Last week, in case there was any doubt left about who actually calls the shots in Cuba, Raul Castro bypassed his designated successor Miguel Diaz-Canel and, coming out from behind the curtain, warned Cubans that rumors of another "special period in times of peace" looming the island are not just rumors.
The designation between quotation marks was the euphemism the then 40-year old Castro government used to designate the 1990s in Cuba, a decade of hunger, disease and deprivation of all kinds that followed the sudden collapse of the USSR and the cessation of Soviet subsidies."The situation might worsen in the coming months," reported the Army General and leader of the Communist Party, the only legal one and the "leading force of society" according to the "new" constitution that took effect the day Castro spoke. Then he urged the Cubans to "be prepared for the worst alternative" of an economic crisis.
On the other hand, Castro assured that Cuba will not experience a new “special period” because, unlike during the 90s, "today there’s a different scenario in terms of diversification of the economy."
Yet, even considering revenue sources that did not exist until 1995, such as tourism and family remittances, most economists are warning that the main shock to the island will come from the close dependence from Venezuela that emerged at the end of that decade. For almost 20 years the “brotherly” South American nation covered about half of Cuba's energy needs with ridiculously cheap crude oil, and it paid openhandedly the bosses in Havana (not the workers) for Cuban professional services that became the island’s primary source of foreign currency.
Seeking to ensure a continuation of its parasitic way of life, Castroism lodged well within the new host, sending to Venezuela thousands of military, intelligence, counterintelligence and security advisers. Today they constitute a colonial occupation force disguised in civilian clothes, which did not hesitate to unleash a brutal repression against the 2014 and 2017 massive opposition protests in that country.
At the same time, Havana exported to Venezuela its failed economic model. Thus, the colony is today in economic free fall, while undergoing the most serious humanitarian crisis in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
Just a while ago, the press, international organizations and governments in the region began opening their eyes: the problem with Venezuela is not Nicolás Maduro, it’s Cuba. Targeting the real culprit of Venezuela’s tragedy the United States has already announced punitive measures against Havana, from the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act to a blacklist of ships that carry Venezuelan oil to the island. According to Washington, other steps will follow suit.
The Cuban Government is already experiencing the combined effects of this new vision and the Venezuelan crisis: oil shipments to the island have been reduced to less than 50 % compared with those sent under the Chavez presidency; bilateral trade with Venezuela and hard currency earnings from professional services have also decreased significantly. At the street level, even in the so-called "convertible currency collection stores" Cubans face long queues and brawls to acquire basic staples such as eggs, chicken and cooking oil.
Government officials are already talking about edible alternatives for the near future such as crocodile, ostrich and jutia (a Cuban rodent) meat. During the 90s’ special period the Cubans ate cats, grapefruit "steaks" and grinded plantain peels. They also suffered endless blackouts, sweltering heat with no fans or air conditioning, and nutritional diseases, while they traveled long distances everyday on foot or by bicycle.
But, hey, they also got fed up with all that. In August 1994, right at the bottom of the special period, they staged the boldest popular uprise ever against the Castro regime since the early 60s, the “Maleconazo”, with hundreds of habaneros yelling “Abajo Fidel” along the coastline Malecón and other nearby streets.
Only then Fidel Castro gave in: he ordered reopening the “peasant markets”, allowed self-employment, international tourism and the circulation of US dollars on the island.
It shouldn’t work that way, but it usually happens with regimes of this kind that, to see a silver lining, first the sky must be full of the darkest clouds. Lest the storm becomes so strong that it ends up sweeping them away.
Raul Castro Cartoon: Medi Belortaja