14ymedio, Jose Azel, Miami, 3 January 2017 — Raul Castro, in his one-minute announcement on Cuban television reporting the death of his brother, referred to Fidel Castro as “the founder of the Cuban Revolution.” The label of “founder” shows the unalterable faith of the regime in its continuity.
Fidel Castro, although a background presence, had been effectively out of power for a decade. Raúl has orchestrated an uninterrupted succession with himself as first secretary of the Communist Party, and people selected by him in the new generation of communist leadership.
This is the bittersweet reality for we Cubans who love liberty, and whom often believed in the slogan No Castro, no problem. Fidel Castro may be gone, but the regime remains structurally intact. The death of Fidel Castro does not bring freedom for the Cuban people. His legacy is that of thousands executed by firing squads, brutal repression, concentration camps, and every possible violation of human rights. He turn what was, in 1958, one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America into an impoverished dysfunctional state from which 20% of the population has escaped.
Fidel Castro may be gone, but the regime remains structurally intact
In addition, according to the report Freedom in the World by the organization Freedom House, Cuba remains the only country in the Americas considered “not free,” with ratings in the worst categories in terms of political rights and civil liberties. Even so, the Castro brothers are not dishonored as architects of this tragedy, but distinguished by the obsequiousness of many world leaders.
Cuba today is a nation with a discredited ideology, a declining senile leadership and a bankrupt economy. So what will be next for this tragic island? Let’s begin by examining what I call a culture of acquiescence.
Meme is a neologism coined by British scientist Richard Dawkins to explain how ideas and social behaviors are transmitted through non-genetic means, in contrast to genetic transmission. For example, a boy who is constantly exposed to domestic violence may come to accept violence as natural. In political science, I explain memes as sociocultural genes that help to understand how, in totalitarian societies, the presumption of power dethrones the presumption of freedom.
Usually, the use of power is not enough to preserve an oppressive regime. At some level there must be a tacit acceptance that the ruling class has some legitimacy to exercise power. In China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba, revolutionary mysticism linked to Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-Sung and Fidel Castro served to confer such legitimacy. Over time, the presumption of freedom is replaced with the acceptance of the legitimacy of tyrannical powers.
In China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Cuba coercive power has engendered memes of acquiescence by accepting the widespread presumption that the leaders were born with the right to govern and people are born with an obligation to obey. This is also part of Fidel Castro’s legacy.
The “black swan” could be an unknown Václav Havel or Boris Yeltsin in the armed forces who is able to emerge and consolidate power as a true reformer
Thinking about post-Fidel Cuba it is essential to keep in mind that the history of the island in the last sixty years is the history of the Castro brothers and their ideas. The Raul Castro’s inner circle is not made up of cowering Democrats not waiting for the right moment to put into practice long-suppressed Jeffersonian ideals. His way of governing is inseparable from his ideology.
If we assume that change in Cuba will not come as a result of some intervention from the US or internationally (from the outside in), nor as a result of any upstream events like the Arab Spring, we are left only with change that comes down from above. That is, a change that originates in a leadership alien to democratic culture and imbued with a negative incentive towards democratic reforms.
Of course, the imponderable, the possibility of an improbable black swan, is always present. The black swan could be an unknown Václav Havel or a Boris Yeltsin in the Revolutionary Armed Forces who is able to emerge and consolidate power as a true reformer. However, at the current juncture, one does not see the possibility of moving towards liberal democracy, or even towards change.
Editor ‘s Note: José Azel is a senior researcher at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami and author of Mañana in Cuba.