17:31 01.12.2016(updated 18:39 01.12.2016)
After Fidel Castro’s death what beckons for Cuba? Does it spell the beginning of the end of a socialist system that its many critics consider an anachronism and incompatible with democracy and human rights? Or will it survive and continue to stand as an alternative developmental model for countries of the so-called Third World These questions are now being asked when it comes to Havana, despite the fact that Fidel hadn’t held an official position within the government for some ten years prior to his death. Regardless, the symbolism of his death is hugely significant — even more in that it has occurred in the same year of Washington’s diplomatic rapprochement with Cuba, cemented by Obama’s official visit to the island back in March. Something that needs to be borne in mind is the fact that the US trade embargo against Cuba remains in place and is not likely to be lifted anytime soon, regardless of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington — not when the lifting of the trade embargo requires the support of a US Congress in which hostility towards the island remains steadfast. Another red flag is the tweet sent out by US president-elect Donald Trump in response to Fidel Castro’s death. It was followed up by a lengthier statement in which he described him as a “brutal dictator”. For many Cubans this would have been particularly galling considering that Trump is someone who has spent much of his life building casinos, while Castro spent his building clinics and schools. Indeed, what has not been in doubt after Castro’s death is the extent to which ‘El Comandante’ is revered in Cuba. Tens and hundreds of thousands of Cubans have come out to pay their respects in the days following his death, which comes as acknowledgement of his status as leader and inspiration of a revolution which succeeded in liberating Cuba from its status as a de facto US neo-colony, along with his selfless commitment and dedication to the country’s independence and dignity of its people thereafter. Be that as it may, it would be a mistake to downplay the problems and challenges that Cuba faces as a consequence of a trade embargo that has had a grievous impact on the country’s economy. Despite its burgeoning tourist industry, Cuba continues to lack hard currency and low inward investment. An infrastructure that is in dire need of modernization and replenishment is the result. The existing leadership of the country, under Raul Castro, understands the need for economic and political reform, and is moving towards more of a mixed market economic model, allowing for the emergence of small businesses, private enterprise, and liberalization. However. for some Cubans the pace of change remains too slow, which is why Fidel’s death is being viewed in various quarters as a catalyst for a bolder and faster reform process to take shape. The challenge for Cuba’s leadership in this process is the extent to which the opening up of its economy could open up space for US political interference in its internal affairs. In this regard it falls to the younger generation’s attachment to the country’s revolutionary values and principles as the barometer of what the future holds. Raul Castro, Fidel’s younger brother, has already intimated that he will step down from the government in 2018. When he does power in Cuba will, for the first time, be assumed by the country’s post-revolutionary generation. The man tipped as the country’s next president is current vice president, Miguel Diaz-Canel. Born in 1960, a year after the revolution, Diaz-Canel is considered a reformer and modernizer who is particularly keen to embrace greater internet access and press freedoms, both of which have been among the most serious concerns for the country’s younger generation. Reform is not the same as surrender, however, regardless of the celebrations Fidel Castro’s death resulted in among Cuban exiles in Miami. On the contrary, the fierce sense of independence the revolution succeeded in entrenching within Cuban society and the country’s cultural values, this shows no evidence of dissipating anytime soon given the huge number of Cubans of all ages who have turned out to pay their respects to Fidel. Ultimately, it is by no means inevitable that socialism has died in Cuba along with a man who had such a large impact on world events in the postwar and post-colonial era. The reforms that have begun to the island’s economy, though necessary in a changing world, do not necessarily spell the end of a revolutionary process that has provided two generations of Cubans with the kind of dignity that comes with justice — the very same that has long been grievously lacking in Haiti, the Dominican Republican, and throughout the Americas. As for Washington, Cuba joins a list of countries throughout the world — Russia, China, Iran, etc. — in waiting to see what a Trump administration will mean in practise. Will the 45th US President embrace the values of the Roman Empire that have wrought such damage and instability under previous administrations? Or will he instead embrace multipolarity and respect for the right of states such as Cuba to follow their own developmental path, one underpinned by cultural, historical, and regional specificities? If it is the former then the world, including the US, is in for a bumpy ride. If the latter then the world will emerge from the darkness of US hegemony into something approximating to peace in our time. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.