Raul is battening down the hatches, centralizing control and turning to his military to navigate the difficult times ahead.
BY JAIME SUCHLICKI
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close friend of Fidel Castro, disclosed in a speech last week that the Cuban leader had emerged from his hospital bed and walked through a Havana suburb. Some Cubans watched the former leader in amazement and wondered if he would return to power.
Not likely. Power is firmly in the hands of Raul and his military cohorts. Succession is now complete with the recent changes announced Monday by Raul.
The younger (77 years old!) brother changed eight ministers; merged some ministries and removed two men closely associated with the Fidel Castro era; Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Cabinet Secretary Carlos Lage. Although Lage remains as Vice President of the Council of State, his star has been on the decline since last year when he was bypassed as first Vice-President by Ramon Machado Ventura. No new job was announced for Perez Roque. Lage was replaced as Cabinet Secretary by Brigadier General Jose Amado Ricardo Guerra. The new Minister of Foreign Relations is Bruno Rodriguez, former Cuban Ambassador to the U.N.
RAULISM, MILITARISM, ECONOMISM
The announced changes can be explained by resorting to three “isms:” Raulism, militarism and economism. The new leadership is fiercely loyal to Raul; they are “his” men. It seems to indicate that Raul wanted to put his imprimatur on his regime and assure that the Raulista era began in earnest. In a “reflexion” published Tuesday in Granma, Cuba’s official newspaper, Fidel supported his brother’s actions, explained that he was consulted and emphasized that those replaced were not originally proposed by him.
The militarization of society has continued unabated for the past several years. The rise of more military figures to the top echelon of the Cuban government emphasizes and expands that trend. Raul trusts the military to ensure discipline, efficiency and productivity in the Cuban economy and to reduce rampant corruption.
Producing enough food for the population has become a priority for the Raul regime. Concerned about increasing disillusionment and unhappiness among the Cuban people, particularly the young, Raul is focusing on increasing food production. The changes he introduced six months ago, allowing farmers to borrow land from the state for food production, the appointment last month of General Ulises Rosales del Toro as Minister of Agriculture and the recent changes, all point toward the urgency to increase food production.
Faced with a decline in the price of nickel, Cuba’s main export; a possible decline in tourism, given the international economic situation; and the uncertain reliability of Venezuela’s enormous economic support for Cuba, Raul is battening down the hatches, centralizing control and turning to his military to navigate the difficult times ahead.
Jaime Suchlicki is Professor and Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to NAFTA, now in its second edition and the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba.