Generation Y is a Blog inspired by people like me, with names that start with or contain a "Y". In April 2007, I entangled myself in the adventure of having a blog called Generation Y that I have defined as “an exercise in cowardice” which lets me say, in this space, what is forbidden to me in my civic action.
Cuban children in the ceremony where they take on the red scarf. (14ymedio)
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 14 June 2018 –Three decades later, the woman is facing a familiar scene. A row of children dressed in their elementary school uniforms receive the new red scarf that replaces the blue one they had previously knotted around their necks. Like a déjà vu, she listens to her daughter repeat the same slogan she shouted out in her own childhood. The little girl, one knee on the ground, swears to follow the example of Ernesto Che Guevara, just like her mother had promised to do so long ago.
The school’s morning assembly started early this Thursday, June 14, the day chosen for the initiation of students who completed the third grade. They now become part of the José Martí Pioneers Organization and have started down a path where ideological excesses and political manipulation will follow them forever. The ceremony has all the traces of a religious initiation, almost mystical, despite of its being centered on an atheist guerrilla, who this very day would have turned 90.
To conclude the moment, the loudspeakers broadcast a song dedicated to Fidel Castro at full volume. “Louder, Louder!” the school principal shouts to the students, who must sing the boring tune verse by verse. “Louder, louder to be heard up there!,” he reiterates as he points to the sky, where, he believes, his Commander-in-Chief must have gone.
The music is over, the children shout the slogan that they will repeat in the coming years: “Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che.” Then they leave the ranks and return to the unruly games of any child. The political “renewal of vows” is over.
Cuba está de luto tras el trágico accidente aéreo en La Habana - YouTube
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 May 2018 – The tragic images are hypnotic. Across a swath of agricultural land near Havana’s José Martí International Airport are scattered the remains of what, a few minutes earlier, was an airplane filled with 110 people traveling from the Cuban capital to the eastern province of Holguin. Only three passengers have been rescued and Cuba is facing the worst air crash in recent years.
The plunge of this Boeing 737-200 comes at the worst moment for the island. The diplomatic thaw with Washington has been halted for months and the 7% drop in the number of tourists over the first quarter of this year complicates the economic situation. A disaster of this magnitude can seriously affect an economic sector that enables the government to deposit hard currency in the dwindling national treasury.
The serious economic situation that affects Cuba’s ally Venezuela also intensifies this picture. Hopefully, in the coming weeks the Cuban authorities will open our territory to an international investigation because the victims include citizens of Mexico and Argentina. The secrecy that traditionally surrounds these types of investigations within our borders will be put to the test before the demands for information that will come from abroad.
To further complicate the moment, the official media just announced that Raul Castro, who remains at the head of the Communist Party, has undergone surgery and his successor in the position of president, engineer Miguel Diaz-Canel, is facing the most delicate moment of his mandate. This Friday he was seen arriving at the crash site, visibly alarmed, perhaps calculating the political costs the accident will have for his management.
However, the fundamental blow goes to the heart of the Cuban people and especially the family members of the hundred Cubans aboard that fateful flight that crashed at 12:08 pm on May 18. For them, there is the long pain of loss, the rigors of the identification of the bodies and the intense political campaign with which the ruling party will surround every step taken by medical and police institutions in the search for answers.
In their minds, the last moments with their loved ones will surface again and again, along with the sequence of coincidences that brought them to the aircraft leased by the state airline to the Mexican company Global Air. The stories of those who at the last minute could not obtain a ticket to travel and those who, on the contrary, were not planning to take that flight but by chance ended up on the list of fatal victims will emerge.
Doubts and questions will also arise, with demands for clear explanations in a country where the authorities have decades of training in doling out each piece of information. But not even this ability to remain silent will prevent people from relating the news of recent months and feeling that this Friday’s news has all the traces of a predictable tragedy.
The state airline, Cubana de Aviación, has been plunged for years into a profound crisis of constant flight cancellations due to the poor state of its fleet, consisting mainly of Russian airplanes with long years in service. The deterioration of their planes has forced the island’s main airline to continuously lease aircraft from other companies, and reduced their stature to almost nothing among their Cuban passengers.
The next few days are crucial. The reaction of the families will depend to a large extent on how the authorities and the airline manage the information about what happened. Transparency is now the most recommended approach but it remains to be seen if the Cuban government is going to choose it.
