How to restore hope on the island
BY JOSE AZEL
Cuba today may be described as ``an impossible country'' with
unsustainable sociopolitical and economic arrangements. For Cuban
people, over half a century of living under a totalitarian regime with a
failed command economy means a legacy of economic, social, political and
``These years of prolonged and deep crisis have generated an enormous
loss of spiritual values -- egoism, mendacity, double morality, and
illegal methods of survival have proliferated to incredible levels,''
Cuban economist and dissident Oscar Espinosa Chepe notes.
Unable to live from their legitimate labors, Cubans developed a survival
ethic that justifies everything. It's a way of dealing with their lives'
incoherence. Cuba's civil society has committed a sort of philosophical
and ethical suicide to escape the existential absurdity of a future
without possibilities. Cubans today do not venture to dream or hope,
except perhaps about leaving the island.
As the Castro brothers' era comes to an end, we must acknowledge these
adverse conditions. Cuba's way out of its existential distress is not
just freedom from deplorable economic conditions. Cuba's potentialities
will depend more on individual freedoms and empowerment than on a given
set of economic reforms.
Freedom from fear must be the first step for a genuine and successful
transition because it is a necessary condition to reversing political
apathy. Any reform effort that leaves civil society inarticulate fails
to recognize that no modern society can function in the best interests
of the people without an effective system of checks and balances.
A transition or succession?
That will depend on whether Cubans embrace a governing philosophy that
recognizes individual freedoms, a true transition, or a succession that
advocates the primacy of economic measures even if undertaken outside
the framework of democratic empowerment.
These alternate paths matter because the one chosen will crystallize the
post-Castro narrative for generations to come. The healing of the Cuban
nation cannot take place in a political vacuum; it cannot take place in
a totalitarian setting, and it cannot take place without the civil
liberties and political rights to practice heroic tolerance and
In order to avoid political stasis or chaos in post-Castro Cuba, a new
way of perceiving the future and of behaving as a people must emerge.
For this to happen the transitioning Cuban government cannot be an
ideological extension of the Castro regime. It needs to be its antithesis.
Cuba's future will be contingent not just on economic conditions, but
also on the individual decisions of the many.
This means that changes that do not beforehand place individual freedoms
and empowerment front and center via pluralistic, free and fair
elections would condemn Cuban society to live a provisional existence of
unknown limit. This is a condition that wounds the human spirit and does
not promote the development of democratic sociopolitical values.
Political rights and civil liberties are not superfluous luxuries to be
appended to a program of economic reforms. They are essential to empower
the citizenry to correct mistakes, voice discontent and bring about
changes in leadership. Democracy requires a relationship model between
the state and its citizens that is dramatically different from the model
of a Marxist-Leninist state. Cuban Communism cannot be reformed to bring
about a genuine transition.
To awaken aspirations -- to venture to dream and hope, to escape its
daily Sisyphean tasks -- Cuban society must exorcise the mythology of
the messianic maximum leader. This cannot take place within a regime of
authoritarian continuity masquerading as a regime of change.
A successful transition in Cuba will require, perhaps above all else, a
compelling vision of hope for all Cubans; an irrefutable realization
that life can regain its potential meaning despite its tragic aspects.
In post-Castro Cuba, choices will be made and paths will be taken. Let
them be those of individual freedom and empowerment so that Cubans will
be able to always feel free.
José Azel is a senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami and author of Mañana