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Posted November 13, 2004 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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At a conference in Coral Gables, the top U.S. diplomat in Havana said Cubans across the island are looking forward to a change in leadership.

Fidel Castro’s tumble to the ground last month and an increasingly difficult economy have prompted many Cubans to begin contemplating the island’s future, the top American diplomat in Havana said Tuesday.

‘‘All over the island people are discussing the future, of what they want it to be,’’ James Cason, chief of the U.S. Interests Section, told a gathering of Cuban Americans and Cuba-watchers in Coral Gables. “The lonely voices in the opposition are getting less lonely by the day.’‘

For years, most Cubans have been saying that there’s no use considering the island’s future until Castro dies because he wields absolute power and has steadfastly refused to adopt any of the significant reforms that could ease a withering economic crisis.

Electricity blackouts last many hours each day, prices have been rising, housing shortages are mounting and underemployment is rampant, with college graduates working as gardeners and bellhops, other Cuba experts said at the conference.

But now ‘‘Cubans are increasingly losing patience with Castro,’’ Cason said. “In the weeks since Castro’s well-publicized fall, more and more regime supporters are now saying it is time for Castro to step down.’‘

On a telephone hookup from Havana, leading dissident Vladimiro Roca said he had heard Cuban officials speak of a ‘‘high level of social intranquility’’ but did not go into details.

Cason’s presentation was part of a day-long conference that examined the lessons on post-Communist transitions in the former Eastern Europe and challenges that lay ahead for Cuba once Castro is no longer in power. The conference coincided with the 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and was sponsored by the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies and the Embassy of the Czech Republic.

Most participants appeared to agree that there is little chance of an anti-Castro revolt while he’s still in power, sticking to post-Castro scenarios. But they sketched out a wide range of possibilities on what could happen after Castro’s demise.

In a separate telephone call from Havana, prominent dissident Martha Beatriz Roque told the crowd of about 200 that transition in Cuba ‘‘is very close.’’ She said the lingering economic crisis is ‘‘irreversible’’ under the current system.

‘‘From inside and outside, we have to work hard—all of us who want to see a free Cuba,’’ said Roque, 59, an economist jailed during a crackdown last year against 75 dissidents accused of working with U.S. diplomats to undermine Cuba’s socialist system and sentenced to long prison terms. She was released in July due to ill health.

Several of the conference’s speakers also urged Cuban exiles to set the stage for a peaceful change once Castro is no longer in power.

‘‘The Cubans need a new message . . . a message needed from exiles, to prepare for tolerance,’’ said Otto Reich, a Cuban American who held top offices in the State Department and the White House under President Bush.

Experts also cautioned that Cuba’s military will continue to play a powerful role in virtually any of the scenarios, and that a post-Castro transitional government may not fully embrace democratic principles or a free market economic model.

‘‘The Cuban population, like the Czech population, has been educated in a state of fear and mistrust,’’ said Vendulka Kubalkova, a UM professor of international studies. “They were not raised to handle, very well, the individualism that is necessary for a successful democracy.’‘

‘‘It’s important to be prepared once the self-imposed Cuban wall crumbles,’’ she said. “It will open a very, very difficult period for which I think no recipe exists.’‘

Cason also warned against high expectations following Castro’s passing.

‘‘All Cubans, no matter how they feel about the regime, are playing a waiting game these days, some with anxiety, some with gleeful anticipation,’’ he said. “We must not assume, however, that when Castro dies, Cuba will transform itself into a democracy the following day.

‘‘Most Cubans on the island today have known nothing but communism—70 percent were born after the revolution,’’ Cason added. “Simply plunking down a genuine electoral system won’t be sufficient in the future. It will take at least a generation to acquire the habits of democracy on the island.’‘

Herald chief of correspondents Juan O. Tamayo contributed to this report.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on November 13, 2004 by Dana Garrett with 252 total posts

    ‘‘Most Cubans on the island today have known nothing but communism—70 percent were born after the revolution,’’ Cason added. “Simply plunking down a genuine electoral system won’t be sufficient in the future. It will take at least a generation to acquire the habits of democracy on the island.’‘

    What utter hypocrisy.  Mr. Cason works for an administration this is precisely trying to “plunk down” a democracy in Iraq. 

