CUBA BRIEF: Myths about Cuba, Havana lashes out against Trump and Riot Police in Venezuela Seek a Way Out

CUBABRIEF:  Last Sunday, May 21st The New York Times ran a story written in Luanda, Angola: Angola’s Leader Won’t Run Again. But Will He Cede Power?  It was a good article. The New York Times reporterNorimitsu Onishi should be sent to Havana and consider the same question aboutthe “retiring” of General Raul Castro.  Professor Jaime Suchlicki of the University of Miami answers the question: 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.

We are reproducing below Dr. Jaime Suchlicki’s excellent analysis. And a Wall Street Journal Venezuela article: “Riot Police on Venezuela’s Front Lines Seek a Way Out.”

Also in this issue Havana lashes out against Trump’s message to the Cuban people. CubaBrief takes not that Fernand Amandi, a WIOD-AM Miami radio commentator who favors concessions to Havana without getting much in return is now off the air. It is not a question of freedom of speech but due to not enough listeners. 

Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.  May 23, 2017

 

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.

Click to read more publications in English and Spanish.  

 

The Miami Herald, May 22, 2017

Havana lashes out against Trump’s May 20 message to the Cuban people

BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES

ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com

Havana has reacted strongly to a statement issued by President Donald Trump to the Cuban people over the weekend to mark the 115th anniversary of the birth of the Republic of Cuba.

A statement read on Cuban state television on Saturday described Trump’s message as “controversial” and “ridiculous.”

“…the Miami Herald on Saturday published a controversial and ridiculous message from the ill-advised U.S. President Donald Trump to the people of Cuba about May 20, a date that the United States considers as the emergence of the Republic of Cuba, when we actually know that what was born that day was a Yankee neo-colony, which lived until on January 1, 1959,” says the statement, referencing the date when Fidel Castro seized control of the island.

The statement, which was also published on the Cuban TV website, is signed only as “Official Note” and it is unclear whether it corresponds to a change of position by the Cuban government, which had been careful in its statements on the new U.S. president, who has ordered a review of Cuba policy.

On several occasions, the Cuban government has offered to maintain a dialogue with the United States.

Official notes from Havana are usually signed by “the Revolutionary Government” or the governmental entity issuing it. Cuban Television responds directly to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, a conservative bastion within the government of Raúl Castro.

The Cuban Embassy in the United States did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The statement also references a wire story published in el Nuevo Herald that focused on“Trump’s slips in state affairs.”

“Even within in the U.S. government there is knowledge of the contradictory and clumsy pronouncements of the millionaire tycoon turned president, on issues of politics, both exterior and interior,” the statement says.

On Sunday, state television continued to lash out with commentator Oliver Zamora stating in the noon newscast:

“..Now we must really worry about the future of bilateral relations after this letter from the president-magnate, because he can only respond to two initial positions, or part of the cynicism, or at best ignorance.”

Trump’s message, which triggered Havana’s reaction, highlighted “that cruel despotism cannot extinguish the flame of freedom in the hearts of Cubans, and that unjust persecution cannot tamper Cubans’ dreams for their children to live free from oppression.”

Trump also promised that he will work for Cubans on the island to have a government that respects democracy and civil liberties.

During his campaign, Trump promised to change Cuba policy, and a State Department official recently said that the United States would seek to put more pressure on the Cuban government regarding its human rights record. It was anticipated that an announcement about these changes would come by Saturday, but it was postponed because of the president’s trip to the Middle East and because the Cuba policy review has not been completed, a White House spokeswoman told el Nuevo Herald.

HTTP://WWW.MIAMIHERALD.COM/NEWS/NATION-WORLD/WORLD/AMERICAS/CUBA/ARTICLE151952832.HTML

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

The Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2017

LATIN AMERICA

Riot Police on Venezuela’s Front Lines Seek a Way Out

As protests grow increasingly violent, strapped security officers say they’re exhausted, misused and demoralized

By Anatoly Kurmanaev

CARACAS, Venezuela—When Ana, a five-year veteran of the national police, finishes her night shift patrolling this city’s dangerous slums, she often arrives home only to pick up her riot gear and head out again to confront rollicking protests against Venezuela’s embattled government.

On those front lines, she and her colleagues use tear gas and rubber bullets against increasingly desperate protesters armed with stones, Molotov cocktails and even bags of feces. The showdowns take place in scorching heat, and she says the authorities provide her with no food, water or overtime pay.

Ana, who along with others cited in this article asked that her last name not be used for fear of official retribution, is one of about 100,000 Venezuelan security officers, mostly in their 20s, shielding the government of increasingly unpopular President Nicolás Maduro from escalating unrest.

She and many of her exhausted colleagues say they are wavering as protests enter a seventh week with no end in sight.

“One day I will step aside and just walk away, blend into the city,” she said. “No average officers support this government anymore.”

