In March of 2016 in Havana, Cuba, then President Obama, who decided to stroke his ego on the island while dissidents were getting beaten and arrested, said that he was there to bury the last remnant of the Cold War. There was just one problem. Cuba wasn’t ready to bury anything, nor are they even close.
In February of 2018, Cuba will have a new leader, not because they have embraced the feckless apologies Obama offered them and the appeal of free and fair elections, but rather because Raul Castro announced in 2013 that he would be stepping down as president. Despite Castro leaving office, the family’s influence, legacy, and ideological platform will most likely remain intact based on information we currently have about his chosen successor.
Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, an electrical engineer and former minister of higher education who has served as the vice president since 2013, will become the first leader in 59 years whose last name is not Castro.
There have been several videos circulating online which give us insight into the mind of the next leader of Cuba. Although finding video evidence is extremely difficult, it is clear that Castro has praised Diaz-Canel’s resolute ideological beliefs. However, there is still a lot of apprehension and speculation around how Diaz-Canel will act when he assumes the presidency. Will this be a Hugo Chavez to Nicolas Maduro transition, where the people see an opportunity to revolt against the regime, or will the status quo be upheld? Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago has already begun commenting on this uncertain dilemma. She describes Diaz-Canel’s latest performance on tape as a show of bravado, saying:
“[This is] Díaz-Canel’s caudillo complex rising, the Fidelito that lives inside him caught on video.”
The testimony that we have access to does not seem to indicate that Diaz-Canel is inclined to establish a cozy relationship with the United States. In the most recently leaked video, Diaz-Canel showed no concern of changing the status quo in regards to normalizing relations with the United States:
“The U.S. government invaded Cuba, put the blockade [embargo] in place, imposed restrictive measures. Cuba did not do any of that, so in return for nothing they have to solve those asymmetries if they want relations and if they want normalization of the relations.”
In addition to that formidable rhetoric, Diaz-Canel claims that the United States wants to influence small business owners in order “to convert this non-state sector as a sector of opposition to the revolution.” He also purported that it was the United States’ goal to take control of Cuba through social and economical means. In nearly identical fashion to the Castro brothers before him, Diaz-Canel seems to be taking a hard-line stance towards the United States, even after all the concessions Barack Obama hand delivered to Cuba.
Unfortunately, this attitude doesn’t only pertain to the United States, but his own country as well. Regarding Internet freedom, Diaz-Canel stated that he was very adamant about censoring sites that “are aggressive against the revolution.” One website in particular that he mentioned was the OnCuba website, a Miami-based media company which also publishes a magazine. Although this revelation should come as no surprise to anyone, it proves that Diaz-Canel is solely interested in the expansion of the communist propaganda on the island and not in the natural freedoms the Cuban populace deserves.
Diaz-Canel, instead, would be wise to use information technology to the country’s advantage and help them find new solutions to developmental problems. A paradigm shift on this front would prove extremely beneficial to Cuba’s development, as the country has rendered itself a third-world territory due to its communist government. Unfortunately, only 5% of the country currently has access to the Internet and WiFi, as access to these luxuries, is incredibly unaffordable for Cuban citizens at a rate of $2 to $7 an hour. Several studies show that around half the Cuban population lives on a household income of $300 to $400 a year, showcasing why so few can afford Internet access.
In addition to its undesirable pricing , it is very unlikely that the development of more information technology will eliminate the social and economic inequalities in Cuba. Information technology has also caught the attention of particular leaders in the regime, like José Ramón Machado Ventura, who is the second secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba. He has stated that he is suspicious of all these foreign companies wanting to give the country access to free internet and assumes that the attempts are not to aid the Cuban people, but to undo the “ideological work” that the Castro’s have implemented in the minds of their citizens.
Despite the speculative measures that many have purported will fix Cuban inequalities, there is practically only one viable solution: to allow the Cuban people, who are some of the most innovative in the world, to experience true capitalism.
According to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY): “We can’t spread democracy through force, as we have shown time and again in our recent foreign policy. But we can model capitalism to the world, export it through our people and goods, and win the debate without one bullet being fired…Instead of hiding our capitalism behind a failed embargo, we should tear down the walls of trade restriction and open up travel and trade even more. Instead of allowing the socialists to continue their propaganda unopposed, we should have sufficient confidence in capitalism to let them go head to head…I don’t fear the government of Cuba. I don’t fear competition between capitalism and socialism. End the embargo now and capitalism, like the endless waves that lap the Cuban shore, will erode the weak grasp of socialism, day by day, until freedom comes to Cuba—not with a beach landing of troops, but in the realization that poverty and socialism are, in fact, synonyms”
It is imperative to understand that the Cuban government is very furtive in its planning and actions. They never want to give too much freedom to the people, for they know it could quite possibly lead to a revolution or insurrection. To avoid retribution from the international community, the regime will make just enough concessions to appease foreign leaders without having to change their communist agenda. Then, they’ll revert back to their old ways once again.
“We are not naïve nor do we ignore the aspirations of powerful external forces betting on what they call the ‘empowerment’ of the non-state sector, with the goal of generating agents of change in the hope of ending the Revolution and socialism in Cuba,” said Raul Castro in August 2016, just one month after Obama vacationed on the island.
The Cuban government understands what will happen if they were to allow their people to become independent and free, which is why they issued a statement in August suspending “new licenses for certain private-sector activities from bed-and-breakfasts to restaurants until it had implemented new measures to curb wrongdoing such as tax evasion.” This comes after a May 2016 announcement which legalized small-and medium-sized private businesses.
According to Reuters, this new suspension is a pause in the regime’s seven-year push to expand self-employment, which has tripled to around 12% of the total number of employed citizens since 2010. In addition to this suspension, extortionate taxation is also rampant throughout the country, hindering the Cuban people from accumulating enough wealth to afford luxuries.
Although the future of Cuba is uncertain, its current state should serve as an example to the world as to what happens when the idea of socialism is pushed to its limits. From the rationing of food to the disappearance of basic goods, Cuba seems to be the standard in which Venezuela is ultimately striving towards.
Furthermore, while the international community is witnessing the demise of Venezuela and voicing its opinion against the Maduro regime, it has stayed completely silent on Cuba.
“Why isn’t there any world outrage over Cuba’s dictatorship?” asks Andres Oppenheimer, foreign affairs columnist for the Miami Herald.
From the recent rise in the number of dissidents arrested in Cuba, to the “more than 6,100 deaths and disappearances,” the Cuban regime seems to get a free pass whenever they are clearly responsible for committing crimes. There are even reports that they have been targeting American diplomats on the island.
“Ignoring Cuba’s abuses is morally wrong and a political hypocrisy,” says Oppenheimer.
Cuba has been a thorn in the side of the U.S. for decades, and it doesn’t look like they will change their ways anytime soon. Diplomatic approaches have been a constant failure, as the Cuban government never seems to follow through with what they agree to. The Castro family dictatorship has been extremely cruel to their own people, and although a non-Castro is in line to be the next leader of Cuba, things do not look like they are going to change. The Cuban people deserve better than this, and we must not lose sight of the inhumane conditions the Cuban government continues to force their people to live in.