“Checkmate” on Castro’s Cuba and They’re Still Not Giving In

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Photo: Steven Certilman

HAVANA TIMES — The rules of chess don’t work the same when it comes to the Cuban government. They seem to be in another dimension, among the so many that modern physics describes. Hurricane Irma came to be its project-country’s “checkmate”, they had been “checked” ever since the beginning of those sadly famous Party Guidelines, and even so, they still aren’t throwing in the towel.

The Cuban economy was torn to shreds under Fidel’s government and when it was received by Raul like a hot potato, he immediately offered hope of reforms, showing signs of real interest in this reforms process.

However, the centrifuge movements of the system, where ideology and the instinct to protext privileges are above national interests, took those hope-filled plans to the dumpster. Every plan, every Guideline, every project has fallen into the blind well of bureaucracy and a political-ideological deadlock.

With the US blockade still in force and at the current pace that businesses are approved at the Mariel Port and Special Trade Zone, it will take longer than 100 years to get back their investments. Much less drive the rest of the economy forward as was expected, where tangible results were expected by 2030.

Tourism, which has entered a boom after the US market opened up to Cuba again, is facing several obstacles which can only be solved if there is a change in mentality and attitude at government-level. These are impossible things for brains muddled with extremist dogmas.

Venezuela, the unconditional partner which used to supply resources as a result of the single ideology shared by both Governments, collapsed in spite of its oil wealth. Nothing escapes disaster when a dose of the Cuban virus is administered, “the false Left’s state centralized totalitarianism virus”.

With the national GDP falling over the past two years, the only thing they had was the gasp of air that Obama gave them when bilateral relations were reestablished in the rapprochement process and the blockade was made a little more flexible. However, Trump entered the scene after the first signs of relief, allied with the most conservative groups in Cuban-American politics and has closed the shut-off valve. Even though a “few good drops” are left with remittances and other gifts, it isn’t enough to get a dead man standing, which is what the Cuban economy is in effect.

Raul has promised to end his presidency in 2018, in this electoral process that has already begun with great displays of illegality, in the interest of avoiding the nomination of peaceful opposition candidates. His leaving office is something that can happen in two ways: by death or because Raul himself decides it. It would never be possible as a result of his government failing or because the Cuban people didn’t want him in power anymore. Power belongs to them; they are the sovereign ones, not the people.

It’s a fact that Raul sincerely believed in passing on power to his committed subordinates and relatives with some political qualities, gradually. First, at the government level and then in a second phase at the Party level, which is where “power” really is in Cuba. And he thought about having some positive results to show by now. However, he only has this Dantesque landscape that is hopeless.

Photo: Steven Certilman

And things were ugly before Irma and it seems he didn’t know what to do, whether to fulfill the promise he had made or to pretend that his subordinates or “the people” won’t let him leave power. You can see hesitations in his daughter Mariela’s statements and other signs. However, “the calendar has already been ironed out,” as we commonly say here in Cuba. He doesn’t have the health to stick out another presidential term and this has become evident as a result of his absence in public after the hurricane and the poses without sound on TV, only at meetings or official receptions.

Irma has been like a “checkmate” to the fantastic possibility of reversing Cuba’s critical situation without really “changing” anything. If the country was a disaster, it is now an ordeal. The old and rusty Cuban infrastructure has been destroyed. And if the damaged economy, which is inefficient as a result of its state-centralized nature, wasn’t enough to keep itself going before, it is now a lot less likely to recover and move forward.

It’s the end of what had reached its end a long time ago: Cuba’s radical Socialist project. The end of what only “lives on” because of the strict social control that the Communist Party and repressive forces have. It has the weapons and institutions tied to them, but they don’t have positive results or popular support or legitimacy by elections, nor the people’s faith which they once had and there’s nothing they can do to reverse this situation.

Except for “real change”, but it’s difficult for them to do that: because of their pride, their meanness or their false soldier spirit, which they inherited from Mother Spain; which preferred to hand us over to the US in Paris rather than give us independence by accepting their defeat at the hands of their own children, the Mambises. Those in power now prefer a destroyed Cuba before giving the people back their sovereignty which has followed them fruitlessly for decades.

