HAVANA TIMES — I think that the timid but significant changes that Raul Castro has been implementing – with a number of variations that any sound analyst would make – are the best thing that could happen to Cuba.
The general-turned president, however, doesn’t exactly have the moral authority to advance these changes as his own, as he was never a dissident, never even a key figure of the Marxist-Leninist project undertaken on the island, within the Politburo or any other political institution established by the “Retrogression”.
In his defense, we can point to the fact that, in terms of awareness of everyday reality and the sympathy and affection awakened among the people, the contrast between Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), Raul’s milieu of experimentation, and any other government institution was something you felt at base level.
It was common, for instance, to see a lieutenant colonel from the FAR heading back home in a public bus, asleep on his seat, totally oblivious to his surroundings, feeling protected, even, or to come across this officer giving someone from the neighborhood a lift on the side-car of his motorcycle.
To see a Ministry of the Interior (MININT) officer or Ministry-level cadre from the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), of the same rank or even three military ranks beneath our lieutenant colonel, do the same thing, you’d simply have to be dreaming.
What’s more, the FAR produced the products they consumed. As an institution, it had a different experience of reality than the rest of the country, an economically healthier existence, even during the long years of Soviet subsidy.
They produced everything they needed in terms of viands, provisions and essential equipment (provided it wasn’t a heavy or arms industry item). I worked as a civilian at a company run by the FAR and I am pleased to be able to vouch for this.
None of the changes Cuba has witnessed run contrary to Fidel’s political vision, as some would have us believe, or have been implemented so as to bring a new, brilliant revolutionary – Raul Castro, the dissident – to the fore.
The changes are part of a plan in which Raul assumes the risk, as the person at the helm, of being remembered as someone who did well, regularly or terribly (and this is something only time will decide).
Fidel, however, has earned an ineffaceable place in world history, as a leader considered excessively cruel by some, a dictator who governed by whim by others, or on a spectrum that runs from being a phoney to being a revolutionary to his sympathizers.
The fact I commend Raul for doing what I believe is right, given the current state of affairs in Cuba, does not, in any way, blind me with respect to his trajectory in power, nor does it make me forget that the man who would eliminate you if you showed the slightest bit of sympathy for any letter of the alphabet other than the “A”, is the same man who, today, assures you his policy is called “Z” and disturbingly intimidates you so that you will adhere to it.
From a pragmatic point of view, this would be beyond reproach. It does not, however, show much conviction. It recalls, rather, the most profound act of self-criticism he was able to muster after green-lighting the execution of his friend and subordinate Arnaldo Ochoa, for having been oblivious, as the general’s immediate superior, to the shady dealings Ochoa was accused of during a less-than-transparent, summary and highly irregular trial.
The confession, “I looked in the mirror and saw tears running down my face!”, left all of us speechless. Then, we had expected something along the lines of “I’m sorry for not having been vigilant enough”, or a “I, his immediate superior, shoulder the responsibility for his actions, I will take the blame, or resign,” or perhaps a “I want to dedicate this hara-kiri to all of the fans who are watching us on TV right now.”
To be frank, no one expected that last one. Raul is not Japanese.
In any event, no one should be at all concerned about future jobs or positions at the top. A new obsequious bunch already took them a long time ago.
Mao’s granddaughter is one of China’s wealthiest women, Dos Santos’ daughter is the richest woman in Angola, Fidel Castro’s son wins golf tournaments in Varadero, Raul’s daughter asks for more and more visas to travel to the United States… all of this makes us suspect that revolutions are carried out so that this vile (but nonetheless much-coveted and sought-after) thing called “money” can change hands.
It remains to be seen where those who once vociferated the grandiloquent “Homeland or Death”, and the fewer and fewer who do so today, will be in a decade or so. Will they take to the Sierra Maestra or Escambray mountain ranges to lead a counter-attack on this return to capitalism, this vile act of treachery, or whether they will rather resemble the daughters or granddaughters of those iron-willed leaders, who are much like those who are in power today?
One thing must remain clear: what makes a person a member of the Left, of a progressive or anti-establishment movement, is not what they say about themselves. As with everything else in life, it is a question of deeds, not of words.
Those who wield power and live like kings are the Right, no matter how they wish to portray themselves, and those who, in some way, seek to bring balance to the equation, are everything else in the spectrum. As in the good-cop-bad-cop trick, there will doubtless be some who will try to convince us that Raul freed Cuba by ripping it from Fidel’s claws.
(*) An authorized Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by Martin Guevara.