The limited economic changes introduced by Gen. Raúl Castro in Cuba are encouraging some observers to proclaim the end of communism and the dismantling of the totalitarian system in the island.
Notwithstanding Raúl Castro’s own statements that he was not elected to restore capitalism, these observers insist on their belief that economic reforms will be deepened and Cuba will march merrily into capitalism or at least a Chinese-style capitalism.
If the objectives of the Castro government were truly to move toward a market economy, it would not limit economic enterprises to some 181 individual activities — i.e., barbershops, shoe shinning, pizza parlors; to lease vacant lands to individual farmers to produce mostly subsistence agriculture; or to liberalize the real estate and auto market. In addition, the onerous taxes, regulations, and license fees imposed on these activities are not conducive toward the development of free enterprise.
With Fidel alive, or even when he is dead, it would be difficult for Gen. Castro 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 53 years, political considerations have always dictated the economic decisions of the communist leadership in the island.
Raúl is no Deng Xiaoping, Mikhail Gorbachev or a pragmatist in military uniform.
He was 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 and pro-Soviet 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, and the Middle East.
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.
At 82 years of age, General Castro wants to muddle through these difficult times introducing limited changes. His aim is to calm down a growing unhappy population and to prevent a social explosion, not to transform Cuba into a capitalist society. By his actions and statements, Castro is signaling that Cuba will remain a failed totalitarian experiment for the foreseeable future.
Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardi Moreau distinguished professor and director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.