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A nation must think before it acts.
The enormously talented and courageous woman, Yoani Sanchez, summarized the meaning of the forthcoming April 2011 Conference Guidelines for the Communist Party’s Sixth Congress in her biting blog called Generation Y. On November 9th, 2010, she wrote “not a single line refers to the expansion of civil rights, including the restrictions suffered by Cubans in entering and leaving our own country. Nor is there a word about freedom of association or expression, without which the authorities will continue to behave more like factory foremen than as the representatives of their people.”
However, other than castigating the “bloodsucking character” of the thirty some odd pages of text containing economic proposals, “more appropriate for the Ministry of Finance than for the compass of a political party,” she treads lightly on the bureaucratic contradictions that drive the Cuban Communist Party at this critical point in time. The emotional turmoil of present day Cuba she gives voice to as a “detective of the unexpressed.” She rarely is excelled by anyone in an overseas context. However the political economy of the moment remains fair game for foreign policy analysis.
Other than those who remain dedicated to the cause of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, I suspect that most serious analysts would correctly claim that the forthcoming assembly can only seek to preserve and protect the Communist party apparatus. To expect it to declare itself out of business and defunct is too much to imagine from a single party that monopolizes every organ of public opinion and political mobilization. But this very domination of politics is a source of deep weakness; it demonstrates the absence of legitimacy in the Castro brothers’ regime. It may rotate leadership elites, but it can not change the course of totalitarianism.
In a system of dynastic communism, practiced to a fine art in North Korea, but mocked everywhere else, its impact beyond the 800,000 members of the Communist Party ranges from negligible to indifferent. The decision of the Communist Party to reform the economic system from within is faced with a cul-de-sac from which it cannot readily extricate itself. Reduced to a political faction of less than ten percent (closer to seven percent) of the population, and faced with a variety of cultural distancing from the regime—ranging from rebellious youth to religious revivalism as a mobilizing device—the system at the level of ideological superstructure is a ghost of what it was in earlier periods of Cuban communist history.
Turning toward the political economic base, the system seems even more vulnerable than in the past. The natural history which transpired in 2010 augurs poorly for a party conference scheduled for late spring 2011. Even the supposition that the actors in this drama will remain the same is dubious. Leaders in their eighties cannot presume immortality.
The larger, external macroeconomic factors for Cuba offer little comfort—dependency on Venezuela or at least on Hugo Chavez parading about as the savior of the island for providing petroleum products at reduced rates and bartering professional personnel in exchange for such assistance. This offers little succor to either the Party or its leadership. The declining markets for sugar and tobacco produced as a result of stiff competition from other nations and regions also have become part of the permanent Cuban landscape. The island is unable to compete, and even less able to revitalize established industries much less institutionalize new technologies that have become routine even in less democratic parts of the world. The pressures from the embargo by the United States (which are real, despite Fidel’s repeated past blaring that they counted for little) do weigh heavily on the regime. Add to this Russia’s loss of support on a variety of finished products, the Castro brothers are faced with impossible choices. Not even Chinese good will can bail out the system.
The Castro entourage would be wise to retool the getaway airplane used by Fulgencio Batista, and try for January 1, 2011 as a fine one-way departure date. And so might this prove to be the peaceful end of the Communist regime in Cuba: not in a thundering manifesto of historical absolution, but as a quiet departure of a frenetic politburo that should have taken place years ago. The Cuban people will have to figure out who to punish and how to move beyond more than a half century of authoritarian rule. They will also need to examine options and alternatives before them in the torturous road of re-entry into hemispheric civilities and global economics. But this upcoming event — Proyeto de Lineamientos de la Política Económico y Social — far from alleviating the situation will only exacerbate matters. It will focus attention on systemic failures, and add substance to Fidel’s off-handed remarks in the Atlantic interview. In this way, Fidel may yet prove a prophet of doom, rather than a harbinger of the future.