Cuba’s dissidents hope transition generates change ‘from within’


Cuba’s national assembly meets today to elect the next president of the country, Foreign Policy reports. Current vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel is widely expected to be chosen. Still, current president Raul Castro is likely to remain a dominant political figure as the first secretary of the Communist party, until 2021. The move to replace Castro (Guardian) would end six decades of rule by the Castro family, the CFR adds.

The man likely to become Cuba’s next president is from a younger generation of leaders and has advocated modernizing the island but he is also a longtime Communist Party apparatchik who is not expected to push for sweeping political change, Reuters adds.

“[T]here is no evidence in favor of him being a reformist and assuming he will abandon the one-party system or stop favoring the state sector over the non-state sector,” said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former Cuban government analyst who now lectures at the University of Texas.

On the eve of the presidential handover, Manuel Cuesta Morua (right) is striving to find a new path for the island’s outlawed and fractured opposition, AFP adds.

“It’s about overcoming some of our weaknesses in opposition while at the same time realizing there is a political transition which we must try and make the most of so that it becomes a transition towards democracy,” he says. “The era of all-out rebellion against oppressive regimes is over. The Arab Spring has shown that these do not necessarily lead to democracy,” he said. So the focus now is on institutional reforms — a strategy for generating change “from within,” Cuesta Morua added.

The Castro family will continue to cast a long shadow on any future government, says Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and executive director of Global Americans [a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy]. Though he’s stepping down from the presidency, Castro, 87, will remain the secretary general of the Cuban Communist Party (the only official party, which sets the agenda of the state), and he will keep his post as head of the armed forces, which control a large share of Cuba’s command economy, he writes for the Times.

The regime is risk averse and risk is everywhere in the current political and economic climate, notes Michael Touchton, an assistant professor in the University of Miami’s Department of Political Science. The ruling Communist Party is concerned about several new US-backed initiatives, including the Cuba Internet Task Force, to promote broad access to information. Such initiatives raise the Castro administration’s concerns that the US will take advantage of Cuba’s presidential transition to promote civil society and civil liberties to undermine the communist regime.

The succession amounts to a tricky effort to build a new generation of leaders without the Castro name, a move considered essential to cementing the central role of Cuba’s communist system, the Post adds.

“This is about institutionalizing the regime,” said Jorge Domínguez, a Cuba expert and professor of government at Harvard University. “It’s about Raúl Castro saying, ‘I am president, but I have a term, and then someone else is going to lead.’ . . . If you are someone who really wants the regime to endure, it’s what Raúl needs to do.”

The government’s authoritarian credentials were on full display at the VIII Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, where Cuba and Venezuela mobilized pro-regime GONGOs to silence dissident voices, the Miami Herald reports.

“The protests were sparked by the shock troops that the Cuban dictatorship brought here, and a (Cuban) ambassador who was very aggressive with the secretary general,” said opposition activist Rosa María Payá (right), who heads the Latin American Network of Youths for Democracy and is campaigning for a binding plebiscite on the island’s political system.

“They demanded that I not be allowed to speak, that if I spoke they were not going to remain silent. It’s the same blackmail of always, the blackmail of dictatorships,” she added.

Dynastic succession

Castro intends to choreograph a transfer of power to a new generation of Castro’s, argues Otto J. ReichSenior Research Associate at the Cuban Studies Institute:

The top echelon includes: his son Alejandro Castro Espín, a Colonel in State Security; his erstwhile son-in-law Gen. Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas; and his grandson, Raul Rodriguez Castro, who heads his grandfather’s Praetorian Guard.  What Castro intends is a dynastic succession resembling the Kim’s in North Korea or the Assad’s in Syria.

No one expects Cuba to radically change course. Although Castro is officially stepping aside, he’ll go no further than the top slot at the Cuban Communist Party, where eminence grise is the new khaki, Bloomberg adds.

While it is not in America’s interest to promote investment to prop up an anachronistic, repressive regime, it is also not in its interest to stand by while a neighbor’s fragile economy crumbles under the weight of its failed policies, argues Sabatini.

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