Tag Archives: Miguel Diaz-Canel

CUBA’S LEADERS ARE TRAPPED BETWEEN THE NEED FOR CHANGE AND THE FEAR OF IT

A new study shows just how weak the Castros’ economy is

 The Economist. Print edition | The Americas; Dec 7th 2017

Original Article: The Need for Change and the Fear of It

Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel

FOR decades Cuban exiles in Miami dreamed of the day that Fidel Castro would die. They imagined that Cubans would then rise up against the communist dictatorship that he imposed. Yet when, a year ago this week, Castro’s ashes were interred in his mausoleum, it was an anticlimax. His brother, Raúl, who is now 86, has been in charge since 2006. For a while, he seemed to offer the prospect of far-reaching economic reform. Now, as he prepares to step down as Cuba’s president in February, he is bequeathing merely stability and quiescence.

Raúl’s planned retirement is not total—he will stay on as first secretary of the ruling Communist Party for a further three years. He is due to leave the presidency as Cuba is grappling with two new problems. The first is the partial reversal by Donald Trump of Barack Obama’s historic diplomatic and commercial opening to the island, which will cut tourist revenues. The second is the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which in September devastated much of the north coast and several tourist resorts. That has prompted speculation in Miami that Raúl may stay on.

That is to misread the man. In his decade in power Raúl has striven above all to institutionalise the Cuban communist regime, replacing the wayward charisma of Fidel with orderly administration and a collective leadership. He has groomed as his successor Miguel Díaz-Canel, a 57-year-old engineer who has already assumed many public duties. Yet, as president, Mr Díaz-Canel’s autonomy will be limited. He is just one of a group of party bureaucrats and generals who are the real power in Cuba, steadily replacing the generación histórica (those who fought in the 1959 revolution), who are dying off.

The new generation faces an acute dilemma. Despite aid from Venezuela, which has now fallen to half its peak level, Cuba remains unable to produce much of the food it consumes or pay its people more than miserable wages. That is why Raúl embraced market reforms, albeit far more timid ones than those in China or Vietnam. More than 500,000 Cubans now work in an incipient private sector of small and micro businesses or co-operatives.

But these reforms bring inequality and a loss of state control. When Mr Obama visited Cuba in 2016, offering support for entrepreneurs and calling on live television for free elections, the regime appeared to panic. Since then, the government has placed some curbs on small business to stop what Raúl called “illegalities and other transgressions”. In other words, the government wants a market economy without capitalists or businesses that thrive and grow. It seems nowhere near tackling the multiple exchange rates (ranging from one peso to the dollar for official imports to 25 for most wages and prices) that ludicrously distort the economy.

Stalling may leave intact the regime’s political control—its overriding priority. But this ignores a fundamental problem. Since the 1980s the Cuban economy has steadily lost ground in relation to those of other Latin American countries, as a study published last month by the Inter-American Development Bank shows. Its author, Pavel Vidal, was one of Raúl’s team of reformist economic advisers and is now at the Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia. He has devised hitherto unavailable internationally comparable estimates for Cuba’s GDP since 1970 by calculating an average exchange rate which takes into account the weight of the various rates in the economy.

Mr Vidal finds that GDP per person in Cuba in 2014 was just $3,016 at the average exchange rate, barely half the officially reported figure and only a third of the Latin American average. This includes the value of free social services (such as health, education and housing) that Cubans receive. Taking into account purchasing power, GDP per person was $6,205 in 2014, or 35% below its level of 1985. Mr Vidal goes on to compare Cuba with ten other Latin American countries whose populations are similar in size. Whereas in 1970 Cuba was the second-richest, behind only Uruguay, in 2011 (the latest year for which data are available) it was in sixth place in income per person, having been overtaken by Panama, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.

Cuba’s decline is above all because of lack of investment, says Mr Vidal. But a shrinking and ageing population plays a part, too. He finds that the reforms have brought about a modest increase in income and even in productivity. They “go in the right direction but have fallen short”, he concludes.

For Mr Díaz-Canel and his reformist colleagues the message is clear: speeding up change carries political risks, but not doing so involves economic ones.

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

CUBA’S CRITICAL JUNCTURE: MAIN CHALLENGES

Vegard Bye. Senior Research Fellow Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo. vegard.bye@sum.uio.no

Complete Article: CUBA’S CRITICAL JUNCTURE

Abstract

Cuba is rapidly approaching a critical juncture, where a complete and generational change of leadership is unavoidable (between 2018 and 2021). The country and its Revolution is up against some unavoidable and complicated choices in the coming four years. With the rapidly approaching end of the Castro era, without any clear new leadership structure in sight, and with an apparently unsolvable economic crisis and rapidly shrinking confidence in the political power bloc particularly among the younger generations, a deep legitimacy crisis is looming. What are the principal challenges ahead, and how can and will they be solved?