After many “checks”, Hurricane Irma is in reality the Cuban system’s “checkmate”. Few people doubt this. However, it will still take us some time to come up with a “new game” with different players. They, the Revolution or the Cuban government, however you want to call them, are dreadful losers. Like spoiled brats, they don’t get up from the table and hand over the board. They have taken it along with all the pieces and they cling onto it, pressing it against their chest saying “this is mine and I’m still playing even if I lose.”

It’s true that there still isn’t a political force here among us Cubans that can “get them off their horse” and force them to respect the rules. That’s why they are still there. But complaining doesn’t help us, the only thing that will help is to continue pushing for the constructive change that Cuba needs, with the certainty that this situation will change one day for the better. We will have to wait and see.

30 thoughts on ““Checkmate” on Castro’s Cuba and They’re Still Not Giving In

  • Also the vendor of durofrio y piruli y turrones de coco… Those jobs are not in essence new. The black and informal market has been there for ever and it is more a supplement that a main economic activity.

    My uncle raised pigs and sell the meat when I was a child. My dresses were made by a seamstress, my grandma tutored math to the block children. And the bolita bank that nobody knows where is located, but everybody knows an apuntador. And we bought in the black market from eggs and shrimp to colchas de trapear.

    And these jobs and illegal economic activities are also in the government hands and control. When the government wants, they can put an illegal vendor in jail.

    The real economic changes were the authorized paladares, the rentals and the builders cooperative. These were substantial economic activities that were creating a middle class.

  • It’s the guy that walks down the street selling garlic, the guy on the corner selling Criollos, the guy who comes to repair the refrigerator, the mason and the carpenter who are building the extra room on the house, the plumber who is doing the new bathroom, the guy who cuts down trees in your yard, the many people who will raise a pig or many pigs for resale when grown, the lady selling dresses she brought back from Russia, the lady doing wash for neighbors, the seamstress that makes, modifies, and mends clothing, the lady running the daycare center out of her house for neighbors, the lady selling mani on the street, 9 out of the 10 people in my town who transport people for money without being licensed as a taxi. Let’s don’t forget the guys who sell bolita numbers, and the big money bolita banker, the guys who breed and sell fighting cocks, most of the tour guides in touristic cities, the list goes on and on and on. Basically everyone who does business or offers services “in the street”.

    None a major economic factor individually but there are so many of them that in total they are a major economic force.

  • Read again, I have not talked about not respecting anybody. Nevertheless Cubans elderlies.

    But, it is a fact that the fight was between Cuban people. They were not fighting the USA. Look for the dead list of both sides and you will see the Cuban names.

  • Hello Bob,

    Which are those no regulated, tolerated and government independent economic activities that can make a significant amount of Cuban people do not depend on the government? Which are those economic activities that can scape the government control ? Can you give me some examples?


  • As I said, the various people I have met who fought at Playa Giron and in the Escambray mountains considered themselves to be defending their country against foreign backed mercenaries and traitors.
    Every single person that I have met who put their lives on the line in those two arenas told me they are 100% proud of what they did to defend their country.
    I wasn’t there. I didn’t witness these events. I wasn’t even born.
    But I have had the privilege to meet veterans of those two arenas of conflict and that is what they say to me whether you respect them or not.
    Although I cannot say that I have ever met any of them, I would expect that the losers at those two arenas who fought on the side of the region’s main aggressor are probably proud of what they did too.

  • I see the government being able to control only a small part of independent economic activity, those large visible ones like paladars, casas, or large agricultural co-ops. Simply looking at overall economic activity in the street, there are large numbers of people working independently without government regulation. They are all in a large grey area that is neither clearly defined as licensable nor illegal. And so many of them are one person businesses with no fixed location that they fall into the shadows. But their economic impact in total is quite large. When one looks from the bottom up rather than the top down, they are quite visible.

    This is the growing part of the Cuban population that views the government as becoming or actually being economically insignificant.

  • I hope what you’re saying is true Bob. Time will tell.

  • We cannot know how popular the Cuban government is, because they do not allow free elections. That is the only way of knowing how popular a government is.
    No, they fought against other Cubans that were not in agree with the government. The support of the USA (or the URSS in the other side) does not make the conflict less between Cubans. They were not fighting against USA, they were fighting Cubans vs Cubans in El Escambray and in Bahia de Cochinos.

  • Hello Bob,

    The Cuban government knows how dangerous is the development of a economical independent class and they started to limit the permits for the most lucrative activities like restaurants and construction cooperatives.

