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    Posted on Tuesday, 05.15.12

    Foreign Policy: Preparing for Life after Castro

    Early this month, a senior Cuban official raised the possibility of

    loosening travel restrictions, potentially making it far easier for

    Cuban citizens to travel abroad as tourists. So far, little is known

    about the details of the policy Havana has in mind. But the flurry of

    interest stirred by this news reminds us that change in Cuba can

    potentially have far-reaching strategic and political implications, for

    its own people as well as for the regions that surround it.

    There is a great deal that can be done in advance to prepare for the day

    when the post-Castro transition begins. The Cuba Transition Project

    (CTP) at the University of Miami, created in 2001 with the support of

    the U.S. Agency for International Development, has become a major

    authority on Cuban affairs. The project has released major studies on

    transition by both academics and experts, as well as a variety of other

    reports on topics such as political parties, labor unions, a free press

    and economic reform. (The works cited in this article have all been

    produced under CTP auspices.)

    In the early 1990s, many people expected the communist regime in Cuba to

    collapse. Those of us who followed the situation closely knew better,

    and subsequent events have borne out our caution. The post-Castro

    transition will indeed come one day, but when it does, it promises to be

    a long and complicated process.

    The challenges are many. First, there will be the tremendous task of

    economic reconstruction. For nearly four decades, Cuba's extreme

    dependence on the Soviet bloc for trade, and the distorting effects of

    huge subsidies from Moscow, created an artificial economy. Most of

    Cuba's exports are in decline, and poverty is correspondingly growing.

    The internal market is weak, as domestic consumption is controlled by a

    strict and severe rationing system. Many transactions take place in the

    black market, which operates in American dollars and with merchandise

    stolen from state enterprises or received from abroad. The Cuban peso

    has depreciated, and its purchasing power has waned considerably. Huge

    and persistent government deficits, and the absence of virtually any

    stabilizing fiscal and monetary policies, have accelerated the downward

    spiraling of the economy.

    Moreover, sugar production, Cuba's mainstay export, has dropped to Great

    Depression levels. With low prices, a decline in sugar consumption

    worldwide, an increase in the number of competitive sugar producers, and

    widespread use of artificial sweeteners, sugar is a losing commodity

    with dire prospects for the future. Thus tourism, nickel exports, and

    even exile remittances have replaced sugar as the mainstay of the

    economy. Oil exploration in Cuba's northwestern waters seems promising,

    but profits must be shared with foreign partners, and costs are

    extremely high.

    In addition to these vexing economic realities, there will be also a

    maze of legal problems, particularly concerning foreign investment and

    the status of assets acquired during the Castro era. 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.

    The U.S. and other countries whose citizens' assets were seized without

    compensation are likely to support such demands. Cubans living abroad

    await the opportunity to exercise their legal claims before Cuban

    courts. The Eastern European and Nicaraguan examples vividly illustrate

    the complexities, delays, and uncertainties accompanying the reclamation


    Cuba's severely damaged infrastructure is in major need of rebuilding.

    The outdated electric grid cannot supply the needs of consumers and

    industry. Transportation is inadequate. Communication facilities are

    obsolete, and sanitary and medical facilitates have deteriorated so

    badly that contagious diseases constitute a real menace to the

    population. In addition, environmental concerns such as the pollution of

    bays and rivers require immediate intervention.

    Economic and legal problems are not, however, the only challenges facing

    Cuba in the future. A major problem that will confront post-Castro Cuba

    is the power of the military. Cuba has a strong tradition of militarism,

    but in recent years, the military as an institution has acquired

    unprecedented power. Under any conceivable future scenario, the military

    will continue to be a decisive player. Like Nicaragua, Cuba may develop

    a limited democratic system in which Cubans are allowed to elect

    civilian leaders, but with the military exercising real power and

    remaining the final arbiter of the political process.

