“Cuba is going through the worst crisis it has experienced in decades, with widespread shortages of food and medicines, rolling blackouts and a sky-high 400% annual inflation rate. The calls on the communist leadership to open up the economy to the market are getting loud, even from close political allies.”
“But deep divisions at the top of the regime regarding how much freedom to give the new private sector, compounded by a leadership vacuum, are creating paralysis and keeping the country from adopting broader market reforms.”
“Among the people most opposed to any change that smacks of capitalism are hardliners who have the most invested in the regime that has ruled Cuba since 1959: Men in their 90s, with deep roots in the Revolution and historic ties to Castro, who still serve in high-profile positions and who enjoy a standard of living vastly superior to the average Cuban. They resist market reforms, seeing them as a betrayal of Marxist ideology and a challenge to continuing authoritarian rule.”
“Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban diplomat who lives in Cuba [and who participated in] an event organized by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University in October, said, “The country’s top leadership is made up of people who have very dogmatic views of reality and are very attached to certain things from the past. A closed ideological vision prevails in many sectors, in people from the old guard like Ramiro Valdés or in new people like Díaz-Canel.” He also criticized the island’s “immense Cuban bureaucracy that enjoys much discretionary power in implementing changes.”
This point was echoed by John Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a New York group monitoring business with Cuba, who has three decades of experience dealing with Cuban government officials. He said, “bureaucrats have become more reluctant to take risks since there is uncertainty about who is really in charge.” They are “either frightened or untrusting, and certainly not risk-takers.”
Observers say that there are at least the following centers of power in Cuba:
- “The administrative branch of the government, including Díaz-Canel, Prime Minister Marrero, the Council of Ministers, the individual ministries and big state-owned companies.
- The Communist Party, “the superior leading political force of society and the State,” according to the country’s 2019 Constitution.
- GAESA, a vast business conglomerate run by the military, which runs most of the island’s economy, especially the tourism industry.
- The military itself, which manages other industries outside GAESA and has developed close relations with the Russian and Chinese military, and whose generals and other top current and former officials hold leadership positions across the government.
- The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, the state security apparatus, and intelligence and counterintelligence agencies. The intelligence services have the most to fear from a transition to a market economy that could bring demands for regime change.”
The military is believed by many to have the upper hand. “They exert notable influence not just by commanding the armed forces and security agencies but also through GAESA, whose finances are believed to be untouchable, even by the Ministry of the Economy. The generals have seats in all the major decision-making bodies, including the Communist Party’s Politburo, the Central Committee and the Council of Ministers. The country’s prime minister, Marrero, is a former army colonel who later served as tourism minister. Ultimately, the military may see the private sector as an unwelcome competitor.”
“Government officials, generals and Communist Party leaders have heavily courted traditional allies like Russia, China and Belarus, hoping for a lifeline to keep the economy afloat without giving more space to capitalism. That strategy worked well for Fidel Castro, who struck a deal with Soviet leaders in the early days of the Revolution that resulted in billions of dollars in subsidies during the Cold War.”
“’There seems to be a sort of paralysis and a lack of clear hierarchy in the decision-making process that has grown worse in the last couple of years,’ said a source who has interacted with the island’s authorities over the years to help American companies do business with Cuba and who asked to remain anonymous to speak about meetings with Cuban officials. ‘What was once a fairly clear power hierarchy is now sort of a patchwork, and it’s a guessing game as to why a proposal is getting denied and who is making this decision. And that’s a fundamental change.’”
Some people involved in the private sector “believe Díaz-Canel understands the need to expand the private sector. But he lacks the power to push reforms, despite his position at the top of the Communist Party.”
 Torres, As Cuba’s economy craters and private businesses grow, here’s what’s holding up change, Miami Herald (Dec. 5, 2023).