The Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2018
Cuba Gets a Castro Convertible
A prize for the Ladies in White is bigger news than Diáz-Canel.
By The Editorial Board
Eighty-six-year-old Raúl Castro grabbed headlines last week when he ceded the title of president to 58-year-old civilian Miguel Diáz-Canel. Too bad this change at the top is nominal when it comes to freedom for the Cuban people.
Mr. Diáz-Canel is well-known for his rapid rise through the Communist Party to become the youngest member of the Politburo in 2003. He didn’t do it as an independent thinker. Cubans have every reason to believe him when he says, as he did in his acceptance speech, that he is committed to preserving a police state. If Mr. Diáz-Canel wants to keep his job and privileges, human rights won’t be on his agenda.
Raúl still leads the Communist Party and has kept the two most powerful regime positions under his control. Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, his son, runs counterintelligence for the Interior Ministry that controls the secret police. Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, Raúl’s former son-in-law, is top dog at GAESA, the military’s holding company that owns the tourism industry, the shipping company, the airline, construction companies, auto imports and sales, the real-estate business, the banks and control of container traffic at the Port of Mariel. Ramiro Valdés, a regime enforcer, still sits on the Council of State, Cuba’s highest government body.
Last week’s public show of Mr. Diáz-Canel reminds us when Fidel Castro showed up at The Wall Street Journal in New York in 1995 wearing a suit and tie. Having lost Soviet backing, Fidel needed money and was trying to convince the world to invest on his island slave plantation. When Hugo Chávez took power in Venezuela a few years later, the Castros got a new source of financing. It was back to military fatigues.
Now Havana’s crime family has again run out of other peoples’ money. Its largest sources of hard currency are the doctors and nurses who live in poverty while Cuba “rents” them to countries around the world. Yet even this multibillion-dollar human trafficking isn’t enough to support the broken Cuban economy.
President Trump has reined in some of Barack Obama’s executive orders that made it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. But the regime’s bigger problem is that investors who kick the tires on the Castro jalopy increasingly walk away. There are plenty of opportunities in emerging markets these days, and the smart money doesn’t want gangsters for partners.
Promises of greater economic freedom for Cubans have never materialized. Small businesses can operate as long as they are subsistence operations. But they can’t hire and the regime has again cracked down on permitting lest it lose control. Cuba’s poverty suggests something has to change. But liberalization is not in the interests of the Castro family or the military. And they’re still in charge
In better Cuban news, the Cato Institute has awarded its annual Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty to Cuba’s Ladies in White. These are the women who gather each Sunday to attend Catholic Mass at churches around the country and then march to bring attention to political prisoners. They deserve more media recognition in the U.S. than does the phony transfer of power to Mr. Diáz-Canel.
Appeared in the April 23, 2018, print edition.