Note: This column was originally published in the Latin American edition of the Deutsche Welle chain.
The majority of Cubans are tied to a daily cycle of survival
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 17 April 2018 — My mother was born under the Castro regime, I was born under the Castro regime and my son was born under the Castro regime. At least three generations of Cubans have lived only under the leadership of two men with the same surname. That uniformity is about to be broken on April 19 when the name of the new president will be publicly announced. Whether he maintains the status quo or looks to reform it, his arrival to power marks a historical fact: the end of the Castro era on this Island.
Despite the closeness of this day, without precedent in the last half century, in the streets of Havana expectations are extremely low. In a country on the cusp of experiencing a transcendental change in its Nomenklatura that could begin in couple of days.
At least three reasons feed this indifference. The first is the regrettable economic situation that keeps the majority of people tied to a daily cycle of survival, one in which political speculations or predictions of a different tomorrow are tasks relegated to other emergencies, like putting food on the table, traveling to and from work, or planning to escape to other latitudes.
The second reasons for so much apathy has to do with the pessimism that springs from a belief that nothing will change with a new face in the official photos, because the current gerontocracy will remain in control through a docile and well-controlled puppet. Meanwhile, the third force engendering so much ennui is knowing no other scenario, of having no references that allow on to imagine that there is life after the so-called Historic Generation.
This feeling of fatality, that everything will continue as it is now, is the direct result of six decades of, first, Fidel Castro, and later Raul Castro, controlling the Island with no other person to cast shadows or question their authority at the highest rung of the government. By remaining at the helm of the national ship, by their force in crushing the opposition and eliminating other charismatic leaders, both brothers have shown themselves, throughout this entire time, to be an indispensable and permanent part of our national history.
More than 70% of Cubans were born after that January in 1959 when a group of barbudos – bearded men – entered Havana, armed and smiling. Shortly after that moment, school textbooks, all the media of the press and government propaganda presented the “revolutionaries” dressed in olive green as the fathers of the nation, the messiahs who had saved the country and redeemed the people. They spread the idea that Cuba is identified with the Communist Party, the official ideology of a man named Castro.
Now, biology is about to put an end to that chapter of our history. The Cuban calendar could have, in this, its year zero, a new beginning, However, instead of people waving flags in the plazas, of enthusiastic young people shouting slogans, or epic photos, the feeling one perceives everywhere is that of exhaustion. The stealthy attitude of millions of people whose enthusiasm has atrophied after a very long wait.
This text was originally published by Deustche Welle’s Latin America page.
More than fifty Cuban pro-government and a dozen Venezuelans screamed “mercenaries” as they hijacked the start of the meeting between representatives of governments and members of civil society. (EFE / Alberto Valderrama)
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 16 April 2018 — The echoes of the recently concluded Summit of the Americas are beginning to fade. The event that summoned most of the presidents of the region and served as a framework for various social forums is a thing of the past. However, the images of the deplorable performance of the official Cuba delegation remain fresh in our memory.
The ‘civil society’ that Raul Castro sent to Peru provokes, at the very least, at sense of embarrassment over the actions of others. Their contemptuous faces and their intolerant screams spread the idea that the inhabitants of this Island have no talent for debate, we lack the necessary respect for differences and respond to arguments with shouts.
They, with their calculated bullying and their picket line behavior, have seriously affected the image of the nation. Under the slogan “Don’t mess with Cuba,” they ended up damaging this country’s reputation in the region even more, a prestige already greatly undermined by our having tolerated, as a people, more than half a century of an authoritarian system.
Why did these shock troops insist on their performance knowing the backlash they engendered? Because the message to be transmitted was precisely that of a horde of automatons without nuance or humanity. Their bosses in Havana trained them to present that sad spectacle, exposed them to ridicule, and used them to make it clear that nothing has changed.
Over time, as has happened so often, some of the protagonists of these escraches will ascend to positions of greater responsibility as a reward for the decibels they achieved with their cries. Others will emigrate, using the opportunity of some official trip to escape from the country, and try to forget making such fools of themselves. But they will never apologize to the victims of their aggressiveness.
The new stain on the image of the nation will last longer than the false intransigence of these soldiers disguised as citizens. They will move on, but the shame will remain.
