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Cuba Libre?

U.S.-Cuban Relations
From Revolution to Rapprochement

F O R E I G N A F F A I R S .C O M
May 2016

Gideon Rose


October 1960
The Cuban Crisis
Failure of American Foreign Policy
cover photo: courtesy reuters

Adolf A. Berle, Jr.

April 1963
Law and the Quarantine of Cuba
Abram Chayes

Fall 1987
The Cuban Missile Crisis Revisited
James G. Blight, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., and David A. Welch

January 1967
Cuba, Castro, and the United States
Philip W. Bonsai
January 1970
Cuba Revisited After Ten Years of Castro

July 1972
The United States and Castro: Breaking the Deadlock
Edward Gonzalez

Fall 1986
Cuba in the 1980s
Jorge Domnguez


Summer 1990
Cubas Cloudy Future
Susan Kaufman Purcell

Spring 1993
Secrets of Castros Staying Power
Jorge Dominguez

March/April 1996
Eyes on Cuba
U.S. Business and the Embargo
Pamela S. Falk

March/April 1996
Cubas Long Reform
Wayne S. Smith

September/October 2003
The Crackdown in Cuba
Theresa Bond
January/February 2007
Fidels Final Victory
Julia E. Sweig

July/August 2013
Cuba After Communism
The Economic Reforms That Are Transforming the Island
Julia E. Sweig and Michael J. Bustamante


December 21, 2014
Cuban Comrades
The Truth About Washington and Havanas New Dtente
Michael J. Bustamante

February 17, 2015

Havana Calling
Easing the Embargo Will Open the Cuban Telecom Sector
Jose W. Fernandez and Eric Lorber

April 9, 2015
Delisted in Havana
Taking Cuba Off the State Sponsors of Terrorism List
William M. LeoGrande

April 21, 2015

Nadir of the Americas
Havana and the Seventh Summit
Michael J. Bustamante

August 19, 2015

A Cuban Conundrum
The Contradictions in Washingtons Relations With Havana
Michael J. Bustamante
March 18, 2016
Obamas Move on Cuba
What to Make of the Historic Trip
Michael J. Bustamante

April 5, 2016
Business Unusual in Cuba
Letter from Havana
Anne Nelson and Debi Spindelman
May 16, 2016

Gideon Rose


A street entertainer waits for tourists in Havana, August 25, 2009.

Leftist revolutions against right-wing authoritarian regimes in

the developing world were not uncommon in the middle
decades of the twentieth century, and former Cuban
President Fidel Castros 26th of July Movement had parallels
elsewhere. In the decades since Castro toppled Fulgencio
Batistas regime in 1959, however, most of the rest of the
world has moved oneven as the communist regime Castro
established has remained in place. And for more than half a
century, implacable hostility between revolutionary Cuba and
its huge capitalist neighbor to the north has been a constant
feature of life in the Americas. At least, until now.
U.S. President Barack Obamas pursuit of better relations
with Cuba, which is currently led by Fidels brother Ral, has
been one of the more interesting and unexpected elements of
U.S. diplomacy in recent years, culminating in a historic visit
by Obama to Havana this spring. It remains unclear just how
far and how fast the opening will proceed and just what
changes will eventually come to Cubawhich has remained
so disconnected from much of the world for so long,
preserved like a fly in amber. But we at Foreign Affairs
decided that the time was right to take stock of this
remarkable relationship and offer this collection to put the
dramatic events of recent months in proper perspective. From
the revolution to the rapprochement, Foreign Affairs has been
there watching and covering the drama, and these highlights
of our coverage make for fascinating reading.

GIDEON ROSE is Editor of Foreign Aairs.

Foreign Aairs
October 1960

The Cuban Crisis

Failure of American Foreign Policy

Adolf A. Berle, Jr.

Fulgencio Batista

THE deepening crisis in Cuba inescapably reflects a failure of

American foreign policy. Failure rather than disaster, for the
situation is not unmanageable. Yet it should not have
happened. Because somewhat similar crises are possible in
other parts of Latin America, it is not amiss to analyze the
policy (or lack of it) for future reference.

The more obvious background events are well-known; they

need only be summarized here. Cuba as an independent state
came into existence as a result of the Spanish-American War.
This in turn was the climax of the war of independence
sporadically carried on in the island for a long time, reaching
an active phase in 1895. Three bloody years preceded the
three-months war with Spain. On December 10, 1898, by the
Treaty of Paris, Spain renounced her claims to lands
discovered by Columbus. American occupation was set up
under the Governor Generalship of Leonard Wood; parties
were organized, elections were held. On May 20, 1902, the
Cuban Republic was inaugurated and the American
occupation ended. The United States retained the right to
intervene in Cuba to restore order; this right, rarely exercised
(and never successfully), was renounced by the United States
in 1934.

Meanwhile, Cuba pursued her independent way with

substantial success. Among other things, desiring to assure
an economic base for the new country, the United States
assured her preferential tariff treatment for imports of Cuban
sugar. This was subsequently translated into the large quota
of Cuban sugar granted import into the protected American
market. Then, as now, Cuba's primary economic resource was
the growing of sugar cane and its manufacture into raw
sugar, chiefly for export.

The economic life of Cuba was, quite obviously, bound up with

that of the United States. Geography would have done this in
any event. The economic norms of civilized intercourse were
then the conventional ones of private commerce and
investment. Cubans traded with Americans. Americans
invested in Cuba. This was not philanthropy on either side.
The trade was mutually profitable. One must note here a
distortion of history which is being widely pushed both in
Latin America and among the less responsible intellectuals of
the United States. This is that the current of trade and
investment, being "dollar diplomacy," was merely a
purposeful establishment by the United States of an "informal
empire." (I have even heard Cubans insist that the United
States "intervenes" in Cuba merely because it exists, is
nearby and is economically powerful.) The argument is not
entitled to intellectual respect. Eras move in their own times.
From 1900 at least until 1933, Cuba had only three possible
alternatives. She could be a colony, she could be an
independent entity living within the only trade system then
current, or she could starve. Of the three, the second
alternative was obviously the most advantageous. The
intellectuals who now irresponsibly use the strictly
propaganda word "imperialism" are men who never
experienced real "empire." In point of fact, Cuba was as free
to develop her life, moral structure and social forms as any
small country at the time--perhaps as any small country can


More recent Cuban history developed stress, despite

substantial and continuing economic progress measured
statistically. From 1927 on, the world produced great
surpluses of raw sugar. It sold at catastrophically low prices,
even in the protected American market. Distress grew. An
aggravating factor was that cane sugar employment, besides
being unskilled and badly paid, is seasonal: sugar mills grind
from December or January to early May. During the dead
season only a fraction of field labor is employed. By 1933 the
government of the country then headed by President Gerardo
Machado was in trouble.

In the late summer of that year a revolution came to a climax,

forcing Machado to flee. A government, chiefly composed of
students, was set up in Havana, whose head was a former
university professor, Dr. Grau San Martin. The real power
was held by Fulgencio Batista, an army sergeant who had led
a mutiny displacing all the Cuban officers and had established
himself at Camp Columbia as the leader of the Cuban armed
forces. In parts of the country mobs held sway, and there was
more than a trace of Communist agitation. Personal power at
length came to rest in the hands of Batista and the armed
forces. He became a candidate for President, was elected and
assumed office on October 10, 1934. At the expiration of his
term, Grau San Martin was elected President; he was
followed in October 1948 by President Prio Socarras. Batista,
who had been biding his time politically, again presented
himself for President in June 1952. But when it became clear
to him and his supporters that the vote was running heavily
against him, he coolly took over the army, assumed the
presidency and became in fact a military dictator.

As dictators go, in the earlier days of his power Batista might

have been worse. Stealing of government funds reached
phenomenal proportions under Grau San Martin and Prio
Socarras. It is no compliment to Batista to say that he
personally did not equal their record. His friends and
associates nevertheless did pretty well. Economic
considerations favored this: the market for sugar during and
after World War II, and through 1957, was high. Money was
plentiful. Until the last few months the Cuban Army was
generally loyal to Batista; during much of his career, indeed,
it was reported to be the highest paid army in the world.
Social legislation was enacted. Wages of Cuban workmen
about doubled in the decade from 1949 to 1959, though their
real wage had perhaps increased by only 50 percent. But
employment in the cane fields was still seasonal. The base
from which the increase took place was so low that
improvement (like that occurring in the days before the
French Revolution) emphasized the fact of poverty almost as
much as it ameliorated it. Twenty-five percent of Cuban labor
is reported to have been "normally" unemployed. Wealth was
hopelessly concentrated in a tiny upper class, which displayed
a shockingly small sense of social responsibility to the Cuban
masses. Graft in Havana was the rule rather than the
exception. Against a background of military dictatorship no
peaceful way out was apparent. When a government can be
changed only by force, revolution through civil war (its date
uncertain) is almost inevitable, though there are rare cases
where the dictator will--and can--abdicate peacefully.

In point of fact, Fidel Castro headed an abortive attempt at

such a revolution on July 26, 1953. He organized a small force
intending to initiate a revolution. Most of his force was wiped
out; he was captured, imprisoned and subsequently released.
Once more he organized a small force, this time in Mexico,
and succeeded in taking a dozen men to the Sierra Maestra to
carry on guerrilla warfare.

The political program developed in this period was far from

clear. Primarily it opposed the dictatorship of Batista. From
the 1953 attempt it could have been known that the
movement sought social justice for the unemployed and the
agricultural laborers, distribution of land, the cutting of rents,
industrialization, rise in productivity, and better distribution.
At the time, nothing anti-American was suggested; that was to
come later.

By early 1958, two facts became clear. One was that a

substantial majority of Cuba wanted no more of Fulgencio
Batista. The other was that a contra-Batista revolution had
wide support among Latin American democratic leaders
throughout the entire Caribbean area. Castro indeed was
receiving aid from Venezuela, from Central America and from
diverse elements in the United States where somewhat
ineffective efforts of the United States Government failed to
prevent a flow of money and supplies, including arms, to him.
The Batista government protested against any support
reaching the Castro insurrection on the familiar ground that
this constituted "intervention." The pro-Castro group
countered with bitter charges that the United States
(presumably by stopping flow of supplies to Castro) was
supporting undemocratic dictatorship. They likewise charged
that the United States was giving Batista arms--a charge
which had a measure of truth in it since under military aid
agreements Washington had in the past supplied, and was
obligated to supply, a certain measure of weapons and
munitions. It must be added that as the civil war increased,
Washington not ony dragged its feet but came perilously close
to breaking the agreement in an effort not to give arms or
other assistance to the Batista government--just as it was also
endeavoring not to permit American supplies to flow to the
insurrection in the Sierra Maestra.

Batista had enjoyed the passive support of a small but toughly

organized Cuban Communist group. Around their hard core
they had recruited sympathizers who may not have been
Communists but were prepared to follow the Communist lead.
Apparently the hard core decided the time had come to
change sides. In mid-1958 they signaled a shift in policy,
determined to support Fidel Castro, strengthening their
organization, especially in Havana, and awaited the outcome.
Also, as 1958 drew to its close, elements of the Cuban Army
ceased to be reliable Batista forces. Some changed sides.
Conspiracies of officers against the Batista government were
increasingly frequent. The break-up of that government was
in sight.

At least three separate and distinct groups were now

converging on Havana. Fidel Castro himself with his brother,
Raul, were in Oriente Province far removed from the capital.
Other groups who had steadily supported him in his
revolution, though without commitment as to the future
government of the country, moved in as the situation broke
up. On January 1, 1959, Batista fled. An underground youth
group emerged, took over, stopped looting, and occupied the
police stations and the palace. "Che" Guevara, as head of
insurrectionist troops, seized Cabaas fortress on January 2.
An anti-Castro Colonel, Ramon Barquin, freed from
imprisonment, assumed temporary chieftainship of the Cuban
armies and immediately sent out a call for Castro to come to
In Santiago on January 2 Castro announced the formation of a
government under former Judge Manuel Urrutia Lleo as
provisional President. Urrutia returned the compliment by
naming Castro head of the nation's armed forces, and he
outlined a political policy. Constitutional guarantees were to
be restored. Freedom of press and radio would be
restablished. Harvesting of the sugar crop was to be started
on schedule. The new government would honor international
commitments. On January 8 Castro and his barbudos marched
into Havana. There was general rejoicing not only in Cuba but
in most of Latin America. The democratic revolution which
began when Brazil broke away from dictatorship in 1945,
overthrowing on its way, among others, Argentina's Peron,
Colombia's Rojas Pinilla and Venezuela's Perez Jimenez, had
at length arrived in Havana. One of the great leaders of the
democratic movement, former President Jose Figueres of
Costa Rica, who with President Romulo Betancourt in
Venezuela had actively assisted Castro, promptly offered the
new government his congratulations and help. A star had
been restored to the galaxy of Latin American democracy.

Disillusionment came swiftly. Within a month Cuban

observers were shocked at a new and quite different note:
increasing and bitter anti-Americanism within the Castro
group which bore the earmark of organized propaganda. On a
visit to Venezuela, Fidel Castro attacked the United States
and proposed to "liberate" Puerto Rico. A group of Cubans
attempted a guerrilla landing in Panama, synchronized with a
left-wing demonstration against the United States there. In
March, President Figueres visited Cuba as guest of the Castro
government. He was invited to speak at a mass meeting. He
found himself in the center of a throng at which Castro and
his associates violently inveighed against the United States.
Figueres replied defending the United States--following which
Castro attacked him personally, including Presiident Romulo
Betancourt of Venezuela for good measure, although these
had previously been his principal supporters.

This attack was an overt turning-point. A number of the

leaders who had fought with the Castro forces in the Sierra
Maestra left for Central America, seeing the handwriting on
the wall. Communists and pro-Communists all over Latin
America opened a barrage against the democratic
governments and their leaders. Their complaint appeared to
be that these were "stooges of American imperialism,"
meaning that they were not hostile to the United States. In
April 1959, a number of Cuban leaders who had assisted
Castro in obtaining power reviewed the situation. They were
clear that Castro's policy was now to set up a straight
Communist government, and were wholly unconvinced by his
violent denials. Some recalled that it was standard
Communist practice to deny the Communist affiliations of
governments they were in process of establishing. Similar
denials had been made with great vehemence when Soviet-
dominated forces seized Czechoslovakia, and again when the
Chinese revolution was in progress. Sadly, they passed the
tragic verdict: "A betrayed revolution."

Castro visited the United States that spring. He was well

received. Obviously he had American sympathy. Unhappily it
rapidly became clear that what Castro said in Washington
was the opposite of what he and his friends were saying and
doing in Cuba. An agrarian reform law was promulgated by
the Castro dictatorship on June 3. Its provisions gave quite
legitimate concern to American landowners there. A
courteous note by the United States on the subject was
answered on June 15 by the Cuban Foreign Office in
reasonably courteous terms, but by Castro himself with a
tirade of abuse directed against the United States. By
midsummer capable State Department officers were warning
that Latin America was beginning to believe that the United
States was supine and helpless in face of the superior power
and propaganda of the Soviet Union in the Caribbean. A
stream of Cubans leaving the Castro rgime were insisting
that the revolution was betrayed; and that, behind Castro's
manic oratory, Communists were organizing affairs.

Since then, the communization of Cuba has followed the

classic tactical pattern. Denials and other explanations have
been voluminous. The fact that Castro was not a member of
the Communist Party (he probably is not) has been stressed.
Another line has been that he is endeavoring to create a
nationalist government like that of Nasser in Egypt. The point
was made that there are non-Communists in his government,
and it has been insisted that the Communist character of the
government has not been proved. For obvious reasons the
internal intellectual history of the Castro government is not
yet traceable. Clearly a social revolution was being effected.
It is possible that its actual orientation during 1959 was
under debate. The undeniable fact is that in result its
orientation became, in terms of foreign relations as well as in
terms of structure, Communist in character. Until historical
evidence is available, we shall not know whether this had
been intended at the outset, or whether the decision was
taken after January 1, 1959. It can only be noted that as early
as March 1959 some of the most capable men associated with
Castro in the Sierra Maestra were clear that the revolution
was intentionally being directed into Communist hands and
that Cuba was intentionally being made an enemy of the
United States.

A year later Soviet intervention became overt. Mikoyan paid a

state visit. In May 1960, Khrushchev announced that the
Soviet Union would "defend" Cuba against "American
aggression." In July 1960 Raul Castro visited Czechoslovakia
to buy arms and Moscow to receive honors. Meanwhile,
Cuban embassies all over Latin America (save where the
personnel has defected) openly engage in pro-Communist
organizing activity. To the extent they are allowed, they
distribute Communist literature, much of which is reported to
have been printed in Moscow. Cuban agents, with Communist
support, are endeavoring to upset the government of
Guatemala and are active in agitation elsewhere. Khrushchev
has announced that the Monroe Doctrine "has died a natural
death" and should be interred as a stinking corpse.

The situation may be summarized. Wholesale social and

economic change was needed--indeed, was long overdue--in
Cuba. Given the military dictatorship of Batista, revolution
was the only way by which it could be secured. This was the
feeling of the United States and of most of the specialists in
the Department of State. There was a general American
disposition to assist the process. From the inception of the
new rgime, January 1, 1959, to midsummer of 1960, the
Government of the United States behaved with scrupulous
consideration and tolerance.

But, from the spring of 1959 on, directors of the Cuban

revolution seemed as much interested in picking a quarrel
with the United States as in effecting their social revolution.
American policy and American diplomacy avoided giving any
pretext for hostility, and acted with remarkable moderation in
the face of growing provocation. It had not, as in the case of
the Bolivian revolution of 1954, moved in to offer direct
assistance, and in retrospect it is unclear whether such
coperation would have been possible. In any case, it is one
thing to offer friendship to a revolution. It is not so easy to
offer support to a revolutionary group which proclaims the
desire and intent to become an enemy of the United States.
The problem becomes infinitely more difficult when that
revolution throws itself into the game of world power politics,
sacrifices Cuban national safety and Cuban national interests
by seeking to make that country and its people a part of the
Soviet empire and its rgime a client government of Moscow.

The present situation is clear enough. Under the Castro
government, Cuba is carrying out a social revolution. In this it
had general popular sympathy in the United States and
tolerant acceptance by the United States Government. It also
chose, apparently intentionally, to become anti-American
when anti-Americanism appeared wholly unnecessary.
Pretexts given the Cuban people for this sound strange to
American ears. The Cuban people were to arm and, if need
be, die to repel a threatened American invasion which was a
pure figment of imagination. Organizing a social revolution
apparently was not good enough; it had also to be converted
into an act of hostility to the United States. Apparently, also,
Cuban politicians increasingly conceive themselves as
divinely appointed leaders to carry on anti-United States
activities throughout the entire hemisphere, and to become
spearheads in aligning Latin America with the Soviet or the
Chinese Communist bloc in a cold war aimed directly against
the national existence of the United States.

To assess the substantive failure requires an understanding of

the shift in Latin American affairs over the past 15 years.
Partly as a result of economic and social change, Latin
America since 1945 has progressively abandoned the system
of dictatorial rule by caudillos all the way from Cape Horn to
Central America. It has established governments stemming
from direct and more or less popular elections. This sweeping
revolution, embracing the better part of a continent and a half
and affecting most of its 180 or more millions of people, has
been treated by the Department of State as an almost trivial
change--and not a wholly agreeable one.

The State Department carried on a conventional policy of

friendship with the governments of these countries before
their dictatorships fell. Its diplomats had been on friendly
terms, sometimes intimate, with the dictators. So long as
these were in general friendly to the United States, respected
our interests and coperated with our policy, the diplomatic
task was considered done. Although these dictators (like all
rulers whose power does not come from popular assent) had
to maintain a steady and frequently an increasingly cruel
policy of suppressing popular opposition by police methods,
the United States took pains not to show sympathy with their
opponents--irrespective of the quality of the men or of the
forces they symbolized. In this attitude, the Department was
supported by a steady stream of reports from the chiefs of
dictatorial secret police to the effect that all their opponents
were "Communist." This material found its way into the State
Department files, and was fed to Congressional and other
officials. It proved a useful excuse for harrying and harassing
entirely genuine democratic leaders and movements.

Whether in their own countries, or in exile or refuge in the

United States, the democratic leaders found themselves
baffled, discredited, almost persecuted by the Government of
the United States--supposedly the symbol of democracy.
When their revolutions succeeded, as they did in Argentina,
Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica (where
Figueres overthrew a Communist-Fascist dictatorship in
1948) and Honduras, the misinformation and prejudice in
many cases held over. In most instances the trouble has been
repaired. In a number of important countries, the Chiefs of
State and their associates had received the shabbiest of
treatment (to understate the case) before they acceded to
power. Yet by all intellectual standards they were precisely
the men the United States should have best understood.

One must be just here to our diplomats. They consider their

business to be handling relations between governments.
Intimacy and friendship with the occupants of the palaces is a
normal goal. Having views about the social conditions in, or
the form of government of, any country is not, as they
construe it, their function. The character of its government
and the structure of its social system are matters for the
people of that country only. Sympathy for a Betancourt during
the dictatorship of Perez Jimenez in Venezuela--to take one
example--would spoil or embitter inter-relationships.
Courtesy, even decorations, given to dictatorial officials were
thought to assist in maintaining "good relations." One no
more questioned the popular implications of such moves than
eighteenth century ambassadors in Europe questioned the
right of the reigning prince, however unpopular, to his throne.

Accompanying this classic diplomatic habit, there was

exaggeration of the doctrine of "non-intervention." Prior to
1932, the United States Government had in certain situations
intervened with Marines and economic measures to protect
American rights, or to assist in restoring order. This excited
deep resentment in Latin America. At the Montevideo
Conference of 1933, Secretary Hull had renounced this right,
just as he renounced the right to intervene in Cuba under the
Platt Amendment in 1934. At the Conference of Buenos Aires
in 1936, more specific renunciation was made when the
United States voted for a declaration against non-
intervention. But "intervention" was then well understood,
and its outlines were reasonably clear. The intervention
referred to was intervention by force of arms, or by blockade.
It was not assumed then, nor is it today, that a country cannot
have an opinion of its neighbor governments, or a point of
view about them, or about social conditions in them, or that
such opinions or points of view cannot be expressed.
Certainly the governments, the diplomats, the politicians and
the press of Latin America have felt entirely free to express
their opinions of the policies and make-up of neighboring
countries, including the Government of the United States.

Further, by a growing consensus now embodied in the

Charter of Bogota in 1948, the American nations have
brought into being a body of principles which are
acknowledged to be of common concern to all of them.
Included in these are fundamental principles of human rights
and freedoms. For example, it is recognized that social justice
and social security are bases of lasting peace (Charter of the
O.A.S., Article 5-h) and that every person in the hemisphere
has the elementary rights of free association, liberty under
law, and freedom of religion, of opinion and of expression of
ideas. Nothing in the doctrine of non-intervention imposed
either on the Department of State or on its embassies the
obligation not to understand and not to express an opinion
about the political and social movements which were
sweeping the hemisphere.

The doctrine of non-intervention as practiced thus became

almost a doctrine that the United States would encourage the
status quo, however unsatisfactory to the local population.
But in the case of dictatorships, the only certainty is that at
some point the status quo will change. In the democratic
revolution of the past 15 years, this exaggerated
interpretation gave the impression that the United States was
almost an ally of the systems which were steadily being
overthrown. The excuse given--that the democratic
movements were perhaps "Communist" in character--was
untrue to begin with. Any force it might have had was
nullified by the strange fashion in which the United States
allowed it to be known in ensuing elections that it favored
this, that or the other candidate who not infrequently
accepted Communist support, as was the case in Venezuela.
And, not infrequently, the individual thus silently favored was

The only safety, then and now, was for the United States to
make a positive affirmation of faith and to act as a solid
intellectual and spiritual protagonist of that faith. Partly
because this is the only self-respecting position a great power
can take, and still more because of the respect Latin
Americans of all political faiths have for men who act
consistently on principle, the United States lost one of the
greatest opportunities it has had. Perhaps in Castro's
restablishment of naked dictatorship, the opportunity recurs
in another form.

In the Cuban case, this continuous, cautious and technically

correct attitude of the United States made it easy to represent
her as a supporter of the Batista rgime. The accusation was
not fair. Particularly in later phases, the United States went
as far as perhaps it properly could in doing nothing positive
which would shore up his falling power. Because the State
Department was well informed about Castro (rightly, as the
event proved), and had little faith in his democratic
propensities, it did not choose to decide between either
contender, justifying its aloofness in the name of non-
intervention. Factually, for a substantial period of time, the
aggregate morale of the Cuban revolution was democratic,
anti-dictatorial and anti-Communist. That force could and
should have been encouraged, canalized, and, in the hour of
its success, given every assistance. A liberal democracy as
well as drastic social reform was what Cuba wanted when it
revolted against Batista. It is what a great majority of Cubans
want now.


Also among the substantive reasons for our failures in Latin

America was the surprising ineptness of our economic policy.
Contrary to general opinion, the heart of Latin American
political formation does not revolve around economic issues:
the Latin American begins with philosophical principles and
only secondarily translates them into economics.
Nevertheless, economics are of enormous importance. On
them hang the hopes of emergence from the nineteenth
century shackles of grinding poverty for the vast majority and
of wealth for a small oligarchic upper class.

The United States by all normal standards was not

ungenerous, though by comparison with her munificence
towards Europe its aid to Latin America was pitifully small.
But it was planless: there was no attempt to work out a
continental program with the same sweep and objectives as
that adopted for the Marshall Plan in Europe. Preachments
about the value of private enterprise and investment and the
usefulness of foreign capital were, to most students of the
situation, a little silly. In Latin America, as elsewhere, there is
a great and extremely useful place to be filled by foreign
investment, and a great deal of work which can be done very
well by private enterprise. But not always, and not
everywhere. Probably, if the truth were known, this form of
economic development in Latin America at the moment is a
minority rather than a majority function. With the possible
exception of Brazil (a very great country developing her own
norms and rules), the chief capital developments have to be
carried on either by public enterprise, or by mixed public and
private enterprise, or in any case by arrangements stemming
from the central state. Indeed, in some of the Indian regions
of South America, private property as we understand it is
almost unknown.

Coupled with the absence of over-all planning, foreign aid,

like private investment, became a hit-or-miss sort of thing.
This is not to suggest that in many cases great good was not
done. Rather it is to say that opportunities were lost to
present to Latin America as a whole a clear-cut, viable
program giving solid basis for a pledge that production per
capita would rise by a stated percent in a stated number of
years--a rise which could be greater than the increases
promised by Communist agitators.

The social conditions presently existing in Latin America were

normal in the nineteenth century; questionable in the third
and fourth decades of the twentieth century; intolerable now.
The measure of improvement has served to highlight the
difference in the condition between the great majority of
Latin Americans and corresponding conditions among the
populations of the United States and Western Europe. There
was--there is--no particular faith (and not much reason for
any) in the proposition that unmodified continuance of the
existing social-economic systems will produce general

Bracketed with this is the eternal problem of social justice.

Foreign aid or private investment may industrialize, may
increase production, and still leave the masses in as bad
shape as ever. Obviously when the United States through its
private or its public sector decides to invest in or otherwise to
assist another country in the hemisphere, its primary
objective should not be the creation of a few more Latin
American millionaires. It should assure itself that the fruits of
the increased production will be used to give greater measure
of food, health and comfort and (still more) hope for the
future, to the peon or guajiro or campesino, rather than to
bankers or landowners. Here our old friend "non-intervention"
bobs up again. Is this the business of the United States?
Should we have offered aid with "strings," conditioning grants
on social effectiveness? The answer is yes. No one is obliged
to seek capital in the American market, or to accept
assistance through foreign loans or grants. The purpose in
either situation must be the purpose of the United States,
which has every right to state it, express it, and work out
plans by which the purpose will be fulfilled. In this case the
only justifiable American purpose is to bring the level of life
and social welfare in Latin America as close to that of the
United States as possible, and as rapidly as possible. Most
Latin Americans are clear that, properly handled, their
twentieth century revolution can give both freedom and social

In point of fact, where justifiable social revolution is involved,

the United States can and should assist in making it viable.
We did this in Bolivia and the result to date has justified it,
though that revolution is still in midstream. It would have
been perfectly possible, for instance, to offer to a Castro
(assuming he did not choose to be an enemy of the United
States as apparently Castro has done) a means of financing
his agrarian reform and his stateowned program of
industrialization. The United States should be able to work in
entire cordiality with any kind of social system which does not
insist on being its enemy. American so-called capitalism is not
a religion or a dogma; it is a way of getting things done which
works extremely well in the United States--and may be quite
inappropriate in many other situations. Obviously the United
States cannot be, and cannot be expected to be, cordial or
coperative towards a revolution whose chief end is hostility
to the United States, or which refuses to maintain at least
minimal standards of human rights.

But our policy in Cuba gave little hint of this. The close
economic relations between Cuba and the United States and
the preferred Cuban position in American markets had
undoubtedly improved the over-all Cuban position. A little of
the benefit from it did trickle down to the Cuban campesinos.
The chief result, however, was great luxury for a relatively
small group in Havana, and a small rise above the starvation
level for the masses. The field was clear for Communist
intriguers to identify the United States with the squalid social
situation--and divert the revolution to Communist power-
political aims.

Let us turn to a second consideration--that of method. In part

the trouble in Cuba (indeed, the trouble in Latin America
generally) is a failure of American organization.

For 20 years the foreign activities both of the President of the

United States and of his Secretary of State have been almost
wholly engaged by Europe and the Far East. Latin America
was a stepchild. Reorganization of the State Department on
recommendation of the Little Hoover Commission has set up a
system of committees and inter-departmental clearances
making it extraordinarily difficult for anyone of lower rank
than the Secretary of State to get anything done in
reasonable time. Latin American affairs have historically been
handled by an Assistant Secretary. They continue to be so
handled, but under the new system between him and the
Secretary of State were interposed under secretaries, deputy
under secretaries, committee clearances, and so forth. The
official directly responsible now has less organizational
capacity to act than a division chief had in 1940. The situation
is aggravated by a natural desire in the Foreign Service for
"big" assignments; that is, assignments in Europe or in the
greater countries of the Far East where press coverage
provides opportunity for reputation-making. Here the Foreign
Service merely reflects a sad American fact: the United States
public is chiefly conscious of countries on the European and
Far Eastern tourist circuits. Most of it has not the foggiest
idea whether Ecuador borders on the Atlantic or the Pacific,
or knows that a majority of South Americans speak
Portuguese and not Spanish. The men working in Latin
American affairs on the whole are an able, devoted and
dedicated group. But they work in isolation, and will continue
to do so until the White House and the Secretary of State give
continuous and personal attention to the problems of a
continent and a half whose affairs are of first importance to
the safety and welfare of the United States.

Another blank in the picture is the fact that the United States
Government communicates with governments but has evolved
no effective means of communicating with peoples.
Conceding, as we must, that an embassy's primary business is
with the palace, it must be added that a greater and more
enduring necessity is for the United States to maintain
relations with the people themselves. In practice, this means
maintaining relations with individuals in, and leaders of, the
opposition, of trade unions, of university life, as well as with
government officials and formal society. Where the
government is democratic, this can be done by a well-
organized, well-staffed and competent embassy. In a
democracy, the diplomatic official both can and is expected to
maintain as wide connections as possible. In a dictatorship, or
where opposition is violent, a non-diplomatic mechanism is
needed. For the Communist bloc, the Communist parties or
organizations supply this function. The United States would
operate rather differently, but comparable connection and
communication could be worked out. The British Foreign
Office has been past-master in doing this; there is no reason
why the United States cannot have a left as well as a right
hand where circumstances require.

More in fact is needed here than mere contact. Latin America

is now dividing itself, as elsewhere in the world, between
groups which pin their faith on a Communist solution, though
this means loss of personal freedom and even of independent
action, and those which hope both to maintain freedom and
responsive government and also to achieve social justice and
improved economic conditions. Of the latter, the United
States is the acknowledged successful symbolic leader. But if
an inhabitant of Cuba or Peru or Argentina seeks to find an
organization or a movement dedicated to these ends with
which he can identify himself, he has the greatest of difficulty.
There is always an organizer and agitator prepared to take a
pro-Communist or malcontent into an organized camp.
Where, however, is the hand outstretched to men who wish
the assistance or seek to follow the ideals of the United
States? A handful of pro-Chinese or pro-Soviet organizers
with quite adequate financing and support has been active for
years from Mexico and Cuba to Cape Horn. Sympathizers
with them at once find identification, companionship, outlet
for their desire to be effective. The United States has almost
abandoned the field.

Hence the Cuban problem. When Batista fell, the hard-core

Communist cadres found little, if any, choate force to prevent
them from taking over.

ADOLF A. BERLE, JR., Professor of Corporate Law, Columbia Law School; Assistant
Secretary of State, 1938-44; Ambassador to Brazil, 1945-46; author of "The 20th Century
Capitalist Revolution," "Tides of Crisis" and other works

Foreign Aairs
April 1963

Law and the Quarantine of

Abram Chayes


A boy dances in the rain during a heavy tropical shower in a street of Havana.

The Soviet missiles in Cuba were a threat to the security of

the United States and the Western Hemisphere. As such they
endangered the peace of the world. The action undertaken
against this threat carried its own dangers. But as President
Kennedy said on October 22, "the greatest danger of all would
be to do nothing."

The course on which he then embarked was successful in

securing the removal of offensive weapons from Cuba. This
success was due, in the first instance, to the ability and will of
this country to enforce the quarantine and to the mobilization
of allies and others throughout the world in our support.

The confrontation was not in the courtroom and, in a world

destructible by man, a legal position was obviously not the
sole ingredient of effective action. We were armed,
necessarily, with something more substantial than a lawyer's
brief. But though it would not have been enough merely to
have the law on our side, it is not irrelevant which side the
law was on. The effective deployment of force, the appeal for
world support, to say nothing of the ultimate judgment of
history, all depend in significant degree on the reality and
coherence of the case in law for our action. It is worthwhile, I
think, to set out that legal case and to examine some of its


The blunt fact of the quarantine is that it involved the use of

naval force to interfere with shipping on the high seas,
though, to be sure, the carriage of offensive weapons, against
which it was directed, was something other than ordinary
maritime commerce. Historically, the United States, as a
great maritime power, has resisted interference with the
freedom of the seas. In 1793, when France and England,
struggling for the mastery of Europe, seized and blockaded
United States shipping, Jefferson wrote:

. . . those who choose to live in peace retain their natural

right ... to carry the produce of their industry, for exchange,
to all nations, belligerent or neutral, as usual; to go and come
freely, without injury or molestation; and, in short, that the
war among others shall be, for them, as if it did not exist.

A few years later, British blockades, in defiance of our bitter

protests, were one of the causes of the War of 1812, although
Britain went far beyond mere blockading. Her warships often
stopped American vessels on the high seas, declared without
proof that certain crewmen were British deserters, and
carried them off in irons. During the undeclared war against
France, Joseph Story, then a Harvard student but later to
become a Supreme Court Justice and one of our great
admiralty lawyers, wrote with perhaps more ardor than

Shall Gallia's clan our coast invade, With hellish outrage

scourge the main, Insult our nation's neutral trade, And we
not dare our rights maintain?

Less hoary examples could be cited.

When our own wartime necessities were involved, however,

we took a different view of the matter. In the Civil War, over
strident British objections, President Lincoln declared a
blockade of 3,000 miles of southern coast line and sought to
prevent any contraband from reaching Confederate hands. On
the outbreak of World War II, the same 21 American nations
that now make up the Organization of American States,
meeting in the first Pan American ministerial conference,
identified a zone in the high seas ranging from 300 to 1,200
miles wide which they said was of "primary concern and
direct utility in their relations." They declared their right to
patrol the zone and keep it free from "the commission of any
hostile act by any non-American belligerent nation."

The thrust and counter-thrust of nineteenth-century practice

was codified with somewhat illusory precision in the
Declarations of Paris in 1856 and London in 1909, dealing
with the law of blockade and contraband. As a result, the
legal textbooks have a satisfyingly categorical ring. They tell
us that a blockade must be declared through competent
authority, must be limited to enemy coasts and ports, and
must be impartially applied. Most important, the blockade
must be effective: the blockading country must have and use
the power to enforce it. Similarly, traditional rules of
contraband require a proclamation, after which neutral ships
can be prevented from aiding the enemy by carrying
"objectionable" goods, a category which, if not overly precise,
surely includes weapons.

The rules were designed to minimize disruption of neutral

commerce, primarily by limiting the scope of sanctioned
interference and by notifying ships and sailors so that they
could stay out of harm's way. Mutatis mutandis these aspects
of the classical rules were complied with, to like purpose and
effect, in the Cuban quarantine.

But there was a further over-riding limitation in the

traditional rules: they were part of the Law of War which says
that only a belligerent in wartime can invoke the right to
blockade or search for contraband. Unless nations were at
war, there could be no justification for any interference at all
with ordinary maritime commerce. Thus some have
maintained that everything done in the October crisis would
have been "legal" if only the United States had declared war
on Cuba. This may be attractive as a syllogism, but it doesn't
have very much to do with law.

The rules of blockade and contraband evolved, like most law,

out of the interaction between moral precept, experience and
changing practical necessity. And they reflect rather
accurately the shape of the international system-as well as the
weapons technology-that prevailed in the last century.
Relations between nations were episodic and largely bilateral
When force was applied, it was-at least in theory-a bilateral
affair, or at most something between small and temporary
groupings of nations on each side. The age of total war was
only beginning and there was no general stricture in
international law against the use of force as an instrument of
state policy.
Resort to force was common enough, however, and was
always dangerous enough to provoke rudimentary efforts at
regulation. Thus evolved the Law of War, a separate legal
rgime establishing-probably with a good deal more precision
and coherence in retrospect than at the time-the rights and
obligations of belligerents and neutrals. The declaration of
war invoked this special rgime. Its legal signification was
that the declaring state was prepared to accept its obligations
and claim its rights under the Law of War. Thereupon,
application of force within those confines was legitimate.


International law addresses different problems today and

there is different legal machinery to deal with them. The over-
riding object of international law is not to regulate the
conduct of war, but to keep and defend the peace. It is no
longer possible for any nation to treat war, in Jefferson's
words, "as if it did not exist." If non-alignment continues to be
a goal for some countries, non-involvement has become a
luxury beyond price. A threat to the peace of any nation is a
threat to the peace of all nations, and maintenance of peace
has therefore become a collective responsibility. The first
quarantine speech, President Franklin Roosevelt's call to
"protect the health of the community against the spread of
the disease," marked an early recognition of this collective

The enduring monument of World War II is the United

Nations Charter. It records the judgment of all nations that
international law can no longer regard the use of force with
benevolent neutrality. In Article 2 of the Charter, Members
pledge that they will

. . . refrain in their international relations from the threat or

use of force against the territorial integrity or political
independence of any state, or in any other manner
inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

States living under the rgime of that Charter can no longer

find justification for the use of force in their mere unilateral

Declarations against war had been known before, but the

Charter records also the judgment that, if these declarations
are to be more than empty promises, collective machinery and
processes of enforcement are needed. The United Nations
Organization was the primary instrument designed for
preserving the peace. Regional organizations, like the O.A.S.,
arose to perform the same functions within the area of their
competence. These organizations are clothed by their
charters with the authority to act collectively against
aggression and threats to the peace. Through these collective
agencies, world-wide or more restricted in scope, we have
hoped to give reality to the pledge to maintain the peace.

The Soviet threat in Cuba was made and answered in the

context of this international system. The United States
response must be judged and justified within that same
context. It is wrong, therefore, to view the Cuban crisis as
though it were a nineteenth-century contest between two
nations, the United States and Cuba, to be regulated by the
traditional rules of blockade and contraband. And it is wrong
to view the quarantine as a unilateral use of force by the
United States in the course of such a contest.


The Charter obligation to refrain from the use of force is not

absolute. Article 51, of course, affirms that nothing in the
Charter impairs "the inherent right of individual or collective
self-defense." The quarantine was defensive in character and
was directed against a threat to the peace. But neither the
President in his speech nor the O.A.S. in its resolution
invoked Article 51.

Obviously, the United Nations itself can sanction the use of

force to deal with a threat to the peace. So it did in Korea and
in the Congo. But no United Nations organ ordered the
quarantine of Cuba.

The quarantine action falls within a third category: action by

regional organizations to preserve the peace. The Charter
assigns an important role to regional organizations in
carrying out the purposes of the U.N. Article 52(1) prescribes
the use of "regional arrangements or agencies for dealing
with such matters relating to the maintenance of national
peace and security as are appropriate for regional action. . . ."
Regional organizations are referred to throughout the
Charter, and all of Chapter VIII is devoted to their peace-
keeping functions. These provisions were written into the
Charter with the Inter-American system specifically in mind.
Alberto Lleras Camargo, later to be President of Colombia,
was chief protagonist in early 1945 of the Act of Chapultepec,
which foreshadowed the Rio Treaty, and was head of the
committee at San Francisco which dealt with regional
organizations a few months later.

The Charter reflects the judgment of the world community

that collective action is to be preferred to the unrestricted use
of force by individual nations. Why? First, members of an
organization, in signing its charter, have assented to its
powers and procedures. Second, decisions are made by
political processes involving checks and balances and giving
assurance that the outcome will reflect considered judgment
and broad consensus. These principles can be seen in
operation in the Inter-American system. The assent of the
parties to the Rio Treaty is real and significant. Though the
present government of Cuba is now and has been for some
time the object of sanctions by the O.A.S., and has been
suspended from participation in its agencies, Cuba as a state
has remained a party to the treaties and a member of the
Inter-American system, as, in a like case, did the Dominican
Republic. The political processes in the Organization of
American States are also real. It is not a rubber stamp,
despite the disproportion of power between the United States
and its neighbors to the south. Not until the danger was clear
and present was the necessary majority mustered for the use
of force. But when that time came, the vote was unanimous.

The quarantine action was authorized under the Rio Treaty of

1947, whose primary purpose was to organize law-abiding
states for collective action against threats to the peace. This
Treaty, together with related agreements, forms the legal
framework of the Inter-American system.

The Treaty provides for collective action not only in the case
of armed attack but also "if the inviolability or the integrity of
the territory or the sovereignty or political independence of
any American State should be affected . . . by any . . . fact or
situation that might endanger the peace of America. . . ." In
such cases, a special body, the Organ of Consultation, is to
"meet immediately in order to agree on the measures . . .
which must be taken for the common defense and for the
maintenance of the peace and security of the Continent." The
Organ of Consultation acts only by a two-thirds vote. The
Treaty is explicit as to the measures which may be taken "for
the maintenance of the peace and security of the Continent."
The "use of armed force" is specifically authorized, though
"no State shall be required to use armed force without its

On October 23, the Organ of Consultation met, in accordance

with the Treaty procedures, and considered the evidence of
the secret introduction of Soviet strategic nuclear missiles
into Cuba. It found that a situation existed which endangered
the peace of America. It recommended that Member States
"take all measures, individually and collectively, including the
use of armed force, which they may deem necessary to ensure
that the Government of Cuba cannot continue to receive from
the Sino-Soviet powers military material and related supplies.
. . ." The quarantine was imposed in accordance with this
recommendation. Indeed, the operative language of the
O.A.S. resolution is recited in the President's proclamation,
"Interdicting the Carriage of Offensive Weapons to Cuba."

Some have asked whether we should not first have gone to

the United Nations Security Council, before taking other
action to meet the Soviet threat in Cuba. Perhaps in the
original conception at San Francisco it was intended that the
Security Council would be the agency for dealing with
situations of this kind unless it chose to delegate its
responsibility. This much may be implicit in Article 53, which
states: "No enforcement action shall be taken under regional
arrangements or by regional agencies without the
authorization of the Security Council." The drafters of the
Charter demonstrated their wisdom, however, by making
Security Council responsibility for dealing with threats to the
peace "primary" and not "exclusive." Events since 1945 have
demonstrated that the Council, like our own electoral college,
was not a wholly viable institution. The veto has largely
disabled it from fulfilling its intended role in keeping the

This paralysis of the Security Council has led to a reliance on

alternative peace-keeping institutions. In the United Nations
itself, the General Assembly and the Secretary-General have
stepped into the gap. Less dramatically, so has the O.A.S.,
pursuant to the provisions of Chapter VIII of the Charter on
"Regional Arrangements."

A technical part of this evolution, if a quiet one, has been the

construction of Article 53 so as to limit its scope. Security
Council discussion of sanctions imposed by the O.A.S. against
the Dominican Republic and Cuba, as well as the opinion of
the International Court of Justice in the United Nations
Assessment Case, have treated "enforcement action" as a
rigorously narrow category. Perhaps more important, the
debates in the Security Council in the case of the Dominican
Republic revealed a widespread readiness to conclude that
the requirement of "authorization" does not import prior
approval, but would be satisfied by subsequent action of the
Council, or even by a mere "taking note" of the acts of the
regional organization. In this context, it is important that the
Security Council met in emergency session before the
quarantine of Cuba went into effect. The Soviet Union
introduced a resolution of disapproval, but by general consent
it was not brought to a vote.

This narrowing process of interpretation may be resisted by

those who seek the comforting certainty of "plain meaning" in
words-forgetting that they are, in Holmes' phrase, the skin of
living thought. But surely it is no more surprising to say that
failure of the Security Council to disapprove regional action
amounts to authorization within the meaning of Article 53
than it was to say that the abstention and even the absence of
a permanent member of the Security Council met the
requirement of Article 27(3) for "the concurring votes of the
permanent members . . . ."

This interpretation does no violence to the notion of the

United Nations as the paramount organization. Regional
organizations continue subordinate to the United Nations by
the terms of the Charter, and, in the case of the O.A.S., by the
terms of the relevant Inter-American treaties themselves. Like
an individual state, the O.A.S. can be called to account for its
action in an appropriate agency of the more encompassing
organization. In recognition of this relationship, the President
ordered that the Cuban case be put immediately before the
Security Council. The United Nations, through the Council
and the Secretary-General, became actively involved in the
effort to develop a permanent solution to the threat to the
peace represented by the Soviet nuclear capability in Cuba.

Since World War II, each of the actions to keep the peace-in
Korea, in the Middle East, in Lebanon, in the Congo and now
in Cuba-has taken a different operational form. But each of
them reflects our conviction that a breach of the peace
involves us all and that we must meet it together, through
institutions of collective security established for that purpose.

The quarantine, seen in this framework, is a significant

addition to the developing body of postwar experience with
collective responsibility and collective action to preserve the

Foreign Aairs
Fall 1987

The Cuban Missile Crisis

James G. Blight, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., and David
A. Welch

A U-2 photo during the Cuba Missile Crisis.

The Cuban missile crisis has assumed genuinely mythic

significance. Dean Rusk called it "the most dangerous crisis
the world has ever seen," the only time when the nuclear
superpowers came "eyeball to eyeball." Theodore Sorensen
called it the "Gettysburg of the Cold War." For Arthur
Schlesinger, Jr., it was "the finest hour" of the Kennedy
presidency; a moment of maximum nuclear peril traversed
without catastrophe. Many people believe that the missile
crisis of October 1962 represents the closest point that the
world has come to nuclear war. For that reason alone, it is
worth continued attention.

Since the Cuban missile crisis remains the only nuclear crisis
we have experienced, it remains the great laboratory in which
to study the art of crisis management. Yet there is little
agreement on the lessons it holds for us today. This
disagreement was brought into sharp focus at a recent
meeting of scholars and former members of the Executive
Committee of the National Security Council (ExComm), the
group convened by President John F. Kennedy to advise him
on the matter of the Soviet missiles in Cuba. Much of the
disagreement that came to light at that meeting and in a
subsequent series of interviews with key participants revolved
around two issues: the course of action that the United States
should have taken in 1962; and the relevance of that debate
25 years later.

It is remarkable how little the basic parameters of the dispute

about the lessons of the missile crisis have changed over the
past quarter-century: either there are many lessons, chiefly
emphasizing the need for flexibility, managerial precision and
caution in the face of great danger; or there are no lessons,
because the nuclear danger of 1962 was almost surely
imaginary, a function of a failure to comprehend the pivotal
significance of a favorable military balance for the United
States. Part of the reason for this standoff, we believe, is due
to a too-easy characterization of "hawks" and "doves"a
distinction that originated during the missile crisis itself and
continues to the present.

We should be wary of hastily dismissing this event as

irrelevant to the present; certain crucial factors have not
changed since 1962, or have become all the more important
because of the changes in the strategic balance: the
psychology of crisis decision-making; the importance of small-
group politics; and the risks of inadvertent escalation. But we
should also be wary of drawing generalizations that ignore
important ways in which the world has changed, that cannot
be supported by evidence from a single crisis, and that are
insensitive to the fact that diplomatic or strategic successes
can rarely be repeated in quite the same way. This last
consideration was one President Kennedy himself understood
well from his reading of Barbara Tuchmans The Guns of
August. The German leadership in 1914 had expected a
repeat of Russias backdown in the Bosnian crisis of 1909.
Instead, they found themselves embroiled in the costliest war
mankind had yet seen.

A useful treatment of the lessons of the missile crisis must

begin, therefore, by resisting the temptations to dismiss it out
of hand or to draw detailed lists of "dos" and "donts." It must
begin by identifying those important dimensions of the Cuban
missile crisis that would be present in any future nuclear
crisis, and by determining how they would bear on its


When former policymakers from the Kennedy Administration

and scholars of the missile crisis met in Hawks Cay, Florida,
in March 1987, they looked again at the seven lessons Robert
Kennedy drew in his memoir of the crisis, Thirteen Days:

(1) Take time to plan; dont go with your first impulse.

(2) The president should be exposed to a variety of opinions.

(3) Depend heavily on those with solid knowledge of the

Soviet Union.

(4) Retain civilian control and beware of the limited outlook of

the military.

(5) Pay close attention to world opinion.

(6) Dont humiliate your opponent; leave him a way out.

(7) Beware of inadvertencethe Guns of August scenario.

This list reflects a large measure of the common wisdom of

classical diplomacy, and the successful resolution of the crisis
is prima facie evidence of its validity. But the history of the
missile crisis has not given the hawks a chance to vindicate
their view that more forceful action would have led to at least
as desirable an outcome. Perhaps the United States did hold
all the cards and could have acted more forcefully, even with
impunity. It may be an accident of historythe fact that the
hawks were outvoted in the ExComm and that the president
did not share their viewthat has led people to accept a list
of this kind, rather than another emphasizing the importance
of quick and decisive military action. The latter sort of list
might have had some validity if the nuclear balance, rather
than the quarantine or world opinion, had been primarily
responsible for the resolution of the crisis.

No one can resolve the controversy over the importance of

the nuclear balance in 1962. History is an imperfect
laboratory, and there were too many causes of the outcome of
the missile crisis for any single factor to be definitive. But in
the explanation of the dispute between hawks and doves lies a
series of important lessons for future policymakers and future
crisis managers. When we ask why hawks and doves have
held such different views of the event and have drawn such
different conclusions from it, we can identify clearly several
key factors which heavily influenced its conduct and outcome.
It is these factors that can reasonably be expected to bear in
any future superpower confrontation. We believe they hold
unmistakable lessons, that they reaffirm the validity of Robert
Kennedys list, and that they help us to realize the ways in
which the list should be updated.


Nuclear war between the superpowers could break out in a

variety of waysas the result of deliberate action, accident, a
third-party conflict, or escalation in a crisis. At the time of the
crisis, ExComm members assigned different weights to each
risk and tended to favor a particular course of action
accordingly. Almost from the outset the array of options
facing the members of the ExComm fell into three main
categories. Being hawkish in the missile crisis meant
supporting an early military action, either an air strike on the
missile bases or an invasion of the island or both. Dovish
views implied wishing to avoid any use of military force, even
a naval quarantine, and a willingness to resolve the crisis by
"trading" American Jupiter missiles in Turkey for Soviet
missiles in Cuba. A third group can be characterized as
"owlish." This group tended to prefer the quarantine, a
(relatively mild) use of military force; this seemed to its
proponents to allow for flexible movementshould conditions
require ittoward the hawkish or dovish options. In
shorthand, therefore, hawks were invaders and doves were
traders; "owls" were persuaders.

The distinguishing feature of the owlish group, which

included Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy and George
Ball, was the weight they assigned to the risks of desperate,
irrational Soviet action or to inadvertent escalationthe
danger that, for example, a Soviet second lieutenant in Cuba
would fire the nuclear missile under his charge rather than
allow it to be destroyed in an American air strike, or that a
stray U-2 over Siberia on an air sampling mission would be
interpreted in the Kremlin as pre-first-strike reconnaissance.
These people recognized the glaring American strategic
nuclear superiority, but saw in it as much danger as leverage.
The fact that Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles were
"soft" and required considerable time to prepare for launch
made them extremely vulnerable to an American first strike,
and seemed to shorten the Soviet fuse. Therefore crisis
stability and the importance of assuring command and control
were sources of concern to the owlish group.

In contrast, hawks discounted these risks. The following

exchange between the late General Maxwell Taylor and
Richard Neustadt shown on videotape at the Hawks Cay
conference illustrates this quite starkly:

Neustadt: Was [the final] outcome [of the crisis] unexpected

to you?

Taylor: I was so sure we had em over a barrel, I never

worried much about the final outcome, but what things might
happen in between.

Neustadt: The outcome to which Im referring is Khrushchevs

acceptance of our . . .

