Critics of President Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Cuba are claiming vindication this week as the island nation’s Communist Party hard-liners — cheered on by an 89-year-old Fidel Castro — moved to cement their grip on power after Mr. Castro’s brother Raul steps down in two years, reports suggest (HT:FPI).
[T]his week, Mr Castro and Cuba’s communist party squashed ideas that the government wanted to refresh its ranks with younger faces or embark on liberalising economic reforms that might mean a loosening of their grip on power, The Financial Times adds:
Mr Obama’s visit last month widened an ideological gulf between Cuba’s government and its people after he gave a series of well-received speeches on state television urging Cubans to embrace change and turn the page on a history of mutual hostility.
Since then, the state press has cast Mr Obama’s visit as an ideological attack even as the government insists it would like the US Congress to fully lift the embargo. The result is a difficult straddling act between wanting change while also seeking to control it — a position reflected by Mr Castro at the end of the Congress.
It was a case of: “Do as I say not as I do,” said Christopher Sabatini, adjunct professor of international affairs at Columbia University. “Raúl and the leadership talk about the need for term limits, transparency, age limits on the politburo, and economic reform but did nothing to apparently advance those in the meeting . . . even while they talked extensively about their need.”
“The key message [of the Congress] is to downplay expectations. Nothing changes,” said Bert Hoffman, a Cuba expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies. “The price is a further erosion of legitimacy. Raúl himself had made generation change a priority — and he delayed it once again.”
Although the private sector has grown exponentially since Raúl Castro’s reforms, about 70 percent of the labor force still works for the state, earning an average of six hundred pesos—about $25—a month. In recent years the state has allowed a skill-based range of wages for its workers, and so some doctors now make as much as $67 a month. By comparison, though, the owner of the private home I stayed in is allowed to charge, in CUCs, the equivalent of $35 a night per guest, in each of two bedrooms that are fairly steadily occupied by tourists.
Meanwhile, the state is taking in an estimated $2.5 billion a year by renting out its doctors to more than sixty different governments. But it only pays those doctors some $300 a month while their stint lasts, plus less than $200 that are deposited monthly in a Cuban account, as a sort of inducement to doctors to return home after their tour of duty.