Posted on Saturday, 04.27.13
Raúl Castro plots his endgame
By JOSÉ AZEL
The succession from Fidel to Raúl Castro, programmed since the early
days of the Cuban revolution, was efficient, effective and seamless.
Gen. Castro now is orchestrating his own succession, but this one lacks
the historical legitimizing elements of the 1959 revolution.
The recent appointment of Miguel Diaz-Canel, a 52-year-old party
apparatchik factotum, as first vice president of the Council of State
places him in line to succeed Raúl Castro in that state body. This,
however, is not equivalent to being No. 2 in the regime as the
international media seem to have concluded.
Article 5 of the Cuban constitution makes it clear that the Communist
Party is “the superior leading force of the society and the state.” The
15-member Politburo of the Communist Party remains headed by Raúl Castro
as first secretary, and by 82-year-old Machado Ventura as second secretary.
It is not often understood that Raúl Castro leads Cuba not because he is
president of the Council of State, but because he is first secretary of
the Communist Party and Fidel’s brother. Under the Cuban governing
succession scheme, the military-dominated Politburo would recommend
Cuba’s next leader.
The succession plot thickens when we consider that constitutionally, the
president of the Council of State is also the supreme chief of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces. Cuban history offers no tradition of
military subordination to civilian rule. With Raúl Castro gone, it is
difficult to envision old comandantes like Ramiro Valdes and three-star
generals of the Politburo obediently offering military allegiance and
saluting in subordination to a civilian bureaucrat like Diaz-Canel. This
comportment of unchallenged civilian command of the armed forces is not
in the Cuban memes (cultural genes).
When thinking about change in Cuba, it is essential to keep in mind that
Cuba’s history for the past half century is that of the Castro brothers
and their ideas. Raúl Castro’s inner circle is not made up of closet
democrats waiting for an opportune moment to put into practice their
long-suppressed Jeffersonian ideals. Their governing modality is
ontologically inseparable from their ideology. In a symbiotic
relationship, authoritarianism engenders a corrupt oligarchy, and that
oligarchy profits from the continuation of corrupt authoritarianism.
Behind the Diaz-Canel designation — let’s make sure we do not label it
an election — is a venal plot of political maquillage.
The role of the Cuban military in the economy is extensive and
pervasive, with the military managerial elite controlling over 60
percent of the economy. Therefore, from a longer-term strategic
perspective the critical question is: What follows when the Raúl era
comes to an end, leaving the generals in control of both the Politburo
and the economy?
When enterprises are state-owned and managed, the
military-officers-turned-business-executives enjoy the privileges of an
elite ruling class. Their standard of living is higher, they move into
better homes, etc. But these benefits are minuscule when compared with
the opportunities to gain significant wealth by owning the enterprises
under their control. The military elite understands that managing
government-owned enterprises offers only limited benefits — owning the
enterprises is far more lucrative.
In the years to come, the military elite will be highly motivated to
arrange a manipulated privatization of the economy in order to monetize
their positions. Alas, this corrupt mockery of privatization ends with
the generals and colonels as the new Cuban “captains of industry.”
This, however, requires support from the international investment
community, and for that, the Cuban leadership must appear willing to
make changes in the political realm. Enter the Diaz-Canel designation.
Surely, he is a capable, obedient and disciplined party loyalist and
fully aware of the dire fate of those civilians who preceded him in
prominent positions when their loyalty was questioned e.g., Aldana,
Lage, Robaina, Perez Roque.
In the Cuban governing madhouse, Gen. Castro is seeking regime
continuity presenting a façade of political lawfulness that will enable
his generals and family to monetize their loyalty. The military will
oversee a hegemonic party system offering a patina of political
legitimacy for the benefit of the international community.
It is not important who fills the civilian poster-face roles. After all,
Roman Emperor Caligula, in his insanity or perversion, sought to make
his favorite horse into a Roman consul to show that a horse could
perform a senator’s duties.
José Azel is a senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami, and the author of the book,
“Mañana in Cuba.”