What will happen in Cuba?

Las nuevas generaciones serán los ciudadanos de esa Cuba del futuro. (Franck Vervial/Flickr)
The new generations will also have to define what will happen in Cuba. (Franck Vervial/Flickr)
Reinaldo Escobar

16 de mayo 2015 - 19:34

Havana/On the back of a copy of the I Ching were examples of questions about which one might consult this Chinese. Should I marry X? Is this the time to take a trip to Y? What will happen in Cuba? The readers of this copy from 43 years ago have had time to find out for themselves who they ended up sharing their lives with, or where they went on vacation. The situation for those of us who asked the ominous book about the fate of the Island has been very different.

The question written on that cover has continued to haunt me, as it has so many other Cubans. From restless foreigners who tried to practice their Spanish and ended up wanting to know the nation’s destiny, to foreign journalists, Cubanologists of all stripes, academics from various disciplines, politicians and career diplomats, coming from whatever part of the world. At one point or another our conversation always slid into the question: What is going to happen in this country?

After 17 December 2014, the question picked up steam. Hypotheses about possible scenarios are leaving behind the options of eternal immobility, foreign invasion and social explosion. At the same time, gaining credibility if the assumption that the driving force for change will come from above, in a more or less controlled form and with the critical approval of former foreign enemies. But anyone could predict that. What is lacking is the details.

Hypotheses about possible scenarios are leaving behind the options of eternal immobility, foreign invasion and social explosion

All indications are that on 24 February 2018, Cuba will unveil a president elected under the rules of the new Electoral Law. The characteristics of the person who holds this responsibility will be determined in line with the democratic character of the new regulations. If the current practice of a nominating committee that draws up a list of candidates or deputies is maintained, if it continues to be prohibited for candidates to present their programs, and if the current method in which the National Assembly appoints the president of the Council of State is prolonged, then the presidential chair will be filled by someone designated by those in power.

If, on the other hand, the Electoral Law allows different political groups to come to consensus on their own programmatic platforms, it would be almost automatic that the candidate commissions would disappear at all levels, and aspiring parliamentarians would compete for the popular vote. In a scenario where the president is elected directly by the voters, having the ability to choose between various candidates, one would no longer have to wonder who was the favorite of those in power, but rather who will the electorate prefer.

In the event that long-awaited political opening occurs, what would be the presumed tendencies in competition and which would have greater acceptance? It will depend on several factors. One part would be the degree of freedom of expression and association implemented in the country, as an indispensible complement to the effective functioning of a new Electoral Law. Another part would be the crucial influence of the level of exhaustion and the ability of the Communists to recycle themselves; up to now, their position as the only party has made them, for many years, “those preferred under the law.”

To be clear this formula should also consider access to the media and the economic resources to finance political campaigns, where liberals, social democrats, Christian democrats, green parties and even annexationists would come to light.

The preceding paragraphs may be cataloged as political fiction, even delusional optimism, but, even so, they are likely assumptions long-term. But if we set aside the medium-term perspective, what will happen in 2018 will depend on another event which continues to attract little attention: the Seventh Communist Party Congress, which will be held in April of next year.

In less than a year we could be hearing the name of who will be “the Party’s candidate” to lead the nation in 2018

“The Cuban Communists’ major event” could offer surprises, and one of those would be the retirement of Raul Castro as head of the organization. The First Party Conference, in January 2012, set out “to define term limits depending on the features and complexities of each position.” The document provides that “the key political and state positions will be limited to a maximum of two five-year terms,” but does not specify an age limit for remaining in office.

For this reason the General should leave the presidency in 2018 and, although he might retain the right to have a second term as the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), he could be expected to decline a chance to be reelected, to avoid being found at the front of the Party in his 90s, or even when he dies of old age.

