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Posted January 08, 2005 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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PBS | Infosearch | Jose Cadenas | Research Dept | La Nueva Cuba

Conventional wisdom has it that when Fidel Castro departs the scene—an event which is bound to occur sooner rather than later—Cuba and Cubans will have a chance to start all over again. For some, this means a chance to leave the island altogether and join their relatives or former countrymen in Miami. For elements of the exile community in Southern Florida it means, presumably, a chance to turn the clock back to 1958, when the island was a close ally of the United States and had one of the highest standards of living in Latin America. For others, it means important political and economic changes which will turn the island into a “bourgeois democracy” similar to Costa Rica, El Salvador or the Dominican Republic. For still others, it means a chance to finally make socialism work, in the sense that in the absence of a U.S. embargo (and U.S. political and diplomatic hostility) the country would presumably have a chance to fully realize its economic potential within the existing Communist system.

Evidently those who dream these dreams are not the same people; in some cases they do not even occupy the same political jurisdiction. The official policy of the United States government under every administration since President John F. Kennedy has been the third option—to see Cuba transformed into an “ordinary” Latin American democracy. To be sure, no administration, including the present one, has the slightest idea exactly how such an eventuality can be brought about; even the recent Powell report is largely devoted to U.S. responses after a transition has begun. The last option—which implies the lifting of the embargo and the normalization of relations—has been the official preference of the Cuban government from the very beginning, although there is reason to doubt that Fidel Castro himself sincerely favors it as much as many of the people around him.

For its part, the exile community dreams dreams that can probably never be realized—to return home both physically and spiritually, to vindicate its opposition to the revolution, to exact revenge from those under whose rule they and their families have suffered enormously, to merge the Cuba of the island with the Cuba of the diaspora. For people on the island, the issue of the day is more basic—economic survival in a system which is deliberately organized to produce scarcity for purposes of political control. Ordinary Cubans are tired of long lines to buy basic necessities, of the endless indoctrination, of calls for ceaseless sacrifice, of promises of a well-being that continually recede behind the horizon. But they also harbor a deep fear of a sudden political upheaval which would plunge the country into a sea of uncertainty. These fears are not without foundation. Quite apart from revanc! hist fantasies of some elements of the exile community, it is far from clear that an alternative system will produce abundance, all the more so since Cuba has lost its place in the world sugar market and is unlikely to ever again be a prosperous country.

Nobody can forecast exactly what political form Cuba will assume after Fidel Castro has passed from the scene. But some predictions can be made with reasonable certainty. There will be no civil war or political uprising, partly because those who might be inclined to participate in such an event have already left the island (or are planning to leave), partly because the military and police remain the most effective agencies of the government, and partly, too, because the suffocating mechanisms of an authoritarian state assure that any potential opposition is divided and infiltrated. Nor will there be a succession crisis, since the dictator has already made clear that his brother Ral will become head of state in the event of his disappearance. Should Ral Castro die before his brother, doubtless another successor would be named, possibly even one of Fidel Castro’s sons, two of whom have recently been profiled in the Cuban media.

It is less clear, however, what the real political and economic content of Cuba will be under Ral Castro or some other member of the Castro family. A kind of crony capitalism, in conjunction with unscrupulous foreign investors, is already growing within the larger (and increasingly empty) shell of socialism. In many ways the country is already transitioning toward something resembling the more old-fashioned patrimonial systems such as we have seen in Trujillo’s Dominican Republic or Somoza’s Nicaragua—where the army is the most important (really, the only real) political party, and where there is a confusion of the interests of the ruling family and those of the state. Whether its leaders chose to call such a system “Marxism-Leninism,” “Communism,” “socialism” or something else is almost irrelevant.

There is a tragic fact which Cubans on both sides of the Florida straits must face. Nearly fifty years of revolution has created an enormous gap in culture, expectations, and sense of nationhood. The Cubans in the United States are destined to become like the rest of us, and over time our history will become theirs. Meanwhile, whether we or they like or not, the Cuban revolution “is” Cuban history, and cannot be unlived or forgotten. Cubans on the island cannot become North America even if they wished to do so, and Cuba can never be like the United States. In all likelihood it will always be poor and resentful of its neighbor, defiant in its attitudes and extravagant in its nationalism. At the same time, however, Cuba has no choice but to accept its fate as a Caribbean island, uniquely fitted for tropical agriculture and tourism, but little else. In that sense it is not likely to differ greatly from the Dom! inican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad or a host of other places created for an eighteenth and nineteenth century world that no longer exists and can never again be summoned to life.

