RAPID SUCCESSION, SLOW TRANSITION IN CUBA
RAPID SUCCESSION, SLOW TRANSITION IN CUBA
2008-02-09. Focus on Cuba, Issue 92
February 4, 2008.- 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
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.
* Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardi Professor and Director, Institute
for Cuban & Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the
author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro & Beyond, now in its 5th edition
and of the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba.