Cuba: Twilight of the regime
Posted on Sunday, 04.03.11
Cuba: Twilight of the regime
By CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER
Jimmy Carter went to visit Raúl Castro. The initiative was Raúl's. He
wanted to let President Obama know that everything is negotiable,
including the release of Alan Gross, an American sentenced on the island
to 15 years' imprisonment for handing out computers and communications
equipment so that uninformed Cubans might have access to the Internet.
For the moment, he has not freed Gross, but that will happen. It's a
matter of time.
It is not at all clear why Raúl Castro does not turn to the American
diplomats who are accredited in Cuba to send his messages, but he
probably doesn't trust Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State
Department. Accustomed as he is to making the important decisions as his
brother did, he doesn't understand the institutional functioning of the
United States, nor does he realize that Cuban affairs are barely
important to the White House tenant.
What does Raúl Castro want in exchange for his hostage? Basically, his
objectives are two: that the White House eliminate travel restrictions
on Americans so the annual number of tourists who visit the island —
about two million — doubles or triples swiftly; and that Washington
permanently interrupt the economic aid and distribution of electronic
equipment to the Cuban opposition. In any case, that aid remains
detained today by legal obstacles raised by Democratic Sen. John Kerry,
chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Does Raúl have anything else to offer, other than Gross' freedom? He has
little, and it's hardly elegant: basically, it's a change in the
repressive strategy. In short, he mistreats his compatriots with less
cruelty. By stages, he has freed the 75 democrats imprisoned during the
so-called "black spring" of 2003, deporting most of them to Spain, and
it is possible that he will continue to gradually liberate the hundred
or so political prisoners who remain in prison.
He no longer sentences the dissidents to long terms. He infiltrates
their ranks to learn their movements, beats them, intimidates them and
detains them for brief periods. When they gather or go out on the
street, he launches against them mobs directed by the political police,
in what are called "acts of repudiation." Raúl has learned that to keep
society scared and in his grasp, to prevent power from slipping through
his hands, those coercive measures are enough. It is not necessary to
jail his adversaries. Terrifying them is enough. Fidel was exaggeratedly
But that's not all. It is also possible that Raúl will open his economic
hand a little more at the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party that
will be held in April. He knows that the huge majority of Cubans wish to
be able to buy and sell their homes and that there's no reason to keep
the absurd rules that prevent that.
Nor is he unaware that the wish of Cubans to freely leave or enter Cuba
transcends the ideological issue: communists, anticommunists and those
who are indifferent agree that the government has no right to prohibit
the free movement of people. To eliminate that exit and entry permit
would be extraordinarily welcome by the entire population, and he would
be acclaimed without the need to make any transcendental change. Sotto
voce, Cubans usually point out that Raúl Castro has no moral standing to
complain that the U.S. president doesn't allow Americans to travel to
the neighboring island when he himself keeps his own people hostage.
Will there be a substantial change in U.S. policy toward Cuba after
Carter's visit? I don't believe so. The general perception in
Washington, judging from the WikiLeaks, is that the Cuban regime is in a
final phase of demoralization and erosion, and it makes no sense to do
anything that halts or reverses that trend. Corruption is rampant, the
children of many leaders are leaving the country discreetly and the
state of mind that prevails among the mid-level cadres is that of an
end-of-regime. Raúl is not unaware of this but has no way to prevent it,
as long as he insists in maintaining a one-party collectivist regime
that demands total obedience.
On to defeat always, general.