60 years later the Cuban Revolution remains stalled
Cristina Lopez-Gottardi, Opinion Contribuor, The Hill
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Jan. 1 marked the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, when Fidel Castro’s armed uprising marched into Havana to oust then-dictator Fulgencio Batista. This pivotal moment in history would go on to mark the beginning of one of the longest surviving nondemocratic regimes in the world, surviving 12 U.S. presidents, and countless political and economic crises.
Today’s historic milestone comes at a time of significant uncertainty for the island nation — a trait that has been the unfortunate norm of Cuba’s Revolution.
In April 2018, Miguel Diaz-Canal succeeded Raul Castro as President of Cuba. Though not a Castro in name, Diaz-Canal has proven to be a continuation of the same one-party communist rule that first took the helm in January 1959. In his late 80s, Raul Castro, still retains control as first secretary of the Communist Party and is assumed to yield significant power, giving direction to Diaz-Canal. At the same time, the Cuban constitution has been undergoing a process of mild revision — the first complete review since 1976 — but in its final form is expected to maintain the Communist Party as the nation’s most prominent political organization and to continue restricting opposition parties. As such, there remains little prospect for meaningful political opening.
On the economic front, Cuba continues to suffer under the Revolution’s failed economic model. Despite much fanfare regarding Cuba’s emerging entrepreneurial sector, the government announced new regulations in February that in effect limited the number of licenses both within and across several sectors citing concerns regarding wealth accumulation. And while some of these restrictions have since been loosened, the government is operating with extreme caution, and as a result, Cuban entrepreneurs have been forced to operate within a highly uncertain and unreliable system.
Internationally, Cuba is a mixed bagged. While President Obama’s historic “opening” in 2014 led to an unprecedented rise in U.S. tourism to the island, among other developments, it did nothing to advance a political opening.
Today, relations with the United States remained stalled, following the mysterious sonic attacks that affected more than two dozen U.S. embassy personnel. This later resulted in the withdrawal of staff from the U.S. embassy in Havana, and since then, President Trump also moved to ban American business relations with over 100 Cuban companies associated with the Cuban military. The administration also initiated tighter restrictions on allowable travel by American citizens.
More recently, he has assembled a Western Hemispheric National Security Council team led by Mauricio Claver-Carone that appears to favor a hardline approach towards Cuba, and is taking a similar approach towards Venezuela and Nicaragua. While Trump currently has more pressing domestic concerns, and Cuba no longer bears significant importance on the international stage, any action he takes there represents a world view that may still be meaningful for a portion of his political base.
On other international fronts, Cuba has worked hard to forge fruitful economic relations, particularly in light of Venezuela’s dwindling economic support of the island nation, and declining tourism from American citizens that brought in much needed revenue. But its investment relations with other countries remain strictly controlled and for the most part on Cuba’s terms via GAESA — the Armed Forces Business Enterprise Group (led by Raul Castro’s former son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez) and subject to dense bureaucracy, Cuba’s dual currency system and a questionable rule of law. Nevertheless, joint ventures with China, Russia, Spain, Brazil and other nations are underway — their influence and the management of these relations will be closely watched.
As Cuba’s Revolution forges ahead into its seventh decade, much will depend on how it weathers the eventual passing of Raul Castro, the end of that family dynasty, and any divisions that may or may not exist within the Politburo at that critical juncture. To be sure, the regime will seek to continue the status quo and to maintain control over all economic assets.
In the near term, the country’s ability to survive the current economic climate will also be significant. After six decades, the Cuba Revolution still cannot provide its citizens with a decent standard of living. At an average monthly salary of $25 per-month, Cubans still struggle to make ends meet. Thus, while the Revolution may have succeeded in ousting U.S. influence, it seems to have ensured a rather hopeless future for its people.
Cristina Lopez-Gottardi is assistant professor and research director for Public and Policy Programs at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.
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