Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Post-Gaddafi, is Cuba next?

Post-Gaddafi, is Cuba next?
David Roberts

As the Gaddafi regime appears set to crumble in Libya, perhaps now is as
good a time as any to reflect on Latin America's last remaining
dictatorship - Cuba.

There are more than a few similarities between the two regimes. Both are
led by highly charismatic - some may say deluded - personalities in the
form of Muammar al Gaddafi in Libya and, in the case of Cuba, Fidel
Castro, who has largely given way in his old age to his slightly younger
and much duller brother Raúl. Both the Libyan and Cuban systems of
government claim to be socialist, in one guise or other, and both have
lasted for decades, in part thanks to a brutal security apparatus. Both
have also irked and confronted the liberal, democratic and capitalist
west, and above all Washington, over the decades, in the case of Libya
using terrorist tactics to do so.

In addition - and evidence of this has been seen in the Libyan conflict
in recent months - both clearly have a significant degree of support
among their respective peoples, although whether it was ever a majority
is another matter. There are of course good reasons why the two regimes
have enjoyed a degree of support. Gaddafi has used Libya's oil wealth
over the years to make the country one of the most developed in the
region, and also counted on the backing of his own tribe, while the
Castro-led revolution overthrew a despised, pro-US dictator, winning the
admiration of leftist ideologues around the world, and the subsequent
regime has, despite its faults, made considerable progress in areas such
as healthcare and education.

So why has one been brought to its knees while the other appears to be
standing firm? There has, of course, been much speculation - often wild
and unfounded, disguised as analysis - as to the real causes of the Arab
uprisings, including poverty, corruption, cronyism, governments that
simply don't care about their people and, at least the western world
would like to believe, a genuine desire for democracy, all helped along
by the use of social media. But one thing is clear, which is that no one
foresaw what was coming and the governments that have been toppled or
have come close to being toppled from Tunisia to Bahrain, all looked
pretty secure less than a year ago from today. Just like Cuba right now.

So could the same thing happen in Cuba? Yes, of course it could. Many
ask why don't the Cuban people rise up against the tyrants and demand
their rights? Or how can people be so passive in the face of such
tyranny? Yet the same could have been said all across North Africa and
much of the Middle East until just a few months ago.

These things may not be predictable, even by the most astute of the
so-called experts and analysts, but the important thing - whether we're
talking about Libya today or Cuba tomorrow - is to be as best prepared
as possible for a change, both the domestic opposition and the
international community, to help ensure that mistakes of the past are
not repeated and that what replaces the current regime is a big
improvement on the old order, preferably with something resembling
democracy. In the case of Libya, that includes not destroying the
infrastructure developed by the Gaddafi regime, or "punishing" people
for having worked for the government - and avoid letting the country
fall into chaos like what happened in Iraq - and in the case of Cuba it
would mean not reversing the gains made in health and education, among
other things.

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