Monday, August 24, 2009

Cuban government plans dramatic changes, but when?

¿Hasta la victoria, pero cuando?

While in Havana earlier this month, I met with a Cuban friend I've known since the mid-90s. He's sharp. He's an expert on U.S.-Cuba politics and I'd say he follows what's going on in Washington more carefully than a lot of Americans.
With great calm and confidence, he talked about change and the future direction of the socialist government. He told me the Cuban government plans to "depart from some of its traditional ways" in the future, taking steps that were once "unthinkable."
He didn't explain in detail what he meant, but I took that to mean that the government plans economic reforms or a new economic direction at some point.
My friend said while the Cuban government would like the United States to lift economic sanctions, the status quo gives Cuban officials some breathing room, some time to make these changes.
I was thinking about that conversation this morning in light of the new video showing a healthier looking Fidel Castro meeting with Venezuelan lawyers over the weekend.
I try to stay out of the prediction business, especially when it comes to Cuba.
I don't know how long Fidel Castro is going to last. None of us knows when that moment is going to come, when we're going to hit by a train or fall off a cliff. It could be tomorrow or next month or next year or five years from now.

Fidel Castro, August 2009. Credit: Juventud Rebelde

In the video, Fidel Castro looks healthy for a man of 83. Obviously, he could live a number years longer. Longevity is in his genes. His older brother, Ramon Castro, is expected to celebrate his 85th birthday on Oct. 14.
All this raises questions. If indeed these "once unthinkable" changes are going to happen, what's the timetable? Are officials waiting for the Comandante's demise? Or are they going to plunge ahead while he's still alive?

Fidel Castro, July 2006

Now I know Raul Castro has already taken some steps. He's trying to boost agricultural production in the countryside. The government is giving away land to people willing to work it and is counting on private farmers to boost the economy - see a story about that here. Raul Castro is also trying to improve government efficiency, consolidate some agencies and offices. That's all important. But I think a lot of Cubans are hoping for more change faster, and that doesn't seem to be happening.
What many Cubans seem to be clamoring for, for starters, is simply more freedom to work, to start their own small businesses and make money so their lives can improve.
Cubans want change. They want action.
The longer the government waits, the less political support it will have and the more it will need to rely on force to hold things together.
Use of force will only erode political support further, requiring - you guessed it - more force, not just police, but use of CDRs, mass organizations, pressure in the workplace, information campaigns, travel restrictions, etc., to hold things together.

It's a vicious circle

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