Will COVID-19 be the death knell of Cuban communism?Wednesday, July 21, 2021
One of the things that the novel coronavirus pandemic has clearly unearthed is the strength or weakness of political leadership throughout the world. Citizens of countries have judged their political leaders on the basis of how they have addressed strategies to combat the pandemic. What has been revealed in some countries are serious flaws in political leadership, characterised by downright buffoonery — as was the case under the disgraced Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil — which has had tragic consequences in the needless death of too many people.
Now it seems to be Cuba's time. For over 60 years Cuba has been governed by the Castro brothers. Fidel Castro, the maximum leader of the Cuban Revolution, reigned over his subjects for over 50 years. He only gave up power when he became ill. His brother Raul, who had been the number two, assumed the reins of power. He retired recently. Now a younger person, Miguel Diaz-Canel, who has assumed the mantle of power, seems solidly committed to the communist ideology that has governed the island for the past 60 years.
Thus, the repression of Cubans' human rights continues apace with the suppression of press freedom, brutal suppression of dissent resulting in the incarceration of hundreds, if not thousands of perceived “enemies of the revolution”. The standard fare starting with the Castros is to blame the wicked imperialist from the north, the United States, for all the island's troubles.
The ill-conceived embargo that the United States has imposed on that country has not helped. In a way it has provided a cover for the regime's brutal and repressive strategies over the years, as it has been used as an excuse by the regime to preserve national security and as a justification for the impoverishment of the country.
But, with the recent demonstrations, the country seems to have reached a turning point, which is being driven by the pandemic. For, while the severe burdens imposed by the pandemic are central to the protesters' concerns, the core of the discontent remains the perennial need for freedom from the oppressive policies of the last 62 years.
It is true that the educational and health systems in the country have shown improvement over the years. Especially in the area of health, Cuban doctors and nurses have been trained and deployed in other countries to assist in time of need. Jamaica has been a beneficiary of this generosity, both in terms of the training of personnel and health professionals working in the health system from time to time.
Notwithstanding this, Cuba remains a rigid, communist country in which the freedoms of people are still being stifled. Despite the achievements in health and education, one wonders what the Cuban people could have really achieved if they were allowed to operate in a free and open society where they could be able to develop and express their obvious creativity without being held hostages to an anachronistic ideology, propagated by a ruling elite.
There is no point romanticising the revolution here as ideologues are wont to do. Elites, in whatever stripe they come, are only interested in influencing power, maintaining it, and ensuring that it works to their benefit. This is what we have seen in Cuba, despite the professed love of the Cuban leadership for the amorphous masses. They live well off the patrimony of the people while telling them of their affection for them.
For years Fidel fulminated about the wicked and oppressive imperialist from the north, but he lacked the courage to allow the people to think for themselves and to evolve their own system of governance. He would never allow for free and fair elections as he could not trust the people to preserve the gains of the revolution. They had to be led often with boots on their necks.
This has stymied the development of the country and has now culminated in the kind of disaffection that may well spell the death of that experiment. It would seem that the genie is now out of the bottle; that this is one squeeze of the toothpaste that cannot be returned to the tube. Younger leaders like Diaz-Canel must see the writing on the wall for what it is and begin to pay more deference to the demands of the people, especially the young, who want to live in a society free from fear.
The ill-conceived and unworkable American embargo of the island must be immediately removed and replaced with the kind of cogent and practical diplomacy that will bring meaningful change in line with the people's aspirations for freedom. This is the burden that faces the Joe Biden Administration in the US. A military solution is certainly not the way to go.
The template Diaz-Canel can use is that which helped in the transformation of Russian society under Mikhail Gorbachev and which led to the ending of Russian communism. There, glasnost (openness) and perestroika (political reform) worked hand in hand to dismantle a system that clearly had not worked to provide the kind of society that Russians desired. There must be this gradual opening of Cuban society. It will take courage of the kind that ruling elites are not accustomed to, but which must happen if the society is not to descend into an abyss of violence and mayhem. The best service that Diaz-Canel and the top leadership of Cuban society can do themselves and the Cuban people is to read wisely the writing on the wall and begin a gradual opening of the society to greater freedom and respect for the rights of the people they profess to love. It should not take a deadly pandemic to force this outcome.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books: Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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