Sunday, April 22, 2018

The presidential speeches

If you were looking for a roadmap to his presidency, a differentiation of style or emphasis or direction, you probably found the inaugural speech by President Diaz Canel disappointing.

He used the occasion to set a tone and to mark the moment. He delivered a message of continuity and expressed reverence for the Revolution’s elders (those seated around him and those departed), or the “historical generation” as they call it. To hammer home the continuity point, he addressed those who “by ignorance or bad faith doubt the commitment of generations that today assume new responsibilities,” and followed with a paragraph that paraphrases a famous Fidel Castro declaration about the meanings of “revolution” (a “sense of the historical moment,” “to change all that must be changed,” etc.) 

By way of assurance, or to acknowledge the Party’s constitutional role, he said that “knowing public sentiment,” he affirms that Raul Castro, “as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, will lead the most important decisions about the present and future of the nation.”

There was also perhaps a hint about coalition-building: “We must exercise leadership and management that is ever more collective.”

In his speech, Raul took a different approach and made more news.

He said the constitution will be amended – a complete redraft, it appears, to “reform” it “according to the transformations that have occurred in the political, economic, and social order.” Top officials will be limited to two five-year terms in office, and this will apply to Diaz Canel. The work will begin in the July session of the National Assembly and the new document will be submitted to a referendum.

He said Diaz Canel will replace him as party chief in 2021 – “It has been planned this way,” he said – and by serving ten years in that post, Diaz Canel will have three years overlap with his successor. (All this provided that he “works well” and is re-elected to his party and government posts, Raul added.) As for Raul himself, he will then be “one more soldier” defending the Revolution.

He said that in an apparent break from normal procedure, the naming of the new cabinet (council of ministers) will be be postponed until the July National Assembly session, at the suggestion of Diaz Canel.

He joked that Diaz Canel is the “sole survivor” of his generation, alluding to the ousted Lage, Perez Roque, etc.

Issue by issue, he reaffirmed his commitment to economic reform and admitted a failure of  “social communication about the changes that have been introduced.” Regarding private entrepreneurship, he said: “We have not renounced the pursuit of expansion of trabajo por cuenta propia” in part because it allows the state to shed “the management of activities not of strategic value for the country’s development.”

Off script, he digressed about Cuba’s war of independence and the U.S. role in it, from the defeat of the Spanish fleet at Santiago to the United States’ treatment of Cuba upon Spain’s surrender. If you have never understood why Raul and his fellow revolutionaries consider 1959 the date when Cuba’s true independence was fully achieved, it’s a good primer.

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