Who Speaks for the Cuban People?

Friday, March 1, 2013
By Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations:

Last week the Castro brothers announced the name of the man who, they said, will succeed Raul Castro when–or if–he retires at the end of the new five-year term as president to which he has just appointed himself.

The name is Miguel Diaz-Canel. He’s an apparatchik in the best Soviet style: thirty years in the Communist Party, starting with its youth groups. He’s not particularly well-known on or off the island, which may have recommended him to the Castros: previous heirs apparent sometimes got too big for their britches and had to be dumped. Of course, Canel may be dumped too, at any moment. He has no power base, and no apparent close ties with the Army and security services–who will be critical once the Castros are dead. The day Raul or Fidel is tired of him will be the day his “elevation” is undone. It will be interesting to see whether, in his new post as vice president, Canel is handed any real responsibilities by the Castros. This much is clear: nothing this man has ever done in his life suggests he believes in freedom, democracy, or human rights–or the Castros would never have selected him.

Meanwhile another Cuban is in the news: Yoani Sanchez.  She has achieved international recognition as a young (37 years old) blogger whose blog, Generation Y, is followed in 17 languages.

Here’s what President Obama had to say to Yoani in 2009:

"Congratulations on receiving the Maria Moore Cabot Prize award from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for coverage of Latin America that furthers inter-American understanding. You richly deserve the award. I was disappointed you were denied the ability to travel to receive the award in person.

Your blog provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba. It is telling that the Internet has provided you and other courageous Cuban bloggers with an outlet to express yourself so freely, and I applaud your collective efforts to empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology. The government and people of the United States join all of you in looking forward to the day all Cubans can freely express themselves in public without fear and without reprisals."

Recently Yoani was permitted to travel, and after a visit to Brazil is now in the Czech Republic. She is thhankling the Czech government for its support of human rights in Cuba. She will also be coming to America on this trip.

Yoani has posted a comment on the Diaz-Canel selection, and here it is:

"The designation of the number two man in the Cuban nomenklatura has probably been more commented on and discussed outside the Island than inside. In part because for several months the national media has already been suggesting — with constant allusions to this 52-year-old engineer — that he could become the successor to Fidel Castro. So few were surprised when the former Minister of Higher Education became, as of Sunday, yesterday, the “dauphin” of the Cuban regime. Their biological clock has the octogenarians governing the Greater Antilles at a crossroads: either establish the inheritance now or forever lose the chance seems to be dictating the hands of history. So the line of succession has been left to a much younger figure. They have based their choice on their confidence in the fidelity and manageability of Diaz-Canel, trapped between a commitment to his superiors and a conviction of how limited his real power is.

History shows us that the behavior of these dauphins while they are being observed by their bosses is one thing, and something else entirely when those bosses are no longer around. Only then will we discover who the real man is who yesterday became number two in Cuba. However, I have hopes that the fate of our country will not be decided by this Council of State, nor by this presidential chair. I have hopes that the era of the olive-green monarchs, their heirs and their entourage is ending."