[Paleopsych] Hoover: After Fidel by William Ratliff

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After Fidel by William Ratliff
Hoover Digest 2004 No. 4

    Once the islands aging caudillo is finally gone, what will become of
    Cuba? An assessment by William Ratliff.

    [17]William Ratliff is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

    The chorus began as soon as the Soviet Union fell: Fidel Castro Is
    History! The standard argument that the Cuban dictator could not long
    survive without the massive aid he had received for decades from
    Moscow was contained in a book entitled Castros Final Hour. Well over
    100,000 hours have passed since that book was published in 1992, and,
    with Fidel still raging on, analysts now usually couch their
    discussions of his eventual demise more modestly, in terms of Cubas
    post-Fidel transition (whenever it may come).

    Most American (including Cuban American) analysts look forward to a
    time when Cuba will have a democratic government and a vibrant market
    economy. But estimates vary considerably on how or when that goal will
    be reached.

    The best-known dissident on the island today, Oswaldo Paya Sardinas,
    has called for a step-by-step transition to greater popular
    representation beginning now. Paya outlined his ideas in his detailed
    Transitional Program, which was informally released in Cuba in
    December 2002. In March and April 2003 Castro responded to this and an
    increasingly active dissident movement with his most brutal wave of
    arrests and imprisonments in decades, demonstrating that obstacles to
    gradual reform remain formidable.

    In May 2004 the Bush administrations newly established Commission for
    Assistance to a Free Cuba published a program described as a
    proactive, integrated, and disciplined approach to undermine the
    survival strategies of the Castro regime and contribute to conditions
    that will help the Cuban people hasten the dictatorships end. In
    hundreds of pages, it laid out steps to that end, ranging from sharply
    curtailing Cuban American remittances and travel to Cuba to increased
    support for dissidents on the island. Some of the steps were being
    implemented by the end of the June.

    If there is an immediate move toward democracy after Fidel goes, as
    envisioned by some in the States, including many Cubans living abroad,
    then new Cuban leaders may draw some lessons from the experiences of
    post-Franco Spain and several Eastern European countries that have
    recently moved from authoritarian to democratic systems. I think it is
    more realistic to expect the island to remain for some time under some
    kind of authoritarian control, an expectation I share with many top
    scholars, intelligence analysts, and defectors.

    The Survivor Regime

    Assuming some version of authoritarian control in a post-Castro Cuba,
    there are several strategies Fidels survivors may adopt and the Bush
    administration hopes to thwart. The following is not a blueprint of
    what I would like to see happen in Cuba in the early years following
    Fidel Castros departure. Rather, it is an examination of what Cubas
    immediate post-Fidel government is most likely to do and what the
    consequences of its choices and policies may be. All such speculation
    is constrained by the fact that we do not know when Fidel will finally
    depart the scene, who will be in position to take power, or what
    domestic and international conditions the new leadership will inherit.
    What we can anticipate with some certainty is that Fidels successors
    will inherit a decrepit economy and a volatile society.

    The survival strategy discussed here is the possible Cuban adaptation
    of some of the ideas and experiences of the past quarter-century in
    China. In sharp contrast to Chinese leaders and analysts during the
    Maoist decades, the Chinese today do not recommend a Chinese model for
    Cuba or any other country. During Raúl Castros visit to China in 1997
    then-premier Li Peng remarked that Chinas experience can only be taken
    as a reference as every socialist country has its own conditions. In
    the broadest of terms the Chinese model (or learning from China) might
    be defined as the promotion of primarily export-oriented, market-style
    domestic economic reforms by means of programs and institutions that
    are guided by a largely authoritarian government that continues to
    proclaim itself socialist.

    During the past 15 years, important members of the Cuban political,
    military, and business elite, including Fidel and Raúl Castro and
    two-thirds of the members of the Communist Party Politburo, have
    visited China and remarked with great interest on the Chinese reform
    experience. A former high-level Cuban intelligence official, Domingo
    Amuchastegui, has said that after the younger Castros visit to China,
    Zhu Rongji, the chief architect of Chinas economic reforms, sent one
    of his chief aides to Cuba, at Raúls request, where he lectured
    hundreds of Cuban executives and leaders, causing a tremendous impact.

