The End Of The Cycle For Two Caudillos
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 12 June 2017 — His mother died, his
brother emigrated and now no one brings flowers to the tomb of one of
those many young Cubans who lost their lives on the African plains. His
death served to build the authoritarian regime of José Eduardo dos
Santos in Angola, a caudillo who, since 1979, has held in his fist a
nation of enormous resources and few freedoms.
At 74, Dos Santos knows the end is near. His health has deteriorated in
recent months and he has announced that he will withdraw from politics
in 2018, the same year that Raul Castro will leave the presidency of the
Cuba. Both intend to leave their succession firmly in place, to protect
their respective clans and to avoid ending up in court.
For decades, the two leaders have supported each other in international
forums and maintained close co-operation. They are united by their
history of collaboration – with more than 300,000 Cubans deployed in
Angolan territory during the civil war, financed and armed by the Soviet
Union – but also connected by their antidemocratic approach.
Longevity in their positions is another of the commonalities between
Castro and Dos Santos.
The Angolan, nicknamed Zedu, is an “illustrious” member of the club of
African caudillos who continue to cling to power. A group that includes
men like the disgraceful Robert Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe for 37
years, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has governed for almost 38
years Equatorial Guinea.
Their counterpart on the Island surpasses them, having spent almost six
decades in the control room of the Plaza of the Revolution Square, as a
minister of the Armed Forces or, following his brother’s illness, as
president. Neither Zedu nor Castro tolerate political opposition and
both have fiercely suppressed any dissent.
Angolans also live amidst the omnipresence of the royal family. On the
banknotes, the face of Dos Santos shares space with that of Agostinho
Neto, and in political propaganda he is represented as the savior of the
country. One of the many tricks of populist systems, but very far from
What has really happened is that the family and the African president’s
closest allies have made colossal fortunes. The largest oil exports in
Africa today have fueled this oligarchy, which, ironically, was built on
the efforts of thousands of Cubans who left their lives or sanity in
Isabel dos Santos, nicknamed by her compatriots the Princess, has wasted
no time in taking advantage of the prerogatives that her father grants
her. Forbes magazine calls her the richest woman in Africa, with a
fortune of around 3.1 billion dollars, and last year she was named head
of the state-owned oil company Sonangol, the country’s most important
economic pillar. She also controls the phone company, Unitel.
She resembles Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela in her taste for giving
statements to the foreign media and presenting herself as someone who
has achieved everything “by her own efforts.” She projects an image of a
modern and cosmopolitan businesswoman, but all her businesses prosper
thanks to the privileges she enjoys as the daughter of her father.
Her brother, José Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, also economically
advantaged, sits at the head of the Angolan sovereign fund that manages
5 billion dollars. An emulator of Alejandro Castro Espín, whom many
credit for the impressive voracity that has led the Cuban military to
seize sectors such as hotel management.
However, Zedu has preferred to choose a puppet as heir to the post of
president and head of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola
(MPLA): Angola’s Defense Minister, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço. A
figure who will be the public face while the true dauphins try to
continue sucking dry – like voracious leeches – the resources of a
country that is not experiencing good times.
Gonçalves Lourenço is seen as a moderate, as is his emulator in Cuba,
first vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canal. Men who will try to give a
face-lift to personality-centered systems to silence the voices of those
who assert that the “historical generation” does not want to abandon
power. Neither has been chosen for his abilities, but rather for his
reliability and meekness.
Gonzalves arrived in Havana in mid-May with a message from President Dos
Santos to Raul Castro. In Angola, 4,000 Cubans work in sectors such as
healthcare, education, sports, agriculture, science and technology,
energy and mines. It is one of the countries that most appeals to the
Island’s professionals for the personal economic advantages that serving
on an “internationalist mission” there affords them.
Gonzalves’ trip, of course, also included a commitment to continue to
support the Island, perhaps with some promise of credit or oil aid to
ease Cuba’s currently complicated situation. Most likely the heir to the
throne came to tell the aging monarch not to worry, that Angola will
continue to count itself among its allies. They are words that could be
blown away in the wind before the uncertain future that awaits both
For years the Angolan regime benefited from significant foreign
investment and high oil prices, the main source of income. However, the
fall in the value of crude oil in the international market has
complicated the day-to-day situation of citizens subject to economic
cuts, a rise in the cost of living and a decline in public investment.
The discontent is palpable.
On the Island, not a week goes by without an obituary reminding us of
the reality that the “historical” generation is dying off. The brakes
are about to be applied to the thaw with the United States, and the
mammoth state apparatus isn’t about to adapt itself to the new times.
The double standard, corruption and diversion of resources undermines
Neither Castro nor Dos Santos will leave power in the context they
dreamed of. One falls ill, after having negated in practice his
ideological roots, and senses that history will destroy his supposed
legacy. The other loses control over Venezuela, that mine of resources
that prolonged the life of Castroism. His worst nightmare is that young
Cubans care more about Game of Thrones than the revolutionary epic.
Source: The End Of The Cycle For Two Caudillos – Translating Cuba –