POINT OF VIEW/ Yasuhiro Koike:
Post-Fidel Cuba aims for change without chaos
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Marking the end of an era, Fidel Castro, who reigned as Cuba's supreme
leader for 49 years after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, has resigned as
president of the Council of State and the commander in chief of the
Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces. Raul Castro, his younger brother, was
elected president on Feb. 24 by the Cuban parliament, the National
Assembly of People's Power.
Does this change in top leadership–the first time in nearly half a
century–mean upheaval for Cuba? Although this may be of little interest
to most Japanese, Cuba's future is attracting international attention
because it may also affect the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.
The military is key to Cuba's future.
On a recent visit there, I heard many people complain about their poor
living conditions. But they also said they are used to their way of
life. While they expressed hope for economic reform, they also said they
don't want everything to become liberalized too quickly because it could
lead to chaos.
Raul Castro, the new president of the Council of State, is pragmatic and
attaches importance to efficiency, discipline and order. He is also
adept in making good use of the bureaucracy. This view is shared by many
experts on Cuban affairs.
Some people hope that the new administration under Raul will drastically
shift gears toward Chinese- and Vietnamese-style economic reforms. But,
although there have been some signs of changes in recent weeks, it is
unlikely that he will implement radical reforms in the short run.
The primary reason is that Fidel still remains the first secretary of
the Communist Party of Cuba. It is my guess that he believes it is his
last duty to continue to uphold the spirit of the Cuban Revolution to
his end. He wants to keep the revolution going.
This point is very important. Article 5 of the Cuban Constitution
positions the Communist Party as "the supreme leadership force of
society and the state." Fidel is expected to continue to exert great
In fact, in his inauguration speech, Raul said to the effect that in
deciding important matters affecting the future of the nation, he would
continue to consult with Fidel, the leader of the revolution.
Does it mean then that nothing would change under Raul's leadership? Not
Raul immediately appointed Julio Casas Regueiro, 72, to be a vice
president of the Council of State. This is evidence that, under Raul,
the conservative older generation will continue to hold sway in the
council, the mainstay of the administration.
Casas succeeded Raul as minister of defense and is seen as a proponent
of economic reform.
In Cuba, many ministers, including those of the tourism and sugar
industries, come from the military. Some people even say that nearly 60
percent of top managers of major companies have a background in the
military. Casas was head of the foreign currency management division of
the Cuban armed forces.
The military is the most highly organized group and maintains strict
discipline. At the same time, it is a pool of competent talent with
strong management skills.
This fact implies that the first generation of revolutionaries centering
on the Raul-Casas line and the military intend to guide Cuba toward a
soft landing for orderly economic liberation.
The Communist Party of Cuba has a membership of more than 1 million. In
fact, one in every seven voters is a party member. Given this fact, I
believe that the argument for democratization advocated by the U.S.
administration of President George W. Bush is emotional and unrealistic,
to say the least. It is based on the assumption that the Communist Party
of Cuba will be dissolved.
Setting aside the propriety of the matter, realistically speaking, if
Cuba is to advance political and economic reform without chaos, the
Communist Party must take the lead. And the Cuban people's assessment of
the Raul administration will greatly affect the future of Cuba and the
future U.S. policy toward Latin America.
The author is professor of Latin American politics and international
relations at Aichi Prefectural University. (IHT/Asahi: April 10,2008)