‘Spring’ delayed as Cuba follows China's model

Pope Benedict XVI’s call for 'authentic freedom' during his recent visit to Cuba is unlikely to spur democracy. But other factors suggest economic changes are under way, patterned after the Chinese example, namely creating a market economy under an authoritarian, communist political system.

Javier Galeano/AP
Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega celebrates Good Friday Mass during Holy Week in the cathedral in Havana, Cuba, April 6. Cuba's Communist government declared Good Friday a holiday to honor a request that Pope Benedict XVI made during his recent visit. Columnist John Hughes argues the pope's recent visit won't inspire democratic reform, but economic changes are afoot, modeled after China.

Pope Benedict XVI’s call for “authentic freedom” during his recent visit to Cuba is unlikely to result in any early conversion to democracy. Communism will remain an excuse for authoritarian, one-party rule in that benighted island. A Cuban “spring,” modeled on events in the Arab world, is not about to blossom.

But if party rulers were quick to rule out any prospect of political reform, other factors suggest economic changes are under way. They are patterned after the Chinese example, namely creating a market economy under a communist political system. The Cuban regime has been closely following China’s course. 

Raúl Castro, who succeeded his ailing brother Fidel in the presidency, announced last year that half a million government workers would be laid off and that the creation of small private businesses would be encouraged.

That has not happened as speedily as projected, but there is substantial progress in shifting from an all-government-employed workforce to a newly created private sector of small businesses.

Cuba’s many small farmers now can lease unused state lands for up to 25 years to expand their production. For the first time, Cubans can now buy and sell cars and houses. They can own mobile phones and computers, although the government continues to restrict their access to information from outside Cuba. Access to the Internet is difficult and expensive.

This is a far cry from turning a tattered and forlorn state-run economy, which Raúl Castro himself deplored for its absenteeism and corruption and work-shirking, into a thriving free-enterprise one, but it moves in the right direction. 

It is also a welcome change for many Cubans from declining social services in such areas as health care and education, and a new emphasis on production and even exports.

A critical question is who will succeed Cuba’s aging leadership. Raúl Castro is 80. Fidel Castro is 85, and although he no longer takes an active role in governing, he remains an influential oracle of the Cuban revolution. The worst scenario would be the emergence of an Army strongman who plunges the country into martial rule.

At the Cuban Communist Party Congress last year, the first in 14 years, it had been anticipated that a younger and more vigorous leadership team might be installed. But the old guard prevailed. Raúl said he regretted the absence of replacements with “sufficient experience and maturity.” In fact, ambitious younger candidates were discouraged or sidelined.

Another uncertainty is the role being played in Cuba by Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez. He has succeeded the old Soviet Union as Cuba’s benefactor and principal ally, the donor of cheap oil. But Mr. Chávez has political challenges at home and medical issues for which he has sought help in Cuba. The long-term relationship between oil-rich Venezuela and economically distressed Cuba is therefore in question. 

For the meantime, the ruling regime in Havana is making it clear that though careful economic reforms are in order, political ones are not. Some dissidents were sequestered during the pope’s visit and others who requested an audience with the pope did not get one. Cuban leaders swiftly declared that Cuba would remain a one-party communist state. 

In a message more welcome to his hosts, the pope also deplored the lengthy American embargo on trade with Cuba. But no American politician, mindful of the substantial Cuban expatriate population in Florida, is going to suggest a change in that policy during a presidential election year.

And no American politician should ever suggest such a change without getting a quid pro quo from the Cuban regime. That quid pro quo should involve a major humanitarian shift requiring Cuba’s release of political prisoners and an end to harassment of political opponents.

John Hughes is a former editor of the Monitor.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to ‘Spring’ delayed as Cuba follows China's model
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today