Hoping for a `perfect storm' to wash away Castro regime

January 31, 2007|By John C. Bersia

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Would a "perfect storm" help resolve the tedious Fidel Castro illness-and-succession saga gripping Cuba?

At a recent forum on the island's future, specialists suggested that - contrary to some hopes after the Cuban dictator first took ill - essentially no possibility presently exists for a post-Castro collapse. That is, unless a perfect storm develops.

Now, I have to admit that I would be very pleased if Mr. Castro would wither away and a freer Cuba would emerge. For too long, the island's people have been denied self-determination and subjected to the whims of a crusty communist who refuses to accept that the "best" days of his movement and philosophy lie behind him.

But so many questions swirled around Mr. Castro's health crisis at its onset that it was impossible to determine if he was actually indisposed. Perhaps, as some speculated, he had devised a scheme to evaluate how the transition might unfold. If it did not take place in a positive manner, Mr. Castro would return from behind the scenes and resume control.

To this day, Mr. Castro's true status remains a frustrating secret. Some have him at death's door. Others express optimism. As one example, a Spanish doctor who examined him in December declared that he did not have cancer, might recover and was doing "fantastically well."

Given the propaganda that communist systems have spewed over the years, Mr. Castro's death could easily happen long before it is publicly announced.

The argument that Raul, Fidel's brother and current ruler of Cuba, is capable of ushering in substantial change and has a firm grip on the reins also seems off-base. The two men have walked in lock-step for nearly half a century. It is unlikely that Raul's golden years will inspire him to replace his repressive toughness with a reformer's visage.

Oh, Raul probably will hold on for a few years or so. My guess, though, is that opposition criticism and boldness will mount - especially among young people, who regard the Castro brothers and their inner circle with no particular admiration. And in the event of a perfect storm - the chance occurrence of several unrelated events that collectively deliver a far more significant impact than they would individually - I suspect that the Castro regime would crumble.

Consider this: A perfect storm starts sometime during the next several months with Fidel's passing. Shortly thereafter, Raul dies; he is, after all, only slightly younger than his sibling and cannot defy nature. Then Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez departs from the scene, whether by popular pressure, an illness or an act of violence. The absence of Mr. Chavez, a staunch partner and benefactor of the Castro regime, staggers Cuba. World prices for key Cuban commodities such as sugar drop precipitously, creating more dire circumstances.

Finally, an actual storm hits.

Cuba, sitting squarely in the middle of hurricane alley, has no real defenses. I am not talking about storms such as Dennis and Wilma in 2005, as damaging as they were. Rather, given today's increasingly common freak weather, a "hurricane of the century" almost surely looms over the horizon. Dwarfing Hurricane Katrina and packing Category 5-plus winds, it wallops Cuban agriculture, tourism and society.

Against such forces, unless Cubans opted to leave in droves, regime change would follow - without any assistance from the United States, I might add. Considering America's commitments around the world, I cannot imagine any serious U.S. intervention impulses toward Cuba, no matter how vulnerable it appeared.

But I certainly can imagine and would welcome any version of a perfect storm for Cuba that would relegate the Castro era to history.

John C. Bersia is the special assistant to the president for global perspectives at the University of Central Florida. He can be reached at jbersia@orlandosentinel.com. This piece originally appeared in the Orlando Sentinel.

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