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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Politics

More of the same in Cuba - Don’t expect change

Posted March 05, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Politics.
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By Carol J. Williams | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Hope fizzles in post-Fidel Cuba

With little prospect for change in Cuba on the horizon, inklings of discontent have begun to surface on the communist-ruled island that analysts say could spread unrest or incite mass migration.

No interpretation of the parliamentary decisions following the resignation of Fidel Castro signals a likelihood of more economic opportunity or personal freedom—the two greatest sources of young Cubans’ dissatisfaction.
Coupled with newly named President Raul Castro’s call for his fellow Cubans to speak candidly about the nation’s problems, the unmet expectation that reformers would succeed Fidel Castro could unleash despair among Cubans over the likelihood of continued poverty and isolation.

Fidel Castro’s Cuba never experienced a military coup attempt or a major clash between its armed forces and the people. Demonstrations by the discontented were usually thwarted beforehand by secret police arrests of known instigators.

But frustration with the status quo has been building in the 19 months since Castro began his departure from leadership.

Cubans interviewed on the streets of Havana before and after the leadership shuffle expressed resentment over their inability to travel abroad, access the Internet or use facilities and services reserved for foreigners, even if they have dollars.

“Why can’t the people of Cuba go to hotels or travel to other parts of the world?” Eliecer Avila, a student at an elite computer science school outside the Cuban capital, asked National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon six weeks ago in a now-infamous exchange that visibly rattled the parliamentary leader.

Clandestine video of that exchange has been circulating throughout Cuba, instigating discussion and discontent among young Cubans.

In Santiago de Cuba, several hundred students marched in protest of a university regent’s handling of a sexual assault incident last month, the largest known defiance of an authority figure since the early 1990s. Smaller protests have been waged recently during soccer and baseball matches.

“People are up to here with waiting,” a young taxi driver said of the desire for better living conditions, tapping his forehead with a leveled hand.

Hopes that a post-Fidel leadership would embrace more economic reforms began swelling in July 2006, when the longtime leader temporarily ceded the reins of government to Raul. As it became clear that Fidel’s departure would prove permanent, but not be the catalyst for major change, Cubans became increasingly impatient and cynical.

One senior government official wrote to an exile friend in Miami in early February to complain that the island was consumed by inmovilismo—stagnation—as Cubans gradually ceased expecting significant change.

Beyond the appointment of Communist Party hard-liner Jose Ramon Machado as next in line to Raul Castro in the hierarchy, the parliamentary session elevated other old-guard stalwarts in the 31-member Council of State.

The council was packed with “Raulistas”—loyalists of the longtime defense minister and men with personal wealth and power at stake should the country open the economic playing field to a wider sphere of Cubans. Two three-star generals of the Revolutionary Armed Forces were added to the council, joining two others who have served there for decades, along with Raul, the country’s only four-star general.

“There’s been no rejuvenation of the top leadership in Cuba. The average age of Raul Castro and the six vice presidents is a little more than 70. It’s a gerontocracy,” said Brian Latell, a former CIA Cuba analyst and author of a rare biography of the younger Castro, “After Fidel.”

“These old men will be dealing with the possibility of upheaval, levels of instability among younger generations of Cubans,” he said. “That may be the most important problem they are going to be facing.”

Andy Gomez, an assistant provost at the University of Miami and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said he had heard from Cuban contacts by phone that young people had been arrested “for no reason except [regime] fear they might take to the streets and protest.”

He said the testy exchange between the students and Alarcon showed that appeals for Cubans to speak up about the country’s shortcomings had been taken literally, and hard-liners have gained strength in a figurative circling of the revolutionary wagons.

In the last two years, more than 70,000 Cubans have migrated, about half of them illegally, to the United States, Gomez said.

Analysts fear that without prospects for change in Cuba, the number will continue rising, perhaps presenting the U.S. government with another migration crisis in the midst of a presidential election campaign. The 1980 Mariel boatlift sent 125,000 Cubans to Florida, and tens of thousands more took to the seas in 1994, in the depths of post-Soviet hardships.

