Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Latell on Cuba

In an opinion piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, former national intelligence officer for Latin America Brian Latell predicts a gradual economic opening in Cuba -- along the lines of a Vietnamese or Chinese model -- with Raul's ascendancy. But on governance he says it's a matter of different styles more than anything else:

Raúl's style guarantees that Cuba will be governed differently. He'll rule more collegially than his brother, consulting trusted subordinates and delegating more. During the interregnum he has worked with officials of different generations and pedigrees, even promoting one long-time archrival to create a united front after his brother's initial withdrawal.

On his watch, Raúl has broken some previously sacred crockery as well. He has admitted that Cuba's many problems are systemic. In his disarmingly accurate view, it is not the American embargo or "imperialism" that are the cause of problems on the island, as his brother always insisted, but rather the regime's own mistakes and mindsets. He has called on Cubans, especially the youth, to "debate fearlessly" and help devise solutions for the failures. Candid discussions at the grassroots level have proliferated.

Yet like his brother, Raúl has no intention of opening Cuba to free political speech or participation. While the number of Cubans willing to voice their discontent publicly is on the increase, so too is the brutality of government reprisals against would-be leaders of the dissident movement. By acknowledging state failures, Raúl is playing with fire, and if the lid is going to be kept on, those challenging the regime have to pay a price.

He also wonders about how he will navigate the relationship with Chavez, the dependency on whom has nearly reached levels similar to that of the Soviet Union:

And there is Hugo Chávez. Unlike Fidel, Raúl has no personal rapport with the mercurial Venezuelan president, and surely no desire to be subordinated to another narcissistic potentate just as he is finally close to escaping his brother's grip. But Cuba has become highly dependent economically on Venezuela. The value of the Chávez dole, mostly oil, reached between $3 billion and $4 billion last year, approaching the amounts once provided by the Soviet Union. Raúl would be loath to provoke the Venezuelan. Without his support, the Cuban economy would soon plunge into deep recession.

There is no way to know how skillfully Raúl Castro will lead and deal with inevitable crises once his brother is gone. He clearly wants to begin rectifying economic problems but knows that, for some time at least, he cannot broadly repudiate his brother's legacy. A powerful backlash could come from fidelista hard-liners in the leadership -- and perhaps from Mr. Chávez. In the end, however, it is the gamble Raúl will have to take.

1 comment:

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Mr. Latell has been saying that Cuba will "transition" for more than two years. His book "After Fidel" came out before Castro took ill. Still we are waiting for even the slightest change in policy. The rhetoric has changed somewhat (Raul's rhetoric is certainly different than Fidel's) at the top but not throughout the other levels of the Cuban regime. There has been talk about allowing a citizen dialogue about Cuba's problems (not the first in the regime's history this has happened either) but no action.

Where's the beef?

One thing is certain. Pressure mounts on Raul and the other would-be successors every day to implement change. And once Fidel is officially in the ground (as opposed to now that he's unofficially in the ground or perhaps above ground but barely) then the expectations among not only the common people but also including members of the ruling regime for change will ratchet up considerably.