Raúl Castro gave Yoani Sánchez a passport. I personalize this anecdote because the Cuban government is only a reflection of Castros will, nothing more. For more than half a century, whatever the Castro brothers wish and decide is done on the island. Nobody clarified anything about the long list of regulated Cubans who cannot leave the country.
For example, they denied a passport to Rosa María Payá, daughter of Oswaldo, the Christian Democratic leader who died in a highway accident recently. The Castros own the herd. They can do with their subjects whatever they want.
However, it seems obvious that Raúl Castro wishes to make some changes. Why? Because he is aware of the horrendous disaster caused by the revolution. Unlike Fidel, he is not blinded by ideological fantasies. He is more practical. He keeps his feet on the ground. Naturally, he is no better than his brother. Fidel murdered or ordered murders because of political calculations. Raúl killed because it was a revolutionary chore. It was he believed his sanguinary duty.
Why dont the reforms advance? A very objective explanation comes from economist Carmelo Mesa Lago, dean of Cuban studies, in an excellent book titled Cuba in the Era of Raúl Castro, published in Spain.
The structural reforms, which are more complex and crucial, have not been clearly successful so far, he writes, mostly because of restraints and lack of incentives (some of which have been softened by later adjustments) and also by flaws in the design and depth of the changes.
The updating of the economic model, where central planning and state-run business predominate, is bogged down by 52 years of similar and failed efforts.
According to the book, Cuba has had 10 economic cycles and numerous reforms, which have invariably been halted and reversed by Fidels obsession with control, collectivism and dogmatic vision. This time, its no different. Raúl governs, true, but Fidels shadow hovers over the changes and impedes them.
When Raúl tells visitors in his office that some people oppose the changes so he must act very gradually to overcome those objections, hes using a lame euphemism. Some people is Fidel Castro. In Cuba, there is nobody with the authority or britches to halt or oppose anything, except for the old and very deteriorated Comandante.
Its the opposite. Among the ruling class there is the same feeling of failure and frustration that boggles Raúl. If the general-president, faced with the evidence that hes totally useless, were to admit tomorrow that the whole absurd mess has to be dismantled, the applause would deafen him.
But his intellectual and emotional subordination to Fidel is absolute. He governs to please his brother, even though he realizes hes making a mistake. The speech Raúl gave in Chile during the CELAC meeting, where he referred to Fidel as his chief, is a painful demonstration of that sick relationship. That speech encapsulates all the secular anti-American and anti-economic idiocies that keep Cuba in misery and Cubans dreaming about fleeing their nightmare.
Whats odd is that one of Raúl Castros objectives is to reestablish and normalize Cubas relations with the United States, yet he knows that thats impossible if he doesnt create a real political opening.
As President Obama explained to journalist José Díaz-Balart of the Telemundo network, before he can consider a radical change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, Castro has to release the prisoners, accept the free press and the right to free association. Thats the minimum.
Its all right for Yoani to get her passport but thats not enough. From Washingtons viewpoint, the Cuban dictatorship must renounce its worst features. Its very interesting that 70-year-old American cars are still rolling on the streets of Havana, but it is tragic that the poor country is still governed by the spirit and rules of that era. So sayeth Obama.