Fifty years after the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raoul, and their co-revolutionaries launched the Cuban revolution, the fate of that experiment seems uncertain. However, in January 1959, when it took hold, it appeared to bear great promise. In that age, justice, equality and well-being, it looked, could only be secured by political means.
Now, 50 years after that revolution, the world is a changed place and political means to secure basic necessities for dignified living are no longer appealing. It is not an unusual turn of events, given what has happened to Cuba’s socialist relatives—China, Russia and Vietnam. In Cuba, too, things are changing, but the pace of change is glacial at best.
Why is Cuba taking so much time in moving to a post-revolutionary age? Part of the answer lies in the continuing presence of the original revolutionary generation. Fidel Castro is still around and Raoul Castro is the president of the country. In China, to give an example, there were few, if any, revolutionary leaders left by the time Deng Xiaoping died in 1997. In any case, by the time he consolidated power in 1980, Deng had begun China’s transformation to a market economy. Such a transition never occurred in Cuba.
It is this missing event that gives Cuba a very different political colour. The 18 years since the fall of the Soviet Union were especially difficult for it. Now, when the economic and political pressures of that period have eased, it is renewing its ties with Russia. The recent arrival of Russian warships at Havana’s harbour, the November visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and new found friendship with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez point to political continuities rather than change. In that, Cuba is taking a very different direction. It is difficult to presage what will happen in Cuba, but a transition to democracy does not look easy.
On the world map, this may not mean much, but it certainly is a pointer to the emerging illiberal coalition of nations, ones which are opposed to the combination of capitalism and democracy. The failings of global financial markets have given respectability to a political venture that had already been set in motion.
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