Will Washington’s Blindness Continue to Prevent it from Registering the Fundamental Changes Now Taking Place in Havana?
Changes being introduced by Raúl Castro are fundamental and probably irreversible. One of the most anticipated leadership transitions of this epoch—that of Fidel Castro in Cuba—has been underway for the better part of a year in the absence of political instability or the upheaval predicted, or hoped for, by American policymakers and exiles in Miami. While George Bush and Condelezza Rice continue to deny this reality, and the administration produces fanciful studies by self-serving ideologues rather than bona fide specialists, which one expert has aptly described as “American occupation plans” for the island, the Cuban people have indicated their strong support for the inevitable end of the “era of Fidel” and the beginnings of a decisive new phase in the Cuban revolution’s history.
As the Cuban Parliament convened on February 24 to chose a new Council of State—the nation’s supreme governing body responsible for selecting the President—the most influential Latin American political leader of the twentieth century, recovering from a life-threatening illness, has retired gracefully to a position of éminence grise and keeper of the flame. Castro’s brother Raúl already has made it clear that he does not want to be “President for Life” and is committed to transferring power to a younger generation.
In any event, day-to-day operations of the island already are in the hands of Cubans other than Fidel, as is long-term planning evidenced by Raul Castro’s unacknowledged offense to “dialogue” with Washington following the Democrats’ victory in the 2006 mid-term congressional elections.
No matter how dramatic a change the transition from Fidel’s leadership to that of his brother’s will represent for Cuba, Latin America and the world, the significance of this new leadership will depend less on how the Cubans behave than on decisions and conditions originating in the White House and the Department of State.
Since the end of the Cold War, Fidel Castro and the Cuban leadership have maintained their historic socialist commitments, but with a pragmatic adaptation to new global realities forced upon them by the collapse of the island’s economic lifeline—the Soviet Union. In other words, while still invoking the language and props of Marxism-Leninism, Castro was turning Cuba to a reintegration into the world capitalism system—albeit within a socialist framework—and without sacrificing the revolution’s heralded social welfare achievements.
Even during the 1980s, Castro’s disagreement with Soviet reformer Mikhail Gorbachev was not over the need for perestroika (economic restructuring) and glasnost (political openness) but over the wisdom of pursuing both at the same time. Economic reform, Fidel argued, would unleash widespread initial hardship on islands and if the populace could simultaneously vent their anger at the ballot box, that would only invite the electorate to bite the hand that was trying to feed them. As subsequent events proved, Castro’s realism trumped Gorbachev’s innovativeness.
Since then, however, Cuba under Castro selectively…