wall street journal:Cuban Tremors
Posted: 05 August 2007 10:24 AM   [ Ignore ]
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July 30, 2007


Cuban Tremors

July 30, 2007; Page A12

Cuba is not an island known for earthquakes, but “temporary” dictator Raúl Castro’s speech to the nation last Thursday provides the clearest evidence yet that the tectonic plates underpinning the political status quo are shifting and perhaps even colliding. Even the best Cuba experts who follow its politics closely caution against making predictions. But what seems evident from Raúl’s language is that the government can no longer ignore the enormous suffering caused by a deteriorating economy. This crisis, together with the loss of Fidel Castro’s charismatic political leadership, has left the regime in uncharted waters and perhaps even fearful.

Thursday’s event was the annual celebration of the July 26 Movement, which commemorates the first armed assault on the Batista dictatorship by rebels in 1953. Normally Fidel gives this speech,but he hasn’t been seen in public in about a year—though he has been videotaped—and there is speculation that the absences are due largely to a decline in his mental capacity. Whatever the truth, Raúl, who hasn’t a shred of his older brother’s charisma, has had to pick up the slack in public appearances before an increasingly dissatisfied population. At the same time he has had to run the secretive totalitarian machine, which may be beginning to experience its own internalb strife.

In many ways the speech, delivered in the east-central city of Camagüey, was standard-fare
Castrista rambling about the glories of the Revolution and the need to defend it forever, the
ugliness and injustices of the “empire” (the U.S.) and its embargo, and the wonders of El Maximo Lider and socialism. But on matters of the economy Raúl seemed to break ranks and signal that he knows things cannot go on the way they are. A less sympathetic view is that the speech was crafted to calm down a population at the breaking point due to privation.
As he has done before, Raúl complained about the low productivity of the Cuban worker and tried hard to stir national pride toward improving the record. Yet there were moments when he seemed to be acknowledging that the system doesn’t work. “We are duty-bound,” he proclaimed, “to question everything we do as we strive to materialize our will more and more perfectly, to change concepts and methods which were appropriate at one point but have been surpassed by life itself.” In other words, which were surpassed by reality.
He also recognized the problem of low wages, linking them to low productivity. He noted that the average Cuban salary, less than $20 a month, is “clearly insufficient to meet all the needs, so thatit practically ceased to fulfill the socialist principle that each contribute according to his abilities and receive according to his work.” Whether intentional or not, that reference to Marx is not quite right. The father of communism called for each to receive according to his “need” while Raúl suggests it should be according to his input. He also contemplated “incentives” for producers.
Somebody is wandering off the reservation.
It is not insignificant that he said that Cuba has “not yet come out of the Special Period.” That
term was supposed to apply to “temporary” adjustments in policy designed in 1992 to help the
country overcome the hardship caused by the end of Soviet financing. This included inviting
foreign investment, allowing the operation of farmers’ markets and some small businesses and the legalization of the U.S. dollar. It is widely agreed that Raúl and his friends in the military championed these changes while Fidel went along grudgingly. Fidel Castro subsequently withdrew many of those privileges, and more than 16 years later the dire economic circumstances continue. Even Venezuelan financing to the tune of $1 billion-$2 billion a year has not reversed the decline.

This is why Raúl’s references to foreign investment on Thursday are intriguing. “We are currently studying the possibility of securing more foreign investment, of the kind that can provide us withcapital, technology or markets,” he told the nation. This is a clear reference to the China model of economic liberalization, which Raúl has long advocated for Cuba.
None of this is to suggest that Fidel’s little brother, known for his ruthlessness, dreams of a freer Cuba. As the regime’s most bloodthirsty enforcer, he has been at the forefront of a renewed wave of repression—some say orchestrated in anticipation of Fidel’s passing—that began in March- April 2003 with a nationwide crackdown on dissidents. Seventy-five of those arrested were handed sentences averaging more than 20 years; state security attacks on government critics havesince escalated, according to the Cuban Directorio in Miami, which tracks such incidents.

But the man is desperate. He cannot put the whole island in jail, and with food and milk shortages growing, it may become increasingly difficult to keep the lid on things. As Armando Valladares, a former political prisoner who spent 22 years in Castro gulags told me in an interview last month, terror as a way to control people has its limits. In Mr. Valladares’s view, the Cuban people are very near if not over that limit, suggesting that even a small spark could ignite a massive rebellion—not unlike what happened in Romania. Directorio says that the number and size of public acts of dissent have been rising every year despite the brutality of Raúl’s goons. Last month 70 people marched in Camagüey in an unprecedented display of support for a political prisoner.

Raúl is also facing his legacy within the military. Having carried out Fidel’s dirty work, such as
the execution of popular Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, he’s garnered a lot of enemies over the years. If
rumors of rumblings in the barracks are true, he could be the counterrevolution’s first victim. To avoid that fate, he has to get the economy going, and he now seems to be pinning his hopes on a new U.S. administration that might end the embargo. On Thursday he repeated Cuba’s “willingness to discuss on equal footing” its “dispute with the U.S.”

Lifting the embargo might give Raúl some breathing room, but he can’t do much until big brother passes. “The problem for Raúl is that Fidel won’t die,” says Ernesto Betancourt who represented the July 26 Movement in Washington in 1957 and 1958 and probably understands the regime as well or better than any Cuban exile. “He might want to make changes but Fidel won’t allow them.”

Ironically, once Fidel is no longer around to hold together the depraved and nihilistic regime,
Raúl’s chances of survival may be even grimmer.

Posted: 05 August 2007 01:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  992
Joined  2005-11-19

Thanks for posting. Interesting summary. I have posted this theory here Why there might be chaos after Fidel Castro’s death - prediction.

The title speaks for itself.


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