Thursday, December 27, 2007

How the Torch Will Be Passed: Or, Cuba and Its "Two Parties"

Raúl Castro has never been a monument to lucidity. The ravages of alcoholism have left too many holes in his brain for him to think logically about anything, let alone express himself cogently. For 49 years he has cultivated the habit of saying little without meaning much, in contrast to his big brother, whose habit it is to say much and mean little. Forced now to be Fidel's eyes and legs, Raúl has been obliged to become somewhat more expansive lately. It is still not something which he relishes, as he is more used to giving orders than explaining them. Yet he recognizes the necessity, for the present, at least, of subsuming his character in Fidel's. It is not an easy fit. This was highlighted recently in his remarks to Fidel's "constituents" in his "electoral district" in Santiago de Cuba, which encompasses El Cobre, José Martí del Norte, Manuel Isla and Boniato.

Fidel sent Raúl as his emissary to bring them the good news that they shall yet again have the "honor" to cast their obligatory votes for Fidel. I suppose that it is a distinction of sorts, though hardly a desirable one, to be compelled to vote for Fidel in these mock elections. Voters in other districts will cast their ballots for the usual slate of nondescript party hacks whose duties are limited to meeting for one day every year to rubber stamp new laws and dispositions (this is the only "legislature" that has never enacted a law) and to select Fidel Castro as "president." It's sort of like a papal conclave except the same pope is elected every time. Having fulfilled their mission with stunning alacrity and as much deliberation as can be crammed in 24 hours, the handpicked delegates of the "People's Power" will return to their normal occupations like so many cashiered cincinatti. And when all is said and done, there will be only one man standing on stage, except that he's not standing very well nowadays, or at all.

In his remarks to the "People's Councils" of said municipalities, Raúl said that Castro was recovering, had recovered substantially already and would recover more in the future. It was not said for the benefit of his listeners because they would vote for a dead man if they were to told, and, of couse, it wouldn't make a whit of difference to them or the country. Having assured them of Fidel's past, present and future revovery, Raúl specifically alluded to Fidel's "mental processes," which is certainly a subject he would have been wise to avoid; and having raised the issue himself, he seemed to realize immediately that even suggesting that these had improved would imply that they needed improvement, and the notion of a wrecked mind in a body in ruins, was hardly the image he wished to convey to them or the world. He then asserted (contradicting himself) that Fidel's mental processes had never been affected at all, listing a litany of things which Fidel can still do (e.g. reading, thinking) which in sentient people requires no special mention.

The challenge that confronts Raúl is how to confirm Fidel in all attributions while making it plain that his role now is largely symbolic. There is no doubt that the Assembly of the People's (Non-Existent) Power will do as it's accustumed reflexively to do. The only question that remains is whether Castro will accept the presidency. That decision has already been made but will unveiled at its plenary session. Fidel has already announced that it is not his intention to cling to power forever. Of course, he's already covered 99 percent of "forever" and could well cede the other 1 percent to his 76-year old brother. If that is the case and Fidel declines another presidential term, then Raúl will become by protocal what he is already in fact. He will likely assume the presidency without much fanfare. The real apotheosis will be reserved for big brother, who is likely to be acclaimed unanimously "Mentor of the New Cuban Nation" (or even "Father of the New Cuban Nation" (though that would be to take a laurel from Trujillo's fetid crown). Raúl, in his acceptance speech, will confirm yet again that no important decision will ever be made (by him) without consulting "The Mentor." Of course, consulting is not the same thing as acquiescing.

In his most candid statement to date on the transition, Raúl compared disagreements between Republicans and Democrats to those between his brother and him. They were, in both cases, insignificant, he said. American democracy, therefore, was not much different from the Cuban version. This statement is remarkable on many levels. "Pluralism" in Cuba is reduced to a sibling rivalry, which is further reduced to insignificance because the brothers don't really disagree on much and whatever differences they may have are in themselves insignificant too. The transition in Cuba, according to Raúl, is no more important than the result of the U.S. presidential elections. Whoever "wins," the system will remain in place and so will the major players. The question that remains is what will happen to Cuban "democracy" when its two "parties" (Fidel and Raúl) have left the stage forever.


Tomás Estrada-Palma said...

Very Lucid....

Vana said...

Let's hope they leave the stage this coming new year, may 2008 be the year of that unfortunate Island's deliverance