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Looking At Cuba One Year Without Fidel At The Helm

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As eight Americans recently graduated from a Cuban medical university hailing the work of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to check the Bush Administration’s move to order them back to the United States, Cuba gets ready to mark its first anniversary without Fidel Castro at the helm. And the loudly predicted political implosion that many said would have happened now that Fidel’s younger brother Raul was at the helm has not materialized at all.

Cuba today remains a steady, stable Caribbean country with its own domestic political regime and economic policies. Anti-Cuban protagonists grudgingly acknowledge that Raul is not the light weight that he first appeared to be. In fact, elements in the Bush Administration dubbed Raul “Fidel Lite” and predicted that the Cuban economy and society was going to collapse, and that that the Bush Administration had made “contingency plans” for the country in the aftermath of Fidel’s death and the ensuing chaos.

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So sure were they of Fidel’s impending doom that Miami’s rancid, anti-Castro cabal obscenely celebrated his demise in the streets creating a kind of carnival atmosphere that was covered by such reactionary news outlets like CNN and Fox 5. But Fidel proved more resilient and a tougher 80-year old than many thought and is now on the mend after life-threatening surgery. But that was July 2006 and even though the ailing Cuban leader is on the now convalescing he’s still no spring chicken and the road head is going to be slow and tough.

Economists say that over the past year Raul has kept the Cuban economy steadily growing since his brother was hospitalized. Still, Raul is also no spring chicken either and at 76 years must be looking forward to retirement. But perhaps the most significant thing that occurred this past year without Fidel at the helm is that Cuba has proved its arch-enemy, the United States dead wrong – again.

Last year United States officials were chortling and barely able to control themselves as they spun the yarn that Fidel was stricken with stomach cancer. Infact, none other than the United States National Intelligence Director, John Negroponte, said that the Cuban leader had “months, not years to live.” There were also news clips about what Cuba would look like after Castro and how the United States was planning for his death.

Now one year later Fidel is still very much alive and Cuba is making bold strikes economically and socially. And Raul’s tenure has smashed to smithereens the assumptions of the United States government and the anti-Castro clique in Miami that without Fidel at the helm Cuba would disintegrate into anarchy and implode politically.

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So the “sour grapes” crew is now saying – after they wrote off Raul as an effective leader – that they are not satisfied at the pace that he’s kept in dealing with internal reform. They are also braying that Raul’s handling of the Cuban economy while satisfactory could have been more aggressive and effective. In essence, the anti-Castro groups are now criticizing Raul for moving too slow on economic reform after barely one year in office. Perhaps it is instructive to compare the much-touted Congressional Democrats 100 Days in Office record and see just what they achieved to date before one hurls cold water in Raul Castro’s eyes for being slothful.

Still, Cuba has seen a year of internal calm without public unrest, street protests or other activities that would have given opponents of the regime cannon fodder to level at Raul Castro. In fact, the year that Fidel has spent recuperating from stomach surgery has been characterized by an unprecedented internal calmness and a continuation of domestic policies that has remained uninterrupted since July 31, 2006.

Since its triumph on January 8, 1959, the Cuban Revolution has survived a U.S.-supported mercenary-led invasion (the Bay of Pigs Invasion), the threat of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, a harsh economic embargo, and the collapse of its major trading partner, the Soviet Union. But now in 2007 the big question is: could the Revolution survive the absence of Fidel Castro?

Judging from events this past year it appears that it can. Moreover, for many years successive United States governments and sundry “Cuban experts” have all argued that the glue that held the Cuban regime together was the iron-hand of Fidel. This belief was evident when he became ill and the Miami exile community danced in the streets and partied all night to celebrate the impending radical changes in Cuba.

But no major mass uprisings took place and there were no loud street protests as some predicted. In fact, the transfer of power was orderly, incident-free and smooth. And while Washington and its experts continue to speculate on the port-Fidel era the power-transition might already have happened. Consider the following.

Information out of Cuba says that the country is now run by a collective leadership committee of six men even as presidential powers have been passed in keeping with the Cuban constitution to Fidel’s brother Raul. There’s Vice President Carlos Lage, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, President of the Central Bank Francisco Soberon, Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer, Cuban Community Party Leader Esteban Lazo and Secretariat member Jose Machado Ventura and Defense Minister Raul Castro.

Of course, the real test for this collective is after Fidel goes to the ancestors how well it can sell itself to the Cuban people especially the Cuban intelligencia on the island. Moreover, it is this intelligencia in alliance with the academic community who chose to remain in Cuba that will exert a tremendous pressure on the way forward for Cuban Socialism after Fidel leaves office permanently. If the collective engages and develops a dialogue with this group then the Revolution will survive and the post-Fidel transition will be orderly and smooth.

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Perhaps the biggest and most important unknowable in this scenario is how the ordinary masses of Cuban people will react after Fidel is gone. There are some Cubans, especially those with exiled family members in the United States, who quietly disapprove of parts of Fidel’s reign – but not all of it. Most Cubans believe that the Revolution was necessary and important and that overall it has brought some good and sense of pride to them. That is going to be important if the Revolution’s essential base values are to continue and it’s most democratic institutions preserved.

Finally, there is the Cuban youth who are now Internet savvy and fast becoming politically conscious. For them Cuban Socialism is an anachronism and a throwback to their grand parents’ youthful days. There is very little from them to connect to and identify with Fidel’s Revolution. But this creative segment of the Cuban society is what will drive new interpretations of such important social and economic engines as socialism, capitalism and globalization. They are the ones who are going to have to shift the democratic paradigm in this new millennium. Not Raul or any of the old, tired revolutionaries.

And it is here that problems can arise that will be characterized by the classic struggle between the old and the new. It is this struggle that will either entrench old, retrograde policies, beliefs and principles or from this will come a bright, new and vibrant society. But one thing is certain; whatever socio-economic and political constructs emerges after Fidel’s demise they are all going to be marked “Made in Cuba.”


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MICHAEL DERK ROBERTS Small Business Consultant, Editor, and Social Media & Communications Expert, New York Over the past 20 years I've been a top SMALL BUSINESS CONSULTANT and POLITICAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST in Brooklyn, New York, running (more...)

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