CUBA: A SHORT-TERM POLITICAL FORECAST
CUBA: A SHORT-TERM POLITICAL FORECAST
RIA Novosti political commentator
José F. Sánchez
La Nueva Cuba
December 2, 2006
Making political forecasts is not unlike trying to predict the weather
or earthquakes-it is easier to guess what will happen in two years than
tomorrow morning, so I will not aspire to absolute precision. I am
merely reasoning on what is likely to happen to Cuba after Fidel Castro
vanishes from the political arena.
I left Havana a few days ago having listened to many Cubans’ private
opinions. Every forecast I heard was sufficiently grounded but, at the
same time, open to doubt. Indicatively, only one of my Cuban
acquaintances did not expect any big changes after Fidel quitting. “Raul
[Castro] has planted his army chums everywhere. Many hold key economic
posts. So we shall stay quiet and docile,” he said, half joking.
His words offer an interpretation contrasting to what he evidently
meant. To quote another forecaster, “Raul’s army buddies are sitting
pretty in corporations with overseas capital and foreign managers. They
saw at once which side their bread was buttered on, and are corrupt. So
instead of being the pillars of the present regime they could become the
United States’ fifth column. They may yet prove the White House’s
helpers-much more efficient than loud-mouthed Cuban immigrants in Miami.”
I found it hard to raise any objections to either opinion-after all, I
was a foreigner, and my informants both lived in Havana.
As I arranged all forecasts I had heard according to the degree of
plausibility, I came up with the following. Cuba is evidently ready for
change. It is equally clear that a transitional period will precede
far-reaching reforms, and Raul Castro will, most probably, come into the
limelight during that time. But then, he is an ailing old man, and does
not have his elder brother’s public support. I talked to many Cuban taxi
drivers, and almost all of them turned out to be ardent Fidelistas. No
one had a kind word to say about Raul Castro, who was their former
commander as Cuban defense minister-the majority of government-employed
Cuban taxi drivers are retired soldiers. My conclusion is then that
Cubans will not remain “quiet and docile” during the transitional
period, which can turn out to be much shorter than expected, and may
have unpleasant surprises in store for Raul Castro.
It is not hard to guess that, in the final analysis, the national
destiny will depend on people ranking second, third and even fourth in
the present-day Cuban political and military hierarchy . They will have
to meet pressing challenges presented by time, the United States and
their own people.
Cubans understand the challenge of time-they are a clever, enterprising
lot, and many of them have a knack for business. Just look at Cuban
immigrants in the United States. Unlike other Latin Americans, most of
them are firmly established in the host country’s middle class, though
theached its coast fairly recently with no possessions but the clothes
on their backs . There are people of Cuban origin in the U.S.
Administration and Congress. Next, the majority of Cubans are well
educated thanks to Fidel Castro’s domestic policy-another feature that
makes them different from the average Latin American. Cuban children
might be undernourished in Fidel’s time, but they are never short of books.
The challenges presented by the United States are no less evident to
Cubans. If we cast high-sounding words aside, we see its desire to make
Cuba a satellite, which it once was. There is only one difference.
Americans previously regarded Cuba as a luxury resort full of five-star
hotels, cabarets, casinos, and prostitutes. Now, it is no longer just a
high class tropical beach but a tasty morsel for big business, with
sizeable nickel deposits and recently prospected oilfields just a
stone’s throw from Miami. Nickel is essential for arms manufacture,
while gasoline is necessary for cars, every American’s favorite toy. So
there is every reason for the United States to stubbornly interfere in
Opposition to the U.S. is possibly the only thing that brings Cubans
together today. The U.S. Administration enhances their prejudice with
its irrational policies. “If Yankees were clever enough, they would long
have stifled us Cubans in their embrace. Instead, they have chosen to
demonstrate enmity to Havana. I think Fidel ought to thank the States
for that. Americans have been acting foolishly for several decades
now-under Republican and Democratic administrations alike,” a Cuban
acquaintance of mine ironically remarked. He is opposed to the regime,
The Cuban political elite of the approaching transitional period will
find it much harder to respond to the challenges that come from their
own nation. Poverty and lack of political freedoms, the worst problems
for today, are closely intertwined. Some Cuban officials dream of the
Chinese pattern re-enacted in Cuba, with the free market thriving under
intact political organization. That is sheer wishful thinking, with an
utterly different historical and geopolitical background plus the Latin
American temperament and many other factors .
