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Cuba libre - Commentary

Posted August 04, 2003 by publisher in Cuba Politics.
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By Daniel F. Somavilla & Andy Messing Jr. | Washington Times

Since 1959, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has outlived eight presidential administrations. Even the loss of billions of dollars of aid caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union was not enough to loosen his grip on power.

However, Mr. Castro is no match for Father Time. And, at almost 77, it is getting harder for him to hide his waning vigor, evidenced by his recent public fainting spell. He has named Raul Castro, his brother and commander of the armed forces, as his official successor, but Raul is only four years younger and has his own share of health problems. In any case, this Cuban regime has always been a personality cult centered on Fidel Castro and cannot survive unaffected without him.

The Cuban government will go through major changes when Fidel is gone. Despite Mr. Castro’s policies of repression and censorship, the foundations of democracy have managed to emerge on the island. Beginning in March through October 2001, a petition was circulated by dissident Oswaldo Paya, demanding certain democratic freedoms be signed into law by the Cuban Congress.
  By existing Cuban constitutional law, the petition required 10,000 signatures to become a legislative initiative. Mr. Paya was constantly under surveillance and harassed by Mr. Castro’s security apparatus and many Cubans were too afraid to sign their names on such an incriminating document. Despite this, he was able to collect 11,020 signatures. Mr. Castro was only able to block Mr. Paya’s efforts with a hastily mounted counterpetition, acquiring signatures through pressure.
  We need to realize Mr. Castro’s death will likely mean for Cuba what the fall of the Berlin Wall meant for the Soviet Union. After 44 years of totalitarianism, it seems doubtful the Cuban people will stand for anything less than a free society but how free remains to be seen. Furthermore, America needs to make sure Cuba does not become a haven for “dark-side"criminal capitalism, as Russia has.
  The next Cuban government and military may be staffed with a number of functionaries and soldiers who are serving under Mr. Castro, because they will be the only ones with the experience to do the job. There is a difference, however, between those bureaucrats and officers who do their jobs honestly and those who are corrupt and opportunistic. The DEA has confirmed that Cuba is a major cocaine transshipment center, though more to Mexico and Europe than the U.S. It is unrealistic to believe such activity can occur in a country that maintains such strict control of its airspace and waters without cooperation from elements of the military and/or bureaucracy. If the next government of Cuba includes these rotten elements, the implications for America are dire indeed.
  The longstanding embargo against Cuba will be dropped to help our hopefully democratic neighbor get on its feet. This might provide the Latin American narcotics organizations with the opportunity they have been waiting for. They will swarm onto Cuba like flies on honey, trying to gain influence in the new government. If they succeed, they will be able to expand the import of drugs into America with newfound ease.
  The amount of drugs hitting our streets will increase substantially, causing prices to drop and addiction to rise.
  To counteract this situation, we need to continue coordinating current intelligence, compiling lists of individuals in the Castro government and military who cooperate with narcotics organizations and other corrupt elements. This list needs to be updated as often as possible, so that when Mr. Castro’s regime falls, those individuals can be dealt with swiftly and prevented from taking part in the new Cuban government.
  This will not prevent criminal elements from seeping into the new government indefinitely. In the interim, we will need move swiftly to bring improved water systems, electricity and quality health care for all Cubans, not just the nomenklatura. Then we should move on to promoting appropriate industries to augment their agricultural economy and improve their standard of living. These types of efforts will provide a climate conducive to democracy.
  The death of Fidel Castro will leave Cuba at a crossroads. After living so long under communism, the Cuban people deserve to live in a society based on freedom of expression and association, a democratically elected government, and an economy based on equitable private enterprise, not the machinations of a select few and an organized crime syndicate. As their neighbor and worldwide proponent of these ideals, America has a duty to help Cuba reach these goals, for if we don’t take a proactive hand in post-Castro Cuba, undesirable entities will.
   
  Daniel F. Somavilla is Latin American research assistant at the National Defense Council Foundation. Retired Special Forces Maj. F. Andy Messing Jr. is executive director of the NDCF.

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