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Cuba, 2023: Díaz-Canel consolidates power in the midst of a crisis that does not end

By Nehomar Hernández*

As has happened for more than six decades, 2023 looms as a year in which Cubans will face a host of calamities in a country that remains oppressed by the Castro dictatorship headed by Miguel Díaz-Canel. 

Record numbers of migrants to the United States, a complex economic panorama led by galloping inflation, the relaxation of certain international sanctions and the realization of a new electoral farce that will give rise to a new presidential term, are seen as the most important issues for come in the next 12 months.

, Cuba, 2023: Díaz-Canel consolidates power in the midst of a crisis that does not end
Miguel Díaz-Canel and his predecessor, Raúl Castro (Photo internet reproduction)

A MIGRATION THAT DOES NOT STOP

Although Cuba has a long tradition of migration to the United States, given the very poor living conditions to which its inhabitants have historically been subjected, what happened in 2022 in this matter is scandalous. 

Last year the country broke its own records by accounting for around a quarter of a million people who left the island and entered US territory, leading an exodus that, as various international media have confirmed, far exceeds that of the crisis of the rafters of the nineties and that of the port “Mariel” in the eighties.

This makes sense if you think about the increase in repression that has occurred after the 2021 and 2022 protests, the lack of quality public services and an economy that has never quite started, despite recurring promises of extraordinary plans of the regime to invigorate it and attract foreign investment. 

Cubans do not feel that their daily lives are going to experience substantial improvements in the immediate future and, in this sense, they prefer to take risks and seek their future outside their national borders.

It’s simple, if the structural factors that lead Cubans to leave are not corrected, emigration will most certainly remain at the same levels or could even increase in the coming months.

MORE REPRESSION ON THE HORIZON

The protests of mid-2021 blew like a fresh breeze on an island that until then was thought to be doomed to live in communism without anyone saying anything. 

The demonstrations of 11-J served as a vast testimony of collective resistance in the midst of the greatest declaration of freedom that Cuba has experienced in decades. 

However, every major act of rebellion against tyrannical power entails risks that in this case did not take long to materialize.

Those protests, together with those that took place in different provinces of the island during 2022 due to the malfunctioning of public services and the food supply, have fed the repressive machinery of Castroism, which has opted in the last year and a half to carry out arrests. massive protesters – without realizing that in several cases they are minors – and giving rise to summary trials in which they are imposed long sentences, exceeding 20 years in prison. 

By October of last year, the NGO Prisoners Defenders reported the existence of 1,027 political prisoners on the island.

When trying to predict how things will progress in this matter during the year that has just begun, the renowned Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez is not too optimistic. 

In a recently published document, he makes it clear that the increase in repression ordered by the Díaz-Canel regime in recent times has a double effect: on the one hand, incentives for Cubans to emigrate are increased -especially in the younger layers of the population – seeking to evade repression; on the other, this mass exodus of those who are called to be agents of political change distances to a certain extent the possibilities of eventual democratization in the Caribbean nation.

“But a democratic change needs much more than accumulated disappointments and repeated failures. Rebellious and young people are needed to promote an opening. In the coming months, migration will take part of those much-needed citizens through Central America, in a social safety valve that will postpone the necessary transition on this island,” says Sánchez.

AN UPSIDE DOWN ECONOMY, BUT WITH FEWER SANCTIONS

Cuba, like many countries in the world, was severely hit in the economic field by the implicit restrictions during the pandemic. 

That, if you also take into account that it is an island that mainly captures income from tourist activity that slowed down during the lockdowns, makes perfect sense…

However, Cuba’s economic problem is one that will never end. 

One that, in a general way, is intrinsic to the political-economic model that has existed on the island for more than 6 decades: that of real socialism.

At the end of 2022, the Díaz-Canel regime admitted that there is galloping inflation on the island that has not been controlled.

In some always dubious figures, the economic ministry of the tyranny admitted in December that annual inflation on the island was around 40%. 

If one takes into account that the country has just experienced the worst collapse in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in decades after the pandemic, it could be ensured that the economic outlook to come is not encouraging.

However, the United States has begun to reduce and relax some sanctions in this area, in a clear policy of rapprochement promoted by Joe Biden to the Castro tyranny. 

For example, at the beginning of this week it was learned that the international company Western Union will begin sending remittances to the main banks in Cuba. 

They had been suspended since in 2020 former US President Donald Trump decided to veto these money transfers to the Spanish-American country.

Remittances, which between 2005 and 2020 are estimated to have constituted close to 6% of Cuba’s total GDP, may help cushion the crisis for many families during the year. 

Although they are a mechanism that by itself does not remedy in any way the crisis of a communist economic model that has been leaking on all four sides for a while.

In the field of United States sanctions towards the island, the bet is that the Biden Administration will gradually reduce the pressure, so in this sense, a greater degree of rapprochement of the US Government towards Cuba is expected in the current year. 

That, at least from the point of view of what is sought from the Democratic side, today in power.

THE RELEGITIMIZATION OF DÍAZ-CANEL

It may seem like a joke, but this year new elections are planned in Cuba. 

Some elections with a series of irregularities – which in short only constitute a mere procedure for the re-legitimization of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) in power – are expected to take place on March 26. 

That day something similar to a general election will be held in which the renewal of Parliament is called, which is the one who elects the President of the Republic.

From this process, unless an unexpected event occurs, the renewal of the mandate of the dictator Díaz-Canel will emerge for the beginning of a new five-year presidential term, in addition to the confirmation of the absolute control of the powers of the State by members or affiliated with the PCC.

*Venezuelan journalist (Central University of Venezuela) and Master in Political Science (Simón Bolívar University). He is currently doing his doctoral thesis in Political Science and hosts the radio show “Y Así Nos Va”, on Radio Caracas Radio.

With information from La Gaceta de la Iberosfera

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