[Marxism] Whatever Castro's prognosis, change expected in Cuba

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun Aug 13 12:09:54 MDT 2006

Cuba has a thousand and one problems. Most originate in the U.S.
blockade of the island, but there are some which Cubans can and
will have to resolve on their own. In my opinion, the biggest of
these problems is that so much day-to-day actitivity which Cubans
engage in occures outside the legal framework. It's not useful to
call it "criminal" or "illegal" activity, but there's a lot of it,
as anyone who lives and works here knows all too well. If you buy
a newspaper from someone on the street for one peso, that person
has committed an offense because the cover price of the paper is
20 centavos, a fifth of a peso. No one bothers such people, but 
it's an activity not allowed under Cuban law. If you want to fix
your plumbing, you can call a government agency to get that done,
but if you want it done now, and if you have the money, you hire
someone privatly to do it for you. Typically, that's a plumber 
who is, as we call it in English, "moonlighting". Someone comes
and knocks at your door, announcing that they have queso blanco
[white cheese] for sale, or they even have a route for that, but
such activity isn't legal. They go around with their cheeses in
a backpack, offering it to those who can buy it. Sometimes this
is done by peasants who steal the milk to make the cheese, and
sometimes it's members of co-operatives who can get a higher
price this way than legally. There are other problems, too, all
of which make life more complicated for Cubans here, and which
cry out for Cuban solutions. I don't have the solutions all in
my mind, but these are some of the various problems which we're
able to see here in need of being fixed. 

	Cuba's success is causing considerable 
	dismay and flustration in some circles:

"The Cuban government pulled off a successful dress rehearsal 
for its plans for a post-Castro succession and may now be more 
confident than ever that it can maintain control -- even without him."

	What frightens them is that Cuba 
	seems to be, working just fine and
	threatens to work even BETTER:

"If the new Raúl-led hierarchy is able to improve people's daily
lives, experts agree, he may be able to stave off predictions of a
government collapse. Even if Castro's illness drags on, if calm
prevails, there may be no turning back."

Walter Lippmann
Havana, Cuba

Posted on Sun, Aug. 13, 2006	

Whatever Castro's prognosis, change expected in Cuba


frobles at MiamiHerald.com


At a recent dinner with visiting Americans that started at 12:30
a.m., Cuban leader Fidel Castro nibbled on baked fish, rice and a
cucumber and cabbage salad while he sipped white wine before tackling
the yogurt dessert.

'I remember thinking, `Wow! What a healthy guy!' '' said Jonathan
Benjamin-Alvarado, a University of Nebraska at Omaha professor who
attended the eight-hour March meeting with other energy experts. 'He
was going on and on and on. I thought, `He has a lot of endurance for
an old viejito.' ''

But now Benjamin-Alvarado wonders whether that healthy meal was a
sign of an ailing Castro, one approaching his 80th birthday today
with a stomach ailment he was desperately trying to manage through a
bland diet.

The professor looks back at the notes he took that night and recalls
how the viejito -- little old man -- spoke at length about his legacy
and compared himself to dead revolutionary icon Ernesto ''Che''
Guevara and Cuban independence hero José Martí.

It was as if Castro had seen a glimpse of his future: incapacitated
in a hospital bed, trying at all costs to salvage his 47-year legacy.

It has been nearly two weeks since Castro's chief of staff made an
announcement that traveled the world: Castro had undergone
gastrointestinal surgery and temporarily ceded control of the
government to his younger brother, Defense Minister Raúl Castro.

Now Cuba-watchers worldwide are frantically trying to figure out what
comes next for the nation of 11 million people. With no word from
either of the Castro brothers in two weeks, it remains unclear just
how sick the elder Castro really is -- and whether he will ever
return to power in an effective way.

This much is clear: The Cuban government pulled off a successful
dress rehearsal for its plans for a post-Castro succession and may
now be more confident than ever that it can maintain control -- even
without him.

''If I had to bet, I'd bet he'll be back,'' said William LeoGrande, a
Cuba expert at American University in Washington. ``If you believe
[leftist former Nicaraguan President] Daniel Ortega, he's giving
orders from his sick bed even though he's handed off power.''

