Economic Reforms Will Not Lead to Democracy in Cuba

By: José Azel - Jul 28, 2016, 10:26 am
Is true democracy in Cuba possible? The streets of Old Havana. (Wikimedia)

Do economic reforms lead to democratization, or does democratization lead to economic progress? This is the fundamental question surrounding the debate over the new U.S.-Cuba policy. President Obama and his supporters believe that economic reforms will empower the population to demand political reforms, whereas critics point out that General Castro has been perfectly clear that Cuba will not undertake any political reforms.

Let’s put aside, for present purposes, the ethical problems of a U.S. foreign policy that embraces despots and establishes a moral equivalence between oppressors and the oppressed. The focus here is on the “what should come first” aspect of reforms. The transition experience of East European countries provides the answer to the question. Fredo Arias King, an expert with encyclopedic knowledge of post-Soviet democratization, classifies the East European end-game experiences into eight groups:

Overthrow– Where communism ended when dissidents were able to overthrow an obstinate communist party and form a new government made up primarily of dissidents (Czechoslovakia-1989, East Germany, Yugoslavia, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia)

Substitution– Where communist parties were more flexible and willing to negotiate a transition (Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Slovenia).

Transformation-Where the principal communist leaders took the initiative toward regime change without the presence of great social pressures (Soviet Union-1985, Hungary-1956, and Czechoslovakia-1968)

Reappearance– Where former high-level government officials, who had been removed from power, used the nascent democratic movement to return to power (Russia, Romania, and Croatia)

Replacement– Where mid-level officials took up the flag of democratic or nationalistic reform to undermine the regime they served (Hungary-1989, Serbia-1989, and Bulgaria)

Reincarnation– Where the state parties felt great social pressure to fake a brake with communism in order to survive (Ukraine, Moldova, Albania, Mongolia, Macedonia, and Latvia)

Continuity– Where the communist leaders unexpectedly turned into the leaders of independent nations, but retained the principal structures of repression and the command economy (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Belarus)

Violence– Where leaders used state violence to provoke civil wars and retain power (Tajikistan, Serbia, Armenia and Azerbaijan)

Regardless of the typology, Arias King’s measurements, fifteen years after the transitions, show that those Eastern European countries that instituted political change prior to, or hand in hand with, economic changes were the most successful in becoming both free and prosperous; e.g., Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, East Germany. Those countries that decided to begin with economic reforms and postponed political changes were mostly unsuccessful in both areas; e.g., Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Serbia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan)

Historical evidence shows economic reforms do not necessarily lead to democratization, and that democratization most likely leads to economic progress. Democratization is the horse that must lead the cart of economic progress. Putting the cart before the horse means that neither economic nor political reforms will go far.

Yes, Cuba’s history is not that of Eastern Europe and its transition experience will be distinctly Cuban. I leave it up to the reader to divine Cuba’s most likely scenario, but my bet is on processes led by the Cuban Armed Forces evoking continuity disguised as change. This is Cuba’s Gordian knot. Continuity disguised as change does not remove the institutional impediments to individual freedoms and empowerment.

What is not understood by the President and his supporters is that political rights and civil liberties are not superfluous luxuries to be appended at the end of a program of economic reforms. Political rights and civil liberties are what allow an empowered citizenry to correct mistakes, voice discontent and bring about changes in leadership. Democracy requires a relationship between the state and its citizens fundamentally different from the relationship model of an absolutist state.

Economic reforms not anchored on individual political freedoms condemn Cuban society to live a provisional existence without a recognizable end. Living such a provisional existence wounds the human spirit and does not promote the development of democratic sociopolitical values. Peoples that experience only an existence without a future cannot become the citizens that will sustain a democratic state. Freedom is not an extravagance that can wait until the arrival of prosperity.

José Azel José Azel

Senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. Azel was a political exile from Cuba at the age of 13 in 1961 and is the author of Mañana in Cuba. Follow @JoseAzel.

Colombia to Deport Hundreds of Cuban Immigrants

By: Adriana Peralta - @AdriPeraltaM - Jul 27, 2016, 5:02 pm
Cuban migrants have been waiting to resolve their legal situation since May (El Universal)

EspañolThe start of an immigrant repatriation program was announced Tuesday, July 26 by Director for Colombian Migration Christian Krüger. Most citizens that enter Colombia illegally are Cuban, many of whom stay in warehouses or in shelters in Antioquia.  After May 19, with the border closing between Panama and Colombia, more than 300 Cubans were intercepted, along with citizens from African countries. "We're doing the paperwork to get into the warehouse where most immigrants are," Kruger said." Afterward, we will try to start the process we're bound by law to follow, which involves deportation." Many immigrants requested they be sent by plan, but Krüger said this was impossible. The Mexican government isn't receiving those flights, and because officials did not want to make something as delicate as immigrant trfaficking seem like an everyday occurrence. According to Colombia Immigration offices, deportation will take place in one of two ways: Sending immigrants directly to their country of origin, or returning them to the border from which they arrived. // The massive arrival of Cubans to Colombia seems to be directly related to the border closing with Panama, as many of them are trying to get to the US. Colombia said on June 11 that this year, 2,814 Cubans have been deported that came illegally on their way to the US. Cuban immigrants have been deported to Havana and Ecuador, according to Colombian Chancellor María Ángela Holguín. Read more: Over 130 Thousand Venezuelans Flood Colombia in Search of Food Read more: Why the Venezuelan Exodus to Colombia Spells the End for Maduro An American law gives benefits to Cuban citizens that arrive in their territory. However, reestablished relationships between Washington and Havana have generated fears over advantages to immigration. "What we're seeing is the result of better relations between Cuba and the US," one official said. "This has brought about greater immigrant movement in the last few months ... We signed an agreement with Ecuador in which citizens that come through Ecuador will be deported back there. They will decide what to do with them from there." Sources: El Tiempo, La Prensa

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