Donate to Links


Click on Links masthead to clear previous query from search box

GLW Radio on 3CR



Recent comments



Syndicate

Syndicate content

Cuba: Prelude to succession

By Nelson P. Valdés

The transfer of political power away from Fidel Castro was planned years ago. Preparation for it went into effect when he fell ill, and by the end of July 2006 Fidel provisionally delegated power to his brother Raúl. What had been provisional became permanent on February 18, 2008. But this was no longer a personal delegation of power; rather, the decision would depend on what elected officials at the National Assembly decided.

Over the years, there has been much speculation, and many imaginary scenarios have been concocted, regarding the end of the charismatic leader's rule. But what these various alternative scripts did not consider was the possibility of several preludes to succession.

On June 23, 2001, at 11.27am, while speaking at a rally in the town of Cotorro, Fidel Castro briefly fainted. The intense heat of the morning and many hours of work (he had not slept the night before) may been a factor in his falling asleep at the podium. As some people carried Fidel away, Felipe Pérez Roque, the foreign minister, took over the microphone, asked everyone to be calm, shouted ``Viva Raúl, Viva Fidel'' and asked the people to go home. But as he was saying those words, Fidel Castro returned. He informed his audience that he would take a nap and then in the afternoon continue his presentation.

 

The rally ended thereafter. As he spoke, the majority of the crowd shouted Fidel's name. By 6.00pm he appeared on the television program Mesa Redonda. ``¡Estoy entero!'' (I am fine), he said, trying to dissipate peoples' worries. Without having slept in the interim since the morning, he spoke for a few hours. At one point he commented that since he was doing well, someone could think that he played dead in order to see what kind of funeral he was given. However, this was the first time in his revolutionary career that anything like that had happened. (In 1960 he lost his voice while giving a speech nationalising US corporations, but a shot of rum seemingly cured the malady). Speculations about his health soon dominated the world media, but within days it all dissipated. Nevertheless, his brother Raúl accompanied him at the TeleRebelde studio from where Fidel spoke.

At a Communist Party meeting on July 15, 2003, military and political plans were drawn up to contend with a possible military attack from the United States. The George W. Bush administration, pumped up after its invasion of Iraq, had escalated its ongoing confrontation with Cuba's government. On this occasion, the Cuban plans included concrete steps to be taken in case of Fidel Castro's incapacity or death, prior or during a US military attack. [The US military had targeted Saddam Hussein]. The policy was clearly delineated: to make sure that there would be a new politico-administrative leadership in the island if Fidel Castro was no longer there.

 

****

``Martí no debió de morir/ pues era el maestro del día/ Otro gallo cantaría,/ la patria se salvaría,/ y Cuba sería feliz.''

["Martí shouldn't have died/ because he was the leader of his day/ But another rooster will crow/ the nation will be saved/ and Cuba will be

happy."]

-- Popular song


``Every agency, at the local level, state level and federal level, they all have plans drawn up about what would happen if Fidel dies."

-- U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami)

 

****


On May 6, 2004 the United States government imposed the toughest measures ever on the relations between the two countries (though food sales were still permitted under certain conditions). The tension led Fidel Castro to state in an open letter (June 21, 2004) to the US president, ``In Cuba's present condition to confront an invasion, my physical absence by natural or other causes would not hurt our ability, in any way, to fight and resist.''

On October 21, 2004, after finishing a speech in Santa Clara, Fidel Castro failed to see a step. He fell, breaking his knee and right arm. Experiencing excruciating pain, he refused to allow his aides to take him away immediately; instead, he requested a microphone and told the university students to continue their planned activities and partying. He reassured them that he was still ``in one piece''. His surgery was performed with rachideal anesthesia so that he would not lose consciousness. In a notification to the Cuban people he stated, ``From the moment of the fall, I have not stopped attending to the most important tasks that I am responsible for, in coordination with the other comrades.'' And added, ``I'm recovering well and will not lose contact with you.'' It is not far-fetched to assume that the Cuban government did not want to convey the slightest indication to people in Washington that Fidel Castro was not in command. The Cuban leader slowly regained control of his arm and knee, while remaining in front of the public on numerous television programs.

