Column: What's Next for Cuba?
Alvaro Vargas Llosa 12:06 a.m. EST December 21, 2016
One would think there is no doubt in anybody's mind about Fidel Castro's
horrific legacy. And yet we have heard important leaders say some
What is Castro's real political legacy? The last free election in Cuba
was in 1948; Fidel Castro turned the island into a more ruthless police
state than the one he inherited from the Batista regime. The guerrillas
he exported to Latin America gave rise to savage right-wing military
dictatorships in the 1970s. Today no country in Latin America, with the
pathetic exception of Venezuela, models itself on Cuba. The few
left-wing populists who were allies of Cuba have been defeated at the
polls (Argentina), constitutionally removed from power (Brazil), or
forced to give up their hopes of another unconstitutional re-election
(Ecuador, Bolivia), while Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega has metamorphosed
into a right-wing despot.
Soon after he took over from Fidel (first on an interim basis, then
formally), Raul Castro, who would like to copy the Vietnamese formula
(state capitalism and one-party rule), began to renounce some basic
tenets of Cuba's socialist economic model. He did not go far, but some
of his measures — those relaxing the draconian emigration rules,
allowing small businesses to operate privately, and re-establishing
diplomatic relations with the United States — have a
Castro wanted to turn Cuba into an agricultural powerhouse, but today it
imports more than 70 percent of its food, and the sugar harvest, which
reached 8 million tons a long time ago, has been reduced to about 1.4
million tons. The small industrial activity that still exists is half of
what it was at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Economics
professor and blogger Tyler Cowen thinks the country's per capita income
is below $2,000.
What now? Raul Castro announced in 2013 that he will relinquish power in
2018 and seemed to suggest he would be succeeded by Miguel Diaz Canelo,
an electrical engineer. Raul will relinquish the presidency of the
Council of State and the Council of Ministers, but real power rests in
the military and the Communist Party. His son-in-law, Luis Alberto
Rodriguez, is the head of GAESA, the holding company of the armed
forces, which directly controls half of Cuba's economy. This is the body
you must partner with if you want to invest in tourism, retail,
infrastructure projects, etc.
And the third Castro generation, already positioned for important
things. A son of Raul Castro, Alejandro, is a colonel in the Ministry of
the Interior and the head of counterintelligence.
At the age of 85, Raul will not be around to make decisions much longer.
But anyone who thinks this is the beginning of a meaningful political
transition is sorely mistaken. Fidel's brother believes in combining
limited market reforms with one-party rule.
What is much less clear is what will happen after Raul Castro is gone.
Although civil society is too weak at this time to rebel against
one-party rule, the cracks that might open within the structure of the
state could unleash forces of the kind we saw in Eastern Europe both
inside and outside of the Communist Party.
But that will not happen anytime soon.
Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and
author of "Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of
State Oppression" and "The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty."
He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
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