Sunday, February 24, 2008

Brothers to the Rescue

Let us not forget the tragic events of this day and let us keep the loved ones of our four departed heroes in our hearts.

So How 'Bout that Continuity...

A Cuba Expert (I believe it was Frank Mora) recently said that the regime will seek to maintain continuity through change...well, they appear to be maintaining continuity through continuity.

So, well, it seems that just about every Cuba expert was wrong, wrong, wrong, even in their most conservative predictions about what would transpire in the Asemblea's selection of the Consejo de Estado. Today was the day that Lage was supposed to shine, instead, the revolutionary torch was passed from Fidel to Raul, and partially from Raul to Jose Ramon Machado Ventura...yes, I'm sure the 77 year old will hold that torch high for years (errr, well A year?...) to come. Lage is the young reformer, Machado Ventura, the old intransigent. It would seem that this does not bode will for any sort of change. I'd say that most people's views went from guardedly hopeful straight to pessimistic.

But I do wonder if this is a mistake. Certainly, there will be no political or social liberalization. This now seems to be more unlikely than it has been in a while. But I don't think that today's developments rule out the possibility of economic liberalization. Let's put ourselves in Raul's shoes for a moment...we know that Cubans need economic improvements, if not, there will be about 10 Cubans left on the island by the end of the decade. And we've learned a great deal from the Chinese about how to make this happen. Now, we've also discovered that economic liberalization can open a Pandora's box of liberalization on the social and political levels. So, what is the best way to avoid this?...well, let's make sure that the people know that they are absolutely, without a doubt, not free. And this is exactly what he has done.

I do believe that economic improvements will come, I think that they have to, and I think that Raul knows this. And I do believe that it will, regardless of what is done to prevent this, open a Pandora's box. And maybe this is overly hopeful, but what can I say, hope was the last to escape that box...I think it's time to open it again.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


As I'm sure all of you know, the new Asemblea Nacional will be selecting the new Consejo de Estado tomorrow. They are handed a list that has been previously compiled, and the Asemblea simply needs to approve it. The new Consejo de Estado members need 50% +1 of the vote, so the Asemblea can theoretically make alterations to appointments, but this has yet to happen.

The most likely official to be the new President is Raul Castro. This would make it more than obvious that what has just transpired in Cuba is a succession. There is another possibility for tomorrow's outcome, although it is rather unlikely, in my view. Carlos Lage could be selected President. There are only five government officials that occupy all 3 of the most important civilian organizations--the Consejo de Estado, the Consejo de Ministros, and the Buro Politico (there are only 4 if we dismiss Fidel, which seems to be all the rage of late); of these, Lage is the only one under the age of 70. But, let us not be mistaken, if Lage (or anyone else for that matter) is appointed president, it will still be a succession. Whether or not Raul is the new official head of state and government, he will still be the primary decision maker.

We should see some significant shuffling in the government tomorrow. I imagine that Raulistas will move into some important positions, while the most ardent Fidelistas might be demoted or even dismissed. This would only make sense given the new leadership. All in all, my prediction is that reformists (economic reformists) will be given more power. Let us see if the Chinese model, or some variation thereof, awaits. (Not that this is what I want, but at least it would be an economic improvement)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Well, it seems that change has finally come to Cuba...well it also came some 19 months ago (and if we really want to go back, it also came some 49 years ago). The Cuban-American community literally danced in the streets. And now, 19 months later, we see that few substantial changes have actually been made. Consequently, we learned from our premature celebration of the July 31st before last, and did not parade down Calle Ocho.

Reasons for the lack of change under Raul have abounded. As is the case with anything Cuba related of the past 50 years, we can probably blame Fidel. His presence as the 500 lb gorilla (not to be confused with guerrilla) in the room did not go unnoticed. It's hard to make legitimate changes with the shadow of El Comandante lingering, at least I'd think so. So Raul and the rest have made some low-key changes that might have some significant affects, especially down the line. They are working on the three main concerns of the Cuban people (here, breakfast, lunch, and dinner all fall under #1). To increase the accessibility of food, they are motivating farmers to grow more. They are increasing the prices paid to producers and lending them land to cultivate how they please. They are also toying with incentives to move people back into the countryside to produce food.

For concern #2, the government has spent the past year trying to solve Cuba's transportation problem, they've ordered a plethora of new buses from China (typical central planning mistake--they ordered the buses with no AC and, oh yeah, the windows were sealed shut), so after some much needed renovations, the buses are now en route. There is also a new law about how a taxi driver needs to give someone a lift if going in the same direction, but this is difficult to enforce, try as they might. Regardless, the situation is getting a little better. There has also been a major investment by Iran to renovate Cuba's train system and improve transportation between Havana and Cuba's other provinces.

Concern #3, housing, is a little tricker. While Raul is trying to increase efficiency, which will certainly help in construction, effects from this (if any) will likely not be felt until he is not around to see the change. The only major thing that I think has happened here is that Venezuela constructed and donated 100 houses to Cienfuegos. So, this isn't really change brought by Raul, but it is an improvement.

Socially, the new government seems to have unofficially killed the death penalty. There also appears to be a trend of not sentencing political opponents to long prison sentences, but instead having a catch-and-release type of intimidation for said opponents. Let's hope it won't work.

Again, these changes are barely significant now, but hey, it's change.

Change has come. Change is not enough.

Cuba needs political, social, and economic openings. I think that what truly needs to change is the fear that people feel. People must be allowed to do (so long as it hurts no one), say, and think whatever they feel, without fear of government or government induced reprisal. Once this happens, Cubans will be well on their way to living in freedom.