    Fidel Castro will leave Cuba in a terrible political and economic
    mess, just as Mao Zedong left China when he died in 1976, and Castros
    successors will be sorely taxed just to retain power. If post-Fidel
    governments are to remain authoritarian for some years, their
    political or military leaders, or both, will need to understand that
    although the Cuban people put up with abject poverty under Fidel, they
    will not long tolerate such conditions under any other leader. This
    poses a daunting challenge to future leaders because on the one hand
    they will have to undertake substantive reforms to simply retain
    power; on the other hand, the opening process itself may create so
    many demands that the new leadership will be overwhelmed. Still, in
    one form or another, authoritarianism has the edge over democracy for
    the immediate post-Fidel period.

    One might ask why reforms have not been launched already. The answer
    is that, although Fidel has visited China, he is far closer in his
    ideas and policies to Mao Zedong than to any Soviet leader, never mind
    any post-Mao Chinese leader. Castros alliance with the Soviet Union
    during the Cold War, and his often very strong criticism of China, was
    based almost entirely on his need for Soviet-bloc money, arms, and a
    nuclear shield during his conflict with the United States.

    Like Mao, Fidel cannot abandon his old ideas at the end of his life
    without admitting that his career was a terrible mistake. So just as
    Mao held on to his egalitarian socialism until the very end, Fidel
    remains steadfast and allows private initiative only periodically,
    when the economy is in a particularly disastrous condition. The most
    recent period of crisis was during the early 1990s, after the collapse
    of the Soviet bloc. Suddenly Cuba was left without the massive aid and
    credits that for decades had amounted to about 30 percent of the Cuban
    GNP. When the worst of a crisis passes, however, Castro usually begins
    again to harass, restrict, or outlaw private initiative, even in the
    black market, which is more difficult to control.

    At the same time, although Castro will never tolerate Chinese-style
    market reforms, he has provided theoretical grounds for such changes
    when he is gone, which is more than Mao ever did. One example is
    Castros attitude toward Deng Xiaoping. When Deng took power in the
    late 1970s, Castro called him a numbskull and a caricature of Hitler.
    But when Deng died in 1997, Castro referred to him as an illustrious
    son of the Chinese nation who had made a valiant contribution to the
    consolidation of socialism in China. Thus, although Castro will never
    undertake Dengs market-oriented reforms, future Cuban leaders can
    argue that Fidel accepted them as consolidating socialism in China, so
    why not in Cuba too?

    And Cubas post-Fidel leaders are likely to follow that lead. As
    Alcibiades Hidalgo, Raúls former top aide and a former U.N.
    ambassador, told me in 2003, the younger Castro has sympathized for
    many years with change in the Chinese style, that is, capitalism or
    something like it in the economy but a single party and repression of
    politics. Former intelligence official Amuchastegui added, Once Fidel
    Castro is out of the game, other areas of the Chinese experience
    [other than the role of the military] will most probably be
    implemented in Cuba rather quickly.

    Potential lessons from the Chinese experience include the following:

      o Cubans need to adopt a new way of thinking, different from both
      the egalitarianism of the Castro decades and the paternalism of the
      colonial centuries. Despite the proven business prowess of many
      Cuban Americans in Miami, this may be the most difficult lesson of
      all. Several Cuba specialists at the Chinese Academy of Social
      Sciences emphasize that first and foremost Cuban leaders and people
      need to jettison stifling egalitarianism and turn instead to
      promoting initiative, market productivity, and growth. They argue
      that when government policies encourage individuals and
      groupsdomestic and foreignwho wish to produce, the economy will
      expand, and living standards will rise for most Cubans, as they
      have for the majority of the Chinese. The fact that Chinese leaders
      and people have made this change so successfully, given their long
      traditional and Maoist history, might in itself be considered an
      inspiration to Cubans.

