Prof. Elvis Ngolle Ngolle, Political Scientist.
What is the significance of the decision by Cuban leader, Raul Castro, to step down on April 19, 2018 and hand over power to 57year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel?
It is a defining moment in the history of the 1959 Cuban Revolution. This is the first time that Cuba will not be ruled by a member of the Castro family (though two other people led the country at the beginning of the revolution and when Fidel Castro was Prime Minister). Fidel Castro established a Communist state and a political system that continue to this day. As the only Communist state in North and South America, Cuba has never been well regarded by the US. It has since 1959 been like a pariah in the Americas, though many countries in the region have never been antagonistic towards Havana. Because the US failed to prevent the Cuban Revolution, the country was punished with sanctions, though President Barack Obama in his last year in office relaxed them by opening up windows of collaboration and friendship. Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, has maintained the sanctions, given his tough stance on Cuba.
What are the chances of the new leader departing from the current order?
Miguel Diaz-Canel was brought up in the Communist party system, and is therefore part of the apparatchik. He is going to maintain the current system – at least in the meantime. It is not because there is a new person that the system of government will necessarily change. Even if structural change must come, it will certainly take time. Raul Castro must be credited for the improvements he brought to his country in 10 years of power. His predecessor and older brother, Fidel Castro, led the country with revolutionary fervour, while Raul was more moderate. This enabled him to open up doors of cooperation with the US. We hope Miguel
Diaz-Canel will even be more moderate to open up the country to the world.
What therefore did the revolution achieve in 59 years?
Though American sanctions are still in place, credit must be given to Cuba for the progress recorded in several domains since 1959. The country succeeded in removing disparities in wealth, thereby creating a more or less egalitarian society. Moreover, its education system churns out well trained professionals, allowing for the export of medical doctors and nurses to Third World countries. It is for this reason that Cuba’s literacy level is very high. Other achievements of the revolution are in international sports, support for African liberation movements, and offer of assistance to Third World causes.
What challenges are Miguel DiazCanel likely to face?
The expectations of Cubans are that he will pursue the policies Raul Castro by continuing on the path of liberalisation, respect for freedoms and human rights and opening up dialogue and collaboration with the outside world, particularly the US where there is a huge Cuban diaspora population. He needs to lay the foundation for a competitive economy and raise a middle class capable of supporting the economy. Ending antagonistic relations with the US is in the interest of Cuba, given that Washington is the world’s largest economy. American sanctions have had a very heavy toll on the Cuban economy, though the country has done fairly well in 59 years. Miguel needs to improve Cuba’s image and maintain its traditional links with the Third World, especially Africa. Incentives need to be created to enhance economic growth. This does not mean replacing the Communist system of government that has been in place since 1959. In fact, such a change does not entirely depend on Miguel. All he needs to do is to make the Cuban model more human rights-conscious, freer and more liberal. Maybe, he can emulate the example of China, a Communist nation that has done very well economically. The world is looking up to Miguel Diaz-Canel. He needs to prove that he can perform as well as Fidel Castro and Raul Castro, or even better, without appearing to challenge them.
How do you see Cuba in the next 10 years under new rule?
The country can become a much bigger economy and great tourist destination if Havana cleanses its image, engages in more collaboration with the US to get sanctions lifted, improves respect for human rights, and boosts the economy by creating investment opportunities. Raul Castro already started working on this. So, it is a matter of continuing from there. Cuba has the potentials to become a more successful economy if the new leader puts in place right policies. Above all, President Miguel Diaz-Canel needs to be his own man, though he was brought up under Castro ethos.