Just this March, The Economist published “Cuba: Revolution in Retreat”, a report on the island’s “journey toward capitalism” since Raúl Castro’s election to the National Assembly presidency in 2008. As Cuban officials enact “a slow but irreversible dismantling of communism”, the question of whether politics or economics will fire the engines of reform seems increasingly dated. The question for now is whether the steady creep of economic liberalization will necessarily drive political change.
Two recent pieces address some obstacles to reform by examining state responses to Cuba’s post-Special Period nouveau riche. The first, in The Economist of May 19, discusses the arrests of senior managers accused of using under-the-table bonuses to supplement their employees’ state salaries of about $20 per month. The second, in the June 14 edition of Spain’s El País under the byline of Generación Y blogger Yoani Sánchez, highlights the rising frequency of Interior Ministry raids on the homes of construction bosses, importers and hotel executives suspected of corruption. In both cases, the arrests are conducted by the Departamento Técnico de Investigación. They are enabled by its caravans of minibuses bound for the Villa Marista, a Ministry prison where, according to officials, “everybody sings”.
By and large, the targets of the raids are too young to claim the de facto legal immunity enjoyed by participants in the early triumphs of the 1959 Revolution. As Sánchez points out, “(t)o have taken part in the fighting in the Sierra Maestra, or in the first days of the revolutionary process, is now the best insurance against ending up in jail.” Sanchéz argues that the Raúlistas are continuing a longstanding habit of linking age to political loyalty. As of this moment, economic liberalization may seem an unlikely engine of political reform. But for how long?