the days of monarchy, the chief palace spokesman would solemnly
announce, "The King is dead! Long live the King" to demonstrate a
seamless transition. Sadly, the refrain in Cuba today will be, "The
Dictator has resigned. Long live the Dictator!"
resignation announcement comes as little surprise to those following
events in Cuba. The transition has been underway since July 31, 2006,
when Fidel announced a "temporary transfer" of power and yielded
day-to-day control of the government to his brother, Raul Castro. That
Brother Raul's coronation was announced furtively, in the middle of the
night, and online in a country where practically no one but the
Communist nomenclatura has access to the Internet is a good indicator of a phony transition that lacks legitimacy.
minor economic reforms are possible, all signs point to a continuation
of the status quo in Cuba. The United States should keep existing
policies in place until Cuba makes real progress on political reforms
and human rights issues.
Preserving the Political Status Quo
were already predicting that the convening of the Council of State on
February 24 would mark the official end of Fidel Castro's half-century
of power. The resignation marks the legal end to the stormy career of
the ailing 81-year-old Communist. However, "Dictator Emeritus" Castro
has vowed to fight on "as a soldier in the battle of ideas"; i.e., he
will continue to influence Cuban politics until the very end.
the National Assembly of People's Power convenes on February 24, it is
possible that another face, a member of the younger generation--Carlos
Lage Davila, Ricardo Alarcon, or Felipe Perez Roque--might
become the President of the State Council, but no one doubts that it
will be Raul, not Fidel, who will guide general policy.
Castro is not the agent of democratic transition hoped for by
forward-looking Cubans. Fidel's younger brother, now 76 years old, has
lived in the shadows of his flamboyant, domineering elder brother. Yet
Raul has wielded immense political and institutional power since the
Cuban Revolution took power in 1959. Raul has commanded the Cuban Armed
Forces since 1959 and the security (intelligence) services since 1989,
and he has shared in Fidel's leadership of the Communist Party, Cuba's
only legal party. Cuba's 50,000-plus armed forces remain at the center
of its command economy. Serving or former military officers direct an
estimated 60 percent of Cuba's business and industry. The Ministry of
Interior is still a world-class intelligence service and has become
adept at confronting any form of dissent. There is no indication that
Raul intends to dismantle any of these support structures.
human rights situation has not improved since March 2003, when the
government cracked down on the peaceful opposition and arrested 75
human rights activists, journalists, and opposition figures, sentencing
many of them to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years. The U.S.
Department of State writes the following in its 2006 "Country Reports
on Human Rights Practices":
government's human rights record remained poor, and the government
continued to commit numerous, serious abuses. The government denied
citizens the right to change their government. There were at least 283
political prisoners and detainees at year's end. Thousands of citizens
served sentences for "dangerousness," in the absence of any criminal
Minor Economic Reforms
is the Cuban joke that in "the socialist paradise, there are only three
minor economic problems left to solve: breakfast, lunch and dinner."
Cuba's economy has been virtually destroyed by state mismanagement
under Castro. The average monthly income is about $10, and pensioners
receive about $4 a month.
As U.S. Secretary of Commerce (and
Cuban-American) Carlos Gutierrez has noted, "Cubans have survived for
more than 40 years on ration books that subsidize a limited number of
basic products, such as soy protein, rice, and beans. These rations are
enough for about ten days of the month." After that, Cubans must buy
basic foodstuffs, clothing, and household items at expensive market
prices or in the flourishing black market. Subsidized milk is rationed
to children under the age of seven and not available at all after they
turn eight. The Castro regime's own statistics from 2005 indicate that
at least 15 percent of Cuba's population is at severe nutritional risk.
economy is not likely to respond quickly or robustly to any minor
"China-like" opening that Raul may attempt. He may begin to tinker with
the economic system, presenting limited reforms in the agricultural
area and some modest private market opportunities, but the command
economy will remain firmly in place. That is bad news for the Cuban
people. Production in Cuba has long been inefficient, and the economy
cannot provide even basic goods and services. Corruption is rampant,
and more than 40 percent of the economy is in the informal sector.
A Failed Economy
central planning has ruined agriculture in Cuba just as it did in the
old Soviet Union. Sugar has always been the cornerstone of the Cuban
economy, but since the end of subsidies from the Soviet Union in 1989,
production has fallen by more than 50 percent. "Inefficient planting
and cultivation methods, poor management, shortages of spare parts, and
poor transportation infrastructure combined to deter the recovery of
the sector." Tourism, which includes "sex-tourism" involving Cuban children, has become the primary source of foreign exchange.
Cuba is visited by a few adventurous Europeans, these travelers often
do not return after experiencing socialist Cubans' "service with a
snarl." Thanks to foreign capital and joint ventures with Canadian and
Chinese companies, rich nickel deposits and recent discoveries of oil
have provided some additional earnings. None of these sectors, however, is sufficient to offset the basic dysfunctionality of the Cuban economic system.
Cuba's much-ballyhooed educational and health care systems have
provided some quality care to privileged Cubans with ties to the
regime, the vast majority of Cubans, especially outside of the major
cities, do not have access either to adequate medical care or to
advanced educational opportunities.
put, Cuba lacks the foundation on which to build an economy that can
provide jobs and prosperity for the people. Cuba's economic performance
indicators have been dismal. Cuba ranks at the bottom--156 out of 157
countries--in the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom, published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. It is the least economically free country in the Western Hemisphere.
will certainly work to preserve relations with Venezuela, China, and
others that have kept Cuba afloat since the Russians left at the end of
the Cold War. Without the $3 billion-$4 billion in annual assistance
from Castro choir boy Hugo Chavez and investments/handouts from China,
life in Cuba would be even more miserable than it is now.
The U.S.-Cuba Relationship
is certainly premature to speak of significant change in the
relationship between the United States and Cuba. On February 19,
President Bush called for a transition centered on free and fair
elections. The Administration has reiterated its commitment to a policy
enunciated in October 2007.
a speech made last year, Raul indicated that he was disposed toward
improved relations with the United States. Now in a position to call
the shots, he can perhaps adopt a less confrontational stance. If he
wishes to send a strong signal of change, Raul should release prisoners
of conscience who were jailed in 2003, free the media, and grant access
both to the Internet and to the outside media.
of Congress nor the American people should push to alter existing
legislation or restrictions on trade or travel with Cuba absent signs
of positive change on the political and human rights fronts. Raul fully
understands the nature of the U.S.-Cuba dynamic and is smart enough to
find ways to work with the U.S. if he so desires. The transition ball
still remains firmly in the Cuban court.
Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez, "Remarks to the Cuba
Democracy Advocates," Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, July
21, 2006, at www.cafc.gov/cafc/rls/70858.htm (February 19, 2008).
Department of State, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs,
Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, "Trafficking in
Persons Report," June 12, 2007, at www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2007/82805.htm (February 19, 2008).
Kim R. Holmes, Edwin J. Feulner, and Mary Anastasia O'Grady, 2008 Index of Economic Freedom (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation and Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 2008), pp. 151-152, at www.heritage.org/index/countries.cfm (February 19, 2008).