One year without Fidel

For more than a decade, from July 26, 2006 to Nov. 25, 2016, he lived with one foot in the grave.

It has been one year since Fidel’s death was announced. It seems like a century ago. For more than a decade, from July 26, 2006 to Nov. 25, 2016, he lived with one foot in the grave. That slow-motion agony was very useful to his brother Raúl. It served to fasten him to the presidential chair and allowed Cubans to adapt to his control while he gained power and surrounded himself with people he trusted.

Raúl is president because that’s what Fidel decided. He may have seemed a mediocre person to Fidel, without savvy and without charisma, but he was absolutely loyal, a virtue that paranoid people value far above all the others, so Fidel fabricated a biography for him to turn him into his shield bearer. He dragged him into the revolution. Made him commander. Made him defense minister. Made him vice president, and finally bequeathed to him the power, initiating the Castro dynasty.

Since then, Raúl has governed with his familial retinue. With his daughter Mariela, a restless and plain-speaking sexologist. With his son, Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, educated in the KGB’s intelligence schools. With his grandson and bodyguard Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, son of Deborah. With his son-in-law or former son-in-law (nobody knows if he’s still married to Deborah or if they divorced), Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, head of GAESA, the main holding of the Cuban chiefs of staff.

Those are the people who govern with Raúl, but they have three very serious problems. The most important is that very few believers in the system remain in Cuba. Sixty years of disaster are too many to stay faithful to that folly. Raúl himself lost his confidence in the system in the 1980s, when he sent many army officers to European centers to learn management and marketing techniques.

Why should the Cuban brass learn those disciplines well? To implement the “Military Capitalism of State,” Cuba’s only and devastating intellectual contribution to post-communism. The State reserves to itself the 2,500 midsize and major enterprises of the productive apparatus (hotels, banks, rum distilleries, breweries, cement factories, steel plants, ports and airports, etc.) directed by high-ranking military or former military officers. When these people cannot directly exploit an industry for lack of capital or expertise, they bring in a foreign partner to whom they promise ample profits, all the while watching him as if he were the worst of enemies.

Simultaneously, ordinary Cubans are barred from creating major businesses. They must limit themselves to running small places of service (restaurants), baking pizzas, frying croquettes or frying themselves driving taxis. They are forbidden to accumulate wealth or invest in new businesses, because the objective is not for entrepreneurial individuals to display their talent and keep the profits but to come up with the manual labor that the State cannot provide. In contrast with China, making money is a crime in Cuba. In other words, the worst of both worlds: statism controlled by the army brass and microcapitalism bound hands and feet.

The second problem is that the Communist Party means nothing to almost no one in Cuba. In theory, communist parties are segregated by a doctrine (Marxism) that, after losing all meaning, turns the CP into a purely ritual affair. That’s what happened in the Soviet Union. Because nobody believed in the system, the CP was terminated by decree and 20 million people went home without shedding a tear.

The third is that Raúl is a very old man (86) who has promised to retire from the presidency on Feb. 24 next year, although he will probably remain ensconced in the party. In any case, how long can he live? Fidel lasted 90 years, but all you need to do is read his final screeds to understand that he had lost many of his faculties. The oldest Castro sibling, Ramón, died at age 91 but had spent many years crippled by senile dementia.

The sum of those three factors foretell a violent ending for Castroism, maybe at the hands of some army officer, unless Raúl Castro’s heir (officially Miguel Díaz Canel, the first vice president, but it could be someone else) opts for a true political opening and dismantles the system in an organized manner, to prevent a collapse that will destroy that fragile power structure.

That’s what the electoral process is supposed to do, but the Raulists have already barred the way to a hundred or so oppositionists who are willing to participate in the next election, while rejecting the referendum proposed by Rosa María Payá, daughter of Oswaldo Payá, a leader assassinated for asking the same as the girl, bravely, is pleading for today.

In other words, Raúl will bequeath to his successor a terrible jolt. The dynasty will die with him.

Published in Spanish by El Blog de Montaner on Sunday November 19th, 2017

*The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author.*