Havana dreaming

August 04, 2006

Cuba has lived under communism longer than Poland did, and unlike Poland in 1989 it has no broad-based popular movement ready to take to the streets and usher it into a post-communist era. Brave dissidents, yes; Solidarity, no.

This means that Cuba is approaching the brink of change without an obvious alternative to the regime, and, for that matter, without an obvious course of action for the regime to take, once Fidel Castro drops the reins - as he inevitably must, if not now then soon. More than Lenin in Russia, more than Mao in China, Mr. Castro embodies what he still portrays as the "Revolution," 47 years after it took power. Without him, what's left? All sorts of scenarios have been floated, from liberalizations to crackdowns to crackups, but no one can really say.

That, however, hasn't stopped the Bush administration from talking about its intention to foster freedom, democracy and market economics in Cuba after Mr. Castro. Given its track record so far elsewhere, this has apparently left plenty of Cubans understandably worried about their future. Cuba, at least, doesn't have to face a Sunni-Shiite divide, but if the bright young ideologues who once staffed the Coalition Provisional Authority start packing their bags for Havana, you know there's trouble ahead.

The curious thing about the administration's grand plans for Cuba is that because of the tightened U.S. embargo, Washington has almost no links to anyone who might be helpful in explaining the lay of the land: no students training here, no scientific get-togethers, no military exchanges of the sort the U.S. conducts even with the People's Republic of China. In fact, because the embargo is so rigorous, American diplomats have been barred from leaving Havana by the Cuban government, and have no chance to meet with anyone who might be significant.

After communism's departure, Poland was flooded with "shock therapy" experts from the West, eager to try out their theories of privatization, and life was genuinely miserable for a while for the average Pole. At least there weren't several hundred thousand exiles living just 90 miles away and itching to get their property back. The downfall of the communist regime ought to be a blessing for the Cubans; Americans should be careful not to wreck it for them.

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