That Ever Elusive Transition

From Jaime Suchlicki at the Cuban Transition Project:
Cuba Transition Project
Rapid Succession, Slow Transition in Cuba
Recent discussion about Cuba ‘s immediate future centers primarily on two possible variables: the first one explains that Raul Castro is more pragmatic than his older, ailing brother and that once Fidel is gone he will engage in major economic reforms. The second one suggests profound differences between zealots and reformers. Again with Fidel out of the picture, the reformers will prevail and Cuba will begin to change rapidly.
Most analysts agree that a succession has taken place and that Fidel is too ill to resume power. Raul and the military are firmly in control. New leadership is likely to take over the presidency of the Council of State, the Secretariat of Cuba’s Communist Party, and the National Assembly. Yet, as long as Raul is in control, these leaders are likely to take their cues from the younger brother and refrain from taking individual initiatives.
The key question, then, about post-Castro Cuba is not who its new rulers will be or what they would like to accomplish. The key question is whether the institutionalization of the revolution under the control of the military, the party and the security apparatus will survive the transition from the totalitarian, paternalistic rule of Fidel Castro. And equally important, what can any emerging leadership hope to accomplish within the existing socio-political and economic context.
There are also other key and more troubling questions: Will the new rulers be able to exercise any major options at all? Will they fear upsetting the multilevel balance of interests upon which a new government will certainly depend?
The impediments to major change are significant:
The months, if not years, following Fidel Castro’s death, will be filled by a “cult of personality” emphasizing his main teachings: economic openings will lead to political openings; imperialism is the enemy; and internationalism protects the Cuban revolution.
The military, the most important institution in contemporary Cuba , has significant legitimacy and respect and is a disciplined and loyal force. It controls more than 50% of the economy. Will they be willing to relinquish this economic control and their prominent role? One of Cuba ‘s major challenges will be how to extricate the military from the economy and put them back in the barracks.
A terrorized, disorganized and fearful population hoping for change from above, with many hoping to migrate. There is a strong belief among the Cuban people about the efficacy of the security services and an overwhelming fear of their repressive capabilities. The political elite sees the development of a civil society as a major challenge to its absolute authority and a threat to its long term control. The limited gains made by a civil society independent of the Castro brothers in the past few years are the result of a deteriorating economy; disillusionment with the revolution and growing unhappiness with the Castro regime; influence of outside forces; and a limited relaxation of the system’s control. Yet civil society remains weak, not very effective and watched carefully and constantly by the security forces.
The possibility of regime continuity, therefore, seems stronger for Cuba than it was for other communist states. Although their end came suddenly, it took decades of decay to weaken critically the Eastern European regimes and successive leadership changes, as well as Soviet disengagement and acceptance before their collapse.
In Poland where the trade union Solidarity was born in 1980, as the first non-government trade union in communist history, a military-led government remained in power for a decade. In China , the communist regime obtained a new lease on life following Mao’s death, initially through Deng’s reforms and then ultimately through increased repression. In Syria , North Korea , and Jordan , children of former leaders took and retained power. Even in Haiti , the young Duvalier was able to cling to power for almost a decade.
It is likely that Raul Castro will draw some lessons from these events and attempt to satisfy the needs of the Cuban people. He will initially purchase massive amounts of food to satisfy one of Cubans’ major complaints. After a while he may initiate limited economic reforms, allowing private ownership of land in an attempt to increase food productivity; encourage foreign investments in key sectors where Cuba lacks technology or capital, i. e., off-shore oil exploration, ethanol based agriculture; and increase consumer goods imports from China .
Given Raul’s dislike for the niceties of the diplomatic world and his dislike for speech making, he may remain in the background. He will continue to control the military and security apparatus allowing civilians to occupy key positions in the Party and the government.
These changes, however, may not usher in a period of rapid political or economic change or in a collapse of the regime. The stability of the Cuban system is based primarily on the strength of the Armed Forces, the security apparatus, and the Party structure. The organization and strength of the bureaucracy that has grown around these institutions seem to assure continuity. Barring the imponderable or unpredictable, rapid change is not likely.
Perhaps the critical challenge for a Raul regime will be to improve the economy and satisfy the needs and expectations of the population, while maintaining continuous political control. Too rapid economic reforms may lead to a loosening of political control, a fact feared by Raul, the military, and other allies bent on remaining in power. Unfortunately for the Cubans, transition may be slow and painful.

