Populism and Demagoguery in Baracoa
Cuba may be the only country in the world where its inhabitants, after losing their homes, furniture, electrical equipment, clothing, medicine, food and water, due to the destruction wrought by a giant hurricane, are "happy" because their leader pays them a visit. Not hopeful, comforted, or excited, but "happy."
This, at least according to Granma, the propaganda instrument of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). After Raúl Castro visited the city of Baracoa, catastrophically destroyed by Hurricane Matthew, the "Decision of the Revolutionary Government" (whatever that means) was made public to finance, from the state budget, 50% of the costs of costs of materials to rebuild or repair homes destroyed totally or partially by the storm.
But at the prices the Government sells building materials, even when reduced by 50% they will still make unconscionable sums, and for products of dubious quality. Does the regime finance Cubans, or have Cubans been financing the "Revolutionary Government" for more than half a century?
Those who cannot afford to pay for materials in cash (the case of many Baracoa residents) will be able to receive low-interest loans to purchase them, but the problem persists. With the meager wages paid by the "revolutionary Government," how long will the victims need in order to repay the loans, even with no interest?
Those who cannot aspire to obtain loans will need to apply for full or partial rebates or subsidies, to be drawn from the State budget. This does not even guarantee that they will be granted, but at least they will be able to harbor this hope for a time.
Supposedly what has been designed for the towns damaged in the province of Guantánamo is based on the experiences of Santiago de Cuba in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. What Castro's press does not reveal, but what everyone knows, is that there are still unrepaired homes in that city, their inhabitants reduced to living in shelters, and that corruption, diversions of funds, theft and blackmail abound after four years of demagoguery and State paternalism, without resolving the victims' most pressing problems.
There those who think that in situations of disaster conditions are ripe for spontaneous popular uprisings. But Castroism knows that just the opposite is the case: those who have lost everything do not think about rebelling, but surviving; and they know that the Government is their only option to get initial help, even it is scant and poor. They are not going to risk losing even more by backing any vague, diffuse or uncertain ventures.
So, the populism rages on. Raúl Castro appeared to tour Baracoa in a "marathon of love and trust in the Revolution," as Granma stated in its corny headline. State Security had taken the necessary contingency measures to keep anything from happening, and his bodyguards surrounded him, and not very discreetly.
Then came the inevitable touches. While groups (supporters?) shouted praise for the Castro brothers and the Revolution, someone exclaimed to the general: "We are happy to have you here with us." Again, it is not that they were hopeful, comforted, or excited, but happy. A peculiar concept of happiness, this.
But Raúl Castro pointed to things that were daunting, entailing vital work for the city: the almost 300-meter bridge over the Toa River, which links Baracoa with Holguin, collapsed. In the same place he said: "We will have to cure all these wounds." But, so that nobody got their hopes up, he stressed: "It’s going to take a while." Something like doing it slowly but surely. A resident told him that "the Revolution will never forsake us," to which Raúl Castro replied: "never." But, in reality, they are already forsaken.
He did differ in one way from Fidel Castro: when one of the people shouted "thank you for your visit," Raúl Castro said, "No, thank you, for your fortitude." Although his answer was only out of courtesy and protocol, the elder Castro never would have said it, as he considers himself above everyone and everything, and believes that we should all thank him for having deigned to "descend to the level of the people."
Interestingly, Raúl Castro is demonstrating something, slowly. He was always considered an intellectually mediocre and uncharismatic yes man dwelling in the shadow of his older brother. But he has done no worse than the Commander – even though that would be hard. Nor has he destroyed the country with the viciousness and persistence with which Castro I did. And he has achieved things that, despite his reputation as a brilliant statesman and intelligent person, his brother never did.
This is not to congratulate Raúl Castro for his work, or his complicity with his older brother. But we must recognize that he is demonstrating a capacity to exploit populism and demagoguery almost as well as his brother, and sometimes even better.