Taylor: Well at some time he had to accept. I never expected

it on that particular day.

Neustadt: Okay, you thought it was going to go a while longer


Taylor: Unless he was crazy and full of vodka. But I assumed

his colleagues in Moscow would take care of him.

Neustadt: You have written in your retrospective in The

Washington Post on October 5, 82, as I rememberthe 20th
yearthat you dont recall any concern about the strategic
balance, or any fear of nuclear exchange in this whole period.
Now some of the civilians do recall worries about the time of
that second Saturday; worries that really run to two or three
steps up the ladder of escalation. The Soviets dont accept our
demand; there follows an air strike; the Soviets then feel
impelled to strike the missiles in Turkey; the Turks call on
NATO for support; we feel we have to do something in
Europe; the Soviets then launch a nuclear
exchangesomething like that was in some of their minds. I
take it not in yours?

Taylor: They never expressed it to a military ear, Ill say that.

Neustadt: Thats interesting.

Taylor: Not at all. Its the nature of some people [that] if they
cant have a legitimate worry, they create them. Apparently
they had some of that in the group youre speaking of.

Neustadt: In your mind, there was no legitimacy in this


Taylor: Not the slightest.

Neustadt: Because Khrushchev could look up that ladder . . .

Taylor: If he was rational. If he was irrational, I still expected

his colleagues to look after him.

What is remarkable about Taylors analysis is how wedded it

is to the classical "rational actor" model of decision-making.
Clearly, Taylor believed that the only risk of nuclear war lay
in deliberate action by the Soviet leadership, and this risk was
negligible since, even if Khrushchev were irrational, it would
be highly unlikely that he would be able to overrule the
remaining members of the Politburo and the military, whose
rationality Taylor seems never to have questioned. If all
participants could be counted on to act rationally and there
were no accidents or mistakes, Taylor would probably have
been correct about the low level of risk. But he seems to have
been completely unconcerned with the risks of accident,
inadvertence, miscalculation, desperation or the breakdown
of command and control procedureson either the Soviet or
the American side.

Several members of the ExComm, including Taylor, Dean

Acheson, Douglas Dillon, John McCone and Paul Nitze,
believed from the start of the crisis that military action
against the Soviet bases in Cuba carried little risk of
retaliation. The United States held all the cards; the only
question in their minds was how great was the fall that the
Soviets were bound to take. Some still hold this view, and
they have been joined over the past quarter-century by like-
minded scholars and publicists who argue that with a tougher
response Kennedy could have removed Castro as well as the

Many in this hawkish group believe at the same time that the
crisis holds no significant lessons for today. In their view, the
reason why the Soviets capitulated, agreeing to withdraw the
missiles from Cuba, and the main reason the Soviets would
not have retaliated militarily even if the missiles had been
removed by an air strike and (if necessary) an invasion of the
island, was the overwhelming American superiority at the
strategic nuclear level. As strategic superiority is believed to
have been fundamental to the outcome of the crisis, and as it
has long since been lost, the missile crisis is thought to be no
more (or less) relevant to present concerns than, say, the
Peloponnesian Wars. For example, Douglas Dillon took a
hawkish position in 1962 when he believed there was scant
prospect of a Soviet response, but at Hawks Cay 25 years
later he argued, "Its a totally different world today, and as far
as I can see, the Cuban missile crisis has little relevance in
todays world."

To Taylor and his hawkish colleagues, any American risks in

the missile crisis would have derived almost entirely from
military inaction rather than, as others believed, from a
decisive action such as an air strike. All were deeply
concerned to avoid setting a precedent whereby the Soviets
believed they might deceive the United States and then
escape unpunished when caught in the lie. Dean Acheson
seems to have believed this political risk was central. If the
United States failed to stand up to Khrushchev in such a
blatant case of deception, what gamble would he try next?
Others seem to have been concerned more with what they
regarded as the quite real and substantial military
significance of the Soviet SS-4s and SS-5s being installed in
Cuba. Paul Nitze and Douglas Dillon recall believing that
McNamara was profoundly mistaken in his contention that, as
he often put it, the Soviets, with their 40 or so missiles in
Cuba, had merely moved from an unfavorable balance of
5,000 to 300 in nuclear missiles to one of 5,000 to 340.

The correct interpretation of the significance of the missiles,

according to the hawks, was that whereas previously the
Soviets in a preemptive strike could have expected to destroy
only a tiny fraction of the U.S. strategic forces, they could
with the addition of the Cuban missiles plan to destroy
perhaps as much as 40 percent of the Strategic Air Command
bomber force. Finally, the hawks were very concerned about
the risks involved in what they regarded as the foot-dragging
aspects of a quarantine. The missiles were discovered before
they became operational and ought to be destroyed before
they were made ready to fire. Moreover, if the advantage of
surprise were lost, a land invasioncostly and potentially a
political disasterwould almost certainly be necessary. For
all these reasons, in addition to their belief that American
conventional and strategic superiority would nullify any
Soviet response, the hawks favored an immediate air strike
aimed at taking out the Soviet missile sites in Cuba.

In the ExComms deliberations, the hawks view did not

prevail. President Kennedy and most of his inner circle seem
to have had a more expansive view of the risks involved. But
more than that, they seem to have felt a fear of inadvertent
nuclear war that was not shared by Taylor and the other
hawks. McGeorge Bundy recently described it as "the fear of
the officer in command who, having given his orders, begins
to fear that he may be leading his charges into disaster."
Robert McNamara voices his dread the following way:

[T]he possibility of what I call "blundering into disaster"

preoccupied me during the missile crisis, not the alleged
probability of this or that event. What the missile crisis
impressed upon me was that, yes, we could stumble into a
nuclear war; that such an event, however "limited," was
totally unacceptable; and thus that it must be avoided.

It would have been perfectly natural for the hawks not to feel
this apprehension if they did not take the risks of
inadvertence seriously. But it is also interesting to note that
those who felt the fear of inadvertent nuclear war most keenly
approached the crisis not merely as advisers offering their
judgments and opinions, but as people who felt that they
shared the presidents responsibility to get the missiles out of
Cuba without humiliation or catastrophe. This sense of
responsibility, the resulting heightened sensitivity to the risks
of inadvertence, and the associated fear seem to have
reinforced each other and to have had a powerful cautionary
effect on the ExComms choices of action throughout the
crisis. Together, these considerations go a long way toward
explaining the way in which the crisis was eventually

With pressure building, the president sent his brother Robert

to Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin with what the Soviets
seem to have interpreted as the final American offer to
resolve the crisis peacefully. The sequence of events leading
directly to the meeting between Robert Kennedy and
Dobrynin early in the evening of October 27, 1962, seems to
have been as follows:
4:00 p.m.: ExComm meeting. General Taylor arrived with
news that an American U-2 had been shot down over Cuba.
Hawks and doves positions hardened. The meeting became
polarized and rancorous.

Approximately 6:00 p.m.: Meeting with the president,

including Robert Kennedy, Sorensen, Rusk, McNamara,
Bundy and Llewellyn Thompson. According to Robert
Kennedy, "At first, there was almost unanimous agreement
that we had to attack early the next morning with bombers
and fighters and destroy the SAM sites. But again the
president pulled everyone back. It isnt the first step that
concerns me, he said, but both sides escalating to the fourth
and fifth stepand we dont go to the sixth because there is
no one around to do so. " It was then suggested that the
United States respond to Khrushchevs offer of October 26, to
trade Cuban missiles for a guarantee that the United States
would not invade Cuba. Accounts differ as to who originally
proposed this tactic.

7:45 p.m.: Robert Kennedy told Dobrynin that the United

States would pledge publicly not to invade Cuba if the Soviets
would pledge publicly to begin withdrawing the missiles
immediately. He also said privately that U.S. missiles were
going to come out of Turkey, in any event. He said that if the
Soviets did not give a commitment in 24 hours that the bases
would be removed, "we would remove them." "I was not
giving them an ultimatum," he wrote later, "but a statement
of fact." Robert Kennedy returned to the White House "not
optimistic." "The expectation was a military confrontation by
Tuesday and possibly tomorrow."

There can be little doubt that Khrushchev interpreted this

message as a last-ditch chance to avoid war. He took to the
airwaves to accept it immediately after receiving the offer.

There remains a great deal of disagreement among the

former members of the ExComm on whether Robert Kennedy
"traded" the missiles in Turkey, on whether he had given the
Soviets an ultimatum and on what the presidents next move
would have been had the Soviets rejected his terms. Rusk, for
example, insists that the sweetener for the Soviets in the
arrangement involved only a "piece of information" that was
passed along to them to use as they wishedi.e., that the
United States had plans already in place for dismantling the
Turkish missiles. McNamara resists the idea that Robert
Kennedy actually threatened the Soviets with an air strike
and an invasion; Dillon, Nitze and Taylor have all expressed
confidence in interviews that President Kennedy would have
ordered the air strike and invasion within 48 hours of the
deadline his brother had imposed on the Soviets; McNamara
and Bundy are both convinced that the president would have
continued American efforts at persuading the Soviets by
"cranking up the quarantine," adding more to the list of
prohibited items and perhaps also by intensifying search

Dean Rusk provided new information to the Hawks Cay

conference indicating that the president had not yet
abandoned the option of a public trade of American missiles
in Turkey for Soviet missiles in Cuba. By the evening of
October 27, according to Rusk:

It was clear to me that President Kennedy would not let the

Jupiters in Turkey become an obstacle to the removal of the
missile sites in Cuba because the Jupiters were coming out in
any event. He instructed me to telephone the late Andrew
Cordier, then at Columbia University, and dictate to him a
statement which would be made by U Thant, the Secretary
General of the United Nations, proposing the removal of both
the Jupiters and the missiles in Cuba. Mr. Cordier was to put
that statement in the hands of U Thant only after a further
signal from us. That step was never taken and the statement I
furnished to Mr. Cordier has never seen the light of day. So
far as I know, President Kennedy, Andrew Cordier and I were
the only ones who knew of this particular step.

As McGeorge Bundy pointed out to the meeting at Hawks

Cay, this step does not necessarily mean that a policy of
trading missiles would have resulted. But it may show that
the president was sufficiently fearful of inadvertent nuclear
war that he would eventually have been willing, in the phrase
of former State Department Counsel Abram Chayes, to "buy
the missiles out"to trade publicly, even at the risk of having
to pay a heavy political price, both domestically and within

We will never know for certain what President Kennedy would

have done had Khrushchev not responded favorably to his last
proposal. But the fact that he laid the groundwork for a public
trade indicates the degree to which he was concerned about
the possible unintended consequences of extending the crisis,
or of an imminent air strike and invasion. It is striking how
little the hawks were concerned with these risks, and it is
important to note that each groups exposure to the others
views led to polarization and discord rather than convergence
and consensus. As the owlish option of the quarantine began
to look like a failure, and as the hawkish and dovish options
began to look like the only viable alternatives, debate in the
ExComm became bitter, tempers flared and positions
hardened. But the owls were ultimately vindicated, and the
risks of the hawkish and dovish options were successfully
avoided. The trade was made, though privately, and the
invasion, though threatened, never occurred. The flexibility of
the quarantine ultimately paid off.

It is important to recognize that the strategy adopted by the

American government for removing the missiles from Cuba
was, from beginning to end, owlish to the core. The prevailing
opinion in the ExComm was that there were dangerous risks
in relative inaction and also in direct and decisive military
action. The dovish position, exemplified first by Adlai
Stevenson, held that military action was just too risky because
of the danger of provoking a superpower war, perhaps even a
nuclear holocaust. Hawks, as we have illustrated, saw
dangers, political and military, only in the continued presence
of the missiles in Cuba. The naval quarantine represented an
owlish attempt to reconcile the partial truths contained in the
options favored by hawks and doves. If one assumes that
there were indeed risks in both action and inaction, in
decisiveness and caution, then the resolution of the crisis
must be seen as a masterpiece of owlish diplomacy.

What the president decided to do on October 27 was to

suggest a stick more awesome than some hawks were
comfortable with (because of the possibility that it might
require a massive land invasion of Cuba) and a carrot no less
attractive than that first suggested by Stevenson, yetand
this is the remarkable part of itall the while reserving the
option to simply continue tightening the naval quarantine.
Why is this "owlish"? Because this approach recognizes a
wide variety of risks; because it provides a safety net right up
until the end; and because it is our judgment that, if forced,
the president would have chosen to run the political risk of a
trade rather than the risk of an inadvertent nuclear war. In
short, we believe that President Kennedy had decided he was
not going to initiate war over the missiles in Cuba, but that he
would do his utmost to get them removed with the least
political cost.


Before, during and at the conclusion of the missile crisis, the

American leadership was perplexed by the question of Soviet
intentions. The professed confusion added measurably to
their fearfulness as the crisis wore on. Of all the ExComm
members, none in the presidents inner circle had predicted
the emplacement of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. Once the
quarantine line was in place on October 24, most of the
members of the inner circle expected a dramatic Soviet
countermaneuver, probably around Berlin. But the Soviets did
nothing in Berlin, nor anywhere else. On October 26 and 27,
the bewilderment over Soviet thinking intensified with the
arrival first of the emotional and rambling, but still hopeful
letter, obviously from Khrushchev himself, followed by a
second letter which seemed to be a Soviet committee
document taking a harder line.

Some, like Dean Rusk, reacted to the first letter with fear that
Khrushchev had "lost his cool," and thus might begin to think
irrationally and act impulsively in ways that would deepen the
crisis. Others, like George Ball, recall reacting to the second
letter with dismay because they feared Khrushchev might no
longer be in charge and that the Soviet military or hardliners
in the Politburo had assumed command. Finally, when the
ExComm broke up on the evening of October 27, few of those
who knew of Robert Kennedys message to Dobrynin expected
that the Soviets would agree to the American offer. Yet not
only did the Soviets agree to the American terms, they did so
immediately, enthusiastically and without reservation. From
the discovery of the missiles to the agreement securing their
removal, President Kennedy and his closest advisers found
the Soviets almost entirely inscrutable.

Understanding ones adversary is crucial to managing a

conflict, as every stage of the Cuban missile crisis illustrates.
Consider its genesis. There might not have been a crisis at
allor at least, events might have unfolded very
differentlyif the Administration had anticipated the Soviet
deployment. President Kennedys public warnings to the
Soviets not to deploy offensive weapons in Cuba virtually
committed the two countries to a showdown once such
missiles were discovered. But Theodore Sorensen offered the
following interesting observation:
Let me say here that the line between offensive and defensive
weapons was drawn in September, and it was not drawn in a
way which was intended to leave the Soviets any ambiguity to
play with. I believe the president drew the line precisely
where he thought the Soviets were not and would not be; that
is to say, if we had known that the Soviets were putting 40
missiles in Cuba, we might under this hypothesis have drawn
the line at 100, and said with great fanfare that we would
absolutely not tolerate the presence of more than 100 missiles
in Cuba. I say that believing very strongly that that would
have been an act of prudence, not weakness. But I am
suggesting that one reason the line was drawn at zero was
because we simply thought the Soviets werent going to
deploy any there anyway.

Of course, Kennedys warnings were too late; the Soviet

decision to deploy had been made months before, and the
relevant machinery had been set in gear. Perhaps the
president would not have tolerated any Soviet offensive
missiles in Cuba in any case; but if the Administration had
had some reason to believe the Soviets might deployor if
they had even given sustained thought to the possibilitythen
both public diplomacy and private deliberations about
American responses might have led to a satisfactory outcome
that avoided the atmosphere and the risks of a superpower

Subsequent scholarship has had no difficulty offering

plausible explanations of why the Soviets deployed missiles in
Cuba; the problem has been one of choosing among them.
The move in retrospect seems overdetermined. It is, of
course, difficult to say whether such an uncharacteristically
risky venture could have been easily foreseen; but it is
striking nonetheless that few outside the intelligence
community and none in President Kennedys inner circle seem
to have given any serious thought as to why the Soviets might
deploy until after the missiles had been discovered.
Perhaps the most important dimension of knowing ones
enemy is knowing his view of a crisis and what is at stake, for
this largely determines which strategies are appropriate and
effective, and which are not. If the adversary sees it as a zero-
sum game for which he is willing to take great risks to avoid a
loss, then the interaction needs to be handled differently than
would be the case if he saw it as a predicament stumbled into
by mistake or through stupidity, from which both sides must
extricate themselves through cooperative action, avoiding
eithers humiliation. In these two cases, the same strategies
would elicit very different responses and would carry with
them very different risks. To make matters even more
problematic, the "adversary" may be a contentious group
whose internal balance shifts over the course of the crisis.

The quarantine option, and the owlish approach to the Cuban

missile crisis in general, was successful largely because it
provided the flexibility that enabled the Administration to
"learn" about its adversary as the crisis progressed.
McGeorge Bundy recalls that as the missile crisis wore on,
President Kennedy expressed increasing curiosity about
Khrushchev, and about the ways this mans personality might
interact with the Soviet system and with the deep crisis they
both were in to produce various Soviet actions. In asking their
questions, the president and the other perplexed members of
the ExComm turned most often to Llewellyn ("Tommy")
Thompson, a former ambassador to Moscow, who was nearly
always the only person present at the ExComm meetings who
had extensive knowledge of the Soviet Union, the only one
who knew in depth its language, history and culture. "Tommy
Thompson," Dean Rusk recalls, "was our in-house Russian
during the missile crisis." In fact, one of the few
interpretations of the missile crisis that all former ExComm
members support enthusiastically is Robert McNamaras
claim that "Tommy Thompson was the unsung hero." Other
experts consulted directly or indirectly included, inter alia,
Foy Kohler, Ray Cline, Raymond Garthoff and Averell
Harriman. Perhaps in no other two-week period has any
American administration learned so much about the Soviet
Union and its leaders as Kennedys did during the Cuban
missile crisis.

It is difficult to discover precisely what Thompson did or said

to warrant the apparently unanimous verdict that his
contribution was heroic. He was certainly not a member of
the presidents inner circle; he seems to have spoken
relatively infrequently at ExComm meetings; and former
ExComm members whom we have questioned about
Thompsons role have few concrete recollections of anything
in particular he said or did during the crisis. It seems clear
that whatever Thompsons role may actually have been, the
consistent portrayal of him as an almost infallible index of the
"Russian soul" must be related in some considerable degree
to the feeling among most of the other ExComm members
that, in this most tense and dangerous confrontation, they
themselves knew next to nothing that would allow them to
comprehend and predict Soviet actions accurately. They felt
they had to depend heavily upon Thompson, which they did.
And now, with the crisis long since having been resolved
successfully, they give Thompson a large share of the credit.

What seems indisputable is that all through the crisis

President Kennedy and his closest associates found
themselves almost continuously mystified by the Soviets, so
much so that in retrospect the single member of the group
who claimed familiarity with the Soviet Union is given credit
for being the hero, the absolutely indispensible man during
the crisis.

Some degree of mystery about the Soviet side is likely to be a

feature of any superpower crisis. The next nuclear crisis is
also likely to catch us by surprise, since both the United
States and the Soviet Union seek to avoid the kinds of
shocking, mutual miscalculations that created this one. The
next time, if there is one, we ought to expect the American
president and his closest advisers to question in the most
fundamental way whether they understand Soviet behavior,
and to seek informed, cautious and realistic advice from those
whose business it is to know the adversary.

Should John Kennedy and his principal advisers have taken a

tougher stance 25 years ago? Might they have toppled Castro
and deterred the subsequent expansion of Soviet influence?
Kennedy is reported to have believed at the time that the
odds of fighting between U.S. and Soviet forces were between
one out of three and fifty-fifty. With hindsight the odds seem
much lower. The Americans had strategic and conventional
superiority in the region. Moreover, they were defending a
recognized interest, and Khrushchev had to bear the risk of
escalation. The Soviets should have been amply deterred.
Perhaps more could have been accomplished by a tougher
stance, barring unforeseen complications.

Some of the participants at Hawks Cay felt in retrospect that

the chances of a war that could escalate into a nuclear
exchange were more like one in fifty. But some felt that even
one chance in a thousand of nuclear war would be too high.
One Soviet warhead exploding over one American city might
have killed five million people, or roughly the same proportion
of the population as was killed in the Civil War, Though some
believed in 1962 that Khrushchev had chosen a poor location
for a crisis and had set himself up for a major fall, the view
from the presidential hot seat was psychologically very
different from that on the sidelines or with 25-year hindsight.

We recognize that under the circumstances at that time, it is

plausible to imagine that all three courses of
actioninvading, trading and persuadingmight have led to
satisfactory conclusions, though clearly some carried greater
risks and costs than others. Likewise, since the proof is
primarily in the pudding, we find little reason to fault the
course of action taken by President Kennedy and his advisers.
Even Maxwell Taylor remarked, "I never wavered [from
favoring the air strike] until my Commander-in-Chief took
another decision. And I add, Im glad he did, because it
proved to be enough." But the world of 1987 does differ in
crucial respects from the world of 1962. As Douglas Dillon
pointed out, "if the Cuban missile crisis happened today, Id
react in much the same way as Bob McNamara, and I would
like to make that absolutely clear."

Whatever ones view of the past, the next crisis is not likely to
be as "easy" as the Cuban missile crisis. At the nuclear level,
we no longer have superiority (whatever difference that may
have made) and there is little prospect that the Soviets will
allow us to regain it. Our international political standing and
our ability to win the backing of the United Nations, the
Organization of American States and NATO have diminished.
Domestic politics and the role of the press have also changed.
After Vietnam and Watergate there seems slight prospect of
preserving secrecy for a week of careful consideration of the
options, as Kennedy was able to do. Moreover, the system of
nuclear deterrence has become much more complex. In some
ways the weapons are better protected than they were in
1962, but the numbers have grown and so has the complexity
of command and control systems. Finally, the Soviet Union is
changing, but we will never be sure what that means in a
crisis. In retrospect, it seems that Khrushchev was taking a
higher risk than is normal for Soviet behavior; but what will
be a "normal" level of risk in the future? And how will it vary
in the Caribbean, the Persian Gulf or Eastern Europe?

Given these considerations, Robert Kennedys list of lessons

looks even more perceptive than it appeared at the time.
Nonetheless, hindsight enables us to supplement it. Perhaps
the first lesson of an updated list would be the importance of
avoiding superpower nuclear crises. Attempts to replay the
Cuban missile crisis could lead to fatal mistakes. A corollary is
the importance of developing measures and channels of
communication that help to avert crises. In short, the most
important lesson of the missile crisis a quarter-century later
may be to be wary of reading from it simple lessons on crisis
management. At the same time, the avoidance of crises is not
our choice alone. Crises may be forced upon us as we try to
defend important values.

The second lesson concerns the importance of the views of

the top leaders who are elected and appointed. Each member
of the ExComm brought to the Cuban missile crisis a coherent
world view which determined his perceptions of the risks and
of Soviet intentions. Each camp had and still has a fully
specified and internally consistent account of every aspect of
the crisis, ranging from an explanation of why the Soviets
deployed missiles in the first place, to what the optimal
course of action was, to what (if any) the lessons of the crisis
are. While the episode illustrates the extent to which some
decision-makers are able to learn new information quickly, it
equally clearly illustrates the importance and the dangers of
rigidly preconceived world views and the effect they can have
on the processing of new information.

A third lesson is closely related to the second: rational models

of deterrence are not enough. Deterrence is not a game
played by two players seated at a chess or poker table. It is
played by small groups of people embedded in enormous
complex organizations whose outlines they barely discern and
whose detailed operations they scarcely control.
Communication in a crisis begins to resemble trying to shake
hands with boxing gloves. Robert McNamara was acutely
aware of the need for civilian control and the need to manage
the details so that the wrong signals were not communicated
in the crisis. But he could not prevent a U-2 from overflying
Soviet territory at the height of the crisis, and he was not
aware until 25 years later that his orders to alert our forces
were transmitted in the clear (where the Soviets could easily
read them) rather than in code, as per standard procedure.
Nor was he aware that the FBI possessed information on the
second weekend of the crisis that the Soviet mission in New
York was preparing to burn its files. In McNamaras words:

I dont think the Cuban missile crisis was unique. The Bay of
Pigs, Berlin in 61, Cuba, later events in the Middle East, in
Libya, and so onall exhibit the truth of what Ill call
"McNamaras Law," which states: "It is impossible to predict
with a high degree of confidence what the effects of the use of
military force will be because of the risks of accident,
miscalculation, misperception and inadvertence." In my
opinion, this law ought to be inscribed above all the doorways
in the White House and the Pentagon, and it is the
overwhelming lesson of the Cuban missile crisis.

A fourth lesson follows from the third. It is critical for high-

level officials to prepare themselves to deal with crises ahead
of time. Our country places in high office lawyers, politicians,
academics and businessmen who have no experience with
nuclear systems, yet they are expected to handle a nuclear
crisis if one occurs. The briefings on nuclear operations that
top officials receive from the professional military at the
beginning of an administrations term have been described as
analogous to being given a drink from a firehose.
Furthermore, the briefings come at a time when a new
administration is preoccupied with the politics of transition.
We need to find ways through briefings and simulations to
ensure that top officials have a better grasp of the complexity
of the nuclear systems they direct before a crisis occurs. On-
the-job learning during a crisis is unacceptably risky.

Finally, in a world where the leaders of the two superpowers

discussed the possibility of ridding the world of nuclear
weapons at a summit conference, if only in sketchy and
confused terms, the Cuban missile crisis may hold some
lessons on the limits of current debates about nuclear
deterrence. On the one hand, the Cuban missile crisis shows
that a little nuclear deterrence went a long way. At least for
the group of American leaders at that time, superiority did
not remove the prudence that was engendered by even a low
probability of a few Soviet warheads exploding over our cities.

Perhaps Soviet leaders might have reacted differently had

positions been reversed; but it seems clear that nuclear
deterrence had a good deal to do with the fact that
Khrushchev did not respond with a Berlin blockade or
pressure on Turkey, as some of the participants expected. The
specter of nuclear catastrophe lurking at the end of a chain of
events had a powerful cautionary effect on both sides. It
fostered a caution that, as George Ball noted, would not have
been present to the same degree if only conventional forces
had been involved. And that is the other side of the same
lesson. If a little nuclear deterrence goes a long way, some
may be necessary. Talk of stable conventional deterrence may
miss this important lesson of the missile crisisat least as
long as intense political competition exists between the
United States and the Soviet Union.

As long as that political competition persists, the horror of

nuclear weapons will have the ironic effect of producing both
fear and caution. The Cuban missile crisis would appear to
have had the desirable effect of reinforcing these responses,
and the result has been, in the past 25 years, that we have
weathered arms races, third-party wars at various global flash
points, and a renewal of cold-war rhetoric without a
superpower confrontation of comparable magnitude or
intensity. But we cannot rely on fear and caution exclusively;
the next superpower crisis will almost certainly be accidental
and unexpected. We will have to learn to manage the U.S.-
Soviet competition to reduce the risks we have thus far
dodged. This will involve learning to avoid crises by
strengthening the rules of the road until U.S.-Soviet hostility
fades. But it will also involve learning to manage crises more
effectively while we strive to improve the relationship over
the long run. In the meantime, we will be drawn back
repeatedly to the Cuban missile crisis and the effort to
understand the lessons it can teach us. Though the world of
1962 is becoming increasingly remote, some of its lessons
seem timeless.

James G. Blight, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., and David A. Welch are, respectively, Executive
Director, Director, and Research Fellow of the Center for Science and International Aairs
at Harvard University. Mr. Nye is the author of Nuclear Ethics. Messrs. Blight and Welch
are currently working on a book on the Cuban missile crisis. The authors wish to express
their thanks to the Carnegie Corporation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Foreign Aairs
January 1967

Cuba, Castro and the

United States
Philip W. Bonsai


Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro's prestige at home and abroad continues to

decline. In the comparatively near future the Cuban people
may be confronted with real political choices and the United
States may once again have to deal with the question of
relations with Cuba.

As Ambassador to Cuba in 1959 and 1960, the first two years

of the Castro rgime, I witnessed the spectacle of Cuba's
takeover by a personal dictatorship which eventually became
Communist-oriented. I believe that the Cuban people have as
great a capacity as any through trial and error to run their
own affairs. The opportunities for the Cubans to demonstrate
this capacity have in the past been curtailed by the special
relationship of their government with that of the United
States and by the wide fluctuations of the sugar market on
which their economy depends.

The enlargement of these opportunities for responsible self-

government should be a major sequel to the liberation of the
island from the phenomenally gifted, erratic and
unscrupulous autocrat who "freed his country from American
imperialism" only to reduce it to a satellite of Moscow (now
that the Peking alternative has disappeared).


From the outbreak of our war with Spain in 1898 to the

suspension of our quota for Cuban sugar in 1960, the United
States exercised a major influence on the economic and
political development of Cuba. Judgment of that influence is
broadly divided between traditional and revisionist schools of
thought. The former holds that the United States consistently
played a benevolent role, showering moral and material
benefits on an often unappreciative, ungrateful and
sometimes badly behaved small neighbor, and views our
policy, especially in the earlier years of the relationship, as
extraordinarily enlightened in comparison with that of the
predatory powers of Europe in other areas. To the
revisionists, on the other hand, Cuba has been, during much
of her history and especially since 1898, the hapless victim of
materialistic, imperialistic exploitation by the Colossus of the
North. In the fashion of conventional wisdoms, each of these
views over the years has incorporated a fair number of
fallacies and myths.

In the traditional view, United States military intervention

was the deciding factor in the independence of Cuba. At a
sizable cost in blood and treasure, the United States freed an
oppressed and mistreated people from a harsh, backward
tyranny and set it on the road to self-government. In contrast,
the thesis of the revisionists in its extreme form is that the
Cuban uprising of 1895 was the final episode in a purely
Cuban struggle for independence begun nearly thirty years
earlier. Not until the victory of the insurgents appeared both
certain and imminent did the United States intervene
militarily, snatching their triumph from the Cuban patriots
and using the four-year military occupation to transfer power
in the island to reactionary groups. Called by our
representatives "the better elements," many of these groups
had coperated with the Spanish rgime and were now
disposed to coperate with us in saddling Cuba with a semi-
colonial status and in exploiting her people.

In like manner, other major episodes in the relations between

the two countries have been contrastingly interpreted. In
Cuba, the revisionist school grew steadily in acceptance and
was much favored by Castro and his followers: their vicious
distortions of fact and of American motivations were and are

The traditionalists and the revisionists agree on one point:

that the influence of the United States in Cuba or the threat
of it-whether as a generous benefactor and wise counselor or
as a neo-colonialist exploiter- has limited the ability of the
Cubans to make their own decisions in many matters
theoretically the exclusive concern of a sovereign state.
Dependence upon the United States, coupled with
dependence upon the vagaries of the sugar market, has
worked over the years to frustrate the growth of a full sense
of responsibility in the Cuban leadership and of a popular
belief in the possibility of such responsibility. The island
mentality was conditioned by a conviction that the fate of
Cuba, in the larger sense, was not in Cuban hands.
From 1902 to 1934 our influence was exercised according to
what was known as the Platt Amendment, a statement of our
view of the relations that should prevail between the United
States and the newly independent republic, and one that was
incorporated at our direction into the Cuban constitution of
1902. Among other things, it gave us the right to intervene
when we thought it desirable to do so for the preservation of
Cuban independence and the maintenance of a government
adequate for the protection of life, property and individual

The Platt Amendment was an expression of the thinking

embodied in the Roosevelt Corollary of the Monroe Doctrine.
We believed that because certain Caribbean countries were
inept in handling their affairs and because predatory
imperialisms were ready to take advantage of this ineptness
we must assume broad contingent responsibilities toward
them. We believed that by acting as a sort of benevolent
policeman we would encourage the investment (largely
American) needed in those countries to promote their well-
being and ours. And we had the generous if mistaken belief
that the threat of our restraining hand and, if necessary, the
hand itself would develop the capacity of these countries for
self-government, and accelerate their progress toward
political maturity.

Since the termination of our military occupation, the

inauguration of a Cuban government and commercial
reciprocity with the United States on a preferential basis
were all contingent on the acceptance of the Platt
Amendment, the Cubans reluctantly accepted it. Elihu Root,
then Secretary of War, sweetened the pill by stating that the
Amendment would not be interpreted as a charter for
constant interference in Cuban affairs but would be invoked
only if the Cubans themselves created the unhappy conditions
contemplated therein. After our intervention from 1906 to
1908, however, the United States, anxious to avoid any
further intervention on a formal scale, decided to nip in the
bud any activity or project on the part of the Cubans which
could possibly make invocation of the Amendment necessary.
This policy, involving a generally well-intentioned but irksome
interference in many Cuban matters, came to full flower in
the efforts of General Crowder in the early twenties to furnish
Cuba with a set of laws and institutions, the latter preferably
to be operated by Cubans enjoying the General's confidence.
The General's industry and good intentions are beyond praise,
nor can the existence of the ills he hoped to cure be denied,
but it can be concluded, in hindsight, that all this was hardly a
nation-building exercise.

As the twenties wore to a close, the policy of intervention in

the Caribbean area came more and more to be questioned
both in view of the unsatisfactory results being achieved and
because extra-continental imperialisms were not at the time
plausible threats. For these reasons, as well as to conciliate
Latin American opinion, we abjured intervention under any
circumstances and laid the foundations of the Good Neighbor

In the case of Cuba, the change to the new policy was

incomplete. Overproduction of sugar during the worldwide
depression of the early thirties brought a catastrophic drop in
prices and demand, accentuated by the Hawley-Smoot tariff
of 1930 which helped stimulate the production of cane sugar
under the American flag at Cuba's expense. The resulting
severe economic and social distress, in conjunction with the
intolerable conditions created by the wholesale terrorism and
counter-terrorism of the opponents and supporters of the
Machado rgime, put Cuba close to the top of the agenda of
the New Deal administration. As Ambassador in 1933,
Sumner Welles acted as mediator of the political struggle, but
the new government on which he secured agreement lasted
only three weeks, giving way to a military and civilian
movement of revolutionary renovation headed by Sergeant
Batista and Professor Grau San Martin. Fearing the
extremism of some elements in the Grau government, we
refused to recognize it and, after a few months, persuaded
Batista to withdraw his vital support from it. Our success in
getting rid of Grau resulted from Cuba's desperate need to
participate as favorably as possible in our sugar program and
to secure a reciprocal tariff agreement.

Our judgment about Grau may or may not have been sound.
When he became President a decade later, he disconcerted
both those who had believed in him and those who had feared
him in 1934. The point here, however, is that in the last year
of the Platt Amendment and only a few months after the
adoption of the Good Neighbor Policy, the United States,
through the exercise of its superior power, critically affected
the course of Cuban political life. The elimination of the
Amendment a few months later left many Cubans-even those
who favored our action-skeptical as to the completeness of
the island's independence. Our supporters appeared to owe
the defense of their interests to our intervention-an
unfortunate precedent.

The new American sugar program replaced competition under

a protective tariff with a system whereby the executive
branch fixed the total amount of sugar put on the American
market. The level was designed to produce reasonable prices
for all concerned, the consumers included. Within this total,
quotas were allotted to the various producing areas, domestic
and foreign, in accordance with laws passed by Congress at
periodic intervals. Thus Cuba's share in our market did not
rest upon a contractual basis but was dependent on the will of
Congress. Cuts were made from time to time in the Cuban
quota for the benefit of domestic areas or even of other
foreign areas. The need for Cuba to avoid actions or attitudes
which might put her in a bad light with Congress at quota
time was a fact of life generally understood.
The Sugar Act of 1934 and the reciprocal trade agreement of
the same year raised the island from the desperate straits
caused by the depression plus our tariff to a level of genteel
poverty with sugar income only 50 percent below the average
of the twenties instead of the 75 percent of the disaster years
(1932 and 1933). World War II produced a new era of
prosperity for Cuba, and succeeding crises such as those of
Korea and Suez bailed out the Cuban sugar industry and
reinforced an attitude of ironic providentialism in the Cuban
people. On the world market, wide swings in price and
quantity continued to be normal.


Batista's military coup in 1952 and the apathy with which it

was received by the masses and all but a few leaders gave
evidence of the political bankruptcy which allowed Castro to
flourish seven years later. While the constitutional
governments of Grau and Prio (1944 to 1952) had enlisted the
participation of many representative and devoted Cubans, the
administrations themselves were generally regarded as
corrupt, especially at the top, and dominated by vicious
political gangsterism at lower levels. The people had little
faith in their government or in the integrity of their political

In 1956, a number of distinguished Cubans made an effort to

find a constitutional way out for the dictatorship. Their effort,
known as the "Civic Dialogue," failed because of the
intransigence of Batista and those profiting from his rule. This
was the point of no return in the tragic course of Castro's rise
to power.

Meanwhile, our representation in Havana was using its not

inconsiderable influence primarily in matters of concern to
American business interests. These were numerous,
important and generally constructive. They had contributed
substantially to the economic and social development of the
country. Taken as a whole, however, their impact was
irritating, stifling and frustrating to the rising sense of Cuban

Although Americans no longer controlled more than a third of

the Cuban sugar production-the most modern and perhaps
the most profitable third-our sugar interests played a major
part in the varied and wide-ranging strategy to protect the
United States quota. And many American companies owned
or controlled vast Cuban cane plantations in spite of a clause
in the Cuban constitution which established a policy of
separate ownership of mills and plantations.

In addition, American interests dominated many key

activities, including telephone and electric light and power
companies, which operated in an atmosphere of general
public hostility. A major railroad system serving the eastern
half of the island was American-controlled. Crude oil was
imported, refined and distributed by three large corporations,
two American and one Anglo-Dutch. Exploration for oil in
Cuba, still one of the great unfulfilled hopes (the Russians
have not found any either), was largely carried out by
American companies. The active exploitation of Cuba's
important nickel resources was in the hands of Americans.
Others were prominent in the fields of banking, retail
merchandising and manufacturing of many different kinds.
The cement plant which supplied the booming construction of
Havana was American-owned and operated; so were, to a
large extent, the hotels and gambling. Nor was our all-
pervasive popular culture- except baseball-pleasing in all its
aspects to those seeking the affirmation of indigenous values.

While the Batista government was giving these American

interests in general benevolent treatment, and while it was
attracting substantial amounts of badly needed private
investment, it was itself becoming increasingly alienated from
Cuban public opinion. A frenzy of self-enrichment was
believed to have seized many of its high officials. Terrorism
was met by a savage official counter-terrorism. Though much
exaggerated later by the Castro propaganda machine, the
number of murders by the Batista security establishment
during those bitter years created thousands of deep hatreds-a
potent element in the support for Castro. The corruption and
the sadism of many Batista henchmen united most Cubans
against the rgime.

This widespread opposition did not look to the top leadership

of Cuba's recent constitutional past. The so-called legitimate
opposition which participated in the elections of November
1958 and lost to Batista's nominee was far from filling the
need. Because of this vacuum, people's imaginations were
captured by Fidel Castro who was conducting small-scale
guerrilla operations in the remote fastnesses of eastern Cuba
against Batista's armed forces more and more demoralized by
the corruption in their midst and by the popular repudiation
of the rgime they served. The role of the guerrillas in
bringing about the fall of the rgime has been much
exaggerated. However, by early 1958, most of the opposition
elements were trying to work with Castro. The Communists
were among the last to decide to support him.

After serving as Ambassador in Bolivia, I spent two weeks in

Washington on my way to Cuba in February of 1959,
examining material on the political beliefs and affiliations of
Castro and his principal followers. On the basis of abundant
though contradictory evidence, I concluded that Castro was
not then a Communist, though some of his group, including
his brother Raul, had Communist ties. It was clear that
support for the new rgime was widespread throughout
Cuban society, and it seemed to me that many elements of
that society, dominated by a relatively prosperous middle
class with strong leanings toward the constitutional system
then advocated by Castro himself, had far brighter prospects
than the Communists eventually to control the government.
The field of action of the new leaders would, I thought, be
bounded by the nature of this community.

This diagnosis soon had to be modified. It failed to allow for

the phenomenal personality and unprecedented charisma of
Fidel Castro. It did not foresee the dearth of any acceptable
leadership through which non- Communist elements might
exert their influence. Indeed, many such elements abandoned
the struggle and the country early in the game. Nor did the
diagnosis take into account the use Castro was to make of
sectors of the population hitherto vegetating outside the
mainstream of Cuban development- the 15 to 20 percent of
the people of working age unemployed or underemployed, the
frustrated intellectuals who controlled the students, the
subsistence farmers. From all these Castro drew his strength
and they followed him as though he were indeed a redeemer.
Castro was further helped at the outset by the attitudes of
many people who, though not pro-Communist and certainly
not anti-American, welcomed actions aimed at reducing
American influence in the island as a reassertion of Cuban

Castro turned out to be a cruel and extreme consequence of

two factors: the shortcomings of Cuban society and of the
Cuban-American relationship. Without him, the revolution
made inevitable by Batista's excesses and by the politico-
social failures of two generations would have been
comparatively moderate. We soon learned that Castro was far
more than an adventurer or a guerrilla leader, that he was
perhaps the greatest demagogue ever to have appeared
anywhere in Latin America. He had a power to persuade with
words quite independent of the intrinsic worth of the
particular notions he might be advancing at the moment. As
Theodore Draper makes plain in his works on Castroism,
ideas are for Castro little more than servants of his lust for
power. The same masses who in 1959 roared their approval of
his democratic and then of his humanistic pronouncements
shouted themselves hoarse approving his Marxism in 1961.

Through all Castro's gyrations, the only constant has been his
determination to free Cuba from American influence (which
he equates with domination) even at the eventual cost of
submitting his country to the Soviet Union. It was not Castro's
predilection for Communism but his pathological hatred of
the American power structure as he believed it to be
operative in Cuba, together with his discovery of the
impotence of Cuba's supposedly influential classes, that led
him eventually into the Communist camp. Only from that
base, he thought, could he achieve his goal of eliminating
American influence.

In early 1959, our government was aware of the almost

unanimous support which Castro enjoyed in Cuba and of the
hopeful attitude which he inspired in many of our own
forward-looking people. Its attitude, therefore, was one of
watchful waiting. In this period I saw Castro a number of
times and had contacts with all the members of his cabinet,
which then represented a variety of political and economic
views. I made every effort in these contacts, and in talking
with newspaper and magazine editors and many other
influential citizens, to convey the good will of the people and
the government of the United States. I stressed their
satisfaction that the people of Cuba were recovering control
of their destiny, and their conviction that relations between
the two countries were mutually advantageous. However, I
said, our government was willing to discuss any proposals for
changes which the new rgime might wish to advance. The
actual and potential value of the American investment was
stressed in an awareness of the rgime's intention to
investigate certain situations about which public opinion was

This effort, aimed at establishing a basis of coperation and

understanding with Castro and his followers, seemed to be
making some progress with Cuban public opinion when it was
interrupted by Castro's trip to the United States at the
invitation of an association of American editors. The visit,
which began in mid-April, proved a heady diet for Castro's
voracious ego and may have given him a warped notion of the
state of American public opinion. Our government strove to
make a success of the visit, although it was not official. Castro
was cordially received in Washington by the Secretary of
State and by the Vice President. His party of over fifty
included his top advisers in the economic field. We assumed
these were disposed to discuss current economic relations
and problems with us, but though we demonstrated our
willingness to meet them halfway, we met a blank wall. There
is reason to believe Castro forbade them to engage in any
substantive conversations.

On Castro's return from his travels at the beginning of May, I

met him at the airport and suggested an early renewal of our
contacts. Although Castro agreed cordially, five weeks
elapsed before the next interview and it was largely devoted
to the agrarian reform law which had meanwhile been
promulgated. I was surprised to note in a recent lecture by
Senator Fulbright a reference to a statement purportedly
made by Castro to an American newspaperman to the effect
that "the American reaction to the agrarian reform of May
1959 made me realize that there was no chance of reaching
an accommodation with the United States." The American
reaction was friendly and understanding. Our legitimate
preoccupation with the compensation of our citizens was
reflected in discussions with Cuban officials over a period of
months, during which the possibility of long- term bonds was
contemplated. But the law was never really implemented.
Most of the confiscations and other arbitrary actions of the
Cuban authorities regarding the agricultural property of
foreigners and Cubans had no sanction in the law.
Raul Roa was appointed foreign minister in June. He was far
closer to Castro than was his distinguished predecessor,
Roberto Agramonte, a man of principle. There followed an
exchange of views in depth on all phases of Cuban-American
relations, the climax of which was a five-hour interview with
Castro at Roa's apartment the evening of September 5-after a
number of implausible postponements. The atmosphere was
relaxed and friendly. I reiterated the understanding sympathy
of our government with the desires of the Cuban people for
reform and renovation and went so far as to anticipate some
of the elements of our more liberal policies toward Latin
America of a year or two later. I described American
economic interests in Cuba in terms of their potential for the
progress of the Cuban economy and drew Castro's attention
to the arbitrary treatment to which some of them had already
been subjected. I endeavored to dispel a myth recounted to
Castro with regard to one of these American enterprises.
Referring to the rising tempo of vicious anti-American
propaganda, I mentioned some of the outrageous statements
being made by Ch Guevara in the course of his world travels.
As many people before and since, I had the impression that
Castro had given a polite and appreciative hearing to my
views on subjects deserving mutual discussion and
accommodation. Castro said something to the effect that I
was perhaps giving too much importance to the propaganda
excesses of young people working in an atmosphere of
revolutionary enthusiasm not yet tempered by experience.
The interview left me in a moderately hopeful mood- soon to
be destroyed by Castro's actions and words of the next few

During this period Castro must have come to realize how frail
were the obstacles to his achieving complete power in Cuba.
There were conspiracies against him, including one with
Trajillo's support; he overcame them easily. He had some
setbacks when expeditions which he organized and sent out
from Cuba to destroy the governments of the Dominican
Republic and of Nicaragua proved fiascoes involving
(particularly in the Dominican case) considerable loss of life.
But he must have been consoled in part for these failures
when he noted how gingerly his interventions were treated by
an inter-American community supposedly devoted to the
principle of nonintervention. Its attitude was symptomatic of
the state of the continent's conscience at the time-an asset for

Also during these months, the issue of Communism came into

sharper focus. Castro had often expressed opposition to
Communism, but he gratefully exploited the red herring
supplied by those in Cuba and in the United States to whom
any proposal for a change in the status quo is prima facie
made in Moscow. The remaining miasma of McCarthyism also
served him well. Soon it became anathema for Cuban
revolutionaries to express anti-Communist sentiments. Castro
fired the head of his air force over this issue and, after a
typical mob-man?uvre, eliminated, on the grounds of anti-
Communism, the President whom he himself had picked. The
final showdown on the issue came in October with the arrest
of Huber Matos, one of the rebel army's important leaders.

In the same week that Matos was arrested, an incident

occurred which seemed finally to dash any hopes of
establishing useful relations. A plane piloted by the former
head of the Castro air force evaded the vigilance of our
authorities in Florida (regrettably not the only such case) and
dropped anti-Castro leaflets over Havana where trigger-happy
antiaircraft units opened fire on it. Their missiles came down
in busy Havana streets killing two or three and wounding over
forty people. Responsibility for the careless shooting devolved
equally upon our authorities, in that the plane left Florida
illegally, and the Cuban army. The government, after a
fleeting moment of honesty in a soon-suppressed communiqu
describing what had actually happened, lashed itself into a
towering artificial passion over the alleged bombing of
Havana with American connivance. A pamphlet put out by the
foreign office described the incident as another Pearl Harbor.
At the end of the week, Castro, addressing a mammoth
gathering on this imaginary bombing, bellowed, shook his fist
and foamed at the mouth to the roaring applause of the mob.

In late November, the cabinet was reorganized in a manner

precluding any further possibility of rational dialogue
between our two governments. Exchanges of statements
continued on both sides, our aim being to demonstrate the
degree to which we had shown patience, understanding and
moderation in the face of hostility, prevarication and
provocation, while Castro's purpose was to promote the
beleaguered-citadel mentality which he had found so
favorable to the extension of his authority.

In the circumstances, it became incumbent upon us to work

out the policy we would now follow. A statement of our
position, which I assisted in drafting, was issued from the
White House toward the end of January 1960. It made the
following points: (1) a reiteration of the United States's
commitment to non-intervention in accordance with our treaty
obligations; (2) the determination of the United States to do
all in its power to prevent the use of its territory for the
preparation of illegal acts against Cuba, although it was
recognized that Cuban territory had been the point of
departure for the launching of invasions against other
countries; (3) the concern of the United States at the
unfounded accusations directed against it by the Cuban
authorities and its regret that its efforts to establish a basis of
confidence and understanding had not been reciprocated; (4)
a recognition of the sovereign right of the Cubans to engage
in domestic reforms with due regard for their obligations
under international law; (5) a determination on the part of the
United States to defend the rights of its citizens in Cuba as
provided under international law after they had exhausted
their remedies under Cuban law.

This policy implied continued moderation and restraint on our

part, denying Castro the chance to make political capital out
of alleged American economic aggression. It could have
slowed down the Soviet involvement in the Cuban economy,
an involvement, in my judgment, more ardently desired at
that time by Castro and Guevara than by Moscow. It would
have given the Soviets the opportunity to counsel moderation
instead of being forced either to act or to let Castro fall. And
even if the policy had failed to prevent Castro's move into the
Soviet orbit, it would have gained sympathy and support for
our Cuban policy in inter-American and international public
opinion by relieving us of responsibility for precipitating
events or destroying existing ties. Further, it would have
created more favorable conditions for local opposition to
crystallize. And considering the state of disorganization and
confusion then existing in the Cuban government, it was not
Micawberish to hope that if events were not precipitated
something might well turn up to alter the situation before
Castro consolidated his security controls.

This policy lasted but a few weeks. Factors leading to its

abandonment included continued provocation from the
Cubans, the visit of Mikoyan to Havana in February (invading
what had so long been an almost exclusively American sphere
of influence), and perhaps the rising pressures of an election
year in our own country. The proverbial straw may have been
Castro's outrageous allegation that we were responsible for
the explosion and loss of life on a French munitions ship in
Havana harbor early in March. According to reports
published in later years, it was in that same month that our
government decided to train and equip Cuban nationals for
armed action against the Castro government, a decision
wholly inconsistent with the policy we had announced only
two months earlier.
It is worth emphasizing that the January policy had been a
considerable embarrassment to the Castro rgime. On the
other hand, our new policy, which accelerated the break-up of
the ties between the two countries, was, I believe, welcomed
by Castro and Guevara. We did not force them into the arms
of the Soviets but we were, in my judgment, unwisely
coperative in removing the obstacles in their chosen path.

The first crisis provoked by our new policy involved a Cuban

demand in May that the American and British oil refineries
process about a million tons of Soviet crude oil in the balance
of the year, instead of the Venezuelan oil they had been using.
(This million tons was about 40 percent of total needs.) The
companies had been most tolerant in letting the government
accumulate large foreign-exchange arrears covering crude oil
already supplied; but they questioned the government's right
under Cuban law to order them to refine the Soviet oil. For its
part, the government wished to increase its purchases from
the Soviet Union and questioned the prices charged by the
companies for the crude oil they supplied. The companies
would probably have reluctantly gone along with the
government's request, seeking remedies through the courts
and eventually, if necessary, through channels provided under
international law. However, early in June, I was informed by
an oil company executive in Havana that he had a couple of
days earlier attended a meeting of representatives of the
companies in the office of the Secretary of the Treasury in
Washington, at which the Secretary had strongly urged the
companies to refuse to refine the Soviet crude oil. The
companies accepted this recommendation.

The Cuban government, informed of the companies' negative

decision, took over the refineries. The Soviets were now faced
with the necessity of doubling the original million tons of
crude oil to be shipped during the rest of the year to meet
total Cuban requirements. While this may have strained
tanker availabilities, the Soviets accomplished the task in
such a manner that the Cuban consumers were hardly aware
of any change in the source of supply. The revolution had won
a great and stimulating triumph, comparable to that of the
Egyptians when they showed they could operate the Suez
Canal without Western help. This was probably not the result
contemplated by our government.

Early in July, while the outcome of the crude-oil crisis was still
in doubt, President Eisenhower, using the discretion granted
him by Congress, suspended the balance of the Cuban sugar
quota for the year 1960 on the basis that under prevailing
conditions Cuba was no longer a reliable supplier to the
American market. The implication was clear that as long as
conditions remained as they were Cuba would have no more
market in the United States. The Soviets took the sugar we
had refused. Cuban planters, cane-cutters, sugar-mill hands,
dock workers-all those involved in the industry-went to work
for the Russian instead of the American consumer. Castro and
Guevara doubtless were highly pleased at our decision, the
Russians perhaps less so. When my view on this decision was
sought shortly before it was made public, I opposed it as
nullifying the advantages we had derived from our previous
policy. My belief was that if we were to modify the Cuban
quota we should have done so only after negotiations with the
Cuban government which would have made clear to all
concerned the issues involved. I remain convinced that
turning over to the Soviet Union the major responsibility for
Cuba's sugar economy was a most regrettable step.

Within a month of the suspension of the quota, Castro had in

retaliation nationalized the American sugar mills. Within
three months he had taken over what was left of American
investments and had made great progress in the elimination
of private ownership of most productive assets in Cuba,
including those of the Cubans themselves. The process was
carried out in an atmosphere of heightened zeal and
enthusiasm by those who felt that the fate of their movement
depended on successfully meeting the challenge we had
posed. Otherwise the revolution would have moved at a
slower pace and might have met with strong resistance.

