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Giving up the reins?

Giving up the reins?
Posted on Thu, Dec. 20, 2007

“My fundamental duty isn't to hold on to positions, let alone obstruct
the ascent of younger people. Rather, it is to contribute experiences
and ideas whose modest value stems from the exceptional time during
which I have lived.''

— Fidel Castro, Dec. 17, 2007

His era is ending, and the much-vaunted succession has already started,
even if hobbled by his presence and the interim nature of last year's
transfer of power. Cuba's political calendar — the Jan. 20 election of
deputies to the National Assembly and the subsequent selection of the
Councils of State and Ministers — will signal either a de jure
succession or the Comandante's enduring obstinacy.

Castro is a candidate and, of course, he will be reelected deputy. From
its ranks, the newly elected Assembly will designate the of
the Council of State — the formal seat of state power — and he, in
turn, will name the Council of Ministers. Castro has always held both

In the early 1990s, he flatly dismissed the idea of enacting a
separation of functions whereby two different individuals would have
presided over the councils while the Comandante retained the
all-powerful top charge in the Communist Party. Will he do the same now
that he's bedridden?

A vote for reelection

It would be reasonable if he didn't. If he resumes both positions, the
temporary transfer of power would, in effect, be annulled. It'd be an
embarrassment for Raúl Castro and the others that they couldn't rein in
the physically diminished Comandante. It would be an affront to ordinary
Cubans to have this man — so ill he hasn't appeared live before them
for 17 months — declared their president again.

In early December, Vice President Carlos Lage said that the Comandante
was conducting the Council of State. Earlier, Ricardo Alarcón, National
Assembly president, noted that he would vote for Castro's reelection.
Now, his own words above suggest otherwise. We'll know soon whose hints
were on the mark. According to the Constitution, the National Assembly
must name the two councils no later than 45 days after Jan. 20.

In the meantime, some recent developments are noteworthy. On Dec. 10,
Day, Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez-Roque announced that his
government would sign two U.N. international covenants: one on civil and
political rights, the other on economic and social rights. Though
has no intention of respecting these rights, Cuba's signature could
prove useful in the future. Until then, beating and disbanding peaceful
demonstrators will, unfortunately, continue.

Island-wide discussions of Raúl Castro's July 26 speech yielded a long
list of demands that would require a turnabout from the centralization
of power so dear to the Comandante. For example:

• The liberalization of self-employment and agricultural production,
that is, letting markets operate without current constraints and
respecting the right of individuals to make a profit.

• The empowerment of the National Assembly to hold ministries
accountable, of the trade unions to defend workers and of the municipal
assemblies to control their localities' budgets, that is, allowing
institutions to function as stipulated in the Constitution.


Were these demands to be met, Cuba would still be far from being a
democracy. All the same, it would also be far from the Comandante's designs.

On Dec. 16, Juventud Rebelde published a scathing article on Cuban
agriculture. Fifty percent of Cuba's arable land is either fallow or no
longer fit for agriculture. Peasants, either in cooperatives or as
individuals, work 35 percent of the arable land that is fit and produce
well over 60 percent of agricultural output. About a third of what's
produced is lost for lack of transportation or limited market venues.
Leasing or selling land to peasants is being considered. One official
even raised the prospect of allowing them to hire workers.

''All of us should retire relatively young,'' Fidel Castro said in 1965,
and he should, at last, heed his own words. He could have declined to
run for the National Assembly but didn't. If he doesn't hold the two
presidencies when the Assembly designates the councils, the succession
would be legally established. If he does, it's bad news for the
successors and worse still for ordinary Cubans.

The good news is that we'll know soon enough.

Marifeli Pérez-Stable is vice president for democratic governance at the
Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C., and a professor at Florida
International .

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