On the morning of 21 December 2017, it became known in the international media that “the Cuban Parliament” – whose most outstanding feature is not having decided anything at all in its more than 40 years of existence – has “just decided” to extend the presidential mandate of General Raúl Castro until 19 April 2018.
The real reasons for making a decision that implies another unfulfilled promise on the part of the elderly General – who had promised to leave the country’s Presidency on 24 February 2018 – is a mystery, given that the supposed difficulties introduced in the electoral process for Hurricane Irma, which hit the island in early September, is too precarious a pretext to be taken seriously.
But, in any case, we are not facing an exceptional situation either. It is known that any governmental disposition in Cuba, especially the best and the most transcendental ones, can be (and usually are) postponed as the power god wishes. Other previous promises of the General, with greater effect on the population, such as monetary unification, the decrease in food prices or the new Electoral Law, were also arbitrarily postponed with no explanation whatsoever.
However, some signs point out that in the background of this sudden date change for the departure of Castro II from the Presidency lies the urgent need to make certain readjustments in the power machinery, in order to ensure their own interests and those of their beneficiaries, which reinforces the hypothesis of some analysts who sustain the existence of significant cracks in the once monolithic structure of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and of the leadership, based on alleged struggles between the most conservative and orthodox sectors (supposedly “Stalinist” or “Fidelista”) and those most prone to the pseudo-changes introduced in the last decade (“reformists” or “Raulistas,” as they are called). Struggles that would have arisen after the forced retirement of Fidel Castro from the government, and made deeper through the 11 years that followed.
Perhaps the Raulistas are waging a strategic battle in order to guarantee their own continuity at the head of the country, and especially the safeguarding of their economic interests, so everything must be tied and re-tied before the presidency’s transfer to the hands of a loyalist who does not belong to the Historical Generation, avoiding unforeseen and unwanted events.
The truly surprising thing is the impression of urgency and instability that is being transmitted, trying to consolidate, in a matter of three months, something that should have been achieved in a decade, that is, to avoid any danger, which, at the same time, belies the discourse of “unity of all Revolutionaries” wielded by the totality of the leaders and high officials interviewed while standing by the ballot boxes during the municipal elections of this past November.
Of course, the cryptic style of (dis)information in Cuba forces us to decipher hidden codes, with the risk of erroneous interpretations and inaccuracies. However, it does not seem accidental that the most important information published on the front page of the official press this Thursday, 21 December, was the previous day’s celebration of the 4th Plenary of the Central Committee (CC) of the PCC – parallel to the parliamentary debates – within the framework of which the First Secretary of the Party, Raúl Castro, announced the celebration of the next Plenary, which will take place in March 2018, a fact that cannot but be related to the coming election of the new Cuban President.
It is possible speculate that this next Plenary of the CC of the PCC could be, above all, the occasion introduced by the general-president and his most faithful acolytes, not only to “expand on the experiences obtained during the implementation process of the Guidelines and in the projection of the coming years, according to the official press statement, but to strengthen commitments and strategically prop up the one that will later be officially “elected” by the State Council to occupy the presidential chair, and perhaps to also secretly agree among the ideological elite who will be the next First Secretary to be elected in the framework of the VIII Congress.
But the current constraints of Raulism, in a December that has had more haste than pauses*, are not confined to the political plane, but began instead to affect the economic plane. Just a few days ago, on 13 December, untimely “new legal norms” appeared and went into effect over the Cuban business system.
In other words, the “improvement” experimentally initiated by the general-president during the 1990’s to (gradually) metamorphose the high command of his army into civilian entrepreneurs – who now direct all the strategic lines of the country’s economy – and later endorsed in the Guidelines, are now legitimized in the legal body through decrees and decree-laws, which gives the future President a legal tool that not only protects the changes implemented until now by the general-president against real or potential internal adversaries, but will allow an extension of their future scope in the interests of the elite and their favored ones.
But beyond all speculation we must recognize that the Cuban political landscape is at least confusing. In any other country where the predominant characteristics of the government are hesitation, setbacks, failure to comply with all its promises and, finally, the postponement of the presidential elections, the situation would be described as a “political crisis.” Not so in Cuba. At least not explicitly. Four generations of Cubans on the island have survived for six decades under conditions of dictatorship, suffering crises of all kinds without even internalizing them as such. How would they perceive the crises that are resolved within the bosom of the olive-green Olympus?
In any case, we will have to follow closely the political events that come our way in 2018. Meanwhile, in the midst of so much murkiness something is clear: the proclaimed unity of the power cupula is just another myth of a worn out and outdated gerontocracy that today seems to doubt even the survival of its bleak legacy.
*Translator’s note: “Without haste, but without pause” has been a catch phrase for Raul Castro, in speaking of economic reforms in Cuba.
Translated by Norma Whiting