A Tale of Two Transitions
Posted on Aug 1, 2006
It should be of no surprise that the transition covertly planned by Fidel and his politburo will seek to strengthen the Communist Party, leaving no space for political diversification, a multi-party system or democratic elections. And while Cuba?s own succession plan places Raul as interim head of state, his power will not go unchecked.
Instead of being a full-fledged despot, the man who convinced Fidel Castro to turn toward Marxist policy will be kept in economic line by a troika of young hard-liners, including current Central Bank head Francisco Suberon, former personal secretary and current Minster of Foreign Affairs Felipe Roque Perez, and Vice President Carlos Lage. In addition, Ricardo Alcaron, the head of Cuba?s National Assembly (its quasi-Congress), is likely to emerge with a stronger presence. What unites all four men with Raul is their unflinching support of Fidel?s political machine, their opposition to the United States and their fondness for oppressive measures against those who attempt to exercise free speech on the island.
It has been widely rumored that Raul, given his uncharismatic nature and inability to sway public opinion like his older brother, will be forced to compromise on certain Communist policies to retain power; he may even need to court the assistance of the United States.
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The deal seems to have paid off. According to a report issued by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, the subsidies led to the May 2005 doubling of monthly salary for nearly 1.7 million workers, increased the standard of living and pensions for the elderly, and finally delivered on Castro?s dated promise of updated kitchen appliances. While it may seem trite to the First-Worlder, these small advancements mean the world to many Cubans residing in rural areas. Matched with increased investments from China in the nickel mines of Moa and Camaguey, the Cuban government has emerged from the dreaded post-Soviet Special Period with a new economic lifeline that makes the United States less integral to its future.
And even if Raul were to submit to liberal alterations in Cuba?s economy, it probably would not make much difference to either the Cuban-American activists in Miami or their representatives in Washington. According to the Bush doctrine, the end of the embargo is contingent on reforms no less sweeping than free elections, free speech, free press and the liberation of political prisoners. To many embargo proponents, there would be no substantive differences between a Fidel Castro- and a Raul Castro-led Cuba. And as long as Florida still holds the prize of 27 electoral votes, the policy against Cuba is not likely to waver.
Fidel has already claimed that the Communist Party itself will lead Cuba forward. If this is true and his model is followed, perhaps only an outright revolt would usher in true democratic reforms.
Shortly after Castro?s impermanent letter of resignation made headline news, Miami?s Little Havana was flooded with jubilant Cuban exiles, eager to rejoice in the immediate news that their nemesis was on his deathbed, if not already deceased. But this type of celebration will probably be short-lived. In the race to foster a post-Castro transitional government, America has stumbled throughout—funding ineffective democracy-building programs and paying heed to Miami-based activists at the expense of true democracy activists on the island. These pratfalls have allowed Cuba the leeway to sprint ahead. With an effective transition already underway on the island, it appears right now that, regardless of Fidel?s vital signs, U.S.-Cuba relations will proceed unchanged and the nearly 50-year rift between Miami and Havana will not be bridged.
Unless an unlikely insurgency rises on the island, history will record the 45-year-old embargo as the utter failure that it is. And amid this battle for the heart of the Cubans, the bullheaded politicians on both sides of the Florida Straits will continue to neglect the best interests of those they mean to help?the millions of people struggling to eke out a living on a repressed island.
In 2004 Shumaker co-produced the documentary “Boxers and Ballerinas.”
He lives in New York City, where he works for Severance Pictures and is writing a book about his time in Cuba.
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