Don’t Expect Change from Cuba’s New President

| Kevin Hulbert
Kevin Hulbert
Former CIA Chief of Station

It’s very interesting that today will be the first time in almost 60 years that one of the Castro brothers has not been president of Cuba. But while it’s an interesting factoid, the fact that someone named “Castro” is not going to be president is almost completely meaningless, as the 86-year-old Raul Castro will continue as head of the all-powerful Communist Party in the one-party rule country, and he will clearly continue as the power behind the throne.

On April 19, 57-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez will be sworn in as the president of Cuba. But anyone hoping that this change offers a ray of hope is going to be disappointed. Diaz-Canel is not going to usher in significant changes, a market economy, freedom for political prisoners, and in fact, there will probably be no observable changes at all. Diaz-Canel is the safe “business as usual” choice. He was not selected for the post by party leaders because he is a visionary leader, or a leader with any new ideas. No, he was selected specifically because he is unambitious, has no “dangerous” ideas, and has no desire to change the status quo, so the old guard considers him safe.

The real tragedy is that the Cuban people are hurting, in what remains a police state with single party rule where any dissent is quickly punished. People hear about political dissidents who wind up in jail, but the much more pernicious punishment meted out is the death by a thousand paper cuts that ordinary Cubans suffer when they don’t completely fall in line behind the regime. In a system where the state controls nearly everything – from where Cubans live, if they have a car, the jobs they have, where their kids go to school, if their child gets to go to college and nearly everything else you can think of –  it is just too dangerous to oppose the ruling party.

Cuban apologists will talk about the safety net created by the communist government and the fact that the state provides for all Cubans. But if you talk to the average Cuban, they tell you that the basket of goods that all Cubans receive once a month with staples like rice, eggs, bread, etc., called a “cesta,” only lasts a couple weeks. After that, they are “resolviendo”— That is “resolving” or doing whatever they need to do to get by. And what they most usually need to do to get by is to steal from their work.

So they pilfer food from work, fill up extra jugs of gasoline when they fill up the company car, work illegally running taxis, restaurants, unregistered commerce of whatever type, selling cigars they stole from the factory, and too many other scams and efforts to mention.

As to what may seem to an outsider like a breakdown in morality, the Cubans I have spoken with don’t see it as any type of ethical lapse to steal from the state. Their calculus is that the state is supposed to provide for them, or to give them the means to provide for themselves, but for decades, the Cuban state has done neither, so stealing from the government is okay.

The problem with a society where everyone is “resolviendo” is that literally almost everyone is guilty of some crime, and if they fall out of favor with the state and are investigated, perhaps because they spoke out against the regime, then things can get very difficult for them and their families very quickly.

This change at the top doesn’t do anything to change that.

The Author is Kevin Hulbert

Kevin Hulbert is a former senior intelligence officer in the CIA's Directorate of Operations who retired in June 2014.  He is currently the President of XK Group.  Kevin served multiple overseas tours as CIA Chief of Station and Deputy Chief of Station.

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