Unraveling Cuba’s Gordian Knot


cuba azelIn the wake of Fidel Castro’s death, it may be helpful to examine the empirical evidence of the transition experience of the Central and Eastern European countries when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and to try to discern possible commonalities with the Cuban situation, notes José Azel, a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.

Fredo Arias-King, an expert with encyclopedic knowledge of post-Soviet democratization, classifies the East European end-game experiences into eight groups, adds Azel, the author of the book Mañana in Cuba:

  • Overthrow. Where communism ended when dissidents were able to depose an obstinate Communist Party ruling the country and form a new government made up primarily of dissidents. This characterizes then-Czechoslovakia, then-East Germany, Yugoslavia, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia. For Cuba: very unlikely.
  • Substitution. Where a country’s Communist Party was more flexible and willing to negotiate a transition. This characterizes Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Slovenia. For Cuba: very unlikely.
  • Transformation. hungary-1956-laskyWhere the principal communist leaders took the initiative toward regime change without the presence of great popular pressures. This characterizes Soviet Union (1985), Hungary (1956 – right), and Czechoslovakia (1968). For Cuba: very unlikely.
  • Reappearance. Where former high-level government officials, who had been removed from power, used a nascent democratic movement in the country to return to power. This characterizes Russia, Romania, and Croatia. For Cuba: very unlikely.
  • Replacement. Where mid-level officials took up the flag of democratic or nationalistic reform to undermine the regime they served. This characterizes Hungary (1989), Serbia (1989), and Bulgaria. For Cuba: very unlikely.
  • Violence. Where leaders used military force to provoke civil wars and retain power. This characterizes Tajikistan, Serbia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. For Cuba: very unlikely.
  • Reincarnation. Where the ruling party felt great popular pressure to fake a break with communism in order to survive. This characterizes Ukraine, Moldova, Albania, Mongolia, Macedonia, and Latvia. For Cuba: more likely.
  • Continuity. Where the communist leaders unexpectedly turned into the leaders of independent nations, but retained the principal structures of repression and a command economy. This characterizes Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Belarus. For Cuba: more likely.

“Arias-King’s measurements, taken 15 years after the transitions, show that those formerly Soviet countries that instituted political change prior to, or hand in hand with, economic changes were the most successful in becoming both free and prosperous—the Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, and the former East Germany,” notes Azel. “Those countries that decided to begin with economic reforms and to postpone political changes were mostly unsuccessful in both areas—Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Serbia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan.”

RTWT. Previously published in the Library of Law and Liberty on December 1, 2016

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