Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cuba After Castro

Social networks and media outlets have been spreading rumors on Fidel Castro's alleged death the past few weeks.. The speculations started in early August after an infected virus-email depicted the Cuban leader lying in a coffin. The fact that Castro has not appeared in public since the Communist party meeting in April 2011, and that he has stopped writing his editorials in the Cuban paper Granma elicited further suspicions about the status of his health. According to an op-ed in the Venezuelan paper El Universal, Castro's health situation is deteriorating; this could be the reason why Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez decided not to go back to Cuba to continue receiving chemotherapy, and instead decided to go to Hospital Militar Carlos Arvelo in Caracas for treatment.

The Venezuelan state-run media, however, assured everyone that Castro is alive and healthy. On September 7, the program La Hojilla, run on Venezuelan Television, aired an interview with a Fidel Castro looking in good shape, putting to rest rumors about his health. "Those who are at this moment enjoying and believing that Comandante Fidel had a stroke, I'm sorry to inform you that he is alive and kicking," said Mario Silva, the program's host. In the interview, Castro joked about the rumors about his death: "They've killed me off any number of times," he said. "The guys who make these predictions make me laugh, as if for me death would be bad news."

Future Scenarios

After the revolutions in the Arab world, some opinion makers have wondered whether Cuba could be also hit by a spontaneous uprising against the regime, in which the economic crisis might deepen, despite policies of liberalization.

The Spanish political magazine Atenea argued that after the death of the Comandante, a possible scenario for Cuba could be the continuation of market liberalization's reforms while at the same time trying to keep alive the ideology of Catroism. Last April 2011, during the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, Raul Castro took further steps towards economic reform and political liberalization. Reuters reports that Castro's brother "in public statements… has accused government cadres of laziness, corruption, neglect and ideological rigidity and has repeatedly urged them to reject old revolutionary dogma and embrace new ways of thinking."

The death of a charismatic leader such as Fidel Castro, along with the pursuit of economic liberalization, could, however, lead to the disappearance of Castroism, and with it, the dictatorial regime -- but not without a price to pay. Raul Castro lacks charisma, historical legitimacy and the needed consensus among the government's elite. This is why the after-Fidel time could be characterized by a power vacuum and instability, followed by uprisings and infighting. If such a situation emerged, there is a risk that Cuba could become a failed state if the international community would not help its transition. Of course, that would totally depend on who did the helping. A failed state in Cuba would be am extremely dangerous scenario: drug cartels could take advantage of the instability on such a strategically-situated island.

According to Atenea, a possible political scenario for the post-Castro-era in Cuba would be a negotiated transition. If Raul Castro will not manage to continue his rule on the island, the Cuban economic and military elite – pressured by the socio-economic crisis – could be willing to share power-quotas with other sector of the society. Following the example of South Africa, where a negotiated transition was led by Nelson Mandela, Atenea suggests that a Cuban dissident could be the means of democratizing the country. Again, the success of that, for Cuba and for the world, would depend on which dissident.

The path thorough democratization will not be easy for Cuba, a country for five decades under the grip of a dictatorship. Unless the Cuban people suddenly start an uprising against the regime, however, the Castro brothers have no intention of giving up power. As Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez said, Fidel Castro is more alive than ever, and willing to continue the fight against "Imperialism." Any popular revolt would be instantly repressed by the powerful Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, who now control 60% of the economy. In order to avoid giving up to this privileges, they will defend Castor's regime to the death.

Economic Liberalization

The fake news about Castro's death succeeded in bringing back the question of whether the ideology of Castroism can survive after Castro. Many analysts argue that Catroism is doomed to disappear: the island has no other choice but to liberalize its economy to overcome its current economic crisis. Some cautious measure towards the openness of the market has already taken place in Cuba under the presidency of Fidel Castro's brother Raul. Even Fidel Castro himself admitted that the Communist economic model failed: "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore," he confessed last September, 2010.

As pointed out by a University of New Mexico paper by Mario Rivera, Cuba found it necessary long ago "to put into effect market-oriented policies," especially to address the severe economic crisis triggered by the loss of Soviet support after 1989 that left the country with nothing to sustain it. However, "even the most spontaneous and forceful change is occurring within revolutionary bounds, and… the fits and starts of liberalization policy have simply manifested the tactical agility of Cuban leaders. In this view, the cyclical nature of economic policymaking in Cuba is not cause for concern so much as a corollary of pluralism—of a plurality of intersecting and competing interests within the confines of a socialist civil society. The creation of mixed enterprises, joint ventures, and other hybrid forms of commerce, and the rise of managerial, entrepreneurial, and other social networks in the economy, is an indication of a potential for the development of capable institutions, both public and private, in a democratic direction," the paper noted.

by Anna Mahjar-Barducci

Source: Hudson New York 

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