Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Beginning of the End?

It is in all probability the beginning of the end.

The announcement that Fidel Castro has turned over power to his brother Raul after complicated surgery shows the inevitable.

Although said to be "temporary", the handing over of power to someone sooner or later will have to be permanent.

The charismatic Castro has been in power continuesly since taking power in the revolution of 1959.

He has duelled - in a political, and sometimes military sense - with every US President since Dwight Eisenhower.

Fidel and his brother took power New Year's Day 1959, after what at first was an unsuccessful attempt at toppling the dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The revolution began on July 26, 1953, after an attack on the Moncada army barracks. But in spite of being surrounded by much revolutionary mythology, that was a spectacular failure, and Castro was among those jailed.

But after having fled to Mexico, he came back and succeeded with ousting the widely unpopular Batista.

Since then, Raul as been close at to Fidel in every sense. But he is certainly not the charismatic leader that Fidel is, and there have been persistent rumours that he is too heavy a user of alcohol.

Although it sounds unlikely that a Raul regime would last long, there are those that see the possibility of him being somewhat less dogmatic. There is an urgent need for profound economic reforms.

Partucularly on the US side, some thought seems to have been given to the transition issues in Cuba. A 95-page report on what the administration would do to usher democracy into the island after Castro's demise was published only weeks ago.

The report by the multi-agency Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba pledges to help a transition government with humanitarian aid and organizing free and fair elections. It earmarked $80 million in assistance for Cuba's opposition.

But US law regulates that a transition government cannot include Fidel or Raul Castro, and must meet a number of rather reasonable conditions such as calling for free elections and releasing political prisoners.

Key for the economy of a future Cuba would of course be the lifting of the US economic sanctions that have been in force all these decades. It's Fidel Castro and the Communist Party that have ruled the place, but it's been the political effects of these sanctions that have helped them stay in power.

There was obviously rejoicing in the streets of Miami as the news came through, and the Miami Herald has extensive reporting as well as analysis of what might lie in story for the poor country.

Its to Miami that the large waves of refugees - the middle class of Havana - has gone over the decades.

Today, Cuba is a poor and desperate dictatorship.

It's economy has been destroyed by socialism and its politics by communism. Having lived off the subsidies of the Soviet Union, and seen them disappear, it has gone through a very hard time, only partly rescued by the new subsidies from Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.

When Castro goes there are numerous scenarios of which happen - ranging from open rebellion to a smooth transition to a similar leader. But it does look likely that the regime will disappear with the man.

Thus, we will be faced with the task of helping to manage a critical process of regime transition in the Caribbean.

We'd Europe has better get ready.