Cuba and its future

The third anniversary of the unsuccessful kidnapping of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was marked with violent riots.  Chavez again publicly accused the US of plotting to assassinate him. Presumably he was thinking  of US plans to kill Fidel Castro.  The US denied it planned to kill Chavez Tim Ashby comments:  Chavez frightens other democratic socialists in Latin America. and Europe  While Venezuela's elections certainly contained "irregularities," even the US State Department concedes that Chavez won legitimately.
One story that I have followed closely in recent weeks (and which has been confirmed by half a dozen reliable sources) involves Cuba's planning for a post-Castro transition (with Fidel's blessing) by a group of around 50 of the brightest young (30-50 years old) men and women who serve as advisors to Castro (all of whom are ardent loyalists).  Contrary to some reports, Cuba does not plan to follow a Chinese model (there is distrust of the PRC despite the "Dear Comrade" public rhetoric). 
The Cuban planners (who are increasingly interacting with and being influenced by Latin American and Spanish democratic socialists), have used the examples of the Chavez election (and the probable election of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua), to promote the idea of multiparty elections in Cuba.  Their plan is to improve the abysmal economic conditions in Cuba, free political prisoners (I understand that this promise has been secretly made to the EU), allow limited free expression and association, permit weak (e.g. non-threatening) opposition political, parties, and set the stage for an electoral victory by the Cuban Communist Party.  I would have doubted the seriousness of this a few years ago, but believe reports of this plan to be valid. 

We posted a prediction by Tim Ashby on the future of Cuba. Eva Fitzek disagrees: I really don't think there will be any post Fidel transition other than the enthronement of brother Raúl as Líder Máximo de los paredones bis.  As for the "best and the brightest" of communist Cuba, the epithet is very flexible.  Given free and fair elections with a choice of parties, the communists have no hope at all -- their destiny is the same as that of their brothers in East Germany or Russia, who were relegated to a place somewhere between opposition and extinction.  Cuba is still in the grip of a gangster named Fidel Castro, and to  elevate his regime to politics is already a grave mistake.  Castro's legacy of mafia style killings (ref: the death of Camilo Cienfuegos), the  destruction of Cuba's economy and its terrifically foreseeable consequence -- the destruction of Cuba's independence and its incorporation into the US means that no Cuban will ever vote for a communist party of Cuba. RH: Cuba's "incorporation into the US"??  Is the US going to take Cuba?

David Crow says: Eva Fitzek's comment that the Russian Communist Party was "relegated to a place somewhere between opposition and extinction" ignores the fact that it won the most votes (and seats) in the 1995 parliamentary elections.  The party polled at 22%, double that of its nearest opponent (the Liberal Democratic Party, with 11%).  Communist or Communist-successor parties have also done well at various times in Poland and Bulgaria, among other countries. 

In addition, public opinion data reveals profound ambivalence toward democracy in Eastern Europe.  People there dislike authoritarianism, but economic shock therapy has impoverished many and brought on a certain nostalgia for the economic security that the regimes provided.  Judging from the experience in Eastern Europe, it would be a mistake to dismiss the communists and their successors in Cuba.  The key is not simply transitioning to democracy, but to a type of democracy that substantially improves people's daily lives. 

From Brazil, Joe Listo writes: I couldn´t agree more with Eva Fitzek´s comments on Cuba. We are all well aware of the atrocities Castro committed against his Cuban fellow citizens (like Saddam Hussein to the Kurds?), and the wealth he and his family accumulated over the years.  To predict that he is even considering relinquishing power is naïve, to say the least. Brazil has received a substantial number of Cuban citizens since the Lula administration is in place. Rather than entering the country as exiles, these visitors are labeled "students" but they are, in fact, looking for better job opportunities and freedom. On the side, they bring two or three boxes of Cuban cigars (sold locally at $400 each) which is money to support them until they are able to find a job. I personally met a physician who told me he used to make US$86,00 monthly working in Havana´s public hospitals. No one can survive on a salary this low. On the opposite side of this sad scenario, the Cuban-American community in Florida is known to have some US$6 billion lined up for investments in Cuba when Fidel is gone, which won´t happen if the current Cuban government is not deposed and democracy restored. In my view, this goal can only be accomplished with US military support. Fidel just won´t gracefully fade away.  RH: True, but there might be an intifada, which the US could support.