  1. Introduction

Cuba is rapidly approaching a critical juncture, as a complete and generational change of leadership seems inevitable between now and 2021. The country and its revolution will be facing a series of complex, unavoidable choices in the next four years. With the end of the ‘Castro era’ and no clear new leadership structure in sight, combined with an apparently unsolvable economic crisis and rapidly shrinking confidence in the political power bloc, particularly among the younger generations,1 a deep legitimacy crisis is looming.

This study analyses some of the main challenges represented by the new international setting particularly concerning relations with the USA and the change from Barack Obama (2008–2016 to Donald J. Trump (2016) in the White House. These issues include how the economic crisis is undermining the welfare state that was once the pride of the Cuban Revolution, and the political challenges that may ensue; and how the monolithic character of the Cuban power structure is being put to the test by the increasing differentiation of interests between the early winners and the early losers of the economic reforms. The study also indicates some of the dilemmas of post-totalitarian political transformation identified in the theoretical literature, and relates these to other similar processes. Finally, we present some paradigm choices facing the next generation of leaders, and then discuss how a game of power, hegemony and legitimacy may unfold in post-Castro Cuba. While the most likely outcome still seems to be the continuation of some type of authoritarian and neo-patrimonial system, it is also possible to imagine some key post-Castro decisions that could take the country in a more pluralistic and participatory direction – although President Trump’s return to confrontationalism is making that even less likely. The harsh choice may be between re-building legitimacy and reverting to a much more repressive system.

Discussing political structures and their possible transformation is highly complicated regarding a system as opaque as that of Cuba, where there is no academic or media tradition of open analysis of power structures or ready access to reliable data. Such discussion may become quite speculative, as it is virtually impossible to underpin crucial observations about power relations with firm quantitative data – turning the choice of methodology towards qualitative analysis. Still, we believe it is worth putting together the available theoretical and empirical elements that may give indications about the future direction of a country that has played such a significant role in world politics and political/ideological discussions – a role quite out of proportion to its small size. Cuba offers a laboratory for the analysis of transformative politics.

……………………………….

  1. Conclusions

As yet, fairly authoritarian scenarios appear to be the likely outcomes of the transformation process. However, there remains the question of how absolute is the power that Cuba’s formal power bloc continues to exercise – and whether other options may emerge, against the odds, as the post-Castro generation prepares to take over the reins. Recently revealed remarks by First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the most likely presidential candidate in February 2018, leave few expectations for a prompt break with the past.15

The information monopoly has been definitely broken in Cuba – although the information hegemony may still be in place (Hoffmann 2016). Young people, also party loyalists, encounter no problems in seeking alternative information and views about the outside world as well their own country, including about the root causes of the economic failure. This will have consequences for how the next generation of leaders will need to communicate with the populace, and take public opinion into account, if they want to build a new capital of legitimacy. Moreover, the Party’s social hegemony appears to be slipping away, particularly among younger Cubans who hardly care about what happens at a Party Congress or in other formal decision-making bodies. This may even mean an actual loss of absolute political power – how relevant, then, will the three documents of principle discussed at the 7th Party Congress and ‘supported’ by the mid-2017 session of the National Assembly will be for the future of Cuba?

On the other hand, there seem to be no indications of counter-hegemonic forces developing, within or outside of party and state structures. Still, we should remain aware to the possibility that the looming ‘crisis of legitimacy’ in Cuba might become a ‘crisis of hegemony’ or of ‘authority’ (see Gramsci 1999Anderson 1976). It is no simple matter to apply such concepts, originally developed for analysing social and class forces in early industrial Europe, to the transformation process of a post-totalitarian system or an authoritarian socialist system searching for alternatives. However, the alternative Gramscian concepts of a passive revolution vs. the creation of a counter-hegemonic bloc may still be relevant. In the former, the bourgeoisie (or nomenclature in the Cuban case) would allow certain demands by looking beyond its economic-political interests and allowing the forms of hegemony to change (typically in the way the Nordic model was conceived in the 1930s). This would imply that the Cuban power elite might have to look for a similar adaptation of its hegemonic bloc in order to meet the emerging legitimacy crisis, particularly after 2018. The alternative might well be a deep organic crisis, tempting new social forces to set about building a counter-hegemonic historical bloc, leading to what Gramsci called ‘creating the new’ (which in Cuba would be some kind of post-socialism), rather than ‘restoring the old’ through a passive revolution.

One possible source of challenge to the existing hegemony of the Cuban political system would come from civil society, perhaps feeding on the growing self-confidence felt by private entrepreneurs as their critical economic role becomes more visible and recognised by the regime. ‘What is threatening to authoritarian regimes’, noted Przeworksi (1991: 54–55), ‘is not the breakdown of legitimacy but the organisation of counter-hegemony: collective projects for an alternative future. Only when collective alternatives are available does political choice become available to isolated citizens.’ Thus, according to Przeworski and building on the Gramsci concept of hegemony, the emergence of civil society organisations in itself becomes a relevant force for regime transformation only in a situation of falling legitimacy, if civil society organisations manage to organise a ‘counter-hegemonic bloc’. This has not yet happened in Cuba, nor is there any sign that it is about to happen. That being said, however, serious problems of legitimacy at a critical juncture may result in a new situation.

Moreover, no negotiation scenario is yet on the table in Cuba. Linz and Stepan (1996), Przeworski (1991) and Saxonberg (2013) all introduce the issue of negotiations at specific points during post-totalitarian transformation. Przeworski sees the issue of alliance building between groups willing to negotiate on the part of the regime and civil society as decisive for the outcome of any negotiation: ‘visible splits in the power bloc indicate to the civil society that political space may have been opened for autonomous organization. Hence, popular mobilization and splits in the regime may feed on each other’ (1991: 57).

Cuba has not yet arrived there: power-bloc splits are not evident, nor is there anything like a counterpart with which to negotiate. For that to happen, the combination of regime crisis –perhaps with the prospects of serious repression – and the emergence of a counter-hegemonic alternative would be required. It can only be speculated whether and under what circumstances such a situation might emerge.

Scenario forecasting in Cuba is a highly risky business. Here we make an attempt, identifying three basic scenarios that will gradually emerge with greater clarity as decisions and circumstances unfold in the time ahead:

  1. A neo-patrimonial system, whether ‘socialist’ as in China and Vietnam, or an ‘oligarchic’ variety as in Russia or Angola;16
  2. A transnational neo-authoritarian system: neoliberal capitalism based on massive US and other foreign direct investments, with the full dismantling of the current state and power structure (Cuba as a mini-Florida);
  3. Transformation to a mixed economy with a more pluralist and participatory polity, and the reconstruction of a welfare state: a negotiated process towards some kind of social democratic system.

As shown in Figure 1, we hold that a series of strategic decisions by the post-Castro generation of leaders in favour of more market-oriented economy is what might take Cuba in a less authoritarian direction, while simultaneously helping to rebuild the welfare state.

Vegard Bye

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CUBA AFTER CASTRO: THE COMING ELECTIONS AND A HISTORIC CHANGING OF THE GUARD

World Politics Review, October 17, 2017.

 William M. LeoGrande

Historic “Changing of the Guard”: Raul Castro to Miguel Diaz-Canel

On Nov. 26, Cubans will go to the polls to elect delegates to 168 municipal assemblies, the first step in an electoral process that will culminate next February when the National Assembly, Cuba’s parliament, will select a new president. In 2013, when Raul Castro pledged not to seek a third term, he also imposed a two-term limit for all senior government and Communist Party leadership positions.  That means the succession will replace not only Castro but almost all the remaining members of the “historical generation” who fought to overthrow Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship in 1959.

The changing of the guard comes at a delicate political moment. Castro’s ambitious economic reform program, the “updating” of the economy, is still a work in progress and has yet to significantly raise the standard of living of most Cubans. Moreover, it is encountering resistance from state and party bureaucrats who are loath to lose control over the levers of economic power and the perks those provide.

The economy has also been struggling because of declining oil shipments from Venezuela, which sells oil to Cuba at subsidized prices, helping to ease Cuba’s chronic shortage of hard currency. The political and economic chaos engulfing Venezuela has caused oil production to decline, and shipments to Cuba are running 13 percent below last year and 37 percent below their peak in 2008. The resulting energy shortage has forced Cuba to impose drastic conservation measures and pushed the economy into a mild recession last year.

In September, Cuba’s economic woes were exacerbated when Hurricane Irma came ashore, inflicting several billion dollars’ worth of damage as it tracked along the north coast before turning toward the Florida Keys. The storm hit some of Cuba’s most lucrative tourist resorts, cutting into the one sector of the economy that has enjoyed sustained growth in recent years. Most of the major hotels predicted they would reopen for business quickly, but the storm did enormous damage to the power grid, leaving large swaths of central Cuba in darkness.