On November 17, 2005, at the University of Havana, Fidel Castro asked the rhetorical question whether revolutions inexorably collapse. He further asked whether revolutions fell because of actions on the part of revolutionaries, or because of their failure to act. He urged the students to initiate a discussion on such matters. ``Have you thought about this? Have you thought deeply about it?'' The collapse of the revolution, he noted, has been envisioned by the United States as the immediate consequence of his own death. ``They are waiting for a natural phenomena, totally logical, that is the death of someone.'' But, he commented, ``we have taken measures and precautions so that there will be no surprises. And everyone will know what to do in such a case.'' He went on to note that one has to study the history of revolutions and arrive at the proper conclusions as to what to do. Meanwhile, others within the revolutionary ranks were already talking about the possibility of a Cuba without Fidel Castro.

Collective leadership

The following month, December 23, 2005, Cuban foreign minister Felipe Pérez Roque outlined the necessity of taking necessary steps to preserve the equivalent of the historical memory of the revolutionary founders. The enemy, he suggested, was betting that the next generation would not have a historical memory.

On July 1, 2006, Raúl Castro noted that a succession in Cuba would not imply a search for another charismatic leader. Instead, he indicated, there would be a collective leadership [*dirección colectiva*] made up of national leaders from within the Communist Party:

``We are confronting an enemy whose stubbornness and arrogance frequently leads it to make mistakes, but that doesn't mean that it is a fool. It knows that the special trust that the people have in the founding leader of a Revolution can not be transmitted as if it was an inheritance, to those that in the future will be occupying the main leadership positions of the country. I repeat what I have said on many occasions: The Commander-in-Chief of the Cuban Revolution is one and only one, and only the Communist Party, the institution that groups the revolutionary vanguard and guarantees Cubans unity during all times, can be the dignified heir of the trust deposited by the people in its leader. We are working for that, and that's how it will be. The rest is pure speculation.''

Raúl Castro was reacting to a forthcoming report prepared by the US government-appointed Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (CAFC), an organisation co-chaired by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez. Appended to the report was a lengthy secret annex, which was a plan to overthrow the Cuban government, the Cuban government seems to have known. Political analyst Mike Leffert commented:

``From its first words, the report, beginning with Chapter 1: Hastening the End of the Castro Dictatorship: Transition Not Succession leaves no room for doubt about the intent and aim of US policy. A July 10 State Department briefing hammered home the point that the US planned to intervene, `provided', said Secretary Gutierrez, `we are asked by a Cuban transition government that is committed to dismantling all instruments of state repression and implementing internationally respected human rights and fundamental freedoms, including organizing free and fair elections for a democratically elected new Cuban government within a period of no more than 18 months.''

At a Central Committee meeting of the Communist Party, on July 1, 2006, the Secretariat was restored. This was another move to strengthen the Communist Party and further prepare the conditions for a succession. The Secretariat had been abolished in 1992 when Cuba entered the economic crisis known as ``the special period'' due to the collapse of the Soviet bloc. The Secretariat's functions had been to deal with matters internal to the Communist Party. Bringing the structure back meant paying more attention to the party membership, and the Secretariat was to pay special attention to party members with a workers' background and from outside Havana. Three of the 12 members (Fidel, Raúl, and José Ramón Machado Ventura) were ``históricos'' going back to the 1950s struggle; the rest had an average age of 50. All the new members had a university education.

