After six years in power, Gen. Raúl Castro is unwilling to chart a radically new course for Cuba or offer concessions to the U.S. Yet expectations remain that the younger Castro will follow the Chinese or the Vietnamese model and even find an accommodation with the United States.
Wrong on both counts. With Fidel alive, or even when he is dead, it would be difficult for Raúl to reject his brother’s legacy of political and economic centralization. Raúl’s legitimacy is based on being Fidel’s heir. Any major move to reject Fidel’s “teachings” would create uncertainty among Cuba’s ruling elites — party and military. It could also increase instability as some would advocate rapid change, while others cling to more orthodox policies. Cubans could see this as an opportunity for mobilization, demanding faster reforms.
For Raúl, the uncertainties of uncorking the genie’s bottle in Cuba are greater than keeping the lid on and moving cautiously. For the past 52 years, political considerations have always dictated economic policies.
Raúl does not seem ready to provide meaningful and irreversible concessions for a U.S.-Cuba normalization. Like his brother in the past, public statements and speeches are politically motivated and directed at audiences in Cuba, the United States and Europe. Serious negotiations on important issues are not carried out in speeches from the plaza. They are usually carried out through the normal diplomatic avenues open to the Cubans in Havana, Washington and the United Nations or other countries, if they wish. These avenues have never been closed as evidenced by the migration accord and the anti-hijacking agreement between the United States and Cuba.
Raúl is unwilling to renounce the support and close collaboration of countries like Venezuela, China, Iran and Russia in exchange for an uncertain relationship with the United States. At a time that anti-Americanism is strong in Latin America and elsewhere, Raúl’s policies are more likely to remain closer to regimes that are not particularly friendly to the United States and that demand little from Cuba in return for generous aid.
Raúl is no Deng Xiaoping and no friend of the United States.
He had been the longest serving Minister of Defense (47 years). He presided over the worst periods of political repression and economic centralization in Cuba and is responsible for numerous executions after he and his brother assumed power, and some while in Mexico and the Sierra Maestra before reaching power.
Raúl has been a loyal follower and cheerleader of Fidel’s anti-American policies and military interventions in Africa and elsewhere.
In 1962 Raúl and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev conspired to surreptitiously introduce nuclear missiles into Cuba. Raúl supervised the Americas Department in Cuba, approving support for terrorist, guerrilla and revolutionary groups throughout Latin America.
In 1996 he personally ordered the shooting down of two Brothers to the Rescue unarmed civilian planes in international waters, killing three U.S. citizens and one Cuban-American resident from Florida.
The issue between Cuba and the U.S. is not about negotiations or talking. These are not sufficient.
There has to be a willingness on the part of the Cuban leadership to offer real concessions — in the area of human rights and political and economic openings as well as cooperation on anti-terrorism and drug interdiction — for the United States to change its policies.
No country gives away major policies without a substantial quid pro quo. Only when Raúl is willing to deal, not only with the United States, but more important, with the Cuban people, then and only then we should sit down and play.
Jaime Suchlicki is director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. He is author of “Cuba: From Columbus to Castro.”