Cuba’s “Democratic” Transition to the Perfect Dictatorship

Miguel Díaz-Canel, labeled as the Castros' successor, will maintain single-party hegemony in Cuba.
Miguel Díaz-Canel, labeled as the Castros’ successor, will maintain single-party hegemony in Cuba. (5 de septiembre)

EspañolIn memory of Jorge Valls.

For 71 years (1929 to 2000), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) held uninterrupted power in Mexico. Academics describe this non-competitive electoral system as a hegemonic party system. More colorfully, Peruvian Nobel Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa labeled the Mexican government under the PRI “the perfect dictatorship.” The Cuban version may be on the way.

In a previous article, I advanced my analysis of how Cuban communism would evolve, leaving in its wake military officers as agents of change. I described a crooked economic scenario in which the generals would mutate into the new “captains of industry” by orchestrating corrupt privatizations of state-owned enterprises, much like Russia’s rigged privatizations in the 1990s.

That scenario requires the generals to introduce the illusion of political change in order to confer the new regime a veneer of legitimacy for the international investment community’s benefit. Enter the Cuban hegemonic party system.

Under a hegemonic party-based regime, authority does not rely on revolutionary history or personal charisma, as has been the case in the Castros’ Cuba. Rather, a dominant political party is institutionalized in order to hold power in perpetuity. In the Cuban model, said party will be under the military’s control.

A hegemonic party system will differ from Cuba’s current Leninist model only in that some political opposition parties will be tolerated as window dressing. This opposition, of course, has no chance of gaining power, but its existence conjures the false image of a totalitarian state in transition to democracy.

This image will serve the regime well in projecting political stability and giving potential investors greater confidence in the regime’s long-term survival. It provides investors the convenient rationalization that their activities are helping advance a democratization process. It also anesthetizes the population and channels the opposition’s energy into participating in a rigged political process.

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For much of its history, the Mexican PRI used massive electoral fraud to win every presidential election with margins of over 70 percent of the vote. Its dominance was nearly absolute in all spheres of governance. Presidential succession took place by dedazo (literally, the tap of the finger), as the incumbent designated his successor, who was part of an endemically corrupt government of cronies.

Cuba’s political transformation began in 2013, when Miguel Diaz-Canel was appointed first vice president of Cuba’s Council of State. The international media immediately anointed him as Raúl Castro’s successor. Diaz-Canel, a 55-year-old electronics engineer with a military background, is portrayed as the government’s young, civilian face.

The mirage was reinforced when Raúl Castro announced that he will not seek to be nominated as president of the Council of State when his terms expires in 2018.

In sociology, the iron law of oligarchy holds that all organizations succumb to rule by an elite. In Cuba, Fidel Castro’s highly personal tyranny was recycled, and the result was his brother Raúl’s more oligarchical dictatorship. In the Castros’ absence, the generals will further restructure the model.

A totalitarian, single-party system will become a hegemonic party structure. Mindful of Mexican history, the generals will make sure that, even in the long term, their arrangement does not produce a competitive party as happened in Mexico with the National Action Party (PAN).

In this chain of events, the opposition is co-opted so that it participates in the transition. Instead of operating as factions against the whole, they become a part of the whole as uncompetitive proto-parties.

In his recent comments regarding Cuba at the United Nations, President Barack Obama placed his expectations for change in Cuba on diplomacy and commerce. “We continue to have differences with the Cuban government…. But we address these issues through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties.”

But, as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted, diplomacy follows the facts on the ground, not the other way around. General Castro has begun a process that is changing the facts on the ground with one aim in mind: that our diplomatic and commercial initiatives only serve to legitimize the regime’s continuation.

The administration has failed to grasp that, with its help, the Cuban regime will not follow a democratic path on its political trajectory. It will crawl until it becomes a hegemonic party system. The regime always returns to its repressive origins, as if it were following the length of a Möbius strip.

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