Even with Fidel Castro gone, Cuba's future is in doubt
By Judith Miller, Douglas E. Schoen Published November 26, 2016
With the death of the man who for so long embodied Cuba's communist
revolution, many Cubans and Americans are hoping for a change in
Cuban-American relations and more freedom on the island.
Not so fast.
Fidel may be dead but his regime endures. Brother Raul, and a
kleptocratic, heavy-handed bureaucracy remain as determined as ever to
hold power. The Castro regime still dominates economic and political
life on the island, controlling nearly three quarters of economic
activity and the results for Cubans have been disastrous.
According to Pew Research, that Cuba's GDP grew just 1.3% in real terms,
despite the easing of sanctions, and the re-establishment of some
diplomatic relations with the United States, and a survey published in
the Washington Post last spring showed that 79% of Cubans said they were
dissatisfied with Cuba's economic system.
Venezuela's economic collapse is further endangering the regime's hold
on power. For fifteen years, Cuba has relied on Venezuela's 90,000
barrels of oil per day to sustain half of its energy needs. Pavel Vidal,
a former Cuban Central Bank employee, predicts that Cuba's GDP will "dip
into negative territory this year and decline 2.9% in 2017" as a result
of oil shortages precipitated by Venezuela's meltdown.
Nor is Cuba likely to become a model for freedom of thought and
expression any time soon. The regime is just as likely to respond to
growing economic discontent with a renewed political crackdown on
dissent as with continued political and economic liberalization that has
characterized the past several years. Witness the reaction to President
Obama's visit to the island last March, where the Cuban security
services preemptively rounded up dozens of prominent journalists,
dissidents, and intellectuals. President Obama's main achievement during
his visit was forcing Raul Castro to field questions from local journalists.
Nonetheless, despite its increasingly tenuous hold on power, Cuba will
likely continue to exercise disproportionate influence in Latin America.
The failed Colombian peace accord, for instance, was negotiated in
Havana, and the Castro regime retains outsized diplomatic clout in the
region, as the last remaining old-school communist autocracy.
Much will depend on how the incoming U.S. administration reacts to
Here too, President-elect Donald Trump has sent mixed signals. During
the campaign, Trump denounced the Obama Administration's approach to
Cuba: "The agreement President Obama signed is a very weak agreement,"
he said and promised to reverse the détente unless "the Castro regime
meets our demands." His running mate Mike Pence has similarly stated
"Mr. Trump would repeal Mr. Obama's executive orders unless there was
real political and religious freedom." The Republican Party has also
traditionally espoused a hard line on dealing with Havana, a reflection
in part of the views of one of its core Hispanic constituencies, the
nearly 1.8 million Cuban Americans, many of whom live in the
electorally-important state of Florida.
However, Mr. Trump's reaction to Fidel's death was more conciliatory,
expressing hope that the death of Cuba's "brutal dictator" would mark a
"move away from the horrors endured for too long and toward a future in
which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so
richly deserve." He also said that his administration "will do all it
can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward
prosperity and liberty."
Further complicating matters is Mr. Trump's apparent longstanding desire
to do business in Cuba, even during the U.S. trade embargo. Documents
published last September by Newsweek show that a Trump company paid a
consulting firm $68,000 in late 1998 to investigate the possibility of a
further investment on the island should Washington resume normal
economic relations with Havana. According to the report, the consulting
firm later tried to disguise the spending as a charitable contribution.
Mr. Trump has denied having done business in Cuba. "I never did a deal
in Cuba," he said during the campaign.
Given Mr. Trump's conflicting signals, it is hard to predict how he will
respond to the government in Havana. Given his crowded one-hundred day
agenda, during which Mr. Trump has promised to withdraw from the
Transpacific Partnership, to pass a major infrastructure bill, and to
reduce existing environmental regulations, relations with Cuba are not
likely to receive high priority. As a result, the Ladies in White who
continue to protest the lack of freedom on the Malecon may well be
forced to wait a little longer.
Judith Miller, a Fox News contributor, is an award-winning writer and
author, and an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute. The author of
several books, her latest is "The Story: A Reporter's Journey" (Simon &
Schuster, April 7, 2015) now available in paperback. Follow her on
Douglas E. Schoen has served as a pollster for President Bill Clinton.
He has more than 30 years experience as a pollster and political
consultant. He is also a Fox News contributor and co-host of "Fox News
Insiders" Sundays on Fox News Channel at 7 pm ET. He is the author of 13
books. His latest is "Putin's Master Plan" (Encounter Books, September
27, 2016). Follow Doug on Twitter @DouglasESchoen.
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