    An immediate and significant reduction of the armed forces will be

    difficult, if not impossible. A powerful and proud institution, the

    military would see any attempt to undermine its authority as an

    unacceptable intrusion into its affairs and as a threat to its

    existence. Its control of key economic sectors under the Castro regime

    will make it difficult to dislodge it from these activities and to limit

    its role strictly to external security. Cutting the armed forces will

    also be problematic. The civilian economy may not be able to absorb

    large numbers of discharged soldiers quickly, especially if the

    government cannot come up with viable programs for retraining them.

    The role of the military will also be shaped by social conflicts that

    may emerge in a post-Castro period. For the first half of the twentieth

    century, political violence was seen by many as a legitimate method to

    effect political change, and this could well have an effect on societal

    expectations in the future. Communist rule has engendered profound

    hatred and resentment. Political vendettas will be rampant; differences

    over how to restructure society will be profound; factionalism in

    society and in the political process will be common. It will be

    difficult to create mass political parties as numerous leaders and

    groups vie for power and develop competing ideas about the organization

    of society, economic policy, the nature of the political system, and

    unraveling the legacy of decades of communist dictatorship.

    A newly free and restless labor movement will complicate matters for any

    future government. During the Castro era, the labor movement remained

    docile under continuous government control; only one unified labor

    movement was allowed. In a democratic Cuba, labor will not be a passive

    instrument of any government. Rival labor organizations will develop

    programs to protect the rights of workers, and to demand better salaries

    and welfare for their members. A militant and vociferous labor movement

    will surely characterize post-Castro Cuba.

    Similarly, the apparent harmonious race relations of the Castro era may

    also experience severe strains. There has been a gradual Africanization

    of the Cuban population over the past several decades due to greater

    intermarriage and out-migration of a million mostly white Cubans. This

    has led to some fear and resentment among whites in the island. At the

    same time, 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 and the recent

    relaxation in the amount of remittances allowed to flow from the U.S. to

    Cuba has accentuated these differences. Since most Cuban-Americans are

    white, black Cubans receive fewer dollars from abroad. Significant

    racial tension could well result as these feelings and frustrations are

    aired in a politically open environment.

    Perhaps the most difficult problem that a post-Castro leadership will

    have to face is acceptance of the rule of law. Every day, Cubans violate

    communist laws: they steal from state enterprises, participate in the

    black market, and engage in all types of illegal activities, including

    widespread graft and corruption. They do this to survive. Getting rid of

    those necessary vices will not be easy, especially since many of them

    pre-date the Castro era.

    Unwillingness to obey laws will be matched by the 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 for the sake of society. The youth are alienated from the

    political process, and are eager for a better life. Many want to

    immigrate to the United States. If the present rate of visa requests at

    the U.S. consular office in Havana is any indication, more than 2

    million Cubans want to move permanently to the United States.

    Under the normalization of U.S.-Cuban 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 relatives who

    are already naturalized citizens. A significant out-migration is

    certain, posing an added major problem for U.S. policymakers at a time

    of increasing anti-immigration sentiment.

    While many Cubans want to leave Cuba, few Cuban-Americans will be

    inclined to abandon their lives 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 are also likely to be

    resented, especially if they become involved in domestic politics.

    Readjusting the views and values of the exile population to those of the

    island will be a difficult and lengthy process.

    The future of Cuba is therefore clouded with problems and uncertainties.

    More than five decades of communism have left profound scars on Cuban

    society. As in Eastern Europe and Nicaragua, reconstruction may be slow,

    painful, and tortuous. Unlike these countries, Cuba has at least three

    unique advantages: a long history of close relations with the United

    States; excellent preconditions for tourism; and a large and wealthy

    exile population. These factors could converge to transform the

    country's living standards, but only if the future Cuban leadership

    creates the necessary conditions for an open, legally fair economy and

    an open, tolerant, and responsible political system. Unfortunately, life

    in Cuba is likely to remain difficult for a while longer.

    Jaime Suchlicki is the founding Director of the Cuba Transition Project

    at the University of Miami and Director of the Institute for Cuban and

    Cuban-American Studies. He is also the Emilio Bacardi Moreau

    Distinguished Professor of History and author of "Cuba From Columbus to

    Castro," now in its sixth edition.

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