Cuba’s lead­er­ship tran­si­tion an il­le­git­i­mate power suc­ces­sion

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY ANA QUIN­TANA Spe­cial­iz­ing in Latin Amer­i­can is­sues, Ana Quin­tana is a se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst in The Her­itage Foun­da­tion’s Allison Cen­ter for For­eign Pol­icy Stud­ies.

This week will see a his­toric trans­fer of power in Cuba. On Thurs­day, for the first time since the 1959 revo­lu­tion, Cuba will have a leader whose last name is not Cas­tro. But this change does not arise as the re­sult of free and fair elec­tions. Three gen­er­a­tions into the revo­lu­tion, Cubans are still de­prived of that right. So in­stead they will wit­ness an il­le­git­i­mate trans­fer of power from one ruth­less leader to an­other.

The regime’s apol­o­gists will her­ald the tran­si­tion as a new era for Cuba. In re­al­ity, the only thing they are cel­e­brat­ing is bi­ol­ogy.

At al­most 87 years old, Raul Cas­tro is the world’s fifth-old­est ruler. His hand-picked suc­ces­sor is ru­mored to be regime loy­al­ist and cur­rent Vice Pres­i­dent Miguel Diaz-Canel.

There should be no il­lu­sions about Mr. Di­azCanel, 58. He cut his teeth under the lead­er­ship of both Cas­tro brothers, and he shares their out­dated and re­pres­sive per­spec­tive on gov­er­nance.

In a video leaked last year, Mr. Diaz-Canel dis­par­aged Cuba’s dis­si­dents and po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers as coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. He also claimed that he would cen­sor in­de­pen­dent me­dia, the in­ter­net and other means of free ex­pres­sion.

In that same video, Mr. Diaz-Canel goes on to crit­i­cize coun­tries such as Ger­many, Nor­way, Spain, the United King­dom and, of course, the United States for their “sub­ver­sive” sup­port of hu­man rights. Clearly, he is a dyed-in-the-wool Cas­tro com­mu­nist.

And even af­ter Mr. Diaz-Canel claims the ti­tle of pres­i­dent, Mr. Cas­tro will not am­ble off into a be­nign re­tire­ment. He will con­tinue to be a guid­ing voice within the regime as the ide­o­log­i­cal leader of Cuba’s rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party.

Time and time again, regime apol­o­gists have been wrong about the fu­ture of Cuba. When Mr. Cas­tro took over from brother Fidel in 2008, they claimed Raul would evolve “from en­forcer to re­former.” It never hap­pened.

Richard Fein­berg, a se­nior fel­low with the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, is quite sym­pa­thetic with the Cas­tro regime. Yet even he has ob­served: “In many ways, Raul Cas­tro’s 10-year pres­i­den­tial rule, end­ing in Fe­bru­ary 2018, has been ut­terly dis­ap­point­ing. Cuba’s econ­omy is stag­nant and eco­nomic re­form has stalled. Po­lit­i­cal power re­mains highly cen­tral­ized and se­cluded.”

Pres­i­dent Obama’s much-lauded Cuba pol­icy was sup­posed to shep­herd in a new era. Yet that ini­tia­tive also failed to bring mean­ing­ful change to the is­land.

Mr. Obama’s three years of un­con­di­tional con­ces­sions to the regime un­der­mined U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity ob­jec­tives and for­eign pol­icy in­ter­ests. Mean­while, the Cas­tro regime stub­bornly re­fused to change ei­ther its anti-Amer­i­can be­hav­ior or its re­pres­sive prac­tices in ex­change for Mr. Obama’s loos­en­ing of the U.S. trade em­bargo.

Cuba re­mains a na­tion that fails to pro­vide prop­erty rights pro­tec­tions or fair courts for the just res­o­lu­tion of eco­nomic dis­putes. And go­ing into busi­ness in Cuba still largely means “part­ner­ing” with com­mer­cial wings of the Cuban mil­i­tary, se­cu­rity or in­tel­li­gence ser­vices. Po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion con­tin­ues, as well.

It seems safe to say that noth­ing will change under Mr. Diaz-Canel. Had Cuba wanted to sig­nal a com­mit­ment to re­form, last week’s 8th Sum­mit of the Amer­i­cas in Peru was the prime op­por­tu­nity. In­stead, pro-Cas­tro thugs at­tacked Cuban hu­man­rights ac­tivists and U.S. cit­i­zens. Cuban civil so­ci­ety mem­bers were held hostage on the is­land and were un­able to at­tend the gath­er­ing. The Cuban del­e­ga­tion also shut down the civil so­ci­ety meet­ing at the sum­mit.

U.S. pol­i­cy­mak­ers should take this op­por­tu­nity to re­view the best course of ac­tion to­ward Cuba.

The ef­fi­cacy of the U.S. trade em­bargo de­serves vig­or­ous de­bate, but it would be flawed and il­log­i­cal to pre­sume that a uni­lat­eral lift­ing of sanc­tions would make mat­ters bet­ter.

While Mr. Diaz-Canel and Mr. Cas­tro have dif­fer­ent last names, they seem to share the same po­lit­i­cal DNA. U.S. pol­i­cy­mak­ers should con­demn this il­le­git­i­mate trans­fer of power, and weigh a va­ri­ety of op­tions to help bring real re­form to the is­land at last.

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