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Will the Transfer of Power in Cuba Last?

Raúl Castro's retirement delays the internal power struggle that will be unleashed upon his death.

Raúl Castro.
Raúl Castro. Diario de Cuba

In the wake of the 8th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, many wonder if the transfer of power carried out will last over time. At first glance, it may seem that it will. Above all, because the transfer was not the result of Raúl Castro's physical disappearance, but rather a well-calculated process to position his family in the most important circles of power on the island.

The transfer of power has taken place in the midst of a very tense political, social and economic situation, but, until now, one that has been kept under control. Most of the opposition in Cuba is controlled and coerced, and those that are not are under close surveillance. The real fear of the leadership today is a spontaneous revolt of a highly frustrated, desperate and hungry population, which could have the power to overcome the dictatorship, no matter how devious and violent it may be.

After placing each piece in its square, Raúl Castro now becomes a kind of consigliere in  the classic style of Cosa Nostra, stepping back into the shadows, from which he will issue instructions to Miguel Díaz-Canel, and allow Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas and his family to do whatever they want with the country's finances and wealth.

However, the durability of the handover will depend greatly on the life span of the retired dictator. Raúl Castro, who is about to turn 90, is likely to die in the short term. If the claims that he suffers from esophageal cancer, rectal cancer, and cirrhosis (from which he must convalesce, due to his alcohol consumption) are true, his role as consigliere could be relatively short.

Even if these reports are not true, he could pass away any moment, due to his advanced age. This is where the durability of the transfer becomes a very critical variable, as the generation that he will leave in command does not fill the power vacuum that the Castros have left.

Infighting for power

When Raúl Castro is dead, the internal struggle for power will become visible. And this is when several questions will be answered. Will Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas be able to keep the new set of generals who control the military power in line? Will Alejandro Castro Espín and Raúl Rodríguez Castro survive the internal battle for power? Can López Miera stave off a possible conspiracy by those generals who have been marginalized from the country's power and wealth?

Undoubtedly, these questions should be taken into account when conducting any analysis of the post-Raúl Castro era. Above all, it must be taken into account that the power vacuum generated by the disappearance of both Fidel Castro, and that of Raúl, when he passes away, will mean a 180-degree turn in the country's paradigm.

First of all, it is important to point out that Raúl Castro, by stepping down, took with him all the octogenarians of the PCC and the Armed Forces, paving the way for his ex-son-in-law, son, and grandson to manipulate the strings of power from behind the scenes.

The composition of the new Political Bureau was a masterful move to position the rest of the new mafia family's lieutenants at the top. Three of the key figures in Raúl's cadre are in the Political Bureau. In this case, Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, who manages the finances, businesses and main fortunes of the country; Álvaro López Miera, who heads up the Army; and Manuel Marrero, Prime Minister and right-hand-man of Luis Alberto Lopez-Callejas.

On the team in charge of Finances, Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja counts on Guillermo Faustino Rodríguez López-Calleja and Colonel Héctor Oroza Basutil, president of the CIMEX SA corporation.

In the control of troops, intelligence and security, Álvaro López Miera is accompanied by Alejandro Castro Espín and Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, son and grandson of Raúl Castro, respectively.

In the current scenario, there are two crucial factors that, if they coincide in time, could generate a perfect storm: 1. The worsening of the economic crisis and 2. The failure to control the pandemic.

As we have argued in previous articles, the Cuban dictatorship is in a phase of terminal, systemic failure, unlike the times of the "Special Period", when the economy was the critical factor. Today all the elements comprising the dictatorship are in a critical state, hence the possibility of a collapse. And this is a scenario that has not existed in 62 years.

The economic situation is a dead end

Given the current scenario, famine looms due to the model's inability to meet the growing demand for food, and it seems inexorable. Meanwhile, the inefficiency of state companies, plus the chaos created by the Ordering Task, which has generated a considerable rise in inflation, and exacerbated citizen protests, constitutes another important factor favoring a potential uprising.

The little that works on the island today is due to the oil that Nicolás Maduro gives away for the help that Castro II lent him to stay in power. An economy characterized by its extreme liquidity, devoid of credit, even from its political allies, with its productive forces imprisoned in a system that makes it impossible for them to generate wealth, with its tourism industry practically dead for the past 12 months, and remittances that have plummeted, will not be able to survive without implementing deep structural reform.

This situation of repetitive, exhaustive cycles, with patchwork formulas to create an appearance of progress, has the entire spectrum of the population weary. This is another of the causes of the increase in citizen protests in a country where there is no future for youth, or for the old. In Cuba today many people must wait in line up to 16 hours to get into a market that sells its goods in foreign currency, even though they receive their wages in pesos, and, at the end of the day, return home almost empty-handed. At some point, undoubtedly, the people will rebel.

As for the economy, the risk of investing has increased exponentially, and the market no longer attracts investment, much less under the current circumstances. And, in view of the scenarios that lie ahead, it is, literally, an economy in a coma.