If we give Raul Castro the benefit of the doubt and, what’s more, that dose of responsibility and pragmatism attributed to him by his supporters, in less than a year we could be hearing the name of who will be “the Party’s candidate” to lead the nation in 2018. Miguel Diaz-Canel, Bruno Rodriguez, Marino Murillo, or some almost unknown provincial quasi picture? At least we can bet it will not be Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, who has the sad reputation of keeping his foot on the brake of reforms and who will leave for the same reasons and at the same time as Raul Castro.

In July of 2006, Raul Castro “provisionally” replaced Fidel Castro when the latter fell ill. No one could have predicted, then, everything the younger brother was carrying in his wallet. It was hard to imagine such a difference between two men of the same generation, with such similar biographies, with so many shared faults and merits and with such similar speeches.

Thus, it would not be unwise to believe that whoever comes after Raul could bring proposals with an even greater degree of difference, even if he opens his term with promises of continuity and eternal loyalty to the legacy of his ancestors. The novices who enter the relay will march in the same direction laid out by Raul Castro, ready to recognize the laws of market, but they could do so more deeply and much faster.

In the 22 months between the Seventh Party Congress and the 2018 elections of 2018 it is possible that the most important changes in the political landscape will occur

On 26 December 1986, at the closing session of the National Assembly of People’s Power, Fidel Castro wrote for history the phrase, “Now we are going to build socialism.” Thirty years later, the slogan could be superseded by the idea of ”Now we are going to change socialism.”

In the 22 months between the Seventh Party Congress and the 2018 elections of 2018 it is possible that the most important changes in the political landscape will occur, first the new Electoral Law that is the key starting point of an as yet indecipherable plot, and second, and even more important, a new Constitution of the Republic.

The new law of laws would have to start by eliminating or redrafting in a less undemocratic way Article 5 of the current Constitution, which charges the PCC with being “the highest leading force of society and the State.” If this is not changed nothing essential has changed.

However, if something like this happens, then the figure who emerges as a substitute for Raul Castro in the leadership of the PCC would not have to be the next president of the nation, which does not mean that an opponent of the regime would get the position. We begin to glimpse, at least, a separation of powers.

In the management of our course blow winds to and from divergent directions. The fatal attraction exercised in the first place by the United States, where a major role is played by the economic interests of those willing to “swindle” just about everyone to assure themselves a piece of the pie, and, as a counterpoint a political class with an approach of demanding the capitulation of the “Castro regime.” The European Union has been playing with the Government with a complacent attitude, perhaps with the illusion of extracting some commitments with respect to human rights.

Russia and China, in their shared desire to position themselves in Latin America, see in Cuba a promising base, but without the unwavering ideological commitments of the Cold War years. In seeking clients for their goods, they may find Brazil, Mexico and Colombia could be more attractive, given their demographic volumes and the greater purchasing power of their population of consumers.

Nobody is interested in the Cuban model, clinging to the past and corseted in a Marxist-Leninist ideology to which they don’t dare renounce

Another aspect of the external nature of the variables of change is our relations with Latin America, where we no longer even pretend to be “the lighthouse that guides the continent.” From a center of subversion we have become the site of talks to solve conflicts, while Venezuela, with its oil subsidy program, has displaced us as a source of regional influence. Nobody is interested in the Cuban model any more, clinging to the past and corseted in a Marxist-Leninist ideology which they don’t dare to renounce.

The detail is that almost nobody investigates is what do the people want. “Ordinary Cubans” struggling to survive and smiling through their teeth. If I were forced to offer my opinion, above what should be understood as politically correct, I’d have no other choice but to say that this is, sadly, the least determinate of all the pieces on the board, although clearly it is the most important.

People will accept, between protests and applause, what finally happens. Then, when we leave behind political illiteracy and ascend the steps as empowered citizens, then it will make sense to answer the question of what do we want. With this question in front of us we ultimately know what will happen in Cuba. By then we won’t have to consult any oracle and the challenges of the new reality will barely leave time to question the I Ching.

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