From Brazil, Joe Listo writes: I would like to submit some very intelligent and insightful remarks from my friend Christopher L. Harley, from California. Chris lived in Brazil and other Latin American countries. Cuba is a total mess. Other than tourism projects, there are no signs of economic activity. Re-construction in Old Havana and new Canadian/European projects at the beaches are competitive with other Caribbean destinations but substandard in many ways (poor quality food, little variety, restrictions on travel, no middle class level accommodations or restaurants – either pre-packaged expensive or youth hostel type adventure travel).  Cubans are not allowed into the foreign tourism centers unless they are employees or prostitutes – talk about a growing resentment. The place is stuck in 1960, quite interesting for a tourist but a joke for young people -  buildings collapse daily – I have been in a lot of poor countries, but I was shocked at the poor quality of housing, food and transport even by third world standards.  Cubans will not turn against Castro in his dotage but will not sit still for more of the same – a minor change that involves a pretend democracy will not be enough, there is either wholesale change or continued dictatorship with brother Raul being the closest to controlling the security apparatus. There is an incredible sense of melancholy as Castro slowly loses his vigor while being surrounded by sycophants. He blathers on about his comrades as they die, go blind or hobble around at State events. Officials appearing with Castro say nothing when El Commandante is around, and he doesn’t seem to have any interest in asking ministers or ambassadors to contribute their ideas. His views are sufficient to cover any subject matter
Chavez will come to a sad and brutal end. Try to look at some re-plays of parts of his midnight rants on Venezuelan TV to see something that will come to a bad and violent conclusion.  Lula will be well advised to steer clear of this nut as he will turn on just about anyone.

RH: Castro is gaga, Then why do Cubans applaud his rantings? I have concluded that much in political and indeed life generally can be explained  by what John Bolton (US ambassador designate to the UN) was accused of: Lick up, kick down. When the leader loses power, licking up to him ceases. Will Cubans follow the example of ex-Nazis? "Me? I always hated Castro".

Tim Ashby comments: Joe Listo and and Eva Fitzek should take note that my report was about Cuban planning for the post-Castro era -- I am not aware of any suggestions that Fidel Castro would consider relinquishing power.  El Maximo Lider's fall and injuries last year served as a catalyst for senior members of the Cuban nomenklatura to consider THEIR futures in the post-Fidel era.  Their greatest fear is of losing power, prestige and the elite lifestyle that is denied to 98% of the Cuban people.  The only real Marxists left in Cuban are a dwindling number of geriatric historicos; most of the nomenklatura are as materialistic as those former members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union who became "instant capitalists" and rule Russia today as "democrats."  The Cuban party elite hope that they will enjoy a similar future in their country.
Fidel Castro allows this planning because - despite his rhetoric about living to be 100 - he IS aware of his mortality and concerned about his legacy and place in Cuban history.  As is well-known to the US intelligence community, Castro suffers from Parkinson's Disease and hypertension.  His legal successor, younger brother Raul, is afflicted with progressive liver disease and circulatory problems.  If Raul outlives Fidel, he will be liitle more than a temporary figurehead.
While I personally consider Fidel Castro to be a monster, he is highly intelligent and thinks in strategic terms (unlike the dim-witted Hugo Chavez, who is probably a committed Marxist-Leninist and may turn out to be a greater long-term threat to Western Hemisphere stability than Cuba was during the Cold War).  Unlike the Venezuelan "masses," the Cuban people have experienced the Castro regime's version of Marxism and have learned what a disaster it is.  They are also better educated and more worldly than other Latin Americans who may be susceptible to the new era of "democratic Marxism" (i.e. communist governments that are legally elected in multiparty elections).  My prediction for Cuba is that in that in the immediate post-Castro era the current government (minus Fidel and Raul) will remain in power, may well hold multiparty elections, and will almost certainly implements sweeping free market reforms as a means of winning the support of the people.

RH: This prompted me to read about Parkinson's disease  It apparently leaves the mind clear but could have caused Castro's fall.

