The transition of power from Raúl Castroto Miguel Díaz-Canelat the last session of the National Assembly delivered no surprises – at least not for me. But, from the whole production, one statement in the speech by the new president of the Councils of State and Ministers caught my attention: "I have not come here to promise anything," he said, "just as the Revolution never did in all these years."
I begin with the second part of the sentence. Actually, his two revolutionary predecessors made manypromises, in each in his own style.
It was Fidel Castrowho spontaneously, off the cuff, without calculations or consultations, lied more and followed through least. In January of 1959 he promised that Santiago de Cuba would be the capital of the country, and also, on that same day, referred to the formation of a constitutional and democratic government that the people would be able to revoke through free elections. A few days later, in the famous "Am I doing all right, Camilo?" speech, Castro proclaimed his total lack of interest in power, and, in another subsequent public appearance, promised a revolution as green as the palm trees, in opposition to the red of the Communists.
And so on, with promises like a series of strides, Fidel Castro walked for years in Cuba. His promises encompassed a strangely wide variety of objectives, such as the abundance of coffee that would be produced using Cuba's caturra bean; the Cordón de La Habana, an ambitious and hapless agricultural expansion project; the huge amount of livestock Cuba was to have thanks to artificial insemination by a bull imported from Canada, and the failed to attempt to produce 10 million pounds of sugar cane in a single year: the Zafra de los Diez Millones.
He staggered from promise to promise, until he delivered the last speech about five decades later, and began to alternate the planting of moringa with his "efforts" for world peace. Of his promises there remain universal access to public health and education - though today these systems are failing, impoverished by Cuba's financial circumstances, the country's vertical leadership style, and the exodus of qualified professionals.
There is also the devastation wrought for years by the Revolution, which did make promises, and act on them.
Starting in 2006, Raúl Castro, to obtain the support he needed, also made promises. Among others, he limited the duration of powers in Cuba, allowed (though with great restrictions) private economic activity, and created a system of administrative meetings in the State and the Party to facilitate their management. Thus, these promises were fulfilled, but his broken promise of a little glass of milk for each citizen, made in his first speech as the head of the Government, will always be remembered.
Thus, it is outrageous for Díaz-Canel to claim that the Revolution made no promises. It made big ones, since its triumph in 1959, and also during decades of institutionalized dictatorship. A real revolution - not a merely rhetorically one, as is Cuba's today - would be obliged to make promises, to achieve support by consensus, but Díaz Canel has not realized this. And if current and future leaders intend to remain in power, in times of crisis they should be forced to redefine their system of government, to maintain or expand the population's support, for which promises are also required.
It is in very nature and, above all, it is the mission of any politician – whether on the right, left, a Social Democrat, Communist, Christian Democrat, or whatever else – at the beginning of his term, to make promises constituting his commitments to the population, to whom he is answerable. The people expect something from him, and he is obliged to describe that "something." In the case of Cuba today, they ought to address the unification of the currency, a higher minimum wage, better food supplies, greater agricultural production, more flexibility and freedoms for small private companies, the duration of the rationing card, assistance for the construction of houses by their owners, construction figures by the State, if not all the human rights violated to date. In short, all the domestic "tasks" that were never completed or suffered setbacks under the previous Government and that now fall to Díaz-Canel and his team.
But there, precisely, lie two key characteristics of Díaz-Canel: he is not a politician, and he was not elected by the people.
That phrase of Díaz-Canel's, pronounced, perhaps, to demonstrate humility, instead reflects an appalling ignorance and confirms that the doors of hope for Cubans remain shut, that the new regime will be a prolongation of the one preceding it, a fact celebrated by the country's elite, but constituting very bad news for most of its people. It corroborates that at the head of the Government today there is no politician, but rather a crony, an administrator who will be responsible for executing the decisions made by Raúl Castro and his associates in the Party. Therefore, there will be no substantial changes for the thousands of Cubans of all ages who aspire to a better life.
As long as the presidency is occupied by someone who does not even dare to make any promises, because he is just waiting for orders from the previous ruler, the future of a Cuba for all Cubans – inclusive, democratic and prosperous – slips even further away.