"Working together for a free Cuba"




Cuba After Castro.

By Jaime Suchlicki

After Fidel Castro passes, the nation will likely remain a communist tyranny but may mellow--at least on the economic front--as China did after Mao.

As Fidel Castro celebrated his seventy-seventh birthday and 45 years in power, many wonder about the future of Cuba's revolution without the "maximum leader." Will the regime collapse after his death? Will succession be fast and easy or slow and difficult? Will the new leadership be willing to offer concessions to the United States in an attempt to normalize relations?

Other questions also remain unanswered: How can the leadership after Castro revivify Cuba's troubled domestic economy? What are the chances that the new rulers will be unable to exercise any major option at all? Will they fear upsetting the multilevel balance of interests upon which a new government will certainly depend? Clearly, the questions are easier asked than answered. Depiction of Cuba's immediate future without Castro is problematic because the conditions at the time of his demise and the cause of his passing are impossible to know. The key question, however, about post-Castro Cuba is not who its new rulers will be or what they would like to accomplish. It is whether the revolution as it exists now will survive the succession and transition from Castro's totalitarian paternalistic rule.


The possibility of regime continuity seems stronger for Cuba than it was for other communist states. Although their end came suddenly and swiftly, it took decades of decay to critically weaken the Eastern European regimes, and Soviet disengagement and acceptance were required to hasten their collapse. In Syria, North Korea, and Jordan, children of the former leaders took and retained power.

In Latin America, many noncommunist authoritarian regimes held out for decades despite external pressures and internal weakness--among them, Rafael Trujillo's regime in the Dominican Republic, the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua, Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile, and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Mexico. Despite profound financial and economic crises and the erosion of popular support, the PRI-based regimes remained sufficiently strong to stay in power for 70 years until defeated in the last elections.

The Castro regime is bound to draw lessons from the negative experiences of Eastern Europe and the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and to incorporate the lessons offered by the Chinese and Mexican experiences, particularly the Chinese. The higher echelon of Cuba's military has visited China in recent years and Chinese officials have reciprocated with numerous visits to Cuba. While these experiences are interesting and instructive, it is doubtful that Castro needs any foreign examples to influence his predilections on how to govern or to reinforce his dislike for democracy and the electoral process. He has done pretty well in maintaining his totalitarian control since 1959.

Witness the recent arrest and execution of political dissidents. Castro's violent crackdown is a clear indication of his concerns with succession and desire to leave a clean slate for the smooth assumption of power by his brother Raúl, head of the Cuban armed forces and second secretary of Cuba's Communist Party. Other recent measures have included the replacement of hundreds of Communist Party officials and the rehabilitation of Ramiro Valdés as a new member of the ruling Council of State. A former interior minister, Valdés is a dreaded figure in Cuba, remembered for his human-rights abuses and brutal repressive methods.

Castro has also been emphasizing greater ideological rigidity. The "Battle of Ideas," a program to imbue the masses with stronger anti-American feelings; the appointment of an old Marxist leader to run the Communist Party schools; and the clampdown on Internet access are further evidence that Cuba is undergoing a Chinese-type cultural revolution (albeit one slower and less dramatic than in China). In such a scenario, an aging leader insists on purifying and rejuvenating "his" exhausted revolution before departing from the world.

Yet the Castro era may be coming to an end, if for no other reason than biological realities. Castro is deteriorating physically. During a speech in mid-2001, he collapsed. His brief fainting spell, shown on Cuban TV, produced significant anxiety within the island and increased speculation about succession.


For the regime, the problem of succession is crucial. No totalitarian regime has been able to devise a smooth system of transition, and Castro's disappearance could touch off an internal power struggle. Most likely, however, this power struggle would take place within the revolutionary ranks rather than outside them. Despite Castro's overwhelming presence, it seems doubtful that the revolution would collapse were he to die or become incapacitated.

The stability of the regime is based primarily on the strength of its institutions. The armed forces are undoubtedly the most vital of the three "legs" on which the revolution stands. The other two, the Communist Party and the security apparatus, serve, under increased military supervision, to control, mobilize, socialize, and indoctrinate the population. The organization and strength of the bureaucracy that has grown up around these institutions seem to assure the revolution's continuity.

A revolt against Castro's rule in the absence of large-scale outside intervention seems unlikely, especially as long as the Cuban armed forces remain loyal to him and to their immediate commander in chief, Raúl. The continued loyalty of the armed forces appears highly likely. A Castro creation, they have developed a large measure of professionalism, are thoroughly integrated into the political system, and enjoy an important and trusted role in the general management and control of the economy. Today, more than 65 percent of major industries and enterprises are in the hands of current or former military officers.

