Monday, February 25, 2008

What it all means. Or not.

Much like the Kremlinologists of old, those of us who keep an eye on what’s going on in Cuba tend to spend a lot of time interpreting every speech and every comment and every photograph coming out of Havana.

We are always looking for hidden messages ... which may be a totally pointless exercise, I know, but lots of fun, nonetheless.

So, for what it’s worth, here are some observations on Raul Castro’s first speech as the newly-enthroned president of the Council of State and Commander in Chief.

1. The speech was a lot shorter than even the shortest speech by his older brother. A positive sign, surely.

2. Castro II referred to the US by name only a couple of times – and his confected outrage at “the imperialists” and “the enemy” seemed, well, tired and contrived. Going through the motions?

3. Castro II has promised “reforms” – but only at the edges, hinting that some of the existing “restrictions” placed on Cubans may be reviewed. We assume he is referring to economic rather than political restrictions.

4. Castro II seems to understand that ordinary Cubans hate the dual currency system invented by Castro I and has hinted this may be rectified, probably by revaluing the peso. It’s all about symbolism, folks.

5. Throughout, Castro II keeps referring to the writing and “reflexions” of Castro I. This could mean that Castro I is still running the show behind the scenes, interfering all the time and trying to micro-manage everything, as he has done for close to 50 years.

6. Or it could mean that Castro II will continue to pay lip service to the old man in the jogging suit but Castro I will be merely a reference point, when convenient, without any real power. Much like the Chinese Communists continue to pay lip service to Maoist thought.

7. Castro II made it clear that while there may be some room for “debate” behind closed doors, there is bugger all room for discussion or dissent outside the very strict confines of “the revolution”. At least for now.

8. The appointment of a 76-year-old hardliner, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, as the effective number two rather than younger apparatchiks like Carlos Lage or the ambitious Felipe Perez Roque has surprised everyone. It’s supposed to mean something but we don’t really know what.

9. Castro II wore a suit and collar and tie rather than his old uniform as head of the military.

10. And he ended his speech not with the customary Patria o Muerte! Venceremos! but with an almost Elvinesque “Thank you very much”.

Make of all that what you will.


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