The rising revolutionary fervor was further stimulated by the

realization during the summer that anti-Castro guerrillas
were receiving arms-drops from a source generally assumed
to be a United States agency. These guerrilla bands, brave as
they were, posed no real threat to the rgime. And the urban
opposition to Castro was being deprived more and more of
the positions of economic power which might have proved
useful in furthering underground activity.

In this atmosphere, the break in diplomatic relations came as

an anticlimax. It took place in early January 1961 as a result
of Castro's demand that we reduce the establishment we were
maintaining in Havana (very largely to facilitate the mass exit
of Cubans from their homeland) to the level of the by then
totally useless Cuban establishment in Washington.

In April 1961, 1,500 brave Cubans-selected, equipped,

trained, financed, transported, misled and eventually (the
survivors) ransomed by us-landed at the Bay of Pigs as the
major element in an enterprise to free their 7,000,000
compatriots from Castro's military and security apparatus of
something over 100,000 comparatively well prepared men
and women. That fiasco, in conjunction with our replacement
by Soviet Russia as Cuba's major economic partner,
consolidated Castro's position. After the Bay of Pigs, the
rgime became so strong internally that even the missile
crisis of October 1962, revealing as it did the true relative
dimensions of the partners in the Castro-Khrushchev
dialogue, failed to shake it.


There will be no resumption of relations between Cuba and

the United States as long as Castro is in power. His fall may
come either because he is rejected by the long-suffering
Cuban people or because he realizes himself that his magic is
exhausted. It should not come as a result of outside
intervention, although some form of collective international
action may be needed to prevent outside intervention on
behalf of the rgime.

When Castro departs, there should be a rapid change in the

nature of the system. Guevara has already disappeared. He
was the only other man with even an outside chance of
maintaining one-man rule-perhaps that is why he was
removed. Castro's brother Raul, his designated successor, is
decidedly unmagnetic as a public figure. President Dorticos'
talents lie in the fields of administration and backroom

When change comes, a prime necessity will be for the Cuban

government to organize promptly a consultation of national
opinion concerning what to eliminate from the Castro
heritage and what to keep. It is likely that outside help in this
may be requested by a transitional Cuban government and
that the request will be addressed to the United Nations, of
which Cuba is a member, rather than to the Organization of
American States from which she has been suspended. Cuba's
eventual return to active membership in the O.A.S. would, of
course, be a preferred objective of hemisphere policy.

In this process of change, the role of the Cuban exiles or

refugees must be considered. Hopefully, it will be possible at
an early stage for most of those who desire to return to their
homeland to do so. Among them are some with a part to play
in the future of their country and others who have illusions on
the subject. But no one outside of Cuba should presume to
prejudge their roles. That will have to be left to those who
have remained in Cuba and are called upon to decide how
their country is to be reorganized. The notion that the passing
of Castro is bound to produce an automatic restoration in
Cuba of people and institutions identified with earlier times
should be rejected.

Sugar was, is and will be the key to the Cuban economy. Up

to 1960, Cuban sugar enjoyed a preferential position in the
American market that was the envy of other producers. When
we eliminated the Cuban quota, the Russians absorbed the
three million tons or so that we had been buying. At the same
time, we had relatively little difficulty in acquiring
replacement supplies both from other foreign countries and at
home. Under our present sugar legislation, Cuba could be
given, at the time we resume diplomatic relations, a quota
equivalent to about one-third of what she had in 1960. This
would involve displacing much sugar from Western
Hemisphere countries whose sales in our market are valuable
assets in pursuing the goals of the Alliance for Progress.
Important questions will arise. If there is a change in the
Cuban rgime, will the Russians continue to need Cuban
sugar and will they continue to buy it, especially if the Cubans
begin to cut down on imports of Russian goods in favor of
traditionally preferred sources of supply? To what extent are
we wedded to a system under which Congress, amid intense
lobbying, doles out sugar quotas to specific foreign countries?

Without trying to answer these questions, I suggest that the

general plight of cane-sugar producers offers a real
opportunity for international statesmanship and, because of
the role Russia has played in this field since 1960, for
coperation between East and West. Must cane-sugar
producers be eternally condemned to a ramshackle system
under which they sell a part of their output at protected
prices and must then get rid of the balance in an anarchic so-
called world market which actually handles but a small
fraction of the world's consumption needs? And must they sell
at prices which often, as at present, are far below production
costs? It would seem possible to apply some of the principles
of our own sugar program-now in its fourth decade of
successful operation, so far as domestic producers and
consumers are concerned-to the organization of a rational and
truly worldwide market for cane sugar.

When Castro falls, the claims of the thousands of Cubans and

Americans and other foreigners whose assets have been
confiscated by his rgime will come up for consideration.
There can be no easy or automatic solution. A first question
will concern the kind of society which the people of liberated
Cuba desire to make for themselves. For example, to what
extent will they wish to restore private ownership of the
means of production in the sugar industry? To what extent
will they desire to maintain nationalization in the public
utilities field? Similar questions will have to be answered
about a wide range of assets in order to determine whether
restitution or compensation is to be the rule. The process is
apt to be long-drawn-out and it is hard to conceive of any
result which will be fully satisfactory both to the claimants
and to those responsible for Cuba's future.

Finally, when the United States and the new Cuba come to
restablish relations, they will presumably find it neither
practical nor desirable to restore the old preferential ties. The
United States will wish to recognize that the progress of the
smaller developing nations, of which Cuba can once more
become one of the most promising, depends largely on the
extent to which they are able to achieve conscious
responsibility for their own destinies. The United States and
the other industrialized powers can, through commodity
arrangements as well as assistance programs, bring about
rational and steady expansion in the economic field. It is my
conviction that the restrictions on the freedom of the smaller
nations to control their own affairs increase the anarchic
nationalism of which they are sometimes guilty. Only when
they are truly responsible for their own progress and
development can they contemplate making the reciprocal
sacrifices of sovereignty required by the regional
arrangements which are essential to progress in the modern

Foreign Aairs
January 1970

Cuba Revisited After Ten

Years of Castro


An image of Fidel Castro decorates a wall inside a state-run carpentry in Havana,

A Russian oil tanker moves slowly past the sixteenth-century

Spanish castle guarding the narrow entrance to Havana
harbor. Castle and tanker symbolize dominion, but of very
different kinds. To the Spaniards, Cuba was first and foremost
a source of wealth-its own wealth and the wealth of Latin
America to which it held the strategic key. To the Russians, it
represents an economic loss on the order of some $350 to
$400 million a year. The payoff for them is in the coin of
political strategy: an extension of the frontiers of communism
to the Western Hemisphere.
How real these political dividends are is a question to which,
for reasons touched on later in this article, the Kremlin must
revert with increasing frequency. Meanwhile the tankers
come and go, bringing in more than 95 percent of Cuba's
growing oil requirements-a reminder to the Cubans that if
they control their destiny more surely now than they did
during the four centuries of Spanish rule, the control is still
far from absolute. And to control their own destiny is above
all else what the leaders of this intensely nationalist rgime
want to do. "We have known," said Castro last year, "the
bitterness of having to depend on others and how this can be
turned into a weapon against us." That Cuba should pay her
way in the world, as independent of the Soviet Union as of
Spain or the United States, is for the militant revolutionary an
objective no less important than a higher standard of living.
To achieve either, and certainly to achieve both, requires of
the Cuban people an initial period of heavy sacrifice.

Austerity then is the first thing that hits the Western visitor-
and it is a stunning blow for one who knew Havana before the
Revolution. The miniature Manhattan skyline along the
seafront is still an incomparable sight as the sun goes down;
the shabbiness fades into silhouette pricked out with lights,
and the tropical night seems full of promise. But the promise
is unlikely to be fulfilled. Behind the familiar faade the bars
and nightclubs are shuttered throughout the working week;
dimly lit shops reveal empty shelves; skeletal cars clank
homewards among the over-crowded buses. The queues are
for ice cream and cinemas. Early next morning they will form
for the necessities of life.

That food and clothing should be rationed in an

underdeveloped country where over 30 percent of gross
national product goes to investment is hardly surprising. But
it is difficult to argue on balance-of-payments grounds that
pleasure needs to be so strictly rationed. Cabaret girls are
homegrown; they cost no foreign exchange-and indeed could
earn a little from the trickle of tourists. No, this aspect of
austerity is the product not of economic policy but of a
puritan reaction against the license of the past and a frenetic
sense of urgency on the part of the leaders; time taken off
from the building of the new society is time wasted.

The puritanism dovetails into the social and economic

strategy of the rgime. Castro wants to get people out of the
towns, partly because he believes that spiritual regeneration
comes from working the soils but also for the more practical
reason that, after an abortive attempt to industrialize during
the early years of the Revolution, agriculture is now
recognized as the basis of the economy and needs to have
labor more readily available. The last thing he wants,
therefore, is to increase the attractions of the town. "More
ruralism, less urbanism" is the slogan.

It is a difficult slogan to put into effect Building resources are

already overstretched; there is little to spare from the
construction of new schools, hospitals, farms and factories, A
target of 100,000 new living units a year has been quietly
abandoned, and at the present rate it will be many years
before homes can be provided in the country for any
significant proportion of the urban population. Meanwhile,
agriculture claims the "voluntary" labor of the townspeople
for limited periods at a time, ranging from a weekend to a
couple of months. Thus the visitor to Havana, while he may
look in vain for the sophisticated animation of the past, will be
aware of a constant bustle of departure and arrival; and
though he is entitled to be dubious about the voluntary
character of this movement, he may well be impressed by the
cheerfulness with which those caught up in it pile into their
trucks and drive off to the Spartan encampments awaiting

Such signs of alegria, however spasmodic, prompt the

question whether the Cubans have in some remarkable way
contrived a form of communism without tears. Has this dreary
creed been transmuted in the Caribbean crucible? At first
sight a negative answer is suggested by the fact that, since
the Revolution, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have
abandoned their possessions and started life afresh in the
United States; and there are many more waiting to follow
their example. But to regard this as a massive vote against
communism is an oversimplification. The Revolution was by
no means committed to communism when the first wave of
refugees left. They went because they saw no hope of coming
to terms with the radicalism of the Revolution and were afraid
of being victimized. What then are the motives of those
leaving today? It is difficult to generalize, but the evidence
available suggests that the majority are going primarily
because they find the conditions of life too hard. They
condemn the system not because it is undemocratic or
indifferent to human rights (it is both), but because it fails to
deliver the goods. If they could be sure of being better fed,
clothed and housed, they would stay. If this analysis is
anywhere near correct, it is hard to argue that communism as
such is anathema to the majority of the Cuban people. To all
appearances at any rate, the creed (in so far as it is
understood) sits lightly.

The reasons for this acquiescent attitude are to be sought in

the Cuban character. It is sometimes said that the Cubans are
individualists to the point of not bothering about abstract
social principles or political theory; and there may be
something in this. But to the outside observer the most
striking characteristic of the Cuban is the human warmth
which enables him to fit easily into the life of his community.
The Cuban may not love his neighbor as himself, but he
makes a better shot at it than most. A social conscience of a
kind exists: the concept of social justice gets more than lip
service from some at least of those whose material interests it
threatens, however much they may disagree with the methods
used to introduce it. Moreover, the gregarious instinct of the
Cuban makes regimentation less irksome than it would
otherwise be, The communal activities of the mass
organizations-membership is hard to avoid-are not wholly
unenjoyable. Add to this a sense of humor which the
authorities are wise enough not to stifle (jokes against the
rgime are permitted in the theatre, for instance); an
absence, within the limits of decorum, of any such sexual
repression as is imposed by the Chinese Revolution; a benign
climate; a natural resilience in adversity; and a new sense of
national pride and dignity, The net result is a state of morale
which, without being buoyant, does not sag too badly either.
Deprived of so much, the Cubans are like unspoiled children,
taking inordinate pleasure in simple things.

But while it can be said that Cuban communism presents a

less unattractive face than communism elsewhere, there are
no good grounds for believing that it is fundamentally
different in character or that the human material is in any
way unique. The "new man" who will give of his best without
the stimulus of material incentive is likely to prove no less of
a chimera in Cuba than elsewhere. The acquisitive instinct of
Homo Cubanus is dormant because there is nothing to
acquire. To suppose that it will die out altogether before the
long-promised increase in consumer goods requires an act of
faith of which few people are capable.

There is no early prospect of this being put to the test The

Cuban economy is still in a straitjacket. But the impression
prevails that it is slowly gathering the strength to break out.
There are two short-term goals, which may to some extent
prove incompatible. One is a 10-million-ton sugar harvest as
from 1970. The other is diversification of agriculture-a bid to
break free from the monoculture of sugar. Castro has
committed the honor of the Revolution so deeply to the target
of 10 million tons that most laymen believe it will somehow be
attained; the experts have their doubts but concede that 8 or
8 million is a possibility-a big jump from the estimated 4.8
million of the current year. As for diversification, the standard
tour laid on for visitors gives some idea of the possibilities,
but statistics are in short supply. Marine resources are being
tapped on a scale never attempted before; planned production
of fish for 1970 is 175,000 tons, as compared with 25,000 toes
before the Revolution. With 8 million head of cattle and a
huge program of artificial insemination based on the
crossbreeding of the traditional Brahmin with the imported
Holstein, dairy and meat production can be expected to go
ahead fast Cuba is well on the way to self-sufficiency in rice,
with prospects of an exportable surplus. Egg production is
soaring. There are extensive new citrus plantations and they
seem to be prospering. Coffee has been planted on every
available square inch of land in and around Havana, though
its prospects are questionable. Extensive and intensive
cultivation is generously supplied with fertilizer, backed by an
expanding system of irrigation and roads, and in certain
sectors it is highly mechanized. Success will bring out the
figures but failures are liable to go unrecorded. If things go at
all as planned, sugar in the mid-1970s will account for
considerably less than 50 percent of the total value of
agricultural production, At present it accounts for about 70

What level of productivity do these plans assume? What

indeed is the current level? Nobody says. Perhaps nobody
knows. It is certainly low, but to admit this is to question the
value of moral incentives; and these, to the detriment of the
Cuban economy, are now sacrosanct. The rgime no doubt
can point to some remarkable outbursts of energy. Appeals to
patriotism, the blood of the martyrs, the competitive instinct
and the challenge of the OAS boycott do undoubtedly work,
but fitfully; only a small minority of Cubans have shown
themselves capable of the sustained effort which is needed to
realize the potential of their fertile country. Moreover, these
dedicated few are not necessarily the ones best qualified by
education and experience to carry the rest of the country on
their backs. Revolutionary zeal having always been regarded
as the prime qualification for Party membership, the Party
has now woken up to the fact that its general educational
level is appallingly low and that it is incapable of providing
the trained cadres required to stimulate production. So they
are going back to school. Meanwhile, much energy continues
to be misdirected and ill- cordinated, and the level of
productivity obstinately refuses to rise.

The dilemma for Castro is painful. To achieve his cherished

objective of independence of Soviet economic aid, he must
jettison his principles and introduce the kind of concessions to
the profit motive which are now an established feature of the
Soviet and East European economies and of which he has
been so openly critical. The signs are that he would rather
postpone the day when Cuba can balance her account with
the Soviet Union. But can the Russians afford Castro's
principles? Alternatively, can they afford to let him down? The
dilemma is painful for them too. It looks at present as if they
will settle for further subsidies provided Castro ceases to
sabotage Soviet policy in Latin America by seeking to
discredit the Moscow- oriented communist parties. A bargain
on these lines could easily come unstuck, however.

It would be wrong to suggest that, having balanced her

account with the Soviet Union, Cuba would promptly divest
herself of communism as if it were a cloak donned purely to
obtain Soviet aid. For one thing, Cuba will still need the
Soviet Union as a market for her sugar-and indeed as her
principal trading partner. But this is not the real point. The
real point is that, however heretical the postures which
Castro occasionally strikes, Cuban communism is no disguise.
It may be highly eclectic, but Castro at least would claim that
it is a purer form than any to be found elsewhere. The Party
apparatus is forbiddingly orthodox, and the system as a whole
is as totalitarian as any Stalinist could wish. The limits of
dissent are narrowly drawn and the machinery for dealing
with those who transgress them is more efficiently maintained
than most machinery in Cuba.

This is an aspect which needs to be examined more closely.

The visitor to the Isle of Pines will be shown four gruesome
circular buildings constructed in the 1930s to serve as what
then passed for a model prison; they are now awaiting
demolition to make way for a school, The guide will describe
in some detail how the prison came to be used for the brutal
taming of the political opponents of Machado and Batista. He
will be less explicit about the fact that until early 1967 the
same prison was crammed with Castro's own political
detainees. These were not set free, Their continued presence
was evidently found to be incompatible with plans for turning
the Isle of Pines into a kind of laboratory for social
experiments, and they were transferred to the main island.
The number of political prisoners now in Cuba is a matter of
guesswork; Castro admitted to 20,000 in 1965. All that can be
said in extenuation is that they are believed to have been
more humanely treated since the present Minister of the
Interior was appointed some 18 months ago. Indeed, the
rgime would hotly deny a retributive element in their
attitude, and in this they may be sincere. The attitude tends
rather to be clinical: critics and opponents of the rgime (the
line between them is not too finely drawn) are regarded as
suffering from a contagious political disease; they require
isolation and treatment.

What then is Castro's prescription for a healthy society?

Plenty of hard work for everybody is an important ingredient,
but in accordance with the best communist doctrine it must
be neither wholly intellectual nor wholly manual.
Mechanization of agriculture is to reduce the need for purely
manual labor, and the system is to be so contrived that every
man and woman will be able to deploy to the full his or her
physical and mental capabilities.

Castro also prescribes a strong dose of egalitarianism. He is

not content with the drastic redistribution of wealth which
has already taken place. About a year ago he announced that
it was the policy of the rgime to equalize salaries, working
from the bottom upwards, not from the top downwards. He
admitted, however, that this was a very long-term goal.
Meanwhile, in response to inflationary pressures, such
adjustments as are being made to the salary structure tend to
be downwards. Less, therefore, has been heard lately of the
equalization of incomes, more of the gradual withdrawal of
money from the internal economy. Many things are free
already: education, of course, and basic medical services (you
can pay for better treatment); most housing; weddings and
funerals; admission to sporting events; and, for an ever-
growing proportion of the workers, the midday meal. The
ultimate goal is stated to be a moneyless society in which
everybody would be provided with the comforts and amenities
as well as the necessities of life. Each is to receive according
to his need, but it is tacitly accepted that some needs are
more equal than others and nobody has yet attempted to
explain where the line is to be drawn between private and
public needs. Castro will no doubt continue to "need" his
helicopter, his fleet of cars and his numerous houses
scattered up and down the country. Indeed it may legitimately
be claimed that these are not a rich man's diversion; they are
the tools of his trade, just as a car is a tool of a doctor's trade.

It will be clear that the egalitarian ideal is no more likely to

be achieved in Cuba than elsewhere. Nevertheless, the area
of unearned privilege has been heavily reduced over the past
ten years and is likely to continue to shrink under the
pressures of the educational system. Education at present is
compulsory only at the primary level, though a fairly high
proportion of students continues through secondary. The
rgime contemplates nothing less than universal education up
to and including university level. The three existing
universities have been condemned as citadels of privilege and
are to be abolished as such. They will be converted into
institutes of advanced research while facilities for university-
level studies, heavily slanted toward science and technology,
will be provided at the main centers of work throughout the
country-a system of apprenticeship on a national scale
combining study with productive work. How this is to be
achieved in terms of teachers, buildings and equipment has
not been made clear, but nothing could be more egalitarian
than the intention. The entire population is to pass through
the same educational mill.

By projecting current trends against the general background

of the social philosophy described above, it is possible to
hazard a guess at the kind of place Cuba will be in five years
time. Barring assassination or any catastrophic setback to his
economic plans, Fidel Castro will still be in control-mellower
perhaps as he approaches his 50th year but still with fire in
his belly. Individual freedom will remain strictly subordinate
to Castro's conception of the common weal. Privilege
inherited from the past will not have entirely disappeared but
will be vestigial-the family car will have disintegrated, the
family house will be five years shabbier and less functional,
the bank balance depleted. Money will still be in circulation,
but there will be few non-essentials to spend it on, and the
scale of goods and services provided free by the state will
have increased.

Food and clothing will still be rationed, but the rations will be
bigger. The housing situation will not have improved
appreciably, but there will be many more schools. In general
the standard of living will compare favorably with the Latin
American average but will be low in relation to Cuba's natural
wealth. The technical know-how thrown up by the educational
system will still be too thinly spread to compensate for the
inhibiting effect on productivity of continued reliance on
moral incentives, which are liable to grow weaker as the
Revolution fades into history. Demographically, there will
have been a slight but noticeable shift from town to country,
where new agricultural settlements of a permanent kind will
have begun to emerge; but most of the labor for short-term
agricultural operations will still be drawn from the towns and
accommodated in temporary encampments. Mechanization
will account for perhaps 50 percent of the sugar harvest, but
the remainder, with coffee and citrus, will continue to make
heavy demands on manpower and there will be no problem of

It will be a society free of financial corruption in the ordinary

sense: there is no doubt that this has been effectively
eradicated. But if there is no change in the present curiously
permissive attitude toward the use of friends in authority for
the cutting of official corners, Cuba will still be suffering from
a traditional Latin American weakness-and one which could
ultimately prove fatal to the dreams of an egalitarian society.
There will be few social tensions, but a sense of frustration
may well have developed among young people who can find
no outlet for their aptitudes in an educational system which
ignores the humanities. The new-found sense of nationhood
and self-respect will have matured and there will be less
aggressiveness in Cuba's external relations. She will still be in
communion with Moscow and the bulk of her trade will be
with the Soviet Union-and more nearly in balance. Commerce
with capitalist countries will, however, have increased, both
in absolute and relative terms.

It is presumably not inconceivable that these countries might

include the United States. From Washington's standpoint, no
doubt, Cuba would have to mend her ways first-particularly in
the matter of subversion in Latin America. From Havana's
standpoint the U.S. Government would have to mend its ways
too-get out of Viet Nam for a start and stop being
"imperialist." But anti-Americanism, in the sense of a
passionate rejection of everything American, does not appear
to be endemic in Cuba. The occasional American visitor
(doctor, scientist or journalist) is treated with courtesy and
friendly consideration. If, in the course of his Latin American
mission, Governor Rockefeller's plane had been hijacked to
Cuba, there would have been no demonstration against him-
not only because the Cuban Government is not prone to allow
that kind of thing, but also because the Cubans have good
manners, a strong tradition of hospitality and, whether they
like it or not, an affinity with the United States deriving from
long historical ties. Public opinion would almost certainly
welcome any move by the Cuban leaders toward a
rapprochement with the United States. But it is precisely
among the leaders that anti-Americanism tends to be most
bitter, particularly among those members of the Government
who in their day-to-day business discover exactly where the
shoe pinches as a result of the OAS boycott Ministers who, for
example, have to take the painful decision to scrap an entire
sugar mill because a few thousand dollars' worth of spare
parts are unobtainable are not likely to be in a conciliatory

There can be no doubt that the OAS policy of economic

denial, known here as the "blockade," has retarded, though it
cannot entirely prevent, Cuba's economic development. More
important still-and is this perhaps its main justification now?-
it has made more difficult the export of revolution; trade
channels can be used for subversive purposes. Viewed in this
light the duration of the quarantine must depend largely on
Cuba. But it is important to recognize that, so long as the
boycott continues, there will persist in this island a sort of
siege mentality; and this undoubtedly makes it easier for the
rgime to organize, as they are now doing, the economic life
of the country on a military basis designed to secure the
maximum effort during the critical year or two to come. It
also provides the Government with a ready-made excuse for
economic failures.

To do them justice, it is not an excuse which is used

indiscriminately and out of context The leaders are often
disarmingly frank about the shortcomings of their own
stewardship as well as the shortcomings of the rank and file.
In a speech last May, Castro described the 1969 sugar
harvest as "an agony for the nation" and he went on to list the
reasons for its failure: fundamental problems which will
require a gigantic effort to solve. A response to this challenge
shows signs of gathering momentum. It may be just in time.

Foreign Aairs
July 1972

The United States and

Castro: Breaking the
Edward Gonzalez


A tank of the Cuban Armed Forces is seen in position near the area where some
1,500 anti-Castro allies came ashore at Playa Giron beach during the Bay of Pigs
invasion on the south coast of Cuba, April 1961.

Thirteen years after Fidel Castro's rise to power, Washington

and Havana remain locked in mutually uncompromising
positions. The continuing climate of recriminations and
reprisals in U.S.-Cuban relations now stands in sharp contrast
with the dramatic and sudden thaw in U.S.-Chinese relations
that began in April 1971. In fact, both Washington and
Havana seemed to have seized upon the Chinese development
to reaffirm their postures of mutual intransigence.

On April 16, 1971, President Nixon stated that Havana's

policies precluded the type of initiatives then under way
toward China. The President pointedly noted that Castro was
"still exporting revolution" and that "until Cuba changes their
[sic] policy toward us we are not going to change our policy
toward Cuba." Three days later, Castro responded by
vehemently reaffirming Cuba's "solidarity" with the Latin
American revolutionary movement, adding that Cuba could in
fact afford to "scorn relations . . . with the imperialist
government of an empire on the decline and defeated on
every front." It would thus seem that the relevance of the
Chinese precedent has been dismissed by both sides and that
neither desires a break in the current deadlock short of a
unilateral capitulation by the other party.

From the U.S. vantage point, of course, Cuba is not mainland

China with its vast population, developing nuclear capability,
and potential for influencing developments in Southeast Asia
if not in the Vietnam War itself. Equally important, communist
China has emerged as a major threat to the Soviet Union,
which remains the chief strategic adversary of the United
States. Most of the American political community has thus
supported President Nixon's gambit toward China as
furthering the vital interests of the United States.

The same kind of potential trade-offs do not appear to exist

with regard to Cuba. Cuba's revolutionary thrust into the
Hemisphere has already been largely contained. Castro's
economic reversals in recent years have made the Cuban
example less appealing for Latin America, while serving as a
drain on Soviet resources. The Soviet ideological, military and
economic stake in communist Cuba in turn provides the
United States with a potential "hostage" for countering
Moscow's moves elsewhere in the world. The Cuban
leadership has fully aligned itself with Moscow as against
Peking, and does not appear disposed toward an
accommodation with Washington. As a result, U.S. officials
evidently perceive few openings on the Cuban front-other
than volleyball-that would allow for the type of initiatives
undertaken toward Peking. Even if such openings existed,
established OAS sanctions would have to be overcome in any
new dealings with Cuba. Finally, a more conciliatory posture
toward Havana would involve domestic political risks for the
administration during an election year, stemming from the
presence of the Cuban exile community and the anti-Castro
sentiment among liberal as well as conservative elements of
the electorate.

Notwithstanding these arguments, the United States may now

need to rexamine its own vital interests in the light of recent
Cuban developments. Indeed, both the United States and
Cuba may be developing limited common interests that could
be exploited by a more flexible U.S. policy. For the present,
however, the policies of the two countries seem based in large
part on antagonistic stances having their origins in the past,
and which may no longer serve to advance their respective
national interests. In any event, neither the President nor the
Cuban Premier appears willing to make the first move. Since
this standoff has transfixed U.S.-Cuban relations for over a
decade, it may be useful to reexamine the initial causes and
processes making for the breakdown in U.S.-Cuban relations.


The conflict between Havana and Washington was virtually

certain after January 1959. Fresh from his stunning triumph
over the Batista dictatorship, Castro was bound and
determined to reduce, if not totally eliminate, the long-
standing American economic, political and cultural presence
in Cuba. Furthermore, he sought not only to detach Cuba
from the U.S. embrace, but also to distinguish his new rgime
from the discredited image of past client governments. Thus
committed, his nationalist and social revolution was from the
very outset contrary to the established interests of the United
States in Cuba and Latin America.

The conservative style and outlook of the Eisenhower

administration made the conflict all the more likely. A staunch
defender of private enterprise and an implacable foe of
communism, the administration had earlier backed Batista as
the dutiful, reliable ally of the United States in the Caribbean.
Notwithstanding Castro's seizure of power, the White House
could still look to the successful Guatemalan precedent where
the United States had stage-managed the overthrow of the
leftist Arbenz rgime in 1954. Indeed, as former Ambassador
Philip Bonsai has now confirmed, Washington's policy
calculations were to be greatly affected by the belief that
Castro could not long survive or that if need be he could be
ousted from power through indirect U.S. intervention.[i]

The stakes were also considerably higher in Cuba by the end

of the 1950s than they had been in Guatemala or elsewhere in
Latin America where U.S. interests had been previously
threatened. The book value of American enterprises in Cuba
alone was over $1 billion and encompassed wide-ranging
economic interests. Cuba and the Guantanamo Naval Base
were considered of pivotal strategic importance in guarding
the approaches to the Caribbean and the American mainland.
Sensitivity to the strategic question, in turn, had been
heightened by the recent growth in Soviet strategic
capabilities. Under the more venturesome leadership of
Khrushchev, moreover, the Soviets appeared intent on
expanding their political, economic and military influence on
a global scale. High stakes and the entire gamut of U.S.
interests thus appear to have been caught up with the Cuban

In regard to the Soviets, Castro gave cause for Washington's

growing alarm by violating the "rules of the game" that
heretofore had been observed-save for Arbenz in Guatemala,
who had obtained Soviet-bloc arms in 1954 and, though less
so, Peron in Argentina-by the member-states of the inter-
American community. Beginning in early 1959, the Cuban
leader openly refused to disown communist support at home,
while additionally endorsing violent revolution abroad. He
further advocated Cuba's neutralist position in the East-West
conflict as early as March 1959, and after October he
indicated his readiness to reach out to the Soviets as a means
of safeguarding his revolution. Overall, then, the divergent
paths of revolutionary Havana and conservative Washington
made for increasingly strained relations.

While perhaps unavoidable, it does not follow that the

U.S.Cuban conflict was unmanageable. Whether a conflict is
contained or enlarged may depend on how the actors identify
their own interests and perceive their antagonist's intentions
as well as on the interests at stake. Hence, Havana and
Washington became caught up in a "self-fulfilling prophecy"
whereby each side anticipated the worst possible behavior on
the part of the other and began to act accordingly. Castro
appears to have concluded by mid-1959 that the United
States would not accept his revolution and that ultimately he
would have to turn to the Soviet camp for support. Similarly,
Eisenhower became convinced by early 1959 that the Cuban
leader was already going communist and his administration
began "to examine measures . . . [for] restraining Castro if he
should develop into a menace."[ii] In short, neither side was
disposed toward taking initiatives or responding to the
possible conciliatory signals from the other side. On the
contrary, the respective postures and rhetoric of each were
perceived exclusively as evidence of hostile intentions.

To be sure, Castro exercised no restraint as he mobilized

popular support by giving vent to Cuba's historical grievances
against the "Colossus of the North." As early as January 1959,
he condemned the United States on every aspect of its
relationship with Cuba-its intervention in 1898 in Cuba's War
of Independence, its imposition of the Platt Amendment, its
thwarting of the 1933 Revolution and its support of Batista
during the 1950s. Additionally, he launched verbal attacks
against "imperialism," "oligarchic rgimes," "vested foreign
interests," "capitalist exploitation" and "Yankee aggression."
In point of fact, he exhibited little of the self-restraint shown
by President Cardenas in 1938, or at present by President
Salvador Allende in attempting to maintain Chilean-U.S.
relations on a manageable plane.

Castro's confrontation tactics, however, should be placed in

their immediate political context. As Cuba's liberator and
Latin America's most illustrious revolutionary, he necessarily
had to play to nationalistic and anti-imperialistic audiences at
home and abroad. Furthermore, he had to demonstrate to his
followers that he would not become another practitioner of
entreguismo (national sellout) as had much of Cuba's old
political class during the first half of the twentieth century.
Imbued with his generation's mission of national redemption,
therefore, he vowed on January 13, 1959, that:

The Platt Amendment is finished.. . . No longer is there a

military rgime in our country, no longer are there military
officers who can betray the revolution by seizing power as
occurred in '33, and for the first time there are meritorious
men at the head of the country who neither sell themselves,
nor falter nor become intimidated by any threat.

Nevertheless, the young Cuban leader remained under

pressure from ultranationalist and communist quarters.
Witness the following editorial comment by a leading
Communist regarding Castro's visit to Washington in April
1959: "Fidel does not go to beg, but to negotiate; he does not
go to humiliate himself, but to discuss.... What Cuba wants
and expects, what she hopes Fidel Castro will accomplish in
his trip, is to continue pursuing Marti's course in his policy. ...
A Cubanist policy. . . ."[iii]

Acutely sensitized to such nationalist demands, Castro

consequently sought to avoid compromising himself in any
way with the U.S. government. A former member of his
rgime thus recalls Fidel's uneasiness over his decision to
address the American Society of Newspaper Editors in
Washington in mid- April 1959:

I heard him expressing fears of being invited to the White

House and of being photographed with the President of the
United States as one more Latin American leader "sold out" to
imperialism. In addition there were problems when Mr. Nixon
[then Vice President] changed his invitation from his home to
his office in the Senate because that could be interpreted as
an official visit.[iv]

Despite his earlier statements that he would take up the

question of loans for Cuba, therefore, Castro publicly denied
upon his arrival in Washington that he had come for economic
"handouts." Additionally, he privately instructed his economic
advisers to avoid discussing U.S. loan overtures with State
Department officials.

None the less, Fidel did seem to leave the door slightly ajar
for a possible modus vivendi with Washington. While on this
visit he publicly espoused a "humanist" revolution and went
so far as to condemn the repressive nature of the communist
political system. Shortly thereafter he flew to Buenos Aires
where he proposed to the OAS "Committee of 21" that the
United States fund a $30-billion development program for all
of Latin America in which, of course, Cuba would share. If
only indirectly, therefore, Castro may have been signaling the
United States to resume the courtship that had tentatively
begun with the State Department's loan overtures to Cuba,
but in a manner that would fully confirm his rgime's
independence and his own nationalist integrity.
These gestures were in the end eclipsed by Castro's ultra-
nationalist and defiant postures. The attention of Washington
and the public tended to focus on his symbolic and ideological
deviations, rather than on the more moderate course that he
in fact was still pursuing during the first half of 1959. The
abrasive fidelista style of politics, as well as the leftist drift of
developments within Cuba, left the Eisenhower
administration little disposed to test Castro's readiness to
come to terms. At the very least, such an approach would
have entailed considerably more than loan overtures because
these in themselves indicated no revision of the traditional
U.S.-Cuban client relationship. Only in a last-minute effort to
head off Cuba's turn to Moscow did Washington attempt this
policy shift. Just before the arrival of First Deputy Premier
Mikoyan in Havana, President Eisenhower publicly
announced on January 26, 1960, that the United States would
observe a policy of nonintervention, refrain from reprisals and
respect Cuba's right to undertake a social revolution. But the
die had already been cast.

For its part, the United States had fed Havana's apprehension
by its indiscriminate as well as mounting attacks on the
Cuban Revolution after early 1959. The public outcry in the
U.S. press and Congress against the fidelista rgime ranged
all the way from attacks on the latter's "revolutionary justice,"
"communist infiltration" and "threat to the Hemisphere," to its
rejection of democratic elections, its general economic
policies and its Agrarian Reform Law of May 1959. From the
viewpoint of the Castro rgime, these growing criticisms must
have appeared as a wholesale indictment of the Cuban
Revolution by influential American circles which could be won
over only by seriously compromising the revolutionary
process. Nor were there clear signals to the contrary from the
White House: both President Eisenhower and Vice President
Nixon remained steadfast in their personal opposition.[v]
Hence, Castro and his closest followers could only conclude
from these public attacks that the "Colossus of the North"
would eventually turn against the revolution as had occurred
previously in Cuba in 1933 and only four years earlier in

Not to be outdone, Castro in the end spurned the United

States by abruptly radicalizing the Cuban Revolution.
Beginning in October 1959, he violently attacked
Washington's alleged complicity with counterrevolutionary
elements, aligned himself with the Cuban Communists at
home, and openly bid for Soviet support the following month.
He subsequently succeeded in opting into the communist
camp with the Soviet-Cuban trade and aid agreement signed
at the conclusion of Mikoyan's visit in February 1960.
Relations between Havana and Washington rapidly
deteriorated thereafter. In March 1960, President Eisenhower
gave the go-ahead for the planning of an exile invasion; in
May, diplomatic relations were established between Havana
and Moscow; in June, Castro seized American (and British) oil
refineries; in July, Eisenhower responded by cutting the
Cuban sugar quota; and in late summer and early fall Castro
retaliated by ordering the wholesale nationalization of
American and Cuban enterprises. Soon afterwards, the two
1960 presidential candidates were vowing to eliminate the
communist "beachhead" in Cuba. Relations were then broken
by the United States in January 1961, and both sides began to
prepare themselves for the final showdown that would come
at the Bay of Pigs the following April.

In the final analysis, the absence of mutual self-restraint in

the 1959- 1960 period reflected the failure by both sides to
discriminate among their respective national interests and to
identify which of these was most essential to preserve. As a
result, the conflict could not be contained within the most
narrowly defined parameters of the respective vital interests
at stake, but rather was rapidly escalated and widened to
include lesser interests that in turn further fueled the fires of
mutual antagonisms. Equally critical, without a clear
identification of its vital interests neither side could signal to
the other which issues were negotiable and which were not.

As pointed out, for example, Castro was obsessed with his

revolutionary stance at home and abroad. But such a posture
confused revolutionary style with substance, tending thereby
to obscure what were the vital interests of the Cuban
Revolution. Consequently, not only was he prevented from
making direct overtures to Washington, but he was also left
with virtually no bargaining room for trade-offs-a no-
compromise condition that was perceived equally by his
ardent supporters and by the Eisenhower administration. This
might not have been the case, however, had the lder mximo
explicitly singled out Cuba's right to self-determination and to
a social revolution as the real issues under dispute, rather
than confusing these objectives with Havana's self-proclaimed
mission of revolutionizing the Hemisphere or breaking with
the pattern of anticommunist and anti-Soviet alliances.

The United States appears to have been equally

indiscriminate in weighing the interests at stake in Castro's
Cuba. These interests fell into four categories:

(1) Ideological-the rejection of "the American way of life" by

Cuba and her adoption of a "socialist" or "communist" system;

(2) Economic-the threat posed to U.S. business interests on

the island and additionally in Latin America if the Castro ex
ample were imitated elsewhere;

(3) Hemispheric stability-the disruptive impact of fidelismo on

inter- American harmony and the threat posed to Latin
American governments by fidelista revolutionaries;

(4) National security-the conversion of Cuba into a "Soviet

beachhead" in the Western Hemisphere, establishing a Soviet
political, economic, military and strategic (as in 1962)
presence in the Caribbean.

To be sure, all four interests were to be endangered by

Castro, especially after 1960. But of the four, only the issues
of hemispheric stability and national security truly affected
U.S. vital interests. The ideological and economic stakes were
essentially secondary issues which affected, respectively, the
internal values and the private sector of American society.
But in the 1959-1960 period the United States tended to
confuse private with national interests, and ideological with
strategic interests. The net effect was that Washington's
flexibility, like Castro's, was greatly restricted. Consequently,
the White House could not communicate publicly and
unambiguously to Havana its priorities: (a) the vital issues on
which the United States would not yield (hemispheric
subversion and a Soviet presence in Cuba); (b) the secondary
issues that could be negotiated (the amount and method of
compensation for nationalized American properties); or (c)
the other secondary issues that fell under Cuba's right of self-
determination (her choice of political and economic systems).
Ultimately, Castro carried out a radicalized revolution that in
fact hit hard at every American interest-from the confiscation
of American properties and the adoption of a radical form of
communism to the "export of revolution" and the
consolidation of Cuba's ties with the Soviet Union.


Throughout the 1960s U.S.-Cuban relations remained in a

state of permanent tension. The United States pursued a
policy of "denial" toward Castro, aiming at his diplomatic,
political and economic isolation within the Hemisphere
through its own economic embargo and OAS sanctions, while
being accused of supporting occasional clandestine
operations against Cuba. Until the late 1960s, the Castro
rgime struck back through efforts to promote the continental
revolution, while moving toward even closer ties with the
Soviet Union, especially after 1968.

None the less, U.S. policy had undergone some changes by

the end of the decade. Today, Washington concedes that the
Castro rgime seems entrenched, and it no longer insists-as
originally formulated in 1964-that Cuba break her "military,
economic and political dependence" on Moscow. But two
"preconditions" must still be met before the United States
would consider altering its "denial" policy, These are the
termination of Cuba's "military ties" with the Soviets, and the
cessation of her attempts to "export revolution" abroad.
Hence, as President Nixon himself has noted, the current U.S.
position is not based on the internal policies and ideology of
the fidelista rgime. Rather, it is directed to Cuba's external
policies, which have threatened the hemispheric and national
security interests of the United States, particularly during the
1960s. However, if the operative assumption in U.S. policy is
that of the permanency of the rgime, are the two
"preconditions" conducive to altering Cuba's objectionable
behavior? And are they of equal relevance in advancing U.S.
vital interests in light of recent developments in Cuba and
Latin America?

First of all, the two "preconditions" are not likely to be met by

the Castro rgime. Current U.S. policy offers little
inducement for Havana to abandon its Soviet ties and
revolutionary activities. Before Fidel could limit his
relationship with Moscow, thus far essential to the survival of
his rgime, or compromise his revolutionary and anti-
imperialist stance, Washington would have to pay a price
which it evidently would consider too high.

Second, Havana's revolutionary subversion of the Hemisphere

may no longer be as threatening as in the 1960s. With the aid
of U.S. security assistance, most Latin American rgimes have
succeeded in containing, if not eliminating, the fidelista
guerrilla movements. For his part, Castro himself has backed
off from his previous unqualified endorsement of violent
revolution. He has moved instead toward closer ties with the
current Peruvian military rgime-the very same military that
crushed the guerrilla movement in 1965-as well as with the
Chilean socialist government. Consequently, it appears that
the Cuban revolutionary threat no longer affects the vital
interests of the United States to the same extent as in the

Last, and most importantly, Soviet penetration into Cuba now

appears to be taking on new dimensions which could lead to
her virtual satellization. In the past, Castro was able to
exercise considerable independence in pursuing his own
foreign and domestic policies, and on occasion challenged
Moscow whenever it was in his interest and capacity to do so-
to the extent even of purging the pro-Soviet "microfaction" in
early 1968. But since then he has not possessed effective
bargaining counters.[vi] Owing to repeated economic
setbacks over the last few years-and most critically to the
failure to produce the ten-million-ton sugar harvest in 1970-
his rgime has been forced into a position of growing
dependence on, and subordination to, the Soviets. The signing
of new Soviet-Cuban economic agreements in late 1970 and
early 1971, the growing influx of Soviet technicians, the rising
influence of pro-Soviet elements within the Castro rgime-and
the Soviet submarine servicing facility in Cienfuegos all attest
to Moscow's increased hold on Cuba and Fidel's lessened
capacity to limit Soviet encroachment. Indeed, Cuba now
holds the dubious distinction in Latin America of having both
Soviet and U.S. naval facilities on its island. Accordingly, it is
not Castro himself, but the increased Soviet penetration of
Cuba-which in turn could facilitate the development of even
greater Soviet strategic capabilities in the Caribbean-that
now most endangers U.S. vital interests.

Paradoxically, then, it would now appear in the U.S. interest

to offer inducements to the Castro rgime to stem further
Soviet penetration of a strategic-military nature. Similarly, it
would seem to the advantage of the Cubans-if not Fidel
himself-to begin to work toward an eventual modus vivendi
with the United States in order to reduce Cuba's dependence
upon and subservience to Moscow. The public posture of both
parties has thus far provided few openings, however, as each
side appears to adhere to fixed positions.

For Castro, permanent defiance of the "imperialist

government" of the United States remains very much the
essence of his revolution. On August 23, 1968, he adamantly
ruled out the possibility of Cuba's seeking an accommodation
with the United States because that "would be the moment at
which the Revolution would have ceased to exist." On April
19, 1971, replying to the aforementioned statements by
President Nixon, he warned that:

The imperialists, of course, want Cuba to calm and behave

herself, they want to neutralize us. They shouldn't even dream
about this! . . . [because] firm principles and revolutionary
intransigence are also a part of the traditions of our people. . .
. This Revolution could only have relations with the
imperialists at the expense of surrender. And this Revolution
will never surrender!

On August 27, 1971, he repeated that Cuba had "nothing to

negotiate" with Washington, especially on the issue of
compensation for nationalized U.S. properties. But once U.S.
leaders decide "to lift their blockade against Cuba and stop all
their measures against Cuba they must do so unconditionally
and without discussing one single thing with us." It would
thus seem that the Cuban leader was claiming exclusive title
to unyielding anti-imperialist leadership following Peking's
turnabout. Nevertheless, his very protestations and conditions
concerning future relations with the United States also
suggest that Havana's position might not be as inflexible as it
first appears.
Castro's forward position of maximum "revolutionary
intransigence" could in fact mask contradictory tendencies
within his rgime-and possibly himself- concerning the
potential significance for Cuba of the U.S. policy shift on
Peking. His rgime includes an older generation of civilian
leaders from the defunct July 26th Movement who constitute
a less radicalized element than most of the fidelista leaders
drawn from the Sierra Maestra guerrilla campaign. In the
post-1959 period, moreover, a new generation of technical
and military lites has emerged who simply may not share the
older fidelistas' intense antipathy toward the "Colossus of the
North" and who may now be attracted by the Chinese
precedent. For these older and younger elements of the
Cuban leadership, therefore, some form of limited
accommodation with the United States may offer the only
prospect of improving Cuba's economic situation, lessening
her dependence on Moscow and undercutting the further rise
of pro-Soviet elements within the rgime.

Such a "Titoist" solution for Cuba has been flatly rejected by

Castro in the past-perhaps precisely because he views it both
as a "surrender" to the United States and as his last
remaining option for recovering his independence from
Moscow. In the meantime, the preservation of Cuba's
revolutionary ethic requires some level of external tension
with the United States. Indeed, his regimen of stark austerity
to force the pace of economic development, and his
commitment to creating a "new communist man," have been
facilitated over the years by Cuba's insularity from her
affluent, highly developed neighbor to the north. One of the
supreme ironies of the present Cuban situation, then, is that
an accommodative rather than an aggressive U.S. posture
could present difficult choices for Castro, and might indeed
pose the more threatening situation. Fidel's defiant posturing
thus serves a twofold premptive purpose: it deters moderate
elements within his rgime from pressing for some form of
rapprochement with the United States, while it discourages
Washington from pursuing a more conciliatory course toward

The Cuban Premier may well have succeeded in programing

the U.S. response in this respect. Notwithstanding the
changing context of the Cuban and Latin American situation,
U.S. officials continue to insist publicly that Havana has not
fulfilled the two "preconditions" necessary for the United
States to reconsider its position. Hence, State Department
spokesmen were quick to point out that in his speech of April
22, 1970, Castro had vowed that Cuba had not given up and
would not give up her support for the Latin American
revolutionary movement. They disregarded his amending
statement in which he added that such support "does not
necessarily have to be expressed in favor of guerrilla
movements" but could be extended to any nationalist
government "no matter by what path that government has
reached power"-a proviso that has since included the
Peruvian military rgime as well as Chile's democratically
elected socialist government.

In his remarks of April 16, 1971, President Nixon also focused

on Castro's antagonistic postures:

As far as Castro is concerned, he has already drawn the line.

He is exporting revolution all over the hemisphere, still
exporting it. His line is against the United States. . . . As long
as Castro is adopting an antagonistic, anti-American line, we
are certainly not going to normalize our relations toward
Castro. As soon as he changes his line toward us, we might
consider it. But it is his move.

By thus challenging Castro, the President enabled the lider

maxima to convert his own defiant stance in his April 19 reply
into a question of national honor. In turn, Castro's ringing
reaffirmations of support for the Latin American revolution
tend to feed U.S. perceptions. Hence, on January 2, 1972, the
President again insisted that there has been "no indication
whatever that Castro will recede one inch from his
determination of exporting Castro-type revolution all over the
Hemisphere." Consequently, he went on, "our policy isn't
going to change."

The President's position, moreover, conceals a fundamental

contradiction in U.S. policy. While decrying Havana's "export
of revolution," the United States has been equally adamant in
opposing normalization of diplomatic and trade relations
between Latin America and Cuba. Hence, by insisting on
Cuba's continued hemispheric isolation, the United States has
contributed to a situation whereby Havana in effect is being
encouraged to pursue revolutionary rather than diplomatic
interests in Latin America. Equally important, the President's
remarks have contained no signal for the Cubans that it is the
issue of increased Soviet military-political penetration and not
the issue of "exporting revolution"-whether symbolic or
actually implemented-that has now become the most
objectionable factor in the Cuban situation.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on

September 16, 1971, however, Deputy Assistant Secretary of
State Hurwitch did dwell on Cuba's military ties with the
Soviets. He charged that only the year before, the Castro
government had "permitted" the establishment of a Soviet
submarine facility in Cienfuegos. But his testimony
overlooked the question as to whether current U.S. policy
provides an inducement-let alone the leverage-for Cuba to
resist the Soviet incursion.

To be sure, Castro remains repugnant to much of the

American political community. Any change in U.S. policy
could be interpreted as a concession to communism, and as
bailing out a hostile government that is laboring under
economic difficulties. But such an ideological and emotional
reaction to Castro fails to come to grips with the crux of the
Cuban problem. It only postpones the reassessment of U.S.-
Cuban policy that must surely come, given the apparent
permanency of the Castro rgime, and the need to redefine
U.S. vital interests in light of recent Cuban and hemispheric

Further delay could prove costly to the United States on at

least two counts. First, in addition to Chile and Peru, a
number of Latin American states have already begun to press
for Cuba's reintegration within the Latin American community
in one form or another. The Cuban question is thus likely to
become a highly divisive issue for the inter-American
community in the future, and perhaps could even lead to
Washington's virtual isolation within much of the Hemisphere.
Second, and most importantly, the longer Washington delays
in reconsidering its policy toward Cuba, the less likely it is
that Castro will retain sufficient leverage to deter further
Soviet penetration. Ultimately, therefore, the United States
will probably deal with either a fidelista or a more Sovietized
rgime. Although the former appears preferable, we will
probably be confronted with the latter unless we are willing
to pay some price in the near future to bolster rather than
weaken Castro's position vis--vis the Soviets.


Such a maneuver by the United States is not without

precedent and in fact is entirely consistent with the long-
standing policy of Soviet containment. Washington turned the
Jugoslav situation to U.S. advantage by extending aid to Tito
following his break with Stalin in 1948. And today, the Nixon
administration not only seeks to develop ties with communist
China, but also to prevent a breakdown in relations with
socialist Chile which could lead to further Soviet penetration
of the Western Hemisphere.
Whether Castro himself can be prevailed upon to shift his
position toward the United States of course remains an open
question. It may depend upon whether he can still assert his
independence given Moscow's increased hold over the island.
But the point is that the United States has offered neither
Fidel nor less intractable elements within his rgime much
leeway in terms of exploring new options for Cuba. Instead,
the U.S. stance has tended to confirm the fidelista position
that Cuba must either capitulate to the Colossus or align
herself fully with the Soviet Union. By attempting to deprive
Cuba of the alternative markets and sources of supply, and by
seeking to prevent the normalization of relations between
Cuba and individual Latin American states it has also served
to reinforce Castro's behavior along objectionable, if not self-
defeating, lines.

A more flexible policy toward Cuba, therefore, would need to

clarify the alternatives available to the Castro rgime and the
intentions of the United States toward the Cuban Revolution.
In this regard, the U.S.-Cuban relationship need no longer be
conceived by either party as a zero-sum game whereby one
side can gain only at the expense of the other. To be sure,
many Cuban leaders still share Castro's assumption that any
lessening of Cuban-Soviet ties not only would constitute an
unacceptable "reversal of alliances," but also would leave
Havana extremely vulnerable to renewed U.S. efforts to
eliminate the present rgime.

Such an assumption may now be invalid, however. Havana's

alternatives are not mutually exclusive ones in which Cuba
must either become a satellite of the Soviet Union or revert
back as a client of the United States. Both Cuba and the
United States can gain from a situation whereby Havana
retains its political, economic and military "lifeline" with the
Soviet bloc, but recovers some measure of independence from
Soviet control-for example, by broadening Cuba's ties with
Western Europe and Japan, the noncommunist third world,
and Latin America. And even if an adversary relationship
were to remain under such conditions, it nevertheless would
be a less damaging one than at present.

In the final analysis, much may depend on how the United

States signals its readiness to work toward a limited
accommodation that minimizes the costs to both sides.
Washington could begin on the symbolic plane much as the
Nixon administration confirmed its position publicly to Peking
by its usage of the term "People's Republic of China." In
changing its public stance, the United States might eventually
succeed in indicating to the Cuban leadership that the
"Colossus of the North" does not seek Cuba's return to her
former client status, but only her escape from an ever-
increasing Soviet influence. Most critically, such a posture
would need to convey a commitment that the United States
would refrain from attempting to depose a more vulnerable
Cuban rgime that seeks to limit-let alone to break-its
protective association with Moscow.

