Cuba, stuck after five years without Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro, during a rally in 2006. / REuters

The ‘grandchildren’ of the revolution claim their rights and a freedom that the Communist Party denies them, amid a deep economic crisis and US sanctions

Young people demand freedom with the mobile internet as a new weapon; the pockets hit by a painful monetary reform and the extreme sanctions of the United States in the middle of the pandemic: five years after the death of Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolution is stuck, according to analysts. Fidelism, present in Cuba since 1959, “has the merit of having created a social welfare system” that brought health and education to the entire population, but “left a materially impoverished country, with an anachronistic way of governing with limited spaces of debate and competition ”, explains Professor Arturo López-Levy, from Holy Names University, California, to AFP.

Very distant now are the images of the long cordon of “grateful” who dismissed the Commander’s ashes after his death on November 25, 2016, during a journey of more than 900 kilometers between Havana and the monolith, where they rest in Santiago de Cuba. in the east of the island. Sick since 2006, Fidel left power to his brother Raúl, who in 2018 handed over the reins of the presidency to Miguel Díaz-Canel and in 2021 left control of the Communist Party.

“The Cuban system set about replacing charismatic leadership with more institutional forms” and has managed to survive. “That in revolutionary contexts is necessary, but not sufficient,” considers López-Levy. “The fidelista spirit conceived sacrifice and moral mobilization for the sake of the collective”, but a reform promoted in 2011 by Raúl Castro, more pragmatic and realistic, implied “the reaffirmation of individual interests” in the country, he adds. In addition, everyone recognizes his legacy in medicine, which made it possible to control the pandemic and immunize 80% of the population.

A new generation burst onto the political scene after Fidel’s death, demanding rights and freedom of expression. These are the so-called ‘grandchildren’ of the revolution, who are between 30 and 40 years old, who represent 13.5% of the total population of the island, 11.2 million. They demand political participation, projects that allow them to prosper and reject the calls for the Numantine resistance against the United States, which mobilized their parents.

All of this happens in an aging society. The historical leaders appear frequently in the obituaries and obituaries of the newspaper ‘Granma’, and the ‘sons of the revolution’, around 70, are retiring. The new “variable” in “this complex context has been social protest,” says Cuban economist Pavel Vidal, from the Javeriana University of Colombia.

Many “grandchildren” are competent professionals who came on the scene spontaneously to help during the 2019 tornado in Havana. More organized, in 2020 they were grouped in the San Isidro movement, which in November of that year gave rise to the unprecedented sit-in in front of the Ministry of Culture.

Mobilizations for freedom

Then came the historic and massive demonstrations of July 11, followed by an attempted protest banned this month, which served as a warning to the island’s authorities. “My generation is close enough to our grandparents to understand their history, but historically separated enough not to be anchored to history and to be able to think about the future,” Raúl Prado, a 35-year-old active photographer, told AFP.

Experienced in the use of social networks and the internet, which reached their mobiles only in 2018, they are ahead of the archaic official ideological apparatus, which repeats old empty slogans for these young people. “By not finding a political space in our country and not envisioning a possible future, he will soon become the migrant generation,” laments Prado.

“These five years have been very difficult for the economy,” says Vidal, referring to the 11% drop in GDP in 2020, the highest since 1993, and strong inflation that has caused food and medicine shortages. Added to all this is “the escalation of sanctions under the (Donald) Trump administration that continues with (Joe) Biden, the impact of the infinite crisis in the Venezuelan economy and the pandemic,” the academic added.

In this context, the Cuban government applied a monetary reform in January that meant a significant salary increase. The minimum rose from 400 to 2,100 Cuban pesos (from 15.5 to 77.5 euros), but it also implied the uncontrolled increase in prices. In 10 months, inflation was 60% in the legal market, but in the ‘informal’ it soared 6,900%, according to official information.

Things are expected to improve with the reactivation of tourism, once the pandemic is controlled, as well as with the increase in the price of nickel and a biotech industry capable of producing and exporting vaccines and medicines. But for Vidal it is insufficient, as long as the government does not recognize that “a significant proportion of the population does not share the same ideas as the Communist Party” and accepts “to expand political participation.”

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