If the new Cuban government has a remarkable resemblance to the old, that’s because they are one and the same. No real change has taken place in Cuba. Yet. The same group that accompanied Fidel and Raúl Castro since their days in the Sierra Maestra—all now senior citizens—remains firmly at the helm of government. They represent the quintessence of the Cuban military-industrial complex. Below them, however, lies an entity often observed but not very well understood: the Cuban people.
Recent polls by Gallup (2006) and the International Republican Institute (2007) indicate that a majority of Cubans are unhappy with their level of personal and economic freedom. Cubans increasingly cry out for greater personal autonomy, and that also includes questioning of the political structure. That unhappiness has largely been expressed in a withdrawal from the political involvement that has been crucial to the government’s ability to keep the population in check. According to the government’s own figures, over 1.4 million Cubans did not participate in the one-party, single-candidate electoral process that culminated with the selection of Raúl Castro as president this year. That’s a noteworthy decline from the 823,171 who absented themselves from the previous “elections” held in 2003. Considering that the Cuban government uses a wide array of persuasive and coercive measures to pressure citizens to participate, it is a highly significant figure.
But passive discontent is already changing into a more active mode, particularly among the three sectors—soldiers, workers and students—that traditionally channeled the social upheavals responsible for regime change in Cuba. They were instrumental in 1933 and, to a degree, in 1959. Paying close attention to each of these sectors will help analysts gauge the prospects for a transformation of power on the island.
There have been no surprises in Raúl Castro’s strategy so far. Most analysts believe he will try to placate popular discontent by making tactical economic changes that improve people’s lives without affecting the overall framework of the island’s rigid, centrally-planned economic system. As he struggles to maintain the regime’s legitimacy without the charismatic authority of Fidel Castro, Cubans are left with the choices of complacency, exodus or resistance. How each of those three sectors respond to the government’s actions—or inaction—over the next 12 months will therefore be crucial in determining Cuba’s future.
The Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces (or FAR in its Spanish acronym) was described by Fidel and Raúl Castro as the founding nucleus of Cuban Communist society, the embryo from which the Cuban Communist Party sprung. In the ideological fusion of nationalism and communism which Fidel Castro used to cement his hold on power, the FAR was conceived as the epitome of Cuban patriotism.
Nurtured by Raúl Castro, the FAR took charge of national defense. For many decades, the Ministry of Interior constituted a parallel military apparatus that oversaw repression at home. Following the 1989 purge, the Interior Ministry forces were brought under either the command or supervision of either the FAR or FAR personnel and lost much of their previous autonomy…
Tags: Cambio, Cuba, Fidel Castro, Frustration Mounts, Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat, Plaza de la Revolucion, Raul Castro, Sierra Maestra