Cuba Economy Struggles – and Cold War Legacy Fades
5/19/13 8:26 PM
Cuba’s President Raul Castro has made notable news by announcing on
February 24 that he will retire from that office in 2018. His older
brother Fidel stepped down from the same post in 2008, after turning
eighty-five years of age.
Reflecting the iron control the regime has exercised since
early 1959, the designated successor to President Castro was announced
simultaneously. Miguel Diaz-Miguel Bermudez, a protégé of Raul, is a
loyal functionary who has developed a reputation for bureaucratic
effectiveness through administering rural provinces. At the age of
fifty-two, he arguably represents a youthful wave in this quiet
geriatric pond. Given the extremely slow pace of change in Cuba, and the
remarkable half-century tenure of the Brothers Castro, this benchmark
event deserves some attention and reflection.
Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban
Missile Crisis of October 1962, when the world stood at the edge of
general nuclear war. This was a singular event but also a punctuation
mark in a very long history of difficulties between Havana and Washington.
Raul Castro by all accounts lacks the popular appeal of his
older brother. Enemies join with admirers in agreeing that Fidel
possessed a unique leadership style before age and illness led him to
retire from the presidency. His singular charisma continues to
facilitate the regime’s half-century in power.
After Havana was captured and despised dictator Fulgencio
Batista fled in early 1959, Raul Castro handled bloody mass executions
with efficient dispatch, and since has provided effective leadership of
the military and a pervasive domestic security apparatus.
Soon after taking power, the Castro brothers ended hopes
for representative democracy and nationalized major industries,
including U.S. corporate assets. Fidel Castro highlighted alliance with
the Soviet Union by joining Nikita Khrushchev in a remarkably raucous
1960 visit to the United Nations, in session in New York, punctuated by
the Soviet leader publicly pounding a shoe on a desk.
The Eisenhower administration began a clandestine effort to
overthrow the increasingly radical regime. The successor Kennedy
administration drastically escalated such efforts. The Cuban Missile
Crisis occurred in this context.
In recent years, the evolution of the Americas toward
democratic governments has been striking. As a result, Cuba is more
isolated than ever. Radical Venezuela provides important but limited aid.
When Fidel Castro stepped down, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice in a formal public statement endorsed the desirability
of ‘peaceful, democratic change’ in Cuba and also suggested that the
‘international community’ work with the people there. The Bush
administration had been pursuing a particularly restrictive hard line
toward that island nation.
Pres. Barack Obama early in his first term loosened
extremely tight restrictions on interchange with Cuba. Cuban-Americans
are now allowed to travel and send financial remittances to relatives
still living there.
The punitive Helms-Burton Act, passed during the Clinton
administration in an effort to court the fiercely anti-Castro Cuban
population of Florida, does not prohibit these exchanges.
Cuba today encourages trade and investment, along with
loosening travel restrictions. In this context, the American economy has
great advantages. As part of such efforts, we should work to expand
cultural and educational as well as personal family exchanges with the
President Dwight D. Eisenhower initiated comparable
programs with the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, to
great benefit. As Ike saw, the arts and science represent universal
languages. The wisest warriors appreciate peace
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in
Wisconsin and author of ‘After the Cold War.’ He can be reached at