Raúl Castro stops as party leader in Cuba, but remains powerful behind the scenes

As expected, at the congress of the Cuban Communist Party, Ra̼l Castro announced his departure as party leader. According to 89-year-old Ra̼l Рthe brother of the deceased former President Fidel Рit is time to pass on power to a younger generation.

But does this mean the end of Castro‘s reign? After the death of Fidel Castro in late 2016, Yuribert Capetillo Hardy made the VPRO documentary Cuba after Castro. “Actually, the title is wrong, because Castro’s regime lives on,” he says. “As long as Raúl is alive, he‘s the boss.”

That’s what correspondent Marc Bessems thinks. “Raúl will keep a lot of power behind the scenes. He‘s been preparing for retirement for years. The new generation that is about to take over, he himself has appointed and prepared.”

Capetillo Hardy grew up in the Cuban capital Havana and wanted to leave the country at a young age. “With a TV antenna, we could see American commercials. I saw all sorts of chocolate commercials, like Kit-Kat’s. We didn‘t know that. My goal then was to eat Kit-Kat.”

Economy collapsed

At 17, he left for the Netherlands. According to Capetillo Hardy, little has changed in Cuba since then. And the American sanctions and the coronapandemic have worsened the situation on the island, as tourists are staying away.

“ And that tourism is the engine of the Cuban economy,” says correspondent Bessems. “The regime itself has admitted that the economy has shrunk by 11 percent, so they’re really having a hard time.”

That‘s what the family of Capetillo Hardy notices. “The government has opened shops all over the country, where you can buy anything at very high prices. It’s a kind of supermarket with bread, cheese and ham,” he says. But you only enter the store if you pay with the MLC: Moneda Libremente Convertible. A new currency created to stop trade in dollars and euro on the black market.

“ I send my father money so he can buy food. But he can‘t withdraw that money,” says Capetillo Hardy. “He can only spend it with his debit card in such a store where they only accept the MLC.”

The economic crisis does not prevent the Communist Party from talking about reforms during the Congress. A number of agricultural reforms have already been announced this week. For example, under certain conditions, you can now slaughter a cow and sell the meat.

“ Almost everything in Cuba is state property, so also a cow,” says Bessems. “If you want to sell the meat, it’s not so easy. Those rules have eased them a little now. Farmers can now sell cow meat under all kinds of conditions. It‘s just a small step.”

Yuribert Capetillo Hardy’s father is happy with that little step. “They hope to keep the Cubans happy again for the time being and that will succeed”.

Cuba is the first Latin American country to develop up to five vaccines to get out of the coronacrisis. Two of them are now in the final phase. The regime thinks it will soon be able to start vaccination.

According to correspondent Marc Bessems, the Cubans hope to get tourism started again. “There is already talk about vaccine tourism, so you can book a holiday to Havana and get a free shot from the Cubans. It is also some good news from Cuba. That small Cuba, as one of the few countries in the region, can make such a vaccine.”

‘System forces you to survive’

But Yuribert Capetillo Hardy is skeptical. “It‘s very dramatic. Cuba has a good propaganda machine and it’s easy for the rest of the world to get into it. Meanwhile, my father and grandfather have no medicine and no food. People don‘t deserve anything. It’s survival every day,” he says emotionally. “Cubans have no room to think about the future. The system forces you to survive every day, so you can‘t look to the future.”

Capetillo Hardy sees the future of his native land gloomy. “I was watching a movie about World War II the other day. I watched a lot of young people die. I suddenly cried because I was thinking about Cuba. The hope for freedom. I’ve seen so many people die with that hope.”