Cuba: What Transition?

Raúl Castro is stepping down as president of Cuba. His replacement—Miguel Díaz-Canel—is not only a much younger man (57), but also a civilian. The image of an elderly Cuban dictator wearing an olive-green uniform will soon be thing of the past. Perhaps tropical versions of glasnost and perestroika could also be in the offing?

Don’t get your hopes up.

As Cuban dissident and human rights activist Antonio Rodiles puts it, believing that democratic transition is possible from within the regime constitutes the triumph of hope over facts. First, Raúl is not retiring yet. He remains the secretary general of the Communist Party until 2021. This is the post where true power lies in Cuba. Raúl will also stay as the commander in chief of the armed forces. It seems Díaz-Canel will be just a figurehead of the regime.

Second, Raúl has been grooming his son, Alejandro Castro Espín, to replace him as secretary general of the Communist Party in 2021. Castro Espín is already one of the most powerful—and feared—figures in Cuba. Moreover, Raúl’s son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas is the CEO of Grupo de Administración Empresarial Sociedad Anónima (GAESA), the military-owned conglomerate that controls 60 percent of the island’s economy. The Castro family will continue calling the shots.

Finally, in recent years the Cuban authorities, including Díaz-Canel, have been adamant that Cuba’s Stalinist political and economic system is not negotiable. Those who expect the new president to be a Cuban Gorbachev will be disappointed.

One group that can attest to the brutish nature of the Cuban regime—and how repression of dissidents has actually increased lately—is The Ladies in White. For a decade and a half, they have been beaten and harassed by government thugs for demanding the release of political prisoners and the introduction of more civil and political liberties. I’m very pleased that in the context of this phony transition in Cuba, Cato awarded them the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty 2018.

Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that the struggle for freedom of The Ladies in White will successfully end any time soon. The Cuban dictatorship will stay in place, just with a younger face at its helm.