Castro left the government in the hands of his brother and delegated
his special projects to a handful of trusted associates. While U.S.
politicians and some Cuban-American exile leaders in Miami awaited
chaos, there was none.


Military patrols were beefed up and reservists called in. The police
presence increased on the streets, and members of neighborhood watch
patrols announced plans to deploy. But people kept working and buses
kept rolling. Only a quiet hush descended on Havana as Cubans awaited
word of what would happen next.

If the new Raúl-led hierarchy is able to improve people's daily
lives, experts agree, he may be able to stave off predictions of a
government collapse. Even if Castro's illness drags on, if calm
prevails, there may be no turning back.

''Whether it's two or three weeks or two or three months until we see
Fidel, the longer this goes on, the more they will settle into a
pattern of doing business which is not impossible but becomes much
harder to reverse,'' LeoGrande said.

In the meantime, the government apparently is being run by Raúl and a
hand-picked group of leaders who include the foreign minister and
vice president. They are expected to work more collectively to make
decisions, to ensure a successful turnover of power.

Some experts suspect their individual styles and preferences over
issues such as the economy will lead to deep divisions.

''Fidel may come back as a reassuring figure, but the country will be
run by this group of people,'' said Wayne Smith, a former head of the
U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana and critic of U.S. policy on Cuba.
``There will be disagreements among them, and they'll have to work
that out. That's politics.''

Experts largely agree that whatever the prognosis for Fidel Castro,
his illness is a harbinger of change for Cuba.

''You have to remember, up to 70 percent of the people were born
after 1959. They don't understand anything different,'' dissident
economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe said by phone from Havana. ``They
don't know whether what is to come is good or bad, though most people
think that if Raúl Castro maintains control, there would be some
change, at least economically.''

Raúl Castro and the new ruling group are expected to remain steadfast
in their communist ideology, but at the same time try to find ways to
put more food on Cubans' tables -- even if it means reforms toward a
less centrally controlled economy.

Raúl has been a steady supporter of farmers markets, for example,
where prices are set by supply and demand. But the Bush
administration has made it clear that it would not aid a post-Castro
Cuban government that includes Raúl, so it's unclear how much Raúl
can accomplish with the U.S. trade embargo still in place.

Whoever rules Cuba faces a number of challenges. Housing, food and
transportation shortages have plagued the nation for years. While
tourism and nickel exports are bringing in hard currency, economic
growth estimated at 8 percent or more last year was possible largely
because of aid from Venezuela.

Venezuela ships about 100,000 barrels of oil a day to Cuba at steeply
discounted prices. But it's unknown whether President Hugo Chávez has
as warm a relationship with Raúl Castro as he does with Fidel.

''It looks like Chávez has a stranglehold over what's going to happen
in Cuba,'' said Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Center for
Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami.

As rumors swirl about Castro's health, some speculate that he could
be convalescing for years. National Assembly President Ricardo
Alarcón said that Castro was ''alert'' and that he spoke with him for
30 minutes right after his surgery.

''The thing that intrigued me is that Alarcón said that for the sake
of his health, Castro has to slow down,'' said Phil Peters, a Cuba
analyst at the Lexington Institute, a Virginia think tank. ``It's
plausible that he's signaling that he'll be working less, a lot fewer

``It raises the possibility of what for them is the ideal transition:
Castro would gradually retire, work less and rely more on advisors.
The result would be that there would be no single moment where Castro
is suddenly absent, no single moment where people outside perceive a
vacuum or vulnerability.''

Peters has a theory on why Raúl Castro has not spoken publicly since
his brother took ill: ``He's hanging back, because Fidel is coming


Some Cubans speculate that Fidel Castro will make some sort of public
appearance on his birthday today.

''Many think that being the day of his birthday, we will hear
something whether from Fidel or the government, that they will at
least have some communication with the people,'' dissident Espinosa
said. ``It's been 13 days since the operation was announced; it's

Miami Herald staff writer Yudy Pineiro contributed to this report.

© 2006 MiamiHerald.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.


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