THE FUTURE OF THE CUBAN REVOLUTION AFTER THE OBAMA DÉTENTE
Members of the Cuban National Assembly wept as US President Barack Obama announced by executive order the restoration of diplomatic relations with their country after a 53-year break.
The legislative assembly of the one-party state was meeting in one of its twice-yearly sessions where the decisions of the leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba, which controls and runs everything in the country, are unanimously approved.
Fidel Castro's younger brother and comrade in arms, Raul Castro, aged 831/2, and now in charge of the government which was bequeathed to him, in his televised closing address to the National Assembly made it abundantly clear that the dÈtente with the United States did not mean any adjustment to the Cuban system. "We must not expect that in order for relations with the United States to improve, Cuba will abandon the ideas that it has struggled for," Castro II said.
His speech to the National Assembly in its closing session on Saturday, the Associated Press reported out of Havana, "was a sharp counterpoint to the message US President Barack Obama gave in his year-end news conference the day before. Obama reiterated that by engaging directly with the Cuban people, Americans are more likely to encourage reform in Cuba's one-party system and centrally planned economy."
Obama's announcement speech on Wednesday had said:
"It is clear that decades of US isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. At times, longstanding US policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba. Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, it has had little effect - today, as in 1961, Cuba is governed by the Castros and the Communist party.
"We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result", Obama continued. "It does not serve America's interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state. With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities. In that spirit, we should not allow US sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens we seek to help."
History on Obama's side
Practical history, political theory and economic theory are squarely on Obama's side. With a few hold-out exceptions like Cuba, communist states have fallen like dominoes since the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. Cuba's extra-ordinary internationalism and social provisions at home have been rightly recognised in commentary on the Obama decision, particularly here in Jamaica, long a friend of Cuba. And so has the inherent injustice in the long-standing American position of singling out Cuba for isolation and punishment for being one communist state among others - a policy which President Obama now acknowledges has failed to make Cuba bow. It was a diplomatic aberration in a plural world, an aberration made even more absurd when the United States normalised relations with communist Vietnam where 50,000 American troops had been killed fighting communism, and when communist China has been granted Most Favoured Nation status in trade.
But the Cuban political system and economy are rotten and due to collapse after the Castros. Time longer than rope. And not much time is left, in a world now dominated by more open societies, politically and economically repressive regimes will have an increasingly hard time surviving. The American presidential move to restore relations with Cuba, as far as executive powers can take the matter, can only hasten the inevitable. Raul Castro's last stand notwithstanding.
The Human Rights Watch 2013 Report tells us that "Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. In 2012, the government of Raul Castro continued to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced exile.
"Although in 2010 and 2011 the Cuban government released dozens of political prisoners on the condition that they accept exile in exchange for their freedom," the report says, "the government continues to sentence dissidents to one to four-year prison terms in closed, summary trials, and holds others for extended periods without charge. It has also relied increasingly upon arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions to restrict the basic rights of its critics, including the right to assemble and move freely."
Even without the United States change of heart, this state of affairs cannot endure surrounded by open societies where life is lived very differently. The Cuban people will want more. And placing more within their reach can only intensify this natural human desire. Capitalism is far from perfect and has had its own travails, with more due, but it is far more attuned to human nature as acquisitive and freedom-loving than is communism and its various socialist sisters committed to Utopia via repression.
Beginning of the end
Back in 2008 when Fidel Fidel announced that he would not aspire to nor accept the posts of President of the Council of State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, retiring from leadership, I announced, in this column, 'The end of the Cuban Revolution' (February 24, 2008). I said then, "Castro's Cuban Revolution is dead - but not buried yet. But long before the birth of the revolution, astute observers of socialism saw that the system was inherently unstable and destined to collapse. When the Russian Revolution was only five years old, Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, in 1922, published a masterpiece on the weaknesses of socialism as an economic and political system."
The column continued to say, "it is not likely that the young Fidel and his friends, mastering their Marx, would have read von Mises' Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, or Hayek, or the other serious critics of socialism. Or if they had, they would have dismissed them out of hand as bourgeois reactionaries worthy of execution by firing squad, the favoured communist means of dispatching enemies. The Cuban Communist Party has subsequently dispatched many that way, including heroes of the revolution."
"The Cuban Revolution," I noted, "has survived the predicted collapse of Soviet communism and the Soviet state and its Eastern European satellites and of communism in much of the rest of the word. It will not survive - for long - the departure of the 'Old Man'. That's what they call Fidel in Cuba."
The local media has been full
of praise of Cuba, much of it deserving, following the historic announcement of detente by the President of the United States. But, ironically, on the very day that Castro announced that he was stepping down, this newspaper carried the story, 'IAPA renews call for release of jailed Cuban journalists'. The story listed 25 journalists "who remain behind bars for working as independent reporters".
The revolution has devoured several of its own heroes as well as hundreds of ordinary Cubans. When I wrote a praise piece on 'Cuba and the end of Apartheid' a decade ago, describing Cuban military exploits in Angola pushing back the South African Defence Force, I mentioned that one of the military heroes of the Cuban Revolution had been executed. A letter writer out of the Cayman Islands wrote in: "Just to satisfy Mr Henry's curiosity about the executed Cuban military officer, this was Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez who was a soldier's soldier. He served with Castro in the Sierra Maestra, and as far away as Venezuela, in the Congo, Ethiopia and in Nicaragua. When he was accused of drug-running and faced the firing squad he said, 'My last thought will be of Fidel, and the great revolution he has given our people'."
That great revolution, like the Castro brothers, is on its last legs, and American detente will hasten its demise, as the embargo never could. The embargo provided for the revolution a rallying point against an external aggressor, Yanqui imperialism, and provided the Grand Explanation for the hardships Cubans face on a daily basis. I suspect the revolution will disintegrate quietly without a violent counter-revolution, like what happened in much of Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union itself. The revolution, in a new world order, will pass away with living memory of Granma and the Sierra Maestra.
A courageous, well-timed motion in the National Assembly to disestablish the Cuban Communist Party may be all it takes in a country weary of the strictures of communism and now better able to taste and see the difference beyond the closed red borders.