Twenty-six days later Fidel Castro had to undergo complex intestinal surgery. The news of the surgery was kept secret until July 31. In a document issued to the Cuban people, Fidel Castro provided some general descriptions of the problem he faced. But few details were provided. The following day, in a second statement, he explained why details would not be forthcoming, ``Given the specific situation facing Cuba and the plans designed by the empire, the information about my health condition becomes a state secret that cannot be continuously disseminated; and my compatriots should understand that.'' He then noted that he had to delegate some of his powers ``due to the fact that our country faces a threat from the Government of the United States.''

The document stated:

1) I provisionally delegate my functions as First Secretary of the

Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba to the Second

Secretary, comrade Raúl Castro Ruz.


2) I provisionally delegate my functions as Commander-in-Chief of the

heroic Revolutionary Armed Forces to the aforementioned comrade, Army

General Raúl Castro Ruz.


3) I provisionally delegate my functions as President of the Council

of State and Government of the Republic of Cuba to the First

Vice-President Raúl Castro Ruz.


4) I provisionally delegate my functions as the main driving force

behind the National and International Public Health Program to the

member of the Politburo and Minister of Public Health, comrade José

Ramón Balaguer Cabrera.


5) I provisionally delegate my functions as the main driving force

behind the National and International Education Program to comrades

José Ramón Machado Ventura and Esteban Lazo Hernández, members of the

Politburo.


6) I provisionally delegate my functions as the main driving force

behind the National Energy Revolution Program being implemented in

Cuba and abroad as part of a scheme of collaboration with other

countries to comrade Carlos Lage Dávila, member of the Politburo and

Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers.


This was not, as was widely reported, a ``transfer of power'', although in practice it could, and did, become so. Fidel Castro delegated his functions provisionally. Further, Cuban laws and codes required that at some point the Communist Party Congress and the National Assembly ratify the authority of his successors. For his principal functions, there was no other significant contender besides his brother, Raúl Castro.

Raúl's `Succession'

The practical side of political succession has been a central concern of the Cuban government and of Fidel Castro's leadership. The very fact that the United States government and the exiled opposition has counted on the charismatic leader's death to bring about a political and economic restoration to the island has been more than sufficient incentive for Fidel Castro to have taken the necessary institutional steps to secure the revolutionary regime's survival. The critical issue has been whether succession would be smooth and peaceful without domestic or external upheaval. It seems to have been understood by everyone who dealt with the problem that the fundamental strategic element would be a political/military leadership able to preserve cohesion and unity. Moreover, it was in the interest of those with power and authority to work together, particularly at a time when there was such a clear and present danger from abroad.

The revolutionary movement against Batista had Fidel Castro as its political and military leader. However, in the early months when the revolutionaries were in power, neither Fidel Castro nor his brother held numerous or interlocking positions within the Cuban government and state. Fidel Castro and others progressively assumed more administrative and state responsibilities as the international and domestic confrontation unfolded.

In the early years, the two Castro brothers arrived at a unique division of labour. One handled political matters, the other military ones. But either was competent to assume both roles, if necessary, at exceptional times. Political practice and necessity evolved into an informal network of interlocking but separate powers and responsibilities occupied by both brothers and their appointed close comrades. Indeed, both Fidel and Raúl have being capable of assuming each other's formal roles. Foreign observers have just paid attention to Fidel Castro's public speaking and had little to say about the running of government, thus, missing the brothers' real interaction.

Although people expected that a succession would occur after the death of Fidel Castro, a de facto succession has occurred while he was sick but alive. On July 31, 2006, the power and authority held by Fidel Castro within the Council of State, the Council of Ministers and the Communist Party were provisionally delegated to Raúl Castro. Other responsibilities were delegated to others.

There had been no doubt who would occupy what post. The Cuban constitution established it, as did the Communist Party statutes. What we may have, for a while, is a sort of post-Fidel Castro Cuba, but with Fidel still alive. The ``succession'' that has taken place leaves no doubt that Raúl Castro is and will remain in command.