Cuban refugee Alberto Gutierrez writes: The future of Cuba  triggers unending speculations. After reading seven different postings in less than ten days, is good to know that WAISers remain very interested in the subject.  According to some experts in Miami, the transition Tim Ashby mentions already began in many ways. Castro's young loyalists nicknamed "Los Talibanes" know what is coming .They are getting ready for that moment. But Castro has  not softened his grip. He remains very much in control of the political scene in spite of his deteriorating condition. While there is an interaction with Spanish socialists, a promise to free the political prisoners is not necessary. I have reasons to believe that whoever may control Cuba after Castro will have to open all the political prisons. Mr Ashby's more recent comments also deserve a careful reading.
Red China's investments and support to Castro are important. The probability of a Red Chinese model in Cuba is less certain.  Yet, I won't be surprised if US citizens behind the " economic miracle" in Red China attempt a similar scheme in Cuba.  Recently a former member of the Cuban counterintelligence service declared that most big shots close to Castro are willing to leave their positions to enjoy the money they robbed from the people and transferred abroad.  I do not trust Castro or what he says. On the other hand it is true that many offsprings of the ruling elite already reside in European cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Paris. S ome favor New York and Miami.
Perhaps Eva Fitzek is on the right track after all. Raul Castro is  aging and sick , but the possibility of his temporary enthronement after his brother cannot be underestimated. At  least not yet. However, in spite of the Eastern Europe precedent, I do not foresee an electoral victory of the Cuban Communist Party . Any relation to the current reality of poverty and repression will be rejected.
Since the eighties Miami is full of former Castro supporters, from informers to army officers. I don't have to wait for a return of freedom and democracy in Cuba to notice the behavior of many Germans after World War II. Many concoct their "politically acceptable" stories. I heard many times "Me? I never liked him" . Others meekly admit "I was for La Revolución, but only in the beginning". Sometimes the most prominent are invited by local TV programs to lecture us, the original political exiles, with their "expertise", the same they squandered for many years applauding Castro.
Joe Listo's remarks about Cuban "students" in Brazil are correct. Also I couldn't agree more with his friend Christopher Haley. Cuba simply is a total mess. Unfortunately I am unable to predict when and how that mess will be eradicated for good. It will take a lot time, money and dedication. Once Cuba was the first country of Latin America in many aspects, but probably I will not see a return to that privileged position in my lifetime.
Just as Randy Black fears, I do not deny that Cubans will suffer after Castro is gone, but not as much as today because the current level of poverty and repression is overwhelming. Besides the foreign investments in Cuba, a very large external debt has to be considered . A debt, I repeat, we will never have the means to pay. Cuba has the single largest reserve of nickel in the world,  but the Canadians are  taking the lion's share.  The Cuban doctors, nurses, military and political advisors Castro sends to reinforce "La Revolución Bolivariana" are "his" commodity. He sells in the world market a great percentage of the Venezuelan oil he is receiving, ,just as he previously sold the Russian oil. Chávez is the Santa Claus Castro needed desperately, and I wonder for how long both are going to milk Venezuela. So far Castro hasn't pay back a penny for that oil.                                            
The cash flow  from Cuban exiles has been reduced due to the enforcement of US restrictions. According to  Cuban economists in Miami, only  2 million tourists will visit Cuba this year. Not more. Many are thrifty people from Europe, not US "big spenders".  Besides, approximately  60% of the revenues for tourism will be directed to cover related expenses and services. From Coca Cola to bed sheets, most items to supply the needs of tourists  have to be imported because Cuba produces very little. I know someone from the Dominican Republic who in the last decade earned a lot of dollars selling furniture to Cuban hotels. And to think that before 1959 even in Pinar del Río we manufactured beds, fine tables, chairs and rocking chairs!
While air charters remain most favored by tourists bound to Cuba, once more Mr Black mentions the booking of cruisers. At this time there are not eleven cruise lines visiting Cuba on a regular basis. While I do not pretend to have all the facts about Cuba, I wish WAISers realize that often I rely on different sources far from the web sites. As a matter of fact I am waiting for a report of a friend who just went to Cuba for a week on a humanitarian mission. And I will be more than happy to share with you any worthwhile details I may learn from him.
Cuba's incorporation into the US is not in the interest of this country and unpopular among Cubans. The chance of a military solution against Castro was lost at the Bay of Pigs. After Kennedy's  assassination  the covert operations allegedly aimed at getting rid of Castro, were cancelled. During the last four decades Cuban exiles caught with loads of weapons in boats off the Florida coast heading for Cuba ended in US prisons. At the same time, Hollywood stars and other US citizens who sailed to Cuba announcing a breach in the US economic embargo to Castro, never had a problem reaching Marina Hemingway, west of Havana.
The Cuban armed forces are another factor that could make a difference after Castro's demise. Generals and most colonels are too involved in different schemes. They control many enterprises .For instance according to rumors Ramiro Valdéz, the Cuban Dzerzshinsky, has a personal fortune of $200 million. But their subordinates are a big question mark  Will they rebel or obey  the orders from their superiors? Will they open fire on the people to suppress a protest ?  
The possibility of a bloodbath is also an issue to bear in mind after so many were executed or abused. A young man who came from Cuba recently confided to me: "It is inevitable. You have to live there to understand what I mean. Many are waiting for the right time to settle the accounts with their oppressors"
I have the impression that after Castro is gone some of his associates will control power with the help of the armed forces. A lot of negotiations will take place, but no instant freedom and democracy. I think Washington looks forward to some kind of accommodation to avoid another massive Cuban exodus to this country.  The State of Florida has some emergency plan just in case.  The financial and political clout of Cuban exiles is also important in this imbroglio. There are some projects for the future. However, we lack leadership and do not have a common front, except for our opposition to Castro.  In conclusion, only time will tell what is in store for Cuba.
Tim Ashby writes: Raul Castro is more pragmatic than Fidel and not as doctrinaire and dull as he often seems to foreigners.  For example, he introduced the Sistema de perfeccionamiento empresarial (SPE) or œenterprise management improvement system, that streamlined the Cuban military's operations.  In November 1997, Raul Castro went to China "to learn more about China's experience in economic construction.”  According to Domingo Amuchastegui, formerly with Havana's Higher Institute of International Relations, "when Raul Castro went to China [in 1997], he spent long hours talking to Zhu [Rongji, Chinese premier and architect of economic reforms under Jiang Zemin] and invited [Zhu's] main adviser to Cuba.  Some Cuba analysts see parallels between Cuba's FAR and China's People's Liberation Army (PLA), particularly with the PLA's "bingshang," or military officers turned businessmen, and their pivotal role in the Chinese authoritarian transition to a market-oriented economy.