    Mr. Casonís cautionary words have nothing to do with the governmental habits of the Cuban people.  Rather, they reflect the unmistakable reality that the Cuban people will never want to return to the status of a USA dependency after Castroís death, and the USA has no intention of trying to impose “democracy” on Cuba militarily like it is doing in Iraq.  Cubaís military forces are relatively powerful and well-equipped and, since Viet Nam, the USA has chosen weak, ill-equipped and, in some cases, near stone-age like armies to take on militarily, military forces like Iraqís and Grenadaís. 

    The USA and some members of the Cuban exile community keep looking for a magical solution that will simply erase the last 45 years after Castroís demise or the generation after (itís interesting that Cason is now extending the timeline for the magical solution beyond Castroís death, but that is a different subject).  There is no magical solution.  The impact of the last 45 years will never simply disappear and leave no abiding impact on Cuban life, culture and politics.  All that can occur (and should occur) is rapprochement with Cuba with both nations acting as friendly neighbors influencing each other in ways that are mutually beneficial.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on November 13, 2004 by Jesus Perez

    Dana, your comments are accurate and correct, unfortunately, “rapprochement with Cuba with both nations acting as friendly neighbors influencing each other in ways that are mutually beneficial” is a utopian concept unless there is a radical change in U.S. foreign policy and I don’t mean only in the Bush administration. The foreign policy of this country is arrogant selfserving and inflexible, particularly with regards to smaller countries like Cuba. The history of U.S./Cuban relations is full of examples that attest to this fact. “conozco al mounstro pues vivi en sus entranas y mi honda es la de David” Marti said that over a 100 years ago and it still applies in today’ world with regards to U.S. foreign policy. During the 2004 presidential campaign, John Edwards spoke of “two Americas”, and although he did not mean it in the same way I look at it, the America that we live in and the America that can maintain a cruel economic embargo in a small neighboring nation simply because we do not approve of their government, to me these are two different Americas and I do not see anything in the near futre that makes me believe that is likely to change. My only hope is that you are right and I am wrong.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on November 14, 2004 by waldo Parravicini

    The Cuban people also know about Capitalism, privatizations, elections, Imperialism, exploitation and Democracy. They also know much more about all that than the people here in the USA. Leaving the Cubans alone would be the best transition policy.

  4. Follow up post #4 added on November 14, 2004 by Dana Garrett with 252 total posts

    Jesus, I know that such a relationship between Cuba and the USA seems like a utopian dream given the record of the USAís relationship w/ Cuba not only during the last 45 years but before that as well. 

    I havenít seen any polls on this (if anyone can point me to some I would love to see them), but I canít imagine that the vast majority of USA citizens give a damn about the embargo and wouldnít mind at all if Cuba and the USA opened up complete diplomatic relations w/ each other and had a fair trading relationship.  Why would USA citizens care about this at all?

    I recall reading about a poll indicating that even the majority of Cuban Americans no longer support the embargo.  If that is true, why do we still have it?  Is it merely because presidential candidates want a chance to win Florida every four years? Is that it?

    The embargo seems increasingly to me like one of those practices that people have done for years but they can no longer remember the reason why.  Itís dumb and yet it seems impossible to get the USA to stop the policy.  I donít get it. 

  5. Follow up post #5 added on November 15, 2004 by waldo Parravicini

    Re. US embargo (Cubans call it bloqueo) on Cuba:
    There are no comprehensive polls in the USA.
    There seems to be censorship, practically no news and then mostly negative and appearing to all come from the same one source.
    The majority of the USA citizens including media personnel are ignorant or very confused about it.
    The anti-communists in Washington are paranoid about Cuba (not about Russia, China or Vietnam), many with hurt egos since none of their ugly actions against Cuba has worked and Castro still is the Comandante.

    Yes, it its Florida politics extending to Washington.
    A very rich, vindictive, intransigent and powerful group of Cuban-Americans (including a great number of Batista’ people which took millions from Cuba before they left) control 98% of the media and propaganda in Southern Florida and several national radio and TV stations. Their CANF (Cuban American National Foundation) calls the shots, lobby in Washington, buy votes, consciousness and heavily contributes to candidates and the Republican Party. CANF is mainly responsible for the embargo and several other subsequent similar dark measures that reinforce it (Torricelli, Helms, etc.). CANF really do not care about the Cubans in Cuba even though they say they do in their propaganda, they are mainly interested in greed and revenge against Castro. The great majority of CANF has no relatives in Cuba and if they do, “could care less what happens to them communists”.
    For info try English, The blockade & its effects in:

  6. Follow up post #6 added on November 15, 2004 by Songuacassal

    Bueno, no se por donde quiero empesar, so I’ll just go by topic!

