Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    A Post-Castro Era Looms For Cuba

    Published on April 20, 2013
    A Post-Castro Era Looms For Cuba – OpEd
    By FPIF
    By Arturo Lopez-Levy

    With a post-Castro Era looming on the horizon, the Obama administration
    should muster the political will to prepare the United States for
    February 2018, when neither Fidel nor Raul Castro will remain at the
    helm of the Cuban state.

    In 1960, when Cuba’s new first vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel was
    born, Fidel Castro had already been leading Cuba for a year. Neither the
    Beatles nor the Rolling Stones had conquered rock-n-roll. Dwight D.
    Eisenhower ruled the United States, becoming the first of eleven United
    States presidents, including Obama, to apply the failed embargo policy
    against the Castro regime and the political project it represents.

    But against the calendar, there are no victories. In 2006, Fidel
    Castro’s illness forced the first transition in the Cuban leadership
    since 1959. Raúl, then aged 76, replaced Fidel, who was almost 80.
    Despite the fact that it was a succession between brothers of the same
    generation, the presidency of Raúl Castro has had important consequences
    for politics and the Cuban economy. Faced with the loss of Fidel’s
    charismatic leadership, the Cuban Communist Party began processes of
    economic reform and political liberalization in order to rebuild its
    capacity to govern under the new conditions.

    In the last five years, the Cuban government has created an important
    institutional foundation for the transition to a mixed economy,
    symbolized by the encouragement of non-state sector firms, and a
    post-totalitarian relationship between the state and civil society,
    symbolized by relaxed travel restrictions. With the election of the new
    Council of State on February 24th, the last phase of the transition to
    the post-Castro era began. Raúl Castro was reelected president, but for
    the first time a leader born after 1959, Miguel Diaz-Canel, became the
    second in command. Although this transition is unfolding with the same
    party and president in power, and is both gradual and limited, a new
    leadership and changing priorities are discernible.

    If we think of the Communist Party as a corporation (an analogy that
    should not be abused), Diaz-Canel is a manager who, over time, has
    served at various levels of its production chain. He worked at its
    foundation, as a university teacher and youth leader. Later, in the
    strategic provinces of Villa Clara and Holguin, he administered the
    implementation of economic reforms and directed the opening of the
    economy to foreign investment and tourism, all the while maintaining
    party control over both processes.

    Díaz-Canel is part of the network of provincial party czars who are very
    important in the implementation of the proposed changes, particularly
    decentralization. Having worked in central and eastern Cuba, the new
    first vice president has cordial ties with regional commanders of the
    armed forces, which, along with the Communist Party, is the other pillar
    of the current Cuban system. He is a civilian, the first in the line of
    succession to have little military experience. But he is steeped in the
    networks of power and well versed in the controlled management of reforms.
    Challenges for Cuban and United States leaders

    If Cuba implements the type of mixed economy proposed by the last
    Congress of the Communist Party and establishes a new, more vital
    relationship with its diaspora and the world, it will also transform
    politically. With the economy and society changing, the political
    environment cannot remain intact. The rise of market mechanisms and an
    autonomous non-state sector will reinforce the new pluralizing flows of
    information, investment, and technology. The new social sectors will
    seek representation in the political arena. Citizens will have greater
    access to the Internet, from which civil society will benefit.

    This does not imply a transition to multiparty democracy over the next
    five years. But even without regime change, economic liberalization will
    force an expansion of pluralism within the current People’s Power
    system. Candidates for local elections could come from the new non-state
    sectors, or previously unrepresented religious or social groups, and
    demand a transparent use of local taxes. Pressures for systemic
    political changes could increase as the economy adopts more
    market-oriented structures and more Cubans are able to travel abroad.
    Then the party system could be reformed in order to remain at the helm
    of social and economic changes.

    Political liberalization will probably start at the lower levels of
    government, allowing citizens to vent their frustrations at that scale.
    However, the pressure is sure to rise. Raul Castro’s decision to limit
    political office holders to two five-year terms, at a time when the
    older generation is leaving power by attrition, will result in a less
    personalized and more institutionalized leadership that promotes upward
    mobility of new politicians in an orderly fashion. The central challenge
    facing Cuban leaders is to have the audacity, creativity, and
    self-confidence to accelerate economic reforms, without losing control
    of the ongoing political liberalization.

    In this new context, the U.S challenge is to open a path for those in
    the regime who have an interest in backing more serious reforms. The
    United States should discredit the naysayers within the Cuban elite (and
    Washington’s as well) by showing what Cuba can gain through opening up
    its politics and society, rather than maintaining excessive controls.
    This requires a U.S. readiness to present Havana with real incentives in
    ways the United States has not done since the times of the Ford and
    Carter administrations.

    Washington’s current strategy—ignoring Raul Castro’s pro-market moves
    and using USAID programs to meddle in Cuba’s domestic politics and
    promote regime change—is yielding diminishing returns. The United States
    has more to gain by allowing its own business community to trade and
    invest in the emerging Cuban non-state sector and engaging the new
    leaders in Havana. A dynamic Cuban market that appeals to U.S. investors
    would put the U.S. embargo against the island in jeopardy.

    The opportunity to redesign U.S. policy towards Cuba will not last
    forever. A failure to respond to Raúl Castro’s overtures for negotiation
    with Washington would be a strategic mistake. Unfortunately, the 1996
    Helms-Burton law codified the embargo as a legislative act and limited
    presidential authority to terminate sanctions in response to Cuba’s
    changing conditions. But President Obama still can make a significant
    difference in bilateral relations if he decides to lead on the issue by
    using his prerogatives as diplomat in chief.

    The president can begin by taking Cuba off the State Department’s list
    of “state sponsors of terrorism.” It would be a positive gesture towards
    Havana and signal to the world that Obama meant what he said when he
    called for a new diplomatic approach towards American adversaries. It
    would not be a concession to Cuba, since Havana has not been connected
    to any terrorist actions for at least 20 years. The misuse of the list
    to serve a petty political agenda of the pro-embargo lobby delegitimizes
    its credibility as a useful tool of the United States against real
    terrorist threats.

    Taking Cuba off the State Department’s list would also provide a
    framework for resolving the Alan Gross affair. This problem is currently
    intractable because of the false premise in Washington that Gross is a
    hostage of a terrorism-sponsoring nation. The issue might become
    manageable if the two countries could negotiate a comprehensible package
    that would save face for both governments. Such an agreement could be
    the first step to stabilize a course of engagement and broad
    people-to-people contacts over the next four years—a critical goal, if
    the U.S. is to have some influence during the final transition to a
    post-Castro Cuba.

    Arturo Lopez-Levy is a PhD Candidate at the Josef Korbel School of
    International Studies of the University of Denver. You can follow him on
    Twitter @turylevy.