Monday, November 28, 2016

Despite Fidel Castro's death, few expect rapid political changes in Cuba

Despite Fidel Castro's death, few expect rapid political changes in Cuba
Tracy Wilkinson, Patrick J. McDonnell and Cecilia Sanche

For Amalia Cortes, a loyal member of Cuba's "revolutionary" generation,
there is no question that Fidel Castro helped transform the country for
the better.

"Of course I will be in the Plaza de la Revolución to say goodbye to
our comandante," said Cortes, 69, referring to the homage planned this
week in a signature Havana square for the late Cuban leader. "We have to
thank him for so much — thanks to him we have food, there is education,
our comandante fought for his people and we have much to be grateful for."

But for others, especially younger Cubans, it was long past time to look
beyond Papa Fidel and the revolution's accomplishments in arenas such as
education and healthcare.

"We have to be objective," said Maria, a medical student, seated in
Revolution Square. "Fidel did a lot of good things.... But at the same
time what good does it do if there are no jobs, no opportunities for

"I believe that Fidel did good and bad things and we have to be fair
about it," added Maria, who, like others even mildly critical of the
government, asked that her last name not be used.

The normally buoyant capital has been a notably subdued place since
Castro's death was announced Friday. Tourists grumble about the lack of
music and life in the bars and cafes as the country begins an official,
nine-day mourning period. There were no posters mourning Castro evident
on Sunday, but Cuban flags and banners reading "Viva la Revolución"
adorned public buildings.

For decades, Cuban Americans have longed to return to a post-Castro
Cuba. But now that Fidel is dead, many aren't so eager to go
Cubans of all ages and economic backgrounds took time to reflect on the
Castro era, which spanned several generations and lasted through
momentous world events, including the Cuban missile crisis, the Bay of
Pigs invasion and the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba's longtime benefactor.

Among young people, there seemed to be a sense of hope that Castro's
passing would signal a more open era, with enhanced individual freedom
and opportunities for employment. Many voiced a sense of isolation,
though some conceded that things had improved under President Raul
Castro, Fidel's younger brother, to whom an ailing Fidel had ceded power.

"I wish there were more liberties, that we could leave Cuba easier,
visit other countries," said Everardo, 18, who did not want his last
name used. "Fidel was always against that."

Carlos Montero, 18, acknowledged that society had opened up in recent
years, but complained that access to the Internet was limited and costly.

"The Internet should be free in the schools, like it is in the rest of
the world," Montero said, adding that his parents didn't even know what
the Internet was. "But here, that's a dream.… Still, things have gotten
a little better with Raul."

In his final years, Fidel Castro probably had little concrete influence
over his brother, who formally took over in 2008. Fidel's death may now
give a symbolic and psychological freedom to Raul to act as he sees fit.

But it is unlikely that Fidel's death augers a fundamental change,
despite the heralding of a "new era" in some quarters.

Already, Raul Castro had ordered significant reforms to the Cuban
economy and loosened restrictions on citizens seeking to travel abroad —
changes long resisted by Fidel.

Raul, 85, who has said he will step down in 2018, has allowed a measure
of private enterprise, enabling individual citizens to open small-scale
businesses, such as restaurants, beauty salons, spas and car washes.

And Cuba's relationship with the Castro brothers' historic adversary,
the United States, has been transformed.

In December 2014, Raul Castro and President Obama announced that their
countries were renewing diplomatic ties after a half-century of Cold War
animosity. Though Washington's trade embargo against Cuba remained in
place, the new joint initiative spurred fresh economic exchanges
involving various sectors, including airlines, banks, hotels and

But Obama — and, now, President-elect Donald Trump — continued to call
on the Castro government to follow economic liberalization with
significant political transformation.

The death of Fidel Castro will not fundamentally change this route.
— Arturo Lopez-Levy, professor at the University of Colorado
U.S. officials say they want to see truly competitive elections with
candidates who do not belong to the ruling Communist Party; the release
of political prisoners (although only a handful remain); and a broader
ability for dissidents, human rights activists and opponents of the
government to express themselves openly, in the press and in the streets.

