Cuba five years after Fidel

A man is arrested during the protests that took place last summer in Havana. / afp

The commander allowed his brother to try reforms that opened Pandora’s box because people lost their fear of having access to the internet

“The love that is only an ideal remains so latent that you will never forget it, until the last day of your life.” Lía Cámara Blum said it at the age of 82, when she evoked her romance with Fidel Castro, whom she met in Mexico as Alejandro González. Her handsome Cuban had a greater love: his revolution.

Eight months before his death, Louis Nevaer, director of Hispanic Economics, received from the Cuban commander the audience that he denied to Barack Obama. I wanted to know why you did not want to see him on that historic visit in March 2016, the first by an American president to the island since the triumph of his revolution. “Everything is a lie of the empire,” he snapped with rancor.

Death was haunting him, as he later announced in a lengthy appearance before the Communist Party congress, perhaps to expose the excuse of his “fragile health” with which Obama excused the slight. “It’s not Carter,” Castro told Nevaer. “He betrayed us for his health reform.”

When transferring power four years earlier to his brother Raúl, he had told him not to bother to reestablish diplomatic relations. “Without Guantanamo, what for?” He was outraged that the United States used a piece of his island to flout human rights. He had made the thaw contingent on the handover of Guantánamo and, at the very least, on the closure of the prison. If he reluctantly accepted his brother’s concessions, it was “because they were running out of ideas to sustain the revolution,” interprets Nevaer.

Díaz-Canel has faced a perfect storm of challenges from a dysfunctional economy

Also life. On this day, Raúl Castro announced “with deep pain” that at 22:29, local time, “the commander-in-chief of the Cuban revolution died.” He never spoke of the causes, which Fidel himself declared in 2006 “a state secret, due to the empire’s plans.” It has been speculated with diverticulitis since the chief surgeon of Gregorio Marañón, José Luis García Sabrido, denied that it was cancer.

His death “was not as important as we had hoped, because he had already transferred power to his brother”, analyzes Ted Henkens, professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies at the New York Faculty of Baruch and co-author of the book ‘Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape ‘. “Those who thought that without Fidel there would be no regime demonstrated that they could continue in power even without their brother.”

To maintain the hunger of the revolution and of the state economy, Raúl took a crucial step: opening the internet and allowing the entry of capitalism through a narrow channel of private enterprise. The ‘self-employed’ or self-employed workers paid taxes. Before the pandemic, the 605,000 registered represented more than 40%, although even after the expansion to 127 trades last February, 124 activities were still prohibited.

Raúl’s opening

The thaw and the economic opening of Raúl Castro allowed Cubans to travel and fill the battered state coffers with their taxes, but above all, to dream. For the first time, they began to enjoy their restaurants and hotels, started thriving businesses, and their creative spark lit the fuse of American entrepreneurs. Wi-fi internet had expanded a year before Fidel’s death thanks to a notable price cut, which was still prohibitive. In 2017, the Nauta Hogar plan expanded it to 124,000 users, but it was the opening of mobile data on phones that extended it to four million lines. 39% of the population was connected to the world in real time and independent digital media also emerged. “The government lost the almost absolute control it had over the media,” Henkens observes. ‘People also lost their fear. Just knowing that there are others who think like you is a way to lose fear.

The official narrative is that everything stopped with Donald Trump, who undid what Obama had done and tightened the longest embargo in the world with 243 additional measures. Venezuelan oil was extinguished and the coronavirus appeared, but, according to the 32-year-old journalist Abrahán Jiménez Enoa, who founded the magazine ‘El Estornudo’ in 2016, the Government had already stopped before Trump reinforced the embargo. “They were scared, they realized that the country was getting out of hand.”

A young man caresses a horse before an image of Fidel. /


It is difficult to close Pandora’s box. His generation has not taken to the streets to oppose socialist politics, although it is not satisfied with the health and educational achievements of the revolution. Henkens acknowledges that Miguel Díaz-Canel has faced “a perfect storm of challenges” from a dysfunctional economy, which includes the inflation brought by the monetary order of last January, by eliminating the convertible peso (CUC). “Fidel will not go down in history for being a great economist, his legacy was health, education and other social achievements,” concludes the writer.

Jiménez also recognizes that Raúl Castro carried out “unthinkable reforms” that made Cuban society think that “years of great joy and hope” awaited him, he recalls. “If Fidel were alive, Cuba would be another country,” he admits.

The commander enjoyed a respect and a legitimacy that his brother could not transfer to the first president, but he has inherited the system that has repressed the desire for freedom “organically,” says Jiménez, after spending three days under house arrest. Every action generates a reaction. The process has radicalized those who were only looking for an opening to dissent. This time the Cuban leaders “have won thanks to fear and perks,” he accuses. The streets are quiet. “They are going to celebrate this Christmas with great euphoria,” he concedes. Only “the smell of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of conflicted loves,” García Márquez wrote in ‘Love in the Times of Cholera’. A novel about adventure, love, time, old age and death, defines Wikipedia.

Before ending the interview, Fidel Castro, “tired and exhausted,” asked his interviewer “if she, his only true love, was happy,” wrote Nevaer. “He smiled when I said yes.” Eight months later, her heart failed.


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