TCS Daily

Low Fidelity

By Alvaro Vargas Llosa - August 2, 2006 12:00 AM

Whether Fidel Castro's condition is terminal or not, Cuba's transition has begun. Nobody at this stage knows what kind of transition it will be or how long it will take, but the symbolism of Fidel Castro handing over power to his brother is sufficient to tell us that half a century of one-man rule on the island is over. Whatever happens next, this will not be Fidel Castro's dictatorship.

So, what kind of transition will this be? There are five possible scenarios for a communist regime, at least three of which no longer seem possible in Cuba. The three that are highly unlikely are the Chinese model, the Polish model and the Soviet model.

The Chinese model, also followed by Vietnam, involves the combination of communist political dictatorship and a market economy of sorts. Fidel Castro toyed with that idea in the 1990s when the end of the Soviet subsidy caused the collapse of the Cuban economy. He went back on the mild reforms as soon as he realized they would lead to a decentralization of economic power. This type of transition can either be led by someone with unquestionable political legitimacy in the eyes of the regime, as was the case of Deng Xiaoping in China, or by a group of pragmatists after the death of the legitimate leader, as was the case with the Vietnamese pragmatists after the death of Le Duan in the mid-1980s. Raul Castro, Fidel's chosen successor, does not have the kind of legitimacy that Fidel had and would not be able to undo his brother's economic legacy without causing the collapse of the dictatorship.

The Polish model involves a Communist leader willing to hand power over to the opposition -- as Wojciech Jaruzelski did in 1989, opening the doors to the emergence of Tadeusz Mazowiecki as prime minister. My Cuban friends tell me Raul Castro attempted to introduce some reform in the armed forces in the 1980s on the basis of ``efficiency and pragmatism'' and his brother ordered him to stop. However, Raul's long history of repression makes him an unlikely Jaruzelski. Raul was personally involved in many of the executions in the early stages of the Revolution, has been instrumental in purging and punishing, sometimes with the death penalty, generals the regime considered suspect, and has followed a Stalinist line to this day.

The Soviet model entails a bureaucratic transition in which the party leadership as a body undertakes a degree of openness and structural reform. Mikhail Gorbachev's leadership acquired such personal dimensions that we often forget he was a creature of a collective decision to engage in reform. That process ultimately evolved into Western-style political leadership. The problem with this model in the case of Cuba is that the bureaucrats in charge are still the original revolutionary tyrants. In the communiqué through which Fidel handed over power to Raul on Tuesday, a few names were mentioned -- notably those of Jose Machado Ventura and Jose Ramon Balaguer. Both are septuagenarian "Raulistas" who fought in the Sierra Maestra.

This leaves two possible transitions. One would be "Fidelismo" without Fidel. In other words, a military dictatorship under Raul Castro -- who at 75 is frail and suffers from cirrhosis due to alcoholism -- until he passes away or becomes incapacitated himself, at which time the real transition process would begin. His regime would survive, much like Fidel Castro's has survived in the new millennium, thanks to oil and cash from his pal, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

The other, more likely, scenario is a power struggle among various factions. Cuban General Jose Quevedo recently told a group of Cubans in Madrid that the degree of personal control by Fidel Castro has been such that no one with any kind of following has emerged these past few years in the armed forces or the Communist Party. Aside from Raul's limited legitimacy stemming from his long history as a revolutionary and his anointment by Fidel, no one is in a position to command respect. Considering Raul's age and health, this means a power struggle among factions is likely. Divisions will emerge between the old guard and the younger "apparatchiks," between those who have ties to Chavez and those who resent foreign meddling, and between those who favor maintaining things as they are and those who want to start a transition toward democracy and free markets.

We don't know at this stage whether that struggle will be violent or purely political. But we know that the most important thing that needed to happen -- that is, Fidel Castro's demise -- is happening right now. Now freedom at least has a fighting chance on the island.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa, author of ``Liberty for Latin America," is the director of the Center on Global Prosperity at the Independent Institute. His e-mail address is AVLlosa(at symbol)



Wishful thinking
Whether Fidel dies next week or takes back the reins of power from his brother, does anyone actually think the Cuban government is about to radically change course?

Fidel, single handedly, is not the government. There is an infrastructure of personnel that has been in place for the past 46 years. They can be expected to maintain an orderly transition from Fidelismo to Fidelismo. To expect otherwise would be akin to thinking Martians might descend to suddenly constitute a New Order in Cuba.

why would the Cubans want to change their paradise on earth?

Surprisingly enough, the Cubans have a blueprint in place
It's been there for a while. Exile Alberto Duran talks about it.

"If Fidel dies or becomes incapacitated, his brother Raul steps in for a six-month transitiion period. Within that six-month period, they have to call for a meeting of the Central Committee of the party. That Central Committee will then choose the new leadership."

may not work according to plans, but that's the plan.

The solution has been there all along.
The solution to forcing the poor Cubans out of their Communist utopia has been there all these years.

DROP THE EMBARGO!!!!!! The Cubans have suffered enough already!

A simple solution
Amazing that no one has thought of this already. Open the trade gates and they become just more capitalists, trying to make a buck in the commodities game.

It makes so much sense we forget that Canada and Latin America have been trading with Cuba all along. And Cuba is still flat broke. So my tentative conclusion is they still must be doing something wrong.

Any ideas what?

..and now, for some good news...
With all of the bad news coming from the Middle East, North Korea, and all the other usual suspects, it looks like there actually is something to be optimistic about. And to an area of the world that has had precious little: the Caribbean.

Any ideas what?
They embrace a losing system...socialism, guaranteed to fail every time. No property rights, no free market, no liberty = no prosperity. I thought even you would have figured that out by now.

