Seven years without Fidel

In past, people used to wonder how the island of Cuba would be able to navigate without its captain Fidel Castro. Now their question finally seems to have an answer.

On February 19, 2008, after nearly half a century in the position of absolute power, Fidel Castro publicly announced that he would not stand for re-election as president of the nation or take up any post in the government. Seven years after his resignation, it’s perfectly clear that the Castro family has maintained absolute control of the military, political and economic apparatus in the island. The bonds put on the freedom of press, expression and association in 1959 have not been released even a bit in the course of these seven years. The opposition continues to be criminalized.

In spite of all this, Cuba has seen slight signs of change with regard to the past stagnation typical for Fidel’s times, which are mainly visible in the country’s economy. Cuban socialist Samuel Farber sums up that Fidel’s political heir, his brother Raul Castro, “is responsible for the introduction of elements of the Chinese and Vietnamese economic models characterized by a return to the free market economy, while retaining the control of the State.” The new government has implemented numerous reforms in the economy, housing and immigration policy and recently it has succeeded in restoring diplomatic relations with the US.

These minor reforms, which had an impact on the new housing legislation as well as the revival of small private businesses and removal of travel restrictions, have lead many to believe that over the last seven years, Raul Castro has been a better leader than his brother in the 49 years before him. As Raul Castro has gradually consolidated his power as president, Fidel Castro has been once and for all cut out of the equation as a variable ensuring the country’s stability, which wouldn’t be threatened in any way if he died now

There’s no longer need to prove the theorem of what would a “Cuba after Fidel” look like. Now people wonder what will a “Cuba after Raul” bring. Raul himself wants to see it – he wants to watch it as a spectator in the first row: for that reason, he decided to limit the mandate of the Cuban presidents (including himself) to two five-year terms.

In its republican history, Cuba has been governed by three dictators with an iron fist: Geraldo Machado, Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro. The overthrow of the dictatorship of Geraldo Machado in 1933 was a bloody affair and the coup against Fulgencio Batista in 1959 was accompanied by rivers of blood. Both of these events were very violent transitions.

Although the dictatorship of the Castro brothers hasn’t fallen yet, more than a few people predict that it will have a bloody climax, unless there’s an “increasingly strong commitment to avoid violence in the growing internal opposition,” said Jorge Dominguez, professor of international relations at Harvard University, on one occasion.

The days of Machado and Batista are far away. It’s been over half a century and there is hardly anybody now with inclination to use violence, both inside and outside Cuba. Thanks to this we might expect that the transition to democracy in the post-Castro era will not occur in the spirit of vengeance or firing squads.

Even if this wasn’t the “Cuba after Fidel” that many Cubans have been waiting for, there can be no doubt that it’s a better Cuba than the one that the old dictator had governed for half a century. It’s clear that the seven years without Fidel haven’t done Cuba any additional harm. Some may only sigh: “Why didn’t he quit before?”