Sunday, October 2, 2011

What about Cuba?

Cuba’s 52-year nightmare is about to end with the death of the last of Latin America’s old time dictators. In the long run it is hard to see how the demise of the old caudillo can be anything but good news, but the short term will be rough. The U.S. has a plan but no doubt so do regional nuisances such as Hugo Chavez.

All day I have been whistling that song from the “Wizard of Oz”. You, know, “ding-dong the witch is dead”. Whether Castro sups with the devil tonight or not, his reign is clearly through. An eighty-year-old guy who probably pees in his pants and cannot remember what he talked about yesterday is already knocking on hell’s door. How will he come back? His brother Raul has taken power.

Raul is known as the ruthless enforcer. He is the one who killed many of the regime’s opponents. He lacks his brother’s charisma, but may be a little more practical. He evidently advocated such radical capitalistic steps as allowing small farmers to sell produce at farmers’ markets during the hard times when the regime lost its Soviet sugar daddy. But after Hugo Chavez stepped in with subsidies to take the place of the Soviets Fidel was able to kill (sometimes literally) the farmers’ markets and roll back other reforms. One possible hope is that Raul will try to go the Chinese route when big brother is out of the picture. Ironic that the best case scenario would make Cuba only just a little more oppressive than China.

Beyond the geriatric Castro brothers, there is no heir apparent. The Castro boys killed, exiled or imprisoned any bright young man or woman with ambitions so Raul is what they get.

We have to remember that Cuba is not a democracy and not even as open a system as the latter day Soviet Union. The strength of a democracy is that it produces lots of leader and independent thinkers. Fidel’s did not go for this sort of idea. He executed even ideological allies if he suspected them of disloyalty and his paranoia made him suspect everyone except his brother. (Those who know say “Fidel only praises the dead,” many of whom he made that way.) That means Cuba has nobody accustomed to making decisions without asking Fidel first. Anyone with power derives it from a relationship with Fidel. When he is gone, so is that connection. The Cuban communist system will collapse, soon after he shuffles off this mortal coil. We need to be ready.

Cuba is a mess. Fidel really believed the Marxist-Leninist crap he was peddling. He opposed individualism, private enterprise, investments or any of the ordinary freedoms we take for granted. Cuba was more of a closed society than most E. European communist regimes under communism. We will find Cuba more like Albania than Poland or the Czech Republic. It is a long road ahead.

In 1959, Cuba was one of the most developed countries of Latin America. Now it is among the most backward. Most of the rest of Latin America shook off its dictators in the 1980s, but the Cuban socialist showboat managed to stay afloat, even listed a bit to the left. It will not be enough to get rid of Fidel and replace Havana’s 1950s vintage automobile fleet. The world will be surprised at the abysmal poverty and corruption when people are free to visit and take pictures all over the island.

The added complication will be Cuban Americans. More than 10% of the Cuban population left the country soon after Fidel se up his socialist paradise on the Pearl of the Antilles. Others followed as soon as they learned to sail small boats or float in inner tubes. Most went to Florida. They were Cuba’s best and brightest. Fidel kept their property, but their skills and intelligence were their real wealth. They took their human capital with them. In the U.S., where such things are valued, they were soon successful. They and their children are still interested in their country of origin. Some want to return. Expatriate skills and money will jump start Cuban development. A similar thing happened in Poland. The difference is that Cuban-American numbers are larger in comparison to the population of Cuba. Cubans in Cuba will probably come to resent these guys. There is a real possibility of a divided society, not only divided between haves and have nots, but also between skilled and skilled not.

Think of it like your rich and smart cousin who goes away to school at some nice place, while you stay at home and endure years of hardship. Then he comes back to tell you what to do. The worst part is that he is usually right.

So after Fidel has gone where the goblins go, below, below, below, expect a messy transition, but ultimately a successful one, this time w/o Myer Lansky (who it turns out was a less successful gangster than Fidel).

Source: China Online News

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