Our Leaders in Cuba: Politicians or Alchemists?

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Busy sceme in Centro Habana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – Politics is a public role. A local, regional or national leader shouldn’t be anything more than that: a public servant. Somebody who the people delegate to hold a role with a certain level of power. An administrator, as they so rightly call it in the US.

But, it’s different here in Cuba. Leaders aren’t politicians or administrators with public duties, but “cadres” handpicked by the Cuban Communist Party in keeping with its recruitment methods. This is what we call the “cadre policy.”

This is where Diaz-Canel has come from, from the Cuban Communist Party’s cadre policy. Raul Castro publicly announced this at the National Assembly while he described his “virtues” and the long recruitment process that led Diaz-Canel to this important position of “trust” within the Party. There wasn’t an election, although previously selected Lawmakers (by the Party as well) did hold a formal vote. A real vicious cycle of self-selection and recruitment.

Miguel Diaz Canel on one of his tours. Photo: granma.cu

That’s why the new president, who is younger and doesn’t share the Castro surname, flaunting his wife like a First Lady and tweeting online, is trying to give himself airs of renewal, modernity and even the possibility of bringing about change (despite him saying his mission is “continuity”).

To make him “popular”, they have even planned several trips to the provinces, with contacts with the locals and TV cameras focused on him, giving his duties a great deal of coverage, as a president who takes action with new energy. They are selling us an image, that’s it.

Because, looking beyond the unnecessary, the important thing is what they are trying to do with this project/country and the results they have. And things are going very badly in this sense, giving us the impression that they want to transform mud into gold, as if they were medieval alchemists.

The state of crisis in Cuba is becoming worse, the economy isn’t really growing anymore, foreign investments are nowhere close to what we need and Cubans continue to emigrate en masse. And yet, the government continues to insist that they are on the right track.

The President’s recent faux pas on Twitter (when it crossed his mind to use one of Fidel’s statements to support his “continuity” image and said that “man needs more than bread to live”, proves a lot of things. It was a clumsy statement amidst a nationwide shortage of bread (as well as other foods) and it also exposes just how out of touch our leaders are with popular reality. It was like he was “rubbing salt into an open wound”. It triggered a great reaction on social media.

Havana home cafe. Photo: Juan Suarez

In the same vein, signing off on Decree 349 as soon as he came into office (which was given to him like an inheritance) calls him into question. A real “hot potato” in the new president’s hands, who underestimated the strength that our emerging civil society already has. The same thing happened when he tried to decimate the progress of more entrepreneurial sectors within the private sector.

The self-employed are society’s reserves of efficiency, without any space to grow still, without a legal framework, with regulations that make growth illegal or unprofitable, and with self-employment licenses for business owners who work as if they were small and medium-size companies.  They found themselves forced to withdraw the most stifling measures. And in this game of “tug of war”, the government has announced that there has been microscopic economic growth of 1.1%.

The Mariel Special Development Zone is a suicide investment that doesn’t get rid of the embargo/blockade, which also involves a debt with Brazil, where the Cuban government’s friends are no longer in power. Sugar cane production is bringing yields of 28 tons per hectare, but they need to be over 50 tons to succeed. Agriculture didn’t respond and won’t respond to million-dollar investments because of intermediary state companies’ bureaucracy. Lastly, they have just lost the billions they earned off doctors they hired out to Brazil, finding it hard to relocate them in other countries under the same type of agreement, labeled “semi-slavery”, as it would have a great political cost for the receiving government. Venezuela is in crisis and doesn’t produce like it used to. It’s a very fragile economic model, that depends on politics.

And the new draft Constitution is being discussed in this Dantesque landscape, the result of an awful strategy called “continuity”, which forms part of this same failed strategy of permanency, I have no doubt. Obama gave wise advice to both sides of the Florida Strait, when he more or less said: “if we want different results, we have to do things differently.” However, nobody took heed of him here and that’s why we are where we are today.

Carrying on for 60 years doing the same thing as always, where centralized socialist state-run companies are governed by a strict plan, while the private sector and cooperatives are being brought to a halt, is more than “a Galician’s stubbornness”, as we say here: it’s a pure attempt to do “political alchemy” well into the 21st century.

Mud will never become gold. And in the meantime, the country continues to fall into ruins, forced to wait for those in power to do something or that they will give up the helm to others who can steer our country towards a better future. Poor Cuba.

Osmel Ramirez

I'm from Mayari, a little village in Holguín. I was born on the same day that the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. A good omen, since I identify myself as a pacifist. I am a biologist but I am passionate about politics, history and political philosophy. Writing about these topics, I got to journalism, precisely here on Havana Times. I consider myself a democratic socialist and my main motivation is to try to be useful to the positive change that Cuba needs.