Critical Times for Cuba

El presidente cubano, Raúl Castro, recibió este viernes en La Habana a su homólogo de Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro (Foto EFE)
The change in the Venezuelan Assembly involves the loss of one of Raul Castro’s biggest supporters (EFE)

The year 2015 is drawing to a close and Cuba is living in critical times. There are five main factors that contribute to the Cuban situation: the breach of the fundamental agreements of the 6 th Communist Party Congress; the aging and political exhaustion of the “historic leadership”; the spasm in Cuba-United States relations; the reversal of the leftist wave in Latin America – in particular the parliamentary defeat of the Maduro government in Venezuela; and growing popular discontent with the centralized economic and political model, evident in the exodus of Cubans from the country and in the growth and improved organization of the opposition.

The situation is leading to an economic and social crisis and, predictably, to a political crisis, that obliges all Cuban actors – especially the government – to think in terms of the general interests of the people and to put aside those of specific groups.

1. Clearly, had the principal agreements of the 2011 6 th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba been implemented with respect to self-employment, cooperatives, business autonomy, and the opening to foreign investment, the situation today would, at least, be one of prosperity. Instead, the staunch support for the Statist model continues to depress farm output and cause retail prices to rise, and the awful dual currency system continues.

Although slight changes have improved the situation of minority groups and strengthened the development of an emerging middle class, economic and social conditions for the dispossessed majority continue to worsen. The impoverishment of state employees – who are the majority – has also worsened, aggravated by problems in transport, food and housing, which are everyone’s greatest concerns.

2. Raul Castro has said he will retire from the government in early 2018. His legitimacy, like that of Fidel Castro and the other “historic” leaders who have ruled this country for more than half a century, comes from his participation in the assault on the Moncada Barracks, his presence on the yacht Granma that brought the revolutionaries from Mexico, and his presence in the Sierra Maestra during the Revolution, not from being elected by a direct and secret vote of the people. Among this group, who may arise enjoy their legitimacy, and so would have to pass the test of direct and democratic election to achieve that legitimacy before the people.

This situation requires that, in Raul Castro’s remaining time in power, a process of democratic negotiation is undertaken in Cuban society that enables a broad inclusive national debate, a new constitution and a new multi-party Electoral Law that allows his successor to run as a candidate in democratic elections.

These are also the two years left to the “historics” to finish dismantling the calamity of the Statist model imposed in the name of socialism, and to develop a free market economy that includes free cooperatives of every kind and size and self-employment without restrictions, and, in addition, where the state enterprises that remain are indispensible they must have a high level of autonomy and for the most part be co-managed with their workers. Alongside them, private businesses of all sizes should be developed, including with Cuban capital from outside the country and with foreign capital.

Should Cuba not advance in this process of democratization and the expansion of the economic system to one that supports new entrants of all kinds, the nation’s future could be very uncertain and bleak.

This is also the time remaining to Fidel Castro’s brother to resolve the fundamental problems with the United States, to ensure that relations with the neighboring country benefit Cuba without jeopardizing its sovereignty.

3. The spasm in relations between Cuba and the United States stem from the Cuban government’s demands for a total lifting of the  blockade-embargo, the elimination of the Cuban Adjustment Act and the return of the Guantanamo Naval Base. Also contributing are the emigration crisis and the presence of 8,000 Cubans stranded in Central America, as well as the upcoming election year in the United States, which will make it more difficult for the Obama administration to move forward in normalizing relations. All this suggests a somewhat grim picture, although the president of the United States and some US lawmakers are pushing Congress to address the issue of Cuba.

The underlying problem is that the United States Congress has indicated that it will condition any progress on the issue of democratic changes in Cuba, “concessions to imperialism” that the “revolutionary” government is not willing to concede.

Nobody understands what concessions to imperialism could devolve political and economic sovereignty to the Cuban people, who fought a revolution that triumphed in 1959 to restore institutionalized democracy and the 1940 Constitution violated by Batista; objectives that have always been postponed by this “revolutionary” government. It is not a concession to imperialism; it is a debt to the people.

There are indications that this impasse might be being supported by figures within the Cuban government itself opposed to the necessary changes, those who say they would prefer to see the island sink into the sea rather than compromise on these positions. This sinking does not enjoy majority support among Cubans.

4. The reversal of the leftist wave in Latin America is creating conditions for greater pressures on the Cuban government to advance toward democratic changes. The great parliamentary defeat of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) will probably lead to a drastic reduction in Venezuelan oil flowing to Cuba, and in part to the exchange of doctors for oil, which will significantly affect the Cuban economy and Cuban society in general. This will force Raul Castro’s government to pay for the oil it consumes, but now from other nations, with payment conditions that will not be as beneficial as those contracted with President Maduro.

It should also serve to make the government embark on the path of the economic reforms approved by the 6 th Communist Party Congress, to date only narrowly applied, and open spaces for democratic participation, where all sectors – including the opposition and those who think differently – can engage publically without repression.

5. The disaster sustained by the economy due to lack of government willingness to advance the economic reforms approved by its own Communist Party, the lack of democratic advances, the hopelessness because there are no tangible improvements in the changing relations with the United States for those at the bottom, and the loss of Venezuelan aid have increased popular discontent, the exodus of Cubans to other countries, and the size and organization of the opposition.

Accustomed to ruling for more than half a century with the opposition crushed by repression, the government doesn’t know how to deal with a growing peaceful alternative that, banned and lacking outlets, manifests itself in dissimilar ways, both in the heart of the Communist Party and in official institutions, as well as in the streets.

This entire set of circumstances puts Raul Castro’s government up against a very clear dilemma for 2016. Either advance in the fulfillment of the agreements of the 6 th Party Congress and start a process of internal democratization that facilitates a greater relaxation of the cords of the blockade-embargo, or watch the Cuban economy and Cuban society become involved in a serious period of turbulence with unpredictable consequences.


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