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It’s the question on which hangs Cuba’s wobbly relationship with the United States and the hopes of the Cuban people for a better day: Is Miguel Díaz-Canel, heir apparent to the Castro brothers, a reformer or a hardliner?
A videotape of a meeting in February between the Cuban vice president and members of the Communist Party — long before a tough-talking President Donald Trump unveiled his new Cuba policy in Miami — seems to answer that question.
His badmouthing the United States in a too familiar rant doesn’t bode well for the future. Nor do the revelations that he intends to crack down on private enterprise, the developing independent media, and dissident activity, however harmless.
“We owe nothing in return” for better relations, Díaz-Canel concluded after evoking the Bay of Pigs invasion and the U.S. embargo, and depicting the Cuban regime — which he conveniently calls “Cuba,” as if he spoke for the entire island — as the Saint of the Caribbean. In his view, enslaving the Cuban people under an unwavering dictatorship for six decades is nothing and doesn’t merit sanctions.
The 57-year-old Díaz-Canel sounds like, and acts, like another geriatric troglodyte.
Maybe Díaz-Canel’s Cuba “owes nothing” to the USA — but it sure does to the Cuban people.
It owes them the space to learn what it’s like to be a free human being, not one confined to the wishes of the patriarchal Cuban state that dictates everything from cradle to grave, punishing and persecuting for the slightest divergence from dogma.
It owes Cubans a decent living, like the one they had so enthusiastically set out to provide for themselves under the opportunities that came with the 2014 U.S. opening and the embryonic economic reforms under Raúl Castro that allowed some entrepreneurship to flourish.
From tile to soap-making to home-based eateries, these small enterprises began to take root all over the island. Not without its shortcomings, but it was something, a start. But even the seed of success is something the controlling state and Díaz-Canel fear. Better to keep people down, barely surviving, and use the state’s power to give and take away to keep them in check. It’s hard to want to play in the arena of ideas and politics when you spend your day trying to figure out how to feed your family in a stagnant state-controlled economy. Your only possibility of reward is to be a loyal Communist so the state throws at you crumbs from the spoils of tourism to Commie Disneyland.
No, Díaz-Canel is far from being a reformer, or any better than the Castros.
Thanks to the wonders of video, we now understand why the regime recently staged a new crackdown on the popular paladares in Havana, invoking euphemistic “irregularities,” and announced that it wasn’t issuing new licenses for new businesses or home rentals.
We also know that the vice president who is supposed to replace Castro in 2018 is even angry at dissidents who call themselves the “loyal opposition” — social democrats who aren’t identified as counterrevolutionaries and don’t confront the dogma of the Cuban Revolution. And foreign media, bloggers, and embassies, beware. He’s got you in his rearview mirror. Censorship is no problem for him, he boasts.
The heir apparent to the dictatorship thinks all of this entrepreneurship and joyful display of friendship toward the United States is “an American design” to achieve “the political and economic conquest” of Cuba. Maybe he’s talking about the invasion of flip-flop wearing American tourists funding the Cuban military. But not even brazen and embattled President Trump has lofty conquistador ambitions, only to plant his name on a tower and a golf course.
This show of bravado is Díaz-Canel’s caudillo complex rising, the Fidelito that lives inside him caught on video.