A Month Without Machado Ventura
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 March 2017 — Just a month ago his
face disappeared from the Cuban government's family photo. The last time
he was seen, Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura handed out orders
in an extensive agricultural area of Pinar del Río. Four weeks later,
no official media has offered an explanation for the absence of the
second most powerful man on the island.
Now 86, this man born in Villa Clara's San Antonio de las Vueltas, has
stood behind Raul Castro for more than five years, in his position as
the second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), which the
Constitution of the Republic consecrates as the "the highest leading
force of society and the State."
The man who was never absent from our television screens and newspaper
pages for more than 48 hours has failed to appear since 27 February. An
absence that feeds rumors among a people accustomed to giving more
importance to a lack of news than to the news itself. But above all, it
is a disappearance that comes at a bad time for the Plaza of the Revolution.
It is less than a year before Raúl Castro leaves his office as president
and every day the uncertainty of who will relieve him in his post
increases. Machado Ventura's departure from the game would force the
hurried naming of a second secretary of the PCC and put a face to one of
the most jealously guarded mysteries of recent years.
The next few weeks could be of momentous importance for clearing up this
question. If the first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, assumes the
second position in the Party it will prolong the tradition of
concentrating in a single person the highest positions in the
country. To choose among other names, such as Bruno Rodríguez, Lázaro
Expósito or Salvador Valdés Mesa, could open a bicephalic route,
unprecedented in communist regimes.
For decades, all power was concentrated in Fidel Castro, who placed his
brother in the rearguard of his countless positions. In 2006, already
with serious health problems, the Maximum Leader had to step away from
public life and Raúl Castro inherited that conglomerate of faculties
that placed him at the head of the Party and the State.
Nevertheless, during the Raul era "second positions" have
bifurcated. The first vice-president is no longer the same person as the
second secretary of the PPC, among other reasons so that no one person
could completely replace the General-President. A measure of protection,
but also an evidence of the lack of confidence of the historical
generation in its relief team.
In this new structure, Machado Ventura remained second in the
Party. Machadito, as his friends call him, has cultivated a public image
as the ayatollah and custodian of ideological purity. An orthodoxy that
in the Cuban case does not cling to the dogmas of Marxism-Leninism but
to the voluntarist* doctrine of Fidelismo.
Analysts blame this iron-fisted goalkeeper's presence at the top of the
pyramid on Fidel Castro's express wish, placing him behind his brother
to prevent the latter from veering from the path. This is how a man who
once qualified in medicine became, according to Soviet terminology in
the times of perestroika, the "braking mechanism" on the reforms Raul
Castro might have pushed.
Machado Ventura earned his reputation for immobility through
prohibitions and punishments. He was in charge of leading the provincial
assemblies prior to the last Communist Party Congresses, confabs where
the principle agreements were hatched, the delegates chosen and where
the key points of the Party Guidelines that today are the "sacred
commandments" of Raulismo were committed to.
However, that role seems to have come to its end. The man who ordered
the dismissal of high-level cadres and for decades banned Christmas
trees in public establishments has left the scene. Missing with him are
his harangues calling for efficiency and his visits to workplaces where
he advocated greater discipline and sacrifice.
It remains possible that Machadito – the guardian of orthodoxy – will
reappear at any moment like the phoenix, and leap between the furrows to
explain to farmers how to plant sweet potatoes or arrive to instruct
the engineers of some industry how to make better use of their
resources. The followers of the hard line would receive that return with
Translator's note: Voluntarism is the view that revolutionaries can
change society by means of will, irrespective of economic conditions.
Source: David Priestland, Stalinism and the Politics of Mobilization.
Source: A Month Without Machado Ventura – Translating Cuba -