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Cuba, following in the footsteps of China and Vietnam

fidel.jpgThe Cuban regime will continue what it began after the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of its principal economic support: a slow and gradual transition, not in the direction of democracy, but towards a State-guided economy more open to the market. In other words, towards policies that are more in line with China and Vietnam’s. A good deal of the Cuban economy already takes the capitalist route. The rupture of the model, however, will not be traumatic; in the end, Cuba will end up being completely integrated into the international community. The problem will be how it will manage to do so.

THE CUBAN PRESIDENT FIDEL CASTRO, with his 81 years of age, clung onto power until the end, just as other communist leaders throughout the world had done.

After 49 years of deciding the fate of millions of Cubans and 19 months in medical convalescence, the powerful and attention-grabbing dictator (obligated because of his sickness) passed the reins of the regime to his closest collaborators.

“Fidel Castro and his leaders failed after the application of Marxist/Leninist principles at all costs” His brother, and chief of the Armed Forces, Raúl Castro [1], Vice-president Carlos Lage [2] and the president of the National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcón [3], will remain at the front of the government together with other loyal communist officials. They will form a type of partnership, so that the differences in the distinct internal positions and tendencies do not culminate in a confrontation that perturbs the continuity of the regime.

Fidel Castro’s decision has come at a crucial moment; Cubans are undergoing serious problems in their daily lives, while the communist leadership hopes to reform itself, correct errors, do away with the bureaucratic paralysis that atrophies the State and increase productive efficiency after the mistakes of the defeated real socialism.

“The communist regime will continue to focus its strategy on the economy, which is vital for the government’s survival” After half a century, the conclusion is clear: Fidel Castro and his leaders failed after the application of Marxist/Leninist principles at all costs. A country with repressed dissidents, without free labor unions, with more than 200 political prisoners and where neither multi-partyism nor a free press exists, questions that political process from a democratic point of view.

The regime itself (and the Latin American left that could be seen in that mirror) either denied or downplayed the problems. It blamed each and every bad thing on the United States’ economic embargo, while forgetting that the Cuban government privatized and made juicy trade agreements with numerous countries and transnational firms. Today it ended up recognizing that things are not working, and some leaders, with dishonest double standards, even stated that they had been saying so beforehand, and that the current course of events is not in any way surprising to them. Everyone learned from the fall of the Berlin Wall: no one wants to come off badly or be hit by one of its bricks.

THE PEOPLE WANT REFORMS

In a move that surprised everyone, Raul Castro announced changes in the month of July, and in December he eased the excess of bans and limitations. “Many in the Cuban regime see the models of China and Vietnam in a favorable light” In debates that he, the regime’s number two man, assembled, Cubans criticized the gap between salaries in Cuban pesos (15 dollars a month) and the high prices of the dollarized products. Furthermore, they complained about the restrictions on foreign travel and international hotel chains, the auto and housing trade, the inefficient transportation, and even the ban on complete freedom of Internet use. The vast majority of the Cuban people wants reforms, and is tired of waiting on promises that are never kept.

But the changes, whether they arrive in the upcoming years or in the long run, will not be essentially political. The communist regime will continue to focus its strategy on the economy, which is vital for the government’s survival. Other countries and economic groups’ euros and dollars are essential for the continuity of the regime, in order to attempt to keep the same dull faces in control of everything, and allow them to do everything, well or poorly.

Of course, in order to continue grabbing the attention of investors, some winks are needed. Lula recently told Raul Castro that aside from an economic liberalization, a political liberalization is also necessary for Cuba to move closer to the international community. “A good deal of the Cuban economy already takes the capitalist route, under the socialist flag and the barricade discourse” In line with that, he suggested that the country make some gesture in order to demonstrate a greater interest in human rights. Shortly after a dialog on human rights in Madrid was held, Havana decided to free seven political prisoners, four of whom traveled to Spain. Cuba also confirmed to the Spanish authorities that in March it intended to sign two international agreements concerning both economic and political freedoms.