“I can see an increase in some instability, demonstrations, a continuation of the out-migration. The outlook is not very optimistic for the future of Cuba,” said Jaime Suchlicki, head of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

He cited Raul Castro’s naming of Machado, whom he described as “an unusually hard-line member of the Cuban Communist Party,” as an indication that there would be no relaxation of the party and military control of the population, never mind market economic reforms to allow Cubans to boost their paltry incomes.

Popular pressure is building and the government can no longer ignore it, said a senior government engineer in Havana, because the influx of dollars to Cuban citizens from relatives abroad and foreign tourists has made people without access to hard currency bitterly aware of their second-class status.

“Change is inevitable and unavoidable, though it won’t be like an off-on switch,” said the engineer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Jorge Salazar-Carrillo, an economic analyst of Cuba from Florida International University, believes Cubans will be too frightened of their powerful military to brave the kind of massive street protests that brought democratic governments to power in Eastern Europe two decades ago.

“Why don’t people revolt? They tell me that the boot they have on top of the people is so strong and so hard. They are completely compressed by that weight,” the economics professor said. “People are scared to death.”

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Member Comments

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On March 05, 2008, publisher wrote:

This is exactly how I feel. Right now Raul’s actions speak louder than his words.

How and why do Cuban citizens put up with so much bullshit?

Sorry Raul but until you prove me wrong, this is my position.

Do something MAJOR that can be verified by an international organization and I’ll have some hope. Otherwise I firmly believe that your Presidency might end badly for you and those who support the same old shit in Cuba.

Good luck. I think you’re going to need it.

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On March 05, 2008, publisher wrote:

and this…

The Same Old Cuba
By Alvaro Vargas Llosa
CNSNews.com Commentary
March 05, 2008

Raul Castro has killed all hope that a transition to the rule of law and a market economy will start anytime soon in Cuba. The appointments he has made as well as his first speech as president and his televised conversation with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez indicate that self-preservation is Castro’s paramount objective even if he understands the need to shake up the moribund communist state.

Raul’s appointments aim to consolidate the old guard, starting with first Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, a fiercely loyal party apparatchik, and including generals such as Julio Casas, until recently Castro’s second-in-command at the Ministry of Defense and now one of the five vice presidents of the Council of State. The average age of the 31-member Council of State is 70—the same age as the president of the Popular Assembly (parliament).

The younger generation whose names had been naively mentioned as possible replacements for Fidel Castro—among Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Carlos Lage, the manager of the island’s economy—have been humiliatingly passed over.

Read the rest of the commentary here.

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On March 05, 2008, Peter wrote:

I think Raul should watch the movie; ” Trading Places”. If he had to live like the general population for 6 months then he would initiate signifcant change. Human rights do not exist, in Cuba!

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On March 06, 2008, Manuel wrote:

No, there is some change. The US is expanding their black listed Cuban websites to Europe too.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/us/04bar.html?_r=1&bl&ex;=1204779600&en=fbfa2e2586c552a8&ei=5087 &oref=slogin

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On March 06, 2008, publisher wrote:

This is old news. This happened several months ago and is all about the long arm of the Embargo. This guy is a British citizen. His only ties to the US were his Cuba domain names being registered at enom, a US based registrar.

So, even foreign businesses are not exempt from have assets seized by the US government.

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On March 06, 2008, J. Perez wrote:

It is hard to believe that Raul would miss such a momentous opportunity as has been presented to him. For God sake, look at China, look at Vietnam, GIVE YOUR PEOPLE SOME HOPE!!

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On March 06, 2008, publisher wrote:

Unfortunately I don’t think it’s about hope for the Cuban people. Hope would be destabilizing to the regime… and it is a regime.

These recent events and (s)elections have really opened my eyes to the power that the Castro brothers have over 99.9% of all Cubans living on the island.

No change is just what Raul wants and he will do everything in his power to do nothing.

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On March 06, 2008, Mako wrote:

There is only one constant in life ; and that is change. Even in Cuba ,change will come…..eventually

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On March 07, 2008, edward wrote:

I don’t think the trigger for change will be pulled by the Cuban administration.

To coin a Dolly Parton number “Islands In The Stream” which is a useful analogy of Cuba. The way forward is to increase the stream (tourism, visits from amercans and american cubans alike) into a torrent.

I cannot see how the present status could realistically remain intact under such pressures, therefore speeding up the process of change.

Ed