All life seems to revolve around a tuber that disappeared for months from state market stalls. (14ymedio)
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 28 February 2018 — Daybreak and the morning is different. An agitation has been running through the neighborhood since the previous afternoon, when the neighbors spotted a potato truck while it was unloading at the market on the corner. The arrival of the product caused early risings, fights and even the resale of dozens of pounds in the surrounding area.
A certain aroma of fried potato has been wafting through the air for hours and in the hallways people are exchanging ways of preparing the food “using little oil” or “so that it lasts longer.” All life seems to revolve around a tuber that for months has disappeared from the state market stalls, where now sales are limited to just five pounds per person.
One wonders if such an excitement would have been generated on the island if the first official date for the departure of Raul Castro from the presidency had been adhered to. What if he had finished his term on February 24? Would people be talking about the issue as much as they are talking today about the arrival of the potato?
Probably not. The lack of enthusiasm for an event that analysts are calling the most important historical milestone of the last decades on this Island, the “change of an era,” or the end of the reign of the surname Castro, seems to have many reasons.
There is a widespread opinion that nothing is going to change in the country, no matter who takes the helm. Passions around this succession have also cooled in part because the wait has been too long. For some it has been decades, or their whole lives, and fatigue has finally caught up with them.
Citizens share the perception that “no matter what happens up there” they will not be the ultimate beneficiaries. However, the fundamental disinterest arises from the lack of surprises in a process organized to ensure that nothing changes.
Thin slices of potato in a frying pan can have more unforeseen results than a new face for the Cuban president. There is more mystery and excitement in the arrival in the neighborhood of a truck loaded with a product that nobody has seen for months, than in the boring political game of replacing one name with another but keeping the system unchanged.
Was it the decision of the Spanish ambassador Juan José Buitrago to go to the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia and lay flowers at the monolith that holds the ashes of Fidel Castro? (Sierra Maestra)
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 February 2018 — Five years ago, when I visited Spain for the first time, a fake photo showing me at the tomb of the dictator Francisco Franco began to circulate. I posted a brief denial on Twitter, but the incident helped me to reflect on the need to inform oneself about the history of a country one visits, its symbols, passions and animosities.
Five years later, but this time without some crude photographic manipulation, I see the Spanish ambassador on our island posing in front of the monolith containing the ashes of Fidel Castro. Juan José Buitrago de Benito, who presented his credentials last May, appears in an image standing at almost military attention, a few yards from the headstone of someone who, for almost five decades, remained in power by force.
Like any diplomat experienced in the arts of handling situations, Buitrago de Benito must have weighed the implications of taking that snapshot and leaving a floral tribute before he arrived there. He had to know that his action was going to unleash furious passions and send a clear signal of ideological positioning and a political posture sympathetic to the ruling party.
Two questions immediately come to mind seeing him there, in his impeccable guayabera under the sun Santa Ifigenia cemetery: Was it his decision to go? Did he know the connotations his visit would have?
For those who deeply understand the skillful maneuvers of the Cuban authorities to deceive every visitor to the country, one can imagine a naive ambassador who entered the cemetery to pay tribute to José Martí, national hero and son of Spaniards, and who on arriving was almost pushed to also visit the nearby Castro monolith.
If that is the case, the lack of knowledge of this reality and its codes has played a trick on Buitrago de Benito. His not knowing how to “stand firm” to avoid a trap set with premeditation and a lot of treachery, has caused a stumbling block that will mark his entire stay with us.
However, it is possible that it was his own decision, from the moment he headed to the cemetery. Then we are left to think that he is an admirer of the deceased or at least of that biography full of falsehoods and clichés that presents him as a savior of peoples, wise and just. Or another option, even worse: that with the visit to the tomb he hoped to win the favors of the authorities, who are wounded after the fiasco of the supposed future visit, recently belied, of the King and Queen of Spain to Cuba.
Any of these options, a naivety that led to a trap or a calculated intention, present the Spanish diplomat in a bad light. His visit to Santiago de Cuba, which had begun on a very good footing with the announcement of a new consulate for the eastern area, has become an unfortunate misstep in his diplomatic career.
We have yet to hear his explanations, but a photo, authentic and without trickery, has already said more than a thousand words.
