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ISR Issue 48, July–August 2006

Cuba’s likely transition and its politics


Samuel Farber is a long-time socialist born and raised in Cuba. He is the author of numerous works on that country including The Origin of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered published by University of North Carolina Press.

IF PRESENT economic and political world-wide trends continue to prevail, Fidel Castro’s death will be followed, perhaps after a short period of continuity to reassure Cubans and foreigners about the stability of the system, by a significant institutional change in Cuban economic, social, and political life. Important Cuban leaders have expressed, on a number of occasions, serious concern about a reversal of the course of the revolution after the death of Fidel Castro. In a speech at the University of Havana on November 17, 2005, Fidel Castro himself warned out that while the United States had been unable to defeat Cuba’s political system, the revolution could be defeated as a result of corruption and its own errors.1

We can analyze these issues by drawing on the accumulated experience of the many post-Communist transitions that have taken place since the end of the 1980s. Much has already been written about such likely changes in Cuba.2 Nevertheless, there has been less discussion about the changes in the ideological and political landscape that are likely to accompany such institutional transformations.3

Transition scenarios and their ideological and political consequences

In 1993, Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a leading figure in the field of Cuban studies, and Horst Fabian, suggested five possible political and economic scenarios as Cuba was entering the “special period in time of peace,” ushered in by the collapse of the Soviet bloc. The first four assumed the continuation of Fidel Castro’s leadership; the fifth assumed his absence. The scenarios were: (1) the continuation of the status quo; (2) a growing militarization and repression without economic change; (3) a shift towards the Chinese-Vietnamese model of political authoritarianism and market socialism; (4) democratization and market-oriented economic reform; and (5) a breakdown of the regime by legitimate electoral means, a military coup, or mass insurrection.4 Almost fifteen years later, we find a mixed situation in terms of the above choices. Social and economic changes have taken place-notwithstanding episodic stepped up political repression such as the harsh crackdown on dissidents in the spring of 2003. Specifically, there has been a significant degree of cultural and religious liberalization and a number of important but limited market-oriented economic reforms. The most important change has been the growth of substantial foreign investment in the form of joint ventures with the Cuban government, and the legalization and establishment of the dollar economy in 1993.5 Small Cuban family enterprises were allowed in the 1990s, but have been significantly curtailed since then. On the political front, the hold of the one-party state and the severe restriction of opposition activities continue to be very strong.

The natural death of Fidel Castro will remove the most cohesive element of Cuba’s political system. This is likely to happen, first of all, in terms of popular support and legitimacy of the regime. There is little doubt that the regime has lost popular support, particularly since the beginning of the 1990s with the economic crisis brought about by the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Yet Fidel Castro retains significant popular backing, or at least the awe and respect, of a substantial part of the Cuban population. It is doubtful that other revolutionary leaders, including Fidel’s non-charismatic brother Raúl, who in any case is only five years younger than his older brother, will be able to fill Fidel Castro’s shoes. This is not due to a generational gap in the sense that there are no younger leaders. For some time the Cuban leadership has been promoting younger people to key positions in the state and party apparatuses. The main problem is that Fidel Castro has been the sole and final arbiter of the differences within the state and party bureaucracies, and the irreplaceable caudillo that initiates and dictates the main political line from above.

Fidel Castro’s unique power has been strengthened by the Cuban leaders’ fear of the likely consequences of political divisions within the ruling circles. Events in Grenada in 1983, and to a somewhat lesser extent in Central America and Angola during the 1970s and 1980s, showed the Cuban leadership the grave dangers of divisions at the top, particularly when there are no institutionalized mechanisms to resolve political disagreements. The absence of such mechanisms almost automatically converts disagreements into at least enforced anonymity for those disagreeing with Fidel Castro, if not charges of disloyalty or outright counterrevolution. The unavoidable reduction of support and legitimacy caused by Fidel Castro’s death will significantly weaken the internal cohesion of the regime. With Castro gone, there will be no one who will settle the disagreements within the leadership.

The passing of Fidel Castro will open up the possibility that one or more factions of the apparatus will attempt to obtain support outside the top echelons of the system, and appeal for popular support of their positions. This appeal for support will find an echo in the pent-up frustrations and long-suppressed hunger for consumer goods among the population at large, and in the sense of hopelessness about obtaining a better future, particularly among the young. The turmoil created by the factional conflict is likely to provoke a political intervention by the army. Army intervention could possibly take place either through an open coup that would lead to an outright military dictatorship, or through the preservation of the outward trappings of civilian rule.

