I’d be quite happy to be proven wrong, but here’s my sense of what the death of 90-year-old former Cuban President Fidel Castro Friday will mean for the long-suffering people of that Caribbean island nation: Nada.
I wish I felt differently, but here’s why I think that way.
First, after nearly 60 years of repressive, dictatorial rule in Cuba - now being run by Fidel’s younger brother, 85-year-old Raul - it’s high likely that communist “Castroism” will carry on.
Perhaps even more intensely while the regime lionizes El Comandante.
There’s no evidence that the Cuban Communist Party won’t remain in power, brooking no political dissent that may challenge its control. Political prisons will continue to be filled with Cubans who oppose the regime and have called for democracy.
By most accounts, Havana’s centralized economy will persist in stifling the opportunity of everyday Cubans. The economy ranks as one of the least free in the world, according to the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom.
There’s little chance that Fidel’s death will change the sad state of other fundamental liberties in Cuba either, including the freedom of religion, assembly, travel, expression, the press and the free flow of information (for example, internet access).
Such “dangerous” things threaten the party’s iron grip on society.
Sure, it’s been reported that Raul will step down in 2018, possibly handing the reins of power to a younger generation. Unfortunately, the up-n-comers will most likely be less-aged Cuban communists - perhaps, even family members.
Why? Because for authoritarian states, it’s all about taking and then holding onto power - not changing it.
Yes, there have been some convulsive attempts at Cuban-style “reforms,” essentially placing political bandages on chronic government diseases - while the illness-causing Castroism doesn’t seem to be scheduled for surgery any time soon.
The other reason that the warm trade winds of liberty won’t blow through the island nation is current U.S. policy. Team Obama normalized relations and eased punitive economic sanctions on Cuba back in 2014.
Unfortunately, these steps have sustained the ailing regime.
First, it legitimized Cuba’s despotic, unelected government by re-establishing embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C. (The U.S. Senate has yet to confirm an American ambassador to Cuba.)
Then, the limited lifting of the long-standing American trade embargo meant the flow of mucho dinero to Cuba’s almost entirely state-run economy - which, naturally, funds the central government and its troubling policies.
What’s the incentive for the regime to change?
A better U.S. policy would insist that improvements in ties be based on improvements in political, social and economic freedoms for Cuba’s 11 million people - not the hope that an opening would bring those “counter-revolutionary” changes around.
Of course, we’ve seen on occasion how an historic event like the death of an iconic leader (for example, Stalin and Mao) provides a unique opportunity to renounce the tyrannies of the past.
The challenge isn’t only to renounce the problems of the past with words, but to fully condemn them with deeds that ensure that those troubled times are, in fact, resigned to history - and not perpetuated into the future.
Cuba has that opportunity now, but I doubt it’ll seize it.
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