In the end, all of his art, his public image, and even his complaint have been determined by this entity – the faceless one – that he fears so much. (Artwork: El Sexto)
A friend calls me sounding depressed. For years he has chosen caution and the path of moderation but even so, he wasn’t able to avoid being labeled an enemy. In his work he avoided knocking on the doors of those the government found most “uncomfortable,” rejected support that he considered “radioactive” and appealed to his own self-censorship to avoid ending up on the opposing side. It did little for him.
My friend enjoyed a period of certain advantages for not having become “a radical.” He was invited to endless embassy receptions, where he was presented as a young exponent of “a reformist tendency among the left.” There, he worked hard to demonstrate that his desires for change were within socialism and that his work contained intrinsic “constructive criticism.”
Amid the mojitos and canapés, the smiling diplomats looked on him with satisfaction, pleased that on the island there are people who don’t shout freedom slogans, who continue to work within some state institution, but who are allowed to let slip sharp accusations about the bureaucracy, the impediments of conformism and the corrupt practices, without being labeled a mercenary.
My friend was everything they needed: an artist who pushes “from within the limits,” with grace, a bit of humor and always clarifying that “Cuba is not how the dissidents paint it to be.”
Thanks to this image, he had access to funds he described as coming from foundations or entities with no ties at all Washington or the international “right.” To pave the way for such economic support, he excluded from his art those voices that he feared could “contaminate” his work and limited contact with his most “controversial” acquaintances.
Thus, stepping cautiously, like someone picking his way over broken glass, my friend managed to build a reputation as an “uncomfortable” – but not censored –artist, a citizen who demands his rights but respects the current and “authentic” Cuban system, who speaks from the shadows but also “values the achievements of the Revolution.”
He never counted, so as not to break that ideal construction, the police citations he received over the last years, the arm across his shoulders from so many cultural officials inviting him to avoid certain red lines, nor the bits of evidence he was collecting about the surveillance he was subjected to.
Often, so that there would be no doubts about his loyalty to the cause, he lent his name and image to critiques, in the national media, of those who took stronger positions. Later, sotto voce, he clarified to his friends that his opinions had been manipulated by State Security while, in reality, he was sympathetic to the lost sheep.
None of it mattered. This week, the name of my friend has appeared in an article published on an official website that describes opposition leaders and moderate artists as “recalcitrant.” Years of carving a “permitted” face went up in smoke with a click.
Now he calls me, wanting to denounce the injustice to human rights organizations, crying out because he is not put in the same bag, and detailing his pedigree. It is all in vain. They never trusted him, they always considered him the system’s adversary from the moment in which he reflected, in his art, the reality and embraced, timidly, with his work, a certain plurality.
Still stomping his foot, he emphasizes in the phone call that he doesn’t want to make “a media show” of it, nor offer himself “on a silver platter to the [country to the] North,” but these explanations he is offering are not for me, but to the other person listening in on the line. In the end, all of his art, his public image, and even his complaint have been determined by this entity – the faceless one – that he fears so much.
Screenshot of ‘Doctor Zhivago’, inspired by Boris Pasternak’s novel. (CC)
Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 25 January 2018 — The book was part of the private collection of a writer who went into exile and even though the title did not appeal I chanced it, bored in the midst of the publishing drought of the ‘90s. Its pages narrated a country I knew, but described a different place, convulsed, unjust and harsh. Doctor Zhivago came into my hands when the Soviet Union had disappeared and in it I found a part of the answers to explain that disaster.
A quarter of a century later, Cuban television finally broadcast the well-known film inspired by the novel, directed by British director David Lean. Released in that long ago 1965, the movie was absent from the screens of the island until 22 January of this year, though before the airing the program’s commentator warned about the picture’s ideological distortions.
An unnecessary clarification, because the story of Yuri Zhivago is well known on this island thanks to the infallible formula “there is nothing more attractive than the forbidden.” For decades, the work written by Boris Pasternak circulated from hand to hand – its cover wrapped in the boring state newspaper Granma to avoid indiscreet eyes – or, in recent years, in that elusive digital format that easily mocks the thought police.
Unlike George Orwell’s 1984, Doctor Zhivago was not banned for predicting a totalitarian future that lined up along many points with our socialist Cuba, but because it described an uncomfortable past for those who wanted to present Russia as a country where the proletarians had achieved a Parnassian state of equality, comradeship and justice.
