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Posted March 16, 2005 by Cubana in Castro's Cuba

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I returned from a visit to Chile with a heavy, saddened heart. Not because of what I saw in that prosperous, democratic and dynamic South American country, but because I wonder what Cuba would have been had it followed Chile’s path.

The two countries have significant similarities. Chile has a population of 14 million, Cuba 12 million and they are remarkably similar in size. Historically Chile has had one major export—copper; Cuba: sugar and nickel. Both lack petroleum resources or other mineral wealth. In 1959, Chile and Cuba were prosperous and modern. By Latin American standards, they were far ahead of most countries in the region.

The similarities end there. Today Chile is a democratic, vibrant country, with an economy that shines. The Chilean miracle is the result of various factors, including a strong entrepreneurial class and governments that, since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, have nurtured this entrepreneurial class, providing incentives and interfering little with their activities.

Even now under the leadership of a socialist regime and its president, Ricardo Lagos, these neo-liberal policies have continued. The Chileans also encourage foreign investments, primarily from Europe, in an effort to expand its export sector. All of this, in a democratic framework, that respects human rights, protects the less-privileged sectors of society and provides a superb health and education system.

In contrast, Cuba flounders under a dictatorship led by an unbending caudillo who opposes the United States, supports revolutionary and terrorist groups and attempts to build a Marxist-Leninist society. More than 46 years of repression, mismanagement and misguided policies have created misery and poverty for Cubans.

The most troublesome issue may be the legacy of Castroism. After the end of the Castro era, there will be the awesome task of economic reconstruction. Cuba does not have a viable economy of its own. It lacks an internal market, a negotiable currency or a rational pricing structure. Persistent government deficits and accelerated downward spiraling have led to a dead end.

In addition to these vexing realities, there will also be a maze of legal problems posed by the issue of the legality of foreign investments and the validity of property rights acquired during the Castro era. Obviously, Cuban nationals, Cuban-Americans and foreigners whose properties were confiscated by the Castro regime will all want to reclaim them or will ask for fair compensation.

Economic and legal problems are not, however, the only challenges facing Cuba’s future. Some of the critical problems that a post-Castro Cuba will have to deal with are:

The continuous power of the military and the growth of their involvement in the economy;

A free and restless labor movement, seeking vindications and better working conditions;

Simmering racial tension, accentuated by economic inequalities produced, in part, by remittances going mostly to the white populations;

Instilling new values in a population used to stealing, working little and disobeying laws;

The unwillingness of society to sacrifice further and endure the difficult years that will follow the end of communism.

The future of Cuba is, therefore, clouded with uncertainties. Yet Cuba has at least three unique advantages: proximity to, and long tradition of relations with, the United States; an attraction as a tourist Mecca; and a large and wealthy exile population.

These three factors could converge to transform Cuba’s economy, but only if a future Cuban leadership creates the necessary conditions: an open, legally fair economy and an open, tolerant political system. Meanwhile, Chileans seem to have been dealt the better cards while Cubans have been shut out of the game.

Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardi Moreau professor of history and international studies and the director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on March 16, 2005 by I-taoist with 213 total posts

    One must wonder at Professor Suchlicki’ opinion on the role U.S. policy has played in the perpetuation and entrenchment of the Castro regime in the past forty years.  Have our policies not given Castro and the communists the opposition they have needed to maintain power?  Have we not provided “El Jefe” with exactly what he has required, a convenient target which allows him to portray himself as the savior of Latin American independence?  Has our embargo not give him the excuse he needs to avoid the direct responsibility for the miseries in Cuban life?  What other effect than strengthening the police state in Cuba have our attempts at assasination and overthrow had?  All told, one could rightly argue that our policies have played right into Castro’ hand, providing him and his regime the cement they needed to stay in power.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on March 17, 2005 by jesusp with 246 total posts

    The comparison between Chile and Cuba is radically unfair, Mr. Suchlicki should ask himself what would Chile be like today after 44 years of an economic embargo and relentless hostility by the U.S.
    Would Castro had aligned himself, and Cuba, to the USSR had the U.S. not opposed the much needed social and economic reforms put in place by the new Cuban government?
    Instead, taking a more tolerant and respectful position might have avoided the radical position taken by the Cuban leadership.
    One has to look at the sequence of events and wonder, as Mr. Suchlicki does. However, the best fair and balanced analysis of US/Cuba relations during the early days of Castro’ coming to power, can be found in Prof. Louis A. Perez Jr.’ book: Cuba and the United States.
    Unlike Mr. Suchlicki’ analysis, Prof Perez’ is much more realistic.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on March 18, 2005 by Anton with 2 total posts

    What preparations are being made for “ruling” Cuba after Castro dies?

    Is Cuba ready for an American invasion like they are doing now in Iraq?

    Would that be a welcome invasion by the Cubans?

    Will Castro’ dream of a “free society” die with him?

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