Seventeen months from the day he delegated his powers to his brother, on December 17, 2007, in one of his numerous essays published by the Cuban media, Fidel Castro wrote, ``My elemental duty is not to cling to positions, much less to stand in the way of younger persons, but rather to contribute my own experience and ideas whose modest value comes from the exceptional era that I had the privilege of living in.'' He was preparing the Cuban people for the events that would unfold two months later.

An extraordinary event occurred on February 18, 2008, when Fidel Castro announced that he was not interested in continuing to hold any power within the Council of Ministers, the Council of State, or as Commander in Chief. In a peaceful and orderly manner, the historical charismatic leader who had created the institutions of the Cuban state and ran them, withdrew, allowing others to manage those institutions. Few observers had imagined that he would do so during his lifetime.

The political succession were to be finalised on February 24, 2008. Responsible positions in state and government will no longer be in the hands of Fidel Castro. This disengagement was [and is] a complicated process, and Fidel Castro said as much: ``my first duty was to prepare our people both politically and psychologically for my absence after so many years of struggle.''

In the past, Fidel Castro had formal control of the commanding heights of the state: the government, the military and the Communist Party. Today Fidel continues to have formal control and leadership over the Communist Party, although he has delegated such power to his brother. One should expect that in the future Fidel Castro might forfeit that power as well. At that point, it would be up to the Central Committee of the Communist Party to decide who replaces the historical revolutionary leader.

But not yet. As in Ecclesiastes III, ``there is a time to keep, and a time to cast away''. The moment has been selected by the old man to attain its maximum benefits. Once he no longer has political powers, Fidel Castro will be left with his intellectual authority, and his personal example. Those qualities should accompany him to the end of his life. Then he could declare like José Martí: ``para mi ya es hora''. (``Now it's time for me to go.'')

[Nelson P Valdés is a professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico and director of the Cuba-L Direct project. Valdés is a member of the board of directors of the magazine TEMAS (Havana). Cuba-L has distributed information and analysis on Cuba from English and Spanish sources, on a daily basis, since 1986. Its web page is: http://cuba-l.unm.edu .This essay appeared on Cuba-L.]

Comments

Cuba’s revolution continues

Cuba’s revolution continues

Duroyan Fertl
29 February 2008Following
the announcement by Fidel Castro on February 19 that he would not stand
in the election by Cuba’s National Assembly (AN) for the position of
president, the Western media coverage has ranged from grudging
acknowledgement of Cuba’s social gains in the face of 50 years of US
aggression, to outrageous claims of “dictatorship” and US government
plans for a “transition” in Cuba.

The coverage has also been full of speculation that a new president
could open the path to restoration of capitalism in Cuba, usually
presented as “bringing democracy”, via a series of “reforms”.

On February 24, the newly elected 614-member AN voted to promote
Raul Castro to the position of Cuban president. Fidel, whose image as
the quintessential bearded guerrilla came to symbolise Cuba’s
revolution, led the revolution since the overthrow of the brutal
US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Fidel had been president of the Caribbean island since 1976. He
remains an elected member of the AN, and first secretary of the Cuban
Communist Party (CCP). Despite Cuba’s long-standing policy of promoting
youthful leadership at different level of government, the Western media
have responded to the transition from Fidel as president, begun in
2006, like vultures circling.

The media’s flawed approach reduces the Cuban Revolution to a
one-man show, with the Cuban people passive spectators or
long-suffering victims. This ignores the actual history of the Cuban
Revolution — made and maintained despite bitter hostility from, and a
crippling 46-year-long economic blockade imposed by, the world’s most
powerful nation just 90 miles away.

Cuba estimates the blockade has cost it US$89 billion. The UN
General Assembly has voted every year for the last 15 years for the US
to end its blockade.

It also ignores the actual democratic processes taking place in
Cuba, and is a continuation of the propaganda war by the US and
corporate interests against the island.

The Cuban Revolution remains an inspiration to millions of people
in the Third World for its anti-imperialist struggle and social gains,
both of which it has sought to extend globally.