Opposition and dissident groups and projects have developed in the recent past. The best known is the Varela Project, which gathered more than 11,000 signatures to petition the National Assembly to amend Cuba's laws and permit free elections. For the first time in more than four decades, large numbers of Cubans peacefully mobilized to petition the government.

Castro's response was swift and brutal. He held his own plebiscite to proclaim the permanent and unchanging communist nature of his regime and prohibit the National Assembly from considering such projects. This was followed by the arrest and sentencing to long jail terms of several dozen dissidents, journalists, and librarians, including many members of the Varela Project.

While opposition and unhappiness have been growing in Cuba, the dissident groups are weak and usually infiltrated by Cuban state security. Without access to the state-controlled media and constantly harassed by the police, these groups find it difficult to organize and operate. Many of their leaders have shown enormous courage in defying the regime. Yet, time and again, the security apparatus has discredited or destroyed them. At this time, they do not represent a major threat to the regime.


A possible, but not likely, scenario at this time could develop in which Castro may want to end his rule fighting the United States. An aging, sick leader facing a decaying and collapsing revolution and the prospect of civil war and violence that threaten his power could decide to provoke Washington. A Cuban military attack on the Guant namo Naval Base or south Florida would force the United States to react militarily, leading to massive destruction on the island and, perhaps, a U.S. military occupation.

This unlikely, and for many people unthinkable, G”tterdŠmmerung scenario should, however, be considered, given Castro's anti-Americanism, failing revolution, and historical mind-set. His earlier actions, such as his call upon the Soviets to launch a nuclear strike against the United States during the missile crisis in 1962, continuous massive buildup of reinforced underground tunnels throughout the island, development of a massive biotechnology industry--allegedly only for peaceful purposes--and numerous appeals to "Socialism or death," should give America serious concern. Castro has called in the past for Cuba to sink into the ocean before surrendering to U.S. imperialism.
An aging, sick leader facing a decaying and collapsing revolution and the prospect of civil war and violence that threaten his power could decide to provoke Washington.

At this time, the line of succession seems clear. If Fidel were to die or become incapacitated, Raúl Castro would succeed him as ruler. Most likely, Raúl would allow for a collective leadership, with himself remaining in command of the military and the party and for a civilian as president. The three most likely candidates are Ricardo Alarcón, president of the Popular Assembly; Carlos Lage, vice president in charge of the economy; and Marcos Portal, minister of industries, who married Raúl's niece.

Yet the notion that the younger brother will outlive the older could be flawed. Raúl is also in frail health and could die or become incapacitated before Fidel. Under this scenario, a collective leadership would emerge, with representatives of the party and the military in key positions but with the latter exercising greater influence.

But assuming that Raúl survives Fidel and takes power, he would face significant challenges. A bankrupt economy, popular unhappiness, and the need to maintain order and discipline in the population at large, as well as to increase productivity within the labor force, are some of the more pressing problems. Raúl would continue to be critically dependent on the military. Lacking the charisma and legitimacy of his brother, he would also need the support of key party leaders and technocrats within the government bureaucracy. He thus would likely create a framework for collective leadership controlled by the military. It is probable that after a period of consolidation and harsh repressive rule, this collective leadership would initiate limited and gradual economic reforms.


Perhaps the critical challenge for a Raúl Castro regime would be to balance the need to improve the economy and satisfy the needs of the population with maintaining continuous political control. Too rapid economic reforms may lead to an unraveling of political control, a fact feared by Raúl, the military, and other allies bent on remaining in power. Some overtures to the United States also seem possible after a time, especially if no major opposition develops on the island. While maintaining an anti-U.S. posture, a consolidated Raúl regime may welcome American tourists and limited U.S. trade and investments.

Castro's Island
Official Name: Republic of Cuba.
Capital: Havana.
Geography: Area: 42,800 square miles (about the size of Pennsylvania). Location: In the Caribbean Sea, westernmost of the West Indies. Neighbors: Bahamas and United States to north; Mexico to west; Haiti to east; Jamaica to south.
Topography: Cuba has about 2,500 miles of coastline. In the north, it is steep and rocky, while the south coast is low and marshy. It is mountainous in the southeast and south-central areas, and rolling hills and fertile valleys predominate elsewhere.
People: Population: 11 million. Ethnic groups: mulatto, 51 percent; white, 37 percent; black, 11 percent. Principal language: Spanish (official).
Religion: Roman Catholic, 85 percent, prior to Castro, whose regime encouraged atheism.
Education: Literacy: 96 percent.
Economy: Industries: sugar, oil, tobacco, chemicals, construction. Chief crops: sugarcane, tobacco, rice, coffee, citrus fruit. Minerals: cobalt, nickel, iron, copper, manganese, salt. Crude oil reserves: 0.3 billion barrels. Arable land: 24 percent. Per capita GDP: $1,700.

