FINANCIAL TIMES: Castro pledge is chance for change [editorial]
- (Proposals good. Motivations provided are bad.)
February 26, 2013 7:11 pm
Castro pledge is chance for change
Lifting US constraints on Cuba will speed regime’s demise
Never underestimate Havana’s ability to delay change. Raúl Castro became de facto president of Cuba in 2006, and has long said the government needed to renew itself. As he even admitted on Sunday: “It’s really embarrassing that we have not solved this problem.” Now it has. Sort of.
Last weekend Mr Castro, 81, said he would step down in 2018, when his second presidential term finishes. He also appointed Miguel Diaz-Canel as first vice-president, putting the 52-year old former electrical engineer first in line to succeed him. For the first time since bearded rebels swept down from the Sierra Maestra, Cubans can now imagine a day when the government will not be led by someone who fought in the 1959 revolution, but rather grew up within it.
Cubans have long suffered under the stifling weight of a gerontocracy. Just appointing a 52-year-old is therefore an advance. Unlike other young flyers – who were promoted quickly and later fell, Icarus-like, just as quickly from grace – Mr Diaz-Canel is a cautious and reportedly personable figure, who rose slowly through party ranks. So he may last longer. He is also faithful to Mr Castro. Continuity, at least within the island, therefore remains the name of the game – and any internal change remains, for now, on Havana’s terms.
However, outside the island change is potentially proceeding at a faster pace. To the south lies Venezuela, which is undergoing its own transition as Hugo Chávez, its cancer-stricken president, fades from political life. Havana can therefore no longer count on Caracas’s indefinite financial support. To the north lies the US and its outdated, failed embargo. This is often used by Havana as an excuse for its own failings and has unnecessarily poisoned US relations with the rest of Latin America as some senior officials acknowledge.
The point of closer US relations with Cuba is not to give succour to a dictatorship. It is to speed change and the regime’s eventual demise through a peaceful transition, while acknowledging the reality that this may take years. The US has done business with non-democracies before. Take Mexico, its third-largest trade partner. Washington signed a free-trade deal with Mexico in the 1990s when it was still governed by the Institutional Revolutionary party, which, in the famous phrase, was “a perfect dictatorship”.
A new leadership can be won over to change by rapprochement rather than isolation, which only increases Havana’s bunker-like mentality. True, the Helms-Burton Act ties the executive’s hands because lifting the embargo needs congressional approval. But there are areas where the executive can still act. Cuba could be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, an overdue move. Or it could be allowed to seek advice from institutions such as the International Monetary Fund on economic and institutional reform. Finally, the US could loosen travel restrictions to match the gradual easing launched by Mr Castro. The White House has the tools to promote change. It should use them.
Los Angeles, California
"Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"