EL NUEVO HERALD
By ALEJANDRO ARMENGOL 2009
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Anywhere in the world we can determine how good a functionary is. In Cuba, however, the unknown quantity is for how long.
It doesn’t matter that a doctor spends his time overseeing the economy or that a general is put in charge of the cultivation of sugar cane. Efficiency is not the main concern.
If anything has functioned well on the island over the past year it is international relations, and it is precisely in this arena that the most striking changes have been made.
One might argue that such successes are not solely due to the foreign minister, but it is also worth noting that they would not have been achieved without his input. At the least, one ought to concede that he was a good messenger.
Except that in Havana it is easier to replace the messenger than the source of the tidings. That’s why you can have a minister who is brilliant today and “unworthy” tomorrow.
Ministerial changes take place everywhere, as do political intrigues. Power is equally corrupting in capitalism and socialism. But in thinking about the changes that have transpired during the past week, there is something else, over and above all the explanations, that seems almost ghoulish: the recurrence of a seemingly never-ending mechanism that transforms someone from saintliness to dishonor, from representing the country’s best to sinking into its worst, dropping them from heaven to hell.
It is like turning the Bible into a simple gangster saga. It reduces a political process into the turf battles of a mafia family. It is like governing a country the way you might run a store, where the owner suddenly tells the customers that he had to fire the butcher because after ten years he just discovered that the butcher wasn’t washing his hands when he went to the bathroom.
Seen from the perspective of a week, the Cuban events lead one to think that one of the objectives has been to produce uncertainly, or its big brother: fear, even terror. With the publication of Fidel Castro’s “reflection,” what began on Monday as a broad restructuring of the government turned into a hint of something more sinister: a preventative blow against a possible conspiracy, with the government getting rid of figures in whom the “external enemy” might have hopes.
The changes of last Monday were first seen as a step taken by Raúl Castro to consolidate his power and move forward in establishing his own more institutional style of government, without using groups and individuals who – outside the bounds of governmental structures – wielded a considerable measure of power because they answered directly to Fidel Castro. Above all it was another response to the worry that “the revolution could be destroyed by its own members.” If Fidel Castro thought the solution lay in a generational change, Raúl sees it in sticking with the “historics.”
So there was an initial explanation, both for the fall of Carlos Lage “the reformer” and Felipe Pérez Roque “from the new generation.” It doesn’t matter that neither of them fully fit those roles, because a lot depends on perception, and especially on how they were seen abroad.
Then Fidel Castro’s “reflection” changed this initial perception, and their removal was explained by the conduct of both individuals. The (ex?) Commander-in-Chief leveled strong accusations, and came close to calling them traitors. His characterization of them as “unworthy” is reminiscent of previous trials: once again a potential threat is being thwarted.
By resigning all their posts, Lage and Pérez Roque carry out their final acts of loyalty to Fidel Castro. In two letters, whose only difference was the paper they were written on, both carry out their final assignment in support of the Comandante.
In a different period things would have gone worse for them: suicide or the firing squad. Now it seems that a piece of paper is enough. It is another illustration that the saga has drawn to a close. Cuba has returned to the epoch of generals and bureaucrats. Both the “reflection” and the letters seem aimed at making the process of restructuring into some form of a purge.
Therefore analysts and experts should resist the temptation to think that they already have the perfect explanation. Fidel Castro’s demand seems clear. In this drama he cannot appear to be the loser. Not because he was not ready to cede, which he has done, nor to deny that in the final analysis the whole movement is decided between both brothers. Here appearances are what is important, along with the image presented to the outside world, which is what he is most interested in.
And now the replacement of Fernando Remírez de Estenoz as head of the International Relations Department of the Communist Party (PCC) creates new speculation. The news has not been officially confirmed by Havana. But it leads us to wonder whether the departure of this official is related to the wave of firings. He had been vice-minister of foreign relations and headed Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Washington in the days when Havana was fighting for the return of young Elián González, and is a figure very closely linked to Lage.
It is hard to imagine that Remírez de Estenoz will go on to hold a higher position than the one he had, because on various occasions in the past his name had been raised as the possible foreign minister, a post to which Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla has just been named.
If he is kept removed from diplomatic functions –which seems to be the present situatio – Cuba is ruling out one of the most competent figures for potential negotiations with the United States, and it reaffirms the conclusion that Fidel and Raúl Castro feel they do not need “intermediaries” in this matter. In any case, they have just shown that there is no safety at their side, except in terms of the distance you keep, something that friends as well as enemies might bear in mind.