Jaime Suchlicki | Miami Herald
Fidel Castro is fighting his last battle-one that he cannot win. Death will not elude him. Cuba is witnsessing the end of the Fidelista era and the beginning of a Raulista one. Power has passed into the hands of the younger brother. Succession seems now irreversible.
Questions remain: What can Raul hope to accomplish within the existing socio-political and economic context? But more importantly, what options in domestic and foreign affairs are open to Cuba’s new leaders? What are the chances that they will be unable or unwilling to exercise any major options at all? Will they fear upsetting the multilevel balance of interests upon which a new government will depend?
Raul faces significant challenges. A non-productive and highly dependent economy on Venezuela and other foreign sources, popular unhappiness, the need to maintain order and discipline among the population and the need to increase productivity. Raul is critically dependant on the military. Lacking the charisma of his brother, he will also need the support of key party leaders and technocrats within the government bureaucracy.
The critical challenge for a Raul Castro regime will be to balance the need to improve the economy and satisfy the needs of the population with maintaining political control. Too rapid economic reforms may lead to an unraveling of political control, a fact feared by Raul, the military, and other allies keen on remaining in power. An initial solution may be to provide more consumer goods to the population, including food, but without any structural economic changes.
Similarly, any serious overtures to the U.S. do not seem likely in the near future. It would mean the rejection of one of Fidel Castro’s main legacies: anti-Americanism. It may create uncertainty within the Raul government leading to frictions and factionalism. It would require the weakening of Cuba’s anti-American alliance with radical regimes in Latin America, Iran, and Syria.
From Cuba’s point of view, the U.S. has little to offer: American tourists, which Raul doesn’t want or need; American investments which he fears may subvert his highly centralized and controlled economy; and products that he can buy cheaper from other countries. The U.S. does not have, furthermore, the ability to provide Cuba with the petroleum Venezuela is sending with little or no payment.
U.S. recognition may mean a great victory for Raul and the legitimization of his regime. Yet it’s a small prize when compared to the uncertainties that a Cuba-U.S. relation may produce internally and externally among Cuba’s allies.
Raul is no Gorbachov or Deng Xiaoping. With his brother alive, and even when he is gone, he is not likely to embark on major economic or political reforms. Forty seven years as Minister of Defense has hardened him into a Stalinist military more than a liberal reformer. Whether the Raulista era lasts a long period or not, Cubans seem destined to endure difficult times and a harsh military dictatorship.
Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardi Moreau Distinguished Professor and Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition.