Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Cuba No Libre

Cuba’s new President is anything but, and the much expected change in power will bring only minor modifications for Cuba’s long-suffering citizens.

On February 19th, Fidel Castro made it official: he was resigning the presidency and ending his 50-year reign over Cuba.

Many exiles, U.S. officials and Cubans on the island had been waiting for this historic day, confident that it would not only mark a new beginning but signal that fundamental change was coming to the hemisphere’s only communist nation. Some experts predicted that Cubans, fed up with shortages and hardship, would rise up and demand freedom. Others suggested change would come from within the government—that a younger generation of leaders would ascend to the top and recognize that Cuba’s economic and political system was bankrupt and needed radical reform.

But what happened following Fidel’s announcement was the opposite.

Rather than taking to the streets demanding change, Cubans are going about their daily lives—queuing for hours at bus stops, collecting monthly food rations at neighborhood bodegas, and showing up at government jobs—as if nothing unusual has happened. Rather than a new generation of leaders taking over, Raúl Castro, Fidel’s younger brother, was named Cuba’s new president, and a cadre of aging communist loyalists continue to dominate the leadership structure in the newly named Council of State, the nation’s top policy-making body.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once again urged the Cuban government “to begin a process of peaceful, democratic change.” But Rice’s words ignore evidence that strongly indicates Cuba’s economic and political system, with minor modifications aimed at improving daily life, is sustainable for the foreseeable future. Here’s why.

The Power of Socialist Orthodoxy

We begin with the premise that Raúl Castro and his allies will only accede to radical change if they are forced into it, that is, if the regime’s survival is at stake. A close look at what has occurred since the 1990s, which saw the introduction of limited reforms, reveals that Cuba’s ruling elite remains committed to socialism.

In 1991, Cuba’s economy went into a freefall following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting loss of $3 billion in annual subsidies. Hunger and power blackouts were widespread. Public transportation disappeared, while crime and prostitution soared. Almost overnight, Cuba became a sex tourism destination for Spaniards, Italians and Mexicans. After a brief riot in 1994, tens of thousands of Cubans took to the seas in flimsy rafts in a desperate attempt to reach U.S. shores.

Fidel responded to the crisis by adopting reforms such as legalizing the U.S. dollar and issuing thousands of licenses to private businesses like restaurants, taxis, florists, mechanics, and carpenters. Farmers were allowed to sell their produce for profit at newly created agricultural markets and, for the first time since the 1959 revolution, authorities opened energy, tourism and other key sectors to foreign investment in partnership with state entities. Hundreds of millions of dollars also flooded into the economy in the form of remittances from Cubans living abroad…


Tags: Castro, Cecilia Vaisman, Cuba, Cuba No Libre, Exiles, Fidel Castro, Gary Marx, Raul Castro
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