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Cuba without castro

What it could mean for America

BY SAM DEALEY

THAS BEEN a thorn in America's side for almost half a century: an island nation that nearly plunged us
into nuclear war with the Soviet Union: a country that brought military humiliation to the United States
at a place called the Bay of Pigs; a dictatorial ruler who has led a chorus of

Latin American leftists screaming. “Yankee. go home!"

Now Cuba is on the precipice of a new era as 80-year-old Fidel Castro exits the stage. Ever since
Castro’s hospitalization last July and the “temporary" transfer of power to his younger brother Raul.
Cuba watchers have been weighing some big questions: Can the authoritarian regime survive the loss
of its charismatic founder? And if it collapses. what will happen to Cuba—and what will it mean for
America?

“THINGS musr CHANGE, I know it. They can’t go on as they are.” lose, a middle-aged taxi driver. sits
listlessly at a bar in central Havana last December ex-pressing the frustrations of many Cubans. As jobs
go. Iosé's is a good one. secured by his many years in the armed forces. But he complains that more
than 95 percent of his earnings go to the government, and he chafes under the purchasing restrictions
that forbid ordinary Cubans from enter-ing the plush beach resorts and hotel restaurants that cater to
foreigners.

"I make money. so why isn’t my money any good?" losé says. "Why can’t I buy my car? And the hotels
why can't I take my wife to dinner there?" He pauses. then adds. "I have sacrificed a lot for my country,
for my government. No, my friend, there wil be changes.”

Jose is not alone in saying so. Ask a Cuban how life goes, and quite often the answer will be, Mala, malo,
male”( “Bad. bad. bad”).

This is not the future that most Cubans expected when Castro and his band of guerrillas deposed the
corrupt. crony regime of Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar in 1959. Castro had promised to restore the
constitution and hold elections. but neither hap-pened. Instead, Cuba became an au-tocracy of secret
prisons, whimsical laws and few freedoms. It also be-came dependent on subsidies from friendly nations
—to the tune of$6 bil-lion a year from the Soviet Union(until the Berlin Wall collapsed) and 100.000
barrels of oil a day now coming from the leftist regime in Venezuela.

Nevertheless. there were successes under Castro. Cuba's literacy rate ap-proaches 97 percent. and
health care is free and universal. At the height of the Cold War. Cuban soldiers fought ably on
Communist front lines from Latin America to Africa to Asia.

Such accomplishments still per-suade some to believe in Castro‘s Cuba. “1 have free health care, my
chil» dren go to a good school,” says a me- chanic as he retreads a tire outside a bus terminal. “Where
else in Latin America—where in America or the rest of the world—would I have this?"

A similar poll last Septem-ber by Gallup.lieve in the Cuban experiment. after so many decades of Castro’s rule.vez. Although an excellent stu. aging and unhappy. “The best analogy is that there are a bunch of hyenas around Fidel. found that iust 26 percent of the residents said they were “satisfied with the freedom they have to choose what to do with their lives. If anyone is seen as having the upper hand. called for open civil disobedience during the transi-tion. Interestingly. the daughter says. The overall impression is that Cuban society is anemic. the man behind the economic reforms of the mid-19903. only slightly better than Aruba. a prominent exile group in Miami. the mother pulls out a pocket-size stamp book and thumbs through it. 0! the handful of prominent dissidents in Cuba. Hugo Cha. Dr. The country’s birthrate is in the bot-tom quartile of the world. it's Carlos Lage Davila.505. While some students truly be. many more just play the game. He also has strong ties to Venezuela's president. Cubans say that sick wards inside the once-famed hospitals are nothing more than rooms lined with dirty mattresses. there were more than 3. According to El Directorio Democratico Cubano. the regime wiil next need to manage the transfer of power to another. waiting for the moment when they can leave. she didn't always participate in the orchestrated street marches for Castro. To her. a popular uprising doesn’t seem imminent. such as anger with the food-rationing sys-tem. With the transition from Fidel to Ratil all but solidified.” Her l7‘year~old daughter is apply» ing for university but worries she won't be selected for one of the cov. the Cuban people’s collective will has given way to individual survival. No one heeded his call. younger leader. though limited to Ha-vana and Santiago." In an important sense." Sit down with Cubans and many will cite very specific grievances. but there were also public protests and mass peti-tions demanding change. Only one. suggesting not only that the regime's grip is slipping but also that ideas are spreading. A poll conducted in 2005 by the group Spanish Solidarity with Cuba found that 80 percent of Cubans be-lieve changes are necessary. One of the clearest signs came last Iuly when Ratil took over for his ailing brother. an increasing number of these acts take place in the provinces far from Havana. . despite THIS disgruntlement.” says a Western diplomat posted in Havana. which Rafi] supported but Fidel later all but rescinded.dent." says Thor Halvorssen. Over dinner in the home of one Cuban family. And the suicide rate is among the highest of any country. Most were vigils and small get-togethers. “Only one did. It’s pretty clear to me it won’t be an immediate popular uprising. Lage is the youngest of the main contenders for power and is probably closest to Ratil. But his as. When asked their preference for democracy or dictatorship. In his mid. “That was the perfect opportunity for the dissidents to act. there are hopeful signs of oppo-sition. the food rationing is “a joke. “I'm supposed to get tomatoes and other things. pointing out the missing stamps for food.But even Castro's proudest achieve-ments are steadily crumbling. only 20 percent chose the latter. but they don't exist . Darsi Ferrer." she says.eted spots. the region’s worst. Why stick your neck out only to get it chopped off? Still. a strident toe of the United States whom some regard as Castro‘s truest successor in the region.cension is far from settled.300 acts of defiance against the regime in 2005.