Simultaneously, the United States would need to verify its

intentions, and to provide Havana with the incentives for
modifying Cuban policy. To this end, Washington might begin
wholly or in part by easing up on the U.S. trade embargo,
lifting the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba, permitting official
Cuban participation in specialized conferences and sporting
events held in the United States, removing U.S. objections to
West European trade with Cuba and relaxing U.S. opposition
to the normalization of relations between Latin America and
Cuba. At a minimum, such a policy shift would serve as a
means for testing Castro's readiness to lessen Cuba's
revolutionary objectives in the Hemisphere, and to resolve
such issues as the hijacking of commercial airplanes. At a
maximum, it might provide additional inducements and
needed leverage for Cuba to resist further Soviet military and
political penetration. Havana's response to the U.S. initiative
could then provide a basis for determining whether further
attempts to improve relations are in order.

[i] Philip W. Bonsai, "Cuba, Castro and the United States."

Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 1971.

[ii] Dwight D. Eisenhower, "The White House Years: Waging

Peace 1956-1960." Garden City: Doubleday, 1965, p. 521,

[iii] Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, "Un esclarecimiento

necessario," Hoy, April 15, 1959.

[iv] Letter from Felipe Pazos, March 23, 1963. Pazos served
as President of the National Bank of Cuba until November
1959, and in that capacity accompanied Castro to Washington
the previous April.

[v] Having become "deeply disgusted at his murderous

persecution of his former opponents," President Eisenhower
refused to meet Castro during his April 1959 visit. See
Eisenhower, op. cit., p. 532. Following his conference with
Castro, Vice President Nixon concluded that he was "either
incredibly nave about Communism or under Communist
discipline," and recommended that the United States "deal
with him accordingly." See Richard M. Nixon, "Six Crises"
(Garden City: Doubleday, 1962), p. 351-352.

[vi] Castro's return to the Soviet fold was signaled by his

qualified endorsement of the Warsaw Pact occupation of
Czechoslovakia in August 1968. For a fuller discussion of
Cuban-Soviet developments through 1970, see the author's
"Relationship with the Soviet Union," in Carmelo Mesa-Lago
(ed.), "Revolutionary Change in Cuba" (Pittsburgh: University
of Pittsburgh Press, 1971).

Foreign Aairs
Fall 1986

Cuba in the 1980s

Jorge Domnguez


A man repairs a vintage car on a street in Havana, Cuba.

Cuba is at a turning point. President Fidel Castro has been

using his power boldly during the past two years to reshape
internal affairs along lines not seen since the late 1960s.
Instead of delegating authority to powerful subordinates, as-
he had done since the early 1970s, he has recentralized it.
Instead of liberalizing the economy, he has reversed several
market-reliant policies of the past decade. And instead of
stressing pragmatic policy goals, he has again been
emphasizing the need to follow the "correct" ideological route
in building socialism.

Despite these internal changes, Cuban foreign policy has

remained on course. What Cuba does, and what happens in
Cuba, matters because its government has been "the mouse
that roared" in world affairs. Cuba has posted personnel
overseas in three dozen countries, ranging from Afghanistan
to Zimbabwe. In no fewer than a dozen of these, including
"world hot spots" such as Nicaragua, Ethiopia and South
Yemen, there is also a Cuban military presence. No fewer
than 30,000 Cuban troops support the Angolan government.

Cubas high profile is due both to the strong support of the

Soviet Union and to its own assertive leadership style. Cuba
is, simultaneously, the Soviet Unions most effective ally in
the Third World and a prominent member (with Castro a
former president) of the Nonaligned Movement. Cuba
participates in Latin American politics and is a full-fledged
member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance,
which binds the Soviet Union to its partners. And, of course,
Cuba and the United States are neighbors; this proximity also
contributes to the islands significance.

In late 1984, President Castro looked around and did not like
what he saw at home. He began a reorganization of internal
affairs, dismissing many top government and party leaders
from various organizations and factions. The three key
changes have been the 1985 dismissals of the interior
minister, Ramiro Valds; the president of the Central
Planning Board, Humberto Prez; and the party secretary for
ideology, Antonio Prez Herrero. One common theme of these
dismissals is that the officials work, though on some counts
successful, displeased President Castro, as did their
conspicuous display of decision-making autonomy.

Before his ouster, Ramiro Valds was considered the third-

ranking official, after Castros brother Ral. (Ral, who heads
the armed forces, is Fidels designated successor.) Valds, a
commander of the revolution since the war against the
government of Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s, worked to
consolidate the new governments power after victory in 1959
and during the critical decade of the 1960s. He used all
means, including repression of any opposition, widespread
imprisonment of dissidents and ample use of the death
penalty. When he stepped down at the decades end, the
counterrevolution had been crushed. He returned as interior
minister in late 1979 to stifle the discontent that became
evident to the world in 1980 when more than 125,000 Cubans
left from Mariel harbor for the United States. Again he
succeeded. Valds dismissal in December 1985, which was
announced in curt, cold tones, may have stemmed from
allegations of corruption and abuse of power against him.
Valds was also blamed for failing to stop a wave of common
crime, and he may have opposed some of the liberalizing
trends that have not been reversed, such as more permissive
social and religious attitudes and an openness to non-
communist influences. At the Cuban Communist Partys Third
Party Congress in February 1986, Valds was dropped from
the Politburo, which completed his fall from power.

Humberto Prez was the architect of Cubas economic

recovery during the past decade. To understand his
achievement, recall Cubas circumstances in the 1960s. This
allegedly centrally planned economy did not have a five-year
plan until 1976. In the late 1960s, it had no plan of any kind,
no budget, no auditing, and not even financial statistics to
determine costs. Labor unions were moribund, and workers
were expected to work overtime without pay. Wages were
paid with little regard to effort, quality or hardship.

Prez was able to make some headway; the economy did

recover from its collapse of the 1960s. It withstood even the
much lower prices for sugar (the commodity which still
accounts for at least three-quarters of Cuban export earnings)
that have been typical since 1975. It even grew somewhat in
the early 1980s, weathering the economic storm that has
devastated most of Latin America. Living standards rose.
Cuba may be one of the few countries where the application
of Soviet economic procedures, including some modified
market mechanisms, increased production and even

But Prez did not perform the miracles expected of him; the
Cuban economy remains troubled and dependent on external
aid. He was dismissed in July 1985 because the results were
not good enough. There was insufficient plan discipline and
too much reliance on the market, and his policies by late 1984
seemed to have led to serious balance-of-payments problems.
The new top official for the economy, Osmani Cienfuegos,
scored high on loyalty to the Castro brothers and on
organizational skills, but his main prior experience was
training insurgents for overseas revolutions in the late 1960s.

Antonio Prez Herrero tried to create a real communist party.

To understand the magnitude of his task also requires looking
back to the 1960s, when the allegedly Marxist-Leninist state
barely had a functioning communist party. No party congress
was held until 1975; the Central Committee had met rarely.
That presumably democratic regime had a makeshift
constitution, no nationwide elections and no legislative
assemblies. Prez Herrero was no democrat, but he sought to
apply Marxism-Leninism systematically to run Cuba. His
dismissal in 1985 was the first since 1968 which publicly
linked a party officials departure to a policy disputein his
case, the new, short-lived opening toward the United States,
and the new opening toward the Roman Catholic Church,
which is still under way. He was opposed to both overtures.

As a means to infuse new leadership at the top, at the Third

Party Congress in February 1986 nearly half of the alternate
Central Committee members were dropped, as were 37
percent of its full members. For the first time since the
Politburos creation in 1965, there was a major change in its
membership, including the departure of two commanders of
the revolution. The following were also "firsts": the new
interior minister (Division General Jos Abrantes) is not a
Politburo member; no naval officer is a full member of the
Central Committee; and a black man who was not a part of
the original revolutionary coalition, Esteban Lazo, entered the
Politburo. Also, both the proportion and the absolute number
of military members of the Central Committee fell to the
lowest levels ever, in order to assert the power of civilian
party elites more clearly.

This was not, however, a bloody or vicious purge. No one

dropped as a member or alternate of the Politburo was also
asked to leave the Central Committee. No faction was
crushed, no overarching policy dispute surfaced. Recruitment
was also rational. Promotion to the top organs rewarded good
performers and followed appropriate hierarchical channels.
No one was promoted to the Politburo who had not been at
least a Central Committee alternate. Many appointments to
replace ministers or party officials who had been dismissed
were promotions of those with experience. In short, the
shake-up has been radical, but not reckless.


What had gone so wrong that required so much change?

Castros criticism stresses lack of economic efficiency
(despite the growth) and discipline, and too much reliance on
market methods. He blamed these substantive and ideological
failings on top officials. Castro seems motivated by
ideological, political and economic factors. His solutions
apparently are to recentralize economic decision-making
authority as a means to achieve efficiency, and to
reemphasize socialist, revolutionary values as a means to
motivate people. Both solutions were tried and failed in Cuba
in the 1960s, but Castro seems determined nevertheless to try
them again. He believes that the regime is today more
ideologically mature and better organized, and thus able to
achieve these goals without the costs incurred in the 1960s. I
think he is wrong.

As a result of Castros critique, personnel changes were most

drastic in the malperforming sectors. The military personnel
who lost seats on the Central Committee were mostly from
the Interior Ministry and the navy; the first was blamed for
abuses, corruption and its inability to stop a crime wave in
1985, and the second for its serious disarray. Similarly, the
Interior Ministry general in charge of intelligence from
Grenada was dropped from the Central Committee; Cuba had
been in the dark about many changes that led the Grenadian
government to commit suicide in 1983, setting the stage for
the U.S. and English-speaking Caribbean intervention.

Fidel Castro criticized (generally accurately) his

governments performance in his report to the Third Party
Congress, thereby explaining the dismissal of many on his
economic team. He noted "the absence of comprehensive
national planning for economic development." The budget, he
said, "continued to be ineffective. Rather than regulating
spending, it, in effect, promoted it along with improper social
consumption." He questioned the reliability of government
statistics. He criticized the poor use of external financing for
projects that "have not always been undertaken with the
rational and disciplined approach" needed. He indicted
industry: "We are still facing technical and organizational
deficiencies in production, failure to make the best use of
foreign technical assistance, lack of technical discipline and
precision in industrial repair and maintenance." He regretted
that there "are serious service problems in Havana,
particularly in housing maintenance, public facilities and
public transportation" (there is little private car ownership).
Havana suffered, too, he said, from "inadequate" water supply
and from "serious problems with the telephone service." He
criticized education, the revolutions pride: "Some classes are
still mediocre or poor . . . [and] some students are promoted
without having gained the required knowledge."
Indeed, he complained about everything except his own
performance. Born in 1926, Castro seems healthy, able and
ready to rule Cuba until the next century. Supremely
confident as ever, conscious that he still has the support and
affection of many Cubans, shrewd and politically effective, he
still towers over Cubas national life. One of the worlds most
experienced leaders, with a prodigious memory, he is a
powerful and tireless orator as well as seductively persuasive
in conversation. He still pays detailed attention to animal
genetics, elementary school texts and the quality of baseball
teams. Castro can be charming, or ruthless if he must be, but
his style of rule has come to rely more on listening, choosing
and mediating than on shouting, initiating or imposing. And
yet he, above all, is responsible for his governments

Although Castro rightly criticized his deputies performance,

he is to blame to the extent that the flaws have been in design
and not implementation. He has promoted military and social
expenditures that have broken the budget. He has demanded
infeasible goals in national plans. He has promoted the
interests of the countryside at Havanas expense. And he is
personally disorganized in his management of the
government. Furthermore, Castro is certainly responsible for
the risky direction in which he has been taking the country in
the past two years.


There is a specter haunting Cuba. It is the specter of

capitalism. It impedes Fidel Castros political control of the
economy. It threatens his core, radical ideological beliefs. To
protect them, he has launched new policies to rediscover the
regimes "revolutionary roots." At the Third Party Congress,
he vented his anger. The management system (borrowed from
the Soviet Union) "could become a complete farce, as regards
enterprise efficiency, if we attempt to achieve enterprise
profitability by raising the price of products, construction, and
productive services." Indeed, he said, "prices in maintenance,
construction and transportation . . . are scandalously high."
He concluded: "I believe we still have a lot to learn in the field
of efficiency, and becoming the sorcerers apprentice, i.e.,
apprentice capitalists, is not the solution." Unlike the Soviet
Union, most of Eastern Europe, and certainly China, Cuba
may be the first communist regime in the late 1980s to back
off from market mechanisms in order to improve production
and efficiency.

In the 1970s, the government authorized private contracting

for services, such as plumbing repairs. That change was
popular and successful. Provided workers met their
obligations to their state enterprise employers, they could
contract privately for work on evenings or weekends. State
firms had been incompetent and slow to meet customer
needs. In 1986, however, Castro warned that "some people
have confused free-lancing with capitalism." Moreover, in the
plastic arts, where high rates stimulated artistic production
and rewarded quality, Castro said that "there are those who
paint and sell paintings or do decorating work, mostly for
state agencies, who have even earned over 200,000 pesos a
year." To him, this "showed some state officials are
irresponsible." A new commission has been appointed to
change this and perhaps other cultural policies.

In an April 1986 speech, Castro charged that "some of our

enterprise heads have also become capitalist-like
entrepreneurs." (The official newspaper ambiguously
reported that there was applause.) Castro continued: "The
first thing a socialist, a revolutionary, a communist cadre
must ask himself is not if his firm is making more money but
how the country makes more." He criticized managers "who
want their enterprises to be profitable by increasing prices
and distributing bonuses by charging the earth for anything."
He cited the example of elevators reinforced with stainless
steel sheets installed in the Hermanos Ameijeras hospital. At
first, he said, he admired the high quality of the work, but he
recoiled when he learned of the high prices one state agency
had charged another for the work.

Castro could have admired the work and recognized that it

was done well because the management system was working
as designed. Firms had been urged to show their efficiency by
becoming profitable; they could retain part of their profit and
declare a bonus for workers and managers. In return, it was
hoped that the quality of work would be better. The hospital
example showed how performance and profitability did
improve. Castro was questioning the success of his
governments policies.

Some of Castros reform policies are akin to Mikhail

Gorbachevs in the Soviet Union. In 1985 the Cuban
government launched a campaign against corrupt and
incompetent officials. The government has also taken steps
against anyone who is "diverting resources" for private use
"thanks to his friends and connections." Another Gorbachev-
style policy ordered bars not to serve beer before 3 p.m. so as
not to disrupt work or the neighbors during the day. But
Castros new policies go beyond this to question the very
mechanisms of material incentives. "Although we recognize
that there is room for bonuses under socialism," he warned,
"if there is too much talk of bonuses, we will be corrupting
workers." Instead of money, "is there no appeal to the
obligation of the workers? Is there no appeal to the duty of
young people, telling them that this is an underdeveloped
country that needs to develop, that it cannot be on the basis
of offering pie in the sky?"

To stamp out the curse of the market, in May 1986 the

government banned the free peasant markets. They had been
legalized in early 1980, following the example of other
communist countries. All those who raised crops could sell
freely in these markets, without price controls, any surpluses
remaining after national plan target commitments to state
agencies had been met. This measure rewarded peasants,
increased output of food crops and improved supplies in the
cities. But Castro became incensed by the emergence of
middlemen and the new wealth that these policies made
possible. In mid-1986 the government also amended its 1985
housing law to forbid private sales of homes. The law had
promoted home ownership, but some thought it meant that
they could sell their homes or those they built as they wished.

Such market means, Castro told the Interior Ministry on its

25th anniversary, reflected unacceptable "liberal bourgeois"
tendencies. Instead, "socialism must be built through political
work." These market "mechanisms only build capitalism." The
glories of the revolution, he said, were "not based on money"
but "on concepts, on ideas, on principles, and based on
certain moral values that people treasure."

Appeals to patriotism, to socialist values or to the

commitment to build a revolutionary society are a depletable
resource. People may tire as time passes or may become
skeptical of being called upon to perform miracles again. In
the late 1960s, Cuba sought to build a better society based on
higher values and to create a "new man," motivated by
political consciousness, not by "evil money." In those years,
the government closed down the bars, determined the right
length of womens skirts, sent homosexuals for
"rehabilitation" to forced labor camps, called on workers to
work overtime without pay, and disdained the use of financial
incentives. These efforts failed. With understatement, Cubans
refer to those times as the "tough years." Will Cubans in the
late 1980s work for values greater than self-interest? Castro
has said that he is not launching a cultural revolution, and yet
that is what people fear. He and his government seem to be
moving backward.
In discussions I held in Cuba in June 1986, many people
deeply committed to the revolution said that the closing down
of the free peasant markets was a mistake. The government,
they said, could have adopted intermediate steps, such as a
better tax and auditing policy, or the normal use of police
powers against crime. Instead, the policy swung from
unregulated markets to no markets. Beneath this, they had a
more serious worry. The trend toward the use of some market
means (promoted by Humberto Prez) had been part of
policies since the early 1970s. Castros explanation of recent
changes seemed to herald a renewed ideological zealotry to
alter what had seemed like the "rules of the game" for over a
decade. This larger fear created even greater anxiety.

There were reports about overzealous officials who ordered

that houses built without state authorization be torn down,
leaving people homeless. In northern Holgun province, 17
peasant families were evicted and their homes destroyed.
They appealed to the local Roman Catholic bishop, who
protected them from further harm. Town citizens gathered in
front of party offices to protest. Mothers threw down their
childrens emblems from the Young Pioneers Union and
stepped on them. Some asked how the Batista regimes
evictions differed from these. Other officials eventually
intervened and promised to build new housing, giving
temporary shelter to those who had lost their homes.

The new anti-capitalist values have a counterpart in economic

organization. Beginning also in late 1984, when Humberto
Prez power declined sharply, economic decision-making has
been increasingly centralized. Cubans report that top leaders
at times decide simple details that had been delegated in
years past to state enterprises. These leaders preferred
alternative to Cubas mild and successful use of market
means is ideology and centralization or, as they might put it,
the call to better discipline, sacrifice and organization to build
a new society with new and better citizens who respond to the
revolutions vision. In the past, this "vision" led to economic

These criticisms that I heard in Cuba (with which I agree)

could not have been recorded had people not been willing to
discuss them. I detected no fear. Many stressed their loyalty
to the revolution and told me that they criticized it as a sign
of their faith in its capacity to overcome error. They stressed,
too, that there were party policies to tolerate and promote
such criticism as means of rectifying errors. Nor would a
Roman Catholic bishop have dared to intervene against the
authorities had there not been a change in church-state
relations. But would the new path to virtue continue to
tolerate disagreements? The governments history provides
little reassurance: its past pursuit of a socialist utopia
unleashed arbitrary, ruthless repression.


In the Cuban leaderships view, the regime must rebuild its

ideological, political and economic foundations the better to
meet its commitments and resist external pressures. Pending
internal changes, however, Cuba needs time and room to
maneuver internationally in order to implement the new
domestic policies. Paradoxically, then, the internal
radicalization under way requires at least temporary foreign
policy moderation.

In late 1984 President Castro also looked abroad and did not
like much of what he saw. To gain some political breathing
space, he decided to try to improve relations with the United
States. Prospects for improvement over Central America were
poor. He turned instead to bilateral issues and to southern
Africa. Since 1975 Cuban troops had been in Angola. In 1976
they thought they had won the war, but it has yet to end.
Cuban forces have been in Angola longer than U.S. ground
combat forces were in Vietnam, with a higher percentage of
Cubas population deployed as troops there than the United
States had deployed at the peak of its war in Vietnam.

For the first time, in late 1984, Angolas government, with

Cubas support, put forth a proposal that accepted the
"linkage" between a phased Cuban troop withdrawal from
Angola and Namibian independence. Serious differences
remained between this proposal and U.S. and South African
preferences regarding the timing and simultaneity of the
changes and the size of the residual Cuban troop presence;
Angola and Cuba proposed to send 20,000 troops back to
Cuba but keep 10,000 Cuban troops in northern Angola to
protect Luanda and the Cabinda oil enclave. But at last there
appeared a way out of war through diplomacy. The Reagan
Administrations patient diplomacy deserved much credit, too.

These prospects changed quickly, however. In July 1985

pressures in the United States led Congress, at President
Reagans request, to repeal the Clark Amendment, which had
forbidden U.S. support to insurgencies in Angola. By late
1985 the U.S. government began to help Jonas Savimbis
UNITA rebels in their fight against the Angolan government;
Cuba and the Soviet Union escalated their aid to the Luanda
government as well. The chances for negotiated peace, or for
improved U.S. relations with Angola and Cuba, receded.

Cuba also sought to improve bilateral relations with the

United States. In December 1984 Cuba agreed to accept the
return of all those who had gone to the United States in the
1980 Mariel boatlift whom the United States had determined
were excludable under its immigration laws. In turn, the
United States agreed that up to 20,000 Cubans could
immigrate every year, the normal number for most countries.
The United States would also immediately take as refugees
some 3,000 former political prisoners released by Cuba. This
agreement was a success for the U.S. government. It would
send back thousands of Cubans in U.S. prisons, including
many who had never committed a crime in the United States.
U.S. acceptance of Cuban emigrants was not a concession,
but one of its goals: normal emigration would deter a "second
Mariel," and it would also serve the values of family
reunification in U.S. immigration law.

While Cuba sought to make it easier for regime opponents to

leave, a policy it has often (but not always) followed, its main
interest in the agreement was political. The Reagan
Administration recognized Cubas sovereign equality. At least
one aspect of U.S.-Cuban relations was "normalized."
Moreover, the United States agreed to distinguish immigrants
from refugees. Only a minority of the Cubans to come would
be categorized as refugees; most would be normal
immigrants. Thus the U.S. government certified that they did
not have "a well-founded fear of persecution" in "fleeing from
communism." As a result of the agreement, the U.S.
government had to argue in a U.S. federal court that the
Cuban government would protect the human rights of the
excludables about to be returned and that no federal judge
should prevent their departure.

The Reagan Administration decoupled strategy from ideology.

It got Cuba to address the U.S. immigration agenda and to
agree to most U.S. goals. In return, Cuba received symbols:
this most anti-communist of administrations had made a deal
with the Castro government. It did not last long, however. On
May 20, 1985, the Voice of Americas Radio Mart program
went on the air to tell Cubans about their government. A
furious Cuban government suspended the migration
agreement; it also suspended the visits to Cuba by Cuban-
Americans begun in the late 1970s. But a year later the
Cuban government again allowed visits by Cuban-Americans.
Moreover, feeling that Radio Mart was quite ineffective,
Cuba signaled its willingness to accept the broadcasts as a
fact and to reinstitute the migration agreement. Cubas new
economic troubles, political discontent and rising common
crime reminded its government that emigration could be a
safety valve. Cubas search for U.S. concessions to match its
own shift, however, reached an impasse in the summer of
1986: Cuba demanded too much, the United States was
willing to concede too little. One result is that the pressures
that led to the Mariel exodus in 1980 are building up again in

U.S.-Cuban relations might have improved as a result of

breakthroughs in southern Africa and over migration. That
did not happen. Facing down the seventh U.S. president who
attempted unsuccessfully to weaken his regime since he led
his comrades to power in January 1959, President Castro has
begun to look to the post-Reagan years and to relations with
other governments to strengthen Cubas general international

Revolutionary victories in Grenada and in Nicaragua in 1979

reassured Cuba that the torch of revolution lit the path to the
future in the Americas. But they also frightened many in the
United States and elsewhere. Much of the English-speaking
Caribbean joined the United States to overthrow Grenadas
government in 1983. Although the Sandinista government
retained more support in Latin America against U.S. efforts to
overthrow it than Grenada had, Latin Americas initial
enthusiasm for the Sandinistas had waned by the mid-1980s.
Cuban support for the Salvadoran insurgency in 1980 and
early 1981, which included military supplies, confirmed the
worst fears of its adversaries. Cuba seemed to have returned
to its slogan of the 1960s: "It is the duty of revolutionaries to
make the revolution" everywhere.

Earlier, during the 1970s, Cuba had broken out of its

isolation, promoted by the United States and formalized in the
collective sanctions imposed by the Organization of American
States in 1964. Those sanctions were lifted in 1975, in part
because Cuba turned away from supporting insurgencies in
the Americas; by the decades end, Cuba had good relations
with a majority of the hemispheres governments. In 1979-80,
however, amid new fears of revolutionary successes, serious
incidents, especially at several embassies in Havana
(including the rush of thousands into the Peruvian embassy
and their later departure from Cuba), brought Cuba into
conflict with Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.
Colombia broke relations with Cuba over the latters support
for the M-19 guerrillas. At Argentinas initiative, Cuban-
Argentine trade relations withered. Moreover, Cubas air
force mistakenly sank a Bahamian coast guard boat (Cuba
later apologized and paid compensation). Elections in St.
Lucia, Dominica and Jamaica brought to power governments
more hostile to Cuba. By early 1981 Cubas policy in Latin
America and the Caribbean lay in shambles.

Since 1981 the U.S. government has intensified efforts to

isolate Cuba. Among other things, it has enforced penalties on
third-country firms that import Cuban nickel and incorporate
it in products exported to the United States; it has reimposed
a ban on U.S. tourist travel to Cuba; it has prohibited travel
by Cuban scholars to the United States; and it has sought to
discredit Cuba before governments and banks holding Cuban

Thus Cuban foreign policy had to become more moderate if it

was to be effective. Despite U.S. efforts, Cuba has rebuilt its
relations with many Latin American countries (though not
with the English-speaking Caribbean). It has emphasized
government-to-government relations, not support for
revolution. Argentina has become its premier trade partner in
the Americas. In 1985 Ecuadors conservative president, Len
Febres Cordero, became the first Latin American head of
state to visit Havana since 1960. Cuba distanced itself
somewhat from insurgencies in Colombia and in Peru and
refrained from further large weapons deliveries to the
Salvadoran guerrillas. Relations improved with Colombia,
Costa Rica, Peru and Venezuela. In 1985-86, they were
reestablished with Brazil and Uruguay. They remain good
with Panama and Mexico. President Castro has voiced
publicly a private hope of many Latin Americans: that the
foreign debt be canceled (though Cuba continues to honor its
own debt to Western banks).

Cuba supports Nicaraguas government. Thousands of Cuban

civilian and military advisers have worked in Nicaragua
throughout the 1980s. As earlier in Grenada, many Cuban
civilians in Nicaragua are military reservists; Cuba learned
from its Grenadian experience to post younger and better-
trained reservists to Nicaragua, who can put up a better fight
against U.S. troops should they attack. Cuba has also said,
however, that it would not reinforce its forces in Nicaragua if
the United States attacks, because it is infeasible and too
dangerous. Cuba has supported the Contadora process
because an agreement would consolidate Sandinista rule.
Cuba supports a negotiated settlement in El Salvador as well
because it believes that neither side can win that war, and
that negotiations might bring more power to the
revolutionaries than they could wrest by force of arms.


No other country of Cubas size, and few with more

resources, match the worldwide scope of Cubas foreign
policy. A major actor in Africas international affairs, Cuban
troops in Angola are near the front lines facing South Africa.
Cuban troops worked with the Soviets to help Ethiopia defeat
the Somali invasion in 1977-78; having won, most Cuban
troops were withdrawn from Ethiopia by the mid-1980s.

Cuba supports insurgencies in Africa under the banner of

anticolonialism and antiracism; it, in turn, enjoys much
support from African governments, many of which approved
of Cuban efforts in both Angola and Ethiopia. Cuba backs the
fight of the Namibian group, SWAPO, for independence from
South Africa, and the African National Congress struggle to
topple the South African government. More controversially,
Cuba recognized the Saharawi Democratic Arab
Republicthe Polisario insurgencyas an independent state
fighting the Moroccan "occupation" of the former Spanish
Sahara; some Cubans are in the Sahara, and hundreds sent by
Polisario receive training in Cuba. To be sure, Cuba is not the
"cause" of these troubles (or of El Salvadors). Cuba is a
significant factor in Africa mainly because of the link between
Namibias independence and its troop presence in Angola.
But Cubas support for revolution abroad remains a
fundamental principle of its foreign policy, so long as it does
not impede good relations with most governments in Africa or
in Latin America.

Benin and So Tom and Prncipe are not familiar names.

Libya and Algeria are better known. All host Cuban
cooperation personnel. Cuban aid to the first two is free;
Cuba charges commercial rates to the latter pair, and to other
oil-producing countries. Cuban state firms behave like any
firms competing in the world market. Their comparative
advantages are two: prices lower than prevail in world
markets for comparable services, and political solidarity with
the host government. Some Cuban overseas work has mainly
political goals: to help Cuban allies and bolster Cubas
influence. And so it is that Cubans toil deep in Libyas deserts
to build roads, and account for a majority of the health
personnel serving the poor people of So Tom and Prncipe.
And over 20,000 people from over 80 countries have been
trained in Cuba in the mid-1980s.


Since 1959 Cuba has called on the old world to redress the
political imbalances in the new. In the early 1960s Cubas
relations with most industrial democracies (other than the
United States and West Germany) were favorable enough to
help it thwart the U.S. trade embargo. These relations
improved further in the 1970s; trade boomed with all of them
except the United States. By 1975, 36 percent of Cuban
exports and 52 percent of imports were being traded with
non-Soviet bloc countries. As Cubas economic performance
improved, it became creditworthy enough to incur debt with
Western governments and banks (except the U.S. government
and banks). Cubas debt in convertible currencies increased
tenfold between 1969 and 1982.

These relations have deteriorated since the late 1970s,

however. Western governments drew back after Cuban
interventions in southern and eastern African wars (1975-78).
The U.S. government pressured its allies to curtail their
relations with Cuba. Cuban economic performance, though
still generally positive, was weaker than during the first half
of the 1970s. Specific disputes, ranging from excessive sugar
prices charged to Japan to Cubas views on the status of West
Berlin, roiled Cuban relations. Cuba, feeling vulnerable,
reconcentrated its trade with the Soviet bloc, which has
accounted for not less than 80 percent of Cuban trade since

In 1982, Cuba, like most Latin American countries, sought

debt relief from market-economy creditors. This Cuban debt
(as opposed to its debt to the Soviet Union) is not large by
world standards or those of the Cuban economy. Creditor
governments and banks, and Cuba, have bargained hard but
pragmatically and have rescheduled Cuban debts every year.
In 1982, the rescheduling terms put Cuba at about the
median of the settlements reached by Latin American
governments. Since then, as is true throughout Latin
America, Cubas terms on the rescheduled debt have
improved, though less than for Latin America as a whole.
Cuba also launched a vigorous export drive. It now sells some
200 products in market-economy countries, though mostly in
small quantities. Cuba still relies on sugar for the bulk of its
worldwide trade and, more recently, on petroleum for its
sales to market-economy countries. Yes, petroleum.

Cuba produces little petroleum on its own, though output has

risen in the 1980s. In the early 1980s, the Soviet Union
agreed to let Cuba reexport the Soviet-supplied petroleum
that it conserved. Targets were set; Cuba bought Soviet
petroleum in transferable rubles, used less than it bought,
and resold the difference for hard currency. By 1985, Cubas
hard-currency earnings from petroleum reexports were three
times greater than its hard-currency earnings from sugar
exports. When the world oil price fell, Cuba was hit hard. It
will lose about one-sixth of its expected 1986 hard-currency
earnings. In May 1986, Cuba announced that it would stop
payment on its convertible currency debt for 90 days, though
it soon reversed itself and made a small payment to reassure
its creditors. Despite these troubles, Cubas relations with
industrial democracies (other than the United States) still
give it political and economic breathing space.


Does Cuba in fact have its own foreign policy, one with
autonomy from the U.S.S.R.? To be sure, the Soviet Union has
exercised its hegemony over Cuba. When Cuba crossed
boundaries that the U.S.S.R. had set, the U.S.S.R. retaliated.
In late 1967 and early 1968, the Soviet Union imposed
economic sanctions on Cuba because it opposed some Castro
policies, and the two countries disagreed on relations with
revolutionary groups and with governments. It slowed down
oil deliveries to Cuba while it increased oil exports to Cubas
Latin American adversaries; it postponed weapons deliveries
and suspended technical collaboration. Soviet government
and party officials worked with some Cubans who sought to
change their governments leadership and policies. Castro
yielded. Since then, Cuban and Soviet policies have
converged, though they are not identical. Cuba does not
publicly criticize Soviet policy even when there may be
differences. In the crunch, Cuba sides with the Soviets
without failas in voting with them at the United Nations
when the Soviets intervened in Afghanistan and in boycotting
the Olympics in Los Angeles.

But within the confines of Soviet hegemony, there have been

three developments. First, Cuba has gradually consented to it.
The Cuban governments political and ideological learning
has led it to recognize that it could not survive without
massive Soviet support and that Cubas own influence in
world affairs would be inconceivable without its Soviet
alliance. Second, Cuba has much political space to develop
policies of its own that do not challenge Soviet interests. For
example, Cuba began supporting insurgencies in 1959, before
its alliance with the Soviet Union, and has retained a much
more active relationship with revolutionaries than has the
U.S.S.R. Third, Cuba at times leads the Soviet Union,
persuading it to behave as it otherwise would not. The Third
World has in general a higher priority in Cuban foreign policy
than it does in the Soviet Unions.

Cuba led the Soviet Union into both Angola and Central
America. As Arkady N. Shevchenko, a high Soviet foreign
official who defected, described the decision to send 36,000
Cuban troops to fight in Angola in 1975-76: "[Deputy Foreign
Minister Vasily] Kuznetsov told me that the idea for the large-
scale military operation had originated in Havana, not
Moscow." General Vernon Walters, deputy director of the CIA
in 1975, concurs: "I believe that as between being a tool of
Moscow or pursuing his own aims, Castro was pursuing his
own aimswhich happened to be, in large part, convergent
with those of Moscow." Cuba had had closer relations than
the U.S.S.R. with the Popular Movement for the Liberation of
Angola (MPLA). The U.S.S.R. was reluctant to intervene in
Angola when the MPLA first asked, while Cuba responded
quickly. Cuban troops were ferried to Angola on Cuban ships
and planes, and were commanded by Cuban generals. Soviet
support arrived only later.

So too in Central America, as President Castro explained in a

December 1982 speech reported in the Cuban press:

One of the great lies that the imperialists use concerning

Central America is their attempt to impute the revolution in
this area to the Soviet Union. . . . [The U.S.S.R.] has had
nothing whatsoever to do with Central America. . . . The
Soviets did not know even one of the present leaders of
Nicaragua . . . during the period of revolutionary struggle.
The same holds true for El Salvador . . . with the exception of
the Communist party of El Salvador. . . not one of the major
groupsthe Soviet Union did not know the leaders of [most
Salvadoran] revolutionary organizations and had no contact
with them. The same goes for Guatemala. . . . We Cubans . . .
have relations with the revolutionary movements, we know
the revolutionary leaders in the area. I am not going to deny

The Soviet Unions policy had been to support the communist

parties of Latin America, which in the 1960s and early 1970s
did not support armed struggle. The Salvadoran, Guatemalan
and Chilean parties changed their minds, as did the Soviet
Union, after seeing the gains made by the Cuban-supported
Sandinistas in the late 1970s. That Cuba led the Soviet Union
into two of the worlds most explosive disputesAngola and
Central Americais no cause for cheer. Cuban autonomy and
leadership are major sources of instability in both regions and
are clearly adverse to the interests of the United States and
its allies. Cuban behavior was not contrary to Soviet interests,
but the drawing in of the Soviet Union was not foreordained.
It would be a simpler world if Cuba were just a Soviet puppet.
Cuba remains nonetheless vulnerable to Soviet pressures. The
Soviet bloc accounts for over four-fifths of Cuban trade; it has
also subsidized the Cuban economy since the mid-1970s at a
level equal to at least one-tenth of Cubas gross product. This
calculation does not include the vast transfers of Soviet
military equipment to Cuba, which are free of charge. Nor
have Soviet-Cuban relations always been cordial in recent
years. For example, in 1981 the Soviet Union cut the price it
paid for Cuban sugar while it raised the price it charged for
petroleum and other products. I estimate that the Soviet
sugar price fell 18 percent from 1980 to 1981, though it
recovered by 1983. That cut helps explain why Cuba had to
renegotiate its debt in 1982. Cubas terms of trade with the
Soviet Union deteriorated by about one-sixth from the
mid-1970s to the mid-1980s (though that is far better than
what prevails between Cuba and market-economy countries
that do not subsidize their trade with Cuba).

Soviet-Cuban relations, in short, are complex, embodying

unequal power and the exercise of Soviet hegemony as well
as Cuban consent to Soviet hegemony and occasional Cuban
leadership. Cuban and Soviet policies, even if not identical,
are generally hostile to U.S. interests. But the skillful defense
of U.S. interests, and of those of its allies and friends,
requires a more subtle understanding that, against all odds,
the Cuban government does have a foreign policy of its own.

Cuban internal affairs are heading for trouble as its

government adopts policies that disconcert even its
supporters. And yet, damnable as many abuses the Cuban
government has committed against its opponents and many
innocent people in the name of revolution and socialism
undoubtedly are, Cubas foreign policy remains that
governments fundamental achievement.

Jorge I. Domnguez is a professor of government at Harvard University. His book, To

Make a World Safe for Revolution, will be published in 1987. His research on Cuba has
been supported by the Ford Foundation.

Foreign Aairs
Summer 1990

Cuba's Cloudy Future

Susan Kaufman Purcell


Clouds over Havana, Cuba.

Shortly after the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu in

December 1989, bumper stickers promising "Christmas in
Havana" appeared in the streets of Miami, home of the
largest Cuban community outside of Cuba. The slogan
reflected the exiles' conviction that Cuba, whose economy is
almost totally dependent on aid from what was the Soviet
bloc, would soon collapse in the aftermath of democratic
revolutions in Eastern Europe and the economic and political
reforms in the Soviet Union.

Fidel Castro may still be in power by next Christmas, but it is

doubtful that he will be able to withstand indefinitely the
pressures that are steadily building on the island. The
collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and its
disintegration in the Soviet Union present Castro with his
most serious threat to date. The threat is political and
ideological as well as economic. Only yesterday history was
supposedly on the side of socialism, which placed Castro
among the world's winners. Today with democracy
triumphant the Cuban leader has suddenly become a "fossil

Even before the events of last winter, signs of decay within

the Cuban system were apparent. Growing evidence of the
Cuban government's corruption and involvement in drug
trafficking, combined with the Moscow-style show trial and
execution of the popular general and war hero Arnaldo Ochoa
Snchez, indicated that the Cuban revolution and its leader
had begun to lose their moral authority. The February 1990
elections in Nicaragua, which produced the stunning defeat of
the Sandinista government, focused attention on the fact that
the Cuban people had never had an opportunity to vote for or
against Fidel Castro during his 31-year rule. Following hard
upon the U.S. invasion of Panama, which removed General
Manuel Antonio Noriega from power, the Nicaraguan
elections also left the Cuban leader bereft of allies in the

Confronted with these international and domestic

developments, Castro reiterated his commitment to socialism
and began elaborating contingency plans for coping with
expected economic disruptions and political unrest. His
defiant vow of "socialism or death" may reflect his view of the
only alternatives open to him. Yet Castro has abruptly shifted
course before. From the late 1970s into the early 1980s he
experimented with market mechanisms, and in the late 1980s
with limited political pluralism, only to subsequently reassert
his control. If Castro were to introduce such reforms again as
a way of diffusing growing pressures, it is not clear that the
genie of political and economic liberalization could again be
so easily put back into the bottle.


It is difficult to overstate the importance of Soviet aid to

Cuba. A small island of over ten million people, it receives
between three billion dollars (according to Soviet sources)
and five to six billion dollars (according to U.S. sources) of
Soviet economic aid annually. Military aid is estimated at $1.2
billion annually. Economic and military aid combined account
for up to 19-21 percent of Cuba's GDP.

Much of the aid takes the form of trade subsidies. Cuba

imports nearly all of its petroleum from the Soviet Union at
below world market prices. Since the late 1970s Moscow has
allowed Havana to import more oil than it consumes and to
sell the excess on the world market at commercial rates. As a
result petroleum sales have become the single most important
source of foreign exchange for Cuba. The Soviet Union also
buys sugar from Cuba at prices that have averaged between
three and five times the world market price.

Cuba's dependence on subsidized trade with the Soviet Union

has grown since 1981, when 60 percent of its trade was with
Moscow; today that share is nearly 75 percent. Almost 90
percent of Cuba's trade is with socialist countries, an increase
from 74 percent nine years ago.2

The increased trade with the Soviet Union and Eastern

Europe reflects in part Cuba's inability to service its $6.8-
billion debt in convertible currencies to the Western
governments since July 1986. Unable to obtain credits to
purchase goods in Western markets, Cuba was obliged to
increase its trade with the nonmarket economies of the Soviet
Union and Eastern Europe, with which Havana could barter
rather than spend scarce foreign exchange. Cuba remains a
monoculture economy whose main export is sugar. Its
economic productivity is more or less what it was in 1958,
during the last days of the Batista dictatorship, when Cuba
had three million fewer people than today. Without Soviet aid,
it is also unlikely that Havana would have been able to
withstand the U.S. economic embargo, which dates from

The Soviet Union has bankrolled the Cuban Revolution over

the years, despite periods of open disagreement between
Moscow and Havana, because Cuba has been extremely
useful to the Soviets. It is an important outpost and
ideological ally in the U.S. sphere of influence. It serves as a
base for Soviet submarines and reconnaissance aircraft and
greatly enhances Soviet intelligence-gathering capabilities
along the Atlantic coasts of North and South America. Cuba
has also advanced Soviet interests in the Third World by
engaging in behavior that would be unacceptable if done
directly by the Soviets (e.g., training and arming Marxist
guerrillas and deploying tens of thousands of troops to prop
up Third World regimes friendly to the Soviet Union, such as
those of Angola and Ethiopia). Diplomatically Cuba has
increased Soviet influence and contacts with developing
countries in a variety of international forums.

The ascent of Mikhail Gorbachev to power in the Soviet Union

and his policies of glasnost and perestroika plunged Moscow
and Havana into another period of public conflict. Castro has
made no secret of his disapproval of Gorbachev's policies or
his fears that they will destroy the Soviet Union's ability to
maintain its status as a superpower. Instead of following
Moscow's lead, Castro launched in 1986 a so-called
rectification campaign, whose declared purpose was to
eliminate all traces of liberal economics and to reaffirm and
consolidate further Cuba's socialist command economy.

This time, however, the past may not be a valid guide to the
future of Soviet policy toward Cuba. First, as the Cold War
winds down, Havana's value to Moscow has declined.
Technological advances have reduced Cuba's importance for
intelligence gathering and even as a military base. In
addition, because Gorbachev's policies no longer involve
active support of "wars of national liberation" in the Third
World, Cuba's continued support of Marxist guerrilla groups
in Central America and elsewhere directly challenges
Gorbachev and undermines his efforts to change the Soviet
Union's international image. Finally Cuba's revolutionary
foreign policy jeopardizes the growing rapprochement
between the Soviet Union and the United States, since
Washington holds Moscow accountable for Havana's
behavior. President Bush made this clear during the Malta
summit, and Secretary of State James Baker did the same,
both during his unprecedented appearance before the new
Soviet parliament and in his speech to the Organization of
American States in late 1989.

Internal developments in the Soviet Union also are

contributing to Gorbachev's reduced tolerance for Soviet-
Cuban conflict. Glasnost and perestroika have produced
greater public scrutiny over foreign policy by the Soviet press
and the new parliament. The result has been an
unprecedented questioning of Moscow's traditional foreign
policy commitments and a growing unwillingness to sustain
the costs of an empire when the Soviet economy is
experiencing severe problems.

The pages of Moscow News have served as a forum for the

growing debate over Soviet foreign policy. Writing in 1989,
Andrei Kortunov of the Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada
stated that Moscow had given more than 25 percent of its
foreign aid to Cuba in 1988-89. He noted that the Soviet
Union's total foreign aid budget was almost six times greater,
on a per capita basis, than that of the United States and asked
why aid was being given to Third World countries that are
dictatorships and engage in "adventurist" foreign policies.
Moscow News also quoted a Moscow deputy as saying, "We
can't tolerate that sort of situation when our own people have
to get ration cards for soap and sugar and can't find a decent
cut of meat in the stores."

More recently, opposition members of the Soviet parliament

put a "deputies' question" to Nikolai Ryzhkov, the Soviet
prime minister. "Before the congress decides on the proposed
government measures to improve the economy," they said,
"we ask you to tell the deputies the scale of foreign states'
debt to the Soviet Union and its size, state by state, as well as
the terms of repayment procedure." In response, the
government newspaper Izvestiya published an article by
Ryzhkov with figures on debts owed to Moscow by foreign
borrowers. Cuba was at the top of the list, with a cumulative
debt of 15 billion rubles, or more than $24 billion at the
official exchange rate of one ruble for $1.60. Cuba's debt was
more than double that of the second-place debtor, Vietnam.3

Despite increasing debate within the Soviet Union, there has

not yet been a significant reduction in Soviet aid to Cuba.
Instead a new one-year Soviet-Cuban trade agreement, signed
in April 1990, reportedly increases trade and technical
assistance by 8.7 percent over 1989. Military aid decreased
from 1988 to 1989, but only to $1.2 billion from $1.5 billion.
On the other hand, Moscow delivered six new MiG-29s to
Havana in 1989 to replace Cuba's aging MiG-23s.

Although Soviet aid has not yet decreased, the odds are good
that it will be cut significantly in the coming years. Soviet-
Cuban economic relations are still governed by the 1986-90
Soviet Five-Year Plan. The unprecedented public discussion of
the Soviet Union's foreign aid policy, particularly with
reference to Cuba, must be evaluated in this context. The new
five-year plan is also being negotiated in the context of the
continuing deterioration of the Soviet economy, which may
account for recent reports that Moscow wants to sign an
agreement for only two years instead of five.

In the meantime Soviet-Cuban trade has become increasingly

unpredictable since 1988 when, as part of perestroika, Soviet
enterprises obtained the right to trade directly on foreign
markets. This has meant that Cuba has had to deal directly
with individual Soviet enterprises, which prefer to sell to
customers who pay in hard currency.

The impact of this situation on Cuba was clearly visible by the

summer of 1989, when a delay in a shipment of Soviet wheat
and flour caused pizzerias and bakeries in Havana to reduce
their hours or close their shops temporarily. Subsequently
ships carrying wheat and flour scheduled to arrive in Cuba in
December 1989 were unable to complete their deliveries until
January 22, 1990. This relatively short delay forced the Cuban
government to buy 20,000 tons of wheat from Western
countries for hard currency. The wheat shortage immediately
affected egg production and caused the price of eggs to
double. It also caused a reduction in daily bread rations
outside the capital and price increases in Havana for baked

The fact that a three-week delay in the arrival of wheat and

flour was so quickly translated into widespread shortages,
rationing and price increases highlights Cuba's extreme
vulnerability to the ripple effects of perestroika. Any
fundamental renegotiation of the terms of trade between
Moscow and Havana in the next five-year plan that adjusts
the prices of Soviet oil and Cuban sugar to their real market
value, as Soviet officials have proposed, would clearly create
severe economic problems for Cuba.


Although Cuba's trade with Eastern Europe accounts for only

about 15 percent of the island's trade with socialist countries,
the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe will ultimately
prove more economically destabilizing to Cuba in the short
run than the implications of glasnost and perestroika in the
Soviet Union. Eastern Europe has traditionally supplied Cuba
with the technology, manufactured goods and spare parts that
the Soviet Union has been unable to provide. These include
electric generators and centrifuges for Cuba's sugar mills, as
well as trucks, buses and other vehicles for Cuba's
transportation system.

Unlike the Soviet Union, which has never known capitalism

and continues to shrink from a total commitment to a market
economy, Eastern Europe is racing to recapture its
capitalistic past. In the process, it is rejecting barter
agreements in favor of transactions in hard currency
wherever its products are internationally competitive. Also, in
contrast to the Soviet Union, the new East European
governments feel no gratitude or responsibility toward Cuba.

The impact of Eastern Europe's democratic revolutions is

already being felt in Cuba. Factories have closed;
transportation and construction, which depend on imports
from Eastern Europe, are in decline; workers are having
difficulties getting to their jobs and, if and when they arrive,
they often remain idle because some crucial input or spare
part is unavailable; consumer goods such as toothpaste and
razor blades are in short supply, and interminable waits for
television sets awarded to model workers have become
commonplace. In a recent speech outlining what might lie
ahead, Castro acknowledged that an agreement for the
12,000 tons of poultry that Cuba anticipated receiving from
Bulgaria had not been signed. The same was true of the
agreement with Czechoslovakia on barley, which goes into the
production of beer and malt. Castro added that buses and
spare parts from Hungary may not arrive and that Cuba could
not count on receiving parts for their Czechoslovak
thermoelectric plants.
The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe is also having a
political impact on Cuba. In March 1990 the U.N. Commission
on Human Rights, meeting in Geneva, voted to ask the Cuban
government to comply with its pledge not to detain, repress
or otherwise mistreat Cuban human rights activists. The
resolution also asked Cuba to provide answers to questions
that the delegation had posed during its 1988 visit to the
island. The resolution, which Cuba vigorously opposed, was
cosponsored by Czechoslovakia and Poland, in their capacity
as observers. Voting with the United States in favor of the
resolution were Bulgaria and Hungary. Prior to the events of
late 1989, Eastern Europe had always voted as a bloc with
Cuba on the human rights commission.

Only a decade ago, Castro presided over the so-called

nonaligned movement. Now it remains unclear whether the
nonaligned movement has a future and whether Cuba will
have the votes within the United Nations to continue its anti-
imperialist crusade against the United States.

There is also a psychological impact. The rush to democracy

and market economies in the old Soviet-bloc countries leaves
Cuba almost alone in the world, defending a system that
former allies are repudiating. The sense of moral
righteousness and the belief that history was on Cuba's side,
which bolstered Castro's authoritarian rule through the years,
have been undermined. The Cuban leader now has to deal
with growing economic problems while armed with a severely
diminished reservoir of political legitimacy.


In an effort to undo the political damage wrought by

democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe, Castro argued that
those events were irrelevant to Cuba. Communism was
imposed there by an outside power, he emphasized, while
Cuban communism was the result of a popular revolution by
the Cuban people. His conclusion: Cubans strongly support
their political system and its leader and a vote is not
necessary to prove this, since the Cuban people "voted" by
revolting against Fulgencio Batista over 31 years ago.

Unfortunately for Castro, the February elections in Nicaragua

undermined his argument. Like Castro, the Sandinistas had
believed that events in Eastern Europe were irrelevant to
Nicaragua. Like Castro, they considered themselves to be
highly popular because they had overthrown a hated dictator
a decade earlier. And like Castro, they minimized the
importance of their control over the military, intelligence and
the police in accounting for their continued leadership. The
Sandinistas' electoral loss to a candidate promising
democracy and a market economy undermined Castro's
rationale and further weakened his political legitimacy.

The Sandinistas' defeat was Castro's second serious setback

in Latin America. In December 1989 General Noriega, who
had become the Cuban leader's other close ally in the region,
was removed from power by the U.S. invasion of Panama.
Noriega's cooperation had helped Castro circumvent the U.S.
trade embargo against Cuba by allowing Havana to establish
dummy corporations in Panama. Castro, in turn, had
authorized the training in Cuba of officers of Noriega's
"dignity battalions," the thugs he used to attack the political
opposition. In addition, Cuba had made an estimated $70
million over the last five years by selling visas to Cubans
wanting to leave the island for Panama. Havana also used
Panama City's very liberal banking system to launder money
obtained from its involvement in drug trafficking.

Noriega's fall also negatively affected Castro's revolutionary

plans for the hemisphere. The Cuban and Panamanian leaders
had cooperated in smuggling weapons and ammunition to the
Salvadoran guerrillas, principally through Panama's fishing
port at Vacamonte, on the Pacific coast.
Castro's isolation in the hemisphere was further compounded
by elections in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras, which
brought to power conservative presidents. These new
presidents made it less likely that Castro would be included in
diplomatic efforts to end the war in El Salvador.

The new challenges presented by developments abroad

worsened the already deteriorating economic situation at
home. Between 1986 and 1989 the Cuban economy declined
at an annual rate of 0.8 percent. Labor productivity fell by an
estimated 2.5 percent during the same period, while the
budget deficit increased 4.5 times. The foreign trade deficit
exceeded two billion dollars annually, and Cuba's hard
currency debt almost doubled to over six billion dollars.4 The
unpaid debt to the Soviet Union increased sixfold,5 and
Cuba's hard currency reserves fell by $9.5 million to $87.9
million in 1989. This represents half the average level of
reserves available between 1975 and 1985.6

The economic decline can be attributed partially to the fall in

oil prices on international markets, which caused Cuba's hard
currency earnings from the sale of surplus Soviet oil to
decrease from $621 million in 1985 to $189 million in 1988.
The 1989 figure is expected to reach almost zero.7 Contrary
to the conventional wisdom, there is no evidence that the
decline in Cuba's hard currency earnings from the reexport of
Soviet oil was caused by a significant cutback in the supply of
that oil.

The other explanation for the economic decline is Castro's

rectification campaign. Launched in April 1986 and still in
effect, the rectification campaign reversed an experiment
with market mechanisms by recentralizing the economy and
substituting moral for material incentives. An ideological
update of Castro's revolutionary offensive of 1968, the
rectification campaign has failed dismally. Productivity has
continued to decline as Cubans refuse to work hard to build a
better future under socialism that never seems to arrive.
Despite the glaring failure of the rectification campaign,
however, Castro so far has refused to give even limited
economic liberalization another try, claiming it generated a
class of high-paid middlemen who exploited the Cuban people
by charging exorbitant prices for food and services. What he
does not emphasize is that the experiment with market
mechanisms led to spectacular increases in agricultural
productivity as well as to the creation of a class of Cubans
who were less dependent on the government and less subject
to its control.

