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Cuba's Future: An Interview with Julia Sweig

A top policy analyst in Washington talks about Cuba today, a post-Fidel Castro regime, key players on the U.S. side and new ideas for changes in America's approach toward its island neighbor
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Cuba, May/June 2007

(continued from page 10)

It looks like he is trying to shake up a generation of people who have been so accustomed to Fidel totally dominating politics there. They are used to that not just because of repression, but because of the status quo. That status quo needs to change. People need to be willing to get involved as citizens. That is their civic duty to invest in their future. And that's only the beginning of it. Raúl seems to be very cognizant of that, and clear that his legacy may well not be his amazing institutional building capacity, or his ruthlessness as a commander, but precisely his ability to get Cuba through the next five years.

In the 1980s, as perestroika and glasnost were just making themselves known to the West, Raúl was the one who started making the case to send people to Europe to learn how to run businesses, and to train the military bloc in operating private enterprises, and for opening up capitalist businesses and accounting practices. But you shouldn't get confused. While he clearly understands the importance of the dynamism of the market, you shouldn't think that makes him a liberal. It just makes him a pragmatist.

There's also Ricardo Alarcon, who has been the president of the National Assembly. He's been there almost 15 years. There will be new National Assembly elections in 2008, and it's possible Alarcon might have a new role after that.

But for now at least, and most importantly for managing the relationship with the United States, Alarcon is the point person, along with Fernando Ramirez, who was at the U.N. mission in New York and then was head of the Interest Section in Washington until about 2001. He is very important too. Ramirez went back to Cuba and was deputy foreign minister. He has been moved to run international relations at the central committee of the Communist Party, and he's one of the nine people who is a member of the newly resurrected Secretariat within the party. He's young. He started out as the president of the Federacion Estudiantile Universitaria [University Student Federation]. He is one of the people most responsible for putting the "responsible partner" face on the Cuban initiative in the 1990s to open up to the United States.

There's Carlos Lage, who is really the economic czar. And there's Felipe Perez Roque, who is the foreign minister. There has been lots of speculation about Lage's stewardship of the economy in the post-Fidel era. He's been very critical in defining what comes in vis-a-vis foreign investment. Perez Roque could be someone important, but it is just really hard to know.

The inner workings of the Cuban government are the hardest part of Cuba to penetrate. They are enormously disciplined. It is really hard to speculate. For now, you've got Perez Roque, Lage and Francisco Soberon, head of the Central Bank, all of whom cut their teeth in the government during the 1990s.

What's interesting about that constellation is that not one of them could run the country by himself. They all know that. It's kind of like they are one big body, and they have the brain and the heart and the digestive tract, but they can't do anything by themselves.

I think the Secretariat of the Communist Party has been reconstituted because the party, as an entity and a legitimate instrument of government, needed to be strengthened. The Secretariat existed until the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and then it was removed. It's back. The membership is not all people who are older than their mid-50s. It is female and Afro-Cuban, too, and it is much more diverse.

Raúl has said that the only thing that can replace Fidel Castro is the Communist Party. What that implies ideally is small "d" democracy and representation and participation because the party is huge. It is a million and a half people. If you multiply that by four, or a family of four, it's over half the country connected somehow to the party. That's the main instrument of continuity. And so is the military. Let's not forget that the military is important. The military has a national defense function, but it has an economic function too. And it has a political function too.

CA: Is Cuba moving toward the Chinese military model, in which it has stewardship of big parts of the economy?

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