Popular discontent over the economy and impatience with the slow pace of improvement are both running high. In an independent opinion poll taken in late 2016, 46 percent of Cubans rated the nation’s economic performance as poor or very poor, 35 percent rated it as fair, and only 13 percent rated it as good or excellent. Solid majorities reported not seeing much economic progress in recent years for the country or themselves, and they had low expectations for the future.

The economy is not Cubans’ only source of anxiety. With the election of Donald Trump, Havana’s relations with Washington entered a period of uncertainty. In his speech to Cuban Americans on June 16 in Miami, Trump blasted the Cuban government as a murderous dictatorship, echoing the Cold War rhetoric of regime change. Although the new economic sanctions Trump imposed were surprisingly mild—the result of intense lobbying by the U.S. business community—the prospects for improved relations and expanded commercial ties look dim in the near term.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision to withdraw nonessential from the U.S. embassy in Havana in the wake of mysterious health problems among nearly two dozen staff and family members, the expulsion of most Cuban diplomats from Washington, and the State Department’s decision to issue a travel advisory warning U.S. residents not to travel to Cuba, pushed relations to a low point not seen since December 2014, when then-President Barack Obama’s normalization process began.

Cuba’s new post-Castro leaders will therefore face an imposing array of problems, and they will have to answer to a population that has become more vocal in expressing its discontent. The expansion of internet access, the ability of Cubans to travel abroad without state permission and Raul Castro’s own calls for more open debate about Cuba’s problems have fueled an increasingly robust public sphere.

As the leadership transition gets under way, First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel is the likely successor to Raul Castro as president, but little is known about this party veteran’s real views. Until recently, he kept a low profile, but even as his public visibility has increased, his speeches have simply reiterated well established policy, providing little insight into his own thinking.

Continue Reading:

Historic Changing of the Guard

 

Miguel Diaz-Canel

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

LIKELY CASTRO SUCCESSOR KEEPS A LOW PROFILE

Tracy Wilkinson,  Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2015

 Original here: Miguel Diaz-Canel

AA979LxRaul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel

The man expected to run Cuba after Raul Castro steps down is nearly 30 years the president’s junior and is regularly on Facebook in this Internet-starved country. He is considered personable, with a certain charm, but has been careful to keep a low political profile.

Miguel Diaz-Canel’s appointment as first vice president is the most concrete signal that a generational change of leadership may hover on the horizon in Cuba, matching a demographic shift that makes the island’s population one of the youngest in the hemisphere.

Castro, 83, plucked Diaz-Canel from relative obscurity and appointed him to his new position in 2013 as he announced that he planned to leave office in 2018. That set Diaz-Canel up as heir apparent, especially after other possible candidates were unceremoniously dumped when they were secretly recorded talking about their ambitions.

That is still a no-no, and Diaz-Canel has taken pains not to steal the limelight from Castro or the president’s 88-year-old brother, Fidel, the legendary revolutionary commander and former president who has not been seen in public in months amid rumors of failing health. A new set of photographs of Fidel Castro popped up this week in official media.

The circumstances mean Diaz-Canel has yet to make much of a mark. On an island where around 80% of the population has never known a president who wasn’t named Castro, many Cubans are struggling to figure out who he is.

Asked who he thought would be the next president of Cuba, Jose Hernandez, 83, a retired farm worker in the Cuban city of Mariel, said: “It will be Raul.” Diaz-Canel, Hernandez said, “is a good negotiator who will help our community. But Raul is the president. There is nothing but Castro in our heads.”

Cuba’s younger generation is more receptive to new leadership, but many agree that whoever comes next has a herculean task to court the powerful military, restructure the economy and guide the normalization process with the United States that was announced in December.

“We’ve lived many years with a dynasty,” said Katrina Morejon, a health worker in her 20s from Havana. “People are tired of what’s happening.”

Key leaders of the army, of which Raul Castro is still the supreme commander, control several segments of the economy and will have to be carefully cultivated if Diaz-Canel is to work well with them. Diaz-Canel was born more than a year after the Cuban Revolution led by the Castro brothers ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Raul Castro is expected in the final years of his government to continue with slow but important reforms in the economy, allowing a measure of free enterprise and lifting some restrictions on trade and travel. Whether it is enough as relations with the United States change will be the big test.

The goals stated by Cuba and the U.S. after decades of animosity include elevating diplomatic representations in both countries to full embassies rather than the limited “interests sections.” Handling the new relationship will put pressure on whoever is president of Cuba. Castro has made it clear that better diplomatic ties with Washington should not change Cuba’s domestic, political or economic system, nor its intolerance of dissent.

