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    Pyotr Romanov
    RIA Novosti political commentator
    José F. Sánchez
    Bureau Chief
    Research Dept.
    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
    Cuban affairs.

    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,
    mind you.

    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.


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