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It may appear that dealing with a post-Castro, probably post-communist and per haps (in the short term) "neo-communist" Cuba is a simple matter. After all, we have a 20/20 hindsight, based upon the experience of 1989-1991 in Eastern Europe and Russia. Russia aside, given her size, mythical proportion in the American political mind, and nuclear arsenal, what, if anything, are we to "learn" from the experience of the United States--specifically the Executive and Congress--relations with, activities in, and ultimate impact on the former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe--the late East Germany excepted for obvious reasons?
The first, and most fundamental lesson is that chaos theory, rather than market logic and democratic rules of the game, is the most applicable road map to a post-Castro environment. Cuba's underlining Latin American political culture, albeit heavily distorted by four decades of communism, will play an essential role; but so would the decades of Marxist rule.
The second factor to be assumed, and is assumed by this author, is that we now know more, and better, what Castroite Cuba is all about than we ever did in 1989 about Poland, Hungary, and Russia, not to mention such exotic places as Romania, Bulgaria, Albania or Mongolia. On the other hand--and these words are inevitably present throughout this article--since this author does not claim prophetic powers and not every problem faced or error made in Eastern Europe should be expected to reappear in a post-Castro Cuba, there are limits to what this comparative analysis could provide.
The most important caveats in this respect are related to Cuba's historic relations with the United States and the uniquely close overlap between American domestic politics and policy toward Havana, which make the third factor in assessing American policy toward a post-communist Cuba.
Without entering into details--most of which well known to this audience--two immediate political realities have to be faced by American policy makers in respect to post-Castro Cuba. First, that whereas Eastern Europe in 1989 was, and remains to this day, the most unambiguously "pro-American" region of the world, ambiguity defines the Cubans' attitude vis a vis the United States. Second, the importance of domestic factors in the making of the United States' policy toward Havana virtually guarantees a greater and more complicated role of Congress in the formulation and implementation of that policy than was the case with Eastern Europe a decade ago.
For these reasons, this article will concentrate on the role of the Executive Branch (henceforth USEB), while aware of the role of Congress.
All these being said, however, the likelihood of the USEB (United States Government) repeating or engaging in the same mistakes it made in Eastern Europe and Russia since 1989 and until recently--when domestic developments in the United States and common sense in the former Soviet bloc began a reassessment of those policies is high.
The general assumptions upon which this presentation is based are that:
a) in practical political terms the transition from communism in Cuba will only start after Fidel's death;
b) that the social and economic transition has already started;
c) that Castro's immediately successor regime, whoever happens to lead it, will formally discard Marxism Leninism and Communism in favor of "social democracy "or some form of "socialism with democracy and a human face";
d) that such regime will formally and publicly discard anti-Americanism as its basic ideology, while at the same time use it internally, albeit discreetly for electoral and political gain;
e) that, in a dramatic reversal of decades of "revolutionary" rhetoric, such a regime will actually ask for U.S. aid, while proclaiming a continuous commitment to Cuban "nationalism and values."
In light of these assumptions, the question raises as to the extent to which the experience of the USEB, European Union, and various Western private foundations and organizations in post-communist Eastern Europe and former USSR may be relevant in a post-Castro Cuba.
In this respect one may well start by stating a few obvious facts. First, Cuba in the late 1990s or whenever the required and inevitable political change will take place, provides a clear opportunity to learn, or unlearn from the experience of Eastern Europe and the former USSR a decade earlier. Second, that one may well assume that some of those lessons will be disregarded, particularly in light of Cuba's peculiar position within the U.S. domestic political discourse.
The Political Culture of Transition
Without going into a lengthy discussion over whether Cuba is "different" or "similar" to other former communist regimes, there are a number of aspects related to the political culture of all post-communist transitions, which are likely to be present in Cuba as well. Those are clear in the common experience of Mongolia and Cambodia--obviously "different" in so many other ways--as well as in Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia, Romania, and Bulgaria.
The first is the fragmentation of the political scene, demonstrated by the mushrooming of "political parties." Most of those parties were simply vehicles for personal ambitions; some were grandiose titles for what in other political systems would simply be interest groups of various sizes or just NGOs; some were disguises for criminal groups; and some, very few, proved to have the potential for becoming effective political parties.
Russia had hundreds of "political parties" competing in the 1993 elections; so did Romania in 1990, and virtually every other former communist state in Eurasia. A simple look into the composition of the Concilio Cubano' s member organizations strongly suggests that this process has already begun in Cuba as well. Indeed, we find there socialists, social-democrats, Christian democrats, agramontistas, liberals, and everything in between, at least as tendencies and claims, if not yet as ideologically coalesced "parties."
The second, and related, reality is that the initially dominant and by far the largest (and most "real") party in a Havana transition period will most likely be the Cuban Communist party (PCC), under whatever name it will chose--very probably something including the words "social" and "democracy." That party will also engage in extensive efforts, again in the name of "democracy" to encourage further proliferation of "parties." That is the very pattern exhibited in 1990 Romania (where this author was an electoral observer) and Bulgaria, where the dominant ex--or neo--communists promulgated electoral laws allowing for the registration of groups as small as 250 as "political parties." The reasons are quite obvious-the more fragmented the opposition, the more confused the electorate and hence more likely to prefer the discipline of the PCC successor to the cacophony of the available alternatives.