The natural demise of Fidel Castro will also have a serious impact on Cuba’s foreign relations, particularly with the United States. The end of the Cold War vastly reduced Cuba’s importance for U.S. foreign policy, making domestic political considerations the principal force determining Washington’s policy towards the island republic. Notwithstanding the repeated assertions of the Cuban government, a U.S. military invasion of the island has not been an option for a long time. The military option has been replaced by an aggressive imperialist policy of continual and political harassment trying to make life as difficult as possible for the Cuban government and people with the aim of hastening the internal collapse of the regime.6 Several ideological right-wing government functionaries such as John Bolton and Roger Noriega have allied with the powerful Cuban right wing, whose influence has been enhanced by the very closely divided electorate in the state of Florida. This unholy alliance has succeeded in passing laws such as the infamous 1996 Helms-Burton Act (signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton) substantially reinforcing an blockade that is supposed to end only on the basis of a restoration of a capitalist market economy and a “democratic” political system. This has been followed more recently by the establishment of commissions that have issued detailed reports on how the capitalist transformation called for by Helms-Burton will be carried out. At the same time, a “humanitarian” exception to the blockade has allowed the massive annual export of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of food and processed goods to Cuba. These substantial exports have created a very powerful Midwestern and Western business bloc interested in doing business with Cuba and ending the war against that country. This bloc, supported by a good part of the business and “quality” press, has attained some success with several bipartisan congressional votes (that did not become law due to presidential veto threats), which would have dealt serious blows to the blockade.

It should be taken as a given that the United States will intervene in the Cuban transition after the death of Fidel Castro, but it is far from clear what form this intervention may take. Given the greatly diminished strategic importance of Cuba for the American empire, it is unlikely that there will be a U.S. military invasion and occupation of the island. However, this option cannot be entirely ruled out if, for example, a chaotic civil war, which U.S. neoliberal transition policies might have helped to bring about, confronted Washington with the immediate prospect of a massive refugee wave headed towards the coasts of Florida. A Cuban transition is also likely to witness a major political realignment producing a political scene substantially different from the one to which we have become accustomed in the last fifty years. The current Cuban ruling group is likely to split, thereby ending the enforced “unity” to which it has been subjected by Fidel Castro’s dictatorship. Important pro-capitalist neoliberal forces will come out of the closets of the Cuban Communist Party and of the managerial and technocratic cadres in the joint venture and Armed Forces’ business enterprises.

These cadres have already developed strong ties to European, Canadian, Chinese, Latin American, and Israeli capital that would be considerably extended to U.S. capital and at least a section of Cuban-American capital in South Florida. In addition, a new Cuban government could imitate Russian leader Vladimir Putin and create the cosmetic appearance of democracy without its substance. This would be more than enough to bring about the victory of the lobbying campaign currently led by Western and Midwestern business interests and the end of Helms-Burton law and the blockade. This would signify the end of one criminal form of U.S. imperialist policy towards Cuba, but not necessarily the end of U.S. interference itself.

The Cuban Army and the “Chinese Road”

It is difficult to imagine a Cuban transition without the Cuban army playing a major role in the process. First, the army is, relatively speaking, the best organized institution on the island. Second, the Army, following the Soviet model, has not been involved in internal repression except for situations of armed rebellion and combat. The last of these took place well over forty years ago with the Bay of Pigs invasion and the armed rebellions in the Escambray mountains in central Cuba. Under the Soviet model operating in Cuba, it is the state security organs, organizationally distinct from the armed forces, which are in charge of carrying out the tasks of internal repression. Third, due to compulsory military service, the Cuban army has been a more inclusive institution than the more exclusive Communist Party. Fourth, the Cuban army has for some time been a major player in Cuban economic life. The army’s economic role comprises its own businesses, such as the huge business conglomerate GAESA that includes the tourist enterprise Gaviota,7 as well as high army officers occupying leading positions in other key areas of the Cuban economy such as the sugar industry. In the process, the Cuban army has educated and developed an important group of technocrats who, together with a group of civilian technicians, have for some time played a major role in the Cuban economy and society. Fifth, there is evidence to suggest that Raúl Castro and the Cuban military that he heads, have tried, in the past, to build bridges with the United States, possibly in preparation for a transition in Cuba. On various occasions during 2001, Raúl Castro declared that the U.S. and Cuba should widen their areas of cooperation “in spite of political differences” on issues such as drugs, emigration, and the struggle against terrorism. In 2002, he pledged his cooperation with U.S. forces at the Guantánamo Naval Base, when it became a place of confinement for Taliban fighters and others captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere.8