Instead of opening the economy, Castro has responded to the

worsening economic situation and the threat of a substantial
reduction in Soviet aid by trying to diversify his trading
partners. In 1989 he signed trade agreements with North
Korea, Albania and China. It is doubtful, however, that those
countries will be able to fill the void. Trade with China
doubled in 1988, but increased by only 12 percent in 1989.
Efforts to increase trade with Japan and Latin America also
have not brought good results, since Cuba's lack of hard
currency and its monoculture sugar economy make it a
relatively unattractive trading partner. By the end of 1988,
Japan accounted for only 1.5 percent of Cuba's trade and
Latin America for less than two percent. Finally, according to
foreign diplomatic sources accredited in Havana, Cuba also
tried unsuccessfully to obtain petroleum at preferential prices
from the governments of Mexico, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Castro has announced a series of emergency contingency

plans to cope with the anticipated accelerated disruption of
Cuba's traditional trade relations. In an apocalyptic speech to
the National Council of the Federation of University Students
in March 1990, the Cuban leader declared that in the coming
"special period in a time of peace," production levels will
decline because of shortages, and social development projects
may have to be temporarily halted. The work week may be
reduced from five to three days. Three-fourths of the island's
cement factories may have to close, and electricity may have
to be rationed. The most serious problem will be energy,
given Cuba's dependence on 12,000 tons of oil annually from
the Soviet Union. Castro concluded his speech, however, by
reiterating his commitment to socialism, since "the end of
socialism, the end of the revolution, would be the end of the
Cuban nation."


Although signs of Cuba's economic decline have been

apparent for some time, the summer of 1989 provided
unprecedented evidence of serious political problems as well.
General Ochoa, who had led Cuban troops in Angola, was
suddenly accused of drug trafficking and corruption. The
Stalinesque show trial and subsequent execution of Ochoa
reinforced popular suspicions that Ochoa's real crime was his
potential for challenging Castro's leadership.8

Also accused and executed for drug trafficking was Colonel

Antonio de la Guardia, a high-ranking official of the Interior
Ministry. His operation had allegedly involved officials of a
special department within the ministry, which Castro had
created to smuggle goods into Cuba and thereby bypass the
U.S. trade embargo. In the aftermath of de la Guardia's
execution, Jos Abrantes Fernndez, interior minister and
third most powerful man in Cuba after Fidel and his brother
Ral, resigned and was subsequently arrested. General
Abelardo Colom Ibarra, who was then put in charge of the
Interior Ministry, restructured it by replacing many of its
civilian officials with military men.

The "militarization" of the Interior Ministry was not an

isolated event. Castro named General Sexto Batista Santana
to head the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution in
February 1990. Another general, Juan Escalona, was named
president of the National Assembly of People's Power, the
branch of the Cuban government composed of locally elected
(although officially suggested or approved) representatives of
the Cuban people.

The increased influence of the military reflects the regime's

concern that the still-controllable internal opposition might
grow. At least 15 dissident groups exist in Cuba today. They
advance a wide variety of agendas, from support for glasnost
and perestroika to freedom of religion and human rights.
Dissident activity, however, is clandestine and underground,
making it difficult to speculate about its strength or future.
Castro referred to dissidents in a speech in January 1990,
immediately before announcing the appointments of the two
generals. He called them "cockroaches who try to create fifth
columns at the service of imperialism" and promised that the
Cuban people would "crush" them.

Castro had already begun to crack down on human rights

groups that he had tolerated briefly during the 1988 visit of a
delegation of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
Following its departure, Cuban human rights leaders were
harassed and imprisoned. The March 1990 vote of the U.N.
commission, which went against Cuba, was also followed by
the arrest of nine members of the Pro-Human Rights Party,
who were charged with belonging to a "counterrevolutionary

Individual dissent against the regime and its policies has

increased. In a December 1989 speech, the video of which
was shown only to communist party militants, Castro spoke of
problems in the history, philosophy and arts and literature
departments of the National University and acknowledged
difficulties with Cuban scholarship students who return to
Cuba after studying in the Soviet Union. A journalist was
expelled from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, the official
organ of the young communist movement, for declaring on a
Havana radio program that "Juventud Rebelde was not
representing the views of Cuban youths." A small riot also
broke out in a movie theater when a group of Cubans started
singing a popular song, "The man is crazy," when Castro
appeared on the screen. And in February 1990, during
boxing's World Cup in Havana, an individual who shouted,
"Down with Castro! Down with the dictatorship of Fidel
Castro!" was dragged away by the authorities.

Anticipating that developments in the Soviet Union would

encourage opposition to his rule in Cuba, Castro had tried to
keep the news of Soviet reforms from the Cuban people,
going so far as to ban the distribution in 1988 of the Spanish-
language versions of Moscow News and Sputnik. But the
information about the Soviet Union and, subsequently, about
Eastern Europe reached Cuba nevertheless, communicated by
foreign diplomats in Havana, members of the Cuban-
American community in Miami and especially by Radio Mart.
As a result, Castro decided to emphasize the sui generis
nature of Cuban socialism, which supposedly will allow it to
survive in a world that has repudiated other forms of

Castro also is trying to fan the flames of Cuban nationalism in

order to divert attention from Cuba's growing crisis. This
explains why the United States is once again the target of
greater anger, and why Castro has begun to speak as if a U.S.
invasion of Cuba were imminent. "Destiny assigns the role of
one day being among the last defenders of socialism," he said
in a December 1989 speech. "In a world in which the Yankee
empire was able to make a reality of Hitler's dreams of
dominating the world," he continued, "we would know how to
defend this bastion until the last days of blood. . . . Socialism
or death! Fatherland or death! We will win!"

Despite Fidel Castro's defiant rhetoric, his options for

surmounting the growing crisis continue to narrow. Ad hoc
adjustments to a deteriorating economic situation, combined
with the selective use of repression, are little more than
stopgap measures. As the crisis deepens, Castro will
eventually be faced with a choice between using Cuba's
already weakened institutions to mobilize and control an
increasingly desperate population or loosening political and
economic controls in order to raise productivity. Both
alternatives pose fundamental challenges to Castro's
continued rule.

Under the first option, Castro would insist that Cubans ride
out the shortages of energy, food and spare parts by working
harder. Since 1986, however, the rectification campaign has
tried and failed to increase worker productivity through the
use of moral incentives. In the absence of material incentives,
the only other way to raise worker productivity would be
through increasing reliance on some form of "voluntary"
labor. Yet the degree of repression that would have to be
applied to achieve higher production levels would ultimately
provoke either a military coup or a popular revolt.

A coup would be likely for a number of reasons. The execution

of General Ochoa left many members of the military
distrustful and resentful of Castro, particularly those who
served with Ochoa in Angola and who now face an uncertain
future in Cuba. Castro's use of the revolutionary armed forces
to quell rising popular discontent or force Cubans to work
harder would destroy the traditionally good image and
reputation of the army at home and abroad. For many military
men, particularly those who received training in the Soviet
Union and who support Gorbachev's reforms, the sacrifice
would seem pointless, since it would not help solve Cuba's
increasingly desperate situation. The conclusion that they
could improve Cuba's future as well as their own by removing
Castro from power would become inescapable.

Seen in this context, therefore, Castro's selection of military

men to head key civilian institutions constitutes a calculated
risk born of limited options. By militarizing political
institutions now, he may be able to avoid calling on the
military later to engage in the kind of repression that would
trigger a coup.

Cuba, however, could also go the way of Romania. Some

unpredictable spark could set off a rebellion against Castro,
whose behavior in the face of the growing crisis would appear
increasingly irrational, arbitrary and intolerable. In such a
situation, the military would probably find it more expedient
to join the rebels than to remain loyal to Castro, for the
reasons just cited.

There is even the possibility that the Cuban leader might be

assassinated. Despite Castro's supposed popularity and
charisma he has always been surrounded by bodyguards, and
his travels within Cuba are unpublicized and unpredictable.
The fact that he tried to fly ten tons of arms and ammunition
into Brazil for his personal security during a visit in February
is further evidence that he views his life to be in danger.
Although his precautions might seem to rule out an
assassination, the arrest of Abrantes and other confidants
during the summer of 1989 has left him with relatively few
people he can trust.

Cuba could, of course, avoid these drastic outcomes were

Castro to respond to changes in Eastern Europe and the
Soviet Union by moving toward a market economy and
reestablishing economic relations with the United States.
Castro's earlier experiment with limited market mechanisms
in the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, was short-lived,
in part because it showed that the capitalist attitudes he
despises were still alive and well in Cuba, despite his belief
that he had succeeded in creating a new socialist man. The
experiment also had begun to create alternative sources of
wealth, a development with political implications that were
potentially threatening to Castro's continued control.

Given the relatively greater deterioration of the Cuban

economy today, much more extensive economic liberalization
would now be required to solve Cuba's economic problems
than before. Furthermore, in the period that has elapsed
since the earlier experiment with market mechanisms,
communism has been delegitimized, and democracy and free
markets have triumphed as ideas. Finally, the number of
living Cubans who participated directly in the 1959 revolution
has declined, while Cuban youth, which now accounts for 50
percent of the population, has become more alienated from a
revolution they did not make and more attracted to consumer-
based economies. As a result, the implementation of the kinds
of market mechanisms now necessary to save Cuban
socialism would destroy it.

Conceivably Castro could experiment with limited political

liberalization in order to induce the United States to lift its
economic embargo and reestablish relations with Cuba. This
is the only option that poses no risk for Castro, since it would
allow him to normalize relations with the United States on his
own terms. A resumption of bilateral trade would give Castro
hard currency to shore up Cuba's disintegrating economy and
allow him to avoid introducing market mechanisms in order to
survive the collapse of communism elsewhere.

Castro tried political liberalization in the late 1980s, when he

released a number of long-held political prisoners, tolerated
the formation of two small human rights groups and improved
relations with the Catholic Church. Simultaneously Castro
and other high-ranking officials dropped their hostile rhetoric
toward the United States, stated their desire to improve
relations with Washington, reinstated an immigration
agreement with the United States and participated in U.S.-
mediated negotiations that led to a withdrawal of Cuban
troops from Angola.9

The experiment with limited political pluralism ended when

its risks began to outweigh its anticipated benefits. Cuba's
small human rights movement had begun to gain momentum
at home and increasing attention and support abroad,
particularly in the aftermath of the democratic revolutions in
Eastern Europe. At the same time, it had become clear that
Washington was in no hurry to alter its Cuba policy radically
in response to very limited political changes that could be
easily reversed (which, in fact, they were). A number of
human rights activists were harassed and subsequently
arrested and convicted of the "crime" of congratulating the
U.N. Commission on Human Rights for voting against Cuba.
Several were also accused of giving "false" information about
Cuba to foreign journalists.

In the current international atmosphere, where foreigners no

longer give Castro the benefit of doubt and consider him the
last Stalinist dictator, a new political opening in Cuba would
be even more threatening to Castro's control. Domestic
opponents of the regime would immediately press for free and
internationally monitored elections, spurred on by the recent
defeats of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile and the
Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

There are those who say that Castro would have nothing to
fear from such elections, that within Cuba he remains a
popular and charismatic leader who still is able to draw huge
and enthusiastic crowds. They also argue that Cuban
nationalism and Castro's historical role as a revolutionary
hero would offset any popular discontent produced by years
of economic hardship and the prospect of an even more
precarious economic future.
In the absence of free and fair elections, it is impossible to
confirm or refute this reasoning. But the erroneous press
reports prior to the Nicaraguan election regarding the
Sandinistas' popularity and the wildly inaccurate polls that
predicted a Sandinista landslide argue for extreme caution in
drawing conclusions about a leader's popularity based on the
public behavior of an unfree people.10 In the case of Cuba, it
seems reasonable to assume that, as in Nicaragua, a free and
internationally monitored election would set in motion forces
that would lead to a vote for Castro's removal.


The sense that Fidel Castro's days may be numbered has once
again focused attention on U.S. policy toward Cuba.
International developments, however, have profoundly
transformed the nature of the debate. They have weakened
the argument for normalization of relations, and the issue
now is whether to maintain the current policy or toughen it.

The argument for a more forthcoming U.S. policy toward

Cuba had been based on an essentially benign vision of
Castro, his extraordinary charisma and the broad support he
enjoyed among the Cuban people. Castro's communism and
alliance with the Soviet Union were interpreted as reactions
to a relentlessly hostile U.S. policy. The dictatorial aspects of
Cuban communism were often downplayed, while advances in
education and health as well as revolutionary Cuba's more
egalitarian social structure were emphasized.

From this it followed that the U.S. could solve its "Cuba
problem" by lifting its economic embargo and taking steps to
normalize relations. Those who favored this policy intensified
the pressure on Washington during periods when Castro
would signal a willingness to discuss the issue with the U.S.
government. Some argued that there should be no
preconditions for normalizing relations. Others accepted the
need for quid pro quos from Cuba.

Developments in Eastern Europe and Nicaragua have

challenged these assumptions about Cuba. The revelations
about the nature of Eastern Europe's communist governments
have destroyed any illusions about popular support for these
regimes and have increased skepticism about those that
remain. The subsequent electoral defeat of the Sandinistas
undermined the argument that revolutionary communist
regimes in the Third World, unlike those of Eastern Europe,
enjoyed the widespread support and gratitude of their
populations, irrespective of the success or failure of their

By confounding these assumptions about Cuba, the events in

Eastern Europe and Nicaragua also undermined confidence in
the policy recommendations that flowed from them. As a
result, those who advocated a softening of U.S. policy toward
Cuba have been put on the defensive.

Supporters of the current policy, and those who want to

toughen it, are united in their vision of the Cuban regime and
feel vindicated by international developments. They never
accepted the notion that Castro's communism was a reaction
to Washington's hostility. Instead they argued that the Cuban
leader chose to ally himself with the Soviet Union and never
had any real intention of making a democratic revolution or
maintaining friendly relations with the United States.

From this they concluded that it made no sense to lift the U.S.
embargo as long as Cuba remained a communist dictatorship
ruled by a rabidly anti-American leader. Its removal would
only strengthen Castro by allowing him to maintain his
strategic alliance with Moscow while providing him with
additional resources with which to buy support at home and
pursue his revolutionary policies abroad.
The embargo's original purpose was to bring about the
collapse of the Cuban economy and with it the removal from
power of Fidel Castro. That goal remained elusive as long as
Castro could count on the Soviets for trade and aid. A
succession of U.S. presidents redefined the embargo's
purpose as the isolation of Cuba. They vowed to keep the
embargo in place until Castro stopped aiding guerrillas in the
Third World, withdrew Cuban troops from Africa and allowed
free elections and respected human rights at home.

In addition to the embargo, current U.S. policy is to mobilize

international support for continued monitoring of the human
rights situation on the island. Within Cuba, the U.S. has
successfully challenged Castro's control over information,
first by establishing Radio Mart in 1985 and, more recently,
by approving the creation of TV Mart, subject to a successful
three-month test of its feasibility, which began in late March.
Washington has also stepped up calls for elections in Cuba,
promising to restore relations with a duly elected democratic

Those who favor maintaining the current policy argue that

disruptions in Soviet-Cuban trade flows, the anticipated
reduction in Soviet aid and the move toward free market
economies in Eastern Europe will finally enable the U.S.
economic embargo to bring about substantial changes in
Cuba. They believe that efforts to toughen the embargo would
make it difficult for the United States to achieve international
cooperation in its efforts to pressure Castro. Finally they
argue that a tougher U.S. policy could also undermine the
current bipartisan consensus in Congress and refocus
attention to the fight within the U.S. government over its
Cuba policy.

Advocates of a tougher U.S. policy toward Cuba want to

restore the U.S. trade embargo to its status before 1975,
when the Ford administration allowed foreign subsidiaries of
U.S. companies to trade with Cuba. Proponents of a tighter
embargo point out that other existing trade embargoes, such
as those against North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, apply
to foreign subsidiaries and that Cuba is the only communist
country with a loophole for foreign subsidiaries. Since 1982
foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies have engaged in trade
with Cuba valued at approximately $1.5 billion.

On April 5, Senator Connie Mack (R-Fla.) joined with Senators

Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Joseph
Lieberman (D-Conn.) to introduce a bill closing the loophole
in the embargo. Under the proposed legislation, the president
would have authority to withhold federal assistance from any
country that buys sugar from Cuba. There is a good possibility
that Congress will move to tighten the embargo, though with
uncertain effect in actual practice.

Whether the United States hardens its current policy or

reaffirms the status quo may be less important than its
continued insistence on ending human rights abuses and
holding free and fair elections before lifting the embargo.
Such elections could take the form of a plebiscite, as a
number of prominent intellectuals throughout the world have
suggested, or a contest for the presidency. The main
alternative to be avoided is a premature reconciliation that
snatches defeat from the jaws of victory by allowing Castro to
substitute U.S. trade for declining Soviet aid and thereby
prolong his undemocratic personalistic rule.

1 The New York Times, Dec. 11, 1989.

2 Financial Times, Nov. 10, 1989, p. 7.

3 Izvestiya, March 2, 1990, p. 3.

4 Carmelo Mesa-Lago, "Countdown in Cuba?" Hemisfile,

March 1990, p. 6.
5 Izvestiya, March 2, 1990, p. 3.

6 Latin American Weekly Report, Feb. 15, 1990, p. 9.

7 "Castro's Coming Crisis," Confidential Foreign Report, The

Economist Newspaper Limited, Dec. 21, 1989, p. 1.

10 For a persuasive description of the gap between public and

private attitudes and behavior in Cuba, see Jos Luis Llovio
Menndez, Insider: My Life as a Revolutionary in Cuba, New
York: Bantam Books, 1988.

Susan Kaufman Purcell is Vice President for Latin American Aairs at the Americas
Society in New York.

Foreign Aairs
Spring 1993

Secrets of Castro's Staying

Jorge Domnguez


Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during interviews with the press in Havana during a
visit by U.S. Senator Charles McGovern, May 1975.

How Cuban Communism Survives

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall it became common in

Washington and Miami to bet on the date that Fidel Castro
would fall. Those bets were based on the premise that the
Cuban regime could not survive without Soviet support. Gone
was the Soviet economic subsidy worth no less than one-sixth
of the island's total gross product; gone were the weapons
transfers, free of charge. From 1989 to 1992 the Cuban
economy contracted sharply, with imports shrinking from
$8.1 billion to $2.2 billion. Yet the Cuban regime remains with
Fidel Castro firmly at its helm. How has Cuban communism
managed to survive?

Besides the fact that communism in Cuba was not guaranteed

by Soviet tanks, Cuba is clearly different from the regimes of
Eastern Europe. As early as the spring of 1990 the Cuban
people understood that communism was reversible. Cubans
had already witnessed its collapse elsewhere, and they were
feeling the negative economic effects. A public opinion poll
taken at that time showed that only one-fifth of respondents
said that the food supply was good and only one-tenth could
say the same of the quality of transportation. Such results
make the poll credible, and therefore we ought also to believe
that three-quarters of the respondents thought health
services were good and that four-fifths believed the same
about their schools. Cubans supported their regime because
they made differentiated judgments about its performance.
They understood its many failings but they could also identify
its successes.

Equally important, Cubans felt free enough to tell a pollster

their many criticisms of government policy. For many years
the Cuban government has permitted, and even stimulated,
forms of citizen complaint to expose corruption and
mismanagement, allowing local governments to channel these
grievances to the center. The pollsters tapped into this
freedom to criticize specific, malperforming services. This
modest but important political space has remained Havana's
safety valve, and U.S. observers often err in their assessments
of Cuba because they do not understand its full significance.

Research undertaken by Cuban scholars at the end of the

1980s shows also that Cubans do not accord much weight to
the Communist Party as an institution but think highly of
individuals who are Communist Party members. In elections
to the municipal assembly in which at least two candidates
had been nominated, fewer than one in ten voters reported
choosing a candidate because he or she belonged to the
party. Instead voters gave varied reasons: a good neighbor, a
good worker, etc. It turned out, however, that many of these
"good citizens" were in fact party members. Unlike their East
European counterparts, these Cubans had not turned in their
party cards. Although the regime was vulnerable because the
party as an institution was not held in higher regard, it was
nonetheless strengthened by the personal qualities of its

Criticism of or noncompliance with certain government

policies has existed alongside significant tolerance by the
regime. At the same time, the regime has earned vital public
support for many of its programs and has honored important
promises to its citizens. For example, when the regime vowed
to rely on voluntary compliance in its efforts to promote
membership in peasant cooperatives, it continued to do so
even after participation slipped from its initially strong

Cubans have disagreed with some of their government's

policies over the years; there is fertile ground in which to
plant the seeds of opposition. But to understand why the
Castro regime has endured it is important to focus on facts
rarely reported outside Cuba: even among its critics, the
regime may be considered inept on many but not all policies;
it is not uniformly oppressive, and many of those who belong
to the party are good folks.

Lesson from Eastern Europe: Don't Reform

Cuban leaders have learned several lessons from the

attempted reforms that eventually undermined other
communist regimes. Lesson no. 1: undertake as few political
reforms as possible. Lesson no. 2: get rid of deadwood in the
party early on, before you are forced to do so. Lesson no. 3:
deal harshly with potential or evident disloyalty. Lesson no. 4:
do not allow a formal opposition to organize.

Following these rules, Cuba has averted the patterns that led
to the demise of other communist regimes. One such pattern
in Europe was the emergence of reformers within the party
who ousted the old guard and then led in forming a political
opening. In East Germany the makers of the transition
wielded power only briefly before they themselves were swept
out by elections. In Hungary the process of reform occurred
over a period of years but, at the key opening, the reformers
again lost out. Another pattern evident in Poland and
Nicaragua (as well as in Pinochet's Chile and Marcos'
Philippines) might be called "spectacular leadership error":
rulers confident that they had substantial public support
called a national election, which they promptly lost.

Not surprisingly, Castro's own political reforms have been

minimal. He has taken steps to eliminate discrimination
against religious believers and to broaden the Communist
Party's appeal, and a new electoral law authorizes direct
elections for National Assembly deputies and Provincial
Assembly delegates. But the number of candidates in these
elections equals the number of posts, nominating procedures
make it impossible for an opposition candidate or party to
operate, and partisan electoral campaigning remains illegal.

Cuba's official media has flooded the country with the "bad
news" from Europe's old communist regimes: the breakup of
the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia; the
outbreak of civil wars; the increase in unemployment and
inflation; the elimination of various consumer subsidies; and
the increase of common crime. The message to ordinary
Cubans is clear: the transition to

capitalism is long and painful. Elites receive a more specific

message: look at what happened to Mikhail Gorbachev and
other reformers; the path of reformist concessions has no
end--critics and opponents are never satisfied and will always
demand more. For Cuban leaders, therefore, the images on
the television screens tell them to close ranks and prevent
reforms that might weaken the regime politically.

A related task has been to rejuvenate the leadership under

President Castro and his brother Ral, the armed forces
minister. Until 1980 not one member of the party's Political
Bureau was dismissed--this since its founding in 1965. In
contrast, by the end of the Fourth Communist Party Congress
in 1991 only five of those who were members in 1975 still
remained. In the interim many of Cuba's most important
officials were dismissed; some were disgraced.

Among those disgraced, three stand out. Humberto Prez, the

architect of Cuba's economic recovery in the 1970s, was
dismissed in 1985 for excessive reliance on market
mechanisms. Carlos Aldana, former party secretary for
ideology and international relations and among the most
pragmatic and open-minded of the senior leadership, was
dismissed in 1991 for corruption and negligence of duty.
Worse still was the fate of Division General Arnaldo Ochoa, a
highly decorated war hero for his military campaigns in the
Horn of Africa in 1977-78, who was executed before a firing
squad in 1989 on corruption and drug-trafficking charges.
Such trials--alongside the Nuremberg-style trials that Miami
radio stations promise await them--leave Cuba's army officers
loyal to the regime, grateful for their perks and unmotivated
to revolt.

The government subsequently reversed its very modest

political opening of the 1980s that had allowed the semi-legal
formation of small human rights and opposition groups. Since
1991 many human rights and opposition activists have been
arrested and sentenced to tough prison terms for their crimes
of opinion and peaceful association, seeking to exercise their
rights under Cuba's constitution. Since 1991 the Cuban
interior ministry has authorized and organized "rapid reaction
brigades" to harass and at times to beat up dissidents. These
brigades are officially described as the spontaneous response
of outraged citizens to those who defame the government, the
Communist Party and their leaders. This officially sponsored
violence is also intended to have a deterrent effect,
intimidating those who might join the feeble opposition.

Cuba's opposition has been hit especially hard by the

economy's catastrophic decline. For any individual to survive
it takes longer to stand in line for breakfast; it takes longer to
stand in line before dinner. Private automobile transportation
has come to a virtual standstill. It takes much longer to walk
or to bicycle to work. After such a "normal" day's travail,
walking or bicycling to an evening political meeting becomes
less thinkable. Economic hardship, which affects government
officials far less, has further weakened Cuba's already
enfeebled and always incohesive opposition groups.

In short, the Castro brothers have ruled over and dismantled

an excessively stable oligarchy. Mid-level cadres most fear
the "certainty" that reform communism in Cuba would in due
course lead to their own personal demise. Harsh penalties are
meted out to those elites and ordinary citizens who do not toe
the official line. Although many abroad expected that
economic hardship would increase support for opposition
groups, the short-term effects of this hardship have weakened
and disorganized them, making it easier for the regime to
endure. These factors have enabled Cuba's regime to resist
the fate of its erstwhile European allies. Cuba's would-be
Boris Yeltsins have thus far been cowed. Its would-be Violeta
Chamorros and Vclav Havels are in prison or in Miami.

The Black Market's Helping Hand

Castro has adjusted to the collapse of his communist partners
by dramatically lowering Cuba's standard of living. Cuba's
leadership seeks simply to persevere, proud but poor. The
regime could survive for an indefinite period at this level of
hardship. There is no serious prospect of economic
improvement unless major changes are undertaken. But
Castro is not so rigid and dogmatic that he will never change;
backed into a corner, even now Cuba has already begun a
transition toward freer markets.

This ability to adjust to circumstances helps explain the

regime's durability. In the long run, the free-market transition
will lay the foundation for Cuba's future, no matter who rules
the nation or what form the government takes. Some of this
transition has occurred within the framework of the formal
economy. The regime has set aside a cornerstone: in the early
1960s it expropriated all foreign property; in the early 1990s
it welcomes private foreign investment under attractive
terms. Such investment is notable in the tourist sector, but it
can also be found in agriculture, manufacturing assembly
plants and risk contracts for petroleum exploration. Like their
total value, the number of investment projects is small but

This trend has occurred mainly in the export sector. But the
government has also liberalized regulations to permit the
private contracting of certain services. Some state enterprises
that export goods and services have been semiprivatized--that
is, they operate as private firms with the state as sole
shareholder. It would be but a small additional step to permit
their full privatization, leaving them in the hands of former
government and party cadres. This move cleverly anticipates
the do-it-yourself privatization underway in the former Soviet
Union or the last-minute reward to the faithful undertaken by
the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1990. But whatever the
motivation, these changes extend the scope of Cuba's market
The rise of the illegal market economy is more important in
understanding how ordinary citizens have adjusted to
economic adversity. The black market's present dimensions
are difficult to gauge. Some illegal markets depend on theft,
but many others represent markets at their best. For
example, state agriculture has never developed an efficient
food distribution system. Even today crops sometimes rot
unharvested in the fields. Behaving illegally but efficiently,
peasants and commercial intermediaries connect with urban
consumers to bring supply and demand into balance.

These illegal markets have become the regime's "secret

agent" in the adjustment process, although the official
position is to denounce and repress them. Recurrence to
illegal markets is commonplace, and the survival of ordinary
Cuban families (and even the families of government officials
and party members) has increasingly come to depend on
them. It is difficult to live simply on what the regime's ration
card allocates, and the black market enables ordinary Cubans
to supplement their diets. It also makes food or other
consumer riots less likely. As a result the regime's survival
has come to rest on them as well, and these illegal markets
are in fact tolerated.

Illegal markets are financed by the central bank, as the

government's reliance on printing paper money to finance its
own deficit creates considerable excess liquidity. As money in
circulation increases, however, so does inflation. Because
prices in the formal economy are repressed, inflation so far
accelerates only in illegal markets. In this fashion, however,
the state is losing effective control over both macroeconomic
policy and the economic behavior of its citizens. The very
process that has helped the regime to endure since 1989 may
contribute to its weakening in the years ahead. But whether
inflation in illegal markets eventually becomes a factor in
bringing down the regime will depend on possible changes in
Cuban domestic politics as well as in U.S. policies.
Washington's Unwitting Support

The Castro regime endures in part because its enemies

unwittingly help it to survive. U.S. policies provide ample
fodder for Cuban hardliners, help censor information Cuban-
Americans could provide relatives on the island and prevent
ordinary Cubans from learning about the outside world.

Examples abound of how Washington unintentionally bolsters

the Castro regime. On a daily basis Miami radio stations, and
occasionally the U.S. government's own Radio Mart, frighten
Cuban citizens with the prospect of the return of exiles who
will demand property restitution. Washington prevents
A.T.&T. from activating a new telephone link to the island on
a normal commercial basis and prohibits the export of
communications equipment such as fax machines and
electronic mail. In the late 1970s Castro's regime entered one
of its most unstable episodes after opening Cuba's borders to
international tourism; but in 1982 the Reagan administration
helped Havana regain control of its borders by making it
illegal for U.S. citizens to spend money in Cuba, thus stopping
U.S. tourism cold. Continuing U.S. military maneuvers and
overflights constantly remind Cubans of the possibility of a
U.S. threat, making it easier for Castro to call for sacrifices to
defend the homeland.

Most helpful to Cuba's hardliners has been the so-called

Cuban Democracy Act, which Congress enacted in the fall of
1992 in the midst of partisan competition for Florida's
electoral votes. The act's only significant measure has been to
mandate penalties on U.S. firms whose third-country
subsidiaries trade with Cuba. Since that trade was mostly in
foodstuffs, Cuban leaders should now find it easier to blame
food shortages on Washington. Prior to the Cuban Democracy
Act Castro's regime had become internationally isolated. It
has since been able to construct a large and heterogeneous
coalition to defend itself. U.S. penalties on firms in third
countries have provoked protests from nearly all the major
U.S. allies and trading partners. In late 1992, for the first
time since it began in 1960, the U.S. trade embargo was
overwhelmingly condemned by the U.N. General Assembly,
with the only U.S. support coming from Israel and Romania.

The Cuban Democracy Act's most likely result will simply be

Cuban firms buying from non-U.S. subsidiaries. The act is
politically counterproductive and economically ineffective.
The United States has resurfaced as a credible international
enemy, threatening Cuba once again, this time with
starvation. What better gift could Cuban hardliners have

A New Course for U.S. Policy

The Clinton administration should take the initiative--

regardless of what Castro does--to facilitate a peaceful
political transition in Cuba. A more active U.S. policy is
needed to reduce the likelihood of internal violence and to
help open a wider political space for organized opposition to
form. Cuban leaders have long experience in administering
repression and adjusting to hardship. What they do not know
how to deal with is openness and peace.

First, Washington might defang Castro's nationalist appeals if

it ceased war games around Cuba. Confidence-building
measures would reassure the island's citizens against U.S.
attack, making it harder for Castro to ask for sacrifices.
Second, the United States should also stop assisting Cuba's
censorship of information: allow A.T.&T.'s telephone link on a
commercial basis; permit the sale of fax machines and other
communications equipment; lift regulations impeding U.S.
citizens from traveling to Cuba; foster academic, cultural and
artistic exchanges; arrange for the opening of news bureaus
in Havana and Washington; nurture technical cooperation
between U.S. and Cuban institutions to protect migratory
species, clean up pollution in the Straits of Florida and
exchange information on hurricane tracking. The fact of such
cooperation should be broadcast to Cubans.

To remove aspects of the U.S. embargo beyond

communications would require reciprocal changes in Cuba.
But having demonstrated a willingness to lift restrictions in
one area, the United States could use the remainder of the
embargo as an active instrument of negotiation to bring about
further opening. Such U.S. policies would at last permit the
more normal unfolding of a political process in Cuba,
permitting some officials and party members to advocate
more openly a redirection of policies. They would also allow
regime opponents to build on the evident discontent and
galloping inflation in illegal markets. A more varied politics
could become possible in Cuba--at first simply as tendencies
within the Communist Party--but only if U.S. policy changes
so that Cubans who seek change would no longer be
vulnerable to the accusation that they are traitors to the

A common objection to this approach is that only coercion

works to force open a communist regime. This objection is
irrelevant in Cuba's case. These proposed changes are
remarkably modest and, in effect, would realign policy toward
Cuba with what Reagan administration policy had been
toward various other communist regimes. The United States
permitted U.S. tourists to visit Poland, Nicaraguan exiles to
telephone Managua and Chinese students to buy fax
machines (prior to the Tiananmen Square revolt). It
developed an extensive system of confidence-building military
measures with the Soviet Union as well as many academic
and cultural exchanges. Along with coercive measures, these
modest policies contributed to political openings in
communist regimes.

There is another alternative for the Clinton administration: to

ignore Cuba. It no longer matters as an international issue.
Cuba looks increasingly like just another island in the
Caribbean. Its focus is now on luring tourists, not deploying
troops to Angola and Ethiopia or military advisers to
Nicaragua and the Congo. Cuba's relations with Russia no
longer threaten U.S. security, although minor annoyances
remain (the port of call for the former Soviet Navy at
Cienfuegos and the electronic intelligence facility at Lourdes).
Cuban support for insurgencies has virtually ended, except
for residues of past entanglements. Its goal is no longer to
foster revolution but rather to attract private foreign
investment. Trade with Canada has become more important
than relations with Tajikistan. The regime is happy when its
malcontents emigrate and hopes only for their remittances in
the future.

For domestic political reasons, however, change in U.S. policy

seems unlikely. Although the Cuban-American community is
in fact divided about evenly, only right-wing lobbies are well
organized politically. In early 1993 they retained a lock on
U.S. policy that made Cuba appear to be among the most
important issues on the U.S. agenda. While neglecting Cuba
would be better than unwittingly bolstering its hardliners,
U.S. interests would best be served if Cuba were to
accomplish a peaceful transition toward a more open society
and polity.

Castro Could Well Endure

Why, then, has Fidel Castro survived so long in power? For

the very reasons he may continue to do so for many more
years, unless U.S. policies change to make opposition politics
at long last possible in Cuba. Heir to an authentic social
revolution, ordinary Cubans remain free enough to voice
complaints while they distinguish carefully between what they
do and do not like, and whom they do and do not respect.
Cuba's civil society is no longer as weak as it once was, but
opposition to the regime has been weakened
disproportionately by economic duress and remains hampered
by a lack of leadership and organization to capitalize on
current social and economic hardships. The state remains
strongly repressive but is now assisted by illegal markets that
have enabled Cubans to adjust to economic decline.

Never before have so many Cubans expressed their

disapproval of the communist system. Unofficial but reliable
reports indicate that in the December 1992 municipal
elections one-fifth to one-quarter of all votes cast--and up to a
third in Havana--were blank or null ballots, a fivefold increase
from previous elections. Such results may presage the
beginning of a long-expected political transition in Cuba. Only
by undertaking major political changes can Cuba's leaders
hope to recapture the consent of the population. But those
changes are nowhere in sight.

Those Cubans in the opposition must organize far more

effectively than they ever have. As long as citizens express
their dissidence through lawful channels, the regime will not
tumble. But beyond repression and fear, an important barrier
to the growth of organized opposition is that many opposing
the regime do not wish to "commit treason" or to become "the
party of the United States." To create the necessary political
space for an organized opposition to grow--and perhaps
eventually to triumph--Washington must moderate those
policies that monopolize opposition to the regime and fuel the
regime's hardliners.

Cuban leaders could stabilize their political system by

undertaking careful changes of their own. They could legalize
the black market to improve efficiency and production; they
could decentralize power to energize those local political
institutions that retain significant public support precisely
because they are close and responsive to the needs of
ordinary citizens. Such a strategy would not require political
liberalization--Cuba would retain a one-party system. It would
not return Cuba's economy to its pre-1989 circumstances; it
would not reestablish the regime's full legitimacy. Such
changes, however, could stem the economy's decline and even
bring back some growth; they could make it more likely that
ordinary citizens would remain allegiant enough for the
regime to survive.

Castro may yet consolidate his style of socialism in Cuba.

Even at this late hour, the regime remains in power because it
retains the allegiance of enough of its people and the
reluctant partnership of many U.S. allies. These
circumstances prevail in part because Washington's rigid
opposition continues to allow Castro to rally citizens to defend
what many Cubans are able to recognize as the regime's
legitimate successes. The United States has been a staunch
enemy of Fidel Castro, but with an enemy like this one, he
may not need friends.

Foreign Aairs
March/April 1996

Eyes on Cuba: U.S.

Business and the Embargo
Pamela S. Falk


File photo of (L-R) Chief of Cuba's Armed Forces Raul Castro, Cuba's cosmonaut
Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, Cuba's President Fidel Castro and Soviet cosmonaut
Yuri Romanenko during a reception ceremony at Havana's Jose Marti airport,
October 1980.

By the end of 1995, the private jet hangar at Jos Mart

International Airport in Havana was already booked well into
1996, and most of the reservations belonged to one of Cuba's
rare clienteles: American corporations. Chief executives on
familiarization trips and technical analysts on fact-finding
missions have been scouting for numerous prominent and
curious firms, including General Motors, Sears Roebuck, Avis,
Hyatt, ITT Sheraton, Bank of Boston, Gillette, and Radisson
Hotels. Increasingly, these firms like what they see of the
Cuban economy and grouse openly at what they are being
denied by the U.S. embargo. "The embargo is a waste of
taxpayer dollars and time," said James E. Perrella, CEO of
construction giant Ingersoll-Rand, after a November meeting
with Cuban President Fidel Castro. Perrella, recently named
chairman of the 500-corporate-member National Foreign
Trade Council, is echoed by a growing number of Fortune 500
companies. Dwayne O. Andreas, chairman of Archer Daniels
Midland, claims not to "know a corporate CEO who thinks
excluding U.S. business is a good idea, particularly when all
of Western Europe is down there. Corporate leaders are
lobbying the president and his advisers, as well as key
members of Congress, every chance they get." The question is
whether American business will be able to organize well
enough to go beyond the quiet lobbying efforts of individual
corporate leaders and loosen or end the embargo.


Even owners of some of the largest hotels and resorts in

Florida, which is home to many fervently anti-Castro Cuban
exiles, are calling for change. Peter Blyth, president of the
Radisson Hotel chain, which has more than 4,000 travel
agencies worldwide including southern Florida, is ready to
invest and frustrated at being blocked. "We've got three hotel
sites chosen, a TGI Friday's location in Havana picked, and
cruise ships waiting for the green light. There is pent-up
demand because [Cuba] is a substantial market for American
businesses, and most of our colleagues on Wall Street feel the
same way." Perrella, Blyth, and Andreas all agree that a
business lobby to lift the embargo is in motion. "It's like an
avalanche in the snow," says Andreas. "You won't really know
its coming until it's on top of you and it's too late. But the
lobby is there, and it's gaining steam." Real estate and casino
mogul Donald Trump says, "The people of Cuba are the
greatest in the world. I'd like to help them rebuild the country
and return it to its original splendor. And as soon as the law
changes, I am ready to build the Taj Mahal in Havana." At the
same time, advocates of a repeal worry that U.S. business
may already be too late. Corporate lawyer and veteran Cuba
hand Theodore C. Sorenson says, "When all the walls come
down, they'll discover their foreign competitors are already

Despite the improved prospects for investment, several

business groups are still adamantly opposed to doing any U.S.
business in Cuba. Tom Cox, executive director of the U.S.-
Cuba Business Council, takes a hard line: "It's throwing
Castro a lifeline, plain and simple." But Cox says that
although the council has a laundry list of preconditions for
endorsing investment--establishment of a free-enterprise
economy, enforcement of contracts, and protection for and
expansion of private property--"Castro leaving the scene is
not required." Some of Cox's corporate members are starting
to equivocate and break ranks with the council on the
embargo issue. One member asked, "Isn't there something
between dancing with a dictator and sitting passively by while
the Europeans invest? We're corporate America. Why aren't
we calling the shots?" President Clinton's former Treasury
secretary, Lloyd Bentsen, recently surprised some observers
by voicing strong pro-investment sentiments at a convention
in Toronto.

The hard line against doing any business with Cuba under
Castro is still orthodoxy for many influential Cuban exiles.
Their activism deters some businessmen, who fear domestic
retaliation, but less than in the past. Threats of boycotts or
worse by the exile community have diminished; indeed, the
embargo is broken most often by exile families sending money
to relatives. A spokesman for Radisson Hotels says that it has
not received any pressure and that Cuban Americans in Dade
County are its best customers. Benetton, the Italian
multinational clothing company, did face a protest by Cuban
exiles but claims it lasted for a day in front of their Dadeland
store and ceased once company officials met with the
protesters. "It's a paper tiger," says John Kavulich, president
of the U.S.-Cuban Trade and Economic Council. "Buyer-
beware cables and boycott threats have produced no major
obstacle to free marketeers."

From the all-or-nothing shouting match of the last 30 years,

the debate on doing business with Cuba appears to be shifting
to terms and conditions. The underlying question is how much
change can occur before Castro leaves power.


Several forces are nudging American business to go public in

lobbying against the embargo. Cuba in the last two years has
gradually opened its economy to allow the sale of some state-
owned companies and eased restrictions on foreign
investment. U.S. businesses see European, Mexican,
Canadian, and Japanese firms starting to make serious
investments there. American business executives worry that
non-U.S. firms may box them out, particularly in industrial
and telecommunications areas of the economy. Several U.S.
corporations with major claims on property expropriated by
the Castro government argue that legislation currently before
Congress to tighten the embargo endangers their claims.
Lastly, the immigration accords between the U.S. and Cuban
governments have cooled the political atmosphere by
inhibiting migration and underscoring the fact that, as far as
U.S. policy is concerned, Cuba's emigrants are primarily
economic refugees.

The initiatives of the Cuban government have raised

expectations on Wall Street and in corporate America of
short-term profits once the embargo eases or ends, and that
has been reflected in accelerated preparations. Cuban
economic officials met with over 1,300 U.S. executives and
signed some 40 nonbinding letters of intent to do business,
including several million-dollar-plus commitments, in 1995
alone. One such commitment by an investment consortium is
valued at $10 billion, according to Kavulvich. Another
proposal, put together by a group of 12 hotels, is valued at $2
billion, according to Cuba's tourism ministry. Some observers,
however, deeply discount or dismiss these initiatives because
of their nonbinding status.

Even with the embargo, American business has some

presence in Cuba. Current U.S. law allows American
businesses with special licenses to operate there in
telecommunications, publishing, cultural programs,
newsgathering, credit card processing for certain
transactions, travel bookings, humanitarian projects, and
limited types of medical and pharmaceutical sales. U.S. law
also allows American businesses to purchase a noncontrolling
minority interest in a foreign company doing business in
Cuba, except for cases in which the company has a separate
division dedicated solely to Cuban work.

American products can also be found throughout Cuba,

particularly in Havana. Coca-Cola is readily available, which
was not the case six months ago. California wines have
recently appeared at the restaurant of the Hotel Nacional in
Havana. These products are for the most part sold through
unauthorized distribution networks in Panama and other
countries. It is a matter of speculation just how aware of
these transactions the parent corporations are. "No one sells
that much Coca-Cola to Panama without knowing where it is
going," says Julio Ignacio, a Cuban spirits distributor. "It is
sold with a wink and a nod."

Meanwhile, the pace of non-U.S. foreign investment in Cuba

quickens, despite the country's political risks. Canada's
Sherritt International last year issued a $500 million stock
offering to broaden its Cuban holdings in sugar,
transportation, communications, and real estate. In three
weeks' time, it was fully subscribed. In large part, the
investment surge is due to a widespread belief that in the not-
too-distant future the United States will loosen or lift the
embargo. "We are here for three to five years and we expect
to be bought out by the Americans," confided Mario Panunci,
whose Italian investment banking firm financed the Fiat
dealership in Havana. "We put more money in than we can
get out, but who cares? We know you're going to be here
soon. The Cubans want it and American businesses want it. It
is just a matter of time."

A concern that looms large for American businesses is

whether opportunities for capital investment and market
entry will be arbitrarily curtailed by Cuba's government,
which is still authoritarian and communist. On several
occasions Castro has voiced grudging sentiments about the
opening of the Cuban economy. In his December speech to
the National Assembly, Castro reiterated his belief that
"under capitalism, the interests of the people and the
interests of the nation do not coincide. It is only under
socialism that the nation's interests and those of the people
coincide." Nevertheless, Castro apparently finds some solace
in tax levies that assure the state an ample slice of new
business profits.

Countering Castro's personal reluctance are pressures from

key segments of society, including younger public officials
and factions within the military. Although the hemorrhaging
of the early post-Soviet years is over, Cubans recognize that
their economy is still fragile. Thus official nervousness is
constant and focuses on the new need to sustain the
confidence of foreign investors. Last year's disastrous sugar
harvest--the lowest since pre-revolutionary days--frightened
investors and sobered Cubans who had started to believe that
the economy was looking up. Record low sugar production
has been a problem, and the decrease in sugar production
resulted in a trade deficit worse than 1994's.
"Tourism will be our future," Castro declared in his speech.
"Nowadays tourism brings in more gross income than sugar."
Indeed, tourism is attracting much of the attention by foreign
investors; hotels are at 90 percent capacity and higher in
Havana, Varadero, and Santiago de Cuba. The biggest
investors in joint ventures with Cubanacn, one of Cuba's
tourism agencies, are Spain, the Netherlands, Canada,
Colombia, Germany, and Jamaica. Cuba's Ministry of Tourism,
while perhaps relying on ventures that could turn Cuba into
an overcrowded tourist mecca, projects an increase to 50,000
rooms in the year 2000 from its current level of 23,000, a
twofold increase. Whether those goals can be met is
debatable, but the island has generated enough interest as a
destination to warrant the scheduling of direct flights from
Helsinki and Dsseldorf.


The Cuban government is well aware that the Clinton

administration's foreign policy team is predisposed to opening
the door slowly, and it has scant expectation that any large
steps will occur before the American presidential election of
1996. The Clinton administration is conducting an
interagency review, as required by law, of U.S.-Cuba
telecommunications policy that will consider allowing U.S.
companies to invest in the multibillion-dollar privatization of
Cuba's telephone system. A reasonable interpretation of
current law could find such a proposal allowable, but the
betting is against approval of a sweeping, direct U.S.
investment in an election year. Nonetheless, the Mexican
company involved in the deal sent lobbyists to Capitol Hill to
seek approval for at&t to become a partner in the venture.
Dwayne Andreas, thinks he knows what will happen if Clinton
is reelected. "Clinton will certainly move toward lifting the
embargo, and the Cubans are counting on it."

The modest liberalization steps that Clinton has taken

conform to the objectives of the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act,
which include establishing people-to-people contact to
promote democratic reform in Cuba. On October 6, the
Clinton administration allowed U.S. news bureaus to set up
shop in Cuba; authorized Western Union to open offices in
Havana, American companies to register patents of their
products (for example, Coca-Cola or Kleenex) in Cuba, and
U.S. foundations and nongovernmental organizations to
establish exchange programs; and expanded the humanitarian
relief and family remittances allowed under U.S. law. U.S.
government officials privately concede that under the new
regulations--particularly those applying to humanitarian
donations--American corporations can do a lot to establish a
market presence. Last year, for instance, Angel R. Martinez,
the president of a Reebok subsidiary and a Cuban-American,
delivered 5,000 pairs of donated Reebok sneakers to Cuba
through a special license, purchasing some product name
recognition along with good will.

Initiatives, even if only preparatory, are bubbling up from

other quarters. One such effort is a set of investment
guidelines for U.S. corporations, much like the Sullivan
principles, which provided a framework for investing in
apartheid South Africa. The guidelines were written by two
Cuban exiles: Rolando H. Castaeda, an Inter-American
Development Bank senior operations officer, and George
Plinio Montalvn, the former chief economist of the
Organization of American States. The guidelines propose fair
labor requirements, such as direct hiring of Cubans rather
than through a state agency, a 48-hour limit to the workweek,
the organization of independent unions, and equal access for
Cubans to beaches and restaurants. The authors also
proposed to end the U.S.-led ban on Cuba's admission to the
International Monetary Fund, provided Cuba implements
market-based reforms. They call for the United States to
unilaterally lift the ban on the commercial sale of food to
Cuba; the rest of the trade embargo would be lifted when
Cuba releases its political prisoners and agrees to abide by
international human rights conventions. Their proposal for
the resolution of claims on expropriated properties is
compensation rather than restitution.

"The business community is not trying to be insensitive to the

heartache of the exile community," says Radisson Hotel's
Peter Blyth. "There are other voices out there, among them
many Cuban Americans, who are asking us to move things
forward because there is a generational change, and the
grandparents of the exile community are all elderly." Other
executives privately voice similar views, saying that the U.S.
business community has been a force for democratic change
in other countries in the past. In this case, corporate America
will have to work with the exile community to advance its
agenda and gain full access to the Cuban market.

Pamela S. Falk was Sta Director of the U.S. House of Representatives Western
Hemisphere Subcommittee. She is writing a book on Cuba and advises companies and
individuals about the country.

Foreign Aairs
March/April 1996

Cuba's Long Reform

Wayne S. Smith


Cuba, Havana.


The prevailing expectation in the United States, and certainly

among American political leaders, seems to be that the end is
near for Cuban President Fidel Castro and his revolution.
Indeed, that has been the expectation for some years. In
December 1992, shortly after passage of his Cuban
Democracy Act, which tightened the embargo against the
island, Congressman Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) assured
Americans that Castro would fall within weeks. Senator Jesse
Helms (R-N.C.), in putting forward legislation last year with
Congressman Dan Burton (R-Ind.) to further tighten the
embargo, said Castro was on the ropes and needed only a
final shove. The Helms-Burton bill would prohibit the
normalization of relations with any future government that
included Castro.

The only real debate has been over how the end might come.
Would it be as in Romania, with the demise of a communist
leader at the hands of his enraged people? Or as in Poland
and the former Czechoslovakia, where dissident leaders took
over the government?

Neither comparison is likely to prove apt. Communist

governments were imposed on Eastern Europe at the points
of Soviet bayonets. Once the bayonets were withdrawn, the
collapse of those regimes was inevitable, however the
endgame might play out. In Cuba, foreign bayonets were
never needed; communism arrived on the crest of a popular
nationalist movement. True, communism was not what Castro
had promised. But if it was the path along which he, the most
popular leader in Cuban history, wished to lead the country,
the great majority of Cubans were prepared to follow at the
time. Castro continues to enjoy considerable popular support
(whether or not a majority), and the army and security forces
are behind him. So it is a mistake to think he will resign. To
resign would be to admit defeat, and Castro is far from

Castro is not in the type of predicament faced by Romanian

dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev. His situation more closely resembles that of
Francisco Franco in Spain after World War II, and not simply
because of their common Galician heritage. Both bet on the
wrong side of history. In Franco's case, the bet was on World
War II. One may argue about the degree of his cooperation
with the Axis powers, but his sympathies were clear. He saw
conservative authoritarianism as the wave of the future, to be
assured by Axis victory.
Franco was wrong. The victory of the Allied powers left Spain
politically and economically isolated. Spain was not even
allowed to join the United Nations or participate in the
Marshall Plan. To gain acceptance, to stay afloat in the new
NATO-controlled, democratic sea that Western Europe had
become, Spain had to adjust. Pragmatically, Franco began to
do so, not because he wished to but because he had little
choice. The pace was deliberate, with Franco maintaining
tight control throughout. Spain did not attain full democracy
until Franco passed from the scene in 1975, but he had laid
the groundwork for both democracy and a modern economy.


Castro also made the wrong bet. He thought Marxism-

Leninism was the wave of the future. He now has no
alternative but to reintegrate Cuba into an international
community he never anticipated. Like Franco, he is beginning
pragmatically. One of Castro's first steps in refashioning the
Cuban economy was similar to Franco's: a vast expansion of
the tourism industry to take advantage of Cuba's beautiful
beaches and low prices. Cuba attracted some 800,000 tourists
last year, up from a only a few thousand in 1985. Tourism
replaced sugar as the island's principal hard currency earner
and could easily double over the next five years.

In 1993, Castro did what he had said he would never do:

permit Cubans to own and spend dollars and hold dollar-
denominated bank accounts. He also authorized self-
employment in some 100 occupations, mostly in the service
sector. This meant that individual Cubans could open private
television repair shops, laundries, restaurants, and many
other small enterprises. Officially they were forbidden by the
Cuban government to employ others, but many did and still

The next step, in September 1994, was the reestablishment of

farmers' markets. After meeting their contracts with state
enterprises, farmers now may sell their surplus production for
whatever the market will bear. The makeup of the
agricultural sector has also begun to change. Before the
reforms, some 100,000 small private farms operated on the
island. Semiprivate farms have now been added to that stock.
State farms have given way to cooperatives in which farmers
often have the right to use land (but not own it outright), and
they can produce and sell as they see fit.