Government: Communist.

Under this slow and most likely succession scenario, limited political and economic changes would take place. While a significant number of U.S. citizens would visit Cuba if the U.S. travel ban were lifted, investments would be on a small scale. If the embargo were modified or ended, greater trade would develop as U.S. companies attempted to penetrate the Cuban market and stake a claim, as some Canadian and European firms have done.

Given Cuba's need for all types of products and consumer goods, the potential for trade is significant. Yet demand alone is not sufficient. Cuba must have the ability to pay for foreign goods and services. These resources will come initially from tourist dollars spent on the island. Eventually, Cuba must sell its products in the U.S. market. Large-scale trade will flourish only with massive U.S. tourism in Cuba and large-scale U.S. purchases of Cuban products.

Investments would be limited, however, given the lack of an extensive internal market, the uncertainties surrounding the long-term risk to foreign investment, an uncertain political situation, and the opportunities provided by other markets in Latin America and elsewhere. Modest initial investments would be directed primarily to exploiting Cuba's tourist, mining, and natural resource industries. Unless major reforms were to take place, it is unlikely that the U.S. government or corporations would be willing to plow significant investment funds into Cuba.

Under a faster and much less likely scenario, a government without either Fidel or Raul might open up the economy and encourage private, domestic, and foreign investments, as well as provide political change and respect for human rights. Laws would be introduced protecting foreign investments, negotiations might begin either to compensate or return to their original U.S. and Cuban owners companies and properties confiscated by the Castro regime in the 1960s; Cuban exiles would be welcomed to visit, invest in, and trade with Cuba. The U.S. government would lift the travel ban and end the embargo and would initiate foreign-aid programs to help the island's economic development.

Under this scenario, the Cuban economy would improve rapidly. U.S. tourism and investments could jump-start the economy and release Cuban entrepreneurial creativity and talent, long suppressed by the Castro government. Cuba would export to the United States not only its traditional products--sugar, rum, tobacco, nickel--but also other items such as vegetables, citrus fruits, fish and seafood, and biotechnology.


Under either a fast or slow transition scenario, however, any post-Castro government will face significant challenges and problems. There will be the awesome task of economic reconstruction. Cuba's extreme dependence on Soviet-bloc trade and the adaptation of its economy to an unnatural and immense subsidy inflow for nearly four decades created an artificial economy, which has disappeared. Cuba does not have a viable economy of its own. As nearly every category of imports keeps shrinking, a vicious cycle of poverty mercilessly grips the country.

Cuba has a weak internal market. Consumption is limited by a severe rationing system. Whatever transactions take place outside it are in the illegal black market, which operates with dollars and merchandise stolen from state enterprises or received from abroad. The Cuban peso has depreciated considerably, and its purchasing power has dropped. Huge and persistent government deficits and the absence of virtually any stabilizing fiscal and monetary policies have accelerated the downward economic spiral.
Cuba's severely damaged infrastructure is also in need of major rebuilding. The outdated electrical grid cannot supply the meager needs of consumers and industry; transportation services are woefully insufficient; communication facilities are obsolete; and sanitary and medical facilities have deteriorated so badly that contagious diseases of epidemic proportions constitute a real menace to the population.

Production of sugar, Cuba's mainstay export, has dropped to levels comparable to those of the Depression era, and prices of other Cuban commodities continue their downward trend in international markets. Sugar appears to be a losing commodity with dire future prospects.
In addition to these vexing economic realities, there will be also a maze of legal problems. Obviously, Cuban nationals, Cuban Americans, and foreigners whose properties were confiscated during the early years of the revolution will want to reclaim them or will ask for fair compensation as soon as this becomes feasible. Cubans living abroad await the opportunity to exercise their legal claims before Cuban courts. The Eastern European and Nicaraguan examples are good indications of the complexities, delays, and uncertainties accompanying the reclamation process.

Cuba's severely damaged infrastructure is also in need of major rebuilding. The outdated electrical grid cannot supply the meager needs of consumers and industry; transportation services are woefully insufficient; communication facilities are obsolete; and sanitary and medical facilities have deteriorated so badly that contagious diseases of epidemic proportions constitute a real menace to the population. Cuba's health system, once the showcase of the regime, has deteriorated significantly, especially after the end of Soviet subsidies. In addition, environmental concerns, such as pollution of bays and rivers, are in need of immediate attention.