Raúl Castro has acquired a reputation as an advocate and organizer of political repression, but also as an able administrator and economic pragmatist who, according to reports, advised and urged his brother Fidel to carry out the economic reforms, such as the legalization of dollars, that were implemented in the 1990s. In any case, and independently of who will end up occupying the Cuban presidency after Fidel Castro’s demise, the Cuban armed forces have positioned themselves as the logical successors to Fidel Castro in real power terms. The army technocrats and managers are likely to ally themselves and seek the support of another important group with whom they share a common technocratic perspective: the civilian technicians and managers in other joint venture sectors of the economy.9

There are several indications that the army may eventually follow the Chinese model of development, although in the light of current trends, probably in a modified form to allow for relatively more government centralization of economic activity in the case of Cuba. These indications include the experience that the armed forces have already developed in economic enterprises combined with the current tendencies in Cuba favoring joint venture capitalism, the continuation of China’s dramatic economic growth including its growing economic presence in Latin America, and the favorable coverage of China in Cuba’s Communist press. In fact, when Raúl Castro visited China in April of 2005, at a time of growing Chinese investments in Cuba, particularly in the nickel industry, he told his Chinese hosts that “it was truly encouraging everything that you have done here…there are some people around who are preoccupied by China’s development; however, we feel happy and reassured, because you have confirmed something that we say over there, and that is that a better world is possible.”10 This model would combine, as in China, a much greater opening to the capitalist market, particularly foreign investment, with the continuation of strong political controls at home including the use of whatever degree of repression might be necessary to maintain such controls. Of course, if it turns out that the Chinese economy has “crashed” or at least suffered significant reverses at the time of a Cuban transition, this would naturally reduce the attractiveness of the Chinese model to Cuba’s ruling circles.

An army-led “Chinese” turn in Cuba, lacking the Putin-style cosmetic appearance of democracy, would make it more difficult to get rid of the Helms-Burton Act but would not entirely preclude the possibility of reaching certain understandings with U.S. business circles and with the U.S. government, perhaps even with the aid of the Chinese themselves. This would restore, although not necessarily in the same form, a great deal of the power that the United States lost in Cuba almost fifty years ago. In turn, the death of Fidel Castro and the collapse of the U.S. blockade of Cuba as a result of U.S. business pressures and deals made between the U.S. and the new Cuban government, may leave few options to the Cuban-American right wing in South Florida. These Cuban-Americans may not have any other alternative but to come to terms with the new army-controlled Cuban regime, perhaps in exchange for substantial economic concessions. It is worth noting that in the past the Cuban American National Foundation has called on the Cuban army to overthrow Fidel Castro.11 Moreover, a more pragmatic wing of the Cuban hard Right has developed in the recent past, to the dismay of other sections of the Cuban hard Right such as South Florida Republican members of Congress Diaz-Balart and Ross Lehtinen. Spokespeople for this more pragmatic wing have cautioned that the passing of Fidel Castro will not be followed by any instant or automatic “democratization,” and that the regime will endure in some form beyond Fidel Castro’s death.12 Analysts close to these more pragmatic right-wing circles, such as the former CIA functionary in charge of Cuban affairs Brian Latell, have developed a more realistic and not entirely hostile view of Raúl Castro as the kind of successor the U.S. could possibly deal with.13

In any case, a complete right-wing Cuban-American takeover of Cuba could only happen on the basis of an unlikely U.S. military occupation of the island, which would probably require several hundred thousand troops (an option that was seriously considered only once, during the October 1962 missile crisis).14 The fact that Cuban-American capital can be an important source of needed foreign investment in Cuba is not likely to be sufficient for them to take over the island. A more likely scenario is that the heads of the Cuban army will welcome the investments of the Cuban-American capitalists with the clear understanding that the army will politically run the show. Of course, over the longer term, these two forces would tend to merge with each other. These army leaders will be in a position, as we indicated above, to make deals directly with the even bigger U.S. capitalists, without having to depend or need the Cuban-American capitalists as intermediaries, although many of the latter may feel encouraged to play that role.

Ideology and Politics of the Transition

Any degree of political opening in Cuban society will result in an explosion of previously suppressed political and cultural expressions. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have long resented the inability to speak up and the “double-morality” (doble moral) that they have been forced to practice in their daily existence. This explosion is likely to prominently include demands for the historical truth that have long been suppressed or at least tightly controlled by the Castro regime. These demands will include opening of government archives to establish the truth of critical historical events such as the large-scale imprisonments, executions and even the forced relocation of whole communities in the 1970s and earlier,15 and more recently, the full story surrounding the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa and his associates in 1989.

The transition to a form of state-controlled or sponsored form of capitalism in Cuba will be led, as suggested above, by the army, joint venture technocrats, and other elements currently in the ruling apparatus. It is doubtful that the leaders of the small and rather marginal dissident groups will play a major role in the transition, although the majority of these not only favor the so-called market economy, but seem to assume that it is practically a law of nature. The main political thrust of the transition will be to disregard any social or human considerations that may stand in the way of the new state-controlled capitalist road. State policies will thus be likely to promote the “winners”: tourism and the industries supplying it, biotechnology, tobacco, extractive industries such as nickel and oil, and possibly a newly developed maquiladora industry.

The “losers” will be neglected: a good part of “non-competitive” manufacturing, the sugar industry and, with some exceptions such as citrus, agriculture in general. The Cuban welfare state, already under severe strain after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, will probably decay even further (the deterioration of health and other social services in China is very instructive in this regard16). This will likely include the privatization of medical care, with a U.S.-style Medicaid type service provided for the poor Cuban majority.17 Private education is likely to grow substantially; sponsored to a great extent by Catholic religious orders who will “cream” the best teachers and facilities, to educate the children of the successful owners, administrators, and technicians of the “winning” sectors of the economy. Black Cubans will continue to suffer more than others as they already have in the “special period” that began in the 1990s, except that it will get even worse for them, at least in relative terms.18 Regions of the country with a “losing” economy such as Oriente in eastern Cuba will continue to suffer disproportionately except for those relatively small areas where the nickel industry and some tourist sites are located. Oriente will continue to export people to Havana (including the displaced and virtually homeless “Palestinos”) except in greater numbers once the internal migration restrictions imposed by Fidel Castro’s government in the 1990s collapse. Inequality is likely to grow even within the metropolitan area of Havana itself as tourist and real estate investment become concentrated in the neighborhoods near the Gulf of Mexico shoreline and the Havana metropolitan hinterland will continue to deteriorate.

The Right

A hard Right will develop based on native conservative elements in addition to Cuban-American rightists who return to the island. It goes without saying that this hard Right will support and defend a capitalist shock therapy of privatization and attacks on workers’ rights and social legislation. However, the Right is likely to splinter for a number of reasons, including the fact that a transitional government will coopt some of its leadership, particularly by granting its members a variety of business concessions. The right might further splinter over the issue of religion as the Catholic Church hierarchy is likely to assert its influence. Given the Cuban Catholic hierarchy’s recent history of political moderation, it is more likely to have an effect on the relatively moderate Right. In turn, the moderate Right will probably cluster around more than one party. One, which already exists in exile, the Christian Democratic Party, is a peculiar political entity that combines a politically moderate, pro-market position on Cuban issues with support for foreign right-wing figures such as former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a strongly conservative and authoritarian politician. This exile group is likely to join forces with a group of professed Christian Democrats inside Cuba led by the prominent dissident Oswaldo Payá. Payá initiated the Varela Project that proposes to amend the Cuban Constitution. This project defends civil and political liberties and also leaves the door open for any kind of business investment in the island, and not just small business. Again, Payá and other dissident leaders, including those unjustly imprisoned by Fidel Castro’s government, constitute a small and marginal group that are unlikely, just as in the USSR and most of Eastern Europe, to play a major role in any transition.

A Christian Democratic Party could potentially become the home of the moderate Right, including many supporters of the market economy visible in such venues as the influential exile journal Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana based in Madrid. This party will be subject to pressures from its right: first, from their current right-wing neoliberal partners in the exile political coalition called Plataforma Democrática Cubana (Cuban Democratic Platform), and second, and perhaps most important of all, from the Cuban Catholic hierarchy. Most of the leading elements of this hierarchy have behaved in a peculiar manner, combining a moderate, cautious, and even timid political opposition to Fidel Castro’s government, with a markedly conservative position on social and cultural matters. The pastoral letter of Cuba’s principal Catholic leader, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, issued on February 25, 2003, clearly expressed this social and cultural attitude, making remarkable pronouncements to the effect that “experience demonstrates that sex, alcohol, and drugs are dangerously intertwined.”19 The Cuban Catholic hierarchy’s agenda on birth control, abortion, and the teaching of religion in the public schools will make it difficult for the Christian Democrats to function as the all-inclusive moderate right or center-right party. Most likely, then, there will be more than one moderate right or center-right parties, one Catholic and the other(s) secular. None of these will be large, mass parties since they will principally base themselves on the educated middle-classes including many former Communist functionaries and ambitious young technocrats and professionals.

Regardless of their possible splintering into different political formations, the moderate and hard right wings will share some common ideological features: they will praise and exaggerate the supposed achievements of the pre-revolutionary Republic,20 will claim that a radical social revolution was neither necessary nor justified in the Cuba of the late 1950s, and will play down the imperialist nature of U.S. policy. While critical of the oppressive and undemocratic nature of Cuban Fidelista Communism, they will systematically fail to make the fundamental analytical distinction between radical social revolution in general terms and the particular Communist Fidelista revolution that took place in Cuba. The neo-Fidelistas (see below) will also fail to make the same distinction.

Resisting the rightward trend

While important sections of the Communist Party bureaucracy and the armed forces are likely to opt for the neoliberal capitalist road, other elements of these institutions, especially those who have not benefited from the joint-venture sector of the economy, will resist and oppose that option. This is a major reason why Communist Fidelismo is likely to remain an important political force in the Cuba of the transition. The complexion of this political force will be affected by whether it participates, even if reluctantly, in the transition government, perhaps in coalition with army and civilian economic technocrats, or whether it goes into open opposition from the very beginning. In any case, neo-Fidelismo will increasingly draw on Cuban nationalism and gradually dispose of Marxism while maintaining some form of “socialist” ideology, a trend already begun in the 1990s.

The logical social base of the emerging neo-Fidelismo will be sections of Castro’s armed forces and especially the state bureaucracy, many of whose members will have either lost or would be about to lose their jobs. These people will attempt to defend the welfare state and mythologize the past glossing over the serious deterioration of the welfare state and the economy as a whole that Cuba began to experience even before the 1990s. Neo-Fidelismo will appeal to people employed or connected with the “losing” sectors of the economy and possibly to strongly nationalist sections of the armed forces, particularly those not benefiting from the army’s economic activities. If neo-Fidelismo is somehow enticed into becoming part of a government coalition, its practice will increasingly diverge from its rhetoric and will thus run the serious danger of political disintegration. Fidel Castro would then become like Mao Zedong, whose picture and sayings currently preside over an increasingly capitalist China that Mao would hardly recognize.

As revelations about the human rights violations and abuses of the Fidelista past inevitably emerge, neo-Fidelismo will try to deflect responsibility by conveniently blaming it all on the Soviet and East European influence on “Cuban socialism,” thereby distorting the role of the Soviet bloc in the Cuban revolutionary process. It will also continue to defend the historic Fidelista interpretation of the Cuban Revolution. This will include a new nationalist and anti-imperialist emphasis, a repudiation once again of the Soviet and East European influence, and the claim that Fidel Castro was the practical translator of José Marti’s political vision in the second half of the twentieth century. This political current will represent a form of strongly authoritarian welfare nationalism combining traits similar to those found in ruling and Communist parties in the Russia and Belarus of the 1990s.

While neo-Fidelismo is going to be an important political current resisting the neoliberal trend in Cuban politics during a post-Communist transition, it will do so in the only way it knows how: in a bureaucratic, authoritarian and paternalist manner unable to tap the democratic roots of the popular resistance to capitalist neo-liberalism. Unfortunately, this will constitute, at least for a while, the principal alternative to a neo-liberal authoritarianism. One major obstacle to the building of a democratic revolutionary left alternative to capitalist neoliberalism and to neo-Fidelismo will be the small size and weakness of the groups and individuals that have been left-wing opponents of the Castro regime.

The other major obstacle will be the likelihood that neoliberalism and its notion of TINA [There Is No Alternative] will continue to prevail throughout most of the world. The one-party dictatorships’ discrediting of socialism will further add to the difficulties of building a new left revolutionary democratic alternative to the likely onslaught of the Cuban neoliberalism of the transition. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the turn to the right in popular consciousness after the collapse of Communism was not as pronounced in some countries where communism was the outcome of internal revolutionary developments (e.g., the former Soviet Union) as it was in other countries where the communist system was imposed from the outside by the Red Army (the East European satellite members of the Soviet bloc). To the extent that this factor may operate in Cuba, it may limit the shift to the right that occurred in other former communist countries. This in turn may facilitate the actual resistance and struggles on two fronts: first, in defense of the welfare state, national sovereignty, and self-determination; and second, for workers’ rights, civil liberties, and democracy against the new authoritarianism that is likely to replace the Fidelista Communist system.

This new revolutionary democratic Cuban Left will enter into a political and historical conflict with the moderate and extreme Right on precisely the issue of the origins and background of the Cuban Revolution. This new Left will need to argue that a radical social revolution was justified in the Cuba of the late 1950s by a wide variety of socioeconomic and historical factors. This proposed new revolutionary left perspective has roots in Cuban history. It can draw on the best of Cuban nationalism, for example, Antonio Guiteras, representative of the nationalist and socialist wing of the 1933 revolutionaries, and even the best of Cuban Communism, as represented in the principled pre-Stalinist politics of Communist founder Julio Antonio Mella (assassinated in Mexico in 1929). These are perspectives that will be indispensable given Cuba’s likely future subjection to North American and European capital. The resistance to the corruption that will inevitably accompany the likely Russian-style privatization and the rapidly growing tourist industry will be able to draw on the political legacy of Ortódoxo founder Eduardo Chibás.21 The denunciation of the underfinancing and abandonment of public health, education, and other social services will be able to draw on a Cuban political culture of solidarity and generosity that will not be so easily conquered by the neoliberal offensive.

Other issues are bound to come up that will not so readily find answers in Cuban political history. The private appropriation of what has been public property for many decades (it is important to keep in mind that many facilities have been built since 1959 and were never privately owned) will require the development of self-management and workers’ control practices and initiatives that have no significant roots in the history of Cuba’s working class militancy.22 The continued marginalization of the Black population might call, among other things, for the development of what North Americans call “affirmative action” policies that have only weak and distant echoes in some of the demands of the Partido Independiente de Color of the early twentieth century and, ironically, in demands raised and then abandoned by the old Cuban Communists in the early days of the revolution.23 Last but not least, the record of post-Communist transitions in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union points to significant regression in the areas of women’s rights and equality. This, and the Catholic hierarchy’s predictable offensive in the areas of abortion, family planning, and perhaps even divorce will call attention to the long-time absence of an independent women’s movement. The distant echoes of such a women’s movement in the Cuba of the twenties and thirties are weak in comparison with the influence of the heavy burden of party and state control associated with the official Federation of Cuban Women.

To create a social base for this new left current will require the reestablishment of a free, independent, and politically conscious trade union movement, which will be based on a working class that became fairly educated during the Castro regime. This new trade unionism will need to concentrate its efforts on the tourist sector and the new industries that may develop in part to supply the tourist sector, and in part to act as a maquiladora industry taking advantage of the proximity to U.S. ports for the export of garment and other low value finished and semi-finished products. The biotechnology and extractive industries such as nickel and oil are bound to grow either under the sole control of U.S., Canadian, Chinese, and European capital, or in joint venture partnerships of foreigners with Cuban private or state capital. This will contribute to the creation of a fairly concentrated labor force that should not be too difficult to organize barring substantial state and capitalist repression. Most of all, the new independent trade union movement and new democratic revolutionary Left will have to address the gap between the workers in the “winning” and “losing” sectors of the post-Castro Cuban economy, let alone the large and growing number of unemployed workers, and organize against the repression that a post-Communist order is likely to carry out to “discipline” the Cuban working class. The current Cuban government’s systematic prohibition and repression of any kind of popular independent organization will make this future task all the more difficult.