    They will keep the balance and they will show they control the economic life of the Cuban people, at the end they are the ones that emit the permits for the little service companies.

    They still have the total control. They are still very relevant, very powerful and they still have the control.


  • Your comments completely fail to take into account how popular the revolution has been on the island. You refer to the events in El Escambray and Playa Giron (bay of pigs) as ‘efforts to overthrow the dictatorship’. Having met many several people who fought in both of these conflicts, I can most readily assure you that they considered themselves as fighting to preserve Cuba’s liberty against foreign backed mercenaries and traitors (their words not mine).

  • “Dictatorial governments have been overthrown countless times with less resources…”

    Can you give me an example of a dictatorship that was overthrown with less resources than the Cuban people have? With less control, with less economic freedom, with more controlled press , with more controlled movement inside the country?

  • No, I am not exaggerating the efforts.

    They are historical documented and they were very serious. When Bahia de Cochinos, many known disaffected Cubans living in Cuba were preventively arrested because the government was afraid of part of the population supporting the invasors.

    When El Escambray, whole towns were moved to other side of the country, because the government did not want the farmers support the alzados.

    The Proyecto Varela was very serious.

    No, those USAID funds can not freely circulate in Cuba and being used in propaganda etc. The opposition can not freely use those funds in Cuba. They can not have in Cuba an account and buy paper and ink and print articles, or create a radio station.

    There are more examples of dictatorships that were overthrown from inside and the finished with the dead of the dictator than examples of dictatorships that were overthrown by the people.

    I do not think the Cuban people is happy enough with the situation, I think the Cuban people have very little alternative.

  • Is it possible that there is change happening right now? Are we still thinking using precepts of the past where force and violence were what defined change? Are we blind to the fact that economics are so crucial to Cuba and are constantly changing with free markets driven by demand that the government cannot control so are forced to accept?

    I see more and more Cuban people breaking the bonds of their dependence on the government for their income. The street economy is becoming more and more pervasive in addition to those private employees that the government must accept. Simply put, the government is slowly losing control of the income side of the equation.

    At the same time, the Cuban government is currently locked into providing the supply side of the equation giving all the benefits to everyone without regard to their contribution to the government. As taxes are minimal, more and more people are able to keep almost 100% of the output and still receive the same as someone who works at low net wages for the government. Thus more and more are flocking to the private sector.

    Recognizing the primary problems of the Cuban people today are economic, I see the government destined to an unsustainable path. The current government structure simply cannot survive long term having less and less control of the country’s productive output while being locked into fixed payments.

    Raul can appoint anyone he wants. But the fact remains the Cuban government is becoming less relevant economically to the Cuban people. That is a sure fire change. Maybe a slow path but one with potential to accelerate. But it is an irreversible movement nevertheless.

  • Whether isn’t a good thing or not is utterly immaterial when the vast majority of them don’t care one iota and are perfectly complacent with the status quo.

  • 1.) You are VASTLY exaggerating the efforts to overthrow the dictatorship, none of your examples had any support from the general population whatsoever and they all happened decades ago, it’s ancient history now.

    Bottom line: My statement that there has never been a serious effort is accurate.

    2.) Your statement, “… It is not easy to organize when there are not money…” is incorrect as well. There has been unlimited funds available in the US for decades to fund any uprising against the Cuban government, but no Cubans care enough, not even the ones who left the island.

    Bottom line: The vast majority of Cubans – both on the island and the ones who live abroad – are complacent enough with the status quo.

  • “… And getting a passport is not as easy as you would think…”

    It’s not the passport that’s difficult, it’s finding a foreign country that’ll issue a Visa to a Cuban.

  • “Dictatorial governments have been overthrown countless times with less resources…”

    Yes, and many other times (like URSS) they were overthrown from inside, and other times (like Franco in Spain) when the dictator peacefully died and others (like Chile Pinochet) when the dictator decided it was time to change.

    In Cuba there were efforts to overthrow the dictatorship. Violents ones like El Escambray and Bahia de Cochinos and pacific ones like the many pacific oppositions organizations.

    The Cuban government imposed fear, remember the many Cubans that were killed by fire squad, without a legal process in La Cabaña. The Cuban government has also the complete control over the economic life of the country and the media. It is not easy to organize when there are not money, when the government can cut the income, when there is not economic independence. It is also very difficult when there is no way of divulgate any idea/

    It is not easy to overthrow a dictatorship that has so complete control over the life of the citizens.