At 54, Diaz-Canel, a trained engineer with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair, is the freshest face in the highest echelons of Cuban power. He recognizes the importance of Cuba joining the Internet age, somewhat against the official grain, people who know him say. A 1982 graduate of the Marta Abreu University of Las Villas with an electrical engineering degree, Diaz-Canel essentially paid his dues, putting hard, careful work ahead of the overt ambition that has felled many an up-and-comer on the Cuban political landscape.

His work on behalf of the state has included teaching at the university level, running local governments, serving as a minister of education and holding regional Communist Party leadership posts. He was assigned management of what Cuban officials consider major areas of accomplishment by the revolution: education, sports and biotechnology. He also did an all-important stint in Nicaragua, representing the Communist Party before like-minded Sandinista leaders.

Much of his personal life has been kept private. He is thought to be married with children. Tall, with strong features, he is well-liked by Cubans in the provinces, many of whom see him as down-to-earth and accessible. His Facebook page has photographs of Diaz-Canel with workers, Raul Castro and others during visits to factories in Villa Clara and elsewhere. He is usually shown in a white guayabera, or a sports jacket and open-collar shirt. Someone has posted items calling him MDC, and at one point nominating him to run the country, saying, “MDC rocks!”

“He is well-liked, young, well-educated, and he’s gone through all the different hoops,” said Rafael Betancourt, a professor at the University of Havana. That he is admired in the often snippy world of university circles, Betancourt said, “is very significant” and shows he has talent for handling people.

It appears the Cuban leadership is gradually, gingerly trying to elevate his profile. He has been sent abroad representing Castro, especially to friendly nations like Venezuela and Laos.

It’s always a delicate balancing act, however. In a speech in Mexico in December, he managed to mention both Castros in the first three paragraphs of his comments, then quote Raul twice more.

Communist-controlled press on the island has started to run fairly regular articles about Diaz-Canel’s activities: his trip to Santiago de Cuba, his visit with workers in Santa Clara.

But there are no big billboards promoting Diaz-Canel; most such public advertising is still limited to a Castro or, especially, the five Cuban intelligence agents who were recently released from jail in the U.S., two because they finished their sentences and three as part of the deal to jump-start detente with the U.S. They are regarded as heroes in Cuba; the posters are out-of-date, still demanding freedom for the men. Diaz-Canel is nowhere to be seen.

“He is too much in the shadows of Raul,” said Arturo Lopez Levy, a former Cuban intelligence agent who knew Diaz-Canel in their hometown of Santa Clara and who now teaches in New York. “A good signal to send to the world now that things are changing would be to give him a more prominent role.”

If he were the son of a corporate boss brought into the firm, Diaz-Canel would fit the bill, having been assigned to Communist Party leadership posts in important provinces like Holguin and Villa Clara. There, people who know him say he cultivated good relationships with local military officials, some of whom have recently been promoted to key leadership posts.

His real distinction, people say, has been in social media and computer technology, an area where Cuba lags notoriously behind the rest of the world. Few Cubans have open access to the Internet, but Diaz-Canel knows its importance to any future growth in business, trade, tourism and education, analysts say.

“The development of information technology is essential to the search for new solutions to development problems” in Latin America, Diaz-Canel said in the Mexico speech. “But the digital gap is also a reality among our countries, and between our countries and other countries, which we must overcome if we want to eliminate social and economic inequalities.” Later, however, when he listed Cuba’s successes, he did not return to the theme of information technology.

“He understands that to prevent a brain drain, you have to give [Cubans] an opportunity to participate massively in the expansion of the Internet,” said an American analyst of Cuban affairs who did not want to be quoted speaking about Diaz-Canel. Whether such an expansion project is yet allowed remains unclear.

Diaz-Canel is also often praised as a hands-on problem solver, someone who could get things done at the grass-roots level and understands the politics of persuasion. He once defended a gay theater group against local officials who wanted to shut it down, earning respect among some of Cuba’s most marginalized citizens.

Diaz-Canel’s gradual ascension comes with a little-noticed, still-slight change in the Cuban political hierarchy.

Rafael Hernandez, a political commentator and editor of Temas magazine in Cuba, said conventional wisdom often holds that “the Cuban leadership is the same, you have Fidel and then Raul, and it’s more or less the same thing.” But, he says, closer examination shows a changing leadership that includes more women and Afro-Cubans, long excluded, than ever before.

That may bode well for Diaz-Canel’s future leadership, but many Cuba-watchers agree that it will ultimately be the military that calls the shots. “The military may not be a threat, but it will always be there,” Lopez Levy said. Diaz-Canel “has an arduous road to walk.”

1EEE99A2-305D-4522-BD6C-0E3D48DB2293_mw1024_s_nMiguel Diaz-Canel

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment