The recent illness of Fidel Castro and ‘temporary’ replacement by his brother Raul have created speculation about what will happen when Castro dies. The Miami based Cubans, the majority of whom left in 1959 following the revolution and were generally the middle classes, celebrated the news of Fidel’s illness.
Motivated by greed they hope that with Fidel removed from the scene the socialist regime in Cuba will collapse and they will ‘regain’ their property. Castro holds a high regard even among ‘non-political Cubans’ because of his role in the movements which overthrew Batista and his leadership. It is worth remembering that Raul Castro was also involved in all these struggles and is also respected.
The main dangers for the Cuban people are that the gains made in the years of Castro could be wiped away if the country returns to a capitalist system. At the moment the economy is planned and structured by the state in comparison to its neighbours where the inequalities of the ‘free market’ operate resulting in poverty for the majority. Many Cubans do dream of the economic success of their US neighbours but more realistically a return to capitalism would see a reduction in health care, education and living standards and a fairer comparison would be with its Caribbean or Central American neighbours.
Due to The collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its key trading partners Castro was consequently forced to make concessions to the ‘market’, that is, to capitalism. Through ‘dollarisation’, a parallel economy developed, which has resulted in relative privileges for those involved in tourism, where they can earn dollars compared to public workers who earn the local peso. This is a difficult balancing act for any government. Cuban ‘democracy’ is based on a one party system as supported by Jose Marti, one of the founders of Cuban independence in the late 19th century. Castro favours this but it means that real democracy is still not in place and has led to leadership by a Communist Party bureaucracy.
The arguments for this system are that a multi-party democracy would allow dissent and Miami-funded parties to bring down the revolution. There is a lack of confidence in the working class and this has also led to a situation where a true workers’ democracy is a goal rather than a reality. If the local people felt a true ownership of decision making that influenced their lives there would be no need to fear multi-party elections.
The importance of Cuba to Latin American Workers can not be underestimated as it provides a vision of what can be achieved under socialism. The election of Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia highlights the power of socialist ideas to the masses of Latin America. The close bonds both leaders have made with Cuba demonstrate the place Cuba has in regional politics.
The death of Castro will be of strong significance in Cuban politics but the gains of the revolution should sustain the government at least in the short term. The most important factors will be the decisions that the Cuban leaders make in relation to extending or reducing the importance of a socialist planned economy. The main problem Cuba has faced has been its isolation as a socialist state and it may be that its bonds with Chavez and Morales could strengthen the resolve of the Cuban leadership in the decisions it makes.
By Samantha Ashby