Since December 1994 citizens have been allowed to sell

handicrafts and a variety of light manufactures in artisan
markets. Thus, rather than the empty public spaces one used
to encounter on weekends, Cathedral Square in Havana and
squares and parks all over Cuba are now crowded with people
not only selling handicrafts to tourists, but selling shoes,
clothing, beer, and sandwiches to one another, providing
musical entertainment, singing, dancing, and having a good
time. One senses in these scenes the depth of the
psychological shift that has occurred. Some optimism and the
old Cuban joie de vivre have replaced the despair of 1993.

As in Franco's Spain, foreign investment has been key to

Cuba's economic turnaround. This influx of capital has been
given a new impetus by a foreign investment law enacted in
mid-1995 that makes it possible for foreign investors to own
Cuban enterprises outright, not just in tourism but in virtually
every area of the economy. Some 60 companies have opened
offices in Cuba so far, and many more have invested in Cuban
enterprises. Figures are difficult to come by, but a carefully
calculated estimate by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic
Council places foreign investment to date at over $5 billion
and growing. This is a respectable amount, but not nearly
enough to provide the economic transformation Cuba

Sherritt International of Canada alone has already committed

half a billion dollars to oil exploration and the development of
cobalt and nickel mining. It is also investing in transportation,
agriculture (including sugar), real estate, tourism,
communications, and finance. This is in the face of the Helms-
Burton proposal to punish third-country businesses that
invest in Cuba. Like Sherritt's executives, many other foreign
businessmen in Cuba are unimpressed by the threat. They are
more angered than intimidated by Helms-Burton and predict
that if it becomes law few foreign investors will pull out. They
acknowledge that some investments are now on hold because
of it, but note that so long as profits can be had, other
companies will replace those who hesitate or withdraw. For
example, the Guitart group pulled out but was immediately
replaced by Tryp, another Spanish hotel chain. The effect of
making Helms-Burton law, then, is likely to be minor. In
addition to its other problems, legal experts say it will not
stand up in U.S. courts.

Finally, through a strategy that combines increased use of

bagasse as fuel, more domestic production of petroleum
(which over the past three years has almost doubled to 1.5
million tons), and more imports from Russia, Cuba's energy
crisis appears to be on the way to a solution. The crisis began
in 1990-92, when Cuba's normal petroleum import of 13
million tons from the Soviet Union plunged to less than 7
million tons.


And the result of these reforms? After a decline in economic

output of some 40 percent between 1989 and 1994, the free
fall has ended. The growth rate for 1995 was over 2.5 percent
and is estimated to double in 1996. The price of the dollar has
dropped from 125 pesos in mid-1994 to 25-35 pesos. For a
short period in August, it went down to 12. Basic foodstuffs
that were in critically short supply in mid-1994 have become
far more plentiful. The price of beans has dropped from over
60 pesos a pound to 13 pesos and that of rice from 50 pesos
to 5.

Intentional energy blackouts, which in mid-1994 sometimes

lasted 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, in most areas are now a
few hours a week and in some areas have ended entirely. As a
Cuban office worker said, "That is the greatest relief of all. I
can put up with everything else, but when there are no fans
or air conditioning at work and it is so hot at night that one
can't sleep, one's temper begins to fray."

The new investment law opens the way for Cuban exiles to
return, invest, and open businesses. This is a welcome step,
but it has sparked resentment among some Cuban residents,
who question why exiles are permitted to open businesses
while they are not. They may soon get their wish. Cuban
officials have acknowledged that to rationalize the state
sector they may over time have to lay off as many as a million
state employees. Unprofitable factories must be closed and
many government agencies drastically cut back. How are
these masses of newly unemployed to be absorbed? There is
only one way: expand the private sector. Hence, a new small
business law is under discussion. When it is enacted, probably
this year, the law will allow groups of citizens, rather than
only individuals, to pool their resources and open small
private enterprises that will employ others, although it may
limit the number of employees they may hire.

One step has led to another in this transition. Legalization of

the dollar in the Cuban economy raised the need for a
realistic official exchange rate, which Cuban economists are
still trying to determine. The self-employment and foreign
investment laws increased the calls for a small business law,
and that, in turn, will lead to foreign investment in new Cuban
private enterprises. The government, pressured by the
military and others to continue reform, will doubtless resist at
first. But eventually it will have to accommodate them,
perhaps by setting up state clearing-houses for foreign
investments. Small businesses must have capital to prosper,
and it is in the government's interest to ensure they get it.
How else will they be able to absorb the growing numbers of

As one economic reform leads to another, pressure for

political change will increase. Soon, for example, as many as
one million former state employees will be earning a living in
private endeavors of one kind or another. They will have new
interests and want those interests represented. They will turn
to the National Assembly, pushing it to become a truly
representative body. Economic reforms, in short, set up an
equation: the more Cuban citizens enter the private sector,
the greater the imperative for a more representative


Political changes will come more slowly than economic

reforms and mostly in their wake. Cubans have watched with
horror the socioeconomic breakdown in the Soviet Union and
a number of Eastern European states, resulting, they believe,
from going too far too fast and losing control of the reform
process. They are determined not to let that happen in Cuba.
Also, Cuban officials argue that the midst of an economic
crisis is not the time for political experimentation. Only after
the crisis, they insist, can one contemplate more significant
political reforms. Some go even further and see Cuba
following a Chinese model of reform, which allows significant
economic liberalization but minimal political change.

Such a model may be appropriate for Cuba's situation today,

but it is not likely to remain so over the long run. China is a
huge country with oil, coal, and other natural resources and a
domestic market so large it is almost irresistible to
international business. China can be self-sufficient to a
degree that Cuba cannot and is therefore less vulnerable to
external pressures. To reinsert itself into the international
economic community, Cuba must make more concessions and
adjustments than China.

China has had little pressure for political liberalization from

its Asian neighbors, the United States, or Europe. This is not
the case with Cuba. Leaving U.S. demands aside, Cuba faces
growing insistence from Canada, European trading partners,
and Latin American states that it move further toward
representative democracy. Unlike the United States, these
countries believe engagement and trade will do more to
encourage Cuban reform than efforts to isolate it politically
and strangle it economically. The pressures nonetheless are
real, and Cuba must deal with them, especially if it hopes to
fully participate in the Organization of American States and
hemispheric bodies such as the Inter-American Development

Spain's transition under Franco once again offers a better

parallel than China's transition under Deng Xiaoping.
Franco's first steps toward a more open political system and
improving Spain's image came immediately after World War
II, when he extended conditional liberty to thousands of
political prisoners, halted censorship of foreign newsmen (but
not of the Spanish press), abolished the Falange militia, and
announced that Spain over time would become a traditional
Christian monarchy. The question of restoring the monarchy,
he said, would be settled "when the nation's interest demands

After that, his style of governance changed gradually. His

critical moves toward democracy--the liberalization process
that began in 1965 and his designation in 1969 of Prince Juan
Carlos (in effect, the king-in-waiting) as his successor--came
much later. By then, the transformation of Spain's poor,
agrarian, centralized economy into one more closely
resembling the rest of Europe was well advanced.

If anything, Cuba is changing more rapidly than Franco's

Spain, if only because it began before the socialist world
collapsed around it. The expansion of religious liberty began
more than a decade ago, for example, and Cuban citizens, by
and large, are free to practice their faiths without fear of
persecution. Believers can even become members of the
Communist Party (if they can reconcile their faith with the
party's history of atheism). Earlier tensions between church
and state have largely been overcome, and negotiations for a
papal visit are ongoing.

Since the mid-1970s, Cubans have been able to vote in fair

and democratic municipal elections. Voting is by secret ballot,
and the process of nominating candidates is remarkably open.
One does not have to be a member of the Communist Party to
run for office. In fact, the party plays no role in city elections.
As one member of the Cuban National Assembly put it,
"Rather than a multiparty system, we have a no-party
electoral system."

But the municipal councils do not deal with national, let alone
international, issues. Those are debated or, some would say,
rubber-stamped by the National Assembly. Until 1993 its
members were appointed, not elected by popular ballot. In
February of that year, the electoral law was reformed so that
citizens of each municipality could elect their National
Assembly representatives. Unfortunately, the nominating
process was tightly controlled and, worse, only one candidate
could vie for each seat. The subsequent vote may have been
meaningful as a general referendum on the Castro regime
because the high voter turnout indicated a willingness to
legitimize the government's attempts at reform. But as an
election, it was a farce.

Still, it was a step forward. Cuban officials say that there is no

reason the electoral law cannot be changed further. Perhaps
by the next elections, in 1998, the nominating process will be
more open and there will be more than one candidate for
each slot. Meanwhile, the Assembly has gained in importance,
and the elections of 1993 brought in new, younger faces more
open to reform.

A multiparty system is probably a decade or more away, and

when it comes it is not likely to follow a conventional pattern.
Some Cuban officials have suggested that the Communist
Party be abolished in favor of a Cuban Revolutionary Party,
the single party called for by the father of Cuban
independence, Jos Mart. Eventually other groups would be
allowed to register as opposition or at least independent
parties. These officials insist, however, that for the next few
decades Cuba should stick to a system in which no party plays
a role in elections. "We simply do not want to get into the kind
of debilitating party politics we see in surrounding countries,"
a Cuban political observer said. "There must be a better way
of giving the people a voice in government."

Whatever system emerges and however reluctant Castro may

be to admit it, most thoughtful Cubans understand that they
are moving toward something new--an economy that mixes
private enterprise with a continued role for the state and a far
more open political system. It will probably look like social
democracy to Americans, although Cubans will almost
certainly continue to describe it as socialist. Clearly they
believe that it is important to preserve the gains of the
revolution, such as free education and health care and a high
degree of equality.


The dominant view among American political leaders seems

to be that Castro must go before meaningful change can take
place. The Clinton administration does not demand his ouster
as a precondition for normalization, but it has described him
as a "lost cause" or "irrelevant" and expressed disbelief that
sufficient change could occur under his tutelage. Clearly it
would prefer a peaceful transition without him. Helms-Burton
goes further, ruling out engagement with any government
that includes him. But Castro's departure or ouster is unlikely
to occur soon, and it is probably undesirable.

Immediately after World War II, the consensus in Spain and

the rest of the world was that Franco's days in office were
numbered. Was he not without allies, his soul mates having
gone down in defeat? Within a decade, however, it was
acknowledged not only that Franco, with or without allies,
was likely to remain in power, but that he was the best
guarantee that Spain's transition from dictatorship to
democracy would be peaceful and relatively smooth. He is
well remembered in Spain today for just that.

Most Cubans on the island, including many who disagree with

Castro, see him playing a similar role. He is the only political
figure with the authority to order reforms and make them
stick, and he is the only one who can prevent the various
political factions from plunging the country into a bloodbath.
They know that his instincts are not democratic and the
evolutionary pace he favors will mean an elongated process.
Some are impatient with that, but most seem to prefer that
scenario to a more dramatic and possibly dangerous
denouement. A crucial point is that they see no alternative. It
is all well and good to speak of Castro's immediate ouster, but
who would replace him? Elections are well and good, but who
would run against him? The Cuban people see no one in the
wings, and thus their understandable reaction is to stick with

Castro has been so demonized in the United States that most

Americans find it difficult to believe the Cuban people do not
want him immediately overthrown--or dead. How can they
support a man who is said to be a bloody tyrant and murderer
with the worst human rights record in the world? The
revolution unarguably has a dark side. Castro is not a
democrat and not inclined to tolerate dissent. People are
indeed locked up for expressing opposition and are sometimes
handled roughly. Human rights activists calculate that as
many as 900 men and women remain behind bars for crimes
of a political nature (down from tens of thousands in the
1960s). These ills cannot be condoned and must be overcome
if Cuba is to gain full acceptance in the international

But most Cubans see another side of the revolution, the side
that has provided free education, excellent free health care, a
high degree of equality, and, most important, a sense of
national pride. Until the economic crisis resulting from the
collapse of the Soviet Union, most Cubans seemed to feel they
had benefited from the revolution. Because of these economic
difficulties, many would now like to abandon the revolution,
as evidenced by the refugee crisis of 1994. One should not
lose sight of the fact, however, that far more Cubans are
prepared to stay and see it through, even as they grumble
over their plight. The majority of Cubans are black, and they
have benefited most from the revolution. That majority wants
to see change, but not a return to the pre-1959 situation,
which the rhetoric of the white anti-Castro exiles often seems
to threaten. Instruments such as the Helms-Burton
legislation, which is so clearly driven by those same exiles,
simply strengthens the resolve of the black majority and most
other Cubans to stick with Castro.

Franco, of course, had one luxury that Castro does not: a

king-in-waiting to whom power could be given, who
symbolized the nation and could hold it together after Franco
departed. While Cuba does not have a Juan Carlos, Castro is
preparing a new generation of leaders. Men such as Carlos
Lage Dvila, the Vice President of the Council of State, who
directs the economy, Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina
Gonzlez, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcn, and
Army Chief of Staff Ulises Rosales are already directing the
country's day-to-day business. By the time Castro passes from
the scene 10 or 12 years from now, whether through death or
resignation, these and other new leaders will be ready to step
in and carry on. Given such an extended period, a successor
who could peacefully assume power will likely have been


Only in the United States has a Cuban exile community had a

strong impact on policy toward Cuba, and even here that
impact results more from miscalculations by American
politicians than from the strength of the anti-Castro exiles.

The Cuban-American community is by no means monolithic; it

is now about evenly divided between those who favor some
degree of dialogue with the Castro government and those who
are bitterly opposed. This is true even though the vast
majority of Cuban-Americans regard themselves as strongly
anti-Castro and most remain skeptical that democracy can be
achieved under him. Moreover, the Cuban-American vote
does not and probably never will determine the electoral
outcome in Florida or even in Dade County, where most of the
state's Cuban-Americans live. Clinton, for example, won the
county even though only 18 percent of Cuban-Americans
voted for him. He lost in the northern counties, where few
Cuban-Americans live, over issues that had nothing to do with
Cuba. Thus his effort in 1992 to win Florida by supporting the
Cuban Democracy Act and taking a hard line on Cuba came to
exactly zero. He got 39 percent of the vote in Florida,
precisely what Dukakis had received four years earlier.

If either a Democratic or Republican administration wished to

change U.S. policy toward Cuba, it could easily do so. The
protests of ultraconservative Cuban exiles would cause little
political damage. The reaction is likely to be even less
consequential in years to come as a new, less revanchist
generation of Cuban-Americans comes to the fore and more
moderate leaders gain strength. After World War II, strong
Spanish Republican exile communities in France, Mexico, and
Argentina helped persuade the international community not
to accept Spain or allow it U.N. membership. But as the years
passed and it became increasingly clear that the exiles had no
prescription for bringing about change at home and certainly
not for replacing the Franco government, their voices were
heeded less and less. Such is likely to be the case with the
virulently anti-Castro exiles.


U.S. policy toward Cuba still seems to be in a Cold War time

warp. Although Cuba has removed its troops from Africa,
stopped promoting revolution in Central America, and lost the
Soviet military ties of old, the United States persists in
tightening the screws. The United States still seeks a more
open Cuban political system, greater respect for human
rights, and compensation for properties expropriated under
Castro's revolution. In fashioning a policy to further those
aims, however, the Clinton administration might note that
Spain's major advances toward democracy came after the
United States had normalized relations with it, signed an
economic-military agreement with Spain in 1953, and allowed
its admission to the United Nations in 1955. Engagement, in
other words, produced better results than ostracism.

The rest of the world favors engagement (as does the United
States with most other authoritarian countries) and rejects
U.S. policy toward Cuba. The vote in the U.N. General
Assembly against the U.S. embargo last November was 117 to
3; in 1994 it was 101 to 2. The only countries voting with the
United States were Israel and Uzbekistan, and both trade
with Cuba. In other words, not a single government
cooperates with the U.S. embargo. Nevertheless, the Helms-
Burton legislation would have the president insist to the
Security Council that other U.N. members join the embargo.
The legislation's extraterritorial punitive measures risk major
quarrels with Canada, Mexico, Russia, and the European

Nor is commerce the only arena in which present policy is

counterproductive. America's overriding interest in Cuba and
most other Caribbean states is that their populations remain
in place. The United States does not want tens of thousands
of refugees and illegal aliens landing on its shores. That
became abundantly clear during the refugee crisis of 1994,
when legions of Cubans set out on rafts for Florida. The
Clinton administration temporarily resolved the crisis by
entering into an agreement with Castro on September 9,
1994, to stem the flow. It concluded another agreement on
May 2, 1995, which requires the Coast Guard to return those
picked up on the high seas directly to Cuba. Otherwise, the
administration left the old policy intact. So although the
overwhelming majority attempting to flee were economic
refugees, the embargo, which adds to the island's economic
difficulties, was left in place. The Cuban embargo is the only
embargo of the United States that effectively prohibits the
sale of food and medicine, in violation of the Fourth Geneva
Convention of 1949.


Current policy does not serve U.S. interests or further its

objectives in Cuba. It neither advances the cause of human
rights and a more open system nor reduces the possibility of
another refugee outflow. It complicates relations with
America's most important trading partners while denying U.S.
companies any share of the Cuban market. The latter is not
large, but a recent trade study estimated that the United
States and Cuba could quickly be doing some $7 billion a year
in business.ffl

Against these losses, U.S. policy achieves nothing. It does not

even serve the domestic political interests of the Clinton
administration. Still, a total lifting of the embargo might be
politically risky. The president would doubtless be accused of
giving away something for nothing. However, there is a
sensible way to begin to change policy. The United States
should halt all efforts to interfere with the trade and
investment of other countries in Cuba, lift the embargo on the
sale of food and medicine because it is inconsistent with
international practice, and lift all travel restrictions, which
are of dubious constitutionality and infringe on the rights of
American citizens. Having thus shown good faith, the United
States should say that it is ready to have a new relationship
with Cuba, quickly remove other parts of the embargo, and
enter into negotiations on bilateral matters such as
compensation for nationalized U.S. properties, which Cuban
officials have indicated they are willing to discuss. The United
States should emphasize, however, that the pace of
normalization would depend in part on how meaningfully
Cuba moves ahead with internal reforms. America would lose
nothing substantial through such an approach, vastly increase
the possibility of playing a constructive role in Cuba's
transition, and avoid damaging its relations with other

Unfortunately, all indications are that the United States will

stick to the same old Cold War approach of the past 35 years.
The much-ballyhooed opening to Cuba announced in
President Clinton's foreign policy speech of October 6, 1995,
has turned out to be mostly smoke. Although he spoke of
vastly increased academic exchanges, the restrictions on
them remain largely unchanged. Cuban-Americans can now
ostensibly make one trip to Cuba per year without a license
but only in cases of extreme humanitarian need. As the "need"
is not monitored, however, increasing numbers have travelled
to the island, albeit with a dubious justification. Clinton's offer
to allow news bureaus of the U.S. media to open in Cuba was
not new. A similar offer was made in 1977 and reiterated over
the years. The Cubans have always rejected the offer, saying
it would not be an even trade because Cuba has only one
news agency. In most cases, they will probably say no again.

Despite growing pressure from U.S. businesses, which resent

their own government handing the Cuban market to foreign
competitors, signals from both the White House and Congress
suggest that Cuba policy will not change significantly for at
least another two years. If the Helms-Burton legislation
becomes law, change could be delayed for much longer.

It may be just as well. Cuba will survive without the United

States, and the United States will certainly survive without
Cuba. Cuba will move ahead with its reforms, continue to
expand its commercial ties with other countries, and
eventually end up, like Spain, with a very different society.
But it will be a society based on Cuban realities, not those of
Washington or Miami. Meanwhile, if so obviously flawed an
instrument as the Helms-Burton bill becomes the basis of U.S.
policy, it might be better that the two countries remain at
arm's length for some years to come.

ffi These appraisals are based on hundreds of interviews and

conversations the author has had with Cubans over the past
few years.

ffl Donna Rich Kaplowitz and Michael Kaplowitz, New

Opportunities for U.S.-Cuban Trade, Washington: The Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Wayne S. Smith, who served in the U.S. embassy in Havana from 1958 until 1961 and as
Chief of the U.S. Interest Section there from 1979 to 1982, is a visiting professor of Latin
American studies at The Johns Hopkins University and a Senior Fellow at the Center for
International Policy. His best-known book on Cuba is The Closest of Enemies.
Foreign Aairs
September/October 2003

The Crackdown in Cuba

Theresa Bond


Cuban security personnel detain a member of the Ladies in White dissident group
during a protest on International Human Rights Day, Havana, Cuba, December
10, 2015.


Last March, on the very day that U.S. forces entered Iraq,
Fidel Castro launched a major crackdown on peaceful Cuban
political dissidents. The Iraqi operation was a surprisingly
swift one -- and so was Castro's. Within three weeks, the
statue of the Cuban leader's old friend Saddam Hussein had
been toppled in central Baghdad; meanwhile, Castro had
summarily tried and imprisoned 75 Cubans. Their sentences --
for supposed crimes against the country's security -- averaged
20 years. A few days later, as if in an afterthought, three men
who had hijacked the Havana Bay ferry in an attempt to
escape the island were also tried. This group was even more
unlucky: they were executed by firing squad, despite the fact
that there had been no violence during their botched crime.

Cuba-watchers have no doubt that Castro's crackdown was

timed to take advantage of the world's preoccupation with
events in the Middle East. There is less agreement, however,
over why it occurred in the first place. Like everything else
relating to Cuba, the mass arrests provoked a flurry of
speculation and wide-ranging interpretations among
American observers.

Some pundits suggested that Castro made his move to

prevent an improvement in relations with the United States --
an improvement he may have thought imminent, given the
growing bipartisan opposition in the U.S. Congress to the 40-
year-old embargo on Cuba. Certainly Castro has deliberately
acted to spoil rapprochement in the past. For example, seven
years ago, a dissident umbrella organization called Concilio
Cubano was abruptly rounded up, and the Cuban air force
shot down two planes belonging to the exile group Brothers to
the Rescue -- all just a few days before Congress was
expected to reject the Helms-Burton Act, which aimed to
tighten sanctions on Cuba. Castro's shootings and jailings
helped ensure the opposite result: the act passed. Other
observers, meanwhile, proffered a different explanation for
Castro's recent crackdown, pointing out that the comandante,
mindful of the preemptive strike on Iraq, must have decided
that a U.S. attack against Cuba was imminent. Dissidents, as
allies of the enemy, therefore had to be neutralized.

Just as the interpretations of Castro's motivation have ranged

across the spectrum, so have the reactions of U.S. officials.
Some policymakers, arguing that the embargo clearly no
longer works, have called to have it lifted; others have
demanded that it should be tightened, by banning financial
remittances from emigres in the United States, for example.
In Cuba itself, some residents have suggested that their
president believes he can swap a few of the jailed dissidents
for the five Cuban spies currently serving long sentences in
the United States. Another interpretation making the rounds
in Havana is that the crackdown was meant to feed Cuba's
never-ending war rhetoric, which the regime hopes will
distract the population from the dire economic situation.
Cuba's financial woes have been caused mostly by
mismanagement (and were recently aggravated by two
hurricanes), but the problems are real. The all-important
sugar industry is near collapse, with this year's raw sugar
production expected to be 80 percent lower than in 1989
(when the Soviet Union ended its subsidies). Last year, almost
half of Cuba's 156 sugar mills were shut down, leaving some
100,000 workers jobless. Tourism, the other main source of
hard currency, has slumped as a result of the September 11,
2001, attacks.

Cuba's disastrous economic situation has grown so dire, in

fact, that merely acquiring enough food to eat has become a
full-time preoccupation. The creeping dollarization of
consumer goods has made survival on a salary paid in local
currency mathematically impossible; American dollars were
made legal in 1993 and today are simply indispensable. As for
the regime's traditional counterargument -- that health and
education are still free and excellent -- it no longer carries
much weight. Hospitals are decrepit, basic medicines are
unavailable (except in foreigners-only pharmacies), schools
indoctrinate instead of teaching, and, as Cubans say, "One is
not always either sick or learning." In Havana, using public
transportation is a time-consuming ordeal, public phones
work sporadically, and water and power fail on a daily basis.
Outside the capital, the situation is even worse. Of course
tourists, whisked around the country in air-conditioned buses
on mojito-salsa-cigar holidays, remain immune from (and
oblivious to) the privations.


Perhaps the most telling interpretation of the crackdown is

Castro's own: that it was the action of a David (namely Cuba)
confronting the Goliath to the north. An "information note"
published by the regime as the roundup began made this
notion clear: "A few dozen persons directly linked to the
conspiratorial activities led by James Cason [head of the U.S.
Interests Section in Havana] have been arrested by the
relevant authorities and will be brought to trial." Castro used
similar language at the end of the trials, in a speech that he
opened with the ominous declaration, "It all started with the
arrival in Cuba of Mr. Cason." According to Castro, the 75
dissidents had been acting on Washington's orders.

That Castro should be obsessed with the United States is not

altogether surprising, given the two countries' shared history.
At age 76, moreover, Cuba's president has now been in office
for 44 years -- longer than any other head of state except for
Queen Elizabeth -- and George W. Bush is the tenth occupant
of the White House to confront him. And the recent trials
show that Castro's anxiety about American subversion has not
diminished over the years. As recently as March 1999, he had
enacted a new special law (Law Number 88) punishing the
encouragement of U.S. policy, particularly the embargo. "The
revolution will apply with the necessary rigor ... the laws
created to defend it from new and old tactics and strategies
against Cuba," warned the above-mentioned "information
note." Indeed, Law 88, which was used to condemn many of
the 75 defendants, could be called the Anti-Helms-Burton Act,
since it is aimed specifically at those "who support or help to
enforce" that legislation. It is now illegal in Cuba to say,
write, or do anything that Washington could use against
Havana. No wonder that Cuban dissidents refer to it as the
Gag Law.
The Helms-Burton Act not only tightened the embargo against
Cuba but also pledged money to support a "democratic
transition" there. Accordingly, in the years since the act's
passage, the U.S. Agency for International Development has
provided $22.5 million to promote such a "transition" and to
prepare for a Cuba without Castro. Cuba's president has been
infuriated both by the act's language and by the behavior of
local American diplomats. Vicki Huddleston, Cason's
predecessor at the U.S. Interests Section (and now
ambassador to Mali), set a defiant tone last year when she
started distributing free transistor radios to Cubans. Castro
was not amused, and state television denounced the radios'
recipients as counterrevolutionaries. Cason, a career
diplomat, arrived in Havana in the fall of 2002 and adopted an
even more defiant attitude. In February, he visited the home
of a dissident and declared to the foreign reporters he had
invited to cover the event that Castro was "afraid of free
speech" and "of human rights." Both charges were true, but
Castro fumed at what he called the "grosera de guapetn con
inmunidad diplomtica" -- rude behavior by a bully with
diplomatic immunity.

The overt support provided by the U.S. mission in Havana to

Cuba's opposition proved too much for Castro to bear. Mere
support might have been tolerable, but not such open
defiance. And to be fair, the American behavior was
somewhat conspicuous. In other totalitarian states, from
Burma to Zimbabwe, American and other diplomats provide
similar assistance to local dissidents, but they do it much
more covertly -- so discreetly, in fact, that the programs rarely
reach the public eye.

Although U.S. diplomats could have acted in a less

ostentatious way, the dissidents themselves had very little
choice. It is not easy to prepare for a peaceful transition of
government in a country with no fax machines or vcrs for sale
and no photocopying facilities, and where a three-minute
phone call abroad costs the equivalent of the average monthly
salary. Satellite dishes are banned, and listening to foreign
radio broadcasts is deemed "subversive." Thus it is hardly
surprising that when the U.S. Interests Section opened a sort
of Internet cafe for Cuban dissidents last year, the attraction
proved irresistible. Many flocked to the site, in a former
embassy building on the sea front, to surf the Web -- a
forbidden fruit in a country where Internet access cards were
previously sold only to tourists (and are now entirely
unavailable). Castro, again not amused, was unable to shut
down the Internet cafe without closing the entire U.S.
Interests Section. So he locked up its users instead. They now
enjoy prison visits from family members every three months,
instead of Web access every Thursday.

Castro has applied a similar method to undermine the effect

of visits by foreign personalities who hoped to use their
presence to support local civil society. Private visitors --
Czech officials on nondiplomatic passports, a Swedish
politician, and an Argentine journalist -- have been detained
and deported, more or less quietly. Official visitors, however,
such as Jimmy Carter; Mexico's last foreign minister, Jorge
Castaeda; or the heads of state who came for the 1999 Latin
American summit, could not be punished themselves, so
Castro went after the Cubans that they had met with instead.
For example, on March 8, eight visiting members of the U.S.
House of Representatives met in a Havana hotel with five
local dissidents, two of them accompanied by their wives.
Four of the activists were subsequently locked up on
sentences ranging from 18 to 26 years, after waiters from the
hotel testified against them at their trials.

Prior to the arrests, the Castro regime had for several years
been lenient on dissent, luring opponents into a false sense of
safety. Activists were led to believe that they had carved out a
new space for their work and boasted to visitors that they
could now act in the open; after all, there was nothing illegal
about what they were doing. Little did they know that their
island would soon become the backdrop for Moscow-style
show trials resulting in a cumulative sentence of 1,450 years
for the 75 defendants.


The recent crackdown has left Cuba's most courageous civil-

society activists in jail for decades (three others arrested in
the same roundup are still awaiting trial). Of the half-dozen or
so known dissidents left free, most are either burned out after
years of struggle or have only recently been released from jail
themselves and are thus unwilling to push their luck. Several
have made statements that have been publicized abroad or
have given interviews to foreign media, but few will go
further than that.

Those behind bars come from all races and walks of life:
Catholics and Freemasons, intellectuals and peasants. Some
are only in their twenties; others are in their sixties. Less than
half of the prisoners lived in Havana -- proof that their cause
represents not an elite occupation but a broader movement,
albeit one now decapitated.

Some of the dissidents were nabbed for following the classic

curriculum of nonviolent resistance in communist countries:
human rights education and monitoring or the organization of
illegal trade unions and political parties. A lay Catholic group
had revived an old idea: petition signing. Other activists had
embarked on more novel ventures, such as the establishment
of independent libraries. Begun five years ago as a single
bookshelf in the home of a brave couple in the eastern town of
Las Tunas (the two have since fled into exile as a result of
unbearable government harassment), this movement now
represents approximately 80 book collections around the
From the regime's perspective, the most threatening
dissidents were probably the independent journalists: both
professional reporters and those who merely wrote about
subjects that interested them. This latter category included
economists, engineers, peasants, physicians, teachers, and
trade-union activists. What is known as "Cuban independent
journalism" began back in the 1980s, when Miami-based radio
stations started conducting telephone interviews with free-
minded people living on the island. Then, in the mid-1990s,
once direct-dial calling had been established between the
United States and Cuba, a few dozen journalists formed
themselves into eight "press agencies."

Over the last ten years, many of these journalists have

emigrated, and they now aid their colleagues from abroad.
The work of those who remain in Cuba is published on Web
sites such as CubaNet and Nueva Prensa Cubana, which are
operated by Cubans in Miami, or Encuentro, run from Madrid.

Because these Internet sites are blocked in Cuba, most of

their readers are members of the Cuban diaspora or are
Spanish-speaking Cuba experts. Nonetheless, the publications
sometimes manage to find their way to their intended
audience. The two Miami-based Web sites produce simple
paper editions of their reports that, by ways best left
unpublicized, are sent to the island. Many texts are also read
or discussed on Miami-based radio stations that broadcast to

Just before the crackdown, roughly a hundred Cubans were

practicing such independent journalism. Some wrote columns
and editorials, but most produced brief, 300-400 word factual
reports. They exposed human rights violations (a blind lawyer
jailed for civil disobedience being harassed by cellmates or
censors restricting rap musicians), publicized the work of
activists (hunger strikers demanding the release of political
prisoners or dissidents planning an election boycott), and
reported on the disastrous crisis in the economy (such as the
short supply of milk or the restriction of TV sets to cronies of
the regime). Today, less than two dozen remain at large and
at work. As that figure suggests, simply reporting the news is
a risky business in Cuba. Ral Rivero, the country's best-
known contemporary poet and independent journalist,
defiantly wrote in 1999 after the "Gag Law" was passed:

No one, no law will make me believe that I have become a

gangster or a criminal because I report the arrest of a
dissident, or list the prices of basic food products in Cuba, or
write that it is a disaster that more than 20,000 Cubans every
year go into exile in the United States and hundreds of others
try to go anywhere they can.

In April, however, the government decided that Rivero was

just such a gangster. The poet, aged 57, was sentenced to 20
years in prison.

Once head of the Moscow bureau for Prensa Latina, Cuba's

official press agency, Rivero later served as secretary of the
Union of Cuban Writers. In 1991, he and nine other
intellectuals signed a protest letter to Castro (Rivero is the
only signatory who remains in Cuba today). The letter served
as the poet's Rubicon; government officials who wanted to
switch sides and become dissidents themselves started
coming to him, since he was well known and liked from his
days inside the regime. In 1995, he founded CubaPress, an
independent press agency -- most recently located in two
rented rooms of an apartment above a restaurant in Havana's
Chinatown. And a few months before he was arrested, Rivero
launched a samizdat publication called De Cuba with another
writer, Ricardo Gonzlez (same sentence, different prison).
Two hundred copies of the first issue were distributed,
although many were subsequently "recalled" by government
thugs ransacking dissidents' apartments. The second issue
was seized before it reached anyone. And in the homes of
Rivero and Gonzlez, state security agents discovered the
tools of their alleged crimes: a radio, a tape recorder, a
typewriter, a laptop computer, a video camera adapter, audio
and vhs tapes, and a digital battery charger.

At his trial, the prosecution declared that Rivero had set up "a
counterrevolutionary group" and "followed orders from the
United States government." His indictment was based more
on adjectives than on reference to law, however: he was
charged with "carrying out subversive activities," "writing
subversive articles," "launching a subversive magazine,"
working for a subversive French agency (Reporters Sans
Frontires), and sitting "on a jury that promoted a book with
subversive ideas."

Rivero is a playful man, so he must have smiled when he read

the description of him in the indictment: "he frequents the
company of antisocials with whom he exchanges mutual
negative influences, he has rude opinions about the
revolutionary process, he ignores official warnings, he is
provocative, and he disrespects the norms of social
coexistence." A Russian speaker and a connoisseur of Soviet
literature, Rivero admires the poetry of gulag inmate Joseph
Brodsky and is an avid reader of the Russian poet Anna
Akhmatova, who famously described waiting for 17 months
outside the Leningrad prison where her son was being held.
Now Rivero himself has become a poet sent to the gulag for
the crime of writing the truth.


At Rivero's trial, the prosecution presented two secret agents

to testify against him. One, code-named "Miguel," had been
president of Cuba's Independent Journalists' Cooperative. The
other, the 82-year-old "Octavio," claimed he had been an
agent for 40 years and spent the last 10 posing as a journalist
-- a claim that, if true, would make him the dean both of
Cuba's journalists and its spies.

Of course, since almost all of Cuba's independent journalists

published under their real names, there was little for the
government's agents to "uncover," and they were limited to
recording the amounts of money ($15 to $20) that Web sites
paid to writers for their stories. Still, the spies (a dozen in
total) managed to do substantial damage. Some provoked
splits in the groups they penetrated, whereas others
artificially multiplied the number of so-called independent
organizations, thereby diluting the impact of the genuine ones
and helping to discredit civil society. For example, "Agent
Tania" headed a group she created called the Human Rights
Party -- a splinter of a genuine group with the same name (the
original group had to add "affiliated with the Andrei Sakharov
Foundation" to its name in order to differentiate itself).
Incidentally, the head of the real Human Rights Party, Rene
Montes de Oca, has been imprisoned since 2000, and the man
who replaced him, Emilio Leyva Perez, has been held without
trial since February 2002. As one of the few independent
journalists still at large commented recently, "there are times
in the life of a nation when the only place a decent man can
find himself is in prison." Today seems to be one of those

The crackdown was particularly damaging to the Cuban

Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation,
which lost two researchers who had monitored political
prisoners in the country before being locked up themselves.
One of these new inmates is Marcelo Lpez Baobre, a former
tugboat captain who joined the commission in outrage after
the military sank a fleeing tugboat in 1994, drowning 37
people. He was later particularly active in opposing the death
penalty. Lpez's indictment (he was sentenced to 15 years)
reads like a nomination for a human rights award: "while
doing the monitoring [of the violations] he approached
families of [prisoners] suggesting to them that they contact
international organizations." His last act as a free man was to
compile and distribute, on behalf of the commission, a list of
the 75 people then detained -- before becoming number 76
the next day.

The other captive researcher from the Cuban Commission for

Human Rights is Marcelo Cano Rodrguez, a doctor who was
given an 18-year sentence for "proselytizing activities in the
health sector" -- that is, distributing medicine to political
prisoners and their families. Cano had founded the Cuban
Association of Physicians, which is probably how he provoked
Castro's ire, since health care was meant to be one of the
government's showcases, and Cano, by proving that the
system was broken, had spoiled the picture.

During the crackdown, four other physicians were thrown

behind bars, and several independent clinics were ransacked
by state security agents. Ninety pounds of medicines were
confiscated in one clinic alone, including antibiotics, pain
killers, and vitamins, along with medical equipment such as a
metered dose inhaler, an oxygen delivery system, and a
glucometer. As with the human rights movement, the
government tried to discredit genuine medical groups; a
physician and agent code-named "Ernesto" founded a front
group called the Independent Cuban Association of Physicians
to do just that.

Yet another group targeted in the recent repression was the

Christian Liberation Movement, headed by Oswaldo Pay
Sardias (who himself remains free and whom, somewhat
remarkably, Castro allowed to travel abroad to collect the
European Parliament's Sakharov Prize last year). Although
the indictment of three of the group's top members did not
mention it, Pay and his movement had spearheaded the
Varela Project, a petition drive that gathered over 11,000
signatures in one year. The Cuban constitution gives people
the right to present legislative initiatives if at least 10,000
voters sign up, and this massive accomplishment was finally
managed by an umbrella dissident group called Todos Unidos
(which lost four of the six members of its governing body to
the recent crackdown). In May 2002, the petition --
demanding freedom of association, freedom of expression,
amnesty for political prisoners, free enterprise, and free
elections -- was presented to the National Assembly.

At first, Castro ignored it, and perhaps he would have

continued to had it not been for Jimmy Carter, who happened
to be in Havana at the time. Carter had the audacity to
mention the Varela Project in a speech carried live by Cuban
radio and television, thereby forcing it into the public eye.
Embarrassed, Castro arranged to have "the nation speak" in
response, and a month later, nearly 99 percent of Cuba's
registered voters (at least according to the official press)
signed a petition declaring the Cuban socialist system
"untouchable." Not signing, of course, was never an option.

Only a dozen of the 75 jailed dissidents formally belonged to

Pay's organization, but many others had helped out in his
petition drive and are now paying the price for it. They
include the trade-union activist Pedro Pablo lvarez (25-year
sentence), his 62-year-old colleague Carmelo Daz Fernndez
(18 years), and Roberto de Miranda, the president of the
independent association of teachers, who got 20 years and
suffered a heart attack in prison.


The Varela Project startled Castro and his regime, showing

them that their once-obedient subjects were shedding their
fears. Now the effect of the crackdown on its organizers and
other dissidents depends on whether Pay or anyone else
manages to capitalize on the outrage created by the
repression. If the project's 11,000 courageous signatories
were somehow mobilized, the crackdown could become the
catalyst for a movement comparable to Charter 77 in the
former Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately, so far there have been
no signs that popular discontent is being effectively
channeled, and Cubans may conclude that petition-signing is
not worth the risk.

Meanwhile, having thrown the cream of his country's civil

society behind bars, Castro has ensured that his departure --
whether caused by biology or ideology -- will be chaotic, since
Cuba will be unprepared for it. In fact, the transition may look
more like the bloody end of Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu in
1989 than like the carefully planned soft exit of Poland's
general Wojciech Jaruzelski, who is now writing his memoirs
in retirement.

The crackdown has also hurt Castro internationally. His

celebrity admirers may not have wavered, but outside
Hollywood the condemnations have bridged even the
transatlantic rift: suddenly the French Communist Party
sounded like the U.S. House of Representatives, which, in a
vote of 414 to 0, called for the dissidents' immediate release.
In an unprecedented move, Amnesty International declared
all 75 new detainees "prisoners of conscience." The British,
Canadian, French, Italian, and Spanish governments also all
quickly expressed their outrage, a significant step because
tourists from these countries bring much-needed hard
currency into Cuba.

Castro, then, seems to have overplayed his hand. Despite the

focus on Iraq, his actions sparked international anger that
quickly hit Cuba where it hurts the most -- in its economy. The
governments that leapt to condemn his repression include
some of his closest trading partners. Opponents of the
embargo in the United States suddenly fell silent; embargo
exemptions were not renewed; a U.S. agricultural fair in
Havana was canceled; and the European Union, after
announcing that Cuba would not qualify for extra European
aid, hardened its "common position" still further.

Judging by the reaction of the official press, Havana was most

wounded by several high-profile defections from the
international pro-Cuba camp. These included the Portuguese
writer and Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago and the
Uruguayan political writer Eduardo Galeano. Their
unprecedented criticism prompted Castro to have the Cuban
artistic community sign a message "To Friends Far Away,"
denouncing the supposed "campaign preparing the terrain for
a military aggression of the United States against Cuba."
Among the signatories were the ballet grande dame Alicia
Alonso; the composer Chucho Valdes; the singer Omara
Portuondo, of the Buena Vista Social Club; and Eusebio Leal,
the chief renovator of Old Havana.

Cuban civil society may have been shaken by the onslaught,

but it has not disappeared. Independent journalists continue
to file stories about their jailed colleagues and about the dire
reality in the country. While Ral Rivero writes poetry from
his solitary prison cell, his impressive collection of articles
circulates on cds and audio cassettes. His colleague Manuel
Vzquez Portal has managed to smuggle his own diary out of
Boniato Prison in Santiago de Cuba, where he is serving an
18-year sentence. The efforts of Marcelo Lpez Baobre, who
publicized the cases of inmates on death row, have become
internationally recognized. Following the Argentine example,
wives of prisoners now stage silent marches every week
demanding the release of their companions, and families of
the imprisoned say they have received immense support from
friends, neighbors, and even strangers.

In the face of the recent crackdown, however, it may prove

difficult for the opposition to recapture its prior assertiveness
and defiance. Ordinary Cubans may not be prepared to go
into the streets to demand their freedom. For the last 44
years, Cubans' first instinct when unhappy with their country
has been simply to leave, legally or on makeshift rafts. The
successive waves of emigration have created a huge Cuban
diaspora, totaling one-tenth of the island's 11 million
population, and have skimmed the country of the kind of
people who, in other communist states, have acted as the
agents of reform; rather than changing their country, many
Cubans have changed countries instead, voting with their
feet. Castro understands this fact: that on his island of many
shortages, there is no shortage of people willing to leave. He
plays the migration card very wisely, using it as a security
valve for discontent and to blackmail Washington, which fears
a wave of boat people.

It is hard to blame the Cubans who dream about leaving this

communist relic. But even daring to dream can be dangerous.
In the 1980s, Boniato Prison was home for two years to an
inmate who was once foolish enough to recount to his buddies
in the city park his dream from the previous night -- of
escaping Cuba. The man was jailed for this indiscretion and
became known as El Soador de Boniato, "the Dreamer of
Boniato." Now Boniato has become the temporary residence
of six of Cuba's 75 most courageous citizens, many of whom
once dreamed they could change their country from within.
Whether or not they will succeed remains uncertain. But
Cuba needs more such dreamers.

Theresa Bond is the pseudonym for a respected political analyst specializing in closed

Foreign Aairs
January/February 2007

Fidel's Final Victory

Julia E. Sweig



Ever since Fidel Castro gained power in 1959, Washington

and the Cuban exile community have been eagerly awaiting
the moment when he would lose it -- at which point, the
thinking went, they would have carte blanche to remake Cuba
in their own image. Without Fidel's iron fist to keep Cubans in
their place, the island would erupt into a collective demand
for rapid change. The long-oppressed population would
overthrow Fidel's revolutionary cronies and clamor for
capital, expertise, and leadership from the north to transform
Cuba into a market democracy with strong ties to the United
But that moment has come and gone -- and none of what
Washington and the exiles anticipated has come to pass. Even
as Cuba-watchers speculate about how much longer the ailing
Fidel will survive, the post-Fidel transition is already well
under way. Power has been successfully transferred to a new
set of leaders, whose priority is to preserve the system while
permitting only very gradual reform. Cubans have not
revolted, and their national identity remains tied to the
defense of the homeland against U.S. attacks on its
sovereignty. As the post-Fidel regime responds to pent-up
demands for more democratic participation and economic
opportunity, Cuba will undoubtedly change -- but the pace
and nature of that change will be mostly imperceptible to the
naked American eye.

Fidel's almost five decades in power came to a close last

summer not with the expected bang, or even really a
whimper, but in slow motion, with Fidel himself orchestrating
the transition. The transfer of authority from Fidel to his
younger brother, Ral, and half a dozen loyalists -- who have
been running the country under Fidel's watch for decades --
has been notably smooth and stable. Not one violent episode
in Cuban streets. No massive exodus of refugees. And despite
an initial wave of euphoria in Miami, not one boat leaving a
Florida port for the 90-mile trip. Within Cuba, whether Fidel
himself survives for weeks, months, or years is now in many
ways beside the point.

In Washington, however, Cuba policy -- aimed essentially at

regime change -- has long been dominated by wishful thinking
ever more disconnected from the reality on the island. Thanks
to the votes and campaign contributions of the 1.5 million
Cuban Americans who live in Florida and New Jersey,
domestic politics has driven policymaking. That tendency has
been indulged by a U.S. intelligence community hamstrung by
a breathtaking and largely self-imposed isolation from Cuba
and reinforced by a political environment that rewards
feeding the White House whatever it wants to hear. Why alter
the status quo when it is so familiar, so well funded, and so
rhetorically pleasing to politicians in both parties?

But if consigning Cuba to domestic politics has been the path

of least resistance so far, it will begin to have real costs as the
post-Fidel transition continues -- for Cuba and the United
States alike. Fidel's death, especially if it comes in the run-up
to a presidential election, could bring instability precisely
because of the perception in the United States that Cuba will
be vulnerable to meddling from abroad. Some exiles may try
to draw the United States into direct conflict with Havana,
whether by egging on potential Cuban refugees to take to the
Florida Straits or by appealing to Congress, the White House,
and the Pentagon to attempt to strangle the post-Fidel

Washington must finally wake up to the reality of how and

why the Castro regime has proved so durable -- and recognize
that, as a result of its willful ignorance, it has few tools with
which to effectively influence Cuba after Fidel is gone. With
U.S. credibility in Latin America and the rest of the world at
an all-time low, it is time to put to rest a policy that Fidel's
handover of power has already so clearly exposed as a
complete failure.


On July 31, 2006, Fidel Castro's staff secretary made an

announcement: Fidel, just days away from his 80th birthday,
had undergone major surgery and turned over "provisional
power" to his 75-year-old brother, Ral, and six senior
officials. The gravity of Fidel's illness (rumored to be either
terminal intestinal cancer or severe diverticulitis with
complications) was immediately clear, both from photographs
of the clearly weakened figure and from Fidel's own dire-
sounding statements beseeching Cubans to prepare for his
demise. Across the island, an air of resignation and
anticipation took hold.

The dead of August, with its intense heat and humidity, is a

nerve-racking time in Cuba, but as rumors sped from home to
home, there was a stunning display of orderliness and
seriousness in the streets. Life continued: people went to
work and took vacations, watched telenovelas and bootlegged
DVDs and programs from the Discovery and History channels,
waited in lines for buses and weekly rations, made their daily
black-market purchases -- repeating the rituals that have
etched a deep mark in the Cuban psyche. Only in Miami were
some Cubans partying, hoping that Fidel's illness would soon
turn to death, not only of a man but also of a half century of
divided families and mutual hatred.

Ral quickly assumed Fidel's duties as first secretary of the

Communist Party, head of the Politburo, and president of the
Council of State (and retained control of the armed forces and
intelligence services). The other deputies -- two of whom had
worked closely with the Castro brothers since the revolution
and four of whom had emerged as major players in the 1990s
-- took over the other key departments. Ranging in age from
their mid-40s through their 70s, they had been preparing for
this transition to collective leadership for years. Jos Ramn
Balaguer, a doctor who fought as a guerrilla in the Sierra
Maestra during the revolution, assumed authority over public
health. Jos Ramn Machado Ventura, another doctor who
fought in the Sierra, and Esteban Lazo Hernndez now share
power over education. Carlos Lage Dvila -- a key architect of
the economic reforms of the 1990s, including efforts to bring
in foreign investment -- took charge of the energy sector.
Francisco Sobern Valds, president of the Central Bank of
Cuba, and Felipe Prez Roque, minister of foreign affairs,
took over finances in those areas.

At first, U.S. officials simply admitted that they had almost no

information about Fidel's illness or plans for succession.
President George W. Bush said little beyond soberly (and
surprisingly) pointing out that the next leader of Cuba would
come from Cuba -- a much-needed warning to the small yet
influential group of hard-line exiles (Republican Florida
Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a nephew of Fidel's,
prominent among them) with aspirations to post-Fidel
presidential politics.

A few weeks into the Fidel deathwatch, Ral gave an

interview clearly meant for U.S. consumption. Cuba, he said,
"has always been ready to normalize relations on the basis of
equality. But we will not accept the arrogant and
interventionist policies of this administration," nor will the
United States win concessions on Cuba's domestic political
model. A few days later, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for
Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon responded in
kind. Washington, he said, would consider lifting its embargo
-- but only if Cuba established a route to multiparty
democracy, released all political prisoners, and allowed
independent civil-society organizations. With or without Fidel,
the two governments were stuck where they have been for
years: Havana ready to talk about everything except the one
condition on which Washington will not budge, Washington
offering something Havana does not unconditionally want in
exchange for something it is not willing to give.

From Washington's perspective, this paralysis may seem only

temporary. Shannon compared post-Fidel Cuba to a
helicopter with a broken rotor -- the implication being that a
crash is imminent. But that view, pervasive among U.S.
policymakers, ignores the uncomfortable truth about Cuba
under the Castro regime. Despite Fidel's overwhelming
personal authority and Ral's critical institution-building
abilities, the government rests on far more than just the
charisma, authority, and legend of these two figures.

Cuba is far from a multiparty democracy, but it is a

functioning country with highly opinionated citizens where
locally elected officials (albeit all from one party) worry about
issues such as garbage collection, public transportation,
employment, education, health care, and safety. Although
plagued by worsening corruption, Cuban institutions are
staffed by an educated civil service, battle-tested military
officers, a capable diplomatic corps, and a skilled work force.
Cuban citizens are highly literate, cosmopolitan, endlessly
entrepreneurial, and by global standards quite healthy.

Critics of the Castro regime cringe at such depictions and

have worked hard to focus Washington and the world's
attention on human rights abuses, political prisoners, and
economic and political deprivations. Although those concerns
are legitimate, they do not make up for an unwillingness to
understand the sources of Fidel's legitimacy -- or the features
of the status quo that will sustain Ral and the collective
leadership now in place. On a trip to Cuba in November, I
spoke with a host of senior officials, foreign diplomats,
intellectuals, and regime critics to get a sense of how those
on the ground see the island's future. (I have traveled to Cuba
nearly 30 times since 1984 and met with everyone from Fidel
himself to human rights activists and political prisoners.)
People at all levels of the Cuban government and the
Communist Party were enormously confident of the regime's
ability to survive Fidel's passing. In and out of government
circles, critics and supporters alike -- including in the state-
run press -- readily acknowledge major problems with
productivity and the delivery of goods and services. But the
regime's still-viable entitlement programs and a widespread
sense that Ral is the right man to confront corruption and
bring accountable governance give the current leadership
more legitimacy than it could possibly derive from repression
alone (the usual explanation foreigners give for the regime's
staying power).

The regime's continued defiance of the United States also

helps. In Cuba's national narrative, outside powers -- whether
Spain in the nineteenth century or the United States in the
twentieth -- have preyed on Cuba's internal division to
dominate Cuban politics. Revolutionary ideology emphasizes
this history of thwarted independence and imperialist
meddling, from the Spanish-American War to the Bay of Pigs,
to sustain a national consensus. Unity at home, the message
goes, is the best defense against the only external power
Cuba still regards as a threat -- the United States.

To give Cubans a stake in this tradeoff between an open

society and sovereign nationhood, the revolution built social,
educational, and health programs that remain the envy of the
developing world. Public education became accessible to the
entire population, allowing older generations of illiterate
peasants to watch their children and grandchildren become
doctors and scientists; by 1979, Cuba's literacy rates had
risen above 90 percent. Life expectancy went from under 60
years at the time of the revolution to almost 80 today
(virtually identical to life expectancy in the United States).
Although infectious disease levels have been historically
lower in Cuba than in many parts of Latin America, the
revolutionary government's public vaccination programs
completely eliminated polio, diphtheria, tetanus, meningitis,
and measles. In these ways, the Cuban state truly has served
the poor underclass rather than catering to the domestic elite
and its American allies.