Cuba has sent tens of thousands of volunteer doctors to provide
free health care in dozens of countries — currently operating in 68 —
while offering free education in Cuba for thousands of students from
poor backgrounds globally, including from the US.

One of Cuba’s most famous internationalist ventures was the role of
Cuban troops fighting in Angola during the 1970s and ‘80s against the
invading South African forces, which culminated in a historic defeat
for the Apartheid regime that was crucial to its demise.

Speaking in Havana in July 1991, the recently freed Nelson Mandela
called the Cuban-led victory for South African forces in Angola a
“milestone in the history of the struggle for southern African
liberation”.

He explained: “The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution
to African independence, freedom and justice unparalleled for its
principled and selfless character. We in Africa are used to being
victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our
sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another
people rise to the defence of one of us.

“The defeat of the Apartheid army was an inspiration to the
struggling people in South Africa! Without the defeat … our
organisations would not have been unbanned! The defeat of the racist
army … has made it possible for me to be here today!”

In recent times, alongside Venezuela, Cuba has initiated “Mission
Miracle”, a free program that has restored eyesight to more than a
million people from across the Americas, including the US.

Before the revolution, Cuba was the playground of the US rich,
renowned for its casinos, corruption, prostitution and poverty. Today,
Cuba boasts universal and free health and education systems, and has
eradicated illiteracy.

Despite its gains, the impoverished island continues to face massive obstacles.

The collapse of its major trading partner, the Soviet Union, in the
early 1990s brought a severe economic crisis. The US responded by
tightening the blockade — heightening the Cuban people’s hardship — and
increasing funding to counter-revolutionary forces.

The “Special Period”, as this time of crisis was known, brought
with it the return of inequality and other social ills, such as
prostitution, eradicated by the revolution. Yet Cuba managed to resist
the pressure from the US and survive without surrendering some of its
most important social gains.

The depths of that crisis are behind Cuba, with its economy growing 7.5% in 2007, well above the Latin American average.

One of the positive side effects of the Special Period was that, as
Cuba could no longer import chemical pesticides and fertilisers, it was
forced to develop an organic, environmentally sustainable agricultural
system, which now constitutes 95% of its output. Havana, Cuba’s
capital, produces most of its food in farms and permaculture gardens
located within the city limits.

When the World Wildlife Fund released their 2007 Living Planet report, only one country — Cuba — met the requirements for sustainable development.

Cuban permaculturalist Roberto Perez, who features in the documentary The Power of Community: How Cuba survived Peak Oil
that focuses on Cuba’s “green revolution” following the collapse of the
Soviet Union, will be touring Australia in March and April. He will be
a keynote speaker at Green Left Weekly’s Climate Change — Social Change Conference in Sydney from April 11-13.

Cuba’s achievements have only been possible because the revolution has
broken the hold of corporate interests over its economy and political
system, and created an economy planned according to the principle of
human need, not private profit.

The revolution has been deeply democratic from the outset, contrary
to the widely-accepted myth that the revolution was made by only a
small band of guerrillas. In fact, crucial to the overthrow of
Batista’s dictatorship was an urban mass movement that organised
workers, students, professionals and the unemployed in towns and
cities, and that ensured the toppling of Batista with a general strike
in the first week of 1959.

At critical moments in the revolution — such as during the Special
Period — the Cuban people have engaged in vigorous public debate
unprecedented by Western standards.

Such a period of debate opened up again about a year ago, in order
to determine Cuba’s future course and tackle some of the significant
problems facing the country that are causing widespread frustration.

More than 215,687 public meetings have been held across the
country, in workplaces, communities and universities, resulting in more
than 1.3 million grassroots proposals being lodged in the lead-up to
national elections, that were held on January 20.

While Cuban democracy is far from perfect, which is not surprising
for such a besieged country, it is also far from the dictatorship the
media make it to be.