Instead of the Manichean vision taught in Cuban schools, Pasternak’s work focused on a tormented individual, shaken by social vagaries and more concerned with emerging unscathed from his circumstances than in sacrificing himself for a cause. He was an antihero far-removed from the “New Man” and the Soviet ideal.
The adventures the book had to circumvent also served as an argument to those who wielded the scissors at the Island’s publishers. Its publication in Italy 1957, the Nobel Prize it won Pasternak and the official pressures that forced him to reject the award contributed to the denial of Cubans’ right to read it.
The “camaraderie” in the Communist Bloc was filled such actions. An author censored in one of the countries that made up the vast red geography also made the blacklist in the other nations orbiting the Kremlin. Havana did not ignore that maxim and was faithful to its national stepmother, depriving its citizens of one of the twentieth century’s anthological works.
They censored it in Cuba not only out of ideological complicity with the country that economically sustained all the eccentricities of Fidel Castro, but because in its pages the Great October Socialist Revolution came out badly; it was a mass of informers, police, pressures of all kinds and lies. A suffocating scenario where the individual could barely protect her privacy and herself.
They say that when he was expelled from power, in 1964, Nikita Khrushchev read Pasternak’s novel. “We should not have banned it. I should have read it. There is nothing anti-Soviet in it,” he acknowledged then.
The Cuban censors, however, have not drafted an apology, nor is it necessary. History sounded the vigorous trumpet: the country they tried to protect from the supposed calumnies of the writer ceased to exist almost three decades ago; but Doctor Zhivago remains a vibrant and unforgettable novel.
Luz Escobar has worked for 14ymedio since its founding in 2014. (14ymedio)
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 17 January 2018 – Luz, you have had an incredible “privilege”: To see up close the true face under the Fantômas mask.
In your police interview this Monday those State Security agents showed you, with complete self-confidence, who they really are, what is hidden behind the discourse of supposed ‘Revolutionary ethics’ and ‘defense of the country.’ In reality, under their clothes they are ‘mafioso’ whose methods mimic the worst style of the Camorra.
They have threatened you, they have warned you that the people closest to you will pay the consequences, they have even asked you to become one of them to betray your colleagues. All this, using the only tool they know: repression.
Your life will become more difficult from now on. Many friends will stop calling you, others will cross to the other side of the street when they see you, dozens of acquaintances will say you’ve gone crazy or that you are brainwashed, others will advise you to leave the country as soon as possible, to shut up, to stop writing. Some relatives will tell you to think about your daughters, while the fence around your house, your neighborhood, your person, will become suffocating.
They themselves, with the characteristic abuse of power, will spread the word that you are a ‘mercenary’ or, in the worst case, that you work for the ‘apparatus’ as an ‘undercover agent’. Distrust will rise like a wall around your work. These campaigns of defamation and demonization will affect every detail of your existence, from who knocks on your door to sell you a little milk, to the phrases the teachers repeat in your daughters’ classrooms.
However, from today, you will also feel a strange lightness, as if a weight you had been carrying on your shoulders for years has been lifted. They, without planning to, have given you the best argument to continue your career in journalism, because they have shown you that ‘up there’ nothing remains of respect for the citizen, for ethics, morality, sincerity, integrity… and much less for COURAGE. Of which you possess oceans.
The vice president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, listens to Raúl Castro (Havana, May 1, 2016). GETTY
14ymedio, Generation Y, (Politicaexterior.com), Yoani Sanchez, 9 January 2017 — “Six decades are a lifetime,” says Facundo, a Cuban retiree who sells the official press in Old Havana to supplement his low pension. Born shortly before Fidel Castro came to power, the man is suspicious of the appointment of a new president next April. “That’s going to be like learning to walk,” he says, while hawking the pro-government daily Granma.
Like Facundo, a good part of the Cubans residing on the island today were born under Castroism or barely remember the country before January 1959. Raúl Castro’s departure from the government [first announced for February 2018 and then postponed until April] for them has the connotations of the end of an era, regardless of the rupture or continuity shown by the successors installed in the national command room.
