By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — Ever since Miguel Mario Diaz Canel was formally named President by the National Assembly of People’s Power on April 19th, he has made it clear that his mission isn’t to bring about change in Cuba but to ensure continuity.
And it couldn’t be any other way given the way he reached the presidency. He wasn’t elected by popular vote running against other political candidates in elections, instead he was “hand-picked” by the upper echelons of the only hegemonic party in power. Publicly, at least, he’ll need to follow the script that those who gave him this great opportunity have written, which he surely didn’t imagine possible until he wasn’t seen at the presidential naming ceremony, unfortunately for others.
Something else might happen though when real power lies in his hands and his censors’ withdraw themselves from the political scene because of old age. The new President is expected to slowly become Cuba’s real leader.
He already holds the positions of Head of State and Government, and Comander of the Armed Forces, although only nominally, under Raul’s supervision. In 2021, his position will strengthen if Raul holds onto the idea of making him his successor at the head of the Communist Party. However, he won’t be able to govern with his ideas and how he wants until 2023, when he holds his second term in office.
If he is thinking about doing something different or taking his own initiative, he will only find the courage to do this in his second presidential term. It would be easier if the Revolution’s historic leadership isn’t around when that happens, especially Raul. The Cuban people are aware of his precarious situation and you can often hear allegorical jokes out on the street, some of which are very funny and witty.
One of these jokes says: “Raul gave Diaz Canel the TV, but he didn’t give him the remote control.” The comparison is really graphic, right? Before 1959, political humor was mainly expressed with caricatures, and we had a whole tradition of these. However, without freedom of speech (especially freedom of the press) and a single ideology being imposed on everyone, it was impossible to keep this tradition alive. That’s why it has transformed or survived in the form of underground political jokes.
After more than a decade in power and getting people’s hopes up for change and improvements since the beginning, Raul left his positions (not power) with the country far worse off than when he took the reins of power. Fidel is famous because he ruined the sugar industry, which everyone in the country knows because sugar mills were destroyed in every province. However, Raul destroyed the most productive nickel factory in the country, the “Rene Ramos Latour”, located in Nicaro-Mayari and was on the verge of also destroying the “Ernesto Che Guevara” factory in Moa, just about saved by a slight increase in global nickel prices. Today, they are looking for keen foreign investors to rebuild them. (1)
The cost of living in Cuba has doubled during Raul’s administration and some basic items have been marked 5 times up. Clearly, his “Guidelines” haven’t worked and his development plan for 2030 won’t achieve the results he intended in 2300 even, at the pace it’s going. There is also a popular joke about this: “this is moving forward like a crab.”
If we were to live in a real democracy, a party with so many failures under its belt wouldn’t rule again, much less offer “continuity”. However, in the Cuban system where a more abstract form of democracy “without democracy” exists, the new president has been elected precisely so he can continue with these failed politics. He clearly won’t be successful because it’s the same as trying to make gold out of mud. And if he can’t or doesn’t dare to change the direction of the country in 2023, he will only emerge as a decorative figure and a political re-accommodation.
Another important factor is the pressure that pacific opposition, both on and off the island, might put on him to break the current standstill and find a negotiated way towards national reconciliation and overcome this authoritarian period.
International pressure is also very important in tolerating or winning freedoms back within the Cuban system; and this will create consciousness and allow us to slowly break down the barriers which prevent citizen participation from pursuing change which is what most of the population really want. All of these factors are important.
Expecting changes or Diaz Canel’s own initiatives before 2023 would be a pipe-dream. Anything that might resemble this is part of the script that he received and part of the Communist Party’s strategy, especially of its historic political elite. We have no choice but to push for democratic and plural elections in 2023, using our democratic voices; and if this doesn’t happen then pressure them to make vital changes which will slowly open the democratic gap that Cuba so desperately needs.
(1)- Coincidentally, these two industrial factories are named after two insurgents in the war against Batista, who had serious ideological differences: Rene or Daniel (war name) was a Democrat and was opposed to Che’s Marxism. When Rene Ramos died in combat, Che recognized his bravery, admitting his hostility and differences. If Rene had lived to see the Revolution, he would have ended up in prison, dead or in exile like the majority of his colleagues. Thanks to his premature death, he didn’t have the opportunity to defend his ideas and he could die like a hero and not like a traitor.