  • So what does Carlyle really mean with his insistence on the 9% figure for “black and ethnic minorities”, or “rare and noble things” to be politically correct in subordinate to the Queen. It is true that the working class voted for instability, but short of Havana becoming a city state independent of the rest of the country, or at least tied to the Orient North, and yes the Earth’s polarity will switch in the future, which is pure speculation, the vanguard model of the Cuban Americans is doomed. Indeed, even if this were to happen the state capitalist corporation monolith will continue to milk the city for the purposes of selling weapons. Perhaps it is time to realise that people really are happier with no ties, living in a land of plenty??! Havana is a petri dish of the global community. The simple fact is I have no faith in the Orient (N) to administer the world. Peace.

  • There is indeed exaggeration and hyperbole whenever the “Castros are worse than the devil” brigade gets going. They’re the very same as the armchair communists who claim everything is wonderful. Both extremes have blinders on and both are incapable of rational discussion.

    That said, there’s no denying that Cuba is an utter mess, but it’s an utter mess that by some measures is a little (and sometimes a lot) better than many of their 3rd world country counterparts so it’s an utter mess that many can live with, thus the national apathy/acceptance or whatever label you wish to use.

  • I disagree. I think 500,000 more disenchanted citizens anywhere, even Cuba, is never a good thing.

  • Perhaps things are not as bad in Cuba as some would like to have us believe. Otherwise we would indeed see much more blow-back from the Cuban people on both sides of the Florida straights.

  • The reason why Cuba doesn’t grow more of their own food locally is because it’s actually cheaper for the Cuban government to buy it and import it from abroad. In order to ramp up industrialized agriculture in Cuba on a grand scale, the initial cash out-lay to do so is in stark contrast to the simple economics of buying from abroad where efficiencies already exist in comparison to what Cuba can afford to do for themselves. It’s really all about the math and Cuba’s limited funds for investment.

  • “… Who knows what would have happened in Cuba if the more than half a million Cubans who arrived in the US through this program would have been forced to stay in Cuba…”

    Yup, it’s an interesting thought Moses, but my guess is… absolutely nothing would have changed.

    In many ways change is even easier to initiate from the safety of far away shores… and the Cubans who have left have by and large none nothing. In fact the argument can be easily made that they’ve gone out of their way to maintain and support the status quo in Cuba.

  • A failed system hanging on for time. Real reform only way to avoid a wash out of the regime.

  • Heretofore, Cuba has had a safety pressure valve. The US Wet Foot/Dry Foot program. Disenchanted Cubans simply left Cuba. Who knows what would have happened in Cuba if the more than half a million Cubans who arrived in the US through this program would have been forced to stay in Cuba.

  • Totally think you’re right, Eden. Perhaps, Cuban’s are just fine with the status quo. Amazing, no telling where I’d be.

  • He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! But it was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother. Taken from Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell. This is how I see the senior citizens of Cuba. They love Big Brother, however I believe that their might possibly be some conflict with the up and coming youth of Cuba!

  • Great article! It’s 2017, its time for change Cuba. I still don’t understand why Cubans don’t grow more food in their own country, they have the land for it. Spending billions importing food into Cuba is just bad business. For example, resorts import bananas, but the local bananas taste so much better. Build up the sugar cane fields, they were the best in the world at one time. Fruits and vegetables can easily be grown there. I would love to get my friends out of Cuba, but everyone is so scared. And getting a passport is not as easy as you would think. The Cuban people need to fight back.

  • Lots of good points, but the most telling admission is this: “It’s true that there still isn’t a political force here among us Cubans that can “get them off their horse” and force them to respect the rules.”

    There has never been a single serious threat to Castro’s power. Not once. The Cuban people have by and large accepted their fate with barely a whimper. So they’re either happy enough with the status quo or they’re cowards, you decide.

    And before anyone jumps in with the oh-so-predictable lament that it’s impossible to confront the existing government that’s total hogwash. Dictatorial governments have been overthrown countless times with less resources than what the Cubans have and any serious uprising would instantly have unlimited financial support from the US.

    Bottom line… Cubans are happily complacent with their situation and so long as they can complain over a game of dominoes then life goes on, no big deal.

  • “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” – Frederick Douglass (my avatar)

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