Prostitution in Cuba
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    Visions from Two Theories
    A place to put musings and other materials about:
    How and why people's space-time-action orientations (STA)affect their
    How and why four major forms of organization — tribes, hierarchical
    institutions, markets, and networks (TIMN) —
    affect social evolution.

    — a TIMN perspective


    "…assuming that the post-Fidel regime endures,
    the model it prefers next may be a mild kind of fascism
    rather than a potential liberal democracy…"

    By Dr. David Ronfeldt
    Two Theories Blogspot
    Armando F. Mastrapa
    Vice Chairman
    Board of Directors
    La Nueva Cuba
    July 26, 2009

    I haven't worked on Cuban issues for over ten years. But I still discuss
    Cuba and Castro with former co-authors. And I perked up when I saw that
    the Obama administration was offering to hold new talks with Cuban
    officials. I also recalled that I had once drafted a few paragraphs
    about Cuba's system and Castro's worldview from a TIMN perspective. As a
    result, I've gone and revisited my old notes, done a bit of new reading,
    and written the following little essay.

    It may seem rather hard on the Castro regime and Fidel's views, but that
    is not my main intent. I think Cuba is an interesting case for
    illuminating some theoretical principles that may be important for
    building the TIMN framework and understanding its implications for how
    to achieve social evolution. Fidel represents violations and departures
    from many of those principles:

    Castro is about centralization and control, whereas TIMN is also about
    decentralization and decontrol.

    Castro is about the fusion of two forms (T and I) and the rejection of a
    third (M). TIMN is about the balanced, separated, regulated growth of
    each and all forms.

    Castro is about the bright sides of two forms (T and I) and only the
    dark side of the third (M). TIMN involves recognizing that all the forms
    have both bright and dark sides — and dealing with them.

    I plan to be clear about all that and more in a new theoretical post
    before long. For now, I mention it as background for showing where I'm
    headed — and to hope that this post is of interest to readers other than
    maybe a few Castro/Cuba specialists.

    * * * * *

    One aim of the TIMN framework is to provide clarity as to why systems
    like Cuba's are so limited — in fact, self-limiting. The framework also
    shows how to think about Cuba's future from an evolutionary standpoint.

    Briefly stated: In the name of revolution, Fidel Castro committed a
    strategic error of devolutionary proportions. He rejected developing
    Cuba in T+I+M directions, and fell back to construct a hyper T+I system.
    If this could have served to prepare Cuba for an eventual new transition
    to a +M system, the outlook for post-Castro Cuba might be promising. But
    his regime's practices have not assured that Cuba will get a +M
    transition right, even though it is the inevitable next phase.
    Meanwhile, +N forces are even more suborned and restricted, especially
    among civil-society NGOs.

    The current hoopla about U.S.–Cuban relations provides an opportunity
    for elaborating on this theme.

    The current policy juncture

    It is sensible for the Obama administration to alter U.S. policy in
    order to increase information and communications flows to Cuba, as it
    did in a recent memorandum. We — Cuba expert Edward Gonzalez and I —
    have long advised going in this direction:

    [T]he present policy should be sustained but augmented with a parallel
    policy to increase information flows and build communication bridges to
    Cuba. . . This seems to be the best prescription for continuing to deal
    with a Fidel Castro who cannot change with the times, while preparing
    for a post-Castro Cuba that is bound to go through profound changes,
    requiring yet another U.S. policy. (Gonzalez and Ronfeldt, 1992, p. xii)
    We recognized early on that the information revolution does not
    necessarily favor democratic forces, and that authoritarian systems can
    exploit it too. The Cuban regime will continue to do its utmost to guard
    and manipulate Internet access and other telecommunications.
    Nonetheless, expanded information flows and communications links should
    help strengthen some civil-society elements in Cuba, and provide U.S.
    policy with some benefits in the event of an opening-up or a major
    crisis on the island.

    At the same time, it is sensible for the Obama administration to
    maintain the U.S. economic embargo, pending further developments. Simply
    lifting it remains inadvisable; conditions are still such that doing so
    would reward and strengthen the Castro regime and its hardliners, more
    than it would free up the Cuban people or induce evolution toward a +M
    system. Indeed, the recent expansions of Canadian, European, and other
    countries' economic relations and commercial ventures in Cuba provide no
    confirmation that such expansions will induce democratic change, a
    market economy, or increased respect for human rights in Cuba.

