Cuba Politics

Raul vs. Fidel - Who will determine the future of Cuba?

Posted August 27, 2006 by publisher in Cuba Politics.

William Ratliff

At the beginning of August, Cuba got a new “Maximum Leader” for the first time in almost a half century. Raul Castro, 75, “temporarily” replaced his brother, Fidel, while the latter underwent major surgery.

Fidel, who had been filmed several days earlier in Argentina losing control when confronted by a critical Argentine journalist, disappeared from view on his return to Cuba. In a packaged, printed statement released on his eightieth birthday, August 13, two weeks after his surgery, he told Cubans that they should be “ready to confront any adverse news” about his health.

So, has Fidel already expired or will he return to power? Will he toddle onto the stage periodically in the months ahead to tinker around on the fringes of power, helping or hindering his brother or others in a succession that already seems to have begun? Certainly his absolute power will never be what it was since his long-denied mortality is now so obvious.

Analysts differ radically in their expectations. For me, the key immediate uncertainty is what Fidel will do while he survives; play the “maker” or the “spoiler.”

He could promote a smooth succession, if only by reaffirming his certainty that Raul will make the right decisions for Cuba’s future, whatever they may be. Or he could stubbornly dig in his heels and adamantly insist on maintaining the true Fidelista faith that has created the current morass.

History suggests he will go out stubborn, greatly increasing the prospects of bitter conflict, perhaps even civil war and U.S. military intervention. But some who have worked closely with the two brothers think his taste of mortality may cause him to be cooperative and allow his successors to find their own new and different legitimacy.

If Fidel dies soon without digging in his heels, or cooperates in the succession, I would predict a relatively smooth move toward carefully orchestrated economic reforms, probably under Raul Castro’s direction, but with degrees of support from other current and perhaps former leaders.

Who is Raul? He was always the loyal No. 2 to Fidel’s absolute power. But he has long been the key behind-the-scenes player, almost an efficiency nut in Cuban terms. His activities have included being Fidel’s hatchet man, a role some think is the sum-total of his character and will turn him into a status quo tyrant. I doubt it, for Raul is intelligent and far more pragmatic than Fidel, in addition to being more “human,” specifically more “Cuban,” than his patriarchal brother.

Today Cuba is an economic black hole almost equal to China when Mao Zedong died in 1976. In 2004, a high-ranking Cuban official admitted to Le Monde Diplomatique that, “Everybody [in Cuba] wants economic changes, except Fidel.”

Any post-Fidel leader who expects to survive must show the Cuban people rather quickly that there is hope for a better life in the near future. People put up with Fidel’s stifling economic policies and political repression because he was, well, Fidel. But as Basil Fawlty might say, there’s no Fidel Substitute.

In the near, post-Fidel future, Cuban leaders are likely to follow the Chinese lead in maintaining the revolutionary image of their original great leader even as they dismantle much of his economic thinking and system.

Raul and many other Cuban political, military, and economic leaders have for years expressed great admiration for the rapid economic progress registered in China and Vietnam. With his talent for listening and working with others, Raul may have a good chance to conduct Chinese-style change, that are long term, systematic, market-oriented economic reforms identified as market-socialism under single-party direction.

Up to now, Fidel has flatly rejected Chinese-style change for Cuba. But in November 2004, when Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Havana, Fidel said that China is “the most promising hope and best example for all the countries of the Third World.” Thus, on this and other occasions, Fidel has provided a “bridge” to Chinese-style reforms in Cuba, which is more than Mao ever did in China.

A prominent Cuban democracy advocate and economist, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, just wrote from Havana in the Miami Herald that he thinks Raul may become a Cuban Deng Xiaoping and “promote economic reforms with the objective of creating a political base.” And he added that, “the economic reforms could be an anteroom to political reforms.”

What should the United States do? Back off and let Cubans work out their own future. Americans must recognize that if we can live with “market socialism” in China and Vietnam, we can do the same with respect to Cuba, if that is the direction the island’s new leaders choose to go. If Cubans don’t go that way, and democracy simply is not in the cards right away, they will commit suicide and their future will be much bloodier and more complicated. But that, too, is up to them.
William Ratliff is Adjunct Fellow at the Independent Institute, Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and a frequent writer on Chinese and Cuban foreign policies.

Member Comments

On August 28, 2006, bobbi wrote:

Chinese Style Market Socialism sound good to me. Wheather it Raul or Fidel or some other leader in the future after Fidel Castro. I think the future of Cuba is modern possiblly high tech market socialist enconmy.  It won’t be Communism and United States is either going to accept it or reject. Now they have accepted enconmies like Vietnam and China both of whom they are now doing big bussiness and trade with. Now if the United States is the wolf in sheep clothing they will reject socialism in Cuba because they don’t want Communism or Socialism in Cuba. They secret want the oppressive regime of Capitalism in Cuba which is exploiting minorities here and placing them in debt as quickly as possible and control the community and their enconmy by control every piece of property they may think they own. The Minoriities mainly of Hispanic and Asian origins are not wanted here by the far Right wing Christian part of our government. The Center Right know they are neccesary to complete with a Thrid World but well skill and Highly educated society. Workers are just more cheaper in the Thrid World.

And I fear in the Cuba after Castro that poor Cuban will the cheap labor to build the new morden Cuba. They will undoubtibally be exploited by exile Cuban Capitalist who will pay the dirty wages to do the jobs the exile won’t do themselves. Just like the mexican and other Latinos do in this Country. This what Capitalism is all about.

On August 28, 2006, bobbi wrote:

Cuban exile will have all the money and investment but will not have Unions, will give health care to there workers or 4 and 1 K.  they will try to cut cost and get cheap labor. They will try to do alway with government regulation that are pro-labor and pro-work. They will control the Bank and lean so-called low cost loans which will almost impossible to pay off because flexible interest rates. The will be not job security because they will no Union and any type of Unionization will put down my the Capitalist government the exile will control with America Cocaine money. Even thought Cocaine Trafficiers started Drug Trafficing because Poor Latin American Bussiness men and Socialist Revoltutionaries were tired of being expliot and living and being treated like dogs. The exile will that same Cocaine money plus millions of American Republian money to re-establish Capitalism back into Cuba.  Cuban exile just don’t reject Fidel Castro they reject all the Revolutionary ideals that poverty sticken Latin had to releave themselves from suffering that come from living in a Thrid World Country.

On September 05, 2006, MiamiCuban wrote:

Bobbi, I agree with much of what you’ve said.  Reversing the accomplishments of the revolution would not serve Cuba well at all.  No one there wants the extreme poverty of “democratic” Latin America, with all the illiteracy and lack of proper medical care as well.

On September 29, 2006, Richard Mcburney wrote:

hey bibbi,do you hate America???? are u a communist/socialist??? i guess you dont want to see the cuban people free ether.if you hate America so much and think it’s bad then move to cuba

On September 29, 2006, Richard Mcburney wrote:

by the way bobbi,,,, the mexicans must like working for low wages or they would not come here…i guess next your going to say they only do jobs Americans wont do….that the biggest lie ever told..and if the mexicans dont like it they can leave also