Fidel Castro May Be Gone, But Socialism in Cuba Is Alive As Ever
Raul Castro, in his one minute announcement on Cuban television disclosing the death of his brother, referred to Fidel Castro as the “Founder of the Cuban Revolution.” The label of “Founder” reveals the regime’s unshaken belief in its continuity.
Fidel Castro, while a background presence, had been effectively out of power for a decade. In that time, Raul has orchestrated a seamless succession with himself as First Secretary of the Communist Party, and the next generation of communist leadership made of men of his choosing.
This is the bittersweet reality for freedom loving Cubans, who had often believed in the slogan “No Castro no problem.” Fidel Castro may be gone, but structurally the regime remains intact. Fidel Castro’s death does not come with freedom for the Cuban people.
His legacy is one of thousands of firing squad executions, brutal repression, concentration camps and every possible violation of human rights. He transformed, what in 1958 was one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America into an impoverished dysfunctional state from which 20 percent of the population has fled.
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According to the “Freedom in the World” report by Freedom House, Cuba remains the only country in the Americas deemed “Not Free” with scores in the worst-of-the-worst categories for political rights and civil liberties. Yet, the Castro brothers, as the architects of this tragedy, are not disgraced but honored by the sycophancy of many world leaders.
Cuba is now a nation with a discredited ideology, a dwindling elderly leadership, and a bankrupt economy. So what is next for that tragic island? Let’s begin by examining what I call a culture of acquiescence.
A “meme” is the neologism coined by British scientist Richard Dawkins to explain the way in which ideas and behaviors are transmitted in society by non-genetic means in contrast with transmission by genes. For instance, a child constantly exposed to violence at home may come to accept violence as natural. In political science, I think of memes as sociocultural genes that help explain how, in totalitarian societies, the presumption of power deposes the presumption of liberty.
Usually, the exercise of power alone is not sufficient to preserve an oppressive regime. At some level, there has to be a tacit acceptance that the ruling class possesses some legitimacy to the right to rule. In China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba, the revolutionary mysticism attached to Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-Sung and Fidel Castro served to confer that legitimacy. Over time, the presumption of liberty is replaced with the acceptance of tyrannical powers as lawful.
In China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba, coercive power has engendered memes of acquiescence fostering the generalized presumption that the rulers are born with the right to command and the people are born with the obligation to obey. This too is part of Fidel Castro’s legacy.
When thinking of post-Fidel Cuba, it is essential to keep in mind that Cuba’s history for the past 60 years is that of the Castro brothers and their ideas. Raul Castro’s inner circle is not made up of closet democrats waiting for an opportune moment to put into practice their long-suppressed Jeffersonian ideals. Their governing modality is ontologically inseparable from their ideology.
If we posit that change in Cuba will not come about as a result of some U.S. or international intervention (outside-in change), nor will it come about as a result of some bottom-up event such as an Arab Spring, then we are left with top-down change. That is, change that originates with a leadership that lacks a democratic culture and has a built-in negative incentive towards democratic reforms.
Of course, the imponderable, the possibility of an improbable black swan event is always present. One such black swan occurrence may be an unknown Václav Havel or Boris Yeltsin in the midst of the Cuban military that is able to emerge and consolidate power as a true reformer. But at this juncture it is hard to visualize a likely path to a liberal democracy, or how Cuba’s future may break out of its Gordian knot.