    Better to wait, maneuver, and negotiate a while before easing the
    embargo. Perhaps it is archaic, and perhaps it imposes only marginal
    constraints on the regime's intentions and capabilities. After all,
    Castro's own policy choices have placed the major constraints on Cuba's
    potential for economic growth. Yet, lifting the embargo will be such a
    big deal, with so many ramifications, that it should be linked to when
    Cuba finally opts to exit its evolutionary cul-de-sac and turn in +M

    Cuba in TIMN perspective: past, present, and future

    In the decades before Castro, Cuba represented a flawed, halting,
    muddled effort to evolve a democratic T+I+M society. Cuba's political
    system was supposed to be based on political parties and democratic
    elections. But by the early 1950s, the government was again in the hands
    of a dictatorship, backed by the military (and U.S. government) and
    fraught with cronyism. Meanwhile, the economy appeared to be based on
    the capitalist market system. But in fact, it was rigged to favor
    corrupt government officials and oligarchic families. Moreover, it was
    dominated by foreign-owned sugar mills and gambling casinos.

    Indeed, these foreign-owned enterprises often did more to reinforce
    local T+I practices that reflected Cuba's colonial heritage, than to
    help instill a true +M system. As often happens in Latin America, Cuba
    had a kind of distorted, corrupt, oligarchic, crony capitalism that was
    not leading to an open, fair market system. Nor was it doing much to
    spread wealth and strengthen democracy.

    Thus, when Fidel Castro seized power, he had plenty of grievances and
    distortions to deal with. He also had an opportunity to direct the Cuban
    Revolution to foster a liberal, democratic T+I+M society — and initially
    it looked as though he and the revolution's moderate leaders might do
    so. But instead, in the name of what he claimed were forward-looking
    communist ideals, Castro reverted Cuba's government, economy, and
    society back to a T+I system — and of a type that was more centralized
    and fused than ever. He installed a totalitarian single-party
    government, eliminated the private sector, suborned the cultural (T)
    realm to the state, and used his charisma to arouse a fervent,
    worshipful nationalism. Nothing — no TIMN realm or any individual —
    would be allowed to develop on its own. He demanded tribal solidarity
    and institutional solidity. He said this would end poverty and inequity,
    foster immense growth, and assure a home-grown culture, while also
    enabling Cuba to eradicate foreign influence and resist U.S. imperialism.

    Thus, it is often said, Castro chose communism over democracy. My own
    view, at this point, is that he never really faced such a choice; his
    choice was mainly between fascism (a type of fused T+I+M system that he
    had long admired) or communism (an I-centric system). He opted for the
    latter partly because, from a TIMN perspective, he knew how to promote a
    nationalistic tribalism (T) and hierarchical institutions (+I), but not
    how to develop and rule over the kind of market system and private
    sector (+M) that fascism involves. Besides, he had a patron — the Soviet
    Union — to underwrite his turn to communism and his ambition to become a
    major actor on the world stage, the superclient of a superpower.

    Fidel represents a supreme contemporary expression of the fusion of T+I
    ideals and principles. Accordingly, he has believed that if people would
    just behave like one big family under his chieftaincy, then everything
    would work fine. He did not see that the organizational forms on which
    his ideals rested — the tribal and institutional forms — have
    performance capabilities that are self-limiting, especially with regard
    to economic growth. Indeed, Cuba's low level of development today
    reflects the inherent incapacity of T+I designs to promote and manage
    increasing levels of economic complexity. As with the feudal and
    absolutist systems of long ago, as well as recent Soviet systems based
    on central planning and social exhortation, this design can produce a
    strong, aggressive state and military, but not an advanced,
    multi-purpose economy and society.

    By seeing only capitalism's dark side, Fidel not only rejected adding
    the market form to Cuba's capabilities, he also ignored that all four
    TIMN forms have both bright and dark sides. It is already becoming
    evident that his T+I regime is far from clean of the clannish cronyism,
    nepotism, arbitrariness, venality, crime and corruption that often
    infest the obscure echelons of such regimes. Meanwhile, the degeneration
    (or at least, stagnation) of Cuba's economy and society is causing a
    return of many of the vices and distortions that Fidel denounced in the
    1950s — e.g., prostitution, apartheid tourism. Is he blind to this? Or
    does he, through a self-serving logic, secretly want vices and
    distortions to return if Cuba abandons communism for capitalism?