Future historians will marvel at the way that a revolution in a small Caribbean country known mainly for sugar, beaches and the rhumba, provoked so much passion in the United States—and the world—for half a century. The revolution in Cuba has failed to create a viable alternative to the system it replaced, and now—ironically—attributes its failures exclusively to the failure of the ex-imperial power to play its traditional role as protector, banker, and market for its harvests. Yet one might almost argue that at this point the Cuban revolution is “about” resistance to the United States and very little else. To some extent, of course, this is true of Cuban history generally (with the additional caveat that it was and is also about resistance to Spain). This, at least, would explain the long run of hostility between the two countries, and temper any optimism about the future of bilateral relations, regardless of the political system which emerges to pick up the pi! eces from Castro’s project.

* Mark Falcoff is resident scholar emeritus of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, and the author of Cuba the Morning After: Confronting Castro’s Legacy (Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 2003).

  1. Follow up post #1 added on January 09, 2005 by Jesus with 42 total posts

    This person talks about a “bourgeois democracy” similar to that of Costa Rica, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. Is this person for real? How does any sane mind compare the history of democracy that has existed in Costa Rica for the last half century, with the caos and turmoil coupled with the history of intervention by the U.S. in El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.
    From there he goes on to state that Cuba “is unlikely to ever again be a properous country” and further declares that “in all likelihood it will always be poor and resentful of its neighbor”. In closing he portrays Cuba as “a small Caribbean country known mainly for its sugar, beaches and the rhumba” (could not even spell it right, RUMBA)
    This gentleman should keep his opinions to himself, uninformed as they are, this article, in my opinion, is an insult to ALL Cubans.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on January 10, 2005 by alejendro with 10 total posts

    This person is “scholar Emeritus ” of what? The American Enterprise Institute? He talked about Cuba having ther highest standard of living of all Latin American counrties in 1959. None of them had a high standard of living because they were all Banana republics of the United States. Certainly Cubans had the highest rate of televisions per capaita in 1959. Unfortunately thoses who didn’t have televisions were starving to death. I think the writer should travel to Cuba and learn a little bit more about the true Caban “alma”.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on January 10, 2005 by Dana Garrett with 252 total posts

    When propagandists for USA State Department shill organizations like the American Enterprise Institute make pronouncements about other nations, it is important to look for the USA policy code words rumbling beneath the surface.  Consider these in the above article:

    >>In all likelihood it [Cuba] will always be poor and resentful of its neighbor, defiant in its attitudes and extravagant in its nationalism. At the same time, however, Cuba has no choice but to accept its fate as a Caribbean island, uniquely fitted for tropical agriculture and tourism, but little else.<<

    What Mr. Falcoff is really saying is that if the USA ever gets its hands on Cuba again, Cuba can never expect to enjoy prosperity and it can just forget its “extravagant…nationalism” (i.e., independence from USA dominance) because it will be gobbled up once more by the USA.

  4. Follow up post #4 added on January 19, 2005 by Allen with 2 total posts

    I am Canadian, and I spent two weeks in Cuba over Christmas and new years 2005.  It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  While we were at a resort, we went into the town of Moron and Ciego de Avila on two occasions.  While there we visited the people, and went into their homes.  Cubans are amazing people.  They are good people, very kind and accepting.  The very idea of President Bush condemning or attacking the Cuban people for anything is sickening.  I may be ignorant, but has Bush ever been to Cuba?  Has he ever shook a Cuban’ hand on the street of a small village?  They are fantastic people and they don’t deserve the oppression being forced upon them by the Bush administration.  There is huge potential for the Cuban nation to prosper, tourism is the biggest factor.  I love Cuba and will definitely be back.  I have made many trips to the United States, but I’m not sure I’ll ever go back (except maybe to Vegas). 

  5. Follow up post #5 added on February 20, 2011 by g

    just camw across this. the sag reality is that after some fifty years expecting the americans to go fight and save their skins although, invariably, letting it be known that cuba does not want any american intervention after castro. evidently cubans are slow to learn that no country does or gives anything in exchange for nothing.
    as sad as it is after 50 years of castro controls one most conclude that cubans’ pants are empty…

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