Thursday, October 27, 2005

Plan: Cuba with two presidents?

Plan: Cuba with two presidents?

By Gwynne Dyer
The Winston-Salem Journal
José F. Sánchez
Bureau Chief
Research Dept.
La Nueva Cuba
October 27, 2005

"It wouldn't be outrageous," said Ana Faya of her suspicion that Cuba
and Venezuela might unite one of these days. After all, the senior
analyst at the Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL) in Ottawa
pointed out, the idea of uniting Latin American countries has been
around since the revolutions of Bolivar and San Martin against Spain
almost two centuries ago. And she certainly knows how Cuban Communists
think: For 10 years, until she fled to Canada in 2000, she was an
official of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.

The Cuban regime's biggest problem by far is: Who succeeds Fidel Castro?
The official answer is his youngest brother Raul, currently Cuba's
vice-president and defense minister, but ideologically committed Cuban
Communists still have problems with the idea that political power can be
inherited. They also suspect Raul of being soft on capitalism.

Fidel Castro has had a remarkably rapid recovery from a fall last
October that broke his arm and shattered his kneecap in eight places,
but he will turn 80 next August. He has ruled Cuba for 46 years, but he
will soon have to be replaced. If the revolution is to survive, his
replacement had better be a man with contemporary revolutionary
credentials, a man with the charisma and resources to keep the show on
the road. A man, perhaps, like Hugo Chavez.

Chavez is Venezuelan, not Cuban, but that may not be as big a problem as
it seems. Many people on the left in Latin America, including
"Bolivarians" such as Chavez and most of the Marxists, have always seen
the division of the region into more than a dozen Spanish-speaking
countries as a misfortune, not a law of nature. Cuba and Venezuela are
already closely tied economically and politically, and Chavez, though
neither a Communist nor a dictator, shares Castro's social goals and his
hostility to the United States. It just might work.

As an analyst, Ana Faya monitors what senior people in the Cuban regime
and in the governments of neighboring countries are saying in public,
because it probably bears some relationship, however distant, to their
real intentions And here is what she has been hearing recently.

On Oct. 5, at the signing of the 6th Joint Commission on the
Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement between Cuba and Venezuela, Cuban
Vice President Carlos Lage Dávila said: "Our country has been accused of
not having a democracy, but in events like this one we realize that we
are one of the most democratic countries of the world, because we have
two presidents, Fidel and Chávez." And Chavez replied: "Cuba and
Venezuela have joined together, and at this point, the world should know
that our fate is sealed, that these two homelands, which deep down are
one, are opening a new road at whatever cost."

It could be just the usual windy rhetoric, but suppose it isn't. Suppose
there actually is a plan to unite the two countries, with Chavez and
Castro as co-presidents, and to leave Hugo Chavez in power over both
countries when Fidel, 30 years his senior, dies. "Castro has the power
and the credibility," Faya noted. "It's a real possibility." But, she
added, "It should take place while (Fidel) Castro is still in charge"
It's certainly not a plan that would appeal to Raul.

Impractical, hopelessly idealistic stuff, in the sense that Cuba and
Venezuela would be only 35 million people together, totally outmatched
by the almost 300 million people and 20-times-bigger economy of the
United States - but Washington is severely distracted by its faltering
Middle East adventure at the moment.

History is full of surprises, and this could be one that really
overturns normal expectations. Uniting with Venezuela would not preserve
Castro's system unchanged after his death, for it is old, authoritarian,
and out of tune with the times. But it might win Cuba enough time to
make a peaceful transition to a democratic system that retains the main
gains of his revolution in terms of equal access to education, health
care and social support. Chavez will never be a Cuban, and he cannot
rule that island in the long term - but in the short term, he could save
it a great deal of misery.

• Gwynne Dyer, an independent journalist, writes from London.

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