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Cuba: Is Castroism Finally Falling Apart?

The current situation is worse and different from any of the previous flare-ups during the ongoing crisis that Cuba has been enduring since 1959. Even the dubious official statistics paint a chilling picture.

La Habana
Illustration. Diario de Cuba

A feeling is spreading among Cubans, as both those off the island and those surviving on it sense that something is about to happen. Those in exile are already openly talking about it, while those in Cuba, cowed into silence, are more reticent, perhaps to avoid raising false expectations; they barely point to it, despite testifying to the country's extreme exhaustion and intuiting that the regime's current crisis is different from previous ones.

Even the dubious official statistics paint a chilling picture.

Between 1990 - the year of the "31 y pa'lante" (31 and Onwards) propaganda campaign and today, Cuban industry has declined by half. The biggest debacle occurred in the manufacture of intermediate goods and equipment, which fell by 80% and 94%, respectively, almost disappearing, when they are the most technologically decisive and value-adding industrial sectors.
Agriculture has fared even worse. Compared to 2013, less food, vegetables, rice, corn, beans and fruits are being produced... some lines have fallen from 70 - 80%. Over the past six years, rice production has dropped 60%; pork, 70%; beef, 22%; and wheat flour, by 32%. Today's total agricultural supply is half that of 2018. There is hunger in Cuba.

Logically, this dramatic reduction in agricultural and industrial production is reflected in the value of retail trade, which, measured as a percentage of GDP, has gone from 38.4% in 2010 to 22.7% in 2021 (even with a much lower GDP), in a steady decline in which each year has been worse than the previous one.

To compensate for the nation's lack of productivity, in 2021 the Government committed the country's trade balance to a deficit of 1.3 billion dollars. The relative weight of the domestic production of food and industrial goods has dropped compared to what is imported, so external debt is rising.

Cubans are scared of falling ill. While in 2018 150 drugs on the National Health System's basic list not being available was considered a dire situation, now 324 are missing ? almost 40%. These include anesthetics, antibiotics and some of the main drugs to control the epidemic of cardiovascular and psychiatric disorders. People are suffering and dying.

It was not Covid-19 but the collapse of the health system that caused 167,645 Cubans to die in 2021, exceeding the historical average by more than 50%, in a kind of genocide that the state media has ignored.

And neither Covid-19 nor the "blockade" explain why, when more production is needed, the wages of agricultural and industrial workers —who before the "Ordering Task" were paid over the national average, by 34 and 35%, respectively— are now earning less than it, while wages for those in public administration (bureaucracy) and defense (repression) are now above it.

Neither Covid-19 nor the "blockade" explain why Cuban has gone from producing six to eight million tons of sugar per year to less than half a million, which, translated into current prices, means more than 3.5 billion dollars in lost revenue.

And neither Covid-19 nor the "blockade" explain the blackouts, which, yes, are related to a 50% reduction in investments in electricity, gas and water supplies over the last six years, at the same time that investment in tourism grew by 15%, accounting for almost half of national investment. The more hotels, the more blackouts.

The hotel building craze has driven up GDP, but this macroeconomic figure does not address the sustainability of growth, such that Cuba, even "growing," suffers from a greater opportunity cost due to the decapitalization of vital sectors that have a direct impact on the population, such as agriculture and industry.

But even inflating the GDP by overinvesting in hotels (without making complementary investments that make it sustainable), the Economist Intelligence Unit, in its series covering until 2026, estimates for Cuba growth of less than 5%, considered an essential minimum for people to notice some improvement. There will be no such improvement in the short or medium terms.

Between poor investments and limited revenues, a chronically negative gross capital formation has condemned the country to its current state of disinvestment, decapitalization, deindustrialization and the disconnection of international value chains, which set this crisis apart from previous ones. Now, in addition to the economy's inefficient centralized management, there is its unproductive, corroded and obsolete physical capital.

And this is not only material that is old and unproductive. Almost one in five Cubans is over 60 years old, which is hardly surprising when in 2021 34,000 fewer children were born than a decade prior. Since 2016 the country has lost 126,009 inhabitants; of these, more than half disappeared in 2020, a record that, due to emigration, will be surpassed this year, confirming that the current situation is worse and different from any of the previous flare-ups of the perennial crisis that the nation has been suffering since 1959.

The extreme economic and demographic urgency is aggravated by an anthropological degradation, the fallout from a system of indoctrination that begins after birth and is culminated with an increasingly insignificant university diploma. The nation's civic soul is markedly corrupt, remarkably crude, and characterized by an aggressive lack of solidarity. The clay of the Revolution turned out to be a stinking mud that just a few nostalgic diehards still believe in. Cuba today is a land of disbelief and hopelessness, but also of a yearning for change.

Even in the midst of this perfect storm from which it is difficult to see a way out, Castroism retains its political structure intact. Its monopoly on information, indoctrination and propaganda obscures any small freedom that may slip through via social media; its surveillance and repressive instruments are well honed and, most importantly for its sustainability, Cuban civil society remains atomized by a totalitarian system that has been grinding away for 62 years.

It does not seem that the absolute economic and moral failure of the Cuban Revolution will suffice for Castroism to surrender. For the feeling that the end is nigh to become the harbinger of a new reality, a sustained popular uprising, or a fracture among the upper echelons of those in power, is necessary. For now, both scenarios seem doubtful, though it is true that there are signs that winds of change are blowing: more and more people are standing up to the regime, and the tension between the different factions of  Castroism’s mafia-like leadership is increasingly palpable.

But what is "near," in political and historical terms, may still be distant from individuals' perspectives. There is a grave risk of succumbing to despair after this tempered euphoria felt today, and it would be even worse if impatience were to lead to mutual finger-pointing. There is only one culprit here!

From Dionysius of Syracuse, down to today, every tyranny has fallen. All of them. Castroism has been crumbling since day one. Most Cubans stopped believing in it a long time ago, but this does not mean that it is going to finally collapse, or that it is going to do so on its own.

The Revolution survived the 1960s because Khrushchev appeared, it survived the Special Period because Chávez appeared, and there is no guarantee that another international benefactor, or a coalition of small stakeholders (China, Russia, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico) will not now emerge that can collaborate - formally or informally - to prop up the regime. Nor can it be ruled out that foreign investments may result in a little more oil, chicken and detergent, and a decrease in blackouts, causing people to resign themselves to the misfortune they have always known, which may seem less threatening than a freedom they never have.

It is true that Castroism is weaker today than ever, but the people are not strong yet. They are a sleeping giant; whether they awaken depends as much on material exhaustion as on learning to dream of freedom and prosperity. You, the ones who managed to escape, can control these two levers. Don't stop doing so, don't leave us alone... even if sometimes we deserve it.

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