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Raul Castro looks towards the camera at one of his last official acts as president of Cuba. (EFE/Alejandro Ernesto)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 30 January 2018 — Last December 21st, when general-president Raúl Castro announced the extension of his term for 55 days longer than expected, few believed in the silly pretext for such a decision: the damages caused by the passage of Hurricane Irma and the calendar for nominating municipal delegates.

One of the theories that started to circulate immediately as a culprit for the delay was the disagreement between two alleged trends among the top leadership: one, reformist (the so-called “Raulistas”), which aims to give a boost to both the private sector and to state companies and cooperatives, and a second one, with conservative tendencies (the “Fidelistas”), represented by the most reactionary sectors of the leadership, which would oppose such apertures because they consider them a threat for the survival of the Revolution. The latter are determined to maintain central jurisdiction, increase controls and continue to be rooted in the ideological orthodoxy of the Cold War era.

Some analysts argue that the confrontation between both tendencies is what has caused the advances and setbacks of the limited lead-ins to the euphemistically called self-employment (private sector), whose restraint restrictions and current setbacks seem to indicate an eventual predominance in power of the most conservative tendency.

One of the theories that immediately circulated to account for the delay was the disagreement between two supposed tendencies in the top leadership: one reformist, and the other conservative

However, a more objective analysis of the Cuban reality, based on the experience of the last decade, from the time Raúl Castro assumed power, in any case, shows that the struggle has been taking place between two equally conservative tendencies, only with different degrees of stubbornness, but whose common final goal is the preservation of the status quo that guarantees the retention of power in the elite group of the anointed that includes both factions.

Consequently, the Cuban political class – that socially differentiated and privileged caste – does not include a sector headed by Raúl Castro with a true reformist vocation and a desire for profound changes. Those who interpret it thus, seem to forget the strategic position that the current president occupied during the 47 years of government under his brother and mentor.

What clearly seems to exist is a segment that is more reactionary than any other within the same caste of anointed ones, whose common interest – the preservation of their political and economic power – seems to be much stronger than their differences, regardless of whether there are gut struggles aiming to divide shares of power, previously a one-man show, but currently showing clear signs of fractioning.

Differences exist in methods, rather than in ends, used to prolong, as long as possible, the greater share of the power of the elite. The most lucid understand that the changes that urgently need to be implemented in Cuba have the double edge of being, at the same time, the only possible way to ease and eventually beat the economic crisis, the catalyst that would accelerate the collapse of the so-called “Cuban socialism.” At this point, it is fitting to remember the general-president’s not so casual phrase that he was not put in his position “to destroy the Revolution.”

It is likely that, regardless of their stances, both positions favor a search for pacts rather than a disruption that might sweep the board

It is likely that, regardless of their position as “reformists” or “Stalinists” in Cuba’s ever unknown political front, both positions favor the search for pacts rather than a disruption that could end up sweeping the board, especially with “the historic” octogenarian gerontocracy, who have been directly responsible for all the disasters of the last 60 years. In such a case, the arranged equilibrium between these two sectors of the same caste would have prevented the progress of the self-proclaimed liberal measures introduced by Raúl Castro in the first half of his term, between 2008 and 2013.

Those who, years ago, bet on Raul Castro’s supposed pragmatic spirit and his fictional organizational capabilities to at least aspire to economic advances in Cuba, have been let down. The general crisis has deepened, while the gap between the Government and the governed widens day by day.

What is most paradoxical in this case is that, if the general-president – despite his bleak past – had had just minimal audacity and independence, he could have established himself as the facilitator of a peaceful and orderly transition towards democracy in Cuba. To this end, he was holding such aces as the vast majority of Cubans’ desire for change, the willingness of the US to establish dialogue, the relaxation of Barrack Obama’s government views towards relations with Cuba and the rapprochement of the European Union. However, he chose to maintain a position of subordination before the dark shadow of his brother and of all the elements that sabotaged his proposals.

Consequently, if there is something the olive-green baby brother has shown all these years of lost opportunities, it has been his mediocrity and insecurities at the time of assuming the helm, as well as his cowardice to take on the challenge. That is the true legacy he will leave for History.

If there’s something the olive-green baby brother has shown all these years, it has been his mediocrity and insecurities at the time of assuming the helm, as well as his cowardice to take on the challenge

However, though not meaning to establish absolute judgment, it is quite unlikely that the outgoing president will surprise us with some solution that he has not proposed in the previous ten years, so clumsily dilapidated. There are 80 days left of Raúl Castro’s government – at least in his visible period at the head of government – and the inefficiency of his mandate is an established fact.

The volume of pending issues that he will leave his successor –monetary unification, electoral law and economic reforms, elimination of the ration card, increase in foreign investment, or the simple promise of a daily glass of milk for every Cuban, among many more – far surpasses the funds that he will leave in the nation’s coffers when he finally makes the symbolic handover of the presidential chair.

It is possible that the 55 days of the “Raulista” moratorium, from February 24th to April 19th, will have more to do with the shuffling of cards of an undoubtedly difficult succession than with any strategic proposal for the future Government, which – supposedly – is already outlined in the Party Guidelines and will guarantee the continuity of the Castro legacy until 2030, at least at the legal level.

It is very possible that the new president of 11 million Cubans will “ask permission” of the Assembly to keep the old general as permanent adviser to the “new” Government

If the purest dictatorial tradition remains – and to date there are reasons to suppose that’s what will happen – on April 19th, when the 605 parliamentarians elect the person who will figure as president of 11 million Cubans, he “will ask the permission” of the Assembly to keep the old general as permanent adviser to the “new” Government; a pernicious and permanent contract, not written or recognized in the Constitution or the Electoral Law, but one that would legitimize de facto the perpetuation of the dictatorship from the shadows of a simulated retirement.

For those of us who have lived through almost six decades of the Castro regime, April will not bring many surprises, but there is no doubt that the departure of the general-president projects a certain and inexplicable sense of relief within the opposition in Cuba. Not because the new president means a promise of prosperity and bliss, but because the lineage of the Castros has marked a disastrous sign in the hearts of Cubans. Many of us want to think that the era of the darkest and longest dictatorship is becoming blurred and that it will continue to fall in the future. Until its end.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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