The security forces’ once fierce loyalty to Mr. Maduro’s charismatic predecessor Hugo Chávez has largely given way to demoralization, exhaustion and apathy amid an economic collapse and endless protests, said eight security officers from different forces and locations in interviews with The Wall Street Journal.

Most of them say they want only to earn a steady wage amid crippling food shortages and a decimated private sector. Others say fear of a court-martial keeps them in line.

“We’re just trying to survive,” said Caracas police officer Viviane, a single mother who says she shows up for protest duty so she can feed her 1-year-old son. “I would love to quit but there are no other jobs.”

A full-time Venezuelan police officer or member of the National Guard, the country’s militarized police in charge of riot control, makes the national minimum wage of about $40 a month at the black-market exchange rates, the same as a cafe waiter.

“The security forces suffer the same as the rest of society from the economic crisis,” said retired Maj. Gen. Miguel Rodríguez Torres, who commanded national police in the last wave of antigovernment unrest in 2014.

The current round of protests, triggered in late March by an attempt by judges allied to Mr. Maduro to dissolve the congress, have led to 43 deaths so far, mostly of protesters. Thousands of demonstrators have been arrested and hundreds are being tried in military courts for treason.

The epicenter of the protests has been the line where downtown Caracas meets the opposition-run eastern boroughs of the capital. Both sides view control of the city center as vital. The last large antigovernment march that managed to reach the presidential palace there led to a short-lived coup in 2002 against Mr. Chávez. The opposition says the increasingly isolated government is scared of losing control if a rally breaches its stronghold.

“This is a war of attrition,” said Luis García, a student activist who has been at the forefront of the protests. “Whoever tires first will lose.”

Most days follow the same pattern: An initially peaceful demonstration disintegrates into violence as security forces fire tear gas and rubber bullets to block the protesters’ advance. The bulk of the demonstrators then flee, leaving the field to hundreds of hooded youths who call themselves the Resistance, build barricades and battle officers into the night.

 “I don’t fear death, because this life is crap,” said Agustín, a 22-year-old Resistance member who blames Mr. Maduro for the collapse of education and job opportunities for young people.

Most guardsmen in Caracas have been confined to barracks since the protests erupted in late March, without seeing their families, according to several guardsmen interviewed.

“I feel exhausted from it all: the lack of sleep, the constant barrage of stones and Molotovs,” said Gustavo, a 21-year-old national guardsman, adding he has to keep performing riot duty despite a leg injury from a broken bottle thrown by a protester. “We’re being used as cannon fodder.”

Officers stopped giving time off in Gustavo’s barracks after 18 guardsmen deserted during the last break last month, he said.

Guardsman Juan, 21 years old, said he has been getting up at 4 a.m. daily in his barracks outside Caracas for the past month. He gets a boiled carrot or a potato for breakfast and is sent out to protest duty, sometimes until near midnight. Back at the barracks, dinner sometimes consists of a plain corn patty known as an arepa. On a lucky day, there will be butter, Juan says.

Riot duty is sometimes followed by emergency nighttime shifts to contain looting outbreaks. Guardsmen and policemen can increasingly be seen napping on Caracas’s streets in the mornings before protests gather pace.

As the unrest drags on, both sides are escalating violence to try to break the deadlock. Videos on social media have shown policemen and soldiers firing tear-gas canisters directly at protesters at close range, running them over with armored vehicles and beating them with shotgun butts.

Some protesters throw Molotov cocktails at National Guard vehicles to try to set them ablaze and others aim for soldiers’ heads when they launch rocks from giant makeshift slingshots.

I’m ashamed to say I’m a police officer. God willing, this government will fall soon and this will end.

—Ana of Venezuela’s national police

Armed pro-government paramilitaries add to the chaos, driving their motorbikes into protests to disperse them. Shots fired by paramilitary gangs have hit both protesters and policemen, according to opposition leaders and security officers.

The violence is driven by adrenaline, fear and self-preservation instincts rather than hatred, say both security officers and Resistance members interviewed by the Journal.

“These are my countrymen, I cannot hate them,” said protester Agustín of the guardsmen. “But when [gas] bombs start falling, what is there left to talk about?”

Police officer Ana says she no longer wears her uniform on the way to or from work to avoid being spit on or insulted by passersby.

“I’m ashamed to say I’m a police officer,” she said. “God willing, this government will fall soon and this will end.”

—Sheyla Urdaneta in Maracaibo and Maolis Castro in Caracas contributed to this article.

Corrections & Amplifications
Ana, who along with others cited in this article asked that her last name not be used for fear of official retribution, is one of about 100,000 Venezuelan security officers, mostly in their 20s, shielding the government of increasingly unpopular President Nicolás Maduro from escalating unrest. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of security officers. (May 17)

Write to Anatoly Kurmanaev at Anatoly.kurmanaev@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/riot-police-on-venezuelas-front-lines-seek-a-way-out-1495013403?mod=e2tw