As the country is going through an extreme crisis, let us examine the factors that may, or may not lead to the downfall of its government.
Here are the aggravating factors:
• An inoperative economic model, which has led to the collapse of the main economic activities (food production, sugar, citrus, fishing, mining, and manufacturing), a decades-long history of rejection and then reluctance to promote foreign investment and private enterprise, as well as negligence of the electric system (crumbling backbone of thermoelectric plants). Making things worse, economic mismanagement in the wake of a badly timed currency reform has led to galloping inflation. Add to this an obtuse refusal to learn from the economic experiences of China and Vietnam.
• No less damaging is the economic war the United States has been waging against Cuba for more than 60 years. This assault has been intensified in the last six years, and that has multifaceted negative effects on foreign investment, trade and finance. (A well-known Latin American statesman once said that any government subjected to such pressures, aggressions and sanctions would not have lasted even six months in power. But the Cuban government has been in power for more than six decades!)
• The economic damage by these factors has lately been multiplied by the effects of the pandemic, the explosion of the country’s largest fuel storage facility at Matanzas, and by Hurricane Ian.
• The current absence of effective international support, namely by China and Russia.
• Rising corruption at all levels, most markedly among family and friends of top leaders, which now has a greater visibility and negative impact than ever before.
• The talent, imagination, response capacity, exemplarity, communications and credibility of the current leadership team are in no way comparable to the revolutionary leadership of the 1960s. The phrase “This would not have happened under Che and Fidel” is often heard today. The elders still pulling the strings behind the throne (Raúl Castro and José Ramón Machado Ventura) are perceived today as figures that hold back overdue change.
Here are the mitigating factors of the current crisis:
• Awareness among broad sectors of the population about the responsibility that corresponds to the United States in this crisis.
• A historical exile with little credibility inside Cuba, as an appendix of U.S. interests and policies, incapable of generating and imposing its own alternatives.
• A “paid dissidence” in the island with similarly little credibility, almost all of them enjoying excellent health and trips abroad, while expressing in multiple media their opinions and slogans, which have little or no influence on Cuban society.
• Appreciation by Cubans for the revolutionary legacy, and nostalgia among not a few older Cubans, which the official media are — to the point of boredom — trying to capitalize on.
• Frequent visits and praise for this legacy by very diverse heads of state (including the last three popes) as well as prominent artists and scientists, adding a dose of very evident legitimacy.
• Official media messaging saturated with triumphalism, albeit increasingly limited and diminished by the influence of social media.
• Effective intimidation and repression by the authorities, although still on a limited scale (which some might call “dictatorship light”).
• The armed forces (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, FAR) continue to be the great unknown. Never trained in internal repression and highly respected as an institution, they are a key element of power and the most important potential element of intimidation. The question for many is how they will be able to influence the current and future course of events.
• Emigration — in full swing over the last two years, with close to 200,000 people leaving the island — contributes to a considerable extent to the easing of internal pressures, tensions and conflicts. It neutralizes the pressure cooker strategy the United States has been applying to Cuba since the 1960s.
• Some elements of reform, such as limited support for private business and foreign investments.
• Highly functional economic activities that ensure some income and survival: a. the tourism industry; b. scientific and technological achievements such as biopharmaceuticals; c. selling medical services to third countries; d. key foreign investment projects such as those of Sherritt in nickel mining and of Canada’s Blue Diamond in the hotel industry, in addition to international aid projects by some countries; e. remittances from emigration; f. remittances from the United States and Canada; g. deferrals from the Paris Club for Cuba’s foreign debt. When it comes to tourism and export activities, it is important to note that the exact amount of the economic cost/benefit correlation between income from the tourism industry, the biopharmaceutical industry or the contracting of medical services and the costs associated with them, which are high in the Cuban case, is unknown. Nor is the exact amount of remittances known, given the increasingly informal channels, and to what extent they are linked to private business activities on the island, rather than consumption.
So, will it fall or not?
The outburst of July 11, 2021 put in plain view the magnitude of the current crisis. It also showed that this explosion of dissatisfaction was eminently spontaneous and in no way the product of outside manipulation, directed by U.S. policy, the Miami exile, or “paid dissidents.” It was fundamentally prompted by the Cuban government’s blindness and deafness to the urgent need of comprehensively remodeling the failed model.
But it also showed the capacity of the Cuban authorities to absorb and reduce the effects of the tremendous outbreak, suppressing preparations for its planned repetition on Nov. 25, successfully mobilizing support for the government on May Day 2022, and maintaining a more tolerant and much less repressive posture in response to the spontaneous protests in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian and prolonged blackouts. Cuban authorities publicly acknowledged, for the first time, the right of people to protest.
Will the Cuban government be able to continue controlling the situation? To the extent that it advances in the integral redesign of the model; continued survival at misery levels is not enough. If we examine government actions post-July 11, we find that this has been the most intense period of — partial — reforms of the last two decades. However, there still is an enormous, highly urgent short-term agenda of key issues to be solved. How the authorities will tackle this task will provide an answer to the “fall or not fall” question.
The massive May Day crowd, the vote on the new Family Code, and the vote on the new constitution showed that the government still has the capacity to mobilize masses to confront any opposition crowds lacking in leadership and organization. For the time being, this is the government’s advantage that will assure its primacy and survival. Will it be able to maintain and expand this mobilization capacity? Its stability depends on the intelligence and comprehensiveness with which it takes on the indispensable systemic transformations. In very practical terms: A carton of eggs cannot cost 400 pesos, when the bulk of retirees depends on a monthly pension of 1,500 pesos.
I end with an anecdote that I will never forget. In Santiago, Chile, in September 1973 — days before the military coup — a parade was organized in support of the Popular Unity government. Among those marching in the parade was a miner with a big sign that read: THIS GOVERNMENT IS SHIT. President Allende came down from the tribune and rebuked him for marching with his sign. The worker replied: “It is shit, but it is my government.”
Beyond scarcity, disagreement and discomfort, there may still be a sense of belonging, of identity.
Former Cuban intelligence officer Domingo Amuchastegui has lived in Miami since 1994. He writes regularly on Cuba’s internal politics, economic reform, and South Florida’s Cuban community.
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