Cuba’s transition prospects (but not to democracy)


Authoritarian regimes born of revolutions such as Cuba’s often survive for decades, but they struggle once the revolutionary generation dies off — especially if they cannot find an alternative source of legitimacy, such as China’s extraordinary economic growth in recent decades. For this reason, this “golden parachute” option should be appealing to Cuba’s rulers, note analysts Javier Corrales and James Loxton.

Unfortunately for the Cuban people, there are few signs that this option is being considered. Instead, most signs point to a continuation of the status quo — a succession to a non-Castro, yes, but not a transition to a freer regime, they write for The New York Times:

  • Most obviously, while Mr. Castro will step down as president, he will not retire fully. He will remain head of the Communist Party and the unofficial head of the military, the country’s two most important institutions. When former authoritarian rulers retain control of key parts of the state, they are able to veto any potential democratic openings…..
  • Beyond the family itself is the fact that Raúl Castro’s most important policy legacy — military control of the economy — is hard to dislodge. The Cuban military, through its conglomerate Gaesa, owns the vast majority of firms that operate engaged in trade, from hotels to foreign exchange houses to ports, which gives it control of up to 60 percent of incoming hard currency. …
  • And because Cuba’s economy is so closed, the private sector is small and weak. We know that transitions to democracy require actors with wealth to lobby the state for change — and perhaps bankroll the opposition….


“Perhaps the only possible pressure for greater democracy after the succession could come from a conflict between the party and the military. These are separate entities, each with its own culture, resources and base of support,” Corrales and Loxton add. “It is conceivable that an eventual conflict between the party and the military could produce a political earthquake, which could in theory produce a political transition.”

Javier Corrales [a contributor to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy] is a professor of political science at Amherst College and author of the forthcoming book, “Fixing Democracy: Why Constitutional Change Often Fails to Enhance Democracy in Latin America.”

James Loxton is a lecturer in comparative politics at the University of Sydney and the co-editor of the forthcoming “Life after Dictatorship: Authoritarian Successor Parties Worldwide.”

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