Raul Castro's Speech to Cuban National Assembly: A Must-Read
'We need to clean our heads of all sorts of stupidity. Let's not forget, the first decade of the 21st Century has already passed. It's time." (my translation)
I never thought I'd describe myself as "excited" by a speech made by Raul Castro. Some would say Fidel could hold an audience captive (of course, he often did so simply by holding forth on topic after topic after topic), but Raul isn't exactly known as the gifted, charismatic orator. Yet, with his latest speech to the Cuban National Assembly this week, he's beginning to prove that his leadership style, too, can inspire confidence by speaking plainly and conveying conviction, compassion, and determination.
Before anyone accuses me of being too easy to please - and it's the Cuban people he has to please - let's remember that Cubans desperately need leaders who will cut the ideological crap and really tackle the truly pressing economic troubles they now face. (Sound familiar to anyone here in Washington?) I'd argue that that is exactly what Raul Castro appears to be doing.
"More than once I've said that our worst enemy is not imperialism, and least of all its paid agents here on native soil, but our own errors, which, if analyzed deeply and honestly, will become lessons to avoid repeating them." (my translation)
In the speech, Raul reflects on economic changes that have been made and those that are still ahead. And for those who have been exasperated at the slow pace of change over the last several years, or, for those who have been dragging their feet because the status quo benefits or comforts them, he offers both an explanation and a warning:
"We will be patient and at the same time persevere when faced with resistance to change, be it conscious or not. All bureaucratic resistance to the strict implementation of the agreements of the [VIth Party] Congress, which have overwhelming backing of the public, is futile." (my translation)
He goes on to note that he's never been a fan of pressured or abrupt changes. Rather, he much prefers to reason, convince, educate and add rather than sanction, but that every Cuban should be prepared to obey the new laws equally.
At the same time, he insists that Cuba will retain its socialist character and its political system (which will please some and disappoint others).
Two other points of interest: Castro relates the story of a woman who was penalized by her employers for her religious beliefs and practice. In repudiating the actions taken against her, Raul hopes to offer her "moral vindication." To the perpetrators he asks, "What would you have done with Frank Pais?" (Pais, a Cuban revolutionary whom Raul describes as noble and modest, was, Raul recalls, a religious man.) Raul's response to this incident - to publicly repudiate it - conveys a bigger-tent mentality that may help him win more popular support - support he's going to need over the coming months and years as people adjust to Cuba's own brand of low-intensity economic shock therapy.
Finally, Raul announces in his speech that the government is working to adjust its emigration policies. If I am not mistaken, this is the first time he has addressed the issue publicly, and I would argue that his raising it guarantees action really is coming (it's been rumored to be in the pipeline for a couple of years at least). For more background, Margarita Alarcon describes what the current policy entails. The likelihood is that the new policy will make it easier for Cubans to work and visit outside of Cuba without giving up residency. If this comes to pass it will certainly make it even harder for Cuban American hardliners in the U.S. to argue that Cuban emigrants are political exiles and need continued special status under the Cuban Adjustment Act.
In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see hardliners even begin to question how much the CAA really benefits their cause anymore. Certainly there was a time decades ago when Cubans coming to the U.S. were nearly all political exiles. And the CAA helped swell the ranks of anti-Castro exiles in America by letting any Cuban who arrived illegally to stay and giving them a path to citizenship after just one year in the U.S. (Try passing a law like that today in the U.S. Congress!) And those Cubans have tended to be more politically active in their new country. But now most Cubans arriving to the U.S. are less interested in politics - U.S. or Cuban - and more interested in maintaining what I've begun calling 'normal relations' with the island. It's not a question of diplomacy, it's a question of families, friends and livelihoods. And the harder the hardliners push against this normalization, the more they risk the newcomers finally getting political to protect their own interests. And increasingly, their interests aren't just in South Florida, they're in Cuba too.