opportunities await Cuba
email@example.com. The Miami Herald,
August 30, 2007.
An era is ending. With Fidel Castro's inevitable
passing, neither Latin America nor Cuba
will ever be the same. The Comandante has
always valued ideas -- i.e., his own --
over the prosaic -- i.e., ordinary people.
Since Cuba alone never satisfied his supersized
ego, he looked elsewhere, Latin America
In the 1960s, Castro tried to export the
revolution by creating or supporting guerrillas.
The strategy -- centered on his own Sierra
Maestra experience whereby a handful of
individuals supposedly toppled the Batista
regime -- failed miserably.
The Fidelista script doesn't even do justice
to the Cuban revolution's triumph. Complex
historical dynamics had rendered Cuban society
vulnerable and, more immediately, the llano
-- the urban-based resistance -- heaped
more damage on the dictatorship than the
rural guerrillas ever did.
Venezuela, then an incipient democracy,
and Bolivia, a highly mobilized society
since the 1930s, for example, repelled Cuban-inspired
efforts. Venezuela carried out a no-holds-barred
counterinsurgency, and Ernesto Guevara's
guerrilla never caught fire in Bolivia.
In 1988, I stood at Machu Picchu in Peru
and fully comprehended the folly of the
Comandante's call to turn the Andes into
the Sierra Maestra of Latin America. If
nothing else, geography rendered the call
null: the Sierra Maestra is no Andes.
In 1979, guerrillas won in Nicaragua but
only because the Sandinista strategy fit
their circumstances. Their revolution, moreover,
never reached the heights of exclusion and
repression that Cuba's has. Albeit reluctantly,
the Sandinistas respected the electoral
outcome that ended their rule in 1990. We're
still waiting in Cuba.
Castro has lived long enough to see Latin
America take a favorable turn. During the
1990s, democracy and markets swayed the
day. Now, there's a resurgent populism that
is gutting democracy and reinstating the
state at the economy's center. Heir-apparent
Hugo Chávez is buying allies, or
silence, doling out cheap oil or buying
Still, hardly anyone respects Chávez
while just the opposite -- whether from
friend or foe -- is true of the Comandante.
In addition, Ecuador's Rafael Correa may
not be prone to follow Chávez's lead.
Bolivia's opposition and the government's
radical allies are making life rather hard
for Evo Morales. Flying high now, statist
policies will eventually wreak economic
havoc. If successfully enacted, Chávez's
proposed constitutional reforms could require
widespread repression to enforce them.
In short, choppier seas may lie ahead.
Democrats beware: Whatever the fate of Chávez
and the others, the citizen anger they have
exploited must still be redressed. Though
much more is needed, that's exactly what
Brazil and Mexico are doing by reducing
poverty and expanding the middle class.
Raúl Castro's interim government
has not brought economic -- let alone political
-- relief to the Cuban people. Yet, intimations
of change are in evidence. I can't see any
other starting point than opening the economy;
a dictatorship doesn't start reforms by
granting freedoms. There are no guarantees
that a freer economy will lead to political
liberties. Maintaining the status quo, however,
is the surest path to a regime breakdown,
which is why Raúl will probably decree
economic reforms once Fidel passes.
Whatever happens next is anyone's guess.
Two of the possible scenarios -- radical
economic restructuring under communist rule
or a democratic transition -- could pose
different challenges to Latin America.
** While still a dictatorship, a relatively
prosperous Cuba -- with less pronounced
inequalities than elsewhere -- might best
the economic performance of Latin American
** A democratic Cuba -- where freedom abets
national reconciliation -- may reveal uncomfortable
truths about the revolution's human costs,
which many Latin Americans, particularly
on the Left, have yet to recognize.
Once the inevitable happens, Cuba and the
new populism will lose their most imposing
myth. Neither Raúl Castro nor Hugo
Chávez can hold the fort the way
the Comandante has. Who will steady Chávez
in times of crisis? Raúl has a better
sense of his own limitations, which -- given
the circumstances -- may be good news.
An era is, indeed, ending. For one, Raúl
and Hugo are not soul mates. For Cuba, unexpected
opportunities will surely arise, there and
here. Will we find the courage to seize
them? For all of our sakes, I hope so.
Marifeli Pérez-Stable is vice
president for democratic governance at the
Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C.,
and a professor at Florida International