Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel “Takes the Stage”

Screenshot from the Mesa Redonda program.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel “Takes the Stage”

25 / octubre / 2023

On October 16, 2023, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel made his latest statements on the TV show Mesa Redonda, with the most meticulous mise-en-scene. Orchestrated and polished by the Cuban presidency’s communication team, the interview’s main purpose was to establish a narrative that would justify the precarious social situation in the country.

Government spokeswoman Arleen Rodriguez Derivet formulated the questions in a way that had more to do with public relations management than journalism.  

The conversation planted the idea, in a very obvious way, that Diaz-Canel had a very tight work schedule because he is a “hard-working and revolutionary leader who is aware of what is happening in the country and is dedicating all of his energy to working for his country.” 

The conversation included the classic empty slogans and calls for trust and hope, without any relevant information about how the Government thinks it can resolve the national crisis. 

One of Rodriguez Derivet’s main questions was whether Diaz-Canel considered himself a president with bad luck, because many devastating events have taken place under his term in office (the tornado that hit Havana in 2019, the fire at the Super Tanker Base in Matanzas in 2022 and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic).

However, Diaz-Canel believes that it is rather a matter of how to deal with adversity and extreme situations, while dabbling with the propaganda that “setbacks can become a victory.”

That’s how this play kicked off.

Act 1: “There was going to be inflation without economic reforms”

The ongoing economic crisis that Cuba has been suffering has led to a spike in inflation, which has reached record levels. According to estimates from the Cuban Observatory of Currency and Finances (OMFi), inflation on the island is over 400%. 

Figures today are a lot higher than those recorded in Cuban economic history. The highest level in the past was an annual rate of 183% back in 1993, during the Special Period crisis.

According to many, the Economic Reforms process (that began in December 2020, while the battered Cuban economy was being hit by COVID-19) is one of the reasons for the critical situation today. 

“There is no perfect time to implement Economic Reforms (…). We were under maximum pressure and the economy was being stifled to bring about the Revolution’s collapse, including the US blockade, foreign subversion and a slander campaign full of hate to discredit everything we are doing,” Diaz-Canel said. 

According to the leader, “the economy worked better in the first semester of 2019, but it got worse with the coercive measures imposed by former US president Donald Trump” and Cuba later being added to the state sponsors of terrorism list. 

Diaz-Canel was quick to disconnect the implementation of Economic Reforms from out-of-control inflation in the country: “Why is there inflation all over the world and no economic reforms have been implemented? Because there was less supply than demand, that’s it.”

Even though the Economic Reforms originally foresaw prices increasing, incomes were to grow much more. However, currency reunification failed and inflation continued to increase, year after year.

Diaz-Canel mentioned harsh external conditions over and over again, to justify his chaotic administration. He said that “the world still hasn’t recovered from the pandemic,” just like Cuba. 

However, an analysis by economist Pavel Vidal for IPS Cuba, points out that ever since the fourth semester of 2020, the aggregate GDP of small Latin American economies is 5% off prepandemic production levels; Cuba’s is still 9% off. “Latin American economies have been exceeding prepandemic production levels since the third semester of 2021,” the expert said.

The digitalization of payment systems was another issue that Rodriguez Derivet brought up. In this regard, Diaz-Canel admitted that it was executed at a time of cash shortages and argued: “without digital payment systems, we’d have even less liquid funds.”

One of the shortcomings he recognized was the need to expand the exchange market. Nevertheless, he explained that the little foreign currency that enters the country is to buy fuel “that isn’t enough”, in installments, so they can guarantee the sale of food rations and other supplies that are necessary to support the population. 

Act 2: “MSMEs formed under the Revolution”

In regard to the controversial issue of micro, small and medium private businesses (MSMEs) Rodriguez said that some people interpret the economy opening up to different management methods to be a neoliberal measure.

“I think it’s quite offensive to say that MSMEs are a manifestation of neoliberalism. It’s especially hurtful for people like me, who profess a certainty for building socialism based on the utmost social justice possible,” Diaz-Canel said in this regard. He also recalled that the creation of MSMEs was a measure stipulated within the Guidelines for the Communist Party and Revolution’s Economic and Social Policies.

“Who are in the MSMEs? Are they Cuba’s enemies? Are they not Cubans? Are they not people who have been educated within our Revolution? Are they counterrevolutionaries? Are they against the Revolution? Do they want to overthrow the Revolution?” the President asked.

Nonetheless, he recognized that there have been certain “digressions” in how some MSMEs are working (for example, high prices). According to him, the solution is to perfect relationships between different economic actors and to have clear, precise and coherent rules that don’t allow for perversions. 

Act 3: “The exodus”

Since late 2021, Cuba is experiencing the worst migration crisis in its history. According to statistics from the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), 224,607 Cubans entered the U.S. illegally in the 2022 fiscal year. US authorities announced that over 45,000 Cubans had reached the US under parole programs (humanitarian parole) between January and August 2023.

In recent weeks, Cuba’s migrant flow to the US has surged and 12,697 Cuban migrants arrived in August alone. This represents an increase of approximately 70% more than the total number in July, and is over double the number of cases reported in January 2023.

Diaz-Canel tried to wave off the importance of this serious landscape and said that it is a “cyclical phenomenon triggered by the US. “In regard to the emigration of mostly young Cubans, professionals, and women of child-bearing age, he said it’s true, but that we also need to talk about “the Cubans who stay.” 

“There doesn’t need to be a break with Cubans who leave the country, in fact, lots of them are interested in having projects in Cuba so the country can make progress. Others are filled with hate, and I believe that some of this hate comes from them failing to recognize their failure, because many don’t find the American dream and find themselves with worse social security than they had here in Cuba,” he claimed.

Act 4: Travel the world and negotiate?

During the interview, Diaz-Canel said that he prioritizes visits to Cuban provinces and being in touch with the population. However, he has spent one out of every seven days outside the country since November 1, 2022 through August 2023. The frequency of his trips abroad have been the subject of many citizens’ doubts. 

The President justified himself and said that his trips were a way to prevent the country’s isolation and to facilitate important negotiations that have ended in signing pacts and concrete investment and trade agreements; which unfortunately can’t always be made public, he explained. He also said that Cuba leading the G77 group of nations means he has numerous commitments that also force him to travel.

Nevertheless, he said “government trips continue, despite the current crisis. Up until a few days ago, for example, Manuel Marrero and Inse Maria Chapman were in Baracoa and Maisi, on a return trip, of course.”

As for his latest trip to New York, Diaz-Canel referred to private interviews that he had and said that they were to clarify doubts about Cuba’s situation to figures interested in Cuban reality. He said that he managed to gain understanding, admiration and awareness about the challenges Cuba is facing, so as to remove it from the state sponsors of terrorism list.  

In terms of Cuba being reelected for the UN Commission on Human Rights, which activists and international organizations have called into question given the island’s track record of repression and human rights violations, Diaz-Canel highlighted the feat and said it showed solidarity with Cuba.

As the interview went on, Miguel Diaz-Canel repeated the importance of “meetings” […] as a way to address and resolve the challenges Cuba faces. He also said that there is a commitment on behalf of public servants to systematically inform the population about affairs they are responsible for and to report back, not only during the tough times. 

Ironically, the announcement came just a few days after the National Assembly of People’s Power announced that report-back assemblies by municipal representatives to constituents will be postponed until 2024. 

This article was translated into English from the original in Spanish.

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