11 thoughts on “That Ever Elusive Transition”

  1. Perhaps the critical challenge for a Raul regime will be to improve the economy and satisfy the needs and expectations of the population, while maintaining continuous political control. Too rapid economic reforms may lead to a loosening of political control, a fact feared by Raul, the military, and other allies bent on remaining in power. Unfortunately for the Cubans, transition may be slow and painful
    Asi es queridos amigos. Esta gente no querran dejar el poder jamas a las buenas . OIGANME BIEN SE LOS DIGO HOY AQUI EN BABALU..Dejen de pensar que la muerte de fidel traera democracia para Cuba. Para lograr esto, DEBEMOS ARREBATARLE A LA FUERZA O A COMO DE LUGAR LA REVOLUCION A ESOS BANDOLEROS. De lo contrario tendremos 200 años mas de un estado comunista socialista y de un solo partido
    Moriremos todos nosotros sin ver a una Cuba libre

  2. Sometimes I think the problem with Cuba is like the problem with abortion. By the time abortion becomes an issue, there’s already been a major screw-up, meaning something (pregnancy) that never should have happened did happen, so people are already deep in a hole. There’s no way to get out of it without paying a significant price; it’s just a matter of how much or how high.
    I guess I’m rambling to no good end here, but I’m still dumbfounded as to how Central American and South American countries which were FAR worse off than Cuba in the 1950s did not succumb to communist totalitarianism, but Cuba did. It makes no sense. How could we have been so incredibly stupid? Or was it more a matter of being perverse?

  3. Many things are beginning to unravel for the Cuban government:
    Jorge Castañeda Gutman, former Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and author of “Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left After the Cold War” and “Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara” was as spy for the Cuban government.
    Mexican newspapers have been reporting since Monday, February 4th “that documents from the Federal Security Directorate found in the General Archives of the Nation reveal that Mexico’s former foreign minister, Jorge Castañeda Gutman, was recruited by Jorge Luis Joa Campos of Cuba’s General Intelligence Directorate in 1979 when Jorge Castañeda’s father was foreign minister under President López Portillo.”

  4. Asombra:
    Castro presented himself as pro-democracy, and non-communist. He would release prisoners taken in war until January first 1959 when he suddenly turned around and began to execute them. There is some evidence that can be taken to strongly suggest that Fabio Grobart (senior stalinist agent in Cuba since about 1924) was called back to Cuba, and secretly met with Guevara, and the Castro brothers,and I understand Ramirito Valdes in the Cojimar house as early as March 1959. At Cojima a fabian (slow and steathy) take over of complete power in Cuba was planned and later executed. One can see that this was planned even early by oobserving such actions as when Guevara destroyed (or removed) the BraC files almost immediately on his arrival in Havana.
    The other Latin American countries had time to realize what was happening, especially the officers and soldiers who then knew if such a rebellion occurred in their countries they would be executed too.

  5. Yes, Castro lied and misrepresented his intentions, as he’s done every time it’s suited him, but it became pretty clear pretty early that there were multiple warning signs of serious danger, even before he finally admitted he was communist.
    The “revolution” was primarily due to a political problem (Batista’s illegitimacy and unpopularity); in other respects, Cuba was in the top 3 among countries south of the US-Mexico border. Other Latin countries had far more reason to embrace a communist faux utopia, but that didn’t happen. Why did it take root in Cuba?

  6. Batista was not a credible anti-communist not only did he have communists in his first elected government e.g. Marinello, but he also had ex-communists e.g Rolando Masferrer and Batistas’s own propaganda chief Otto Meruelo. The Brac was notoriously inefficient in “catching” communists, and while the communists were most efficient at turning in “activists” against Batista, most notoriously, but far from exclusively, during the Humbolt 7 murders. However, Batista’s repression against the communists was most gentle for instance after the Moncada attack the senior communists who “coincidently” had just gathered in Santiago were arrested and then released. The Batista government had allowed Soviet ship Zora just happened to visit Santiago the day before that attack happened.

  7. Everyone,
    Correct me if I am wrong. As I read the History, it appears to me that Fulgencio Batista was at worst a “cafe con leche Caudillo.” A fellow more like the fictional Tony Soprano than say a Mugabe. Was he corrupt – sure looks like it. Meanwhile, while he and his may have taken a “mordita” of everything, the nation generally prospered, with a standard of living akin to Western Europe, and education second to none in Latin America. By the late 1950’s, seems to me that Cubans were ready for a more “adult”, less corrupt government along the lines of the “good government” types in the USA. As I recall, the formal “Party Registration” of FiFo was “Orthodox Party” – more or less the equivalent of Republican in the USA. In 1958, were I a patriotic Cuban, I might well have been seduced. In short, it WAS time for something better in Cuba. The tragedy is that FiFo had other plans – AND – amassed the power to implement them. -S-

  8. Too many Cubans in the late 1950s were at best immature, not to say infantile. They were besotted with the notion of “revolution” the way kids are often into violent “action” fare. They were also, to make matters worse, superficial and fickle as opposed to serious, thoughtful and sensible. There was a long tradition of crass political opportunism at all levels; the key thing was to be in with the crowd that was on top. And, apparently, there was an inordinate amount of virulent resentment/envy against those who were better off, which was of course exploited to the hilt by the purveyors of class warfare. In other words, Cubans (not all but way too many) screwed Cuba, other Cubans, and ultimately themselves. It’s a nasty, ugly picture, which many still refuse to face, but it happens to be the truth.

  9. Thank goodness for the U and Andy Gomez because the only other place I see Jaime fitting in is at Domino Park.
    Keep typing Dr. Jaime, keep typing!

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