Monday, January 23, 2017

In Cuba, the post-Fidel era began ten years ago

In Cuba, the post-Fidel era began ten years ago
01/23/2017 08:16 am ET

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Ramón I. Centeno, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

Ever since Fidel Castro died in November 2016, foreign observers -
journalists, political tourists, and the like - have flocked to the
streets of Havana. Let's go and see communist Cuba before it is too
late! they reason.

What this reaction misses is that Cuba has already changed: the
post-Fidel era is a decade old.

My new research, published in Mexican Law Review, shows major shifts in
the governing style and ideology of the country. The charismatic
leadership that epitomised Fidel's time in power is gone, replaced by a
collective arrangement. And Cuba's centrally planned economy has
integrated market socialist features.

These changes will likely be accelerated by Barack Obama's recent repeal
of the US policy that gave Cuban migrants favoured immigration status -
both by eliminating an escape route for dissatisfied citizens and by
reducing potential future remittances.

The end of charismatic leadership
When Fidel fell gravely ill in July 2006, he provisionally delegated his
dual posts - president of the Council of State and first secretary of
the Communist Party of Cuba - to his younger brother Raúl, long-time
head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and second secretary of the
Communist Party. As Fidel's health further deteriorated, the National
Assembly made Raúl president in February 2008.

This move kept succession within the family, but Raúl has rejected any
Kim dynasty-style future for the country. If ten years ago Cuba looked
more like North Korea than China, today the opposite is true.

Breaking with Fidel's decades-old practice, Raúl recommended to the
delegates of the sixth Party Congress in April 2011 that they limit
public officials to a maximum of two five-year terms; this soon became
the official Party line.

In the short term, term limits meant that Raúl Castro's presidency would
end in February 2018, which he has confirmed. In the long term, that
raised questions on the post-Castro era. To be sure, in 2013 Miguel
Díaz-Canel, a Communist Party insider, was promoted to first vice
president of the Council of State - the first time ever that a
revolutionary veteran did not hold that position. Technically, according
to the Cuban constitution, if the president dies, the first
vice-president takes over.

The seventh Party Congress, held in April 2016, nonetheless appointed
Raúl Castro to be first secretary. While this does keep a revolutionary
veteran in control of a key post after 2018, for the first time the head
of the Cuba's Communist Party will not be the same person as Cuba's

The rise of market socialism
Market socialism can be defined as "an attempt to reconcile the
advantages of the market as a system of exchange with social ownership
of the means of production."

As if following this definition from the Oxford Dictionary of Social
Sciences, the sixth Party Congress approved that from now on "planning
will take the market into account, influencing upon it and considering
its characteristics."

This is a clumsy engagement with the market, treating it as an alien
from outer space. And it epitomises the current ideological hardships of
the Cuban regime.

Still, Raúl Castro has overseen the largest expansion of non-state
socioeconomic activity in socialist Cuba's 50-year history.

Cuba's National Office of Statistics reports that in 2015 71% of Cuban
workers were state employees, down from 80% in 2007, and the number of
(mostly urban) self-employed workers has grown from 141,600 in 2008 to
half a million in 2015. In a country with a total workforce of five
million, this is not a trivial change.

From 2008 to 2014, more than 1.58 million hectares of idle land has
been transferred into private hands. That's nearly a quarter of Cuba's
6.2 million hectares of agricultural land, roughly on par with
state-owned land (30%).

In sum, the market is no longer the enemy, it's a junior partner in
Cuban central planning. The last Party Congress, Cuba's seventh,
approved the continuity of controlled liberalisation efforts by turning
market socialism into Communist Party doctrine, stating that "the State
recognises and integrates the market into the functioning of the system
of planned direction of the economy."

The new Cuban polity
The rise of market-socialist ideology emerged, to a substantial extent,
from the decline of charismatic authority.

Cuba's next generation of leaders — expected to take over in 2018 — will
not enjoy the same unquestionable legitimacy as its founding fathers,
much less that of Fidel Castro. So the inevitable passing of the
revolutionaries still in power today, most of whom are in their 80s,
makes the already difficult process of revamping the regime even tougher.

Raúl Castro's challenge over the past decade has thus been not only to
make his presidency stand on solid ground, but also to make sure that
such a ground endures after he leaves. The question of economic
performance was clearly central to that task.

Raúl saw market socialism as a way to strengthen Cuba's economy without
abandoning its Castro-era ideals. The revolutionary veterans' interest
in seeing the system they built survive is unsurprising, and it explains
their rejection of any capitalist encroachments.

But it remains to be seen how long - and if - this ideological limit
will survive them.

Let's return to the earlier chart presenting a comparison of surviving
Communist countries at present. It shows Cuba today, after ten years of
Raúl, located somewhere in between North Korea (where an orthodox
Soviet-style economy is still firmly entrenched) and countries such as
China and Vietnam that have seen capitalism restored, and somewhat
closer to the latter.

But the difference between "medium" market acceptance and "high" market
acceptance is a substantial one. The latter presupposes a comeback of
the bourgeoisie - the social class of owners of the means of production,
expropriated by Castro's revolution - and thus far this key ideological
limit remains strong in Cuba.

Since the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, many have assumed that the
fall of communist Cuba is a matter of when not if. Only by abandoning
the focus on "the fall" and understanding how communist rule has
survived in Cuba we can grasp that Cuba has already changed mightily.

Welcome to the second decade of the post-Fidel era.

Ramón I. Centeno, Postdoctoral fellow, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de
México (UNAM)

Source: In Cuba, the post-Fidel era began ten years ago | The Huffington
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