. For a while, he seemed to offer the prospect of far-reaching economic reform. Now, as he prepares to step down as Cuba’s president in February, he is bequeathing merely stability and quiescence.
Raúl’s planned retirement is not total—he will stay on as first secretary of the ruling Communist Party for a further three years. He is due to leave the presidency as Cuba is grappling with two new problems. The first is the partial reversal by Donald Trump of Barack Obama’s historic diplomatic and commercial opening to the island, which will cut tourist revenues. The second is the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which in September devastated much of the north coast and several tourist resorts. That has prompted speculation in Miami that Raúl may stay on.
That is to misread the man. In his decade in power Raúl has striven above all to institutionalise the Cuban communist regime, replacing the wayward charisma of Fidel with orderly administration and a collective leadership. He has groomed as his successor Miguel Díaz-Canel, a 57-year-old engineer who has already assumed many public duties. Yet, as president, Mr Díaz-Canel’s autonomy will be limited. He is just one of a group of party bureaucrats and generals who are the real power in Cuba, steadily replacing the generación histórica (those who fought in the 1959 revolution), who are dying off.
The new generation faces an acute dilemma. Despite aid from Venezuela, which has now fallen to half its peak level, Cuba remains unable to produce much of the food it consumes or pay its people more than miserable wages. That is why Raúl embraced market reforms, albeit far more timid ones than those in China or Vietnam. More than 500,000 Cubans now work in an incipient private sector of small and micro businesses or co-operatives.
But these reforms bring inequality and a loss of state control. When Mr Obama visited Cuba in 2016, offering support for entrepreneurs and calling on live television for free elections, the regime appeared to panic. Since then, the government has placed some curbs on small business to stop what Raúl called “illegalities and other transgressions”. In other words, the government wants a market economy without capitalists or businesses that thrive and grow. It seems nowhere near tackling the multiple exchange rates (ranging from one peso to the dollar for official imports to 25 for most wages and prices) that ludicrously distort the economy.
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