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Why is Raúl Castro’s sendoff a tour of Cuba's military industries?

In addition to a sentimental goodbye, the general travels the island to inspect the economic emporium under military control.

La Habana

The final months of Raúl Castro's months are winding down, without much fanfare. At the beginning of the year, the general reviewed the fallen troops in the town of Tercer Frente. On February 24, already overladen with honors, three military higher-ups ―José Ramón, Ramiro and Guillermo― received the only one they lacked: the general was supposed to go that day, but ended up staying a couple of months, and warmly patted their backs. These kinds of overtures drag out his farewell at the degraded capitol building in Havana, and add a meager dose of nostalgia to a sentimental tour.

On this slow march the only stops with any practical purpose were those at the military industries. Going there is instructive, not symbolic. Despite his military yearnings, the general is hardly contemplating howitzers, for the only thing military about these factories today is who is in charge and who owns them, and these oases of efficiency buoy the health of Raúl Castro, his colleagues and his successors.

The company in Camagüey, for example, produces metal tiles, office furniture, tableware, containers and packaging, industrial hardware, beds and mattresses, and locks, always in complementary pairs. The general, without hesitation, described it as a gem, and added that it has the capacity for even more.

He visited the Santiago company after returning from the mausoleum in Tercer Frente, where he reviewed the fallen troops. There they are building means of transport, agricultural implements and, again, home furniture, aluminum doors, and hygiene products. By those evocative tombs, Raúl Castro reminded the military staff in command that "there are unexploited reserves in the Cuban economy."

The business tour had begun in January. In February the general went to tour the military facilities in Havana and Mayabeque, accompanied by Machado Ventura and Diaz-Canel, in addition to the ministers of the Armed Forces, Economy and Interior.

The Empresa Military Industrial Granma, now visited, manufactures household tools, metal doors, and elements for apartments. It even repairs locomotives, like any workshop of the Cuban Railway Union. La Grito de Baire, also from Havana, produces medical equipment and more cleaning supplies. The LED lamps manufactured by Mayabeque's military producers were presented to Raúl as a luminous metaphor.

The Unión de la Industria Militar, as a holding, is newer and less esoteric than the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA). It is also among the entities that the US Department of State decided to restrict as of November for its military connection and its "disproportionate profits at the expense of the people and private initiative in Cuba."

While GAESA controls services, particularly those related to tourism and retail, the "Military Industry Union" constitutes the sole efficient manufacturing model, among a plethora technological and administrative fiascos. A government site boasts that "it stands on the cutting edge in the introduction and application of the most advanced business management techniques".

The consortium, with entities scattered throughout the country, always had production capacities superior to the demand for weapons. At the end of the 1970s, the same website reports, troops were reduced and more opportunities appeared to "satisfy the requirements of the national economy".

The so-called "Special Period" consolidated the versatile vocations of these factories and their role an as "additional source of revenue that diminishes the impact of defense expenditures for the country".

With a less Masonic aura than GAESA, the military industries embody the ideal of a "socialist state enterprise" that the Government advanced in opposition to the private sector at the National Assembly in mid-2017, at what was a genuine anticlimax of the economic reform process.

A few weeks later came the "temporary" closure of the licenses for self-employment, which served, in practice, to establish a small business; thus far, the most sentimental aspect of this part of the tour.

The inspection of the military industries has been as extensive as the size of this consortium in the Cuban economy. Hurried, the general explains to civilians in his entourage that management works better this way. With epaulettes.

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