The Future of Cuba

With Castro lying ill in hospital and brother, Raul Castro, for the most part leading the country, the world is already writing the 86 year old leader’s obituary. He may yet again surprise the world and recover. After all he has survived more coup attempts on his life than any other world leader.

Could he just cheat death one more time?

Whatever the outcome of his current health problems, it is unlikely that he will carry on that much longer. Old age will achieve what assassins have so far failed to do. And Raul himself is 81 years old – hardly a spring chicken. There are of course others from Fidel’s revolutionary past that could take-over. However, Castro has charisma and a force of personality few possess. By all appearances he is also basically liked and admired by his own people. But what about the Castro legacy, which is stretching some 53 years? Firstly, it isn’t all that appalling. And his reign has been much demonised by US propaganda and by exiled Cubans.

The good points include:

A national health service, free to all, and not a bad one at that. The emphasis is very much on preventative health care, much cheaper and more effective than treating people after they get sick. Britain’s NHS take note! Women have equal rights and educational standards are generally quite high. Also, thanks to the US embargoes, Cuba also has spawned an impressive and innovative pharmaceutical industry. Under the previous incumbent, the despotic Fulgencio Batista overthrown by Castro in 1959, Cuba had become little more than a whore house and play ground for rich Americans and gangsters. In the meantime, most of the population existed in fear and squalor.

However, there are bad points. Castro is basically a dictator although not quite in the league of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Il of North Korea. Cuba has all the trappings of a dictatorship: very limited freedom of press or expression, political rivals are locked up, not a hint of democracy and state control of most activities: business or otherwise. The latter is typical of an old style Communist dictatorship. Also, the country is very poor though its people probably fair better than their counterparts across much of central and south America.

So what could come next?

It’s very likely it will be a case of more of the same. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez will certainly do his best to make sure that happens. Right now Venezuela has sort of taken the place the USSR held in the 1960-80s as a subsidiser of the Cuban economy. Chavez seems quite intent on building an anti-Washington coalition. The other partner being Bolivia. All are being propped up by Venezuela’s oil money. Between the USSR leaving the scene and Venezuela turning up, Cuba’s economy struggled desperately and had to turn to foreign tourists to bring in much needed hard currency. But with Uncle Hugo’s petro-dollars, booming tourism and booming sugar prices, a post-Castro government might be very hard to dislodge. A US sponsored revolution is a possibility, but it is hard to see any real popular support for such a move. After all, Cubans on the whole seem to be generally happy people and Communism certainly doesn’t seem to stop them enjoying life in their typically Latino way.

Washington might just end up being very disappointed.