The one thing that has brought the world together after the passing of Former Cuban President Fidel Castro late last week has been the future of the tiny island nation. Of the many tales that are told about the former president, the very image of the romantic-cigar-wielding-revolutionary, there is one which goes like this: 50 years ago, Castro had predicted the thawing of US-Cuba diplomatic relations by mentioning that when the United States of America (Castro’s arch-enemy, but failed-nemesis) had a Black president and the Catholic Church had a Latin-American Pope, the two rivals would reunite. The tale might be apocryphal, but the subtle message remains that in a post-Cold War world, with a solitary superpower, relations between Cuba and the USA and thus the world will improve substantially.
A New Hope: 2016
Indeed, Outgoing President Barack Obama had, in April 2015, signalled that his country and Cuba would come together, with a handshake with Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother and current Cuban President, in Panama. Early this year, he visited Cuba, the first state visit since the imposition of sanctions on Cuba after the 1962 ‘Bay of Pigs’ fiasco, when the world tottered on the brink of a nuclear war. This thaw in relations is only in the interest of the two nations, separated by just 100 miles of water. Cuba was also removed from the US list of “State Sponsors of Terror”.
Where does Cuba go from now? First of all, Raul Castro will have to emerge from his brother’s shadow and, while maintaining the communist government and keeping its authoritarian nature intact, ensure that the country’s borders and free trade boundaries are opened up. This has already started: direct flights from the US to Cuba resumed in September this year, opening the doors to an influx of US dollars via tourism. Deeper trade ties, however, may take a little longer: the US 1996 ‘Helms Burton Act’ states that full economic links can not be restored until Cuba holds “free and fair” elections.
Second, the Cuban President is expected to further industrialise the nation. No longer being an agro-giant, Cuba’s tag of the world’s ‘Sugar Bowl’ belongs to India now. Experts say that Fidel, in his communist fervour, was still clinging to the old ideals that dominated the Cuban political landscape for five decades. With him gone, Raul will implement reforms; having been in power for 10 years now, significant change has taken place on the island including reforms that would have been unthinkable under Fidel. Experts like Alana Tummino, senior director of policy and head of the Cuba Working Group at the Council of the Americas (CWGCA), a business organization promoting free trade and open markets, say,”I think this could go both ways. Raul is the leader of Cuba, and he has been the reformer in Cuba.”
The Elements of Uncertainty
Some doubts remain, however. There are hard-liners, mainly Fidel Castro supporters, in the government who caution against economic reforms on the island. Also, Raul Castro is expected to step down in 2018. His replacement is not yet known. One thing can be said with a degree of certainty that the Communist dictatorship will continue. His successor may not share the liberal strain. Speculations are rife that the next leader of Cuba will be First Vice President Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel, who’s 56 now. Not much is known about Diaz-Canel, however; it is hard to speculate on his future dealings.
Experts also state that in North Korea, after the death of Kim Jong-Il died and his son Kim Jong-Un took over, not much changed for that country. That could be the template for a new Cuba as well, although the cultural differences are significant. Cuba has been traditionally dominated by state-run enterprises. Latest figures are not available: the figures from 2000 state public sector employment as being 76% and private sector employment, mainly composed of self-employment, as 23% compared to the 1981 ratio of 91% to 8%. In 2012, the country’s public debt was 35.3% of its GDP with inflation at 5.5%. That year the economy GDP growth was 3%.
Keeping these figures in mind and the fact that Donald Trump will ascend to the US Presidency next year, the future remains uncertain. In conclusion, we can only state that self-interest and mutual economic benefits will bind these two nations, and subsequently the world, in the years and decades to come.