However, their sights are not set on the Latin American and European democracies; instead, many in the Cuban regime see the models of China and Vietnam in a favorable light. Delegations from both of these self-described politically orthodox communist and economically liberal regimes have met with Cuban officials in order to exchange experiences and information.

THE MODEL OF CHINA AND VIETNAM

The Cuban regime will continue what it began after the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of its principal economic support: a slow and gradual transition, not in the direction of democracy, but towards a State-guided economy more open to the market, like the Chinese and Vietnamese models. A good deal of the Cuban economy already takes the capitalist route, under the socialist flag and the barricade discourse. “Within the Communist Party there are leaders that don’t want any change, others that are in favor of a transition without losing its benefits and even some who would be happy if the regime were to fall” The rupture of the model, however, will not be traumatic; in the end, Cuba will end up being completely integrated into the international community. It cannot live depending only upon its allied benefactor Hugo Chavez, pathologically repeating the relation that it had with Moscow for years.

However, although Fidel Castro has not held any relevant post in the government or party since his retirement due to medical issues, through the articles for the press that he has been writing for a year, called Reflections by the Commander in Chief, he will wield power with a veto or approbation of his comrades’ decisions, marking the path to be followed.

The daily newspaper Granma, an organ of Cuba’s Communist Party, called for the closing of ranks, and for unity and consensus within the party in order to be able to achieve the invulnerability of the revolution. The party’s unique powerful apparatus will, in order to not lose power, try by all means to continue controlling the process, as it has already done ever since it managed to monopolize all of the organizations that accompanied the revolutionary process under its wings.

“The international community has to contribute so that the possibilities of an effective, startle-free goodwill policy in Cuba can be made concrete” After Fidel Castro’s announcements, a Cuban academic in Havana revealed to me something that is an open secret in some of the capital’s circles: within the Communist Party there are leaders that don’t want any change, others that are in favor of a transition without losing its benefits and even some who would be happy if the regime were to fall. Unanimity does not exist, and even less so after logic chips away at years of unchecked power.

It is clear that Fidel Castro’s government will not trip on the same stones that the Eastern European communist regimes did, as everything is very well assembled after decades of an iron dictatorship.

Everyone who attempted to break from the regime’s discourse fell out of favor and are already part of the pursued dissidence, are in prison, or have been shot or exiled. There is a long list of names, and I am not talking about the Cubans that fled after Fulgencio Batista’s defeat.

SEARCHING FOR THE EFFECTIVE GOODWILL POLICY

“Fidel Castro did not leave because the people themselves decided that he should do so; he took a step sideways because he determined and decreed it unilaterally. This is very far from being a democratic attitude” The international community, especially Europe and the United States, has to contribute so that the possibilities of an effective, startle-free goodwill policy in Cuba can be made concrete. In the end it is the Cubans that live on the island who end up paying for the good and bad political decisions, and for this reason, those very Cubans (and especially those that live in the country) should be the ones who make the decisions. It is clear that the regime must allow its society to express itself at liberty. In order for it to be credible, Havana’s government must show that it is really willing to change and travel down a path that leads to a full democracy, in which the citizens choose their destiny, with a healthy alternation of the parties’ power and men. Democracy should be complete, in political, economic, social and cultural terms. There are no half-democracies; they simply are not democracies.

The Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that the Latin American left’s greatest icon, Fidel Castro, did not cling to power despite transferring it to his loyal leaders almost a half-century after obtaining it. This deserves reflection, especially when keeping in mind that the self-proclaimed political son of the Cuban leader, the Venezuelan president, aspires to continue to remain in power continuously. Fidel Castro did not leave because the people themselves decided that he should do so; he took a step sideways because he determined and decreed it unilaterally. This is very far from being a democratic attitude, like the one he promised after overthrowing Fulgencio Batista’s government (and which sewed the seeds for the international community’s support) but never carried forward.

Exiles and torn and separated families, aside from those who died while attempting to abandon the island, are the outcome of almost fifty years of regime. The ends do not justify the means, and the totalitarian regime should come to an end. Fidel Castro made a mistake: he should have left power much earlier. He owed it to the Cubans.