Economic and legal problems are not, however, the only challenges in the nation's future. One critical problem that a post-Castro Cuba will have to deal with is the continuous power of the military. In the past, Cuba had a strong tradition of militarism. During recent years, the military, as an institution, has acquired unprecedented power. Under any conceivable scenario, the military will continue to be a key, decisive player.

Any immediate significant reduction of the military may be difficult, if not impossible. A powerful and proud institution, the armed forces would see any attempt to undermine their authority as an unacceptable intrusion into military affairs and a threat to their existence. Their control of key economic sectors under the Castro regime will make it more difficult in the future to dislodge them from these activities and limit their role to a strictly military one. Reducing the size of the armed forces will be problematic, too. The economy may not be able to absorb the unemployed members of the military, or the government may not be able to retrain them fast enough to occupy civilian positions.

The military role will also be affected by social conflicts that may emerge in a post-Castro period. For the first half-century of the Cuban republic, political violence was an important factor in society. A belief developed in the legitimacy of violence to effect political changes. This violence will probably reemerge with a vengeance in the future. Castro's communist rule has engendered profound hatred and resentments. Political vendettas will be rampant; differences over how to restructure society will be profound; factionalism in society and the political process will be common.


A free and restless labor movement will complicate matters for any future government. During the Castro era, the labor movement has remained docile and under continuous government control. Only one unified, Castro-controlled labor organization has been allowed. In a democratic Cuba, labor will not be a passive instrument of any government. Rival labor organizations will develop programs for labor vindication and demand better salaries and welfare for their members. A militant, vociferous, and difficult-to-manage labor movement will surely characterize post-Castro Cuba.

Similarly, the apparently harmonious race relations of the Castro era may collapse in a free society. There has been a gradual Africanization of the Cuban population over the past several decades. In part because of greater intermarriage, in part because of the out-migration of more than a million mostly white Cubans, there is a greater proportion of blacks and mulattoes in Cuba. This demographic shift has led to some fear and resentment among whites in the island. On the other hand, blacks feel that they have been left out of the political process, as whites still dominate the higher echelons of the Castro power structure. The dollarization of the economy has accentuated these differences, with blacks receiving fewer dollars from abroad. The potential exists for significant racial tension and even conflict, as these feelings and frustrations are aired in a democratic and free environment.
A whole generation has grown up under the constant exhortations and pressures of the communist leadership to work hard and sacrifice more for society. The young are alienated from the political process and are eager for a better life.

One difficult problem for a post-Castro leadership is that of acceptance of the law. Every day, Cubans violate communist laws: they steal from state enterprises and participate in the black market; they engage in all types of illegal activities, including widespread graft and corruption. They do this to survive. Eradication of such necessary vices of today will not be easy in the future, especially since many of these practices predate the Castro era.

The unwillingness of Cubans to obey laws will be matched by their unwillingness to sacrifice and endure the difficult years that will follow the end of communism. A whole generation has grown up under the constant exhortations and pressures of the communist leadership to work hard and sacrifice more for society. The young are alienated from the political process and are eager for a better life. Many want to migrate to the United States. If the present rate of request for visas at the U.S. consular office in Havana is any indication, more than two million Cubans want to move permanently to the United States.

Under a U.S.-Cuban normalization of relations, Cubans will be free to visit the United States. Many will come as tourists and stay as illegal immigrants. Others will be claimed as legal immigrants by their relatives who are already naturalized citizens of the United States. A significant out-migration from Cuba is certain, posing an added major problem for U.S. immigration authorities in particular and for U.S. policy in general at a time of increasing anti-immigration feelings and legislation and security concerns in the United States.

While many Cubans will want to leave Cuba, few Cuban Americans would abandon their life in the United States and return to the island, especially if Cuba experiences a slow and painful transition period. Although those exiles who are allowed to return will be welcomed initially as business partners and investors, they will be resented, especially as they become involved in domestic politics. Adjusting the views and values of the exile population to those of the island will be a difficult and lengthy process.

Cuba's future is therefore clouded with problems and uncertainties. More than four decades of communism will surely leave profound scars on Cuban society. As in Eastern Europe and Nicaragua, reconstruction may be slow, painful, and not totally successful.

Unlike these countries, Cuba has at least three unique advantages: proximity to, and a long tradition of close relations with, the United States; a major attractiveness to tourists; and a large and wealthy exile population. These three factors could converge to transform Cuba's economy, but only if the future leadership creates the necessary conditions: an open, legally fair economy and a free, tolerant, and responsible political system. Unfortunately, life in Cuba is likely to remain difficult and improve slowly.

Jaime Suchlicki, author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, is Emilio Bacardi Moreau Professor of History and International Studies and director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

Fuente:  www.worldandi.com