Future Cuban leaders are facing a dilemma. On the one hand, the country
will never put an end to mass poverty unless it gets a full-fledged
market and unbridled private enterprise. Past and present government
social welfare programs are no cure-all. They merely help Cubans to keep
body and soul together. On the other hand, an open market and economic
liberty will inevitably crush the regime, considering the Cuban national
Fidel Castro coped with only one part of a twofold task posed by Jose
Marti, his ideological inspirer. He led his country to genuine
sovereignty but did not give it democracy. The pillars of democracy-free
elections, freedom of speech and the press, and a multi-partisan
system-are absent in Cuba. As I see Cuban patriotism, it should follow
Jose Marti’s behests to the end. Cubans deserve respect for, and
confidence in their choice. To make it a real free choice, the present
political system must go.
Things can take the worst possible turn, too. We cannot rule out the
option. As a political analyst was discussing Cuba’s prospects with me,
he said any country might make whatever U-turns on the road of
history-but it would inevitably come back to the way destined it by
supreme powers, whether you call them Providence or geopolitics. Cuba
has come through the temptations of industrialization, socialism and
others, and will eventually get back to its old ways on a new historical
stage, the analyst predicted, meaning the “beach version” of the economy
and dependence on its mighty northern neighbor. Not that it was the
expert’s cherished dream-rather he saw it as inevitable doom.
That, too, was a private opinion, and a very subjective one. Why, then,
should Cuba shrug off the benefits God gave it with a climate and
landscapes that make it paradise on earth? The tourist industry as a
generous source of revenues does not necessarily mean a return to the
vices for which pre-revolutionary Cuba was notorious.
The danger is close at hand, however. Even today, Cuba offers
holidaymakers more than just sunbathing and sightseeing. Many told me
about sex tourists from Italy and elsewhere. I talked to a Spanish
priest in a church in Havana. The padre appeared worried. “You cannot
imagine the extent to which it hurts Cubans’ feelings. Poverty is the
main reason for the thriving prostitution. No wonder a girl is happy to
find a room attendant’s job at ten dollars a month in the best of Havana
hotels-she looks forward to making some money on the side. She soon
begins to feel unhappy, and comes to confession in tears. Poverty is
degrading. We must put an end to it. Local authorities contentedly speak
about welfare programs-but no program will cure the ill,” he said. True,
prostitution is a problem in many countries, but that does not make the
priest’s words less true.
Conclusions come as follows. First, we can expect a transitional period
relatively soon in Cuba. Second, the Cuban economic future lies
certainly not with socialism but a free market in a socially oriented
state. Third, Cuba needs democracy. Jose Marti formulated the national
idea as anti-imperialism, firm sovereignty, fighting poverty, and a
democratic system that will treat the nation with due respect not in
word but in deed.
If Cuba is to peacefully shift to a new system, it should, to my mind,
totally reject two things-shock therapy on the liberal economic
prescription and foreign interference, as either will inevitably meet a
harsh response from the public: Cubans are accustomed to
anti-Americanism and a socially oriented economy.
We can name even today the closest allies of the future Cuba. Those are,
above all, Latin American countries that have embarked, or appear soon
to embark, on the road Bolivar and Marti chartered in their time-Brazil,
Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua. These are all capitalist countries
with a market economy, social-oriented statehood, and transition-period
democracy. The list may eventually extend or shrink but Cuba will
certainly join it.
Serious political and economic change is necessarily painful. If Cubans
are left alone to mind their own business, the reform overload will be
tolerable and the transition quick . After all, Cuba is nothing like
Russia or China.
Now, if foreign interference is strong and insistent, and Washington
doggedly tries to impose on Cuba what its people are certain to reject,
the same developments will take a much more tortuous and dramatic road.
Let us hope this does not happen.