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Viva Fidel and Cuban Socialism!

By Indira Rampersad
Guyana Journal, March 2008

Fidel Castro’s decision last week to resign as Cuba’s president after forty-seven years in office should not be interpreted as an indication that the country is ready to adopt the American brand of democracy and automatically switch to a capitalist economic system.

It is rather amusing that such notions of Cuban sudden transition from socialism would still be hitting the air-waves. It did not take long for rabid anti-Castro exiles in Miami to celebrate by dancing in the streets of Miami when the false news of Castro’s death spread like wild-fire through the hardline Cuban-American community in July, 2006.

With the recent news of Castro’s resignation, President George W. Bush could not wait to express hope that Cuba would now be embarking upon “free and fair elections.” Wishful thinking. Obviously, President Bush has not begun to understand the Cuban sensibility and the ability of Cubans to survive even amidst the most difficult economic times with continuing pressure from the United States.

The Cuban socialist system has displayed a remarkable capacity to endure over time even in the face of a ridiculous embargo imposed on the island since 1962 by the United States. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the removal of its annual subvention to Cuba, the island was plunged in the throes of an economic crisis known as the “special period” in the mid-nineties. It recently overcame this crisis, demonstrating unprecedented levels of economic growth even as the embargo continues to be tightened by successive American administrations.

Neither the Americans nor hardline Cuban-Americans have yet begun to fathom the significance of the phenomenal legend that is Fidel Castro. Neither are they aware that el comandante is not just an individual but also an institution, indeed a system in himself. They seem ignorant of the fact that the Cuban revolution that Fidel Castro has led for forty-seven years is built on the solid foundations of an extremely potent and lasting sense of nationalism or cubanidad fomented by powerful sentiments which have historically struggled against Spanish colonialism, U.S. imperialism and global capitalism.

The hostile U.S. policy to Cuba is intricately linked to U.S. domestic politics as is evident in the fact that it continues to be tightened in the post-Cold War era. This became obvious when the end of the Cold War did not bring the kind of changes in U.S./Cuba policy that was expected in a unipolar international system in which Cuba no longer poses an ideological or security threat to the United States.

Instead, the 1990s saw an illogical tightening of the embargo. Under President George H. Bush, the Mack Amendment was passed prohibiting all trade with Cuba by subsidiaries of U.S. companies even if located outside the U.S. The Torricelli Bill, or Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, was also passed under Bush to “wreak havoc on the island,” according to its sponsor, Robert Torricelli, with the senior Bush proposing that he would impose sanctions on any nation buying products from Cuba. The law prohibits foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba.

U.S.-Cuba relations took a dramatic turn for the worse in 1996, when Cuban MIG jetfighters shot down two U.S.-based civilian aircrafts belonging to the Miami-based group, Brothers to the Rescue, killing three U.S. citizens and one Cuban-American resident of the United States. President Clinton used the incident to endorse the Helms-Burton Law in the heat of the 1996 election campaign in a bid to court vital Cuban American votes in South Florida. Helms-Burton enacts penalties on foreign companies doing business in Cuba; permits lawsuits (even by individuals who were Cuban citizens at the time) against foreign investors who make use of expropriated property seized by the Cuban government; and denies entry into the U.S. to such foreign investors and their family members.

Described as the harshest pro-embargo president, George W. Bush demonstrates strong support for the embargo. In May 2001, he announced that, “my administration will oppose any attempt to weaken sanctions against Cuba’s government.” In December 2003, he established a Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba that presented a 500-page report in May 2004, with some of the most severe recommendations for tightening the embargo that was ever witnessed. The report proposed $45 million dollars to the budget for “hastening change” in Cuba. The new provisions restrict family and academic travels, remittances and parcel deliveries to Cuban relatives. The second 93-page report of the Commission, issued in July 2006, attempted to counteract perceptions that the first report was nothing but an “American occupation plan”.

In the current race to the White House, electoral candidates for the U.S. presidency have all expressed a position on Cuba. Democrat, Hilary Clinton, supports a continuation of the embargo as do the Republican, John McCain. Barrack Obama is the only candidate  who cliams to be in favor of removing restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba.

All the U.S. candidates should however be cognizant of one reality. The deterioration of Castro’s health, even his impending demise, does not spell the end of Socialism in Cuba. This ideology is very much alive and kicking in the island with the vibrant cadre of young communist officials in the Cuban government. It is unlikely that there will be a sudden transition to Capitalism and American-style democracy in a post-Castro Cuba.

Moreover, whatever Cubans may think of the Castro government, most are not eager to see exiles who left over forty years ago return to take over their country. The Cuban government and the loyal Cuban military would view any large scale attempt to return as a political challenge and a national security threat. They also agree that the embargo has not worked in forty-six years and that the “economy is in better shape than it has been in years”.

A critical point that seems to be missed is that the post-Castro era is already here and the moment of an exile take-over is long gone. The smooth transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his successor, Raul Castro, is exposing the willful ignorance and wishful thinking of U.S. policy toward Cuba and the abject failure of the embargo policy.

Fidel Castro himself reiterates this point in his very recent spoken autobiography with Ignacio Ramonet, Fidel Castro, My Life (2008). When asked whether the Socialist revolutionary process would collapse, Fidel responded:

Is it that revolutions are bound to collapse, or is that men cause revolutions to collapse? Can men prevent revolutions from collapsing or can’t they? Can society prevent revolutions from collapsing or can’t it? I’ve often asked myself those questions and this is what I have to say about [those questions]: the Yankees can’t destroy this revolutionary process, because we have an entire nation that’s learned to handle weapons, an entire nation that despite our errors, has such a high degree of culture, knowledge and awareness that it will never, ever again allow this country to become a colony of theirs”
(Ramonet, February, 2008).

The Americans have missed the raft. Power has been successfully transferred to a new set of Cuban leaders, whose priority is to preserve the system while permitting only very gradual reform. Cubans have not revolted, and their national identity remains tied to the defense of the homeland against U.S. attacks on its sovereignty. As the post-Fidel regime responds to pent-up demands for more democratic participation and economic opportunity, Cuba will undoubtedly change – but the pace and nature of that change will be determined by the Cuban people, in the Cuban way – change that is mostly imperceptible to the naked American eye.

Dr. Indira Rampersad is an alumni of UWI’s Institute of International Relations. Her PhD in Political Science/ International Relations at the University of Florida focused on U.S. foreign policy to Cuba. She is currently a Lecturer in Political Science/International Relations at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago.

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