Much de­pends on Trump to change Cuba dy­nam­ics

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Fidel Cas­tro’s death could give his younger brother, Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro, more space to pur­sue eco­nomic re­forms, but change will also de­pend on whether US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump de­cides to work with or chal­lenge Cuba’s com­mu­nist govern­ment. Raul Cas­tro has in­tro­duced mar­ket-ori­ented re­forms in re­cent years, but the pace of change has been slowed, many Cubans say, by Fidel Cas­tro’s con­tin­ued in­flu­ence over an old guard that mis­trusts both mar­kets and warm­ing ties with Washington.

Two years ago, the more prag­matic, younger Cas­tro en­gi­neered a de­tente with the old en­emy that has seen com­mer­cial flights, dol­lar re­mit­tances and Amer­i­can tourists all flow into the cash-strapped Caribbean is­land. Those ad­vances could eas­ily be re­versed if Trump sticks to the harder line he took at the end of his elec­tion cam­paign, when he vowed to close the US em­bassy, opened last year af­ter half a cen­tury, and to rene­go­ti­ate Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s agree­ment to nor­mal­ize re­la­tions with Cuba.

But Cas­tro’s death could also be an op­por­tu­nity for Trump to keep up an en­gage­ment with Cuba that is pop­u­lar with vot­ers and US busi­nesses. With Fidel Cas­tro now dead at 90 and the 85-year-old Raul Cas­tro promis­ing to re­tire in early 2018, work­ing with Cuba be­comes eas­ier on a sym­bolic level. Trump had not men­tioned Cuba since his elec­tion and in his first re­sponses to the overnight news from Cuba, he gave lit­tle sense of which way he will go. “Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Cas­tro can­not be erased, our ad­min­is­tra­tion will do all it can to en­sure the Cuban peo­ple can fi­nally be­gin their jour­ney to­ward pros­per­ity and lib­erty,” Trump said in a state­ment.

Richard Fein­berg, a for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to US Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, said it is now less likely that Trump will re­verse Obama’s open­ing to the is­land. “The pass­ing of Fidel Cas­tro re­moves the ob­ject of ha­tred, fear and re­venge of many Cuban-Amer­i­cans, bring­ing to an end what has been one of his­tory’s long­est grudge matches, open­ing the gates for the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of the deeply di­vided Cuban fam­ily,” he said. “It is in the US na­tional in­ter­est to com­pete with China and Rus­sia for in­flu­ence in Cuba and the broader Caribbean, and to see Cuba as a nat­u­ral ally in coun­tert­er­ror­ism,” said Fein­berg, au­thor of a book on the Cuban econ­omy.

In the short term, Cuba may see from its govern­ment an or­ches­trated out­pour­ing of sup­port for Cas­tro’s undi­luted idea of com­mu­nism. The first sign of that was a govern­ment cam­paign launched on Satur­day to have mil­lions of Cubans sign a pledge to be faith­ful to Cas­tro’s revo­lu­tion, “as an ex­pres­sion of the will to per­pet­u­ate his ideas and our so­cial­ism”. Even years af­ter step­ping down from the pres­i­dency, Cas­tro re­mained a but­tress for the old guard among Cuba’s po­lit­i­cal hi­er­ar­chy and bu­reau­cracy who are not con­vinced by Raul Cas­tro’s mea­sures lead­ing Cuba slowly to­ward a so­cial­ist econ­omy with a strong role for pri­vate busi­nesses.

Over time that in­flu­ence will fade, po­ten­tially mak­ing it eas­ier for re­form­ers in Raul Cas­tro’s govern­ment and in the fu­ture. “It re­moves a court of fi­nal ap­peal for the con­ser­va­tives while giv­ing hope to the usu­ally younger re­form­ers in the party for more rapid fu­ture eco­nomic change,” said David Jes­sop, a UK-based busi­ness con­sul­tant on Caribbean af­fairs.


The in­ner work­ings of the Cuban power struc­ture have al­ways been tough to read, and not ev­ery­one be­lieves Fidel Cas­tro was be­hind a re­cent back­track­ing on mar­ket re­forms, such as al­low­ing farm­ers to sell prod­ucts at mar­ket prices or per­mit­ting pri­vate im­ports and ex­ports. Mid-level bu­reau­crats fear­ful of los­ing power in the sys­tem are of­ten seen as a ma­jor rea­son eco­nomic re­forms have not been rolled out at the pace an­nounced by Raul Cas­tro in a 2011 pol­icy paper. “He was fully re­tired, so his pass­ing is not likely to al­ter the course of Raul’s eco­nomic mod­ern­iza­tion pro­gram,” said Wil­liam LeoGrande, co-au­thor of a book on US-Cuba re­la­tions. “Of course, there are bu­reau­crats still in of­fice who share Fidel’s ide­o­log­i­cal hos­til­ity to mar­kets. They have been and will con­tinue to be an ob­sta­cle to change.”

Trump may de­cide that Cas­tro’s demise is an op­por­tu­nity to pres­sure the com­mu­nist govern­ment into mak­ing con­ces­sions, such as free­ing po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dents or pref­er­en­tial ac­cess for US prod­ucts and ser­vices. “Pres­i­dent-elect Trump may sim­plis­ti­cally see a chance to restart an ad­ver­sar­ial re­la­tion­ship ... to prove he is the strong man he said he is,” said Paul Hare, a for­mer Bri­tish am­bas­sador to Cuba.

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