By Pedro Campos
HAVANA TIMES — General Raul Castro’s strategy to revive the Cuban economy had three fundamental pillars:
1- Some weak reforms to give the private economy and cooperatives certain abilities, but still subordinate to the State.
2- Continue with the Venezuelan oil imports and the Cuban exports of medical personnel to Venezuela and the ALBA states and other South American countries.
3- Improve relations with the US in order to get more money via remittances, tourism and markets, but without giving space to other exchanges that could affect the State’s control of the economy and society.
Between 2008 and 2018, some steps were made in this direction, but most have fallen apart in his hands.
1- The centralized and bureaucratic State system has itself stopped the “reforms” process from moving forward and it has become a caricature which has only created more opposition than support, because of the hope it initially created and then the obstacles it imposed.
2- Oil prices plummeted on the global market and Maduro’s mistaken policies in Venezuela have not only put Venezuelan oil exports to Cuba in crisis but the entire ALBA system on the brink, while the populist wave that was spreading through the South America demanding tens of thousands Cuban doctors whose fees were going to fatten up Castro’s coffers, has been losing ground in Argentina, Brazil and even Ecuador, provoking a significant decline in the number of doctors being sent.
3- The rapprochement process between the US and Cuban governments under Obama was put in crisis by Castrismo itself, which was terrified when the former US leader came to Cuba and it thought it could stop “people to people” relationships but maintain a significant increase in the tourist sector and markets, as they deemed fit. Then Trump arrived in office and there were the so-called “sonic attacks” against US diplomats that buried whatever was left of these plans.
His failed strategy
This is how Raul Castro has reached the final days of his time in office, when he himself had said he would step down in February 2018. Hurricane Irma has been just another excuse that he has capitalized on in the midst of this disaster, as an excuse for all the subjective baseless reasons given by Murillo and other Ministers to try and explain this dysfunctional plan, at last week’s brief session of the National Assembly of People’s Power (Parliament).
In short, more excuses used for all signs of the General and his team’s incapacity to move the Cuban economy beyond crisis.
The two month extension to his presidency, announced on December 21 only indicates that the upper echelons in power reached the conclusion that Diaz-Canel, the named substitute, wasn’t ready to take on the position in the face of such a difficult situtation, whether that was what other people thought or even Diaz-Canel himself is not known.
Bear in mind that in this centralized vertical system, if the Head of the Council of Ministers and the State Council isn’t also the First Secretary of the Communist Party (as has been the case for a half century with Fidel and Raul Castro), he will be tied by his hands and feet when it comes to making any political decision. Maybe something will leak through a little later. Raul’s last trip to Santiago de Cuba and his close ties with the PCC’s First Secretary in this province, Lazaro Exposito, might have something to do with this.
In any case, what we do know for certain is that Castrismo has been stumbling about as a result of the country’s harsh financial situation, the State centered economy’s own obstacles and the combination of autocratic leadership, Stalinism and dynasty, with a dead “king” and the “noble, vassal and even servants” looking for opportunities and independence.
However no matter how you want to paint the picture, the reality is we are experiencing the last days of this injustice that they call “socialism” for convenience’s sake, which was really nothing more than a cult dictatorship in the most literal sense. Without the dictator who this system was designed by and for, it stops making sense; but his loyal followers are hellbent on upholding it contrary to what our reality demands and needs.
If the shoes were too big for Raul, you can just imagine how they’ll fit on Diaz-Canel or anyone else. Only a change in Cuba’s economic and political systems, which they haven’t wanted to do because they are so arrogant, could have ensured some continuity of Castrismo without Fidel.
However, they have lost a lot of time and many opportunities; it seems it’s too late. We are witnessing Castrismo’s last phase.