Miércoles, 27 de Mayo de 2020
Última actualización: 17:28 CEST

The worst year under Raúl Castro

A screen with an image of Fidel Castro during the session of the National Assembly. (CUBADEBATE)

It is no secret that the sessions of the National Assembly of the People's Power are a mere formality. Documents are discussed and approved that have been "cooked up" by those in the upper echelons of power, no representative dares suggest an approach contravening the established script, and the votes are always unanimous.

However, this last session of the National Assembly was characterized by a particular pallor. It seemed that this time, in a way more evident than in the past, the conclave was undertaken as a burdensome chore.

The Standing Committees of the Parliament did not meet in the days prior to the session of the Assembly; there was no Plenum of the Party's Central Committee, for members to "coordinate" the views that they would express at the Assembly; and Mr. Marino Murillo did not even bother to report on progress with regards to the updating of the economic model. Also of note was the fact that the press did not report at the time – as had occurred in recent months ­– on the meeting of the Council of Ministers, held on Saturday, 24 December.

Actually, it is not difficult to identify at least one of the causes of the Government’s despondency: this time there were only calamities to report. Indeed, this 2016 was the worst year for the economy since Raúl Castro came to power. They had no choice but to recognize the dip in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and also had to admit that they failed to follow through on the export plan, and were unable to pay suppliers for many of the imports that the country had to bring in. 

And, as almost always happens in these cases, it was evident that the regime places the blame on certain shoulders. Among other culprits, they singled out the Ministries of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment (MINCEX), Agriculture (MINAGRI), and the Food Industry (MINAL).

Few would have wanted to be in the shoes of Rodrigo Malmierca, Minister of MINCEX, when the General-President expressed his dissatisfaction with the pace of foreign investment, due to excessive delays in the negotiating process on the Cuban side, and the prejudices that still exist against foreign investment. The situation is so alarming that the 2017 plan envisions only 6.5% of total investment proceeding from foreign investors. 

The aforementioned 2017 plan aims to import 82 million USD in food than the previous year. The reason for this additional outlay, a heavy burden given the precarious state of the country's external finances, is failures by the MINAGRI and MINAL to meet food production goals.

Incidentally, on Sunday, December 25 the newspaper Juventud Rebelde published a report in which it was announced that the MINAL's processing industry had been unable to handle all the mango harvested, such that much of that fruit had been wasted.

The truth is that at this session of the National Assembly the Minister of the Economy and Planning, Ricardo Cabrisas, used the term "critical situation" to refer to the state of the food industry on the Island. In this regard he suggested coming up with a medium-term program to turn the situation around. The days of María del Carmen Concepción – Carmita, as Raúl Castro tends to call her – as at the helm of the MINAL are numbered.

In the end, the apprehension could extend to all the members of the elite present at the meeting. Because, in addition to calling for an increase in exports, and continuing down the path of import substitution, the 2017 plan envisages reducing non-essential expenses to a bare minimum, such that even those nice little trips abroad could be cancelled.

And what about monetary unification? The subject was conspicuously absent from this session of the National Assembly.