    Led by Raul Castro and the military, some regime elites realized years
    ago — especially after Soviet subsidies ended, and consumer shortages
    mounted — that the island's inefficient, malfunctioning economy required
    reform. They initially supposed, in line with Fidel's exaltation of
    institutional ideals, that all they had to do was "modernize" the
    regime's administrative systems; surely then the economy and its state
    enterprises would finally work well. But administrative modernization
    did not succeed in revitalizing the economy, and some reformists
    recognized anew a need to experiment with selected +M practices.

    Shifting to a market system was not an option, given Fidel's antipathy
    to capitalism. Yet, selected liberalizing measures have been allowed
    since the 1990s, with his reluctant approval. These include peasant
    markets for foodstuffs; small, mostly home-based businesses
    (microenterprises) for restaurants, repair services, room rentals, and
    taxis; and large hotels and resorts for tourism that operate as joint
    enterprises with foreign investors.

    All are productive, to a degree. But all exist under tight restrictions
    — most microenterprises can employ only family members, the resorts
    amount to tourism enclaves where most ordinary Cubans cannot go, and
    Cubans must submit to a dual-currency system. Moreover, all these
    enterprises must serve the state; their purpose is to strengthen
    institutions, not individuals. Indeed, the joint enterprises operate as
    army franchises — favored officers are assigned to run them, earning
    good salaries.

    Meanwhile, Cuba has long had trade deals with foreign companies, lately
    expanded to include U.S. agricultural companies. These provide Cuba with
    access to world markets, but without marketizing its internal economy.
    (The U.S. embargo has constrained but never blocked Cuba's access to
    non-U.S. markets and companies.)

    The result is an anomalous political economy that remains statist —
    socialist if not communist — with allowances for limited market-like
    endeavors in a few selected areas. Some Cuban leaders may sense the
    limitations, if not obsolescence, of this T+I (or T+I+m?) system and
    desire further liberalization. Some may prefer to move to a kind of
    market socialism, even a market socialist economy like China's or
    Vietnam's where key sectors and enterprises remain in state hands but
    the economic system as a whole is becoming +M. But Fidel is determined
    to sustain his fused, collectivist, centrally-run T+I regime as the only
    true and trustworthy expression of the Cuban Revolution. There will be
    no +M for Cuba's evolution on his watch.

    U.S. policy and strategy: able to induce Cuba's evolution to +M?

    From a TIMN perspective — my view of it, anyway — a challenge for U.S.
    policy and strategy is to ameliorate Cuba's hard-line T+I behaviors
    while nudging its evolution toward a +M system.

    Washington has endeavored to do that for decades (though not in TIMN
    terms, of course), and nothing it has done has worked well. Some
    measures have proven worthwhile for specific goals (e.g., to enable
    remittances to needy family members). But Fidel has remained resolute;
    his worldview has not budged. For him, Cuba already represents the
    vanguard of social evolution. He does not understand or believe in +M
    (not to mention +N). Moreover, no cracks or other weaknesses have arisen
    in his regime that might open doors for promoting economic or any other
    kind of liberalization.

    Today, Cuba does not pose a military threat to U.S interests, by itself
    or as an ally of a foreign power. Nor does it pose a criminal threat,
    though the island could serve as a base for some transnational smuggling
    operations. It is also doubtful that Cuba is offering much support to
    insurgent or terrorist movements anywhere. Thus, with Cuba's external
    threat potential lower than ever and its internal economic needs higher
    than ever, the environment is riper than ever for calling into question
    the centerpiece of U.S. policy: the economic embargo.

    I have no desire to review all the pros and cons, ins and outs, of U.S.
    policy or alternative options for dealing with Castro's Cuba or
    preparing for a post-Castro Cuba. Others have done that. But I do want
    to comment on notions that relate to TIMN.

    Idealistic notions are sprouting anew — here and here, for example —
    that ending the embargo would ameliorate Cuba's hard-line T+I behaviors
    and induce +M effects: Thus, it is said, lifting the embargo would
    deprive the regime of an anti-American rationale — a scapegoat — for
    maintaining its tyranny and explaining away Cuba's economic woes. It
    would generate maneuvering room for reformers who want political and
    social as well as economic liberalization. It would encourage
    free-market reforms, and a more open, pluralistic civil society.

    Yet, there is no evidence — only speculation — that ending the embargo
    unilaterally would have such positive effects under current
    circumstances. More likely, it would reinforce Fidel's sense that he is
    winning and provide him with extra resources and rationales for staying
    his course. And there is evidence for this contrary prospect.

