Cuba Looks Ahead
Admirers of Cuba often call this island nation the “Pearl of the Antilles” because of its beautiful natural and cultural landscapes and its potential riches. In the modern world, Cuba should be a center of trade and wealth. The sad reality is that Cuba has never enjoyed true political independence, and it has degenerated into one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Cuba was a republic from 1902 to 1959, but in name only. This period was a cycle of internal corruption, dictatorship, and U.S. military intervention. When Castro overthrew Batista in 1959, hopes were high among many Cubans and Americans that Cuba would break this cycle and finally begin to realize its full potential.
As the world has witnessed time and again, dictatorships can crumble rapidly. No one expected the mighty Soviet Union to collapse overnight. Its satellite states in Eastern Europe are today members of the European Union. They all embraced democratic electoral systems. Yet the Cuban regime has managed to survive. It owes its survival to physical and cultural isolation. As an island, its physical boundaries are well protected from foreign interference. Culturally, the government controls the means of travel and information distribution. It keeps the majority of people unaware of true conditions.
The most important difference between Cuba and European post-Communist countries is the treatment received from the United States. Even during the height of the Cold War, American and Soviet economic interests often collided in a positive manner. They had an economic relationship. It was in America's interest to penetrate beyond the Iron Curtain and liberalize Eastern Europe. The United States approached the Cuban situation in exactly the opposite way. Extreme isolation and lack of dialogue summarize the relationship between the two nations since 1960. By doing so, it further dragged the Cubans into the abyss of totalitarian society. Having an example of the Communist threat near American borders worked well for power seekers in Washington, D.C. Thus, they prolonged the absence of normalization.
Now, when the threat of a global Communist revolution is over, the existing policy must change. Five decades of ineffectiveness have proved that the repetition of failure cannot produce success. In reality, it is only a matter of time before Cuba will begin to drastically change. It simply has to in order to catch up with the rest of the world. Cubans, too, are well aware of their own failure to create a society of the Communists-designed prosperity. No matter if subsidized oil arrives from the Soviet Union or Venezuela, the overall failure of their political and economic system is evident. Grocery store shelves will remain empty. Educated medical professionals cannot help people if they do not have jobs, offices, or supplies.
Something has to change, and very soon it will. Cuba will begin to transform, gradually but surely, into a different society. It may still have the Communist Party in power, but their rule will be weakened once the Castro brothers are gone. If we look how other similar countries transformed, the pattern of behavior is obvious. Almost always, many party officials are simply waiting for the strongman to die. Until then little change can be accomplished.
What no one in Cuban leadership wants is to implement change overnight. They perceive change as being potentially bringing about change. Careful, gradual, and positive transformation is also in the United States' interest. One-sided demands will fall on deaf ears as they have so many times before. Recounting past grievances will not encourage necessary mutual cooperation in the future.
As for ordinary Cubans, the future holds an interesting experience. One of the indicators of the general quality of life is migration patterns. For a country to be a popular destination for immigrants, it must offer something special. To an average individual that something is a decent economic opportunity. Cuba may attract European tourists, but few of them choose to apply for permanent residency. The joke that Miami, Florida, is the largest Cuban city holds considerable reality. A nation wherein thousands are lined up to leave, yet few seek to arrive, is doing something unproductive for its people.
Even if the government suddenly changes into a capitalist democracy, one can only wonder what to expect. Several generations grew up under one system. These people will not change. They may welcome new computers, television sets, and even new cars from now-bankrupt American automobile manufacturers. But their mind-set about the world was embedded in ideological concrete long ago. Cuba's prosperity lies in the hands of the generations that follow. In this process, they will build upon the pillar of Cuban Communism—intellectual benefits of formal education. When time for change arrives, the Cubans already will have the strong foundation of an educated populace in place. All they need to do is to take the proper steps to build wisely upon this base. Only time will tell whether this actually is to occur. For the sake of future generations of Cubans, let us hope that it does.