While the CCP remains the only legal party in Cuba, it is forbidden
from participating in elections. All elected representatives in Cuba —
including the president and ministers — can be recalled at any time by
their local electorates. Women now make up over 43% of the legislature,
an increase of 7%, and the proportion of those aged between 18 and 30
has increased from 23% to 36%.

In his closing speech to the AN on February 24, President Raul
Castro addressed Cuba’s approach to expressions of dissent and
disagreement: “We do not deny [opponents of the government] right to
expression, provided they do it with respect for the law.”

Raul argued: “We shall not avoid listening to everyone’s honest
opinion, which is very useful and necessary simply because of the
sometimes ridiculous noise made every time a citizen of our country
says something that the very noise makers would pay no attention to if
they heard it anywhere else on the planet.”

“The revolution is the work of free men and women and it has been permanently opened to debate”, he said.

Some of the most strident criticism in recent times has come from Cuba’s communist youth organisation, in particular its paper Juventud Rebelde, which has cited numerous examples of corruption, inefficiency and social conservatism that are holding the country back.

Raul argued that while Cuban democracy is “participatory as few
others are”, it is not perfect, and emphasised the need for debate to
improve it, stating that the “best solutions can come from a profound
exchange of differing opinions, if such an exchange is guided by
sensible purposes and the views are uttered with responsibility”.

He also announced the reorganisation of the state apparatus, with
“a lower number of institutions under the central administration of the
state and a better distribution of their functions”.

Raul criticised “the tendency to apply the same recipe everywhere”,
which led to distortions, and argued that in “many respects, local
initiative can be effective and viable”.

“In summary, our government’s work must be more efficient.”

While there is a wide-ranging debate about the direction of the
revolution — including what type of market measures it may be necessary
to introduce to overcome some of the problems that inevitably affect an
isolated and impoverished island — those looking for signs of a
“transition” away from socialism are likely to be disappointed.

The reform process underway, which is stimulating a genuine debate
whose outcome is not predetermined, is designed to strengthen socialism
in Cuba, through greater democratic control and improved productivity.

In concluding his defence speech at the end of his trial by the
Batista regime following a failed 1953 uprising, Castro famously
declared: “Condemn me, it doesn’t matter. History will absolve me.” In
the face of continued US aggression, the Cuban Revolution is continuing
its struggle to prove those words true.

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #742 5 March 2008.

Raúl Castro, Team Work and the Spirit of Capablanca*

02/26/08 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) - Raúl Castro, Team Work and the
Search for the Spirit of Capablanca*

by Nelson P Valdés

"If there is food for the people, risks do not matter"
- Raúl Castro. 09/18/1994

"We will do what is best for each sector and place,
and we will not unleash processes that could escape
the control of the socialist State."
- Carlos Lage. 12/19/1994

"I strongly believe that the answers to the current
problems facing Cuban society...require more variables
for each concrete problem than those contained in a
chess game."
- Fidel Castro 02/18/08

The emails have been coming in the last few hours, primarily from print or
radio journalists and North American social scientists. They claim that Raúl
Castro, who replaced his famous brother in the new government, has appointed
a hard-line anti-reformer to be the next person in line to succeed him. Why
was José Ramón Machado Ventura selected instead of Carlos Lage? Have the
"hardliners" won? Are the "reformers" in retreat? Is Machado Ventura more
important to Raúl than Carlos Lage? What evidence, in fact, is there that
political and economic differences exist within the new Cuban government?

These are the wrong questions. Instead, we ought to pay attention to the
assembled political team, their personal comparative advantages, experiences
and functions that they could perform. In the Cuban political context
political people cannot be separated from their overall political
environment and institutional linkages.

However, since foreign journalists and some scholars have made an issue of
the selection of Machado Ventura over Carlos Lage, it is useful to discuss
the service history of each.

