Life without Fidel

Autumn 2006

Francisco Domínguez and Steve Wilkinson argue that those who think the Cuban revolution is over without its charismatic leader are in for a disappointment

On July 31 the unthinkable happened. Fidel Castro relinquished all his powers to a group of Cuban leaders headed by his brother Raul. This momentous event had been triggered by Cuba’s President having to undergo surgery due to intestinal bleeding less than two weeks before his 80th birthday. The mainstream media, particularly in the US, reacted with glee, no longer predicting the fall of the regime but announcing it.

Such illusions reflect the sustained propaganda efforts and hostility of the Bush administration. The view that has dominated “Cubanology” in the US and elsewhere is that Cuba is a country whose economy is crumbling. Supposedly, it has a fossilised political leadership that is increasingly unresponsive to contemporary Cubans who are seething with discontent. It is living on borrowed time, but which does not reach its logical inexorable outcome of total decomposition and collapse because of the mythical, tyrannical, father-figure, of Fidel Castro. But once he goes, nothing will stop the rot and the US will be compelled to intervene and implement the transformation of Cuba into the type of ‘capitalist democracy’ eleven US presidents have been dreaming about ever since the Cuban revolution in 1959.

This doomsday scenario has been popularised by George Bush ever since he came to office in 2000. His aims for Cuba have been systematised in two official documents, Reports of the Commission for the Assistance to a Free Cuba, the first in May 2004, and the second, in July this year. In both, the Bush administration spells out what it intends to do in every area of Cuba’s social, political, economic and military life.

To Bush and the Miami right’s dismay, nothing of the like has happened since Castro has been ill. The island has been calm, despite the fact that Bush has stated that the US is actively working to bring about “regime change”. Condoleeza Rice has called on all the nations in the world to help the US to ‘transition’ Cuba. Seditious statements by the Cuban American National Foundation have called on the Cuban people to revolt and the army to carry out a coup. There have been similar appeals by representatives of the extreme Right in the Miami-Cuban community, such as Lincoln Díaz Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who have urged Cubans to launch an insurrection and pressed Washington not to waste any time. But ordinary Cubans remain unmoved.

So, the conclusion to be drawn from Fidel’s resignation is that there has been constitutional continuity, what US officials call “succession”, and not a ‘transition’. There is no constitutional, political, social and moral turmoil, with the rise of new government willing to request US assistance. This sense of continuity rather than crisis was reinforced by the appearance in video clips of leaders like Hugo Chavez who have visited Fidel on several occasions.

The Bush administration is thus isolated with regards to its ‘Cuba problem’, since the general reaction in the whole Latin American region has been of sympathy and support. Oscar Berger, President of Guatemala, one of the most faithful Washington supporters in the continent, wished the Cuban leader a speedy recovery and thanked Cuba for the doctors it sent to help his people in remote communities affected by natural disasters.

This isolation for the US has been strengthened by the closer collaboration of Cuba with many countries in the region through initiatives such as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), the strategic alliance with Venezuela and Bolivia.

There is no critical mass of support among ordinary Cubans for the desired transition the neo-conservatives in the White House seek. Cubans have no interest or appetite for challenging the regime and the overwhelming majority have rallied behind it. The Roman Catholic Church even called on Cubans to pray for Fidel’s health.

Fidel has presided over one of the most difficult periods of resistance and endurance of the Cuban population. Notwithstanding huge difficulties and many distortions, he has demonstrated that it is possible to reject neo-liberalism and not to have to suffer its horrendous sequels of unemployment, poverty, misery, inequality and premature death.

He has led Cuba’s reinsertion into the world economy after the collapse of the Communist bloc. This has been surprisingly ingenious and rapid. The set of economic policies adopted - “the Special Period” - have, despite many negatives, led to steady economic recovery. Further, the crucial alliance with Venezuela, has taken the country into sustained economic growth, leading to a rise in the standards of living.

Certainly, there are many problems, including prostitution and crime, but the essentials of the revolution have been saved. Cuba’s survival has significantly contributed to the emergence of alternative models of economic development such as in Venezuela and Bolivia. It is unthinkable that Chavez would have been able to deliver free health to 16 million of their people in such a short period of time, had it not been for the 20,000 doctors Cuba sent.

Cuba’s prestige is running so high that it obtained 135 votes to become a member of the newly created UN Human Rights Commission and even without Fidel in attendance successfully ran the Non-Aligned Summit in Havana in September woth Raul Castro adopting the role of President of this body to great acclaim.

Recently, news that Fidel has been recovering well and might be back at work in December has been countered by the U.S. suggesting that he has cancer and will soon die. Such misinformation strategies are undoubtedly designed to create uncertainty within the Cuban population, but they are not likely to be effective. Fidel is 80 and even if he were not ill, it is accepted that his time cannot be far away. Cuba has thus been preparing for this eventuality for some time - a process led by Fidel.

It would be absurd to suggest that absolutely nothing will change after his death. Cuba will not be same without him. But the collective leadership that is now running Cuba has done so without any problems and there is absolutely no reason to believe they will not continue to do so after the great man finally departs.

* Based on an article written by Francisco Dominguez for Tribune Magazine

CSC challenges media myths on Fidel and Cuba

When news of Fidel’s illness broke CSC was inundated with press enquiries. It quickly became clear that most of the journalists were completely misinformed and that the US/Miami take on the issue was permeating the media. It was taken as given that Fidel was dieing, or was already dead, that the Cuban people were about to rise up and celebrate, and that the appointment of Raul Castro was a last gasp act of a crumbling regime.

CSC immediately put out a series of press releases to try and correct the information. We also attempted to turn the debate into one about the dangerous role of the United States and the Commission for a Transition to a Free Cuba. We made it clear that Raul Castro was Vice President and therefore the changes were in accordance with the Cuban Constitution.

As well as alerting the CSC Press Action Network we were able to make full use of Cuba Update and the CSC web site which became important sources of reliable information for CSC members and the media alike. We were able to affect comment in a number of papers nationally and through activists in local areas present a more realistic assessment of the situation in Cuba and the likely outcomes. We also spoke on BBC Radio 5 and BBC News 24 where we managed to shift the debate onto the threats from the US and the need to defend Cuba’s sovereignty.

CSC needs to be in a position where it is able to react quickly and effectively to developments such as these and we are therefore committing substantial resources to improving our web site, Cuba Update and ability to work effectively with the media in the future.

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