A few weeks before the presidential transfer becomes effective, indifference gains ground among the inhabitants of a nation that has the longest serving family dynasty in power in all of Latin America. A moment that should be a source of expectation and speculation is diluted by apathy and the island’s complicated economic situation.
Unlike other countries on the continent that have experienced regional or general elections in recent years, the Cuban electoral process does include polling to measure the electorate’s inclinations or to motivate media debates. The sensation is one of “follow the leader” with everyone working together to preserve control in the hands of one group.
The boredom also comes from the fact that the current electoral law prohibits political campaigns, nor are candidates allowed to present their programs, which might excite some or scandalizes others. Without this essential component, the process is one more of confirmation than selection; more of a tacit appointment than of a competition.
Only in April, when the new Council of State becomes public, will it be known who has been chosen for the highest office in the country. So far, the outcome is only a matter of speculation, that moves according to official attention focused on one person or another, as functionaries move in and out of the spotlight. Thus, political divination is a very inaccurate art in these parts.
On top of that, the candidates to sit in the presidential chair will enjoy their status as aspirants for an extremely short time, perhaps hours or minutes between the time the National Candidacy Commission reveals their names to the new Parliament that body’s vote to approve a candidate. The trajectory to the presidency could be no longer than a sigh.
This has been the case since the first National Assembly of People’s Power was constituted in 1976, when Fidel Castro proclaimed that the “provisional period of the Revolutionary Government” ceased and the socialist State adopted “definitive institutional forms.” In 1992, the new electoral law modified some details, but maintained the single-party essence of the system along with its armor against any kinds of surprises.
The end of a family dynasty
However, the novelty of the current elections does not lie in what may happen outside the script, but in the fact that for the first time the person occupying the presidential chair is very likely not to have the surname Castro. The possibilities that the office holder will belong to “the historical generation of the Revolution,” formed by a small group of octogenarians, are also minimal.
Along with the new president, figures that will replace the hard core of gerontocracy will come to sit on the Council of State. A cabal where the excess of years has been justified by the argument of accumulated experience, when in reality the permanence of these veterans is based on their proven loyalty to Fidel Castro, and now to his brother Raúl.
Biology, in its pragmatic task, seems to have imposed new rules and the time has come for the relief team, but there are no signs that the renewal of faces implies a political transition. In fact, anyone who has been projected as a reformer will not appear in the fleeting list of candidates that, in a predictably unanimous manner, will be approved by Parliament in April.
As was noted before focusing the cameras of the last century “anyone who moves does not appear in the photo”; anyone who has shown traits of thinking with his own head or wanting to mark his mandate with a new imprint will be out of the picture. This is what happened in 2009 with then Vice President Carlos Lage and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Pérez Roque, who had been seen as possible heirs but instead were unceremoniously ousted.
If this is the case, it is worth repeating Galileo Galilei’s mythical “and yet it moves.” After six decades of the country being governed by a regime that is not only totalitarian but also family based, those who assume leadership roles will have to do it in a collegiate way, in the absence of a figure that combines historical ancestry, command capacity and the consensus of the leadership to rule without supervision.
During the almost 50 years that Fidel Castro held power on the island, he did it based on his own will and caprice. At that time councils of ministers hardly existed and the country was governed from the door of a Soviet jeep from which the maximum leader appeared to impart his “clear guidelines.” His omnipotent power led him to decide everything from the fabric and cut of school uniforms to the way housewives cooked beans.
When he participated in the sessions of the Parliament, the only one who spoke was him and he did it relentlessly for hours, wasting in the practice the participation of the more than 600 deputies. He hoarded all the portfolios, imposed his desire in each sector and emptied the institutions of any possibility of decision making. Fidel Castro led the country with the tip of his index finger, without anyone else influencing the national course.
There are many testimonies that narrate the occasions in which he met with his immediate subordinates, where the curses and the threats would rain down if his designs were not fulfilled. His pounding the table buried every possible disagreement and assent or applause were the only possible answers. “Yes, Fidel.” “Of course, Chief.” “At your orders, Commander.”
When Fidel Castro fell ill and was forced to withdraw from public life, in July 2006, Raúl introduced the habit of consultation. During the 10 years that he has governed he held more meetings of the councils of ministers and summoned a greater number of plenary sessions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) than all of those held for the previous nearly half a century.