      One important aspect of this change in thinking relates to the
      overseas Cuban community. The overseas Chinese were critical to
      Chinas reform process in that they quickly returned to China, took
      advantage of the opportunities, and adapted to the limitations of
      the new system. Overseas Cubans, particularly in America, are
      numerous, and many are wealthy, highly skilled, and well connected.
      They could make a major contribution to development in Cuba even
      during a post-Fidel authoritarian period, should Cubans on the
      island and abroad decide to cooperate and commit themselves to
      economic policies that give all Cubans a chance to work and
      prosper. At present, most Cubans, wherever they are, do not seem
      disposed to such cooperation with a post-Fidel authoritarian
      regimeand current U.S. policy discourages it.

      o The model of a successful (so far), peaceful, and orderly
      succession of leaders within an authoritarian system was initiated
      by Deng and continued through Jiang Zemin to the current Hu Jintao.
      Deng, Jiang, and Hu have been largely successful, despite important
      continuing challenges, because their reforms have benefited a
      substantial majority of the people. Fidel has designated Raúl as
      his successor, though the latter lacks charisma and may not live
      long enough to take power. Cuba does not seem to have an internal
      process for choosing future leaders even within the ruling
      bureaucracy, as was the case in China under Mao.

      o China achieved the longest period of double-digit economic growth
      of any major country in modern history by undertaking economic
      reforms that promoted (often by simply permitting) initiative,
      competition, and production among a suppressed but potentially
      highly creative people. These reforms ranged from the wholesale
      transformation of current institutions and practices to the
      encouragement of private shops and industries of all sizes. Many of
      the changes are enumerated by Carmelo Mesa-Lago in his Growing
      Economic and Social Disparities in Cuba (2002), published by the
      Cuba Transition Project, a program at the University of Miami that
      examines conditions in Cuba today and the many reform possibilities
      that lie ahead after Fidel Castro is gone. After reading Mesa-Lagos
      list of economic reforms, a prominent Chinese analyst noted that
      all of the economic recommendations are possible and desirable.
      But, he reiterated, the most important thing is not specific
      measures, but a changing of the traditional mentality among the

      o The Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) was for some years a
      major player in Chinese economic development. The Cuban
      Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) are already much involved in the
      Cuban economy, though not yet so broadly as the PLA was in the
      early 1990s. Because the FAR is the most relatively efficient and
      highly trained institution in Cuba, the prospects are that its role
      will expand in the foreseeable future. The negative qualities of
      the Chinese experience, ranging from corruption to loss of
      institutional focus, are also already evident in Cuba. In time,
      Cuba may want to examine how in recent years the Chinese have
      reduced the PLAs involvement in economic activities not related
      directly to the military sector.

      o One of the critical unanswerable questions today is what the
      Cuban military and police would do in the event of a major uprising
      against Fidel (which is unlikely) or his successor. Deng Xiaopings
      conviction that stability is essential for steady economic growth
      under authoritarian guidance was demonstrated by the Tiananmen
      repression of June 4, 1989, in Beijing and other cities. Fidel
      Castro approved of Dengs use of the military in that crisis, but it
      is unclear to what degree the Cuban police or military would follow
      the PLA example.


    The types and timetables of reforms in Cuba are impossible to predict
    with certainty. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. government has
    repeatedly tightened the embargo, the first two times (1992 and 1996)
    with the essential support of President Bill Clinton. Now, under
    George W. Bush, the executive branch is promoting a more integrated
    and proactive involvement in the hope of speeding up and molding
    changes in the country. If current U.S. efforts to strengthen Cuban
    civil society succeed, perhaps at least in the post-Fidel period the
    current silent majority of Cubans, who up to now have been united only
    in their determination not to rock the political boat, will be able to
    advance the cause of democracy and free markets. So far, however, the
    main consequence of the Bush administrations more activist approach
    seems to have been the retaliatory mass arrests of MarchApril 2003,
    which decapitated the democratic opposition on the island.

    If Cuban developments in the short and middle term follow trajectories
    at times observable on the island, they are likely to move slowly
    toward an open society. That movement is likely to be manifested first
    in economic reforms, as Cubas future leaders examine their obvious
    needs and apply ideas gleaned from the Chinese or Vietnamese
    authoritarian models. Such a movement would be positive, even if more
    gradual than quick democracy, both for the economic well-being of the
    Cuban people and for the islands step-by-step entry into the modern

    A longer version of this essay was published in English and Spanish as
    Chinas Lessons for Cubas Transition? in the summer of 2004 by the Cuba
    Transition Project, Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, at
    the University of Miami.


   17. http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/bios/ratliff.htm

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