Cuban President Raul Castro’s consolidation of his position as successor to his brother, former president Fidel Castro, confirms that his Cuba will give the military domestic hegemony, which makes any serious political or economic opening in the near future seemingly impossible. The Cuban Communist Party’s recent Sixth Congress reflected this, offering little new and rehashing a lot of the old.
Since ill health forced Fidel Castro to retire from Cuba’s leadership, Raul Castro has opened the doors to the military and pushed out even those civilians who had been his brother’s trusted associates. While Fidel wrote doctrinaire articles in the official press, the armed forces took over politics and production. Fidel’s appearance at the party’s congress — an event full of political significance, because he has only rarely participated in public events since becoming sick in 2006 — seemed to confirm his support for this outcome.
We now know that the congress had been put off for 14 years, owing to deep divisions among Cuban leaders. The civilian group that was ousted wanted to adapt the “Chinese model” of gradual economic reforms initiated by the party. Raul and his military cronies, however, cornered Fidel and imposed their group’s criteria.
In Asian communism — as practiced in China and Vietnam, in particular — the party leadership rotates periodically and a civilian leadership controls the military. Systemic nepotism in the top political and military leadership exists only in North Korea.
By contrast, Cuba’s new Raulist political structure takes its inspiration from the purest tradition of Latin American military caudillismo, using communist ideology pragmatically. The model is clearly revealed in the nature of Raul’s proposed reforms. The economy’s most dynamic industries — namely, mining and tourism — are reserved for the military, which manages them in a business-like, profit-seeking way.
Only in these privileged sectors can some reforms be seen. The “new class” that populates them does not demonize foreign capital. Indeed, there are talks centered on debt, with some creditors interested in the mechanics of capitalization.
For the rest of the economy, the party’s position recalls the famous line from Sicilian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (“The Leopard”): Something must change so that everything else can remain the same. The sale of buildings and vehicles will be legalized and self-employment authorized, mainly in the service sector. However, lacking capital and forced to pay taxes, what fate awaits industries driven by the state into the market?
Nearly 1.5 million Cubans will never have a stake in the industries controlled by the military bourgeoisie. Nor was the issue of land ownership resolved: Only a few plots will be leased in some form.
As a result, Cuba will continue to import a lot of food, most of it at a price that the population cannot afford. Moreover, ordinary Cubans fear that their ration cards — their only means of getting food — will be canceled. Indeed, according to Raul, the state-controlled food-rationing system is a “factor of immobility,” but no one knows what might replace it.
The Sixth Congress ignored questions of human rights. Neither freedom of the press nor access to information was on the agenda and the opposition will continue to be ignored, its only options being conditional freedom or exile. Migration, an option financed by remittances from relatives in the US, was not made any more flexible, either.