Machado Ventura was born in 1930. Certainly 19 years older than Lage.
Machado Ventura is one of the few educated people that fought with Raúl in
the guerrillas. He was a founder of the Frank País Second Front guerrilla
region. He served as the guerrillas' physician. By 1959 he had become
comandante, the highest rank within the Cuban guerrilla forces. Lage was 8
years old when the guerrilleros seized power.

Machado Ventura also became Minister of Health at age 29 (1960-1967). He
helped conceive, create and run the Cuban medical system that made the
island famous. He excelled in organizational skills. Carlos Lage graduated
as a physician but did not have a military background.

Machado Ventura was a founder of the Communist Party (PCC) in 1965; Lage at
the time was 14 years old.

By 1968, because of his organizational skills, Machado Ventura was given the
responsibility of cleaning up the serious problems that the Cuban Communist
Party confronted in Matanzas province. [At the time a pro-Soviet faction,
led by Aníbal Escalante, had engaged in political and intelligence
activities that the Castro brothers considered dangerous and treacherous.]
Also, in 1968 he had become a member of the Central Committee.

>From that point on, Machado Ventura's work concentrated on the one party
organization. In 1971, he had the post of first party secretary of Matanzas
province. Then he had the responsibility of doing a similar work rebuilding
the party system in Havana. In other words, he did NOT remain within the
ministry of the Armed Forces but left it in order to be a civilian
organizing the Communist Party ranks. But he had the political credentials
of having participated in the guerrilla war. Since 1974 he has been the
person in charge of the organization department of the PCC.

He had a fundamental role in the institutionalization of the revolutionary
process initiated by Raul Castro in 1976. Machado Ventura was the one
responsible for implementing that process, first in Matanzas and then in the
rest of the country. This was very important experience that might become
useful. He was brought into the Political Bureau and the Secretariat of the
Communist Party due to his work in the province of Matanzas. In 1976,
Machado Ventura was elected to the new National Assembly [the legislature]
and selected as a member of the Council of State.

Meanwhile, Carlos Lage was elected to the National Assembly and also became
an alternate member of the Central Committee. At the time, Lage was a very
successful and influential university student leader. The following year,
he became a leading member of the Union of Young Communists.

When in 1980 Lage was selected to be a deputy member of the Central
Committee of the Communist Party, Machado Ventura had already been a full
member of the CC for 15 years.

The following year, Lage became secretary general of the Union of Young
Communists, the highest position anyone could attain within the junior
parallel organization of the communists of Cuba.

In 1986, Lage was selected to be a full member of the Central Committee. He
also joined the "Grupo de Coordinación y Apoyo del Comandante en Jefe,"
Fidel Castro. This was the inner circle staff. Lage became the key
coordinator within the Group. That same year, Machado Ventura was promoted
to one of the vice presidencies of the Council of State.

When in 1990 Lage became a full member of the Political Bureau, Machado
Ventura had already been one of its members for 15 years. Machado Ventura,
at that time, took on the responsibility of organizational secretary of the
Central Committee. Thus, while Lage was addressing matters of state policy
and its implementation, Machado Ventura addressed personnel and cadre
questions within the state, the government and the party.

As the economic crisis hit Cuba in 1991 due to the disappearance of the
Soviet bloc, Fidel Castro and the Grupo de Apoyo y Coordinación took on many
economic and political responsibilities and Carlos Lage was in the middle of
it all. In 1992, he became secretary of the Council of Ministers and the
following year he also assumed the responsibility of vice president of the
Council of State. Lage is, without a doubt, a brilliant, dedicated and
disciplined. The Cuban people certainly know and respect him. Machado
Ventura is not as well known by the Cuban people, despite his long recod.
But there is one sector of the society that knows "Machadito" very well -
the PCC membership.

Machado Ventura and Carlos Lage shared a number of positions: both were
members of the Political Bureau and of the Council of State. However,
Machado Ventura's political career had been longer than that of Lage.
Moreover, Machado Ventura had been closer to Raul Castro in his daily work.
Carlos Lage's ascendancy had been associated with close working relationship
with Fidel Castro. Lage, moreover, had worked as a physician abroad.

