Wednesday, January 31, 2007

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Raul Castro... reformer?

Anthony Boadle writes a story for Reuters suggesting that Cuba under Raul Castro is somewhat different than Cuba under Fidel:

Six months after Cuba's sick leader Fidel Castro handed over power provisionally to his brother Raul, signs of an opening in public debate are emerging in the communist-run country.

Articles have appeared in the government-controlled media since October uncovering theft in state enterprises and other previously unmentionable deficiencies in Cuba's economy....

In unusual public statements, Cuban intellectuals have denounced the resurfacing of censors who were responsible for blacklisting writers and homosexuals 30 years ago.

The state conceded it made a mistake and allowed 400 writers and artists to hold an unprecedented meeting on Tuesday to discuss the Stalinist-style cultural purges of the 1970s....

The acting president has taken credit for stirring some of the debate, saying he has prodded the uncritical Cuban media to play a greater role in identifying economic shortcomings.

Raul surprised Cubans by encouraging greater discussion on government policies and more transparent state management. He said the country was tired of excuses and criticized delays in paying private farmers who provide 60 percent of its produce.

"Raul has made a point of abandoning Fidel's practice of scapegoating others. Instead, he is admitting that the revolution's problems are serious and home grown," said Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst and author of "After Fidel."

"The good thing about Raul is that he listens," said a Cuban economist who asked not to be named.

Raul has commissioned studies from think tanks on how to raise food production and stimulate the economy without ruling out private ownership of small business, he said....

"Each day there are more intellectuals speaking up, and that is new in Cuba," said dissident Espinosa Chepe.

But he said economic reforms wanted by most Cubans --the average monthly wage is $17-- are too slow in coming and Cuba may face turmoil without a leader of Fidel Castro's stature to contain it.

"Cuba is stable for the moment, but there is a lot of discontent on the streets," he said.

Calling for greater criticism of economic shortcoming might be a sign of greater openness -- or it might be a clue for how Raul plans to consolidate his political position. Much as China's central government highlights the daily demonstrations that take place within China as a motivation for greater government centralization, Raul might be highlighting economic difficulties to lay the groundwork for steps that consolidate his own political position.

Mind you, Raul Castro might actually be going for perestroika rather than abertura. But I'm not holding my breath.


posted by Dan on 01.31.07 at 10:14 AM


Isn't it likely that Raul Castro is basically focused on the short-term goal of keeping the lid from blowing off when Fidel dies? He's not a relatively young man achieving the top spot through his own efforts, like Gorby; and (whatever his desire to secure the legacy of the revolution) he's not really an apparatchik of an entrenched Communist bureaucracy like China's leaders. Maybe it's useful to consider him as a Latin military commander faced with the prospect of unrest, and choosing release of pressure as a strategy in preference to a crackdown.

posted by: mr punch on 01.31.07 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

There's also the "let a hundred flowers bloom," so that when they pop their heads up, they can be decapitated the more readily.

I would think thrice before accepting any Castro's call for criticisms of the regime.

posted by: Anderson on 01.31.07 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

As I think you're implying, Dan, perestroika and glasnost' were part of the same package. Gorbachev was pursuing economic restructuring in an effort to save the Soviet system, and glasnost' started out as a way to goose that process by letting citizens help identify the corruption and slack in that system. Gorbachev realized the command economy had a serious principal-agent problem, and he tried to overcome it by empowering frustrated workers as monitors.

Well, we all know how that worked out for Gorbachev and the USSR. Talk about the law of unintended consequences.

I think this has specific implications for Cuba, though. Whatever Raul's intentions, this kind of opening--if it's real--stands a good chance of moving beyond the regime's control.

That's not to say that Cuba is automatically headed the way of the USSR. For one, Cuba does not have the ethno-federal arrangements that glasnost' catalyzed into independence movements. Also, China's ability to couple economic liberalization with continuing Communist Party control suggests that economic growth would probably dampen political opposition, too. Lastly, the Soviet security forces' ambivalent response to early risers in some of the republics also helped to spur new mobilization, so the initial reactions of police in Cuba to any public dissent that strays beyond corruption may prove similarly influential.

posted by: Jay U. on 01.31.07 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

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