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In the National Assembly they are talking about the price of cheese. What about everything else?

What are the topics that Cuba's powerful elite wants to publicize, and what subjects are taboo?

Voting in the National Assembly of Popular Power.
Voting in the National Assembly of Popular Power. Radio Rebelde

What does not appear on the agenda of the National Assembly's sessions, and that delegates keep quiet, is often as relevant, or more so, than what is discussed there. Thus, we must ask ourselves what those other issues that did not come up in this last session were, and why. What are the topics that they want to spotlight, and what do they insist on covering up?

The country's powerful elite —the one that really calls the shots— is very much interested in publicizing Cuba's SMBs, for example, as these entities are key to the transformation of the Cuban economy into a crony-based market, and also to bolster its external disinformation operations in order to evade the sanctions of the US embargo. Thus, it is a strategic move by the Cuban oligarchy to make them visible and promote new voices that espouse their legitimacy.   

The task of "making SMBs visible" in the recent session of the Assembly fell to the delegate from Playa, Carlos Miguel Pérez. This deputy, who runs an SMB, is said to have been the only "businessman" who made it through the strict selection filters of the PCC and the MININT to reach the National Assembly. As is known, this approval is a sine qua non requirement to be placed on the electoral ballots of single candidacies.

His intervention prompted speculation about alleged television censorship when he was speaking. The interruption of the broadcast, they explained, was to temporarily favor the TV newscast. The truth is that the delegate's words were fully transmitted when the program was later resumed shortly after from the National Assembly.

Some, however, have identified in all these fireworks the fear of the powerful in the face of an unexpected outbreak of heresy by this actor in the Cuban political puppet show. Others, more skeptical, see an active move designed to enhance the credibility of a delegate that they intend to use later, before international media, in order to uphold SMBs abroad as a symbol of Cuban socialism's new entrepreneurial freedom,

In any case, whether it was a planned discursive ploy, or an act of audacity by the delegate, the truth is that the scope of his public approach did not go beyond what is officially accepted. If extroverts are scarce in those media, freethinkers are even more so. This is why the skeptical get it right more often than the gullible under these circumstances.

In the end, however, this is all conjecture and speculation. The important thing is what the deputy from Playa said, and what he did not. In reality, he did not refer, as some believed, to the need to free up the market for all. He did not speak of granting full economic freedoms to all citizens, the essential basis of genuine market reform. No.

The most obvious sign that this deputy had no intention of defending the market economy was the exclusion of any reference to the limitations imposed on agricultural workers by the dreadful system of sales to Acopio, among other important straitjackets.

Food insecurity was the central issue that was being "debated," but Delegate Perez preferred to ignore the interests of those who actually produce food, complaining instead about the price of Gouda cheese. If he believes that prices depend on the law of supply and demand in a free market, why did he limit himself to criticizing them instead of questioning the reasons that prevent an increase in supply?

Simple. The negative impact of the internal blockade on Cuba's productive forces remains a taboo subject. The delegate from Playa knows this, and toed the line. But what his silence cannot hide is that agricultural laborers are food producers. In fact, less than a decade ago they produced 80% of Cuba's food, while owning just 20% of the land. That was until GAESA's policies, implemented through the Díaz-Canel government, stifled and completely suffocated them. GAESA is interested in importing chickens and reselling them at inflated prices at its foreign exchange stores, not producing them. Today, as the president of the National Assembly explained, Cuba imports all its food...courtesy of GAESA.

The greatest silence in the Assembly: GAESA

Another verboten subject continues to be the impact of GAESA on Cuban society. Although its main corporations are registered as private corporations in Panama, and control 70% of wealth and 95% of financial transactions, GAESA is spared any control or audit, an unmentionable ghost, a genuine black hole into which the resources of Cuban society disappear.

No delegate raised his hand to ask how much said entity earned and how much it invested in the production of medicines and food for the population before, during and after the pandemic.

The above examples are essential topics that a discussion on food safety should have included, but it is clear that they are excluded from what deputies are allowed to talk about.  

Discussing the Military Penal Code without referring to possible overseas interventions?  

There were also other delicate areas that were equally off limits. The Military Penal Code was approved, but no one dared to ask whether this unusual emphasis on imposing military service, with renewed coercion, has any relation to the agreements signed in this sphere with Russia and Belarus in the context of Putin's current aggression against Ukraine. It has been acknowledged that there are members of the Cuban military "training" in Belarus. It would have been logical to ask who they are, what they are in training in, and why. But no one did.

At the last CARICOM summit meeting, earlier this July in Trinidad and Tobago, a proposal that United Nations peacekeepers be sent to Haiti to carry out a "police" interventions, and restore order, was discussed. Apparently, an initiative is underway to privately consult with Havana, the UN and Washington so that the first sends troops, the second provides them with blue helmets, and the third pays the bill.

If they finally do, this would seem like a perfect move by the Cuban oligarchy. The countries of the region and the UN would save face by saying that they were responsible and proactive in managing a "police" intervention to rescue Haiti from the mafia-like gangs that prevail there. At the same time, Havana and those in Washington who are in favor of normalizing relations with the Cuban dictatorship would have a novel argument, based on this cooperation, to demand that Cuba be removed from the list of terrorist countries, and that sanctions be lifted. Of course, this decision is not easy for Raúl Castro if there are already commitments with the Russians to somehow strengthen their aggression in Europe with the collaboration of Cuban troops.

But we must not lose sight of the optics of Cuba's elites. This would transform the Armed Forces (FAR) and the MININT into lucrative tools of the oligarchy that controls the Government in Havana. Russia would compensate them for their involvement in Ukraine, and the US for their "collaboration" in Haiti. "Oh, the things we shall see, Sancho"  If they achieve their aims, in the future these armed bodies would not only be a repressive instrument, but also a lucrative resource —like the medical brigades are— at the service of the GAESA oligarchy. They could dispose of those state institutions —and the lives of their members— as if they were more public property, along with that which they have already privatized, de facto (marinas, airplanes, hotels, ports and others).

But the FAR are not equivalents of the Wagner Group, and the reality is much more complex.

Murphy's Law looms

Before making the decision to dispatch brigades of MININT "black berets" to Haiti, and FAR units to Europe, the elite has to find satisfactory answers to a series of questions.

How many troops with the ability to control crowds and crush riots will remain in Cuba? Would they be enough to protect the elite from another popular rebellion, were it to occur? Will hunger, blackouts, the lack of water, medicines and transport combine with rage over the forced military recruitment of children when their units could soon be involved in lethal conflicts overseas?

How would those members of the PNR, who resent the privileges of their G-2 "cousins," react this time? Would the FAR officers who do not have a slice of GAESA's cake, worth millions, all remain loyal to their leaders if they suffer in external conflicts and, at the same time, are ordered to quash the population?

Murphy's Law says that if something can go wrong, it will… and when it does, it won't matter what the price of Gouda cheese is.

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