    The infusion of foreign investments and tourists from Canada, Europe,
    and elsewhere since the mid-1990s, by providing new income for the
    regime, actually enabled Fidel to slow or reverse the modest
    liberalizations he had grudgingly permitted in order to ease the
    economic shortages following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Little
    new liberalization has occurred since then. Moreover, European
    governments that have increased their trade and investment with Cuba
    have been rebuffed when they have pressed for even modest shifts in the
    regime's human-rights behavior.

    And then there's this recent development: Fidel is aged and ailing, and
    he has passed the mantle of rule to his brother, Raul. But the way he
    barked back at Obama's overtures for talks with Raul last month confirm
    that Fidel still has a grip on Cuba's direction and is not about to
    alter course because of any shift in U.S. policy.

    In a bit of a contrast to the idealistic views about lifting the
    embargo, a more nuanced, pragmatic U.S. view has surfaced in a U.S.
    congressional staff trip report. It recognizes that lifting the embargo
    may not have grand effects, but supposes it may be advisable to
    countenance anyway. In this view, the Cuban regime is so
    institutionalized and accepted among the Cuban people that it will
    probably endure without democratizing, even if the embargo were to be
    lifted. Yet, Washington should begin to hold talks about specific
    matters of mutual interest. The prospect of eventually lifting the
    embargo might give us some bargaining leverage. Besides, it would please
    U.S. commercial interests who stand to benefit from new trade and
    investment opportunities. It may also gratify some U.S. political sectors.

    I have less to say about this pragmatic view. I see no reason to object
    to talking with Cubans along the lines the report suggests, for it makes
    few claims about inducing change in Cuba and some of its points (e.g.,
    about improving the U.S. image abroad) have little to do with TIMN. But
    the report still contains a notion, partly modulated, that the prospect
    of easing the embargo may give U.S. officials leverage for negotiating
    some economic and political liberalization, through a process of
    "sequenced engagement."

    Again, this notion of leverage seems illusory. It is doubtful that the
    current regime would negotiate any kind of liberalization in exchange
    for easing the embargo. And easing it for any reason while Fidel still
    holds sway would mainly reinforce his and his fidelista cohorts' efforts
    to preserve his T+I system, while preventing a transition to +M.

    That said, the report's proposal for increased dialogue with Cuban
    officials is a good idea. So is it's proposal for a bipartisan U.S.
    commission to forge a future U.S. policy and strategy (echoing a 2007
    proposal by Ed Gonzalez). The two initiatives could lay groundwork for
    an eventual propitious situation when Cuba may decide, on its own and in
    its own ways, that evolving in +M directions is advisable.

    In sum, Fidel Castro remains committed to a theory of social evolution
    that is fundamentally erroneous. He is not entirely wrong to rail
    against the evils of capitalism — it can have detrimental effects, and
    what's happening in the United States today provides new evidence. But
    by failing to see that the market system is essential for continued
    social evolution, and by not figuring out how to make it apply in a
    balanced, positive way in Cuba — even so that it deserves a name other
    than capitalism — he keeps Cuba's potential arrested in an evolutionary
    cul-de-sac of his own fabrication.

    Eventually a breakout will occur. Odds are, a multitude of U.S. actors
    will then rush ahead with their usual patterns about promoting democracy
    and freedom, including free enterprise. But if the objective is to see
    Cuba turn into a balanced T+I+M system, new kinds of advice and
    assistance may be needed. The United States has policies and strategies
    for promoting capitalism — basically saying, open your markets, and we
    will come. But do we really have adequate policies and strategies for
    building a properly free, fair market system? I gather not, for that's
    never been as major a goal as promoting capitalism. It's time to
    rethink. Otherwise, assuming that the post-Fidel regime endures, the
    model it prefers next may be a mild kind of fascism rather than a
    potential liberal democracy.

    [Many thanks to Ed Gonzalez for sharing his knowledge and providing
    edits on an earlier draft.]

    (STA) People's space-time-action orientations.

    (TIMN) The Four major forms of organization — tribes, hierarchical
    institutions, markets, and networks.

    * David Ronfeldt Professional status: retired. Fields: first 20 years,
    U.S.-Latin American security issues (esp. Mexico, Cuba); last 15 years,
    worldwide implications of the information revolution (cyberocracy,
    cyberwar, netwar, swarming, noopolitik, the nexus-state). Goals: finish
    "STA" framework about how people think and act; finish "TIMN" framework
    about social evolution (past, present, future). Publications: mostly
    online at and

    LA NUEVA CUBA (26 July 2009)

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