In addition to having to confront the Right, the new democratic revolutionary Left will also face major obstacles and intense competition from the neo-Fidelista forces described above. The two will clash in terms of two entirely different conceptions of the Left and socialism, in theory and in social organizational practice. For many years, the Left has been associated with a critique of and opposition to capitalism. However, this conception retains a sometimes fatal ambiguity. Anticapitalism does not necessarily mean pro-socialism if we define socialism as a movement “from below” attempting to establish the democratic rule of the workers and the majority of the population. Anticapitalism can also be elitist, paternalistic, undemocratic, and bureaucratic; a rule imposed “from above” as opposed to “from below.”24 The enormous challenge faced by a new democratic revolutionary Left in Cuba will be to introduce into Cuban political culture a conception of the Left as “an attitude that emphasizes the possibility and the necessity of reconciling human liberty with human equality,” as described by Jan Josef Lipski, one of the founders of the Workers Defense Committee (KOR) in Poland in the 1970s, “while being on the Right is understood as an attitude that may mean sacrificing the postulate of human freedom in favor of various kinds of social collectives and structures, or foregoing the possibility of equality in the name of laissez-faire.”25

Integral to the pursuit of human liberty and human equality is the encouragement of a political culture of rights in the island. For many years, many Cuban liberals and human rights supporters have made repeated calls for tolerance. Tolerance constitutes a poor and precarious attitudinal substitute for an institutional culture of rights that should be part of a conception of democracy as an everyday socioeconomic and political reality. Rights are about empowering people independently of the attitudes of those ruling over the country at any given point in time. It was in this spirit that Thomas Paine more than two hundred years ago praised the new French Constitution because it “hath abolished or renounced toleration, and intolerance also, and hath established UNIVERSAL RIGHT OF CONSCIENCE.” Paine added, “toleration is not the opposite of intoleration, but is the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, and the other of granting it.”26


I am fully and painfully aware that I have just presented a rather pessimistic outlook for a Cuban transition after Fidel Castro. But in the spirit of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will,” I have also indicated that such a transition will not mark anything like the “end of history” for the Cuban people. There will also be a resistance grounded on Cuban socioeconomic realities and combative political traditions. Moreover, I want to emphasize that what I have described above is what is likely to happen given current economic and political trends in the world at large. The scenario described above is far from historically inevitable or predetermined. Other political events and developments may significantly change the possibilities of a future transition in Cuba. For example, the success of movements against neoliberalism and capitalism in Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia may stimulate and provide relatively greater political possibilities to similar movements in Cuba.