Foreign policy, meanwhile, put the island on the map

geopolitically. The Cubans used the Soviets (who regarded
the brash young revolutionaries as reckless) for money,
weapons, and insulation from their implacable enemy to the
north. Although the government's repression of dissent and
tight control over the economy drove many out of the country
and turned many others against the Castro regime, most
Cubans came to expect the state to guarantee their welfare,
deliver the international standing they regard as their cultural
and historical destiny, and keep the United States at a healthy

The end of the Cold War seriously threatened this status quo.
The Soviet Union withdrew its $4 billion annual subsidy, and
the economy contracted by 35 percent overnight. Cuba's
political elite recognized that without Soviet support, the
survival of the revolutionary regime was in peril -- and, with
Fidel's reluctant acquiescence, fashioned a pragmatic
response to save it. Cuban officials traveling abroad started
using once-anathema terms, such as "civil society." Proposals
were circulated to include multiple candidates (although all
from the Communist Party) in National Assembly elections
and to permit small private businesses. The government
legalized self-employment in some 200 service trades,
converted state farms to collectively owned cooperatives, and
allowed the opening of small farmers' markets. At Ral's
instigation, state enterprises adopted capitalist accounting
and business practices; some managers were sent to
European business schools. As the notion of a "socialist
enterprise" became increasingly unsustainable, words like
"market," "efficiency," "ownership," "property," and
"competition" began to crop up with ever more frequency in
the state-controlled press and in public-policy debates.
Foreign investment from Europe, Latin America, Canada,
China, and Israel gave a boost to agriculture and the tourism,
mining, telecommunications, pharmaceutical, biotechnology,
and oil industries.

These changes rendered Cuba almost unrecognizable

compared with the Cuba of the Soviet era, but they also
allowed Fidel's government to regain its footing. The economy
began to recover, and health and educational programs
started to deliver again. By the end of the 1990s, Cuba's
infant mortality rate (approximately six deaths per 100,000
births) had dropped below that of the United States, and close
to 100 percent of children were enrolled in school full time
through ninth grade. Housing, although deteriorating and in
desperate need of modernization, remained virtually free. And
a cosmopolitan society -- albeit one controlled in many ways
by the state -- grew increasingly connected to the world
through cultural exchanges, sporting events, scientific
cooperation, health programs, technology, trade, and
diplomacy. Moreover, by 2002, total remittance inflows
reached $1 billion, and nearly half of the Cuban population
had access to dollars from family abroad.

In 2004, a process of "recentralization" began: the state

replaced the dollar with a convertible currency, stepped up
tax collection from the self-employed sector, and imposed
stricter controls on revenue expenditures by state
enterprises. But even with these controls over economic
activity, the black market is everywhere. Official salaries are
never enough to make ends meet, and the economy has
become a hybrid of control, chaos, and free-for-all. The rules
of the game are established and broken at every turn, and
most Cubans have to violate some law to get by. The
administrators of state enterprises steal and then sell the
inputs they get from the government, forcing workers to
purchase themselves the supplies they need to do their jobs --
rubber for the shoemaker, drinking glasses for the bartender,
cooking oil for the chef -- in order to fill production quotas.

At the same time, the revolution's investment in human

capital has made Cuba uniquely well positioned to take
advantage of the global economy. In fact, the island faces an
overcapacity of professional and scientific talent, since it
lacks the industrial base and foreign investment necessary to
create a large number of productive skilled jobs. With 10,000
students in its science and technology university and already
successful joint pharmaceutical ventures with China and
Malaysia, Cuba is poised to compete with the upper ranks of
developing nations.


The last potential turning point in U.S.-Cuban relations came

with the end of the Cold War. Cubans greeted the fall of the
Berlin Wall with a collective sigh of relief; it was, they
thought, an opportunity to explore the kind of society Cuba
might become once it could no longer depend on the Soviet
Union. But over the next decade and a half, U.S. policymakers
-- hobbled by domestic politics and a fundamental
misunderstanding of the reality on the island -- missed
opportunity after opportunity to bring decades of enmity to a

Instead of allowing debates about reform to take their natural

course in Cuba, Washington jumped on the chance to, as Bill
Clinton put it in the 1992 presidential campaign, "bring the
hammer down" on Fidel. Congress passed and Clinton signed
the Cuban Democracy Act, which, among other things, barred
foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with
Cuba and ships traveling from Cuban ports from docking in
the United States. Havana reacted with predictable outrage,
condemning U.S. imperial designs in dramatic public protests.
More important, some reform proposals were put on hold --
lest the slightest crack in Cuba's armor open the way to U.S.-
backed counterrevolution. National security trumped
everything else.

The next decade saw a series of half steps forward followed

by large steps back. Hoping to learn more about the island
while driving a wedge between its people and its government,
the Clinton administration began to allow licensed travel to
Cuba for academic purposes and for the sake of lending
"support to the Cuban people." It also embraced a policy of
"calibrated response": as Cuba changed, U.S. policy would as
well. Without ever relating them to U.S. gestures, Cuba did
undertake some important (and largely unreciprocated)
reforms, loosening restrictions on family and some
professional travel, relaxing residency requirements for
writers and artists, and continuing the economic openings.
And when 40,000 rafters left for U.S. shores in 1994, after a
summer of brutal heat and electricity and food shortages in
Havana, U.S. and Cuban officials began secret negotiations in
Canada. The result was unprecedented cooperation on
migration issues -- Washington would provide 20,000 visas to
Cubans a year, and the U.S. Coast Guard would send Cubans
picked up at sea to the U.S. naval base at Guantnamo Bay --
and a degree of official and people-to-people contact unknown
since a brief opening under Jimmy Carter.

But these tentative steps, bitterly resisted by exiles who

feared a slippery slope toward full-blown U.S.-Cuban
relations, were soon thwarted. In February 1996, the Cuban
air force shot down two planes being flown in the area by an
exile group called Brothers to the Rescue. Led by a Bay of
Pigs veteran, the group would make surveillance flights over
the Florida Straits (to inform the U.S. Coast Guard of rafters)
and occasionally drop anti-Castro pamphlets over Havana
from Cessnas bought at Pentagon tag sales. Sometimes, U.S.
officials would join the flights. Havana had repeatedly warned
Washington that the flights would not be tolerated, but the
shootdown nonetheless resulted in swift congressional
retaliation -- in the form of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic
Solidary Act, better known as Helms-Burton.

Helms-Burton took the U.S. embargo to new extremes. It

attempted to halt all foreign investment in Cuba by allowing
investors to be sued in U.S. courts. It mandated that future
presidents could lift the embargo only if Cuba complied with a
number of conditions, including holding multiparty elections,
recognizing private property, and releasing all political
prisoners. And it stipulated that any future change in U.S.
policy would depend on Fidel and Ral Castro -- along,
implicitly, with other senior officials in the military and the
Communist Party -- leaving politics altogether.

The Cuban regime responded with its own hard line. Ral,
although a leading advocate of economic reform domestically,
was an absolutist when it came to confronting the United
States. Even as some liberalization continued, and a new
Cuban constitution opened the way for a religious revival by
allowing Communist Party members to practice openly, there
was a government-wide purge of academics and intellectuals -
- many of them party loyalists -- thought to be associated with
the United States or U.S.-backed reforms. The message was
chillingly clear: given a choice between national security and
a more open society, the revolution would pick security every

In the wake of Helms-Burton, the Clinton administration

worked to revive a series of goodwill initiatives. When Pope
John Paul II visited Havana's jam-packed Revolution Square in
1999, he asked "the world to open to Cuba and Cuba to open
to the world." His entreaty gave both Washington and Havana
political cover to revive some momentum on improving
relations. The countries' coast guards worked together on
antidrug operations, and retired U.S. military commanders
met with Fidel and Ral. The Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban
national baseball team played each other -- once in Baltimore,
once in Havana -- and after the musicologist Ry Cooder
released an album of traditional Cuban ballads, there was a
"Buena Vista Social Club effect," with American artists,
musicians, clergy, academics, students, businesspeople, and
politicians flocking to Cuba in record numbers. Cuban
Americans who had not returned to the island since leaving as
small children visited for the first time, and then returned
over and over, reconnecting with long-lost family members. A
number of prominent Republicans, including former
Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz,
called for a bipartisan commission to undertake a full-scale
review of U.S. policy toward Cuba.

But the day after Thanksgiving in 2000, progress was

undermined once again -- this time by the arrival in southern
Florida of a six-year-old boy named Elin Gonzlez. Elin had
left Cuba with his mother, but she had died on the trip to the
United States. At first, the Clinton administration was slow to
take Elin from the custody of his relatives in Florida and
return him to his father in Cuba -- inflaming Cuban
nationalism and inciting mass anti-U.S. protests in Havana.
Then, when Attorney General Janet Reno ordered federal
agents to seize Elin in a predawn raid and return him to his
father, the exile community erupted. The incident not only
ended the prospect of a further thawing in U.S.-Cuban
relations; it also (at least absent a recount) helped tip the
presidential election to George W. Bush, who defeated Al
Gore in Florida by a few hundred votes.

Like most aspiring presidents casting around for votes,

candidate Bush had promised to end the Castro regime. But it
was not until the September 11 attacks, and the
administration's newfound attention to democracy promotion
and rogue regimes, that U.S. Cuba policy took a decidedly
more aggressive turn. Bush's first-term Latin America team
(many of whose members had either helped write or lobbied
for Helms-Burton) rejected any business or security
cooperation with Havana and encouraged speculation that
Cuba was developing bioweapons for export to rogue regimes
or use against the United States. (Those allegations, not
surprisingly, withered under closer scrutiny.) By the end of its
first term, the Bush administration had upended virtually all
initiatives, official and unofficial, for improving relations. It
ended the bilateral talks on migration. It stopped approving
most medical sales, made legal travel to Cuba difficult for all
but faith-based groups and some academics, and cut off visas
for Cuban academics and artists. And it almost entirely barred
Cuban Americans, who lean strongly Republican, from visiting
or sending money to Cuba. Only sales of U.S. agricultural
products, because they were explicitly allowed by Congress,
escaped the crackdown.


Although the George H. W. Bush administration ended covert

efforts to topple Fidel, the United States today spends about
$35 million a year on initiatives described by some as
"democracy promotion" and by others as "destabilization."
Radio Mart and TV Mart broadcast from Florida to Cuba;
other U.S. government programs are intended to support
dissidents, the families of political prisoners, human rights
activists, and independent journalists. Although some Cubans
do listen to Radio Mart, the Cuban government blocks the TV
Mart signal, and without open ties between the countries,
only a fraction of the support actually reaches Cubans living
on the island; the lion's share is distributed through no-bid
contracts to the anti-Castro cottage industry that has sprung
up in Miami, Madrid, and a few Latin American and eastern
European capitals. The recipients of such federal largess --
along with the Cuban intelligence agents that routinely
penetrate the groups they form -- have become the primary
stakeholders in Washington's well-funded, if obviously
ineffective, policy toward Cuba.

On the ground in Cuba, moreover, these efforts are generally

counterproductive. U.S. economic sanctions have given
Cuba's leaders justification for controlling the pace of the
island's insertion into the world economy. The perception,
pervasive in Cuba, that the United States and the Cuban
diaspora are plotting regime change further strengthens
domestic hard-liners who argue that only a closed political
model with minimal market openings can insulate the island
from domination by a foreign power allied with old-money
elites. Dissidents who openly associate with U.S. policy and
its advocates in Miami or the U.S. Congress mark themselves
as stooges of the United States, even if they are not.
Moreover, the Cuban government has successfully
undermined both the domestic and the international
legitimacy of dissidents by "outing" some as sources, assets,
or agents of the United States (or of Cuba's own intelligence
services). The 2003 arrest and incarceration of 75 dissidents
was intended to demonstrate that Cuba could and would
preempt outside efforts at regime change regardless of the
consequent international outcry and U.S. congressional

There are some genuine dissidents in Cuba untainted by

either government and not weakened by infighting. One,
Oswaldo Pay, is a devout Catholic who heads the Varela
Project, which collected more than 11,000 signatures in 2002
for a petition calling on the Cuban government to hold a
referendum on open elections, free speech, free enterprise,
and the release of political prisoners. Yet it is only by
resisting the embrace of the international community, and of
the United States in particular, that Pay has maintained his
credibility and autonomy. Meanwhile, below the radar screen
(and throughout officially sanctioned Cuban institutions),
there are scores of thoughtful nationalists, communists,
socialists, social democrats, and progressives who may not
yet have the political space to air their views publicly but who
express dissent in terms that U.S. policymakers either do not
recognize or do not support.

The upshot of a half century of hostility -- especially now with

ties severed almost entirely -- is that Washington has virtually
no leverage over events in Cuba. With no other way to make
good on its campaign commitments to Cuban Americans short
of a full-scale invasion, the Bush administration established
the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba in 2003 and
appointed a "Cuba transition coordinator" in 2004. To date,
the commission, the membership and deliberations of which
have been kept secret, has issued two reports, totaling over
600 pages, on what kind of assistance the U.S. government
could, "if requested," provide to a transitional government in

The basic assumption behind the commission's planning is

that with outside assistance, Cuba's transition will be a hybrid
of those in eastern Europe, South Africa, and Chile. Those
analogies and the policy prescriptions derived from them do
not hold up. Unlike Eastern Europeans in the 1980s, Cubans,
though enthusiasts of American culture and dynamism,
regard Washington not as a beacon of freedom against
tyranny but as an imperialist oppressor that has helped justify
domestic repression. (Moreover, the United States had
actively promoted travel, commerce, and cultural ties with the
Soviet bloc before the transitions there began.) In the case of
South Africa, the sanctions that helped topple the apartheid
regime were successful because they were, in contrast to the
unilateral U.S. embargo on Cuba, international in scope. And
in Chile, the U.S. government was able to ease Augusto
Pinochet out of power only because it had staunchly
supported him for so long.

The second feature of Washington's vision for post-Fidel Cuba

is more dangerous than a bad analogy. The Bush
administration has made clear that its top priority is to
interrupt the Castro regime's succession plans. The
Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba report released
just before Fidel underwent intestinal surgery in July states,
"The only acceptable result of Fidel Castro's incapacitation,
death, or ouster is a genuine democratic transition. ... In
order to undermine the regime's succession strategy, it is
critical that the U.S. government maintain economic pressure
on the regime."

Since the 2003 war in Iraq, Cubans have closely observed the
effects of de-Baathification there. Like membership in Iraq's
Baath Party under Saddam Hussein, membership in the
Cuban Communist Party is a ticket to professional
advancement for devout believers and agnostic opportunists
alike. Party members include sophisticated intellectuals,
reform-minded economists, clergy, brash up-and-coming
youth leaders, scientists, professors, military officers,
bureaucrats, police officers, and businesspeople in the
"revenue-earning sectors" of the economy. In short, it is
impossible to know who among the roughly million party
members (and 500,000 members of the Union of Communist
Youth) is a real fidelista or raulista. Purging party members
would leave the country without the skilled individuals it will
need after Fidel, whatever the pace of change. And should the
United States, or a government that Washington deems
adequately transitional, ever be in a position to orchestrate
such a purge, it would then face an insurgency of highly
trained militias galvanized by anti-American nationalism.

One encouraging development is that the Cuban American

community is no longer of one mind with respect to Cuba's
future and its role in it. For decades, a vocal minority of hard-
line exiles -- some of whom have directly or indirectly
advocated violence or terrorism to overthrow Fidel -- have
had a lock on Washington's Cuba policy. But Cuban
Americans who came to the United States as young children
are less passionate and single-minded as voters than their
parents and grandparents, and the almost 300,000 migrants
who have arrived since 1994 are generally most concerned
with paying bills and supporting their families on the island.
Now, the majority of Cuban Americans, although still anti-
Castro, recognize that the embargo has failed and want to
sustain family and humanitarian ties without completely
eliminating sanctions. Overall, many want reconciliation
rather than revenge.

The State Department is starting to recognize these changes,

and many members of Congress must now answer to
constituents from other Latin American countries who resent
the outsized influence of Cuban Americans. But the hard-
liners and their allies in Washington will continue to fight any
proposed policy overhaul. They worry that if Washington
adopts a more realistic approach to the island, the policy train
will bypass Miami and head straight for Havana -- and they
will have lost their influence at the moment when it matters


Even with the economy growing and new public-sector

investment in transportation, energy, education, health care,
and housing, Cubans today are deeply frustrated by the rigors
of just making ends meet. They are eager for more
democratic participation and economic opportunity. But they
also recognize that Cuba's social, economic, and political
models will change only gradually, and that such reform will
be orchestrated by those whom Fidel has long been grooming
to replace him. Washington, too, must accept that there is no
alternative to those already running post-Fidel Cuba.

From the perspective of Fidel's chosen successors, the

transition comes in a particularly favorable international
context. Despite Washington's assiduous efforts, Cuba is far
from isolated: it has diplomatic relations with more than 160
countries, students from nearly 100 studying in its schools,
and its doctors stationed in 69. The resurgence of Latin
America's left, along with the recent rise in anti-American
sentiment around the globe, makes Cuba's defiance of the
United States even more compelling and less anomalous than
it was just after the Cold War. The Cuban-Venezuelan
relationship, based on a shared critique of U.S. power,
imperialism, and "savage capitalism," has particular symbolic
power. Although this alliance is hardly permanent, and
American observers often make too much of Venezuela's
influence as a power broker, it does deliver Cuba some $2
billion in subsidized oil a year and provide an export market
for Cuba's surfeit of doctors and technical advisers. (By
providing the backbone for Venezuelan President Hugo
Chvez's social programs and assistance in building
functional organizations, Havana exercises more influence in
Venezuela than Caracas does in Cuba.) Havana, without
ceding any authority to Chvez, will optimize this relationship
as long as it remains beneficial.

Nor is Venezuela the only country that will resist U.S. efforts
to dominate post-Fidel Cuba and purge the country of Fidel's
revolutionary legacy. Latin Americans, still deeply
nationalistic, have long viewed Fidel as a force for social
justice and a necessary check on U.S. influence. As
attendance at his funeral will demonstrate, he remains an
icon. Latin Americans of diverse ideological stripes, most of
them deeply committed to democracy in their own countries,
want to see a soft landing in Cuba -- not the violence and
chaos that they believe U.S. policy will bring. Given their own
failures in the 1990s to translate engagement with Cuba into
democratization, and the United States' current credibility
problems on this score, it is unlikely that U.S. allies in Latin
America or Europe will help Washington use some sort of
international initiative to advance its desires for radical
change in Cuba.

When Fidel dies, various actors in the United States and the
international community will rush to issue and, if they get
their way, enforce a series of demands: hold a referendum
and multiparty elections, immediately release all political
prisoners, return nationalized property and compensate
former owners, rewrite the constitution, allow a free press,
privatize state companies -- in short, become a country Cuba
has never been, even before the revolution. Many of those
goals would be desirable if you were inventing a country from
scratch. Few of them are now realistic.
After Fidel's funeral, a "transition" government of the sort
Washington is hoping for will not occupy the presidential
palace in Havana. This means that the White House cannot
responsibly wait for the happy day when the outlines of its
commission reports can be put to the test. Instead, the
current administration should immediately start talking to the
senior Cuban leadership. Recognizing that Cuba and the
United States share an interest in stability on both sides of
the Florida Straits, the first priority is to coordinate efforts to
prevent a refugee crisis or unforeseen provocations by U.S.-
based exile groups eager to exploit a moment of change on
the island. Beyond crisis management, Washington and
Havana can cooperate on a host of other concerns in the
Caribbean Basin, including drug trafficking, migration,
customs and port security, terrorism, and the environmental
consequences of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The
two countries have successfully worked on some of these
issues in the past: each has bureaucracies staffed by
professionals who know the issues, and even know one
another. An end to Washington's travel ban, a move already
backed by bipartisan majorities in the House of
Representatives, would further open the way to a new
dynamic between the United States and Cuba. Just as the first
Bush White House formally ended covert operations on the
island, this Bush administration or its successor should also
affirmatively take regime change, long the centerpiece of
Washington's policy toward Cuba, off the table.

By continuing the current course and making threats about

what kind of change is and is not acceptable after Fidel,
Washington will only slow the pace of liberalization and
political reform in Cuba and guarantee many more years of
hostility between the two countries. By proposing bilateral
crisis management and confidence-building measures, ending
economic sanctions, stepping out of the way of Cuban
Americans and other Americans who wish to travel freely to
Cuba, and giving Cuba the space to chart its own course after
Fidel, Washington would help end the siege mentality that has
long pervaded the Cuban body politic and, with the applause
of U.S. allies, perhaps help accelerate reform. Cubans on and
off the island have always battled over its fate -- and
attempted to draw American might into their conflicts,
directly or indirectly. Lest the next 50 years bring more of the
same, the wisest course for Washington is to get out of the
way, removing itself from Cuba's domestic politics altogether.

Fidel's successors are already at work. Behind Ral are a

number of other figures with the capacity and the authority to
take the reins and continue the transition, even after Ral is
gone. Fortunately for them, Fidel has taught them well: they
are working to consolidate the new government, deliver on
bread-and-butter issues, devise a model of reform with Cuban
characteristics, sustain Cuba's position in Latin America and
internationally, and manage the predictable policies of the
United States. That these achievements will endure past
Fidel's death is one final victory for the ultimate Latin
American survivor.

Julia E. Sweig is Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow and Director of Latin America
Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of Inside the Cuban
Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground and Friendly re: Losing Friends and
Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century.

Foreign Aairs
July/August 2013

Cuba After Communism

The Economic Reforms That Are
Transforming the Island

Julia E. Sweig and Michael J. Bustamante


Adelante! A car for sale in Havana, February 2012

At first glance, Cubas basic political and economic structures

appear as durable as the midcentury American cars still
roaming its streets. The Communist Party remains in power,
the state dominates the economy, and murals depicting the
face of the long-dead revolutionary Che Guevara still appear
on city walls. Predictions that the island would undergo a
rapid transformation in the manner of China or Vietnam, let
alone the former Soviet bloc, have routinely proved to be
bunk. But Cuba does look much different today than it did ten
or 20 years ago, or even as recently as 2006, when severe
illness compelled Fidel Castro, the countrys longtime
president, to step aside. Far from treading water, Cuba has
entered a new era, the features of which defy easy
classification or comparison to transitions elsewhere.

Three years ago, Castro caused a media firestorm by quipping

to an American journalist that the Cuban model doesnt even
work for us anymore. Tacitly embracing this assessment,
Fidels brother Ral Castro, the current president, is leading
a gradual but, for Cuba, ultimately radical overhaul of the
relationship between the state, the individual, and society, all
without cutting the socialist umbilical cord. So far, this
unsettled state of affairs lacks complete definition or a
convincing label. Actualization of the Cuban social and
economic model, the Communist Partys preferred
euphemism, oversells the degree of ideological cohesion while
smoothing over the implications for society and politics. For
now, the emerging Cuba might best be characterized as a
public-private hybrid in which multiple forms of production,
property ownership, and investment, in addition to a slimmer
welfare state and greater personal freedom, will coexist with
military-run state companies in strategic sectors of the
economy and continued one-party rule.

A new migration law, taking effect this year, provides a telling

example of Cubas ongoing reforms. Until recently, the Cuban
government required its citizens to request official permission
before traveling abroad, and doctors, scientists, athletes, and
other professionals faced additional obstacles. The state still
regulates the exit and entry of professional athletes and
security officials and reserves the right to deny anyone a
passport for reasons of national security. But the new
migration law eliminates the need for white cards, as the
expensive and unpopular exit permits were known; gives
those who left the country illegally, such as defectors and
rafters, permission to visit or possibly repatriate; and expands
from 11 months to two years the period of time Cubans can
legally reside abroad without the risk of losing their bank
accounts, homes, and businesses on the island.

This new moment in Cuba has arrived not with a bang but
rather on the heels of a series of cumulative measures -- most
prominent among them agricultural reform, the formalization
of a progressive tax code, and the governments highly
publicized efforts to begin shrinking the size of state payrolls
by allowing for a greater number of small businesses. The
beginnings of private credit, real estate, and wholesale
markets promise to further Cubas evolution. Still, Cuba does
not appear poised to adopt the Chinese or Vietnamese
blueprint for market liberalization anytime soon. Cubas
unique demographic, geographic, and economic realities --
particularly the islands aging population of 11 million, its
proximity to the United States, and its combination of
advanced human capital and dilapidated physical
infrastructure -- set Cuba apart from other countries that
have moved away from communism. It is perhaps
unsurprising, then, that Cubas ongoing changes do not
resemble the rapid transition scenario envisioned in the 1996
Helms-Burton legislation, which conditioned the removal of
the U.S. embargo on multiparty elections and the restitution
of private property that was nationalized in the 1960s. In this
respect, Washington remains more frozen in time than

Cubas reforms might appear frustratingly slow, inconsistent,

and insufficient to address its citizens economic difficulties
and desires for greater political participation. This lack of
swiftness, however, should not be taken as a sign that the
government has simply dug in its heels or is ignoring the
political stakes. The response of Cuban leaders to their
countrys vexing long-term challenges has involved strategic
thinking and considerable debate. Indeed, the next few years
will be crucial. As the 53-year-old Miguel Daz-Canel, the
current vice president and Castros newly designated
successor, recently noted, Cuba has made progress on the
issues that are easiest to solve, but what is left are the more
important choices that will be decisive in the development of
[the] country.

Those fundamental dilemmas include the following: How can

Cuba attract and manage the foreign investment it urgently
needs while preserving its hard-fought sovereignty? How
much inequality will the islands citizens tolerate in exchange
for higher productivity and greater opportunities? And even if
the Communist Party manages to take a step back from day-
to-day governance, as Castro insists it must, how will Cubas
leaders address the long-simmering pressures for greater
transparency, public accountability, and democratic
participation? If the recent past is prelude, Cuba will likely
continue on its gradual path toward a more open, pluralistic
society, while preserving its foreign policy independence.


From the moment he assumed provisional power in 2006,

Ral Castro has spoken bluntly about Cubas predicament.
We reform, or we sink, he declared in a characteristically
short and pointed 2010 national address. Even as Havana
sticks to its central political conviction -- namely, that the
Communist Party remains the nations best defense against
more than a century of U.S. interference -- terms such as
decentralization, accountability, and institutionalization
have become buzzwords, not taboos. Whereas in the 1990s,
Havana was willing to permit only limited private enterprise
as an emergency measure, the government now talks openly
of ensuring that 50 percent of Cubas GDP be in private hands
within five years. Realistic or not, such ambitious goals would
have been sacrilege less than ten years ago. Already, the
representation of Cuban small-business owners in the
countrys National Assembly and their participation in the
annual May Day parade offer evidence of changes under way.

The reforms have yielded several modest successes thus far.

After facing sharp liquidity and balance-of-payments crises in
the wake of the 2008 global financial meltdown, Cuba has
succeeded in restoring a modicum of financial stability,
resuming its debt payments, sharply cutting its imports, and
beginning the arduous task of reducing public expenditures.
Several key strategic investments from international partners
-- most notably, the refurbishing of Mariel Harbor, with the
aid of Brazilian capital, to transform it into a major container
shipping port -- are moving forward on schedule. Meanwhile,
a new state financial accountability bureau has begun the
hard task of weeding out endemic corruption.

Nevertheless, Cuba faces serious obstacles in its quest for

greater economic vitality. Unlike China and Vietnam at the
start of their reform efforts, Cuba is an underdeveloped
country with developed-world problems. Not only is the
population aging (18 percent of the population is over 60), but
the countrys economy is heavily tilted toward the services
sector. When Vietnam began its doi moi (renovation)
economic reforms in 1986, services accounted for about 33
percent of GDP, whereas the productive base represented
nearly 67 percent. By contrast, services in Cuba make up
close to 75 percent of the islands GDP -- the result of 20-plus
years of severe industrial decay and low rates of savings and
investment. Service exports (mainly of health-care
professionals), combined with tourism and remittances,
constitute the countrys primary defense against a sustained
balance-of-payments deficit.

Cuban officials and economists recognize this structural

weakness and have emphasized the need to boost exports and
foster a more dynamic domestic market. Yet so far, the state
has not been able to remedy the imbalance. In the sugar
industry, once a mainstay, production continues to flounder
despite a recent uptick in global prices and new Brazilian
investment. Meanwhile, a corruption scandal and declining
world prices have weakened the nickel industry, leading to
the closing of one of the islands three processing facilities.
More broadly, Cuban productivity remains anemic, and the
country has been unable to capitalize on its highly educated
work force.

Although important, the expansion of the small-business

sector cannot resolve these core issues. There are now 181
legal categories for self-employment, but they are
concentrated almost exclusively in the services sector,
including proprietors of independent restaurants, food stands,
and bed-and-breakfasts. Start-up funds are scarce, fees for
required licenses are high, and some of the legal categories
are senselessly specific. It also remains unclear whether the
chance to earn a legitimate profit will lure black-market
enterprises out into the open.

No surprise, then, that the expansion of self-employment has

not yet enabled the state to meet its targets for slimming
down its bloated payrolls. In late 2010, Castro pledged to
eliminate 500,000 state jobs in the first six months of 2011,
with an eye to incorporating over 1.8 million workers (out of a
total estimated work force of 5.3 million) into the private
sector by 2015. But the government managed to eliminate
only 137,000 positions that first year. Still, the reforms are
making a serious impact. Small businesses currently employ
some 400,000 citizens, an increase of 154 percent since the
liberalization of self-employment began in October 2010. To
spur further growth, moreover, authorities recently launched
a wholesale company that will allow emerging enterprises to
purchase supplies on the same terms as state-run companies,
thus addressing a major complaint of business owners.

To supplement these gains, Cuba needs to continue rebuilding

its productive capacities in core areas such as agriculture.
Before Ral Castro came to power, approximately 20 percent
of the cultivable land in the country lay fallow and Cuba
imported half its domestic food supply -- a significant part of
which came from the United States, under a 2000 exception
to the trade embargo. To increase domestic production, the
state has handed over more than 3.7 million acres of land to
private farmers, whose crops now account for 57 percent of
the total food production in the country despite their
occupying just under 25 percent of the arable land. Yet
aggregate food-production levels in most basic categories still
hover at or slightly below 2002 levels.

More promising is the investment to renovate Mariel Harbor,

led by the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht, with backing
from the Brazilian National Development Bank. Cuba is
hoping to position itself as a major shipping hub in the
Caribbean. Located between the Panama Canal and points in
the United States and Europe, the enormous, deep-water port
at Mariel is ideally situated to handle trade with the United
States and beyond in a post-embargo world. In addition, four
Brazilian pharmaceutical companies have signed on to
produce medicines in the ports vicinity for direct export to
Brazilian and other markets. Still, if the U.S. embargo
remains in place, the long-term benefits of the Mariel
investment will be limited.

The port project underscores some of the broader dilemmas

constraining foreign investment in Cuba and the countrys
overall growth prospects. Havana designated Mariel as a
special economic development zone -- an area where foreign
companies are given special incentives and prerogatives -- in
an effort to attract badly needed investment dollars. Cuban
officials also aim to take advantage of the countrys well-
educated population and establish investment zones geared
toward high-tech innovation and other high-value-added
activities, such as biotechnology. Yet without links to local
industries, such investment zones could become economic
islands, providing employment to locals and income to the
Cuban government but reduced multiplier effects.

The islands dual-currency system makes the challenge all the

more difficult. A byproduct of the circulation of U.S. dollars in
the 1990s -- first in the black market, then legally -- the Cuban
convertible peso (CUC) today functions as the currency of the
tourist sector and is required for the purchase of many
consumer items. For common Cuban citizens, the value of the
CUC is pegged to the dollar, with one CUC equal to 25 Cuban
pesos (CUP), the currency in which most state workers are
paid. Consequently, citizens who receive hard currency from
abroad or who earn money in CUC, such as workers who
collect tips from foreign tourists, enjoy much higher incomes
than workers who rely solely on salaries paid in CUP.

Even worse, the values of the CUC and the CUP are
considered equal within and between state enterprises. This
bizarre accounting practice helped insulate CUP prices from
inflation during the depths of the economic crisis that
followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, but today it makes
it difficult for analysts and investors to estimate the real costs
of doing business on the island or the value of state
companies. Economists agree that the least disruptive way to
move toward a single currency would be to gradually merge
the two exchange rates in tandem with a steady rise in GDP
and salaries overall. But in the meantime, the artificial one-to-
one ratio within the state sector has the effect of overvaluing
the CUPs international exchange rate and thus decreasing
the competiveness of domestic goods. Paradoxically, the dual-
currency regime protects imports at the expense of domestic


Cubas recent reform of its migration law neatly encapsulates

a number of the possibilities, limits, and implications of
Castros larger agenda. Despite being both a sign of the
states willingness to make strategic decisions and arguably
the most important reform to date, the new law also
underscores the uphill battles that remain and illustrates the
difficulty of managing optics and expectations. As with most
issues in Cuban society, the line between politics and
economics is entirely blurred.

Faced with an exodus of educated professionals and capital

from the country after the revolution, the Cuban government
began heavily regulating the movement of its citizens abroad
in the early 1960s. In light of migrs direct involvement in
attempts to unseat the Castro regime, often financed by the
U.S. government, Havana treated migration as a matter of
national security. For many years, those who succeeded in
leaving, legally or illegally, had their property stripped by the
state and could not, barring extraordinary exceptions, return
home. Such restrictions left deep wounds.

Yet it has been a long time since Cubans on the island and off
could be neatly divided between anticommunists and pro-
Castro revolutionaries. Any visit to the Miami airport today
attests to the strength of transnational ties; in peak season,
over a hundred weekly charter flights carry Cubans and
Cuban Americans between the two countries. Such travel,
allowed under some circumstances since the late 1970s, has
expanded considerably since 2009, when U.S. President
Barack Obama lifted restrictions on family visits. In 2012,
upward of 400,000 Cubans in the United States visited the
island. And this is to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands
of Cuban emigrants living across Latin America, Canada,
Europe, and beyond who also visit and support family at

Indeed, by making it easier for Cubans to travel, work abroad,

and then return home, Cubas new migration law is also
meant to stimulate the economy. At an estimated $1 billion a
year, remittances have been big business since the late
1990s, helping Cubans compensate for low salaries and take
advantage of what few opportunities have existed for private
enterprise. Now that the government has undertaken a wider
expansion of the small-business sector, ties between the
diaspora and the island are bringing an even greater payoff.
Cubans abroad are already helping invest money in the
window-front cafeterias, repair shops, and other small
businesses popping up across the country. Some islanders are
also sending their own money out of the country so that
relatives can buy them consumer goods abroad.

Beyond redressing a deeply unpopular status quo, however,

the new migration law has put the government in an awkward
position. Assuming enough Cubans can afford the now
reduced, but still comparatively high, fees associated with
acquiring necessary travel documents, other countries --
principally the United States -- will need to continue receiving
Cuban visitors and migrants in large numbers. Ironically,
Havana has long criticized the special preferences granted to
Cubans under U.S. immigration law for seeming to encourage
and reward dangerous attempts to reach U.S. shores. Now,
Cuba appears to benefit from such measures remaining on
the books -- especially the one-year fast track to permanent
residency established by the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act.
Under Cubas expanded two-year allowance for legal
residency abroad, the more than 20,000 Cubans emigrating
legally to the United States each year will be able to acquire
green cards without necessarily giving up their citizenship
claims, homes, or businesses on the island.

Small-time diaspora capital may prove easier to regulate and

rely on than funds from multinational corporations driven
strictly by profits. Under the repatriation provisions of the
islands new migration law, some Cubans may even retire to
the island with their pensions and savings after decades of
working abroad. Yet opening the doors for more young
citizens to leave could prove risky for a quickly aging, low-
birthrate society that has been suffering from a brain drain
for some time. Besides, along with remittance dollars, Cuba
urgently needs both medium and large investors. Ultimately,
only larger outlays can help fix Cubas most fundamental
economic problem: its depleted productive base. Castro
appears to recognize that attracting foreign investment,
decentralizing the government, and further expanding the
private sector are the only ways to tackle this long-term
predicament. The government is unlikely to proceed with
anything but caution, however. Officials are wary of rocking
the domestic political boat, and citizens and party leaders
alike recoil from the prospect of more radical shock therapy.
Rising public protests in China and Vietnam against inequality
and rampant corruption have only reinforced the Cuban
governments preference for gradualism.

Striking an adequate balance will be no easy task. In late

2012, Havana legalized the creation of transportation
cooperatives -- private, profit-sharing entities owned and
manage by their members -- to fix bottlenecks in agricultural
distribution. Meanwhile, 100 state enterprises are now
running their finances completely autonomously as part of a
yearlong pilot program. The government is also reportedly
considering ways to offer a wider array of potential foreign
partners more advantageous terms for joint ventures. But the
Communist Party is working through numerous contradictions
-- recognizing a place for market economics, challenging old
biases against entrepreneurs, and hinting at decentralizing
the budget while incongruously insisting, in the words of its
official 2011 guidelines, that central planning, and not the
market, will take precedence.


Curtailing the states economic role while preserving political

continuity requires threading a delicate ideological needle.
Although the government expects to continue providing
Cubans with key social services, such as health care and
education, party leaders have reprimanded the islands
citizens for otherwise depending too heavily on what one
prominent official a few years ago called the daddy state. In
the eyes of many Cubans, this is deeply ironic. Cubas
revolutionary founders, who built up a paternalistic state in
the service of equality, are now calling for that states partial
dismantlement. Whats more, most Cubans already need to
resort to the black market or assistance from family abroad to
acquire many daily necessities.

That is not to say that the reforms have been conducted

without popular input. In the run-up to the 2011 Sixth
Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, the government
convened an unprecedented series of assemblies across the
country to hear citizens grievances and proposals for change
and to discuss Castros agenda. Although multiparty elections
are not on the horizon, this undertaking allowed for
widespread and often contentious public debate, albeit within
broadly socialist conceptual parameters. Despite defending
one-party rule, Castro has also called on public officials to
make themselves accessible to the state press, and he has
asked the press, in turn, to drop its traditional triumphalism.
In a similar vein, he has implored students to debate
fearlessly and party members to look each other in the eyes,
disagree and argue, disagree even with what leaders say
whenever [you] think there is reason to do so. More recently,
Daz-Canel publically mentioned the impossibility of
prohibiting the diffusion of news via social media and the
Internet -- a sign that, for the government, the strategic
benefit of facilitating wider Internet connectivity may well
outweigh the usefulness of controlling access.

Reality has not yet caught up with this rhetoric. Debate in

public among high-ranking Cuban officials remains rare, even
if it is reportedly vigorous behind closed doors. Nor is it clear
whether Cubas National Assembly can become a more
consequential, deliberative branch of government. Public
statements perceived to impugn the Cuban Revolutions
legitimacy remain taboo and are grounds for facing
consequences in the workplace or even ostracism.
Nevertheless, outside of high-level government bodies and
the still largely anodyne daily press, diverse voices have
pushed the terms of debate considerably in recent years,
blurring the purportedly neat line dividing revolutionary
and counterrevolutionary positions.

International attention tends to focus on Cubas small, self-

identified dissident community, particularly a newer cast of
digitally savvy activists and bloggers. Yet in a country where
the Internet remains an expensive, highly regulated
commodity, perhaps the most interesting, potentially
consequential debates are transpiring among academics,
artists, independent filmmakers, former officials, and lay
religious leaders, particularly from the Catholic Church,
whose websites, journals, and public forums are more
accessible to the islands population. In general, these actors
do not propose a radical break with all of the revolutions
legacies, symbols, and narratives. They also maintain their
distance from foreign, especially U.S. and Cuban American,
financial support, which marks many dissidents as
mercenaries in the eyes of the Cuban state. Yet they do so
more out of political conviction than strategic calculus,
refusing to accept the purported choice between towing the
party line at home and collaborating with transition schemes
concocted abroad.

Recently, a small group of Catholic moderates and reformist

Marxists, brought together under the auspices of a church-
sponsored cultural center, circulated a series of
straightforward proposals for political reform online. These
included allowing direct, competitive elections for all of
Cubas major leadership positions (albeit with all the
candidates coming from one party), unrestricted access to the
Internet, freer media, more effective separation of powers in
the government, and greater use of plebiscites on major
government decisions. The proposals have provoked
opposition from some defenders of the status quo while
generating substantial support, interest, and debate among
academics on the island.

Yet despite the unprecedented scope of these discussions, it is

hard to predict whether they will produce much concrete
change in the short term. Presently, they do not seem to be
having much impact on the public, which pays less attention
to them than do the orthodox keepers of the revolutionary
faith. The explanation for ordinary Cubans disengagement
has as much to do with apathy, inertia, self-preservation, and
the material demands they face every day as it does with
limited access to information and a curtailed right of
assembly. After all, substantial numbers of Cubans watch
Miami television stations via pirated recordings or illicit
satellite hookups, yet they have so far proved no more likely
to take to the streets than their neighbors who lack such
access. Since the 1960s, the primary means for those
disaffected or unsatisfied at home to register their opinion
has been to emigrate -- particularly to the United States,
given the multiple incentives for Cubans built into U.S.
immigration law. As long as this pattern continues, Havana
will have the political space to continue its reforms without
pause, but without haste, in Castros formulation.


As the migration issue shows, Cubas economic and political

predicaments cannot be appreciated in isolation from its
international context. The U.S. embargo remains a formidable
obstacle to the islands long-term economic prosperity, and it
casts a long shadow over Cuban domestic politics. In the case
of Vietnam, it was only after the lifting of the U.S. embargo in
1994 that the economy began to transform in earnest. Given
Cubas proximity to the United States and its relatively low
labor costs, a similar shift in U.S. law could have a profound
impact on the island.

In January, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry opened his

confirmation hearing by celebrating his close collaboration
with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) in overcoming the legacy
of war in order to restore U.S. relations with Vietnam. Yet
both Kerry and Obama still seem to defer to the outdated
conventional wisdom on Cuba, according to which
Washington cannot change its failed policy so long as Cuban
Americans in Congress continue to oppose doing so. Reality,
however, is already changing. These legislators constituents
have started voting with their feet and checkbooks, traveling
to the island and sending remittances to family there as never
before. Several wealthy Cuban Americans, moreover, are now
talking directly with Havana about large-scale future
investments. As a Democrat who won nearly half of Floridas
Cuban American vote in 2012, Obama is in a better position
than any of his predecessors to begin charting an end to the
United States 50-year-long embargo.

The geopolitical context in Latin America provides another

reason the U.S. government should make a serious shift on
Cuba. For five years now, Obama has ignored Latin Americas
unanimous disapproval of Washingtons position on Cuba.
Rather than perpetuate Havanas diplomatic isolation, U.S.
policy embodies the imperial pretensions of a bygone era,
contributing to Washingtons own marginalization. Virtually
all countries in the region have refused to attend another
Summit of the Americas meeting if Cuba is not at the table.
Cuba, in turn, currently chairs the new Community of Latin
American and Caribbean States, which excludes Washington.
The Obama administration has begun laying out what could
become a serious second-term agenda for Latin America
focused on energy, jobs, social inclusion, and deepening
integration in the Americas. But the symbolism of Cuba
across the region is such that the White House can
definitively lead U.S.Latin American relations out of the Cold
War and into the twenty-first century only by shifting its Cuba

To make such a shift, however, Washington must move past

its assumption that Havana prefers an adversarial
relationship with the United States. Ral Castro has shown
that he is not his brother and has availed himself of numerous
channels, public and private, to communicate to Washington
that he is ready to talk. This does not mean that he or his
successors are prepared to compromise on Cubas internal
politics; indeed, what Castro is willing to put on the table
remains unclear. But his governments decisions to release
more than 120 political prisoners in 2010 and 2011 and allow
a number of dissident bloggers and activists to travel abroad
this year were presumably meant to help set the stage for
potential talks with the United States.

Meanwhile, the death of Hugo Chvez, the former Venezuelan

president, and the narrow margin in the election of his
successor, Nicols Maduro, have made it clear that Havana
has reasons of its own to chart a path forward with the United
States. In the last decade or so, Cuba came to depend on
Venezuela for large supplies of subsidized oil, in exchange for
a sizable brigade of Cuban doctors staffing the Chvez
governments social programs. Political uncertainty in
Caracas offers a potent reminder of the hazards of relying too
heavily on any one partner. Havana is already beginning to
branch out. In addition to financing the refurbishing of Mariel
Harbor, the Brazilians have extended a line of credit to
renovate and expand five airports across the island and have
recently signed a deal to hire 6,000 Cuban doctors to fill
shortages in Brazils rural health coverage. Even so, in the
long run, the United States remains a vital natural market for
Cuban products and services.

Of course, as the 1990s proved, even a huge financial setback

may not be enough to drive Havana to Washingtons door.
Half a century of U.S. economic warfare has conditioned
Cuban bureaucrats and party cadres to link openness at home
or toward the United States with a threat to Cubas
independence. Some hard-liners might prefer muddling
through with the status quo to the uncertainty that could
come from a wider opening of their country.

The best way to change such attitudes, however, would be for

Washington to take the initiative in establishing a new
diplomatic and economic modus vivendi with Havana. In the
short term, the two countries have numerous practical
problems to solve together, including environmental and
security challenges, as well as the fate of high-profile
nationals serving time in U.S. and Cuban prisons. Most of the
policy steps Obama should take at this stage -- removing Cuba
from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, eliminating
obstacles for all Americans to travel there, and licensing
greater trade and investment -- would not require
congressional approval or any grand bargain with Havana.
Although it might be politically awkward in the United States
for a president to be seen as helping Castro, on the island,
such measures would strengthen the case that Cuba can
stand to become a more open, democratic society without
succumbing to external pressure or subversion. Deeper
commercial ties, moreover, could have repercussions beyond
the economic realm, giving internal reformers more leeway
and increasing support on the island for greater economic
and political liberalization.

In 1991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev stood beside

U.S. Secretary of State James Baker in Moscow and
announced that the Soviet Union would eliminate its
multibillion-dollar annual subsidy to Cuba. Cia analysts and
American pundits immediately began predicting the imminent
demise of the Cuban Revolution and a quick capitalist
restoration. More than 20 years have passed since then, Fidel
Castro has retired, and 82-year-old Ral Castro is now serving
the first year of what he has said will be his final five-year
term as president.

In 2018, when Daz-Canel takes the reins, Cuba in all

likelihood will continue to defy postCold War American
fantasies even as it moves further away from its orthodox
socialist past. For the remaining members of Cubas founding
revolutionary generation, such a delicate transformation
provides a last opportunity to shape their legacy. For Cubans
born after 1991, the coming years may offer a chance to
begin leaving behind the state of prolonged ideological and
economic limbo in which they were raised.

Obama, meanwhile, has a choice. He can opt for the path of

least political resistance and allow the well-entrenched
bureaucrats, national security ideologues, and pro-embargo
voices in his own country to keep Cuba policy in a box, further
alienating regional allies and perpetuating the siege mentality
among Cuban officials. Or he can dare to be the president
who finally extracts the United States from Cubas internal
debate and finds a way for Washington and Havana to work
together. Both the Cuban people and U.S. national interests
would benefit as a result.

JULIA E. SWEIG is Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America
Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of Cuba: What
Everyone Needs to Know. Follow her on Twitter @JuliaSweig. MICHAEL J.
BUSTAMANTE is a Ph.D. candidate in Latin American history at Yale University.

Foreign Aairs
December 21, 2014

Cuban Comrades
The Truth About Washington and Havana's
New Detente

Michael J. Bustamante


A child holds a Cuban ag during a concert in Havana, December 20, 2014.

A year ago, when U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban

President Ral Castro awkwardly shook hands at Nelson
Mandelas memorial service, social media erupted with
speculation about what the gesture might mean. Most Cuba
watchers were skeptical, and they cautioned against reading
too much into the encounter. But as Wednesdays historic
announcement of a new direction in U.S.-Cuban policy made
clear, sometimes a handshake is more than a just a
Over the last 18 months, it turns out, U.S. and Cuban officials
conducted secret high-level dialogues that were hosted by
Canada and the Vatican. At the top of the Americans agenda
was Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor arrested in Cuba in
2009 for his role in a covert program to increase Internet
access on the island. Cuban negotiators, meanwhile, hoped to
secure the remaining members of the Cuban Five
intelligence agents who had been imprisoned in the United
States since the late 1990s. Many observers had called for a
swap, but the Obama administration had long refused to
countenance what it considered an unequal exchange. In the
end, the face-saving solution was for Cuba to unilaterally
release Gross on humanitarian grounds and the United States
to trade the three Cubans for an unknown U.S. intelligence
officer. The timing of the announcement, coinciding both with
Hanukkah (Gross is Jewish) and the feast of Saint Lazarus
(syncretized in Afro-Cuban religions with the deity Babalu
Ay, widely associated with healing) could not have been
more auspicious.

What remains unclear is how negotiations over Gross gave

way to broader discussions culminating in a commitment to
restore full diplomatic ties. Just a week ago, Cubaphiles
reeled when the Associated Press again exposed USAIDs
blundering democracy promotion programs on the island. The
latest in their yearlong series of reports focused on efforts to
amplify the antigovernment potential of the Cuban hip-hop
group Los Aldeanos (without the artists participation). The
U.S. Treasury Departments Office of Foreign Assets Control,
moreover, had just announced the newest in a series of
whopping fines meted out against international banks doing
business with Havana. To be sure, calls for policy
changenone more prominent of late than the New York
Timeshad become louder. But considering years of
accumulated distrust, not to mention Cubas perennially low
status on the foreign policy totem pole, few expected a speech
so bold or a diplomatic shift so abrupt.

It is important, however, to appreciate what this is not. The

embargothe bulk of it, anywayremains in place. New
openings for trade are the most significant since total
sanctions were put in place in 1962. Yet it will be impossible
to say just how quickly, and broadly, economic links between
the two countries will grow until the U.S. Treasury and
Commerce Departments release new versions of the Cuban
Assets Control and Export Administration regulations. Obama
and the Cuban government deserve credit for delinking, for
the first time, diplomatic status from full commercial ties.
Still, the path from strengthened political relations to
complete normalization is long and fraught. Advocates of U.S.
policy change may yet see a number of bumps in the road.
And many Cubans, eager to quickly reap the benefits of a new
era, might have to moderate their expectations.


Obama is not the first U.S. president to attempt restoring full

diplomatic relations with Cuba. Jimmy Carter did, and much
earlier in his administration. In Carters case, however, the
extent of that commitment, and the failed negotiations behind
it, remained largely confidential. With Wednesdays
announcements, the U.S. and Cuban governments have opted
for a different strategy. Although previous talks transpired
out of the public eye, future efforts to turn a new leaf will take
place under unceasing media scrutiny. Stated expectations
that formal embassies will be opened in a matter of months
suggest that the process is already well on its way.

Other notable historical differences made this momentum

possible. In the past, Cuba had made full removal of the
embargo a condition for negotiations about diplomatic ties. In
practice, furtive talks had generally taken on a tit-for-tat
dynamic. In late 1962, for instance, Kennedy emissary James
Donovan, an American lawyer and Commander in the United
States Navy Reserve, secured the release of Bay of Pigs
prisoners for $53 million in foodstuffs and medicine. Yet
broad incrementalismin which each side was expected to
make gradual, reciprocal gesturesalways failed. Thus,
Henry Kissingers proposal of a step-by-step package deal
during the Ford administration foundered when Cuba sent
troops to Angola. This time around, the executive in both
countries opted for a bold stroke that simultaneously left core
issues unresolved. Reconciling, perhaps, with the fact that the
embargo has been deeply codified in U.S. law since 1996,
both sides thought it was wise to settle on the politically
possible rather than the politically perfect.

The spoilers of earlier periods are also conspicuously absent

from todays bilateral landscape. Conspiracy theorists have
long accused Havanaand former leader Fidel Castro in
particularof not really wanting better relations with the
United States, always spitting in the Americans eyes
precisely at the wrong moment. During the Carter years, for
instance, Cubas refusal to budge over its military and
anticolonial commitments in Africa, rightly or wrongly,
derailed the incipient rapprochement then underway. Today,
Fidel is absent from the scene, and since the crippling post-
Soviet crisis of the 1990s, Cubas international involvements
have assumed a predominantly humanitarian footing. In the
United States, with Miamis pro-embargo political power on
the wane and Latin American governments pressuring
Washington and Havana to make a deal, there was simply less
room to walk away.


The devil, of course, will be in the details. With full embassy

status, practical diplomatic collaboration on issues such as
counternarcotics, environmental protection, and disaster
relief may proceed with few hurdles. Increased economic ties,
on the other handespecially with Congress unlikely to ditch
the embargo whole hogwill not. As it is, the specific,
strategic holes that the Obama administration has poked in
trade restrictions, already a kind of bureaucratic Swiss
cheese, may leave some critics of U.S. policy wanting more.
Still, if the State Department opts to no longer designate
Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, as is expected, third-
country banks will face less U.S. scrutiny when they do
business with the island.

Carefully calibrated to promote independence from the

Cuban state, new direct commerce between the United
States and Cuba will be geared, first and foremost, toward
private sector expansion in agriculture and the urban small-
business community. This focus is politically astute, albeit
cautious. It echoes the arguments of moderate Cuban-
American organizations such as the Cuba Study Group and,
more recently, #Cubanow, which have been aggressively
promoting principled rather than unchecked engagement.
Still, just what kind of red tape will be wrapped around these
transactions, how they will be facilitated, and how the Cuban
state will respond have not yet been articulated. (By contrast,
in the area of telecommunications, it appears that U.S.
providers may gain increased legal cover to engage directly
with the Cuban state.) Cryptically, Obama mentioned a Cuban
commitment to provide more Internet access to its citizens.
But again, what that means in practical terms remains to be
seen, particularly considering the Cuban governments
anxieties about antigovernment viewpoints.

