Bolívar in Brussels: Cuba Libre on the Horizon?

The weather is changing in Havana.  However I must confess that I am not sure what’s coming.  Dictator Raul Castro, the ne’er-do-well brother of former Dictator Fidel Castro has recently announced that in 2018 he will be stepping down as dictator.  Not only has the younger Castro announced when he will be stepping down, but he has also informed the Cuban people who will be the next individual to undemocratically rule over them.  The successor to Raul Castro is a man named Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Image courtesy of flippinyank, © 2008, some rights reserved

Image courtesy of flippinyank, © 2008, some rights reserved

Mr. Diaz-Canel is an interesting figure.  He was born after La Revolucion.  This means that for his whole life, Mr. Diaz-Canel has been instructed in his education that the Castro brothers are great men.  Since Mr. Diaz-Canel can remember, he has been told to give thanks to the Castro brothers for all he has in his life. Many people see Mr. Diaz-Canel as a potential reformer but this is not necessarily true.  As a matter of fact, it is an idealistic assumption to think that Mr. Diaz-Canel will be a reformer. Mr. Diaz-Canel is, politically speaking, a man in his prime, and he got there because he did not bite the hand that fed him.  Why start now?

Over the years, Cuba and the European Union have grown closer to one another.  From 2003 to 2008, relations between Havana and Brussels were rather icy.  Sanctions were imposed on Cuba due to a 2003 crackdown on political dissidents.  Since 2008, the aforementioned sanctions are no longer in place.  Nowadays Europe is a major export market for Cuba. Without the ability to export to Europe, the Cuban economy would inevitably fall apart. It is plausible that Mr. Diaz-Canel would be open to democratic reforms simply because it would forever guarantee Europe as a steady export market.  A democratic Cuba would no longer have to deal with sanctions over human rights abuses and would be free to get away with repressive media and free speech laws similar to the situation in Ecuador.  This way Mr. Diaz-Canel could reap the rewards of increased and steady European trade while still ensuring the stability and unquestionable authority of his rule.

The other huge reward that could come from democratising Cuba is that it could signal a potential end to the U.S. Embargo.  If the embargo were to end then the Cuban economy would be completely revitalised by a rapid expansion of the tourism industry due to a new influx of U.S. tourists.  There is also the money and investment that would come from more access to Cuba by wealthy Cuban-Americans.  Therefore, with the U.S. on board as a trading partner, this would guarantee the economic prosperity of the Cuban people in a way that the failed socialist policies of the Castro brothers could never achieve.  Nevertheless it seems rather unlikely that someone who has been indoctrinated into the failure that is Communist ideology would actually take the initiative to revitalise the economy through capitalism.  The most reform that Mr. Diaz-Canel could possibly impose, while still having an iron grip on power on the island, would be educational reform.  Mr. Diaz-Canel once served as the Minister of Higher Education.  Perhaps through reforms in education, a new generation of Cuban leaders would be more enlightened and aware of the failures and false promises of Communism.

Despite my admittedly cynical assessment about Mr. Diaz-Canel’s potential, I hold out hope; I want to be an idealist.  The man is young enough that he has undoubtedly witnessed changes across the world through a different generational lens than his boss Mr. Castro.  Mr. Diaz-Canel has seen remarkable changes occur in Cuba lately, such as the ability for people to buy and sell property.  The changes in Cuba go beyond selling property, though. For example there are now various entrepreneurs with their own hair salons and restaurants among other businesses.  Mr. Diaz-Canel has witnessed his country go from complete isolation in the post-missile crisis/Cold War world, to being a regional tourism hub for Latin American and European tourists alike.  One can only hope that Mr. Diaz-Canel has become happier over the years with the increased economic prosperity of his country.  However, nostalgia is a powerful emotion that inhibits the mind from achieving clarity and recognising reality.  Perhaps Mr. Diaz-Canel will instead look back on the days of Fidel ruling with an iron fist and see them as an example of good leadership.  Hopefully Mr. Diaz-Canel will instead choose to bring the sunshine of democracy to the Cuban people rather than continue to mercilessly batter them with hurricanes of oppression.  If Mr. Diaz-Canel chooses the latter, hopefully the European Union and other democracies will not reward such unacceptable behaviour.  The ball is in your court Mr. Diaz-Canel, and the world is watching.  Five years from now will you be ready to play ball?