The devastating effects of the pandemic

To this must be added the devastating effects of the pandemic in its third wave, which is gradually pushing the country to the verge of anarchy. The pandemic has caused the much-touted Cuban health system to collapse, revealing hospital infrastructure that is falling apart, deaths due to a lack of basic drugs, undersupplied pharmacies, and skeleton ambulance networks lacking fuel.

But to this must be added the worst part of all: their mentally and physically overwhelmed personnel, due to a lack of professionals to staff hospitals overcrowded with patients, the effects of the lack of supplies, and the harsh impact of the pandemic itself, with five strains and six mutations roaming the country unchecked, without a vaccine available to contain them.
And, as if that were not enough, there is the uncertainty that the Government itself has created through its ill-advised, suicidal strategy of seeking to eradicate the pandemic solely through the creation of its own vaccine, rather than investing resources to eradicate it by buying the vaccines currently available on the market, as other countries have wisely done. If the Cuban vaccine does not work, this strategy will become a truly unforgivable blunder. Not only could it spawn a humanitarian catastrophe, but it could exhaust the patience of a population already languishing under material shortages and a lack of opportunities and freedoms.

Gambling on the Cuban vaccine, which is not yet ready, more than a high-risk move, is a political and strategic blunder. The argument that the Government does not have the financial resources to buy a vaccine is belied by the fact that GAESA has not stopped work on the construction of dozens of four and five-star hotels in various tourist centers of the country, despite the fact that the tourism industry has been dead for almost 12 months. Meanwhile, cases and deaths continue to increase, even though the statistics are falsified by issuing death certificates indicating causes of death other than Covid-19.

Hyping a biotech industry whose best years were long ago pass, lacks modern equipment, and does not have the financial resources to upgrade, is to deceive a people who desperately want to see an end to this tragedy. Obtaining an effective vaccine in the short term seems to be a mission impossible. The problem is not that Cuba does not have the human resources to do so. It probably does, and they are highly qualified. The problem is that their technology is antiquated, which means that operations take longer. Then there are the difficulties that Cuban products encounter in terms of being verified by qualified international institutions and designated for such purposes.

If the vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, two companies with ultra-modern biotechnology infrastructure, and with major financial resources, whose clinical trial protocols have been thoroughly verified by the international institutions accredited for this purpose, have had difficulties, what can we expect from Cuban vaccines?

The system's most critical juncture in 62 years

The recent Congress provided the stage for a previously scripted transfer of power , for the purpose of maintaining family dominion over the country's wealth and power.

In Cosa Nostra style, Raúl Castro placed all the pieces in their squares, without having to install his descendants in the country's highest positions, in the PCC, Government and National Assembly. It was not necessary because the real government rules from behind the scenes.

The transfer of power, however, also entails vulnerabilities. Its stubbornness and refusal to make structural reforms may take its toll on the new mafia in line to inherit power. Unbridled ambition for money and power, while people are dying from disease and hunger, may blow up in their faces at any moment. This is not the 1990s, when there was no Internet or social media on the island. Today any event can go viral in a matter of seconds. And Cuban youth are not the same as people 30 years ago. They no longer believe in the official rhetoric, are totally disconnected from the ideology of the Government, and their plans and dreams involve living in a country where human rights are respected and there is the opportunity to generate wealth in a system of free enterprise, free markets and uncapped prices.

The deluded who think that the solution is détente with the US are wrong, once again. The dictatorship does not want a thaw that benefits the people, but rather one that benefits it, economically. Raúl Castro, in his retirement, has drawn red lines indicating what will be allowed. His order was clear when it pointed out that the private exercise of certain professions and private commercial importation "in the spirit of a non-state system of internal trade" would be among those lines that cannot be crossed "because the consequences would be irreversible, and would lead to strategic errors, and the very destruction of socialism, and, therefore, of national sovereignty and independence."

Those holding out hope for a Vietnamese or Chinese-style opening up will have their hopes dashed once again. The reform designed does not call for those economically successful variants, which have lifted millions of people out of poverty. Rather, it is aimed at continuing to control citizen entrepreneurship initiatives with a heavy hand, to prevent a middle class that could vie for power from developing.

Meanwhile, the mafia-like military leadership will continue to dominate the most lucrative sectors of the economy. The country will continue to be a high-risk investment destination, and its serious liquidity problems will not be solved, nor will its foreign debt defaults. A considerable increase in citizen protest is to be expected, and, as a consequence, an increase in repression and limitations on freedoms, generating an increasingly tense environment from a political and social point of view.

The transfer of power came at the most critical moment that the system has seen in 62 years. Raúl Castro’s retirement augurs and paves the way for the internal power struggle that will be unleashed when the Pandora's Box of his death is finally opened.
Given these looming circumstances, this combination of critical factors should serve as a breeding ground for a scenario that has not been seen in 62 years, in light of a prudent and wise US that has stepped back from a long-awaited thaw  (encouraged by influential agents and figures associated with the dictatorship), instead waiting to see how the events unfold that are shaking Havana and its policy of subjugation and survival.

It is there where all the axes will align and the opportunity for the long-awaited change will arise, one that will set the country's course in the coming years. Where will Cuba be headed? That is up to its people.


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