Raul Castro has resisted, and, even without Fidel looking over his
shoulder, he is not likely to budge. After decades of animosity, the
Cuban leadership warily views U.S. demands for democracy as a pretext to
install a more Washington-friendly government in Havana.

Senior Cuban officials seek examples of governance that stand as
alternatives to the superpower to the north. They frequently cite China
and Vietnam as their models, with their ostensibly communist
governments, flourishing Western-style economies and lack of political

Under current circumstances, many analysts say, Raul Castro would have
little incentive to alter Cuba's political system in a way that would
threaten ruling-party hegemony. Repeatedly, Cuba's leader has insisted
that there would be no acceptance of multiparty politics or basic
freedoms such as the right to assembly.

"Raul is likely to circle the wagons and make sure his rear guard is
protected" before embarking on new initiatives, said Ted Henken, a
sociology professor at Baruch College and a Cuba expert frequently
consulted by the Obama administration.

The government in Cuba is controlled by a Communist Party council that
serves as a legislative body and is consulted a few times a year for new
laws. Fidel, and Raul after him, have had all-but-complete control of
the body.

Last year, a pair of candidates tried to become the first non-Communist
politicians to win municipal posts, mounting a modest campaign. Both
failed miserably. The lesson to would-be reformers was clear.

"The death of Fidel Castro will not fundamentally change this route,
because in terms of the political system, it's all been symbolic, part
of the Latin American revolutionary patriarchy," former Cuban
intelligence analyst Arturo Lopez-Levy, now a professor at the
University of Colorado, wrote this weekend.

Miguel Diaz-Canel, named by Raul Castro as first vice president on the
same day he announced his impending retirement, is widely seen as his
heir apparent.

Diaz-Canel, from a younger generation, is more modern than the Castros
and much more Internet-savvy. But it remains difficult to anticipate his
moves. He is beholden to the old Communist Party apparatus but also
eager to move Cuba into the modern world, Cubans who know him say.

For Trump, opposing forces are keen. He has pronounced his opposition to
any opening with a Castro government, but he is also under enormous
pressure from fellow entrepreneurs who see a buck to be made on the
tropical island.

After Raul Castro's retirement, Trump and a Republican-controlled
Congress will be able to argue they are operating in a truly
"post-Castro" environment, allowing them to make even more business
deals. But opposition to any rapprochement with communist Cuba remains
deep, especially among Cuban American Republicans in south Florida.

Few expect a swift end to the U.S. trade embargo blocking U.S. financial
dealings with Cuba.

It was President Eisenhower who initially slapped the embargo on Cuban
exports of sugar and other trade, eventually costing Cuba $1 trillion,
according to Havana.

The Cuban government has routinely blamed the measure — the "blockade,"
as Cubans call it dismissively — for the island's dire economic

By tweaking regulations, Obama has done almost everything within his
power to lift embargo restrictions. But only Congress can end the
embargo, and it has refused to do so. Now, with Republicans holding sway
in Washington, lifting the embargo seems a long shot, though Trump has
not publicly signaled his intentions with respect to the trade ban.

With the passing of Fidel Castro, it also seems possible that the island
leadership will want to reaffirm its commitment to the core principles
of the man who personified the revolution. The nine-day mourning period
declared in Cuba appears, at least publicly, as a means of cementing
Fidel's legacy, not rejecting it.

Havana "will retrench to demonstrate that the 'Revolution' survives its
founder — and continues to defy the grasp of the United States," John
Kavulich, president of the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic
Council, predicted.

There is "nothing expected to alter the commercial, economic and
political timetable," Kavulich said, "meaning, retrenching for a bit to
demonstrate" a post-Fidel Castro revolutionary "stability."

Sanchez of the Times' Mexico City bureau reported from Havana, Times
staff writer Wilkinson reported from Washington and staff writer
McDonnell from Boston.

Source: Despite Fidel Castro's death, few expect rapid political changes
in Cuba - Hartford Courant -

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