That proclivity to teamwork does not make the younger Castro a democrat, but at least he gave the impression that, although he did not renounce imposing his will, he was in the position to or in need of sharing decisions. His calls to make “incremental” and “gradual” changes to improve the country’s economy earned him a reputation contrary to that of his brother. The former was like an unreflecting hurricane, the latter a lackluster drizzle that was neither wet nor cool.
However, it fell to the younger Castro to lead the diplomatic thaw with the United States. The milestone of his mandate and the one for which he will go down in history was not — ironically — the long-awaited democratic transition on the island, but rather to have settled the problem with the great neighbor of the North. A conquest that dissolved in the last months with the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House and the outbreak of the scandal of the acoustic attacks supposedly suffered by US diplomats in Havana.
To make matters worse, the great Venezuelan ally has also clouded the final days of the Cuban president. The plummeting of oil imports to the island, along with the growing loss of prestige of the so-called “Bolivarian revolution” and the departure of several political allies in the region have made the scenario of the “farewell” very different from the one that was planned.
In the midst of this adverse context, the entire weight of Cuba’s future lies in the decision that will be taken when the moment comes to transfer power. Although the ruling party tries to show that it has everything “well under control,” a system so based on the will of a family clan has serious problems with new faces. A dynastic regime is not inherited by or delegated to others, it only survives if it remains anchored to a family tree.
Hence, speculation about the possible rise of Alejandro Castro Espín, son of the current president and a dark figure responsible for the police control of the country and the management of the feared State Security. Despite this possibility, his father is trapped in wanting to present an image of institutionality before genetics. He knows that a relief based on blood would protect him, but that also it would end up burying any narrative of the revolution in favor of emphasizing the character of a family dynasty.
Beyond the individual who will assume the highest office in the country, the person will be obliged to agree with others and to govern under the inquisitive gaze of third parties. He will have no choice but to argue to reach consensus, in a scenario where no one will have the right to pound the table with his fists or to throw a threatening look when asking if anyone disagrees with his opinion.
A future for Miguel Díaz-Canel?
The great unknown remains the name of the man – or woman – who will be graced with the position, although all bets point to Miguel Diaz-Canel, currently Cuba’s first vice-president. Born in 1960, the possible heir is a faithful product of the laboratory of political cadres, someone suckled on the udder of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and attached to the official script, with not a single mis-delivered line.
The Cuban dauphin can be considered a gray man, without charisma or a will of his own, someone who projects the image of continuity. He has come to where he is thanks to that projection and is unlikely to expose himself as a Mikhail Gorbachev or as a Lenin Moreno, once he reaches the presidential chair. Instead, his rise is surrounded by questions and suspicions that rain down on him from the opposition.
A sector of the outlawed dissidence maintains that “until what has to change has changed, nothing has changed” and that the transfer of power will be a theatrical representation to show the world, although nothing will move even a millimeter with regards political repression and the lack of freedoms.
This point of view is based on the fact that Raúl Castro will continue to be the first secretary of the PCC, which, according to the Constitution, “is the leading force of society and of the State.” Although biology suggests that it is unlikely that he will remain in that position until the eighth congress is held, in 2021, when he would be about to turn 90.
So, in order to continue the tradition of the socialist countries of concentrating in one person the highest governmental and partisan positions, it is more than foreseeable that before the end of his term at the head of the political organization he would convoke an extraordinary congress to unify the controls.
It may also happen that, for the first time in decades, the person appointed to head the PCC could be different from the person who holds the presidency. A bifurcation that weakens the system and will generate more than one collision of authority.
Between the slight optimism of a few, the distrust of the opposition and the indifference of most of the population, we just have to wait and see what is decided in April. Whether the date becomes a watershed or a new chapter of “more of the same.”
What is not discussed is how difficult it will be for the relief team to complete the pending tasks left by the current government. Perhaps the greatest difficulty is that of undertaking the essential reforms in the economy, while fulfilling the promises of continuity that, as a mandatory reverence, they will have to make when assuming their positions.
More complex will be to introduce political changes. Maybe they should wait for probable new elections in which, if everything works out, they will have to compete with the platforms of other candidates, of those possible presidents who remain hidden in the Cuban reality, waiting for a future legal framework that will allow them to emerge, waving their own government programs.
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