Saturday, February 26, 2011

In Cuba, would soldiers pull the trigger on protesters?

Commentary: In Cuba, would soldiers pull the trigger on protesters?
Marifeli Perez-Stable
The Miami Herald

Nineteen eighty-nine was a good year for freedom. Only in China did the
Communist Party crush the protesters who slowly took possession of
Tiananmen Square from April 14 on. When the tanks and soldiers rolled in
on June 3-4, there was hardly any concrete to be seen on the square. Up
to 1,500 people were massacred.

Even so, Tiananmen left us an image of hope: the man who repeatedly
blocked a tank while the soldier driving it never ran him over. Internet
searches for "tank man" in China come up empty. One here will get you
nearly nine million results. The man's defiance and the soldier's
refusal to kill him still threaten the Chinese leadership.

In Eastern Europe, communist regimes fell like dominoes. Mikhail
Gorbachev's "Sinatra Doctrine" — Moscow would no longer intervene to
prop them up — left the region's communist leaders to fend for
themselves. When citizens took to the streets, all but Romania's Nicolae
Ceausescu blinked rather than give the order to fire.

Cuba had its own 1989. In June, a group of military and state-security
officers were arrested and tried for drug trafficking. Four were brought
before firing squads. Perhaps these men were also involved in reform
efforts. No matter, it is still crystal clear that the scandal bared a
regime predicament.

Fidel Castro's demand for unconditional elite loyalty required a high
degree of tolerance for wide-ranging elite behavior. Whether or not he
knew about the officers' activities, full responsibility fell on his
governance style. Havana, however, blamed a few bad apples even if two
of the men executed — Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa and Colonel Antonio de la
Guardia — had long been close to Castro.

Today we are witnessing young people in the Middle East march for
freedom. Unlike Eastern Europe, however, Middle Eastern regimes sprung
from within and, in that sense, are more akin to China. Autocracies in
Egypt and Tunisia withered away with little bloodshed. Not so in Libya
where Moammar Gadhafi has unleashed loyal troops, foreign mercenaries
and air strikes against the people. Hundreds have already died and the
regime no longer controls eastern Libya.

After 1989, Cuba was thought to be next. Bumper stickers proclaiming En
el noventa, Fidel revienta! (In 1990, Fidel will burst!) were widely
seen in Miami. George H.W. Bush thought freedom would come to Cuba under
his watch. Castro, however, stood fast and survived to transfer power to
Raúl in 2006.

Be that as it may, the elder Castro's leadership style is still the
heart of the matter. Fidel always preferred governing on his own than
through even undemocratic institutions. It took Raúl Castro a while to
put the house in order. Now he and his elderly cohorts are trapped.

On the one hand, the thought that they would be the ones to lose power
keeps them awake at night. On the other, they are committed to saving
Fidel's legacy which is also their own. Still, Castro's unwillingness to
put the interests of ordinary Cubans at the center of his rule has made
Raúl's task all the harder. Too much time has been lost and the costs
now are even steeper.

Cubans are facing layoffs to the tune of 1.8 million over four years.
Though there are conflicting reports on whether the first round of
500,000 has even started in earnest, the mere announcement of layoffs
suggests a new social contract. "You're on your own," the leadership is,
in effect, saying.

What's happening in Libya might be especially troubling for the Cuban
leadership. Fidel Castro and Gadhafi once had close relations. We don't
know how much Cubans know about Libyan developments. Elites in the
military, the state and the party, however, are well aware of the
defections among their Libyan counterparts.

Would young Cubans be willing to risk the regime's wrath by taking to
the streets? Would the regime give the order to fire on them? Would the
officers and soldiers pull the trigger? These aren't idle questions.
Incipient reforms are already shaking up Cuban society, and that's the
place to look for change.

Posted on Sat, Feb. 26, 2011 01:10 AM

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