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The Cuban Cosmetic Change


Readers may recall that last Tuesday I wrote about Raúl Castro's House Cleaning. Raúl Castro replaced ten high-level posts in the Cuban government.

As I pointed out in that article, the changes came shortly after the release of the Lugar Report on Changing Cuba Policy, after French envoy Jack Lange's visit, and on the same week as the US Senate votes on the $450 billion omnibus bill

In 2003 the European Union imposed sanctions on Cuba following the arrest of 75 Cuban dissidents, of which 55 remain imprisoned. Without any concession on Cuba's part, the EU voted last June to lift the sanctions and restore aid, even when according to the BBC the sanctions did not restrict trade or investment.

Since this is the first time so many Cuban government officials had been replaced at once, the story has been covered by the international media:

France's Le Monde emphasized the element of surprise:

No one could have predicted the departure of two figures as important as vice-president Carlos Lage and Minister for the foreign relations Felipe Pérez Roque. They were the youngest members among a group of septuagenarian. In touch with the economic realities of the outside world, both had been credited with a certain spirit of opening.

In contrast, Time Magazine has an almost opposite assessment:
By dumping Fidel loyalist Felipe Perez Roque as foreign minister and replacing him with a career diplomat, Raul may be signaling a less political and more flexible tone for Cuba's foreign policy apparatus. Perez Roque, 43, a former personal aide to Fidel, is a pugnacious communist doctrinaire often referred to a Fidel's pit bull, more suited to el comandante's policy of confrontation with Washington. (He once called himself part of the Cuban "Taliban.") His successor, Bruno Rodriguez, who had been Perez Roque's No. 2, is by contrast a more bookish foreign service veteran, a former journalist who was Cuba's ambassador to the United Nations from 1995 to 2003. As such, he may be a better fit as foreign minister as Raul tries to engage the new Obama Administration — and vice versa. The younger Castro has expressed a desire for improved ties with the U.S. and is seeking an end to Washington's 47-year-old trade embargo against communist Cuba.

Venezuela's Noticias 24 quoted Organization of American States president José Miguel Insulza, who was interviewed in Chile, disagreeing with the way the resignations were brought about,
"Regarding the method, one doesn't like some of the practices, such as letters of resignation and acts of constriction... it's rather complicated, I would prefer that it didn't happen"

All the same, Insulza favors a political opening of the countries of the region (such as the US) towards Cuba and said removing the 1962 resolution removing Cuba from the OAS is an option.

Mexico's El Universal reported on Friday that Granma, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, published two near-identical letters written by Lage and Pérez Roque and addressed to Raúl Castro where they "admitted responsibility for their errors." The article quoted dissident Manuel Cuesta Morúa, who said that the message is on the form of the mea culpa, which demonstrates that Cuba is still

"under a Stalinist government that always transfers general guilt to individuals and turns them into scapegoats."

Miami-based Latin Business Chronicles viewed the change as continuing a trend of militarization:
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.

Brazil's O Globo quoted members of the Democracia Ya (Democracy Now) group in Madrid saying, "This new stage represents a "continuation of the Castro dictatorship," but with a "taste of Raúl." The article was titled "Dissidents: The start of the Raul era does not signal substantial changes in Cuba."

When I wrote the Tuesday post I mentioned that there were reports of Fidel Castro having been seen strolling in Havana. The New York Times says that there had been no reports in the Cuban state media, and, additionally,

there was plenty of anxiety. Some of the Havana residents who had spotted him insisted that their names, sex, and even the exact day in which they saw Mr. Castro not be published to avoid running afoul of the government, which has declared Mr. Castro’s illness a state secret.

The Fidel sightings, then, serve as a reminder to the Cuban people that the Revolución is still alive, since the embodiment of that is still walking the streets, that they must continue to sacrifice and struggle, and that the Castro era continues. For them, there are no changes.

All translations by Fausta Wertz. Corrections and comments welcome. If you use the translation, please link to this post. Thank you.