  1. See, for example, the informative report of a speech by Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque filed by Gerardo Arreola, the Havana correspondent for the Mexican left-wing daily La Jornada. “Tras la sucesión de Castro el enemigo buscará vuelco en la política de Cuba,” La Jornada [Mexico City], Monday, December 26, 2005. Fidel Castro expanded on this theme in a long interview, to be published in book form, that he granted to Ignacio Ramonet of Le Monde Diplomatique in 2003 and 2005. For an extract from this interview see, April 4, 2006.
  2. See, for example, Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Horst Fabian, “Analogies Between East European Socialist Regimes and Cuba: Scenarios for the Future,” Carmelo Mesa-Lago (ed.), Cuba After the Cold War (Pittsburgh and London: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993), Mark Falcoff, Cuba The Morning After: Confronting Castro’s Legacy (Washington D.C.: The AEI Press, Publisher for the American Enterprise Institute, 2003), and the many volumes of Cuba in Transition, a publication of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy based in Washington, D.C.
  3. The case of the former Soviet Union is instructive in this context. The collapse of Communism in 1991 greatly accentuated the already existing disillusionment and disenchantment with revolution in general and the Bolshevik Revolution in particular. See, for example, Orlando Figes and Boris Kolonitskii, Interpreting the Russian Revolution: The Language and Symbols of 1917 (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 1999). In addition, former Russian Communists violently turned against Lenin with the same uncritical attitude with which they had previously idolized him. See Dmitri Volkogonov, Lenin: A New Biography (New York: The Free Press, 1994), translated and edited by Harold Shukman.
  4. Mesa-Lago and Fabian, 366-67.
  5. The dollar is no longer used for public economic transactions, but its replacement by the “convertible peso” (peso convertible) has only modified, but not eliminated, the predominance of the dollar (and other “hard” currencies) in the Cuban economy.
  6. For a detailed and comprehensive account of recent U.S. policies towards Cuba see Philip Brenner and Marguerite Jimenez, “U.S. Policy on Cuba Beyond the Last Gasp,” Nacla Report on the Americas, Vol. 39, 4, January-February 2006, 15-22.
  7. Javier Corrales, “The Gatekeeper State: Limited Economic Reforms and Regime Survival in Cuba, 1989-2002,” Latin American Research Review, 39, 2, 50-51.
  8. Falcoff, 226-7.
  9. While there has been a recent decline in the number of joint ventures, the military and civilian technocrats and managers involved in these enterprises continue to be a strategically critical force.
  10. “Raúl en Shanghai,” Granma, Thursday, April 21, 2005, 8.
  11. “Mas Canosa pide golpe militar en Cuba,” El Diario-La Prensa, Suplemento de Nueva Jersey, June 15, 1992, 51. The working alliance between Sandinista General Humberto Ortega, head of the Nicaraguan Army, and U.S.-supported President Violeta Chamorro in post-Sandinista Nicaragua is suggestive in this context, although it must be noted that the Cuban Army has been a far more powerful institution than the Nicaraguan Army has ever been.
  12. See, for example, Jaime Suchlicki, “Cuba After Castro,” World and, January 2004.
  13. Brian Latell, After Fidel. The Inside Story of Castro’s Regime and Cuba’s Next Leader (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2005).
  14. On November 1, 1962, the U.S. military submitted an estimate to the White House on the number of U.S. casualties in an invasion of Cuba. There would have been 18,484 casualties (killed, missing and wounded), 4,462 of which would have come the first day. See Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, One Hell of a Gamble. Khrushchev Castro and Kennedy, 1958-1964 (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997), 298. Of course, changed conditions in military technology and internal political support for the Cuban government would affect any such estimate today.
  15. For the large-scale forced relocation of thousands of people from central to western Cuba in the seventies see “Pueblos Cautivos. Entrevista con el doctor José Luis Piñeiro,” Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana, (Madrid), Spring 2001, 20, 228-231
  16. As of 2004, 90 percent of the rural population and 60 percent of the urban population of China had no health insurance. When the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the public-health systems of 191 countries in the year 2000, China was placed at 144, behind India that came in at 112 and some of Africa’s poorest countries. The Economist, August 21, 2004, 20.
  17. This is the logic of Carmelo Mesa-Lago’s proposed reforms in the Cuban medical system. See Carmelo Mesa-Lago, “La Seguridad Social,” in Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana (Madrid), No. 25, Summer 2002, 322.
  18. See the informative discussion in “Cuba’s Racial Divide,” in Edward Gonzalez and Kevin F. McCarthy, Cuba After Castro. Legacies, Challenges, and Impediments (Santa Monica, Ca.: Rand Corporation, 2004), 47-66.
  19. “No hay Patria sin virtud,” Carta Pastoral del Eminentísimo señor Cardenal Jaime Ortega y Alamino en el 150 aniversario de la muerte del Padre Félix Varela,” Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana (Madrid), 28/29, Spring/Summer 2003, 101.
  20. See, for example, the section entitled “Homenaje a la Republica,” Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana, (Madrid), No. 24, Spring 2002.
  21. The legacy of Che Guevara is a complicated one. On one hand, he was honest, brave, dedicated, and egalitarian both in his political ideas and day-to-day practice. On the other hand, he was no democrat and never changed his views on the desirability of the one-party state model of socialism. Che also had an ascetic orientation hostile to workers’ legitimate desire to improve their living standards. See Samuel Farber, “The Resurrection of Che Guevara,” New Politics (New York), vol. VII, No. 1, Summer 1998.
  22. The establishment of a number of “soviets” in the period immediately following the 1933 revolution was very short lived and did not contribute to the creation of a tradition of workers’ control and self-management in the otherwise militant Cuban working class
  23. See, for example, Cuban Communist leader Lázaro Peña’s support for policies similar to “affirmative action” in “Problemas del movimiento obrero. Debemos combatir practicamente la discriminación racial desde los sindicatos,” Hoy, March 29, 1959, 1.
  24. Hal Draper, “The Two Souls of Socialism,” New Politics (New York), Vol. 5, No. 1, Winter 1966.
  25. Jan Josef Lipsky, KOR Workers’ Defense Committee in Poland, 1976-1981 (Berkeley, Ca.: The University of California Press, 1985), 121.
  26. Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, in Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, Reflections on the Revolution in France and The Rights of Man (Garden City, N.Y.: Dolphin Books, 1961), 323-24 (capital letters and emphases in original).