Cuba: Possible Exit Scenarios / Miriam Celaya

Preliminary note: This article was originally published in the third issue Voices magazine for the month of October, 2010, and, despite its length, I wanted to post it on the blog in order to facilitate the participation of potential commentators who are interested in the subject.

The temptation to suggest possible scenarios out of the current socio-political and economic situation in Cuba may not be just pretentious, but also risky. It would be even more adventuresome to imagine solutions more or less simple or practical to emerge from the general crisis that has been prolonged by the imposition of such an inefficient and obsolete system that – with its burden of corruption, moral degradation, dislocation and despair — has dragged the country to a critical point that puts in jeopardy even our own nature as a national entity.

This is not an alarmist statement; I limit myself to formulate reality. Just take a look at the past 50 years of national history to ascertain the acute loss of values that has been on the rise in the face of the persistence of living in a precarious state of material survival, on the one hand, and under a dictatorial regime that castrates any manifestation of freedom and civility on the other. To this, add the elusive and irresponsible traits that typifies this human group, originator of what has been termed “Cubanity” (which is just the essence of the ambiguous nature of our character), the general apathy and the permanent exodus, to place us before the bleak picture of a nation that was aborted without having completed the necessary and sufficient maturity for its birth.

However, a bleak scenario is not an excuse to bury your head in the sand or to take off in flight — as is customary among us — but it must stir us towards the stance of knowing where we are, on the road to assume the risks of making errors in our standards and values, and to focus on trying to change course. Today, the dilemma could be for us to pick up our abused and scattered fragments in order to make ourselves whole, or simply to be resigned to stop being.

The speeches of sociologists, historians, economists and politicians from various backgrounds and sectors of society often refer to the current crisis as “the situation” Cuba in undergoing. However, this very concept — situation — contains in itself two immediate implications: 1) Its temporary nature, given that every situation is manifested within a limited period, and 2) it is a turning point for the inevitable move or turn leading to a way out. It is imperative, then, to define what general elements color the “situation” of the Cuban reality today, which for the current analysis, might be the following:

– Economically, a ruined country with a colossal foreign debt, which depends almost entirely on foreign investment, family remittances from Cubans living abroad and subsidies from allies (also situational). There is an explosive increase in the unemployment rate that, as officially announced, will be completed by 2012, when the number of layoffs will have reached over 20% of the workforce. In addition, there is no consideration for the national economy to be sustained by small and medium-sized private companies whose profits would be taxed and the benefits redistributed throughout the country. Agriculture, livestock and any domestic industry are virtually non-existent, and it needs to import 80% of the food consumed by the population.

– Socially, there is a loss of service quality and performance that were once favorite indicators of the “privileges” of the system, such as education and health. There is a general deterioration of the values, and feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, uncertainty and apathy that reach throughout society; loss of faith in the system and its leaders; escapism as a solution; the constant and sustained exodus abroad, and the almost complete absence of independent civil society.

Politically, the monopoly of power in a single party that is, at the same time, State and Government, establishing itself as a dictatorship in the hands of a military elite-turned capitalist business concern (state capitalism); foreign policy that has been marked by confrontation with the great hubs of power (the United States and the European Union) and the alliance with undemocratic regimes. In the interior of the country, groups and opposition parties are not acknowledged, and repression or harassment is ongoing against any outbreak of civic and alternative thinking resistance. On the other hand, due to the repressive characteristics of the system and because of historical and essential factors of Cubans, there isn’t even one proposal by the opposition sectors against the regime capable of uniting or stirring the interest of large social groups, and naming an alternative program for changes.

Other elements color the Cuban crisis, as its permanent character – with deepening cycles — and the fact that it also covers the ruling turret itself and a good part of its former followers. Add to that lack of exercise of rights in a country where lack of civic culture and the absence of freedom of individuals reign, which has led to a pernicious tendency of waiting for solutions from “above” or “from outside”, or the complacent and sickly stance that prefers to delay action until the biological cycle does its thing and takes away, once and for all, the ruling gerontocracy, whose average age is around, or exceeds, 80, as if the disappearance of a group of dictators might mean, by itself, the establishment of democracy.

At the center of this image, the government has taken too long to implement measures capable of addressing the general crisis and does not show any interest in seeking political solutions within the nation. The recently announced government measures that restore mom and pop-type, privately owned small businesses, etc., are superficial, outdated, anachronistic, and inadequate. They fail to meet expectations, and do not contribute to the welfare of the population. The popular reaction, meanwhile, has been as timid as the official proposals. Even the announcement of the wave of layoffs in just over a year, which will drag with it around 1.3 million state jobs, has caused some unease, dissatisfaction and uncertainty, but it has not produced even one public protest, though the beginning of the process of layoffs coincides with increased taxes on the self-employed, the removal of several products “subsidized” by the ration card, an increase in the electric rate, and rumors of the upcoming end of other subsidies and rising costs of services of water supply, sewerage, and telephone. The social landscape, however, shows a deceptive calm that seems subjected to extreme pressure, and is already releasing forces through the worst escape valves: the increase in crime and the rise in the handling of contraband.

