And After Chavez, What for Cuba?

By Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

Rafael Correa, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez & Raúl Castro. Photo/archive: estudios revolución.

HAVANA TIMES — On Monday I was in the waiting room at my hospital when the noontime news came on. The broadcast began with information about the headline of the moment here in Cuba: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez undergoing cancer treatment in our country.

Typically, patients in that room don’t pay much attention to the TV, and even less when it comes to the news. So I walked up to the set to be able to hear better above the underlying murmur, but I immediately realized that my move wasn’t necessary.

The room fell silent. As if by magic everyone focused on the TV with a rare earnestness and intensity.

After the report, a woman sitting near me broke the silence. She said something like “poor man,” indicating her compassion, sadness and grief. Later, as I left out on my way, a couple of thoughts turned over in my mind.

What came to me was the description given to me by my father about poor rural families back in the days of his childhood. I remember him once talking about how they used to look when there was a death of a relative, particularly when this involved the family’s bread winner.

He described the tremendous anxiety, the desperate cries and excessive mourning of this compared to the death of any another human being, such as a woman or a child – though these people too were mourned of course.

Still, there was this bitter inequality. Though apparently reprehensible, it nonetheless had a deep, undeniable sense: When the deceased had sustained the rest of the family economically, their loss spelled even worse times ahead for them.

It’s no secret that the survival of the Cuban system, up until today, owes much to the economic aid agreements with Chavez’s Venezuela and the ability to acquire oil from that nation in exchange for the services of our professionals.

Though some people have little affection for regimes that fly socialist flags, no one can deny that, in the midst of poverty and uncertainty, many ordinary people are happy and cling to their small pieces of security provided by the system here.

It’s like oxygen or life support that continues to emanate from the recent (though dwindling) subsidies administered by our government, ones that are still possible — in no small measure — thanks to our advantageous Venezuelan connection.

When you consider that the Bolivarian project has relied excessively — in my humble opinion — on the charisma and personality of Hugo Chavez, it becomes clear then that the misfortune threatening him is casting dark clouds over the minds of many people.

Actually it’s not unreasonable that we might reflect on what might be expected and the influence this turn of events might portend. Personally, I hope the current economic reforms being applied by the government will change the pace a little.

It’s not that things will accelerate much, but rather that they’ll occur a little less slowly, especially those that will open up some opportunities for market economics.

At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an attempt at strengthening political and media control over the public, although the long-term success of this goal is less secure than it was in the past.

Virtually all Cuban governments (since independence) have been amply criticized for the dependency established in relation to foreign powers, either with the United States, the Soviet Union and, more recently, with Venezuela.

Once again uncertainty reigns in this respect before the possibility of the end of Venezuelan assistance at this stage. In the immediate future of the country lies the stage in which we will have to have to prove the nation’s capacity to advance independently, under our own power.

Local decision makers, leaders and politicians who have controlled the real power here have performed in a shockingly poor manner when it comes to convincing the rest of us of their ability to rise to the occasion.

“Liborio” — the archetypical Cuban campesino, a symbol of the Cuban people — will have every reason to stay up for the next few nights.

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