Castro's Cuba: Quo Vadis?
Authored by Dr. Francisco Wong-Diaz.
The United States, particularly the Army, has a long history of involvement with Cuba. It has included, among others, the Spanish-American War of 1898, military interventions in 1906 and 1912, the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, the 1962 Missile Crisis, counterinsurgency, and low intensity warfare in Latin America and Africa against Cuban supported guerrilla movements. After almost 5 decades of authoritarian one-man rule, Fidel Castro remains firmly in power. On July 31, his brother, Raul Castro, assumed provisional presidential power after an official announcement that Fidel was ill and would undergo surgery. What would be the strategic and political implications attendant to Castro’s eventual demise or incapacitation? The author suggests some possible transition or succession scenarios and examines the consequences that might follow and the role that the United States might be called to play.
This paper serves multiple purposes, the most important of which is contributing to the depth of knowledge about Castro’s Cuba and Cuba’s Fidel in a time of transition. Evidence supporting the analysis and conclusions is derived from open sources.
Interest and concern about the unfolding Cuban reality increased after Fidel Castro provisionally delegated his presidential powers to his brother, Raul, on July 31, 2006, allegedy due to a life-threatening illness. Images of Castro collapsing while making a speech in 2003, falling on stage and breaking his left knee and right arm in 2004, or scoffing at reports by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 that he suffered from Parkinson’s disease while clearly favoring a limp arm have been flashing on television screens for several years.
This monograph examines alternative scenarios in the twilight of Fidel Castro and in a post-Castro Cuba. They constitute a triad of outcomes; namely, a violent regime change, a peaceful transition to democracy, or a dynastic succession. Regime change is a possibility since Cuba is one of Freedom House’s two not-free countries in the Americas and a state sponsor of terrorism. However, after 47 years of oneman rule, a violent overthrow of the Communist dictatorship is highly unlikely. There is no organized armed opposition within Cuba, and the repressive state machinery operates effectively against real or potential enemies. The Cuban armed forces (FAR) remain loyal after having been purged, and are tightly controlled by Raul. In addition, on August 6, Secretary of State Condolezza Rice publicly stated that the Bush administration had no intention to invade Cuba.
The global war on terror, Iraq, nuclear proliferation issues raised by Iran and North Korea, and the current terrorist attacks against Israel are the hot foreign policy priorities of the Bush administration. The United States would need to feel directly threatened before considering the use of force against Cuba. So despite U.S. Government rhetoric in the July 5, 2006, report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (CAFC) about liberating Cuba, Castro knows that he will retain power as long as he lives. A peaceful transition to democracy and a free market economy is also unlikely as long as Fidel is alive. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, there was hope that Cuba might undergo something similar to the “color” or “flower” revolutions that transformed many of the former Warsaw Pact countries. Unlike the Europeans, however, Cuba’s Communist party and security services remain loyal, and there is no solidarity movement or opposition leader with a credible plan. Cuban civil society is rather weak, and dissidents are unable to work openly and in full coordination. More importantly, the main reason why no color, flower, or cedar revolution will ever occur in Cuba is that Castro and his closest lieutenants have studied those events very closely, identified and anticipated the relevant contingencies, and learned how to deal with them.
A dynastic succession based on collective leadership is the unfolding Cuban scenario. Castro wants to retain personal power for as long as he can to protect his dominant position and interests. To accomplish this, first, he has sought close commercial and security ties with China, Venezuela, Bolivia, and even the mullahs of Iran. Next, he organized a succession process. Under Cuban law, the first Vicepresident of the Council of State, his brother Raul, assumes the duties of the president. Raul, who turned 75 on June 3, assumed provisional power on Monday, July 31, following an announcement that Fidel was ill and would undergo surgery. Raul has physical ailments, too, and there is no clear indication that anyone else has been groomed to replace him.
So at age 80, the Cuban dictator’s place in history, for better or for worse, already has been established. For almost 50 years, the Cuban people have suffered political repression and tyranny under his one-man rule.
Castro’s eventual passing, the so-called “biological solution,” would constitute good and transformative news for Cuba if progress is made along a range of issues from development of true and honest representative institutions of governance to improvement of the Cuban people’s quality of life. The overarching American foreign policy objective should be to pressure the successor regime while encouraging a strong bias among Cuban elites for internally generated democratization, the rule of law, and transparency in reciprocity for graduated normalization of relations with the island.
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