Focus on Cuba

Issue 337

May 23, 2017

Myths About Cuba

by Jaime Suchlicki*

Historically, the Cuban government has tried to manipulate and influence foreign and particularly U.S. public opinion.  Since denying the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962, denying Fidel Castro’s illness, Cuba’s controlled media and government officials and their agents abroad still fabricate and distribute news and information and create myths that fit their political objectives.

Several recent myths include:

Myth 1.  Raul Castro is Retiring. 

The Cuban media has been emphasizing that Raul Castro is leaving power.  He announced in 2016 that he would be stepping down as President in 2018.  Yet he was reelected for five years as Secretary General of Cuba’s Communist Party and will remain as head of Cuba’s Armed Forces.  The position of President, which will become mostly ceremonial, will be held by Miguel Diaz Canel, a low-level Communist Party bureaucrat with little military or public support.  In Cuba power resides in the military and the Politburo of the Communist Party, both of which will continue to be controlled by Raul and his military comrades.

Myth 2.  Cuba is in Transition. 

Cuba is in a succession process, guaranteeing the continuity of the existing system led by Raul Castro and his military comrades.  The regime has no intention of changing to a democratic or more liberal regime.  If anything, repression has become harsher.  Raul has insisted he was not “elected to transform Cuba into a capitalist country.”  This carefully orchestrated succession includes the promotion of younger military officers headed by Raul Castro’s son Alejandro Castro Espin, a Colonel in Cuba’s intelligence services, emerging as the most influential figure in the succession.  On the economic side, Grupo Gaesa led by General Alberto Lopez Calleja, Raul Castro’s son-in-law, remain as the most important conglomerate of state businesses in the island.

Myth 3.  Raul Castro is Willing to Provide Concessions. 

Those hoping for change in Cuba are ready to believe that the difficult issues that we confront in Cuba will be easily solved thru incentives to the regime in Havana.  There is nothing farther from the truth.  Neither concessions nor punishment has worked.  The Cuban regime has pocketed the concessions of the previous U.S. Administration without providing any important concessions in return, and continues to ask for new and more substantial unilateral changes, which include the end of the U.S. embargo, the return of the Guantanamo Naval Base, and multibillion dollars in compensation.  This, while continuing to insist that the revolution will not change.

Myth 4.  A Kinder, Gentler, Pragmatic Raul Castro. 

When Raul Castro assumed power after his brother fell ill, there was significant hope, in the island and abroad, that Raul would initiate significant economic and political changes.  Some Cuba analysts branded him as pragmatic and less ruthless than Fidel Castro.

Yet the past decade has shown these analysts wrong.  Raul’s legitimacy is based on his closeness to Fidel Castro’s policies of economic centralization, control and opposition to U.S. policies.  Raul cannot reject Fidel’s legacy and move closer to the United States.  A move in this direction would be fraught with dangers.  It would create uncertainty among the elites that govern Cuba and increase instability as some advocate rapid change while others cling to more orthodox policies.  

The Cuban population also could see this as an opportunity for mobilization, demanding faster reforms.

Raul is also unwilling to renounce the support and close collaboration of countries like Venezuela, China, Iran and Russia in exchange for an uncertain relationship with Washington.  Russia and China have recently provided billions of dollars in credits to Cuba, and Venezuela’s aid to the island surpasses $7 billion yearly.

Raul is no Gorbachev or Deng Xiaoping and no friend of the United State, presiding over the worst periods of political repression and economic centralization in Cuba.

Raul has been a loyal follower and cheerleader of Fidel’s anti-American policies and military interventions in Africa and elsewhere.  In 1962, he and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev conspired to surreptitiously introduce nuclear missiles into Cuba.  He supervised the Americas Department in Cuba, approving support for terrorist, guerrilla and revolutionary groups throughout Latin America, and in 1996, he personally ordered the shooting down of two Brothers of the Rescue unarmed civilian planes in international waters, killing three U.S. citizens and one Cuban-American resident.  The recent wave of repression in the island indicates that the Stalinist Raul Castro is neither kinder nor gentler.

*Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardi Moreau Distinguished Professor and Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to NAFTA, now in its second edition and the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba.

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