Cuba's new President just a rebranding of repression

Do not believe all those headlines ...

Posted: Apr 20, 2018 9:23 AM
Updated: Apr 20, 2018 9:23 AM

Do not believe all those headlines claiming that Cuba is beginning a "new era." Yes, it's true that, as of Thursday, Cuba has a new President and that, for the first time in decades, his name is not Castro. For now, however, not much more than the presidential letterhead is changing.

The new President, who took office a day after his "election" -- he won with 99.83% of the vote -- by the Cuban National Assembly, is Miguel Diaz-Canel, a 57-year-old bureaucrat who was born after the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

Diaz-Canel has spent his political career playing it safe. The hand-picked successor to Raul Castro -- Fidel's brother, who stepped down this week -- Diaz-Canel has distinguished himself by fading into the background, not rocking the revolutionary boat, and proving himself a loyal, nonthreatening acolyte to the Castro brothers.

His time-tested approach won't suddenly change now that he is President; at least, not any time soon. He's not about to start transforming Cuba. Sadly for the Cuban people, the country is likely to remain a time-traveler's vision: a relic of Cold War communism, complete with 1959 Chevys, a cripplingly centralized economy, and a repressive political system.

Even if he wanted to bring radical change, Diaz-Canel is hardly in a position to do it. That's because no matter who is President, the Cuban Communist Party controls the country and Raul Castro, 86, remains the party's first secretary, its top boss.

In his speech after becoming President, Diaz-Canel declared, "We will remain faithful to the legacy of Fidel Castro ... and the example, bravery and teachings of Raul Castro, the current leader of the revolutionary process."

Despite the changing of the guard, he made it clear that Raul Castro "will take the lead on the country's most important decisions," and will do so for "the present and the future of the nation." Raul Castro will remain head of the military, which controls not only the country's armed forces but also much of its economy.

He is handing Diaz-Canel an economy still in crisis. The outgoing President attempted some reforms. He engaged with Washington and relaxed some economic restrictions, allowing Cubans greater freedom to travel and work independently.

About 600,000 Cubans -- in a country of 11 million -- now work in the private sector, but three-quarters of the work force is employed by the state. With the economy struggling, salaries are dismal, averaging $30 per month.

Indeed, ever since Fidel Castro and his band of ragged revolutionaries took power in 1959, the Cuban economy has struggled. For years the Soviet Union provided a lifeline. More recently, Venezuela -- its own economy in deep crisis -- became a patron. It is only economic hardship that has forced the revolution's leaders to deviate from communist orthodoxy.

Years ago, I was in Havana as a reporter at a time when other communist countries were collapsing. A high-ranking government official told me Cuba would follow the Chinese model, opening up the economy but maintaining political control.

Since then, the regime has made timid attempts at economic reform while keeping a tight squeeze on political freedom.

As human rights watchers have noticed, Cuba remains one of the world's most oppressive, government-dominated regimes. The nonpartisan Freedom House ranks it "Not Free," without a free press, economic, or political freedoms. Those who challenge the status quo or try to set up civil society organizations outside Communist Party control have endured harassment, arrests, disappearances, and mysterious accidents.

When then-President Barack Obama restored relations with Havana, such repression eased minimally. Human Rights Watch said the number of arbitrary arrests of independent journalists and human rights activists decreased in 2017, but were still intolerably high, with thousands of activists and journalists detained. The rights organization said the Cuban government "continues to repress and punish dissent and criticism," not only through arrests, but through "beatings, public shaming, travel restrictions, and termination of employment."

Diaz-Canel appears to support the party line. In a leaked video of a Communist Party meeting, he criticizes the new ties with Washington, calls for crushing the tiny sprouts of independent media, casts doubt on the wisdom of allowing private businesses, and describes European embassies as sources of foreign subversion.

Back in 2006, when Fidel handed him the reins, Raul dramatically declared, "Fidel's replacement can only be the Communist Party of Cuba." For the foreseeable future, Raul is the party leader. And in case anyone suspected Diaz-Canel planned to take the country in a new direction, the brand-new President has made it clear that he, like the entire political class, remains subservient to a very-much-alive Raul Castro.

Still, he will want to earn some popular support. He may try to relax access to the internet and expand private sector reforms that Raul started and then partially reversed.

The new President lacks the charisma of Fidel and the relative legitimacy that Raul earned by having fought in the revolution and, yes, by being named Castro. In contrast, Diaz-Canel was selected in a sham pro forma vote, where he was the only candidate, and even the people voting, members of the National Assembly, were chosen by undemocratic means.

However the Cuban people feel about living in one of the world's last communist countries, they have not chosen their current leaders.

Above all, this transfer of power, such as it was, amounted to an effort by Castro and the Communist Party to maintain control, to preserve the system in the face of an aging leadership and monumental economic challenges.

