Castroism without the Castros

2 min
Raul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel during the traditional March of the Antorxes in a file image.

The low-intensity tension between continuity and change is experiencing a new and decisive episode in Cuba these days. The regime is rehearsing how to continue perpetuating itself without the Castros after 62 years. On the verge of turning 90 years old, Raul, mythical and disappeared Fidel's brother, will cede the presidency of the party to current Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel this weekend, during the eighth congress of the Communist Party. Díaz-Canel will turn 61 next Tuesday and will control all the levers of power and perpetuate Castroism. With the departure of Raúl Castro, and with him of all the old guard that still held the party together, the generation of those who did not lead the revolution definitively takes the reins. They will lead the controlled evolution of a socialism which, as has been happening in all the former countries of the communist bloc, has given way to private property. But in Cuba it has done so without great concessions, with exasperating timidity, and formally maintaining the ideological essences. The Caribbean country is one of those that has taken steps towards economic openness with the greatest reluctance, while it continues to define itself as a socialist state, with the Communist Party as "society's guide". Freedoms, despite the new Constitution, have not undergone any real improvement: they remain in quarantine. The party congress itself is held behind closed doors and without the presence of foreign media. Díaz-Canel, who was elected president in 2019 and who for the moment has two five-year terms ahead of him, now stands as the regime's sole factotum from his two sides: economically reforming technocrat, and faithful follower of the dictates of an authoritarian socialism, impervious to make any gesture towards dissent. There is no opposition possible.

But precisely in the economic field the situation he inherits is far from great. With Trump's embargo and the pandemic, Cuban society has experienced more difficulties - last year GDP fell by 11% - and many hardships. It's not just tourism that has collapsed. The queues in the street to buy basic necessities have become common again and the monetary reform, with the abolition of the convertible peso's parity with the dollar, has triggered inflation and has caused families to lose purchasing power. Unrest is also visible in social networks, which for the first time have broken the state monopoly on communication. It remains to be seen, then, to what extent the iron and doctrinaire control of Cubans can be maintained. And it also remains to be seen what reformist pace Díaz-Canel decides to set and to what extent Castro's stepping aside may mean an acceleration of changes. It seems more likely that it will not. This generation that is now definitively taking the lead, those born just after the 1959 revolution, continues to be closely linked to the founders, much more so than to young people's more open-mindedness. Cuba may no longer be controlled by the Castros, but it will be by Castroists instead.