Miami Herald | Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor
Question: Cuban President Fidel Castro celebrated his 79th birthday on August 13 under a cloud of growing social discontent, including frustration with lengthy power blackouts. Do you see discontent with economic hardship growing into something else? What is the political outlook for Cuba in the short-term?
Answer from Kirby Jones, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association and a consultant to U.S. firms wanting to do business with Cuba:
In the land where manifestations of discontent are ‘‘prohibited,’’ Cubans seem more outspoken than ever before. If this were to occur in other countries, one could describe it as a healthy public discourse. But in Cuba every such demonstrative action is interpreted as a possible harbinger of an underlying threat to the very political foundations of the country. Unlike what we see in Bolivia, where decades of systemic mistreatment of the Indian population have indeed produced a threat to the very fabric of the country, this is simply not the case in Cuba. While I was in Cuba two weeks ago, in fact, the brownouts had greatly subsided, which still had not lessened the complaints about the heat nor of the dissatisfaction that they happened in the first place. Quite simply, in the short term there is no political impact to be derived from these complaints, much as some might wish.
Answer from Dennis Hays, managing director of the Global and Government Affairs Practice at Tew Cardenas, LLP, and former executive vice president of the Cuban American National Foundation:
John F. Kennedy remarked more than 40 years ago that ‘those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.’ Nowhere is this more apt than in Cuba today. Castro continues to believe his personal hold on power requires him to stifle all forms of free expression—both political and economic. His brighter lieutenants presumably know this is a recipe for disaster, but lack the courage or ability to force a change. At frequent intervals over the years, the average Cuban’s apathy has erupted in sudden, violent action, and only the rapid and ruthless response of the security forces and the promise of emigration has stemmed a broader breakdown. We are once again on this path, but this time there is a thin hope. The handful of dissidents who refuse to be silenced despite prison, torture, and exile offer the only possible way forward that escapes the horror of the status quo or the uncertainty of indiscriminate violence.
Answer from Dan Erikson, director for caribbean projects at the Inter-American Dialogue:
There is no reason to believe that the frustration with the current blackouts has reached regime-threatening proportions. Nevertheless, the Cuban government’s efforts to tout energy-saving light bulbs clearly underlines its inability to deal with the core problem of restoring the country’s electrical grids. While Cuba’s electrical problems are only loosely related to the issue of oil supply, many Cubans are wondering why blackouts continue to plague the country at a time when thousands of their family doctors have departed for Venezuela in exchange for discounted oil. Even though the recent problems have undercut the government’s already scant reserves of popular support, Castro and his allies remain able to control the internal affairs of the country, and have even succeeded in strengthening international ties with China and other Latin American nations.
For its part, the U.S. has recently tried to inject energy into its Cuba policy, appointing a ‘‘transition coordinator’’ to oversee democratization of Cuba from Washington. Nevertheless, it appears waiting for Castro to die remains the cornerstone of U.S. policy.