Nonetheless, both have worked together in numerous tasks.

Raúl Castro stated today that there were numerous changes that had to take
place. Some of those changes, he said, related to economic and political
policies that will impact on the general population. These are the issues
that have concerned Carlos Lage. However, for those changes to take place
there is the profoundly important necessity of having the proper personnel
to carry out such policies; that is a matter that the Communist Party will
have to address and solve. Without the proper personnel and cadres, the
economic and political policies will not be viable. The reforms will be
forthcoming, Raúl Castro said.

Moreover, he specifically stated that the Cuban Communist Party had to
become absolutely democratic in its internal work. He noted that there
should be no fear of discrepancies and differences of opinion; that there
should be no fear. If there were only one political party in the country,
that party had to reflect the diversity of opinion. The party, he noted, had
to be "more democratic;" it had to be perfected. Questioning what is done
and how it is done should become normal and natural. As far as Raúl Castro
was concerned, Cuban society does not have "antagonistic contradictions."
All that is necessary is that discussions should be handled in a mature
manner and that the Communist Party be cohesive, objective and responsible.

Last but not least, any substantive economic or political reforms will be
preceded by significant changes in state and government institutions.

Indeed, the new president of Cuba said today that Cuba's state institutions
had gone through three major periods: 1959 to 1976, when ad hoc changes were
made on the basis of revolutionary necessity and without any real
formalization of procedures; 1976-1991, when the revolutionary regime was
formalized and institutionalized, although some of the state apparatus
resembled Soviet experiences; and finally, the period after the demise of
the Soviet bloc.

He noted, "Finally, in 1994, the most critical moment of the Special Period,
considerable adjustments were made leading to the reduction and merging of
institutions as well as to the redistribution of the tasks previously
entrusted to some of them. However, these changes were undertaken with the
rush imposed by the necessity to quickly adapt to a radically different,
very hostile and extremely dangerous scenario."

He went on to add, "In the fourteen years that have passed since then, the
national and international scene has noticeably changed. Today, a more
compact and operational structure is required, with a lower number of
institutions under the central administration of the State and a better
distribution of their functions. This will enable us to reduce the enormous
amount of meetings, coordination, permissions, conciliations, provisions,
rules and regulations, etc., etc. It will also allow us to bring together
some decisive economic activities which are presently disseminated through
various entities, and to make a better use of our cadres."

For such all-encompassing tasks the first vice president has much experience
behind him, for he was a major player in an earlier effort in what was then
named the "institutionalization of the revolutionary regime." José Ramón
Machado Ventura, Carlos Lage and others will have a lot of work before them.

All the talk about hardliners setting the tone of the new Raúl Castro
administration is too simple and naive. In fact, the revolutionary regime
confronts a variety of problems to address; and as everyone in the leading
positions acknowledge it will be necessary to have diverse approaches
depending on the difficulty to be solved and its complexity. Raúl Castro has
made clear, in numerous speeches that his administration intends and will
insist on airing differences and arriving at consensual decisions. That is
neither the mentality nor approach of a phalanx of troglodytes. There is a
collegial system in place. it will be further elaborated and
institutionalized.

The question, in the final analysis, is not what role each person plays but
in what direction the Cuban revolutionary state moves. Such tasks will not
depend on just a few individuals, but in their inter-connections and
effectiveness.
To search for the "leading personalities" that promote "openings" and
"liberalization" will fail to perceive the real revolution in the revolution
that has been announced.

*José Raúl Capablanca, Cuban born, was world chess champion (1921-1927).
--------------

Nelson P Valdés is a Professor of Sociology at the University of New Mexico.
I want to think my colleague and friend Robert Sandels for his corrections,
comments and suggestions.

Powered by Drupal - Design by Artinet