Chapter I - Cuba: Alternative Roads in an Uncertain Future
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
As the Castro brothers’ era comes to an end, for Cubans two roads diverge in an uncertain future. Which one is taken, to paraphrase Robert Frost, will make all the difference. It is an obvious oversimplification to speak of Cuba’s future in terms of only two possible paths. There are myriad generic as well as indigenous variations of political and economic systems that may be adopted (and adapted) by any given society. The dichotomy here into just two non-overlapping alternatives is meant to spotlight one path that places individual freedoms and empowerment front-and-center, and another path that does not. One is a governing philosophy that embraces an understanding of human rights and individual freedoms as essential to sustained development; the other advocates the primacy of economic measures, even if undertaken outside the framework of democratic empowerment. One road leads to the advocacy of policies for a rapid democratic transition and the strengthening of civil society and democratic institutions, and the other leads to an indefinite wait before democratic reforms can be instituted.
At the most basic level, two opposed systems of values are at play: one in which primacy goes to human rights, freedoms, and democracy; and one in which priority is given to financial prosperity and economic growth. Understanding the consequences and implications of these alternative paths matters because the path chosen will crystallize the Cuban post-Castro narrative for generations to come.
Cuba today can be described as an impossible country (un país imposible), with unsustainable sociopolitical and economic arrangements. For the Cuban people, the experience of more than a half-century of living under a totalitarian regime, and under the constant bombardment of Marxist-Leninist rhetoric, means a legacy of economic, social, political and civil backwardness. This is a continuing legacy of civil society unpreparedness not unlike the one the country faced after the colonial period. Cuba’s dysfunctional heritage from a decadent Spain five centuries ago was a significant, perhaps dominant, factor in the post-colonial milieu of corruption and political confusion. Then, Madrid was Cuba’s model of political behavior, “a sort of decrepit teacher still living in the past.” From Spain’s inept political elite, Cubans learned about “bureaucratic corruption, caudillismo (warlords), dogmatic intolerance, messianic leadership, a malformed judicial system and a deformed government administration,” as well as militarism. These characteristics were evident during the first five decades of the Republic. As eminent Cuban historian and professor Jaime Suchlicki points out:
By the time of Chibás’ death [in 1951], Cuba’s political life was a sad spectacle … Politics came to be regarded by the Cuban people with disrespect. To become a politician was to enter into an elite, a new class apart from the interest of the people. The elected politicians did not owe allegiances to their constituencies, not even to their nation, but only to themselves … Political figures furthermore were the objects of popular mockery.
Today, the Castro brothers’ decadent politico-economic system bequeaths Cub