Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Frustration Mounts

Growing unrest among soldiers, workers and students in Cuba is putting unexpected pressure on the regime.

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.

Divided Military

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
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