    Dana: I agree to an extent of what you wrote. Solamente quiero aadir que if a democracy occurs in Cuba, Mr. Calson sorely underestimates the Cuban people. Democracy is in the historical memory of Cuba as is the abuse that it recieved from the US. Thus not only can Cuba change without the US, but Cuba will probably do so sin el US. These comments by Calson valen nada. It’ all hot air by the US Gov. to court Cuban American votes. Creo que Cuba desea cambio, y creo que if it has to choose, Cuba will rather sink take imposed change by the US.

    Jesus: Marti was right then as he is now about the US. Pero we must remember that Marti tambien escribio: “Socialist ideology, like so many others, has two main dangers. One stems from confused and incomplete readings of foreign texts, and the other from the arrogance and hidden rage of those who, in order to climb up in the world, pretend to be frantic defenders of the helpless so as to have shoulders on which to stand.” This danger of any ideology is true too for both Cuba and the US.

    Waldo: You’re correct in saying that Cubans are aware of Capitalism. Simplemente look at the dollar stores, the convertible peso, or “Roberto” (the black market in Cuba), and one grasps that Capitalism really hasn’t left the island, it’ just gone on in secret. “Leaving the Cubans alone would be the best transition policy.” Gracias. That is the only viable solution that any Government can offer.

    Marti wrote: “Freedoms, like privileges, prevail or are imperiled together. You cannot harm or strive to achieve one without harming or furthering all.”

    Any imposing act by the US, or any other country, is a harming and imperiling act to Cuba’ potential freedom. Leaving Cuba alone to decide es la unica solucion. The US should worry about its own poverty, democracy and injustice y dejarse de fastidiar con los Cubanos por adentro y por afuera de la Isla.

  7. Follow up post #7 added on November 15, 2004 by Michael

    Read between the lines.There are people working very hard behind the scenes to see that leadership change is handled in a diplomatic and respectfull manner.Very good news. The very bad news is that the bosses in the Military and Ministerio de Interior in Cuba has an investment to protect and won’t relenquish power peacefully. 

  8. Follow up post #8 added on November 15, 2004 by Jesus Perez

    Songuacassal, My reference to Marti’ quote was just in the context of its relation to Cuban/American relations and the role the U.S. has played in them over the years. Of course you are right when you point out that extreme ideologies are dangerous and I personally would like to see changes in Cuba but never at the expense of going back to U.S. dependency.

    Dana, I don’t think there are any polls that ask Americans what our policy should be towards Cuba, if they existed I believe they would show a willigness to a more open and realistic approach. As far as Cuban-Americans no longer supporting the embargo, I think that was demonstrated to be inaccurate in the election with the majority of them voting for Mr. Bush. I honestly believe that the reason for the U.S. policy is rooted in the fact that, as crazy as it may sound, policymakers and politicians in this country cannot get over the fact that Fidel and the revolution have been able to survive without their consent. 

  9. Follow up post #9 added on November 15, 2004 by waldo Parravicini

    P.S. There is another very important if not the principal factor why The Empire, after 45 years of trying everything and failing, refuses to change course and keeps the unilateral embargo on Cuba: FEAR.

    A little land with comparatively small population for over four decades has resisted attacks of all natures from the richest and strongest power ever just 90 miles away. What other developing nation could have sustained such pressures and still moves forward?  Cuba not only survived and overcome these continuous dark attacks, but also has been able to operate, improve and move forward its human development. The most humane, logical, equalitarian and free health care, education, social security and sports; no homeless, no street children, no poverty, very low unemployment, no graffiti, no income tax, no gangs, no school shootings, no pornography, no billionaires, no traffic jams, no IMF. Most of the people of Latin America have been watching and are aware of all of the above and they are comparing and asking questions and wishing changes.

    What if The Empire instead of trying to sink Cuba would have accepted helped and treated her as a true independent sovereign nation(like China and Viet Nam)allowing her to try her own alternate system? How much further could Cuba have gone? What would have been the impact of its example on the rest of the nations south of the Rio Grande? What would have been its impact on the people and government of USA?

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