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What Power Does Cuba’s Mafia Elite Still Retain?

Of the Castro regime's three pillars of power, only one remains standing, and it has begun to crack.

Police repression against a dissident in Cuba.
Police repression against a dissident in Cuba. Reuters

Cuba's powerful elite, as the 8th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba approaches, is enduring a stage of extraordinary existential challenges, insecurities and fears, grappling with a widespread crisis caused by its transition from a communist bureaucratic class to a modern mafia class - not to be confused with a modern capitalist one.

The regime’s totalitarian mentality and habits prevented it from realizing that the best opportunity for the success of its plan had been offered by President Obama, with his attempt at detente. They scorned and squandered the legitimacy, and funding, that his Administration generously and unilaterally offered them. "Imperialism has been defeated," they proclaimed then, arrogantly and prematurely.

As stated in the recent special report Cuba and the US: The Bilateral Relationship, published in February by the Havana Consulting Group:

"The octogenarians in power demonstrated that they were unprepared for change. As soon as Air Force One flew back to the United States with Obama after his historic visit to Havana, the regime froze the reform, attacked Obama's policy towards Cuba in the press, and resumed economic strangling and police harassment of the self-employed, put an end to the approval of new non-agricultural cooperatives, began to demonize entrepreneurs in the press, ratcheted up repression against dissidents and critics, and began sonic attacks on US and Canadian diplomats. After the embassies were reopened, the regime abruptly launched an accelerated process of regression, damaging relations between the two governments. It also failed to honor its commitments to creditors who had generously canceled and restructured its debts."

From "thaw" to chaos

Raúl Castro kept the country mired in the dynamics of geopolitical confrontation with the US, and intensified interventionist control in Venezuela and regional subversive activity. The regime's internal economic crackdown, default on its debt, and reluctance to undertake any genuine structural economic reform created a state of economic and financial feebleness even worse than that which preceded the thaw, whose great potential could not be exploited without a real opening up. Instead, Raúl Castro chose to accelerate the use of GAESA to progressively privatize profitable sectors of the economy for the benefit of Cuba's nepotistic mafia leadership.

In an effort to attract foreign capital to its businesses - without allowing the private sector to grow to create sources of employment and ensure food production - it took steps towards the so-called "Reorganization,” a leap into the abyss that has generated the current chaos by seeking to monetary unification and the withdrawal of subsidies from state companies in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the decapitalization of the economy, and a drastic drop in the main sources of cash (foreign medical brigades, remittances and tourism).

The country's powerful elite is increasingly emerging as an anti-Cuban mafia. Their only concern is their businesses, and they have violated the traditional social pact imposed by communist states: guaranteeing work and public services in exchange for political docility. Poverty and inequality are now skyrocketing, along with inflation and the collapse of housing infrastructure, workplaces, hospitals and schools. Basic groceries and the most essential medicines are difficult to acquire without foreign currency, and, sometimes, even with it.

The "perfect storm" is no longer a prediction

The arrogance, ineptitude and stupidity of the anti-Cuban mafia have generated the perfect storm now threatening it.

The power of the communist state rests on three pillars: ideology (ensured by a monopoly on information and perpetual indoctrination), the economic and social dependence of the citizen on state institutions (rooted in the "social pact" imposed by communism), and fear (sustained by a ruthless repressive apparatus).

Of those three pillars, only the third remains, and it has begun to show cracks.

The Internet and travel abroad broke down the wall against information. The State no longer provides salaries that have real purchasing power, nor does it ensure enough funding to acquire basic groceries, adequate housing, education and health, or decent public services.

If "power" is conceived as a relationship of domination in which one party has the ability to persuade or force the other to act according to its interests, then what kind of power does the anti-Cuban mafia elite now wield? Fear. But, ultimately, how scared can a population driven to the existential extreme of famine be? Protests, increasingly numerous and massive, seem to indicate that their fear is dissolving.

Will the regime resort to the massive use of terror?

Article 4 of the Constitution: a double-edged sword

The repeated invocation of Article 4 of the Constitution seems to reflect a certain wistfulness for firing squad walls, massacres and life sentences as a solution to the problem. If fines and arrests no longer avert citizen protests, can this privileged mafia - which does not provide jobs or services, has lost control of information, and lacks any historical or legal legitimacy - order a massacre without it being its last act in the exercise of power?

Article 4 of the Constitution reads:

"Treason is the most serious of crimes, and those who commit it are subject to the most severe penalties. The socialist system endorsed by this Constitution is irrevocable.Citizens have the right to fight against, by all  means possible, including armed struggle, anybody who attempts to overthrow the political, social or economic regime established by this Constitution."

Article 4 refers to the "socialist" order that the Constitution enshrines and upholds as "irrevocable." There’s hardly anything commendable there, but the development of the new mafia state was neither envisioned nor enshrined in the Constitution. In fact, in accordance with Article 4 of the Constitution, the traitors are the anti-Cuban mafia who are perpetrating this transition towards a criminal state, and it is against them that it is legitimate to "fight by any means."

For decades Cuban dissidents have employed only non-violent methods. But it is not difficult to predict what the reaction will be -—not only from the opposition, but from a good part of the population, and even sectors of the state bureaucracy and the armed forces— if the anti-Cuban mafia now in power decrees a new era of terror, invoking Article 4. The security measures in their exclusive neighborhoods will be insufficient.

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