The Changing of the Guard
And when Fidel comes back, as he has begun to do?
You know, it's wrong to paint this entirely as a Raul versus Fidel issue. Even before Fidel's illness, he and others started discussing some chronic problems--the young generation's lack of connection to the revolutionary project, the economic system that drives people into black-market activity--that threaten their ability to carry socialism into the next generation. Given a free hand, I think Fidel would respond with ideological exhortations and greater law enforcement, while Raul would look to fixing the system itself.
I actually think that none of the needed changes will happen as long as Fidel is alive or even actively involved in the management of the government.
Although he delegated the exercise of his official functions, Fidel Castro has maintained his moral and political authority. When he resumes his official functions--which, incidentally, could take place in a few weeks--it will mean that he has made an extraordinary comeback.
Of course, we all realize that he will not be able to work endless hours or deliver six-hour speeches or micromanage every single important project, as was the case before. But the institutions created by the Revolution--the Communist Party, the People's Power Assemblies--have proven in this period to be capable of playing their roles in a new environment in which the leadership has to be more collective. In the future, as the historical leadership of the Revolution inevitably fades away, Cuba will see the kind of leadership that has functioned over the last eight months.
How does the Cuban government see the political changes in the Latin America region? What does the trend toward the populist left in the region mean for Cuba?
Cuban leaders see the election results in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador as confirming of their critique of capitalism and imperialism. Add to this the elections in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile and you have what they feel is a confirmation that Fidel was right. They were patient, refused to get intimidated and now the old leaders are following events with renewed optimism.
Certainly, the Cubans see the rise of the new left in Latin America as vindication of their longstanding argument that neoliberal economics is a dead-end development strategy. In decades past, Cuba has occasionally had ideological friends in the region--Allende in Chile, Manley in Jamaica, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua--but these allies were isolated and their governments were short-lived. The difference today is that socialist and left-populist governments are the dominant bloc in Latin America.
Economically, it means support from Venezuela and not a whole lot else. Politically, it makes for a less hostile, if not friendlier, neighborhood. It makes it impossible for the United States to organize a united hemispheric front against Castro, and when Castro goes it insures the same thing.
Not only does Cuba have very good relations with all of the new leftist governments in the region, including those on the so-called moderate left like Chile and Brazil. It also has excellent relations with such stalwart US allies as Colombia and Honduras. [Colombian] President [Álvaro] Uribe, Washington's strongest ally in the region, pointedly has turned to Castro several times for help in negotiating with some of the Colombian guerrilla groups and in lessening tensions with [Hugo] Chávez's Venezuela. And just a few weeks ago, Honduras, one of the United States' closest friends in Central America, decided to send an ambassador to Cuba for the first time since 1962. For the past several years, UN resolutions condemning the US embargo against Cuba have received the largest number of affirmative votes ever in favor of Cuba--with many of those votes coming from Latin America. And when Castro became ill last July the Latin Americans made it clear to Washington that they would not join any efforts at regime change.
I believe that Latin America is experiencing important changes: The traditional political parties that defend the status quo have lost their influence and political power; the leaders of the military institutions have lost their capability to establish repressive regimes; the influence of the United States has deteriorated in the political arena as in the economic and trade areas because of its insistence on neoliberal schemes and, above all, popular organizations have increased their ability to mobilize people and have proven able to take power through elections. What we are witnessing in Latin America are revolutionary changes by different means--and an apogee of the relations between Cuba and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, both at the official and the popular levels.