The perfunctory renewal of the President of the Republic of Cuba's position only served to demonstrate the backwards intransigence (already of a criminal magnitude) of the military gerontocracy that rules the country, when changes are urgently required to alleviate, at least, the serious economic crisis it is suffering. It also exposed the anachronistic nature of the Stalinist model that has endured into the second decade of the 21st century.
Miguel Díaz-Canel, a bland figure, too inept to lead any government, but very obedient –which is what counts here– became a new version of Manuel Urrutia, and Osvaldo Dorticós, the Republic's other two puppet presidents since 1959 not bearing the dynastic Castro surname.
We are reminded, thus, that there have been no democratic elections in Cuba since 1948. That is, Cubans have not elected their rulers for 71 years now. When the last elections were held Carlos Prío Socarrás won, with 905,200 votes, against the 608,000 of his chief rival, Ricardo Núñez Portuondo.
There has been no civilian president of the Republic on the Island wielding real power as the head of State and Government since, in February 1959, Fidel Castro led an "invisible" coup d'etat and removed Urrutia.
Upon entering Havana on January 8, 1959 Castro I declared that he was not interested in power and did not aspire to any public office. But that lasted just 37 days. On February 13, 1959, he replaced the 1940 Constitution with a Fundamental Law drafted by himself, with help from Dorticós, and turned the Prime Minister into the head of the government, over the President of the Republic.
Three days later Fidel became Prime Minister and Urrutia was demoted to a figurehead and PR figure without any real power. In July of 1959 the commander forced him to resign, accused of being anti-Communist, and appointed Dorticós, equally bereft of power.
Anatomy of Castroism: superior and subordinate hierarchies
The world and the Cubans themselves know very little about how political power really works on the Island. The Constitution states that the Communist Party (PCC) "is the supreme guiding force of society and the State." That is not true. The ultimate level of power is, in fact, a group of soldiers comprising a Military Junta headed up by Raúl Castro.
Cuba is light years away from a modern democracy, a model based on the independence of three public powers (Executive, Legislative and Judicial), something that, drawing upon Plato and Aristotle, Montesquieu endorsed 271 years ago (The Spirit of the Laws, 1748).
On the island there are not three powers, but just two, comprising an institutional monstrosity that, like the mythical 10-headed hydra, is controlled by a single man, who rules assisted by the aforementioned Military Junta.
These two great powers constitute what might well be called the superior and subordinate hierarchies. The first includes, in order of real power, the dictator, the Military Junta, the Political Bureau of the PCC, and the Central Committee of the PCC, with its Secretariat.
The subordinate level is made up of the President of the Republic, the State Council, the Prime Minister (yet to be appointed) and Council of Ministers, and the National Assembly of Popular Power (ANPP). It is worth clarifying that the tyrant also controls the Judiciary, like kings and emperors did in ancient times.
The Castroist crème de la crème
After Castro II, wielding more personal power than Sun King, Louis XIV of France ("L'Etat, c'est moi", "I am the State") is the Military Junta, the crème de la crème of the regime, consisting of of the "historical commanders" Ramiro Valdés and Machado Ventura, generals Leopoldo Cintras Frías, minister of the FAR (Armed Forces); Alvaro López Miera, First Deputy Minister of the FAR and Chief of the General Staff; Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, Tsar of Cuba's military corporations; and Julio Cesar Gandarilla, Minister of the Interior.
It includes the three-star generals Ramón Espinosa and Joaquín Quintas Solá, Deputy Ministers of the FAR; the dictator's son, Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín; as well as the heads of the three armies (West, Central and East) and two or three more generals whose names may vary according to their affinity with the dictator, and one of which is now Leonardo Andollo. The Military Junta takes no visible physical form, nor does it even exist, formally. Rather, it works behind the scenes.
In the Political Bureau of the PCC, currently listing 17 members, only the six military brass wield any weight (Castro II, Machado, Ramiro, Cintras Frías, Espinosa and López Miera). They decide, the other 11 members listen, say something if they are permitted to, and approve whatever the military decides.
The Central Committee of the PCC, with some 140 members, approves everything that has been decided above. Its mission is to control the Government and all of society with an iron first through a multifaceted bureaucratic apparatus. Its department and section heads direct the ministers, the State Council, the ANPP, the central bodies, the media, culture, education, mass organizations, and every level of the PCC. Foreign policy is not decided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but rather by the Central Committee's Department of International Relations.
The Secretariat, with nine members, is the highest echelon of the PCC's bureaucratic apparatus. Its function is bureaucratic, assisting the Central Committee with the implementation of the Congress's resolutions and agreements.
The President of the Republic, Díaz-Canel, knows that he is not really in power, his charge being limited to protocol-related and bureaucratic matters. He answers to the State Council and the ANPP, representing the State and generating media attention at the meetings he attends.
Incidentally, as President of the State Council, Esteban Lazo is also the President of the ANPP, thereby accountable to only himself. In fact, he enjoys more independence and wields more formal power than Díaz-Canel.
The 21-member State Council executes the ANPP's agreements between its meetings, and has a hand in bureaucratic tasks.
The Prime Minister, to be appointed soon, will again be in charge of the Government's day-to-day bureaucratic operations, but unable to decide anything important. The Council of Ministers, in practice, has administrative functions. It is, in reality, led by the PCC's Central Committee. The National Assembly of Popular Power's 605 "deputies" listen, raise their hands and unanimously approve what has already been decided "higher up."
It is essential to clarify that Díaz Canel does not form part of the Military Junta, which accounts for his status as a mere administrator of the state bureaucracy, devoid of real executive or political/military power, despite the fact that the Constitution establishes that the President of the Republic is the supreme head of the armed forces. But, Does Díaz-Canel believe this? Could he even insinuate to General Castro that the latter is not, in fact, the top military leader and "number one" in Cuba, but rather he, Díaz-Canel?
Hence, what happened on October 10 was a direct result of the new Constitution, which is really the testament left by Raúl Castro to tie the hands of his successors and prevent a Cuban Gorbachev from making changes that might overturn Fidel's legacy of feudalism.
Castro II simply distributed the main public offices in the country to prevent anyone, except himself, from acquiring too much power; including the next First Secretary of the PCC, in 2021, which the general announced will also be Díaz-Canel.
Thus, the youngest of the Castros will remain the chief of chiefs until death dethrones him and he is conveyed to his mausoleum in Sierra Cristal, Oriente.