CubaBrief: Some apologists for Havana might see something significant in Cuba’s new head of state, but Cubans on the island and many abroad know better.

After all these years many opinion and decision makers around the world are beginning to understand the real nature of the Castro dynasty. Many editorials and commentary in the United States and elsewhere point out that the elevation of Miguel Diaz Canel to be president of Cuba is not a new development. During the 1960s Fidel Castro was not the head of state, although he ran the island as his personal farm. During Stalin’s rule his title was Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. A Castro [Raul] will remain commander in chief and secretary general of the only political party permitted in Cuba, the Cuban Communist Party. His son Alejandro is well placed in the Cuban intelligence agency and political police. Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin negotiated the deal with the Obama Administration, and Diaz Canel truly knows where the police power resides. 

Another member of the official family, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez controls the economy. His conglomerate, GAESA is run by the military and owns Cuban hotels and tourist industries as well as shops and manufacturing plants. It is hard to disagree with President Trump when he insists that American tourists stay away from Cuban government hotels.

Finally in case you missed it, Canada has withdrawn all dependents – relatives of Canadian diplomats due to the health injuries that Canadian and American diplomats in Cuba have suffered. General Castro has said nothing really happened to the diplomats in Havana, and that whatever it was that did not happen is not the responsibility of his government. Havana has also decried the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the UK and other countries. Moscow and Havana have argued that what happened to the former Russian spy has nothing to do with Mr. Putin or Mr. Putin’s regime.

Democratic governments should condition diplomatic recognition of the new Cuban “president”  to the prompt removal of thousands of Cuban officers who are currently abusing the Venezuelan people.

Ambassador James Cason, President of the Center for a Free Cuba on MSNBC


April 18, 2018, Cuba Insight: A publication of the Cuban Studies Institute

The Castro Regime’s ‘Transition’ Ploy Should Fool No One

By Amb. Otto J. Reich* 

The Cuban dictatorship is preparing to ostensibly transfer power this week for the first time in nearly 6 decades to someone not named Castro, so the international media has gone into a predictable swoon.  “Cuba Passes the Torch to a New Generation,” says one headline. “Cuba looks to a future without Castro rule,” says another.  While still a third says, “Cuba’s lost generation set to lead as new President takes office.”

When it comes to predicting the future of Castro’s Cuba, however, the international media gets it wrong, as they have in the past.  The truth is they have uncritically accepted a carefully constructed regime narrative meant for both domestic and foreign consumption.  Because what is occurring in Cuba this week is not a transition to a new, enlightened leadership, but merely the first step in the transfer of power of one generation of the Castro family to the next.

According to the regime narrative, power is supposed to be handed over to a low-profile apparatchik of slight accomplishment, First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel. But, with no domestic power base and no military rank (in a country ruled by generals), Diaz-Canel is merely a figure-head, designed to convey a civilian image of vitality and generational change, while the real powers remain behind the throne.  (That Raul Castro intends to remain as head of the Cuban Communist Party and “generalissimo” of the Cuban military means we are not talking about a sedentary retirement to play with his great-grandchildren.)

No, what it means is that Raul Castro intends to choreograph a transfer of power not to a new generation of Cubans, but a new generation of Castro’s.  The top echelon includes: his son Alejandro Castro Espín, a Colonel in State Security; his erstwhile son-in-law Gen. Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas; and his grandson, Raul Rodriguez Castro, who heads his grandfather’s Praetorian Guard.  What Castro intends is a dynastic succession resembling the Kim’s in North Korea or the Assad’s in Syria.

The 52-year-old Castro Espín is said to be the second-most powerful figure in Cuba — and among the most feared.  As head of Cuban counter-intelligence police he can destroy careers at his whim using real or manufactured evidence.  While Castro Espín wields the baton, Rodríguez López-Callejas employs the money bags.  He runs the military’s holding company GAESA, which controls all the Cuban military’s vast business interests, about 70% of Cuba’s wealth, including most of the tourist facilities, where foreign visitors deposit the hard currency that keeps the police state operating and the elites in clover.

Sadly, Cuba’s succession means not a turn towards openness and freedom, but merely the solidification of the type of narrow and militarized state capitalism evident today, with a minute and highly regulated sector of Cubans operating micro-enterprises.

Still, there are many who argue that Cuba’s so-called transition presents an opportunity for the Trump administration to reengage with Cuba, resurrecting President Obama’s rapprochement to influence Cuba’s next leaders.

But that is precisely the wrong action to take.  Not only is it based on the flawed premise that Cuba is in transition, but it ignores the fact that Obama’s series of unreciprocated, unilateral concessions to the Castro regime had negative consequences for US national security, foreign policy interests and traditional values, while resulting in increased repression of the Cuban people and filling the coffers of the Cuban military, the Communist Party, and the Castro family.

The United States should do nothing to assist the Castro regime in its intended succession plan.  In fact, the time is right to increase pressure on the military oppressors to expose their ruse and lay bare before the oppressed Cuban people what real change looks like.

