By Matthew Stieglitz
The events in Egypt and Libya recently are enough to warm the hearts of activists and revolutionaries everywhere. They have sent news pundits and diplomats into a frenzy trying to predict how expansive the domino effect will be, with most eyes probably fixed on Iran in hopes for similar change. From a US-Cuba perspective, particularly the anti-Castro lobby, the dream scenario is undoubtedly for recent events to inspire grassroots organizing that results in a transition away from the Castro government. While this has been the hope for over fifty years, it is no more likely to happen now than at any time in the history of the Castro regime. Even with increased protests from Cuban journalists and activists in recent years, Fidel’s “revolution” is not in danger of ending.
The reasons for this are the same reasons we haven’t seen uprisings of any kind since Fidel Castro took over. It starts with how the Cuban government provides just enough goods and services to keep people content, with little incentive to challenge a system that makes it possible for someone to survive without working hard. Then there’s the Cuban-American community, promoting an anti-Castro agenda while sending family remittances and traveling to the island, all of which do nothing but pump money into the Cuban economy. Both are aided by a state-controlled media that never approaches a critical analysis of Cuba’s shortcomings, with dissenting voices being silenced. Throw in limited Internet access, with few Cubans having a computer and the ones that do being subjected to severely restricted Internet, and you get the recipe for groupthink.
But the most important reason a revolution won’t happen is because it’s just too easy for people to leave than stay and fight for change. Make no mistake: it’s entirely possible to leave Cuba. With America’s favorable refugee policy, most Cubans only need the ambition to acquire the funds to pay for their way off the island. Like most things in life, it boils down to who you know and how you can manipulate the situation in your favor. Therefore, when an exit door sits in front of an entire populace, combined with state provision of a minimum standard of care, dependence on the government for everything becomes the norm, with any incentive to fight at best manifesting itself in a desire to leave. Simply, Cubans stay, or Cubans go. There is no middle ground.
Thus, if Cubans want a change, all they have to do is leave, and that’s exactly what they’ve been doing for decades. This in no small way has contributed to what is now a relatively small population in Cuba that is more than accustomed to the Castro way of life. The only problem is when government provision of everything becomes unsustainable, which we’re now starting to see in Cuba, as evidenced by recent policy changes towards a competitive (albeit minimally) marketplace to try and cover costs. The changes are a necessary step to keep Cuban workers content, with many favorably benefiting from the ability to tap into the tourism industry and improve their quality of life. Which is another example of what might be the ultimate legacy of the Castro government: knowing exactly what to do and when to do it to keep the populace at bay. The recent changes in Cuba’s domestic policy highlight a governmental paradigm shift, charting a course towards a free-market system that includes increased competition and individual business opportunity, not exactly the basic tenets of socialism. These amendments will surely help sway the doubters, with the remaining dissenting voices being silenced in the process. Bottom line, there just isn’t room for a revolution to end the revolution. Yet anti-Castro advocates everywhere will cling to the hope a page is taken from the book of the Middle East, which will again leave them dreaming.
Ultimately, we’ll see change in Cuba when the Castro brothers pass away. It’s as simple as that. Inherent in all of this is the undeniable brilliance of Fidel Castro, who managed to stay in power in a region when Latin American political leadership was a revolving door. Regardless of the legality and ethics of his tactics that perpetuated his regime (single-party elections and the lack of free press sure do make it hard to vote for change), he managed to do the unthinkable. While I certainly hope all of my thoughts regarding this are wrong, it just doesn’t seem likely, especially with Cuba no longer being an American priority. The Castro brothers know how to adjust policy to keep their citizenry in check, with enough changes in recent years to calm the masses despite the continued rollback of state aid. Combined with Cuba’s recent release of political prisoners (the majority of whom were the core of the island’s anti-Castro voice) who have since been granted exit visas to seek asylum abroad, the Castro government continues to do just enough to stay alive.
Matthew Stieglitz received his BA in Communication from the University of Delaware. He is currently a 2011 Master of Public Administration candidate at Cornell University concentrating in Government, Politics, & Policy Studies. After receiving his MPA, Matthew will attend law school in order to merge his public affairs background with a legal education to most effectively advocate for Latinos.