Potential Hot Spots: Cuba

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April 30, 2006: Fidel Castro will be 80 in August. While he is in excellent physical health (he retains enough stamina to continue making four hour speeches), some observers believe his mental faculties are slipping (his most recent four hour speeches have been somewhat rambling). Fidel's designated successor, his younger brother Raoul (74), is in considerably poorer health. Since Fidel has been careful not to allow any lower-ranking government or Communist Party officials to acquire much influence, the likelihood is that the Castroite regime will not long survive the brothers' passing.

The police state in Cuba is very much a family affair, because it took the combination of Fidel Castro's political and PR skill, and brother Raul's ever-present and effective secret police, to make it work. Despite the Castro brothers trashing Cuba's economy and taking away rights and freedoms Cubans had enjoyed for generations, the threat of American invasion was successfully played over and over again. Paranoia triumphed over self-interest, and most Cubans went along with Castro's political and economic fantasies.

But a new generation of Cubans have been exposed to many embarrassing truths. Most awkward was the fact that, half a century ago, Cuba was the most prosperous and socially advanced island in the Caribbean. Communist rule has changed all that. While the communist increased literacy, and trained a lot of doctors, Cuban reading habits are heavily censored, and the medical system is primitive because the feeble economy cannot afford medicine or equipment to deliver effective care. Cuba has become an economic basket case, when, without Castro and his communists, it could have become an economic powerhouse.

Young Cubans also know what happened in Eastern Europe in 1989, and what has happened there, politically and economically, since. Just to rub it in, the new tourism enterprises in Cuba are sometimes visited by newly affluent East Europeans, and the money earned tends to go to members and associates of the Castro family. There is growing anger and unrest. For half a century, the American invasion never came, and the scare story is wearing thin.

Castro's lies and fantasies have survived everything but time. Letting the countries more troublesome inmates migrate (in mass movements in 1980 and 1994) to the United States has delayed an uprising. But after Fidel dies, his brother Raul, the chief of the secret police, will be in charge. Raul drinks a bit, and does not have Fidels charm and charisma. Poor Raul will immediately have to cope with younger Cubans who want a better life, and see through the propaganda (of Cuba being a "socialist paradise.") And many of the younger Cubans are in the secret police and military. The CIA, and Raul, have, for years, been searching for secret police and army officers who might try to organize a coup. Over the years, the Castro brothers have dismissed, jailed, and even executed some officers who might have been political rivals. That has taught any politically ambitious officers to keep their heads down. But once Fidel dies, and even before Raul does, these wannabe democrats (or military dictators) will stir, and Cuba will go through another period of violence and unrest.

What emerges may not be a democracy. Half a century of communist rule has had an impact, and many young Cubans know what has happened in China. There, economic reform, while keeping the communist police state, has led to decades of annual economic growth of ten percent or more. Most Cubans want prosperity, not democracy. They want order and security. One thing that was learned when Germany was reunited, was that several decades of communist indoctrination and regimentation damages the work ethic, entrepreneurial spirit and attitudes toward democracy. The East Germans, especially those who had spent the most time living under the communist government, were damaged goods. It was the younger East Germans who got things going, mainly because they had not been exposed to the corrosive communist mind control for long.

Many Cuban-Americans have noted this effect. They have kin back in Cuba, and they stay in touch. They know the chilling reality of stunted attitudes and abject resignation among their cousins back in the old country. The Cuban exile community is not as optimistic as they once were, about the prospects for a post-Castro Cuba. For Castro has not only trashed the Cuban economy, he has crippled the Cuban spirit. This will result in a very unhappy and uneasy post-Castro Cuba, and perhaps a very violent one as well.

 

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