If Raul survives Fidel, he will probably establish a cooperative government or junta with several of the current top leaders, who will subsequently make him a figurehead presidente, and undertake comprehensive Chinese-style economic reforms, thus maintaining power for themselves while improving Cuba’s economy.

Public opinion data indicates that people in a variety of nations reject totalitarianism but favor market-oriented authoritarianism.  The Cuban government and people are aware that other Latin American countries are disenchanted with democracy.   For example, a recent United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report on Latin America indicated that 55 percent of those polled would support an authoritarian government if it resolved their economic problems, while 57 percent said economic development was more important than democracy.

The most likely scenario for Cuba is an authoritarian government that opens up the economy and encourages private, domestic, and foreign investments.  Laws would be introduced protecting foreign investments, negotiations would begin either to compensate or return to their original U.S. and Cuban owners companies and properties confiscated by the Castro regime in the 1960s, and Cuban exiles would be welcomed to visit, invest in, and trade with Cuba.  The U.S. government would lift the travel ban and end the embargo and would initiate large-scale development assistance programs to rebuild Cuba’s infrastructure and facilitate economic development.  Under this scenario, the Cuban economy would improve rapidly.

Tim Ashby writes: As always, Alberto Gutierrez' analysis of the Cuban situation is insightful and, I believe, accurate.  One minor point of correction is that Cuban has the THIRD largest nickel reserve in the world.    Holguin Province is estimated to contain 34 percent of the world's known reserves, or some 800 million tons of proven nickel plus cobalt reserves, and another 2.2 billion tons of probable reserves.  Cuban nickel is considered to be Class IIm with an average 90 percent nickel content.  Source: " Cuba and China Sign Deals to Expand Nickel Output, Metals Week, Nov. 29, 2004, at 6.
I agree that the Cuban Communist Party (PSP) per se will probably not win power in a future election.  The Partido Socialista Popular, founded in 1925, was actually usurped by Fidel Castro and used as cynically as he has pursued all his other alliances (the PSP's old guard communists considered Fidel a radical opportunist).  Castro's 26th of July Movement was originally aligned with the Orthodox Party, and I surmise that the Orthodox Party will be reborn and field a slate of candidates who are current PSP functionaries and politicos.  While I agree that Cubans will seek retribution against their oppressors, there are many current Cuban local and national government officials who are genuinely popular and would probably win election in an open plebiscite (I suspect that some will run as independents or as members of new parties).
Alberto is also correct in postulating that certain "big shots" in the current regime will leave for comfortable exile abroad.  These people have employed some of the best international law and accounting firms to protect their foreign assets with a sophisticated network of offshore trusts and corporate entities.  Unfortunately for the people of Cuba, these "communists" have largely put their ill-gotten gains beyond the reach of future judgments by Cuban or US courts.

RH: The importance of international law is evident in the need for legislation to prevent rulers from hiding stolen  money in a tax haven.  It is disgraceful that we are being asked to help Africa and forgive its debts, while its rulers steal their country's money and hide it abroad.


Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: June 11, 2005