Upon the hollow transfer of power in Cuba this week, the Trump administration ought to state clearly that it welcomes a new relationship with the oppressed, not the oppressors, and calling on the “new” government to, as a start, cut off ties with State Sponsors of Terrorism and with enemies of the U.S. such as North Korea, Iran and Syria; stop commanding and controlling repression in Venezuela against the unarmed population; dismantling the massive police state and surveillance apparatus; allowing freedom of speech, free and independent newspapers, television and radio stations, magazines, labor unions, houses of worship (e.g., stop bulldozing protestant churches it considers subversive); allowing private property and compensating or restoring those who had property confiscated without compensation, as required by international law.  None of those freedoms or institutions of a civil society exist in Cuba today.

If the next set of Cuban rulers allowed the Cuban people the freedom to achieve the amazing economic prosperity that free Cubans have realized in the US, Cuba could finally do away with 59 years of Soviet-style food rationing and rebuild the nation that three quarters of a century ago was called the “Pearl of the Antilles.”

It is tragic that almost three decades after the collapse of the Berlin Wall communist regimes continue to exist anywhere in the world.  Communism lost the Cold War and the 20th Century battle of ideas for very good reasons, and there is no justification why it should still survive in Cuba 59 years after it was imposed by force.  The end of that oppressive system – and the ultimate liberation of the oppressed — should be the objective of all nations of good will. The sooner they recognize that fact, the sooner they can devise better policies to help the Cuban people experience a real transition to a better future.

* Hon. Otto J. Reich, former US Assistant Secretary of State and Ambassador to Venezuela.  Senior Research Associate, Cuban Studies Institute.

This is a publication of the Cuban Studies Institute.

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The Miami Herald, April 17, 2018

For ‘last exiles,’ Raúl Castro exiting presidency is both farce — and cause for hope


As a journalist and the daughter of Cuban exiles, I have spent a lifetime waiting for the landmark day when six decades of Castro rule ends — and democracy flourishes on the beloved island, bringing prosperity, political plurality and reconciliation to the Cuban people.

This long-awaited transfer of power in Cuba, sadly, isn’t that moment but yet another chapter of never-ending disappointment. It is confirmation that the hardliners won the power struggle with reformers, unleashed during the Obama years of hopeful rapprochement with the United States, a time when it seemed that Cuba might finally be poised to modernize.

This changing of the presidency from the hands of the aged Raúl Castro to the heir apparent, first vice president Miguel Díaz-Canel, isn’t, as some believe, a momentous occasion. It’s a symbolic one and a clever move, as it gives the perception of change when in reality the Castro family remains firmly in power.

This maneuver only promises more of the same.

Raúl’s son, Alejandro, remains a key figure in the Ministry of the Interior, which runs the repressive apparatus that accounts for the longevity of the regime. His former son-in-law, Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez, operates GAESA, one of the military enterprises that manages state wealth and tourism. And his daughter Mariela, who rose to prominence as a champion of gay rights, travels the world as one of the government’s chief propagandists. As they did with her uncle, some Americans dote on her charismatic presence.

And then, there’s 86-year-old Raúl Castro. He’s stepping down from the presidency on Wednesday — but he’s not out. He remains at the helm of Cuba’s armed forces and the all-powerful Communist Party, a post that perpetuates the Castro signature on policy drafting and execution for who knows how long.

So allow us — as my friend and civic activist Rafael Peñalver calls our generation, “the last exiles” in Miami — our desperation and disgust with the political theater in Havana.

“All of the suffering for this? This is a very bleak end [of the Castro era] for the people of Cuba — and for us, too,” says Peñalver, president of the historic San Carlos Institute in Key West devoted to Cuban history and culture.

The installation of a more youthful president who has been videotaped ranting about foreign embassies in Havana plotting subversion and railing against dissidents feels as if “the dream of a free Cuba has died,” he adds.

Cuba’s carefully chosen National Assembly — and not the Cuban people —will officially select Castro’s successor. The fact that the last name won’t be a Castro isn’t as unprecedented as it is being billed.

In fact, handing the presidency to someone else is an old ruse that dates to the early days of the Cuban Revolution.

When Fidel Castro rose to power, he didn’t take the presidency for himself right away, but assigned it to civil resistance leader Manuel Urrutia, who only lasted seven months before disputes with Fidel’s bloody course sent him into exile in Miami. Another president was then named from the civil ranks of Castro’s 26th of July Movement, Osvaldo Dorticós, and he served until 1976. (He killed himself in 1983).

All the while, as has been well-documented, it was dictator Fidel Castro calling the shots as prime minister from 1959 to 1976, then as president until 2008, when ill with cancer, he handed the reins to brother Raúl, who portrayed himself as a reformer. Raúl presided over the Obama détente, then backpedaled after the American president’s brilliant speech in Havana ignited hopes of real change all over the island and angered old, dying Fidel, who came out of retirement to quash the enthusiasm.

Once again, change at the top is only cosmetic, but hope has been the currency we cling to in Miami when all else fails.

Peñalver speculates that perhaps Díaz-Canel could turn out to be an agent of change in the way Franco ushered the franquistas to a peaceful transition in Spain. Or the way an anti-Communist Richard Nixon opened up to China.

“The day will come,” he says, “when the Castro years will be just an asterisk in the history of Eternal Cuba.”

But this change at the top feels far, far from that day.