“When Fidel speaks to you. Quevedo assembled what re-mained of his troops and steeled him-self for his meeting with the young rebel leader. When the Batista regime denounced Quevedo for surrendering. the regime's demise would deal a severe blow to the hemisphere's resurgent leftist move-ment. And who's going to win. it is very hard for him not to convince you. Ecuador and. Quevedo remained with Castro. “change. Quevedo is perhaps the only Cuban to point a gun at Castro and live to tell. "If the regime falls. all sorts of truths are going to come to light . however. with attendant political and social strains. is greater than it has ever been in Cuba. Now 81 and living in Miami. with American businesses pouring back into the island nation that's only 90 miles from the Florida coast. his long-overdue promotion to general came through. Until Batista fled the country on New Year’s Day 1959. ever since Castro’s illness last summer. Eventually.nity. For the next five months. and al-lowed the general to keep his sidearm and roam freely about the camp. the State Department's point man on Cuba. “So not only does he spare my life. Nicaragua. he also rescues my dig." Quevedo says. Brazil. its chief allies will be other leftist regimes in the region: Bolivia. turned over Quevedo’s men to the Red Cross. a Latin America special-ist with the libertarian Cato Institute. nobody knows.” he says. “and they're going to have a go at each other." Quevedo says with gravity." For one Cuban." Over the following four decades. “I was sure they were going to execute me. Quevedo rose in importance.“ says lan Vésqucz. Loon LONGER TERM. Quevcdo watched in frustration as his weary and half-starved government troops withered under guerrilla attacks. It might also mean something that wories our government: a sudden flood of Cuban émigrés to our shores. Castro greeted Quevedo with an embrace. According to Caleb McCarry." That change could have enormous implications for Americans. Most important. "And they’re going to be ugly truths. China and Russia alliances that could further elevate tensions between these powerful countries and the United States.president of the Human Rights Foundation in New York. a major effort by the Batista regime to repel Castro's rebels. Venezuela. and that should help to demystify the Cuban experiment. . General lose Quevedo Perez. For ten days during the Summer Offensive of 1958.vinced that Fidel was going to save the Republic.” If Cuba remains socialist. and all bets are off. Other countries likely to enhance their ties with Cuba are Iran. that realization already came. Restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba would likely be lifted. “I was very con. He over-saw the founding of the regime's military academies and was later dispatched as the regime's military attache to Moscow. and two years later he joined the reserves. gradually coming under his sway. and the expectation of change. of course.We're going to learn what life's really like for ordinary Cubans. Instead. Castro broad-cast messages saying the officer had fought bravely. In 1996. they had to sur-render.

By then. his loyalty to Cas. “Some people say I betrayed Fidel. “Things kept on happening." he now says. who asked not to be identified. govern-ment but the impoverished masses themselves. it will become clear that the greatest threat to his revolution isn't the US. But I feel like I am the one who was betrayed. the general defected. Quevedo claims he's learned a great many things about the regime he served. Cuba itself has long been sustained by Castro‘s charisma. and I couldn’t stand it." Like General Quevedo. We are the danger. there were many things I didn’t like. I stuck my head in the sand." . “Independent of my personal debt to Fidel. As one dissident inside Cuba.”While visiting his dying son in Miami. But with his passing. said. becoming the highest-ranking Cuban army official to do so. [But] like a good officer. “You are not the danger.tro was wavering. however.