Raul Castro, The First Secretary

Fernando Ravsberg

Fidel and Raul Castro at the closing of the Communist Party Congress. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños IPS/Cuba

HAVANA TIMES, April 28 — To explain what’s happening in Cuba has always been complex, but with Raul Castro in the presidency, it’s becomes even more difficult.  He is a discreet man with short speeches and long silences, someone who deals behind the scenes and plays his cards with neither noise nor fanfare.

The Cuban media “cooperates” with him, keeping silent on many of the changes, while citizens find out through the rumor mill that they can now navigate the Internet as well as the sea.

However at the Sixth Communist Party Congress he demeaned the press, calling it triumphalist, strident, formal, boring and superficial.  Author Eduardo Galeano had already observed that there are plenty of people who praise Cuba, but always few voices who know to defend it.

Castro repeats time and time again that he needs a different type of journalism, one with less applause and more intelligence, one with audacity to touch on sore stops and the courage to assume the consequences – a quality indispensable for facing Washington in cyberspace.

Meanwhile the reform advances in silence, meditating where it will place its foot to take the next step.  Those who are pushing it are people without the vital time to correct new errors.  Raul Castro recognizes that the Sixth Congress was the last in which his generation will participate.

The western countries were disappointed because the president-general of Cuba insists on continuing with socialism and announced that he wouldn’t allow the activities of opponents who advocate the return to capitalism.

People wonder why Castro seeks to reestablish socialism after so many economic failures.  Perhaps it’s for the same reason that Roosevelt continued betting on the market economy in the middle of the 1929 economic crisis.

People act according to their beliefs, and the president of Cuba has been a communist since his adolescence, even before Fidel.  In fact, he and Che were the ones who exerted the most pressure to transform the island into a socialist nation.

Those who want to understand “the Cuba to come” will have to learn how to approach it, to study it, to listen to it attentively, even in moments in when it detours from official discourse, which always comes out in written form.

Left groundings

No equation should overlook the relationship that has united Raul — since his childhood — with his brother, or his years as a young communist, his trips to socialist countries, his meticulous and efficient organization of the Second Front, and the construction of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).

He transformed a campesino guerrilla movement into a military force capable of facing South Africa but whose greater merit was in its fidelity to the nation’s political institutions.  His was one of the few armies in Latin America that never participated in a coup d’état.

When left without a budget, the general developed his economic vision.  Using capitalist techniques he created the most successful managerial system that revolutionary Cuba had ever had and was able to self-finance the FAR.

His Marxist training allowed him to perceive the differences between the original Leninist model and Stalinism.  In the Congress he broke from the script to say that Cuba should not copy what was done in the USSR after the death of Lenin.

He intends to build Cuba’s own form of socialism but without reinventing fire.  He and his circle studied the economically successful socialist countries and finally opted for the Vietnamese model, which they consider closer to Cuba both political and culturally.

He sent an army of specialists to collect everything that could be used in Cuba from the experience of that Asian country and he doesn’t accept summaries, he demands complete reports that reflect the reality, even when the findings are upsetting.

As someone from the military, he knows how to be a team player but also delegate tasks.  He goes more for institutions then for leaders and he trusts mechanisms above inspiration.  When he needs cadre, he doesn’t look for charismatic figures, he schools apprentices.

If we exclude the nine “historicals” on the Politburo, the new Central Committee appears as a pool of young leaders – half women, one third black and only fifteen military officers, a fact that makes one think the political role of Armed Forces will be less in the future.

The generals of the Politburo don’t seem to be there because of their “stars” but because of the unassuming guerilla uniforms they wore in their youth.  It was then that they established powerful bonds of trust between each other, as happen with those who risk their lives together.

Hurdles ahead

All are obsessed with “unity.”  They belong to a generation convinced that they lost the 19th century war of independence due to internal division.  They also believe that the United States will take advantage of the most minimum schism to dominate the nation.

Perhaps that’s why the general advances the creation of consensus.  In 2007 he spoke of changes and convened a national debate where the people themselves called for those changes.  He succeeded at getting Fidel’s support, then united the “historicals” behind him, convinced the party of the new direction, and they finally gave him the helm.

Ahead of him lies the challenge of dismantling a powerful bureaucracy, the legitimate daughter of the Soviet model.  Raul Castro warned that he would confront it and that he hoped to win, but he didn’t specify “how they’re going to fight the battles.”

Days later, however, Granma, the newspaper of the Communist Party, gave a hint: It published Fidel’s Castro quote that recommends combating the bureaucratic spirit “without truce, in the same way we fight against crime.”

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.


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