Not quite what I was asking
Well, that was my point. But how, exactly? How does one have products for sale, and sell them, and still be broke? Just to say they are socialist says nothing.

What are they doing wrong?

and I said....
no property rights, no free market system, no individual liberty at the hands of a brutal, repressive socialist government that fears the decentralization that comes with economic and political liberty.

re; roy's comments
Roy you are really showing that you have no understanding of either politics, or economics with these recent comments. Did you know that it's common that when charismatic dictators go, their successors can't hold the lid on? So there was no Hitler.2, or Stalin.2, or Mao.2 etc. Probably it will be the same in the captive nation of Cuba, Raul is seen as only a nepotism icon and probably won't last long in spite of all the forces of repressive police state organs they have there. Don't foret that for a few of the vested interests, most people don't like communism, thus it's bound to change when that 'Chauchescu of the Caribbean ' if finally gone. Then re economics, you seem so surprised that a country like cuba with resources and access to most of the world, still can be poor. Indeed they have everything except what is most important to wealth creation; private property, free markets, and rule of law. In fact countries don't even need to have any natural resources at all to become very wealthy, as i often point out examples in these commments.

The next Fidel
It's tempting to want to think that way, dietmar. But when dictators die in office, as opposed to being displaced by wars (Hitler) or revolutions (Ceaucescu), they tend to get replaced by milder versions of themselves. That's because the bureaucracy and the party are left intact, and they have to get together to decide who's going to be their next leader.

Thus in place of Hafez Assad you get Bashar Assad. In place of Stalin you get Kruschev. After Mao you get Lin Biao. And so forth. In Cuba they will probably decide to let Raul run things.

And the people don't mind. Those of us who have been there say the Cubans don't dislike Castro. Everyone who hates him lives in Miami.

My question as to why Cuba isn't rich was rhetorical. I do agree that socialism has wrecked the economy there. It was certainly abetted by our 45 year embargo though.

sounds like roy's ideal political system

They can't count on being replaced by any milder version, even with the state organs of total repression still extant. There are often power struggles/vacuums in such situations, and it unravels. But it's also naive to travel there as a tourists and hear some people say they just love fidel; of course they can't tell you what they really think. Here's a tip, the next time you're in cuba ask somebody there what this means: you point your two first fingers up to your top of shoulder and tap it a couple of times(i forget what that part is called in English, maybe epalet or something like that). Also, a (partial)embargo by only ONE of all the countries in the world, doesn't ruin a country.

What can you tell by a visit?
A traveler can certainly get a feel for how popular a government is by even a short visit. That's the main reason why travel to Cuba has always been severely discouraged.

The first time I went to the Soviet Union my principal informant was my guide, conveniently supplied by Intourist as the official government spokesperson.

We were looking at center cities that had been bombed in WWII, and were being restored. And I noted what a good job they were doing. She reminded me that they had to hire out for Polish specialists to do the work competently, and that they had to re-restore everything every several years. "The reason for that is that we have to use Soviet paint. If we could get some good Western paint, we'd only have to do the work once.

Thus even our official government representative gave us a wealth of information about the regard in which they held their government.

Visitors I know that have been to Castro's Cuba find that everyone complains about the poverty, but most blame the embargo more than they blame Castro. They feel comfortable with the standard of government care, in fields like employment, medicine (which they are quite proud of) and education. But they know they are malnourished relative to people in other nations. And they know they live in a police state.

There are certainly plenty of Cubans who hate everything Castro stands for. But virtually all of them have been living for the past few decades in Miami.

My guess is that if history is any guide, Castro will probably be followed by a milder version, not a more virulent version. Compare Krushchev with Stalin, or Lin Piao with Chairman Mao.

roy thinks one person, who agrees with him, proves his point
Ah yes, a short visit, in which a person talks to people the govt lets him see, proves to roy, that he was right all along.

I recently read a letter from a Cuban emigree, in which he complained of having to send money to his cousin in Cuba, so that the cousin could buy anethesia for an upcoming surgery. Without the money, he would have to do with liquor.

BTW, if the people love Castro so much, why has the Cuban govt been rushing to get soldiers into the streets?

Cuban's love their govt?

BTW, if Cuban's love their govt, why are they being told to turn in anyone who speaks out against it?

roy insists that the because people on the street don't say anything against the govt, is proof positive that the people love their govt. Maybe it has more to do with the fact that they don't want to disappear in the middle of the night, like so many of their friends have.

Maybe Cuban's are like roy. People are allowed to have any opinion they want, as long as they don't voice any opinion that govt (or roy) disagrees with.

Thanks for quoting me
One of your most annoying qualities is your imprecise thinking.

You say "roy insists that the because people on the street don't say anything against the govt, is proof positive that the people love their govt."

You just can't get there from my comment, which was "Visitors I know that have been to Castro's Cuba find that everyone complains about the poverty, but most blame the embargo more than they blame Castro. They feel comfortable with the standard of government care, in fields like employment, medicine (which they are quite proud of) and education. But they know they are malnourished relative to people in other nations. And they know they live in a police state."

You would have greater credibility if there just wasn't so much blatant BS about you. Start being more precise.

I neveer said it was an exact quote, it was the sense of your post though.

No it was not
None of your slanders express any sentiment of mine.

Socialist reality 101
How to "have products for sale, and sell them, and still be broke". Spend $150 on labor and machines to turn $50 of raw materials into $100 of finished goods. It really is quite simple and you see it in communist country after communist country. State owned enterprises are negative economic activity generators the world over.

I guess it's all in the wrist. You'll recall the Jewish shopkeeper who, when asked how he was able to make a decent living, said "I'm losing money on every sale, but I make it up in volume."

The Cubans used to be known as the Jews of the Caribbean. But I think all the members of the entrepreneurial class left, and all the field hands stayed.

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