Much has to happen before Cuba undergoes real change. What occurred this week undoubtedly has symbolic significance -- Cuba and Castro were part of a single brand -- but this is far from the "new era" the headlines proclaim.

And yet, Cuba's system is such an anachronism, its economic system has been so thoroughly proven to be unworkable, a political and economic transformation is inevitable. Whether Miguel Diaz-Canel will preside over it is far from assured.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 489116

Reported Deaths: 6614
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1014901592
Ramsey43327810
Dakota36619394
Anoka33496391
Washington22208262
Stearns18822202
St. Louis14887265
Scott13403107
Wright12609116
Olmsted1185990
Sherburne878574
Carver787641
Clay695588
Rice677691
Blue Earth601035
Kandiyohi581274
Crow Wing523582
Chisago501745
Otter Tail486071
Benton450990
Winona419749
Mower410831
Douglas394568
Goodhue389069
Nobles387247
Polk345063
McLeod341250
Beltrami338951
Morrison327747
Becker314842
Itasca314646
Lyon313845
Isanti309456
Steele303611
Carlton300449
Freeborn286424
Pine283216
Nicollet262441
Todd249730
Brown248237
Le Sueur238120
Mille Lacs229447
Cass221224
Waseca210417
Meeker208134
Martin190829
Wabasha18733
Roseau181017
Hubbard161041
Houston158214
Dodge15404
Renville152640
Redwood147127
Fillmore13969
Pennington138716
Chippewa136935
Cottonwood136020
Wadena131420
Faribault124917
Aitkin119133
Sibley118310
Watonwan11828
Rock116314
Kanabec108820
Pipestone101824
Yellow Medicine97717
Murray9548
Jackson94610
Swift87818
Pope8165
Marshall78615
Stevens7478
Lake74218
Clearwater72014
Lac qui Parle68716
Wilkin67711
Koochiching62111
Big Stone5173
Lincoln5122
Grant4928
Norman4798
Unassigned44768
Mahnomen4437
Kittson41021
Red Lake3615
Traverse3115
Lake of the Woods2221
Cook1190

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 337676

Reported Deaths: 5494
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk52087560
Linn19512317
Scott17167212
Black Hawk14970293
Woodbury13847214
Johnson1317075
Dubuque12450196
Dallas1022593
Pottawattamie9897146
Story965045
Warren514976
Clinton502684
Cerro Gordo501383
Webster495788
Sioux480369
Marshall465273
Des Moines428461
Muscatine426393
Buena Vista413237
Wapello4059110
Jasper387767
Plymouth368978
Lee354653
Marion341571
Jones285155
Henry279837
Bremer270555
Carroll266948
Crawford253635
Boone244330
Benton241154
Washington239547
Mahaska215746
Jackson210339
Dickinson204240
Tama203065
Kossuth198655
Delaware186240
Clay184425
Winneshiek183628
Fayette179335
Page178119
Buchanan177829
Wright174531
Hamilton173942
Cedar172723
Hardin170239
Harrison167670
Clayton160254
Butler159331
Mills148520
Floyd148141
Poweshiek148030
Cherokee146236
Lyon145741
Allamakee144848
Madison143218
Iowa140723
Hancock138030
Grundy132430
Winnebago130531
Calhoun129611
Cass129651
Jefferson128634
Appanoose123247
Louisa122644
Mitchell120740
Chickasaw119915
Union119331
Sac118818
Shelby117634
Emmet115340
Humboldt113725
Franklin109719
Guthrie109628
Palo Alto101721
Howard99722
Unassigned9720
Montgomery96936
Clarke95120
Keokuk92429
Monroe90028
Ida81832
Adair81630
Pocahontas80919
Davis76623
Monona76527
Greene73110
Lucas72221
Osceola68315
Worth6678
Taylor64112
Decatur5719
Fremont5619
Van Buren53718
Ringgold50620
Audubon4759
Wayne47221
Adams3194
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Clear
47° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 43°
Mason City
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 40°
Albert Lea
Partly Cloudy
45° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 42°
Austin
Partly Cloudy
41° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 38°
Charles City
Partly Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 32°
Kicking off the workweek with warmer temperatures
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Mary Kristin Scott PKG

Image

Tailgate service

Image

Fewer babies being born

Image

Sara's Sunday Night Forecast

Image

Blooming Prairie GBB PKG

Image

Sara's Saturday Night Forecast

Image

Olmsted County Fair asks for help from lawmakers

Image

RPU energy saving tips

Image

Officials hold roundtable on "reskilling" Minnesota's workforce

Image

Sen. Smith calls for COVID-19 relief bill to ensure vaccines are completely free for all

Community Events