All this places us facing the possibility of multiple exit scenarios, not necessarily desirable or inevitably exclusive, that is, several different scenarios may converge towards the same end. Taking into account the premises enumerated, the following can be stated, among other possible ones:

  1. Intensification of the deficiencies, with a corresponding increase in crime and social indiscipline, which can lead to extreme measures from the government, such as using the army to quell violence (violent response to violence, as part of the national history and culture) and the intensification of the persecution of independent civil society groups, which will lead to the emergence of a humanitarian crisis that might cause an international intervention in order to help overcome social instability.
  2. A migratory stampede that will eventually lead to further conflict with the United States and possible military intervention or pressure on Cuba. This scenario could also cause the intervention of an international organization.
  3. The expansion of the measures announced by General Raúl Castro and the acceleration of their implementation could lead, either by potential factors or by the urgency of overcoming the crisis, to a scenario suitable for the emergence of a sector of the population which, on becoming independent of the state, would favor the emergence of self-interest associations and would accelerate the revival of civil society.
  4. The alleged cracks within the top ruling caste and the military could give rise, through the disappearance or weakening of the “historic generation”, to the forcible seizing of power by military sectors most prone to changes, whose actions would depend on the establishment of a governing junta that, in the medium term, might lead to a process of democratization.
  5. In the short-term, the natural disappearance of the historical leaders, together with all the elements that fuel the current crisis, would result in a vacuum of authority and lack of control that could lead to chaos of unpredictable consequences.
  6. The establishment of future alliances, through programs lacking in ideology among opposition groups and the nascent independent civil society, could contribute to the strengthening of a social sector of intermediaries within Cuba, and to laying the groundwork for a scenario suitable for the establishment of effective critical action areas in order to gain status at the social level and begin to drive change “from within” while it garners and validates international support.

These scenarios are purely speculative, but are based on objective elements of reality. Certain events could accelerate or delay the events, for example, the ending of Venezuelan subsidies to the Island following the possible deposing of Hugo Chavez’s government in that South American nation in the 2012 elections, precipitating a collapse inside Cuba; the passing of the historic leaders, which could put us in a sudden or abrupt ending, or the sudden appearance of a new funding source to the dictatorship, which would allow for a respite and a further period of grace to continue in power. A very important element would be a change in the political context of the United States, in view of elections the same year, 2012. The possibility of a takeover by Republicans, supporters of a tougher line with the Cuban government, would significantly alter any scenario in Cuba, and influence its outcome. If the depose of Chávez in Venezuela and the elections of a Republican majority in the US coincided, the Island’s outlook would worsen even further, and the solution for a gradual exit to the crisis could aggravate exponentially. In addition, the dash of urgency and immediacy that Cuban –government, people and the opposition-imprint, as a rule, in each action, could stifle the opportunities to improve scenarios or take advantageous or favorable opportunities which might arise in order to prevent a violent context.

Addressing the issue from another angle, so far, no internal opposition movement has been strong and sustained enough to force the government to implement real change. The release of political prisoners has been taking place, by previous agreement between the government and the top hierarchy of the {Cuban} Catholic Church, is in response to strong pressure from independent civil society groups, which demonstrates the power of these groups when energies are coordinated for the sake of a common goal. It is understood that the present does not pose challenges just to the government. The “traditional” dissidence, in spite of its efforts and its longevity, hast yet to reach the visibility and maturity that the “situation” requires to be counted as a force that the government or national public opinion might have to take into account, so it is urgent for its members to implement new strategies, alliances and programs that offer attractive and viable alternatives, capable of breaking the cycle of social apathy, and move, at least, a representative group of Cubans to force for necessary changes. The task is difficult: never before was the moment more propitious to seek the support of the common Cuban, but neither were we ever so apathetic and displaced

This current analysis — incomplete, naturally — is not intended as a forecast or a prediction about the impending future of Cuba, nor is it immutable or exclusive: many events can occur that may alter or eliminate the scenarios included here, and it could also support the emergence of others. I do not intend to invalidate other opinions or analyses either. The intention that moves me is the development of an approach to establish a debate about the moment we are experiencing in Cuba today, considering the circumstances and nature of the events surrounding the Island now, and, hopefully, try to guess possible solutions. We have reached a critical point and this is a time of urgency, but we must ensure that, this time, the solutions are not limited to simple short-term adjustments or changes in figures. Maybe we do not have the civil forces necessary to conjure all the evils we are suffering and the ones ahead, but I dare to assure that some of us Cubans believe it is worth a try.

Translated by Norma Whiting

November 19, 2010