Another complication is that Obama must continue to thread

a very delicate ideological needle. On the one hand, he has
fulfilled his pledge from early on in his administration to take
U.S.-Cuban relations in a new direction. Nonetheless, in his
remarks on Wednesday he also doubled down, rhetorically at
least, on the United States commitment to democracy and
human rights. Full diplomatic relations position the United
States to raise its concerns in these areas more directly, and
effectively, with Cuban leaders. Yet even if the White House
seeks to pivot away from the kind of sloppy, irresponsible
democracy promotion programs that got Gross in trouble in
the first place, Congress may continue funding them, and the
Cuban state is not likely to approve.

Finally, on the home front, critics opposed to even minimal

policy change are already eager to gum up the works.
Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio,
the senator from Florida, was seething long before Obama
even uttered a word. Pledging to block the confirmation of
any proposed U.S. ambassador to Cuba from his new position
as chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere
Affairs, he could make the journey from Wednesdays
announcement to a full-ranking diplomatic presence in
Havana a politically unpleasant one indeed.


Sadly, somewhat lost in the shuffle thus far have been the
diverse reactions of Cubans in the United States and across
the island. U.S. national news channels predictably flocked to
the Little Havana restaurant Versailles, long Miamis capital
of exile political chatter and guava pastries. Outside,
defenders of the hard-line approach had gathered to express
their disapproval of Obamas treason. In neighborhoods like
Hialeah, howeverpopulated by some of the more than half
million Cubans who have arrived in the United States since
1995sentiments tended to reflect a practical concern for
loved ones on the island. This is a big step, one Facebook
commenter wrote. The people of Cuba are the only ones who
get screwed by those trying to take down the Castros from
Miami, [where exiles can] eat meat and live the good life.

On the island, meanwhile, the popular jubilation reported in

the international media soon may be tempered by the reality
that announced measures fall short of the full monty. Initially,
some seemed to think the bloqueo (the blockade, Cubas
preferred term for the embargo) had been entirely lifted. But
state media venues have focused on the return of the three
Cuban agents above all. Seeking to calibrate expectations, on
Saturday, Raul Castro emphasized in a televised address that
the battle against the embargo will be long and difficult." For
the time being, expect to see more of this messageel
bloqueo est igualito, the blockade remains the same, as one
state website still has itlest the elimination of the U.S.
bogeyman place instant pressure on the Cuban government to
jump-start its own stalled reforms.

That pressure is exactly what many proponents of the policy

changes are hoping to see and what some in Cuba, whether
out of self-preservation or genuine fear of the unknown, will
attempt to resist. Then again, reshuffled relations with the
United States, even imperfectly so, may give internal Cuban
reformersthe genuine and the opportunists looking to make
a buckgreater space to make their case. The difficulty of
forecasting the outcome highlights the importance of
improving policymakers access to and knowledge of Cubas
internal politics.

The agreement reached between the Obama administration

and the Cuban government is by any measure historic,
necessary, and overdue. Even many critics of the Castro
regime recognize as much, albeit with resignation. Yet as the
diplomatic rubber hits the road and Cuba continues its
precarious transition to a mixed economy with rising
inequalities, old disputes may take on new forms. No es
fcil (Its not easy), Obama said in his speech, quoting a
common Cuban response to Spartan conditions on the island.
Walking the diplomatic tightrope the president has
proposedlet alone predicting what the islands future holds
for its long-suffering citizenswont be either.
MICHAEL J. BUSTAMANTE is a Ph.D. candidate in Latin American history at Yale

Foreign Aairs
April 9, 2015

Delisted in Havana
Taking Cuba Off the State Sponsors of
Terrorism List

William M. LeoGrande


Cuban ags y beside the United States Interests Section in Havana, April 5,

The U.S. State Department's recent recommendation that

U.S. President Barack Obama take Cuba off the list of state
sponsors of international terrorism removes a major
roadblock to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations
between Washington and Havana. If Obama acts on the
recommendation on the eve of the Seventh Summit of the
Americas convening in Panama this Friday, he will
significantly strengthen Washington's diplomatic position in
Latin America and create a positive atmosphere for his
interactions with the hemisphere's other heads of
stateincluding Cuban leader Ral Castro.

To be sure, a decision to remove Cuba from the terrorist list

will not end the domestic debate about whether Cuba belongs
on the listor about Obama's broader opening to Cuba.
Congress has 45 days to review a president's determination
before it goes into effect, and the Obama's conservative
critics on the Hill will no doubt try to block Cuba's removal.
They are not likely to succeed, however, since they would
have to muster veto-proof majorities in both houses of
Congress. But they will use the opportunity to redouble their
criticism of Obama's Cuba policy in particular and his foreign
policy in general.

Although the president's determination on Cuba seems

straightforwardeven obviousthe issues are complex. The
law establishing the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, the
Export Administration Act of 1979, at a minimum requires the
president to certify that the country in question has not
supported international terrorism in the past six months and
has given assurances that it will not support it in the future.
He would report that certification to Congress, and it would
not become effective for 45 days, giving Congress an
opportunity to try to overturn the finding. Meanwhile, the
State Department will examine Cuba's recent behavior on the
issues that were the basis for Cuba's inclusion on the list.
A caricature of U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the so-called "Cretins Corner" at
a museum in Havana, June 10, 2004.

Cuba's original designation in 1982 was a politically

motivated attempt by U.S. President Ronald Reagan to drum
up support for his unpopular policies in Central America.
Then, as now, the law governing the state sponsors list
defines terrorism narrowly as "premeditated, politically
motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant
targets." Prior to 1982, Washington distinguished between
revolutionary movements and terrorist organizations. It did
not list Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism despite Havana's
long-standing support for revolution. In the 1980s, however,
while Havana was supporting revolutionary insurgents,
especially in El Salvador, Washington, under the Reagan
Doctrine, was backing counterrevolutionary ones. The
administration called Cuba's allies "terrorists" and its own
"freedom fighters." It never listed as terrorists the insurgent
groups it supported in Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua,
despite their use of violence against noncombatants.

Over the years, as Cuba's support for revolutions abroad

waned, the rationale for Cuba's inclusion on the state
sponsors list shifted. Beginning in 1987, the annual reports
acknowledged that the U.S. government was "unable to trace
direct sponsorship of an international terrorist attack ... to
Cuba." In the early 1990s, after Cuba formally ended its
support for revolutionary movements abroad, the State
Department reports added yet another rationale: Cuba's
granting safe haven to members of the Basque ETA and
Colombia Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The 1999 report acknowledged that Cuba remained on the list
not because it was actively supporting insurgents but because
it was "harboring past terrorists." This was not entirely
consistent with the official definition of support for
international terrorism, which specifies that giving
"sanctuary" to terrorists means allowing them to "carry out
terrorist activities" from a countrys national
territorysomething that Cuba has not allowed.
A man walks near a sign with an image of Cuban President Raul Castro in
Havana, December 19, 2014.

By 2014, the reasons cited for Cuba's listing had become

remarkably weak. The latest report focuses exclusively on
Cuba's harboring of ETA and FARC members and U.S.
fugitives. It acknowledges that Cuba's links to the ETA have
become "more distant" and that a number of ETA members
have been relocated with the Spanish government's
cooperation. The 2013 report also notes that Cuba has
facilitated negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian
government seeking to settle the hemisphere's longest
guerrilla war.

The presence in Cuba of some 70 U.S. fugitives, especially

those to whom Cuba has granted political asylum, has become
a focal point of conservative opposition to taking Cuba off the
state sponsors list. "Before Cuba is removed ... American
fugitives must be brought back to face justice in the U.S.,"
Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote in a letter to
Secretary of State John Kerry. Republican Senators David
Vitter (La.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), and Ted Cruz (Tex.) sent a
similar letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.

The U.S. fugitives living in Cuba were first mentioned in the

State Department's 1988 report, which named William
Morales and Joanne Chesimard. Morales, a Puerto Rican
nationalist accused of conducting bombings in the United
States, arrived in Cuba in 1988. Chesimard (a.k.a. Assata
Shakur), a member of the Black Liberation Army convicted of
killing a New Jersey state trooper, arrived in 1984.

The United States has every right to seek the extradition of

U.S. fugitives from Cuba. However, since the U.S.-Cuban
extradition treaty of 1904 is moribund and Cuba has granted
Morales and Chesimard political asylum, they are not likely to
be returned. Moreover, as Vidal noted, the United States has
refused to extradite "dozens and dozens of Cuban citizens,
some of them accused of horrible crimes, some accused of
terrorism, murder and kidnapping." Foremost among them is
Luis Posada Carriles, who orchestrated hotel bombings in
Cuba in the 1990s and masterminded the 1976 bombing of a
Cubana Airlines flight that killed all 73 passengers and crew.

That leaves the question of whether the U.S. fugitives

remaining in Cuba are legitimate grounds for keeping Cuba
on the terrorism list. Not if the legal basis of the list is taken
seriously. The law defines "international terrorism" as
"terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one
country." Morales' and Chesimard's crimes may count as
terrorism, but they do not fit the statutory definition of
international terrorism, because they were crimes committed
in the United States by U.S. citizens.
U.S. President Barack Obama greets Cuban President Raul Castro in
Johannesburg, December 10, 2013.

U.S. officials insist that the decision of whether to remove

Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism was made on
the merits"guided by the facts and the law," as Obama
himself said on December 17. The case for Cuba's designation
was never strong and has gotten weaker with every passing
year. Cuba remained on the list for the same reason that the
ineffectual policy of hostility toward Havana remained in
placeno president had the political courage to change it.

Obama has crossed that Rubicon, opening the way for a policy
based on the facts and the law rather than politics and
ideologynot only regarding state sponsors of terrorism but
also in overall U.S. relations with Cuba. With the terrorism
list resolved, the reestablishment of normal diplomatic
relations should follow quickly, along with progress on a wide
range of issues of mutual interest that have been held up by
this relic of the Cold War.
WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE is Professor of Government at American University in
Washington, D.C. and a co-author with Peter Kornbluh of the recent book Back Channel
to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana
(University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

Foreign Aairs
February 17, 2015

Havana Calling
Easing the Embargo Will Open the Cuban
Telecom Sector

Jose W. Fernandez and Eric Lorber


A woman speaks on a public phone beside a notice painted on a wall referring to
the "Cuban Five" (agents who were arrested by the United States in 2010 for
spying in Miami). The notice reads, "Freedom for the ve, they will return."

On January 15, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a

significant easing of the 54-year-old embargo on Cuba,
implementing U.S. President Barack Obamas landmark policy
shift toward the island. As part of the change, the Office of
Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) amended regulations allowing
some U.S. businesses to enter the Cuban market. Among the
many new rules, the dramatic loosening of restrictions on
telecommunications investment has the greatest potential to
accelerate the growth of civil society in Cuba. The revised
telecom regulations can empower reform-minded elements in
the country and promote political change by lessening sector
dependence on the Castro regime. At the same time, the new
regulations provide U.S. companies with immediate economic
opportunities, so long as they are willing to bear the
administrative and bureaucratic burdens of conducting
business on the island. U.S. firms increased involvement in
the countrywhile not free of business riskscould pay
political dividends by promoting the development of market
and political reforms.


It was no accident that Obama targeted Cuban citizens

access to the Internet and other telecommunications services:
Cuba has one of the lowest levels of Internet penetration in
the world. According to the International Telecommunication
Union, only 25 percent of Cubans have access to the Web, and
those connections are slow and often monitored by the
government. Meanwhile, Cuban telecom penetration rates are
the lowest in Latin America: ETECSA, Cubas sole telephone
company, serves only 18 percent of Cubansa lower
percentage than war-torn Afghanistan. Increasing Internet
access will have economic and political benefits for the Cuban
people, as Internet connectivity can drive long-term economic
development by facilitating efficient information distribution,
lowering transaction costs, and reducing barriers to entry for
entrepreneurs. According to the World Bank, there is a 1.3
percent rise in economic growth for every ten-percentage-
point increase in a countrys high-speed Internet connections.

Cubas underserved and largely untapped communications

market is an enticing opportunity for U.S. companies. The
U.S. Treasury and Commerce Departments regulatory
amendments expand upon previous permissions granted to
U.S. companies that provide telecommunications and Internet
services, as well as those working on Cuban infrastructure
projects. The revised rules clarify old ambiguities: former
regulations prohibited any investment in the Cuban domestic
telecommunications network but also authorized the provision
of services that linked third-party nations to the island. Owing
partly to the difficulty of determining when third-party
services were terminated within Cuba, U.S. telecom and IT
companies avoided the country altogether. Although
telecommunications companies are now permitted to conduct
transactions that establish mechanisms for commercial
telecom services on the island, a patchwork of other U.S.
restrictions remains in place. Several decades worth of
overlapping sanctions may still deter some U.S. firms from
entering Cuban markets in the first place, as doing business
in a country subject to some sanctionseven if said sanctions
are unrelated to the sector in questionincreases the risk of
running afoul of U.S. law, resulting in hundreds of millions of
dollars in fines.

Most U.S. businesses do not have experience operating in

Cuba, since the country has been the subject of a
comprehensive American trade embargo for over five
decades. Learning how to operate in Cuban
marketsincluding understanding the bureaucracy, the
consumer base, and the two national currencies used, among
other factorspresents significant challenges that may deter
many U.S. firms from seeking business opportunities there.
Some American companies may also have to play catch-up
with European, Asian, and North American competitors that
have taken advantage of the embargo to gain a foothold in
Cuba. For example, Canadian mining companies have
decades-long relationships with the Cuban government for
the extraction of metals, while European telecommunications
giants have partnered with the government for many years to

Developing Cubas telecommunications sector could lead to

significant economic expansion and increased information
flow into the country. And there are a number of steps the
Obama administration can take to help the chances for

To spur growth and lessen industry fears, OFAC could go

further in encouraging telecommunications companies to do
business in Cuba. In particular, OFAC could issue guidance to
clarify that U.S. telecommunications companies will not be
punished if they unintentionally violate U.S. sanctions on
Cuba while trying to engage in permitted activities. Likewise,
OFAC could clarify that U.S. Internet and telecom operators
are permitted to fund new Cuban small businesses, acting as
franchisees and resellers of telecom, IT services, and
equipment. New regulations now allow for the establishment
of stores directly owned by U.S. telecom companies to sell
goods and services but are less clear on whether franchising
or subcontracting to Cubans is permitted.

The U.S. Treasury can also do more to guide companies that

are considering investing in Cuba but are struggling to
determine what activities are now possible. Although the new
regulations are instructive, it is often difficult to pinpoint how
the prohibitions apply to particular deals and transactions.
Setting up an OFAC hot line dedicated to Cuba-related issues
would go a long way in establishing an open channel between
U.S. firms and the regulators charged with interpreting the
new rules. Conference calls akin to the Direct Line program
set up by the State Department to enable U.S. businesses to
engage directly with ambassadors and relevant policymakers
would reassure U.S. companies, helping them better protect
themselves from inadvertently violating sanctions that are
still in place.

Although easing the U.S. embargo is a step in the right

direction, promoting Cubas economic development and
political liberalization will be a long process fraught with
pitfalls and opportunities for failure. Politically, much of the
U.S. public supports the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, but
many in Congressincluding a number of potential
Republican presidential candidateshave expressed
misgivings about the sanctions relief granted to Cuba and
have announced their intention to undermine Obamas
initiative. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) noted that he
intend[s] to use [his] role as incoming Chairman of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committees Western Hemisphere
subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous
and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy
at the Cuban peoples expense. Republican representatives
are also considering defunding any embassy established in
Havana, as well as blocking Obamas nomination of a U.S.
ambassador. Likewise, former Governor Jeb Bush (R-Fla.)
recently suggested that he thought the embargo on Cuba
should be strengthened, not weakened. In the same way that
members of Congress have posed significant challenges to
Obamas attempts to strike a deal with Iran over its nuclear
program by threatening to pass additional sanctions
legislation, here too Congress could take a number of steps to
derail improving relations.

Although normalized U.S.-Cuban relations mark early signs of

political and diplomatic progress, the Cuban government has
not significantly altered its political policies in response to
U.S. concessions. Soon after Obamas announcement, Cuban
President Ral Castro proclaimed that although the United
States may have changed its position on the embargo, Cuba
intends to continue along its socialist economic and political
path. For the development of the telecommunications sector
to have the intended effect of bringing Cubans information
from the outside world, and for U.S. companies to become
involved, Cubans will need the kind of Internet access that
the government will be loath to grant. But unlike in the past,
Havana will no longer have the U.S. embargo to blame.

By loosening restrictions on IT and the telecommunications

sectors, the Obama administration targeted an area where
U.S. companies can lead while also enabling the Cuban
people to gain access to information they have lacked for
many decades. At its core, the new policy reflects the
administrations belief that the Cuban people themselves,
integrated into the global information community after
decades of isolation, will be the best agents for peaceful
democratic change in a post-Fidel Cuba. The new regulations
were prescient first steps. Washington should now take the
actions necessary to maximize their effectiveness.

JOSE W. FERNANDEZ is former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy,
and Business Aairs and partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. ERIC LORBER
previously worked at the Oce of Foreign Assets Control at the U.S. Department of the
Treasury and is now an associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.

Foreign Aairs
August 19, 2015

A Cuban Conundrum
The Contradictions in Washington's Relations
With Havana

Michael J. Bustamante


A man hangs Cuban ags on a building near the U.S embassy (not pictured) in
Havana, Cuba, August 11, 2015.

At the new Cuban and U.S. embassies in Washington and

Havana, the flags of each respective country are now waving
in the muggy August air. On July 20, Cuban Foreign Minister
Bruno Rodrguez inaugurated the islands restored diplomatic
mission on northwest 16th Street by throwing a party and
giving a speech. In a reciprocal affair on August 14, U.S.
Secretary of State John Kerry raised the stars and stripes over
Havanas northern shore. Still recovering from a broken
femur, Kerry passed on the chance to learn the guachineoan
animated line dance that is the latest craze among Cuban

With that same energy, American travelers, businessmen, and

media impresarios have descended upon Cuba in the wake of
U.S. President Barack Obamas partial loosening of travel and
trade restrictions. Since 2009, Cuban Americans have been
able to travel and send remittances fairly freely. Then, in
2011, the White House authorized U.S. citizens to travel to
Cuba for educational exchanges known as people-to-people
tours. After December 17, 2014, when Obama and Cuban
President Ral Castro declared their intention to restore
diplomatic ties, outright tourism remained illegal, but it
became even easier to visit. As a result, the number of U.S.
travelers with no family on the island, visiting between
January and July, jumped 54 percent over the same period
last year. In turn, the momentum in Congress for fully
repealing the U.S. embargo is steadily increasing.


A guard stands in front of the new Cuban embassy in Washington after ocials
raised the national ag in a ceremony, July 20, 2015.

But under the veneer of ceremonial good feeling,

contradictions between and within the involved partiesin
Washington, Havana, and the Cuban diaspora in Miamihave
endured. Take the anti-embargo advocates in the United
States. The new advocacy organization Engage Cuba has
managed to bring diverse constituencies from the private
sector, think tank community, and moderate Cuban America
under its tent to push for fully open travel and commerce.
Although coalition members from the U.S. hospitality
industry, agricultural lobbies, and electronics manufacturers
may be most concerned about their bottom lines, the Cuban
American group #CubaNow (also an Engage Cuba partner)
has pushed for dialogue and investment as a better way to
promote democracy, human rights, and open markets in
Cuba. For some grassroots activists on the Left, however,
Engage Cubas efforts seem to skirt thornier issues such as
the future of U.S. democracy promotion programs. The Cuban
government and U.S. progressives view these programs,
narrowly tailored to support Cuban dissidents, as unlawful
interference in the islands internal affairs.
U.S. marines raise the U.S. ag while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry watches
(at the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, August 14, 2015.

Kerrys remarks in Havana echoed these tensions, alternating

between notes of realpolitik, peace making, and a
commitment to prior goals. U.S. policy is not the anvil on
which Cubas future will be forged, he asserteda historic
nod to Cubas sovereignty. At the same time, though, Kerry
stressed at a separate press conference that the embargo was
not likely to be lifted if Cuba did not make advances on
human rights. The old carrot and stick mantra predictably
rustled feathers among government officials in Havana. In
response, Foreign Minister Rodrguez took a swipe at the
U.S.s own human rights record in a joint press conference,
implicitly referencing Ferguson and other flash points of
racial injustice in the United States.

Indeed, in Cuba, amidst anticipation of a possible post-

embargo windfall, a lively debate is afoot over just what the
new U.S. policy really means. One group of government
loyalists seems convinced that the United States goal
remains regime change by commercial or economic means.
Before a recent congress of the Communist Youth League, the
youth organization of Cubas Communist Party, Cuban
academic Elier Ramrez Caedo warned against the
deleterious impact of popular U.S. media, whether the
content appears on state television (which already broadcasts
bootlegged episodes of Friends) or is circulated via the illegal
file swapping service known as the Package. Similarly,
hardline powers within the Cuban state rebuffed Google
Ideas offer to install a mobile wireless infrastructure for the
nation, free of charge. There are some people who want to
give [the Internet] to us for free, said Second Vice President
Jos Ramn Machado Ventura, but to penetrate us and do
ideological work for a new conquest. Cuba may still end up
collaborating with the Silicon Valley giant, but its own state-
owned telecommunications company will play a role in any

The clash of interests is also notable in the agricultural sector

in which U.S. companies are already active. Since 2000, U.S.
producers have been allowed to export foodstuffs to the
island. The trade reached a high of $710 million in 2008, but
fell thereafter as a result of Cubas lack of hard currency
reserves. After December 17, U.S. industry groups formed the
U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba to recover and expand
their market share. But in addition to importing U.S. goods,
Cuba desperately needs to increase its own agricultural
output. Between 60 and 70 percent of the islands food supply
already comes from abroad. Overtures to the Cuban
government from U.S. producers, therefore, have increased
concern among Cubas small-scale private farmers and
cooperatives that they could be crowded out. Perhaps
reflecting these fears, Cubas imports of U.S. food products
actually decreased by 37 percent in the first half of 2015.
Protesters demonstrate against the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana, in
the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida, August 14, 2015.

Finally, in Miami, there has been as much skepticism as

outright support for Washingtons bold Cuba pivot. On
December 17, the Cuban American congressional delegation
pledged to roll back the rapprochement if possible. In reality,
more and more past supporters of U.S. sanctions are jumping
ship. Although the old guard failed to thwart normalization,
other skeptics have resigned themselves to the fact that it will
go forward. In turn, they have begun resisting the change in
another wayby making anti-imperialist arguments, which,
ironically, is essentially the same line held by the Cuban Left
to which they are politically opposed.

For example, on a recent episode of the Miami-based

television show, Arrebatados, political analyst Frank Resillez
bitterly described the United States new strategy toward
Cuba as basically a process of colonizationWe are going to
colonize Cuba again, just like the Spaniards did, just like the
Soviets did for thirty yearsCuba, de facto, is already a
colony of the United States because it lives off the
remittances of the exile community. Several days before,
blogger Isabel Estrada Portales denounced the Obama
administrations strategy toward Cuba as fundamentally
neoliberal because it is based on the premise that a market
economy can change the antidemocratic essence of the Cuban
regime. Such arguments may appear baseless or
exaggerated. Yet the belief in the power of business alone to
transform Cuban societytrumpeted by anti-embargo
advocates like the U.S. Chamber of Commercecan indeed
sound suspiciously like dollar diplomacy. Ironically, then, anti-
Cuban government holdouts in Miami now share similar
concerns with government loyalists in Havana, who are
worried about being overrun by U.S. goods.


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomes Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno
Eduardo Rodriguez Parilla to his oce at the State Department in Washington,
July 20, 2015.
A colleague of mine recently told me about a friend of his
living in Havana who had once said sarcastically that "Cuba is
in style." It's true that Billy Gibbons, the guitarist of the
American rock band, ZZ Top, recently announced a
forthcoming Afro-Cuban album with an appropriately
cheery faux-Spanish title: Perfectamundo. And that
Demeter, a New York-based fragrance company just named
one of its perfumes Cuba.

But his sarcasm highlighted an uncomfortable reality: In light

of all the buzz, most Cubans are still waiting to see the impact
of better relations on their wallets. Those without a foothold
in Cubas tourist economy or private sector still find it
difficult to afford basic goods. In a small city in Matanzas
province, two hours east of Havana, pork recently cost 40
Cuban pesos (roughly $2.00) a pound. Salaries in the state
sector, though, still average only 600 Cuban pesos (roughly
$30) a month.

Of course, restored diplomatic relations and greater trade ties

may very well help Cuban society as a whole and significant
numbers of Cubans on both sides of the Florida straits
cautiously see embassy openings as a sign of hope. But the
change also raises as many questions as answers. There are
still tough issues such as compensation to U.S. businesses for
the properties it owned in Cuba that were nationalized at the
start of the Cuban Revolution. Likewise, Cuba is seeking
damages for the cumulative effects of U.S. sanctions. In the
meantime, the triangular jockeying between Washington,
Miami, and Havana for influence and attention can seem far
removed from many average citizens immediate concerns.
We may have embassies, wrote one Havana resident
recently for the website OnCuba, speaking to the pent-up
frustrations of Cuban youth, but ten hours of Internet still
cost the same as a full month of work.
MICHAEL J. BUSTAMANTE is a Ph.D. candidate in Latin American history at Yale

Foreign Aairs
April 21, 2015

Nadir of the Americas

Havana and the Seventh Summit

Michael J. Bustamante


Supporters of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro burn a U.S. ag doutside the
U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires as both sides meet in Panama for the start of the
Summit of the Americas, April 10, 2015.

In Havana, surrealism is not so much a school of art as a

feature of daily life. Beyond the tourist bubble enclosing parts
of the nominally socialist city, residents face daily
contradictions that only seem to intensify. Average Cubans on
depressed state salaries, for instance, are already hurrying to
grab the last of this years delayed crop of potatoes. Across
town, however, Saras Bar draws patrons from the islands
foreign-currency-holding elite with a conspicuous imitation of
South Beach chic. Ten minutes away, the red flag of the
Soviet Union proudly advertises a new private Russian
restaurant, complete with Lenin-era propaganda posters to
lend the dcor the right amount of nostalgic kitsch.

But all that is nothing compared with the experience of

watching Presidents Barack Obama and Ral Castro deliver
dueling speeches in Panama at the Seventh Summit of the
Americas, a gathering from which Cuba had previously been
excluded. Broadcast live in Cuba on both state television and
the Venezuelan 24-hour news network TeleSUR, the matchup
represented both a head-to-head battle 50 years in the
making and a potential turning point for a bilateral
rapprochement still getting off the ground. At the same time,
in the densely populated, working-class heart of Cubas
capital, life seemed to go on as most folks attended to more
mundane concerns. Things will probably remain the same,
one neighbor said, shrugging, as kids around him played
stickball with bottle caps.


Ecuador's President Rafael Correa listens to remarks by U.S. President Barack
Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, April 11, 2015.
The skepticism seemed warranted. Theatrics began before
Obama and Ral even arrived. Outside a widely anticipated
civil society forum held in advance of the summit itself, a
ruckus broke out as Cubas official delegationclaiming,
pedantically, to represent Cubas real civil society and
chaired, questionably, by Abel Prieto, former minister of
culture and current adviser to Ral Castrovociferously
protested the presence of Miami- and island-based anti-Castro
dissenters who were already in the conference hall. However
one feels about the Cubans manipulation of the concept of
civil societylet alone Miamis penchant to associate the
term only with hard-line oppositionprotests should not have
been unexpected. The presence in Panama of Flix Rodrguez,
an aging Cuban exile and former CIA agent who helped the
Bolivian army track down and execute Che Guevara in 1967,
could only have ended in disaster. In subsequent days, the
shouting match devolved into a brawl between pro-Castro
Cubans, reinforced by Panamanian allies, and anti-Castro
foes, all at a park in front of Cubas embassy in Panama City.
Whoever threw the first punch, the scene risked reviving
stereotypes of Cubans as hopelessly ideological, impossibly
intransigent, and incapable of dialogue.

Cooler heads prevailed as heads of state gathered for a

lengthy round of speeches once the summit formally kicked
off. Indeed, a closed-door meeting between Bruno Rodrguez,
Cubas foreign minister, and John Kerry seemed to have laid
the groundwork for a possible breakthrough on formally
reestablishing relations. All the same, as Presidents Obama
and Castro both began to deliver their remarks, each leader
seemed to speak past as much as to the other. The United
States, Obama affirmed, had little interest in talking about its
admittedly troubling past in the region and preferred to focus
on collaboration with an eye toward the future. More history,
though, is exactly what he got, when Ral Castro launched
into a 50-minute inventory of Cuban grievances against U.S.
interventionism, from its roots in the ideology of Manifest
Destiny, to the Platt Amendment of 1901, all the way to the
Bay of Pigs invasion. I always enjoy the history lessons I get
at these things, Obama quipped.

A certain amount of invective was to be expected, especially

in front of a regional audience with an extensive record of
resistance to U.S. hegemonic presumptions. Call it a long-
awaited, partially performative settling of accounts before
Havana considers further opening the store. Indeed, earlier
in the session, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa even saw
fit to remind the first sitting African American president that
the United States was founded on racial hypocrisy.
Commence the pile-on.

Still, as Castro alternated between calculated demands for

redress and improvised passion, losing his place on the page
at several points, another irony was palpable through Havana
television sets. The revolution was founded, among other
things, on a promise that Cuba would never again be an
exotic playground for American fantasies. Yet at the moment
of the revolutionary governments crowning diplomatic
achievementa sitting U.S. president having to listen to a
Cuban president read him the riot actCubas capital was
simultaneously playing host to more American visitors than
ever before, content to sip mojitos, photograph living ruins
and their inhabitants, and parade through town in caravans of
antique Chevys.

Cubas leaders and hotel chains (in which the Cuban military
often has a stake), not to mention the burgeoning private
restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, and other businesses eager
to get in on the cash flow, seem prepared to live with the
topsy-turvy symbolism of such encounters. Tourism on the
island has long profited from peddling, in part, the image of a
1950s Cuba that the revolution was supposed to have left
behind. Since December 17, that allure has only increased,
with hotels filled to capacity and everyone from Conan
OBrien to Paris Hilton dropping in for a look.


Cuba's President Raul Castro pretends not to hear questions from journalists as
he and U.S. President Barack Obama meet in Panama City, April 11, 2015.

But besides the flood of interested U.S. travelers,

advancements toward rapprochement in the long run are
likely to be painstaking and accompanied by further dialogues
of the deaf. Following the advice of the U.S. State
Department, Obama has now officially recommended that
Cuba be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
This will take away a major impediment to formally
converting standing Interests Sections into full-fledged
embassies, and it will expand the Cuban governments ability
to conduct business around the globe. Still, beyond important
work to be done on practical bilateral issues such as
migration, drug trafficking, telecommunications, and limited
exports to Cubas private sector, the embargo as a whole,
Guantnamo Bay, and other big-ticket items on the Cubans
wish list are likely to remain unresolved before Obama leaves
office. With the Cuban government holding the keys to a
reformed but still restrictive foreign investment landscape,
most U.S. companies eager to enter a virgin market (as if
European, Chinese, and Latin American capital had not been
on the island for years) will have to bide their time, even
when the embargo ceases to be a factor.

In the end, the historic tte--tte between Presidents Obama

and Castro in Panama did end on a positive note. Obama,
Ral conceded toward the end of his speech, was an honest
man of humble origins, not at fault for the legacies of
gunpoint diplomacy, U.S.-backed military regimes, and
hemispheric arm-twisting that date to before his birth. To his
credit, the president listened to the historical litany patiently,
treating the Cubans like adultsperhaps Havanas primary
desire in all these years of bilateral feuding. A chummy public
sit-down between the two after the plenary session of heads
of state reaffirmed both governments desire to keep up the
momentum where possible.

Yet as Americans flock in, and Europeans and Canadians rush

to experience Havanas romanticized decay before more
gringos arrive, many of the citys residents are still looking
for a way out. Now with relations, multiple friends have
predicted, the Cuban Adjustment Actallowing Cubans a
guaranteed fast track to permanent residency in the United
States as soon as they touch a U.S. borderis bound to come
to an end. Take advantage while you can, seems to be the
consensus, especially since Cubas reformed Migration Law of
2013 makes it possible for Cubans to attain a green card
while maintaining residency rights, property, or even a small
business on the island. A final incongruity, then, completes
this surreal picture: among Cubas state television crew sent
to report on their presidents historic face-off with a U.S.
president, two technicians reportedly chose not to return
MICHAEL J. BUSTAMANTE is a Ph.D. candidate in Latin American history at Yale

Foreign Aairs
March 18, 2016

Obama's Move on Cuba

What to Make of the Historic Trip

Michael J. Bustamante


U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Cuba's President Raul Castro
as they hold a bilateral meeting during the Summit of the Americas in Panama
City, April 11, 2015.

In February, shortly after the White House announced U.S.

President Barack Obamas historic visit to Cuba on March
21-22the first of any sitting U.S. president in 88 yearsa
meme began circulating on Cubans Facebook feeds. In it,
Obama confidently throws down the winning piece in a
dominoes game against the leading Republican presidential
candidates at the time, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco
Rubio. The caption reads, Se peg, which translates roughly
to Gotcha or Checkmate.
Critics who decry Obamas visit to Cuba, including Cruz and
Rubio, might be in the minority, since opinion polls reveal
that the U.S. public is largely supportive of the move. But this
image of the president confidently scoring geostrategic points
contradicts a more complex reality on the ground. In some
respects, the U.S.-Cuban rapprochement is still tenuous, and
Obamas visit is necessary to give a boost to a process
plagued by fits and starts.

Many Cuba watchers I know did not expect the president to

travel to the island so soon. In December, Obama told Yahoo!
News in an exclusive interview that he would go if the
circumstances were right . . . if in fact I can with confidence
say were seeing some progress in the liberty, freedom, and
possibilities for ordinary Cubans. . . . Im not just interested in
validating the status quo. Certainly, Cuba has become a
more dynamic place with the influx of Americans and other
visitors since last year. But much of the countrys economic
and political architecture has remained unchanged since the
Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in 2011. At
that time, President Ral Castros government solidified its
commitment to slowly decentralize the countrys Soviet-style
economy by loosening some restrictions on private business.
Additional advances, howeversuch as an end to the islands
dual currency systemhave been promised but have not yet
materialized. (New migration and foreign investment laws,
approved in 2013 and 2014, respectively, are important

A more cautious approach, therefore, might have been to

delay a presidential visit until after the Seventh Congress of
the Communist Party of Cuba in April. At that time, Cuban
authorities are most likely to detail any short-term plans for
further reform. But with just ten months left for Obama, it
does seem better for both sides to consolidate gains sooner
rather than later. As the president stressed in the December
interview, his administration believes U.S. soft power, rather
than the carrot-and-stick method, will lead to change. Were
going to be far better off if the habits of mind, the culture,
and the attitudes of the American people and American
businesses are there for Cubans to see and interact with on a
day-to-day basis, he told Yahoo! News. With reason, island
officials and even ordinary Cubans may bristle at these
paternalistic assumptions. All the same, they appear ready to
cash in on the financial rewards.


U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro meet at the
United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 29, 2015.

Increased contact between Americans and Cubans over the

last year has indeed provided considerable opportunities for
U.S. citizens to (purportedly) spread their values and for
enterprising Cubans to make a buck. In 2015, the number of
U.S. travelers to the island161,000 in total, not including
the roughly 400,00 Cuban American and Cuban diaspora
travelers visiting familyincreased over 77 percent compared
with the year before. The arrival of so many visitors, in turn,
represented a boon for all manner of Cuban-owned small
businesses in the islands services-focused cuentapropista (or
self-employment) sector. Increasing numbers of U.S.
television, film, and music starsincluding the DJ Diplo, who
just performed a show in front of 400,000 screaming Cuban
fanshave walked Havanas streets. Obama even announced
this week that he has lifted virtually all remaining limits on
individual travel to Cuba. The rush of U.S. tourists and dollars
is on.

On the international business front, meanwhile, some U.S.

companies, such as the apartment-sharing service Airbnb, are
now operating on the island; many more are looking for
opportunities or are in talks with Cuban officials. Recently,
Washington and Havana signed a landmark commercial
aviation deal to secure regular direct flights between the two
countries. Already, U.S. airlines are jockeying to snatch one of
the 30 daily routes to the island, as ferry services and cruise
lines wait in the wings.

But there is still much more that needs to be done.

Take, for instance, the White Houses efforts to use executive

authority to carve out exceptions to the trade embargo. Initial
rule changes in early 2015 authorized select types of exports,
such as construction materials, telecommunications devices,
and agricultural equipment, to end users in Cubas incipient
private sector. It was initially unclear, however, whether the
regulations would permit processing those exports through
Cuban state import agencies, which is the only option under
the islands socialist system. The confusion led to more
dialogue and rule changes, and these in theory have given
U.S. dollars and goods more legal room to flow. But officials
continue to speak past one another. U.S. Secretary of
Commerce Penny Pritzker recently suggested that although
the United States had authorized a record number of business
deals490 in 2015 alone, amounting to $4.3 billion in
dealsCuba had not done enough to bring those deals to the
finish line. Cubas own minister of foreign investment insisted
that it was the other way around. Backlogged paperwork in
Washington, he said U.S. investors told him, was the prime
obstacle holding many businesses back.

As a result of these regulatory and communication lags, real

commercial ties have been slower to develop than the White
House had hoped. This is partly because the bulk of the trade
embargo remains in place (even with a slew of new
exceptions written into its terms). But Cuban officials have
also appeared unable to process the number of investor
requests they have received. More recent U.S. regulatory
changes in January, and just this week, open the door for
trade wider than ever before. U.S. banks, for example, can
now process Cuban government transactions, and there is
now wide latitude for exporting products to state enterprises
that meet the needs of the Cuban people. Still, the islands
own economic reforms, which might facilitate the entrance of
more U.S. goods and capital, continue to move at a snails
pace. Unless those transformations pick up speed, the Cuban
peoples ability to take advantage of a postembargo windfall,
if and when it comes, will remain constrained.

Meanwhile, mounting inequalities and limited growth in real

incomes in Cuba are contributing to a larger, albeit slow-
motion, problem that neither government seems particularly
inclined to address head-on. In short, the rise in tourism has
affected local prices. In a country where agricultural
production remains sluggish and wholesale markets are still
getting on their feet, demand from restaurateurs has
substantially raised food costs for the average citizen.
According to the latest available Cuban government statistics,
the price of food consumed by the average Cuban family
increased 24 percent in 2014. The figure is no doubt higher
for last year. For Cubans earning meager state wages in
devaluated pesos without a foot in the hard-currency economy
in which Cuban tourism moves, mounting expenses risk
putting some goods out of reach.
Electo Rossel, 20, wears a shirt with a picture of U.S. President Barack Obama,
Havana, Cuba, August 14, 2015.

Consequently, Cubans may be voting with their feet. In 2015,

70,000-plus islanders immigrated to the United States (often
via South and Central America), the highest number in 35
years. Of course, much of this involves a fear that their
unique immigration privileges in the United States will
disappearnamely, the wet foot/dry foot policy dating to
the 1990s and the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act that allows
Cubans who make it onto U.S. shores to pursue residency
after a year. But even if this pull factor has stimulated a quiet
exodus, the precarious purchasing power of state sector
incomes, combined with an understandable impatience for
better times, is no doubt pushing many Cubans to depart.
Nationally, wages grew by just 14 percent in 2014, from an
already anemic average of what would be the equivalent of
$30 a month. In conversations with Cuban friends, this link
between low salaries and the desire to immigrate always
emerges as a central concern.
Given all these issues, what, then, can Obama hope to
accomplish in a two-day trip to the island?

A sit-down with Ral Castro is of course on the agenda. So,

too, is a private meeting with political dissidents whom Cuban
officials consider to be beholden to Washington. Meanwhile,
rumors are flying that AT&T, Marriott, and the Starwood
hotel chains will christen additional business deals midway
through the visit. But if Obama focuses too much on corporate
signing ceremonies rather than Cubans desires for greater
political and economic openness domestically, he will also be
seen as having let the islands authorities off the hook.

Even so, the United States can only encourage and incentivize
the shape of Cuban reform. It cannot control its course. In
that regard, one hopes that the president will also listen to
representatives of a dynamic gray zone in Cuban
societythose who identify not only as loyalists or dissidents
but as constructive critics, intellectuals, anti-imperialists,
democratic socialists, or simply small-business owners
operating under intense obstacles. One of the most important
gestures Obama can make is to acknowledge that Cuban
society is complex and that its problems do not lend
themselves to quick, imported fixes. A recent poll shows that
average Cubans overwhelmingly favor the opening of their
country to the United States. But in talking to family members
and colleagues in Havana this December, I also know many
islanders feel intense trepidation about their ability to
maintain social protections and develop their country
equitably from the ground up. Whether its writing from
within academia or in the comment boards on blogs, others
have expressed concern with the Cuban militarys large share
in the economy already or with the new free trade zone at
Mariel Harbor. They see them as cruel signs of state
capitalism on the march, not socialisms last line of defense.

Working to Obamas advantage is his extraordinary popularity

on the island, and in a televised speech at Havanas Grand
Theater, he will have an unprecedented opportunity to send
an often skeptical population a needed message of hope. But
just as commercial engagement from the north wont
automatically lead to a more open society, buying U.S.
products in a postembargo world does not equal a sustainable
development strategy for an unproductive economy saddled
by a bloated import bill. Cubans themselves, ultimately, and
only Cubans themselves, must be the principal agents of their
economic and political futures.

MICHAEL J. BUSTAMANTE is a PhD candidate in Latin American history at Yale University.

Foreign Aairs
April 5, 2016

Business Unusual in Cuba

Letter from Havana

Anne Nelson and Debi Spindelman

Cuba's crumbling infrastructure.

Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama used his visit to

Havana, Cuba to showcase the promise of enterprise: He met
with prominent business leaders and held a special panel for
entrepreneurs. A small army of other U.S. executives and
business school students flooded into Havana over the course
of the month, prospecting for deals. But many of them left
disappointed. The opening of political relations between the
two countries is long overdue, and the coming months will
bring many critical discussions about human rights and other
pressing issues. But the conversation opened with economic
policy, and what these entrepreneurs have discovered is that
normalized trade relations will require them to find a common
language, and even a common currency in which to do

Like the antique American cars whose worn-out engines have

been replaced by ones from Soviet Ladas, the new Cuban
economy will remain inefficient even if it acquires a shiny
chassis. At the heart of the matter is La Lucha. This is the
Cuban term for the vast economic system that hovers
between the broken official economy and the criminalized
black market economy. Any foreign enterprise seeking to do
business in Cuba will be affected by its workings.

The official economy is the product of the Cuban Communist

system, offering free healthcare and education. A city bus ride
costs a few cents, and basic foodstuffs are sold for a pittance.
But the system suffers from a lack of supplies and dire
distribution problems. Rural clinics are often missing basic
medications, buses are scarce and crowded, and it can be
difficult for the average Cuban to locate even locally produced
foodstuffs. For example, chasing down the elements of a basic
Cuban dietrice, beans, cooking oil, eggs, cabbage, sugar,
and saltcan require visits to four different markets and half
a day in line.
A man eats his lunch in a food stall at a farmer's market in Havana, Cuba,
February 23, 2008.

In Cuba, the black market is illegal and carries severe

penalties. This has led to La Lucha, an alegal channel for
procuring goods. It is hard to imagine the country functioning
without it. We got a good sense of how La Lucha worked
when visiting a bustling open-air market in Havana offering
fresh produce, meat, and eggs. The line to purchase eggs at
the low official price snaked around the block. But near the
entrance of the market, a slight woman named Ana offered
the same product, but with no wait and at a 20 percent mark-
up. She didnt come close to supporting herself and her child
on her nurses salary of $25 a month, she explained, so she
bought eggs from a farmer to sell at a profit. Her modest
enterprise allows Cubans who live above the subsistence level
to choose convenience over economy, even if it violates state

This gray market is generally tolerated, if not approved, by

the government. It has been a natural adaptation to the
distortions of the Cuban economy, generated by over a half
century of the gross inefficiencies of communism, which were
exacerbated by the brutal constraints of the U.S. embargo.
One issue driving Cubas alegal economy is the lack of
information, which results in chaotic market conditions.
Producers struggle to get their goods to market, and
consumers have little means of knowing whats in stock
where. There are shortages of specific goods due to
limitations on imports or production, but Cuban products like
sugar and coffee may also be unavailable in a grocery store,
even in an upscale neighborhood because of distribution
bottlenecks. Cuban law does not permit commercial
advertising in the state broadcast and print media, and all of
the major news outlets function under state control, which
includes broadcast media. Some advertising is beginning to
emerge on digital platforms, but it is still too new and too
limited to resolve the issue.

Another aspect of Cubas economy that may be frustrating for

U.S. businesses is the dual currency system. Most Cubans are
paid in the national currency, the Cuban peso or CUP, which
is only useful for purchasing goods distributed by the state.
State employees, including doctors and lawyers, receive
miserable salaries in CUP amounting to $15 to $30 a month.
Granted, most Cubans do not pay for housing and other
necessities, but they still find it impossible to support a family
without a second job or some form of assistance. On the other
hand, consumer, imported, and luxury goodsin Cuba these
luxuries include standard items of clothing, automotive
parts, and basic household appliancesare priced in Cubas
convertible peso or CUC. The convertible peso was created in
2004 as a way to harvest hard currency without using the
U.S. dollar. In 2013 the Cuban government decided to phase
out the CUC, but it is still in all evidence pegged close to the
U.S. dollar. Once again, the U.S. embargo has made a difficult
situation for ordinary Cubans far more painful. A simple t-
shirt costs $8 to $10 and a pair of sneakers $50daunting
sums on a state salary.

Like the antique American cars whose worn-out engines have been
replaced by ones from Soviet Ladas, the new Cuban economy will
remain inefficient even if it acquires a shiny chassis.

Debi Spindelman
A vintage car in Cuba.

As a result, a complex elite class, made up of three sectors,

has emerged. First, there are those who receive money in
dollars and euros that can be converted into CUCs, such as
the Cuban political elite and their relations, whose travel
privileges allow them to acquire goods from Ecuador, Mexico,
and the United States, and sell them at a profit. Its not
unknown for them to return with a suitcase full of cell phones
for resale. Another section of the elite class consists of those
who receive gifts and remittances from exiled relatives or
reap the benefits of their family visits. The third group is
made up of those who work for foreign companies and are
paid in foreign currency, and those who work for foreign
visitors who must pay in CUCs. Thus, in the funhouse mirror
of the Cuban economy, a taxi driver can earn more in a day
than a surgeon makes in a month. The CUC elite are a
minority, far outnumbered by the CUP wage slaves in the
lower strata of La Lucha.

U.S. businesses might also keep in mind that although this

new chapter in U.S.Cuban relations will undoubtedly benefit
the Cuban people in the long run, in the short term, it may
exacerbate social tensions. The emphasis on e-commerce, for
example, is likely to widen social inequality by benefiting
those in this elite class. Take, for example, Airbnb, the first
major U.S. entrant to e-commerce in Cuba. The dysfunction of
the Cuban economy has led to the collapse of much of
Havanas housing market and a severe housing shortage. In
1997 the Cuban government began allowing Cuban families
to rent out rooms to foreigners for around $30 a night as a
means of generating additional income, provided they
received state authorization. This program is known as casa
particular. Airbnb states that since it began operations in
Cuba in April 2015, about 4,000 of these casa particular
owners have joined its network, creating an important
source of income for thousands of Cuban families who
receive an average of $250 per booking.

But there are major differences between the average casa

particular and the Airbnb rental today. Casas particulares
book guests by telephone, email, or word of mouth, but it is
near impossible for a Cuban to participate in Airbnb without
access to the privileges of the CUC elite. First, a listing
requires access to the Internet. Only a tiny percentage of
Cuban homes have connectivity (roughly five percent,
although this number is disputed), and the usual monthly fee
of $40 exceeds the standard government salaries. Some
Airbnb hosts try to manage their rentals through the new
WiFi hot spots that have rolled out across the country. But
these connections are also prohibitively expensive and too
slow to effectively manage Airbnb listings and photo displays.
Cubas 21,000 casas particulares already represent one elite
in Cuba, given the countrys severe housing shortage. Still,
these family homes are more likely to offer modest rooms,
while the Airbnb customer may expect espresso machines,
microwave ovens, and functional showerheadsall
importsand prefer private dwellings.

The new CUC elite is well-positioned to take advantage of

Cubas inefficiencies. Take, for example, the case of Isabel,
an Airbnb hostess in Havana (who asked that her real name
not be used). Isabel is able to participate in e-commerce
because she is a member of the CUC elite, and has the
connections and the sophistication to navigate the upper
reaches of La Lucha. She owns several homes (a rarity in
Cuba) and belongs to a family with close ties to the
Communist Party. Her clan owns a dozen rental properties,
which have been fully renovated and outfitted with imported
appliances, and some members drive new cars imported from
China. She listed a comfortable Havana apartment on Airbnb
through a broker who represents a number of properties on
the site. But difficulties in bank transfers due to the U.S.
embargo (only recently amended) have required yet another
intermediary to move the payment into her Cuban account.
The apartment is rented for $130 a night, but after covering
Airbnbs host and guest fees (ten to 15 percent), Cuban taxes,
and payments to intermediaries, Isabel nets a little over half
that. Nonetheless, in one night she nets double the monthly
salary of a state employee. The modest home owners of the
casas particulares are getting by, but Isabel is getting rich.
There is nothing wrong with this, but U.S. businesses should
not delude themselves into thinking that peer-to-peer
operations will translate into benefits for the broader Cuban

In fact, many Cubans have been voting with their feet. Almost
half a million Cubans have obtained residency in the United
States since 2000. There are almost two million Cuban-
Americans in the United States (with more in other
countries), compared to an island population of 11.2 million.
Increasing numbers of the CUC elite have turned down the
chance to emigrate, believing the opportunities will be
greater at home, but the situation looks different for Cubans
on CUP wages. The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act offered
preferential immigration requirements to Cubans, and the
1995 wet foot, dry foot policy created an incentive for
Cubans to reach U.S. soil.

Havana, Cuba.

With the renewal of diplomatic relations between Cuba and

the United States last year, there have been calls to end the
preferential immigration status. This has led to a sense of
panic among some Cubans. Republican Congressman Blake
Farenthold from Texas reported that his state is already
seeing a 60 percent increase in migrants attempting to enter
from Cuba following the December 2014 announcement by
Obama that he would be turning a new leaf in U.S.Cuba
relations. It would be a tragedy if the shift in policy resulted
in an upsurge of Cubans fleeing under perilous conditions.
There is also the risk of a massive brain drain, in which Cuba
loses educators and medical personnel working for state
salaries to jobs in the United States as babysitters and cab

Indeed, with the opening, there promises to be a headlong

rush to find, or construct, a Cuba that resembles the United
States. But that should not come at the expense of the other
Cuba, mysterious and complex, thats well worth exploring.
To start with, theres Cubas often overlooked success in
indicators of human development. The World Bank reported
that in 2013, Cubas life expectancy, at roughly 79 years,
exceeded that of the United States for the first time. The
Cubans are proud of their security, a product of banning guns
and severely limiting narcotics trafficking and drug abuse.
The countrys system of preventive medicine has been highly
effective. Every week, teams of medical students make weekly
door-to-door check-ups, effectively curtailing many infectious
diseases across the island. In recent weeks Cuba has
mobilized its army reserves to fumigate every household in
the country to limit the spread of the Zika virus.

Although the Cuban people live under a blanket of censorship

that controls every aspect of national print and broadcast
media, Cubans have found creative ways to enjoy a hearty
media diet, thanks to a service known as El Paquete
conveyed via the humble flash drive. The USB sticks are
circulated on a subscription basis and offer everything from
The Economist to complete seasons of House of Cards, at
the modest price of $12 a week.

Our recent conversations with scores of Cubans in both

Havana and the rural interior revealed that while theyre
eager to win greater freedoms, many of their material desires
are surprisingly modest: better access to food, improved
public transportation, and cheaper clothing and cell phone
charges. Theyre also aware of the advantages they stand to
lose in a transition: cities in which drugs are rare and gun
violence is unknown, a society that is committed to nourishing
and educating all of its children.

Cubans are asking how to integrate the most constructive

aspects of the U.S. system without inviting its attendant
plagues. For its part, the United States, as well as U.S.
entrepreneurs seeking to set up shop on the island, should
approach Cuba in a spirit of discovery, with much to offer,
much to gain, and much to learn.

ANNE NELSON, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, teaches international

media development at Columbia Universitys School of International and Public Aairs,
and has published widely on the subject. DEBI SPINDELMAN is a capacity development
specialist at Columbia Universitys School of International and Public Aairs. They are
currently co-leading a research seminar on digital media infrastructure in Cuba.

Foreign Aairs