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Cuba: The Difference Between Succession and Transition

University of Miami’s Dr. Jaime Suchlicki and I co-authored a short piece about the difference between succession and transition in Communist Cuba. Earlier this week a client that happens to support President Obama’s rapprochement with the regime, calls me and reads the following excerpt:

A normalization of relations with a military dictatorship in Cuba with General Raul Castro or any successor, will send the wrong message to the rest of the Hemisphere: that militarism is welcomed again in the region and that populist regimes that rig elections and  perpetuate themselves in power will also be welcomed. 

We penned this over seven years ago this August. Before writing this post I asked my client for permission to relay why he was citing this particular section of the piece? “It rang true,” he said. “I visited many Communist countries during the Cold War. Been back to most. I could not figure out Cuba though, but, I think I finally figured it out, they are in the throes of a succession and those good old boys are holding on for dear life. Like the Russians did in the 1990s,” he added.

When we wrote this, Cuba was a state sponsor of terror. And while it remains so, the Obama Administration has taken them off the list. Another change is that Raul Castro is more in control, or so we think, than his brother was in 2007. Cuba may have a special economic development zone and a new set of foreign investor laws, but Cuba remains just about the same as far as economic and political control goes.

Since the late 1990’s, U.S. law has clearly outlined a policy roadmap for Cuban officials to use if they were genuinely seeking a change in relations with, and recognition by the U.S. Some of these conditions frequently find their way into speeches and statements of U.S. officials including: the release of political prisoners, legalization of all political activity, free and fair elections, and the respect of fundamental freedoms. Yet one condition never mentioned, arguably the most important from the U.S. standpoint, is that a transition government cannot include either Fidel Castro or Raul Castro.

What does my client plan to do? Exactly what he has been doing for some time, making money, legally, as long as it is economically and politically possible to do so. We’ve argued over the years about this approach. He thinks it will work and, like a broken record, I’ll point to countries in the Americas where it has not including Venezuela and, yes, Cuba (remember, Cuba has been trading with the rest of the world since 1959).

The hue and cry from opponents not withstanding, I firmly believe economic sanctions work and work very well. Sanctions are tool, not a policy. That has been the case since 1997 and it has worked. Regrettably, the Obama Administration’s cart before the horse foreign policy has infected rational thinking. Change for change’s sake, is just plain dumb. Think ObamaCare. When it spills over to foreign policy, well, it is dangerous. Iran, for starters, comes to mind, but there are many other examples.

As Dr. Suchlicki and I wrote in 2007, and it remains just as true today, “[t]here is no persuasive, much less credible evidence to support the notion that engagement with a totalitarian state will bring about its demise. Only academic ideologues and some members of Congress interested in catering to the economic needs of their state’s constituencies cling to this notion. Their calls for ending the embargo have little to do with democracy in Cuba or the welfare of the Cuban people.So let’s show the world how to do it right. Let’s stay on the transition path, not succession.

As for my client? He still giving us work, even though we disagree on the politics of this one. He says that prefers to have a hardliner that knows the laws keep him and his company out of trouble. 

Cuba Brief: When Should the U.S. Change Policy Toward Cuba (August 2007) by Jason I. Poblete

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