Cuba after Fidel Castro

By Arthur I. Cyr

The death of Cuban revolutionary and dictator Fidel Castro is a major moment amid important economic changes. Acknowledging his importance as an epic Machiavellian survivor in no way minimizes the ruthlessness of his regime. In May 2015, the United States removed Cuba from the list of states sponsoring terrorism. This greatly facilitates interchange between the two sides. Of particular significance, banking restrictions were lifted. Last March, President Barack Obama visited Cuba. President Calvin Coolidge was the last U.S. chief executive to visit the island nation, in early 1928.

Slowly but also surely, the ruthless dictatorship that controls Cuba has been forced to face the reality of economic failure of communism. Fidel Castro began transition of power to younger brother Raul Castro in 2006. Four years later, Fidel suddenly reemerged in the media spotlight and proceeded dramatically to lament the shambles of the nation’s economy. At the same time, the Cuban government announced layoffs of 500,000 workers, combined with liberalization designed to encourage small business and foreign purchases of real estate. This was admission of failure by Cuba’s committed Communist leaders. Havana now courts foreign investment, while maintaining political controls. In 2009, the U.S. loosened extremely tight restrictions on travel and financial remittances. Additionally, telecommunications companies were allowed to pursue licensing agreements.

The Soviet Union, a vital source of subsidies, collapsed a quarter century ago. Venezuela provided limited aid, but their economy is now a wrecked basket case. Enemies as well as admirers agree Fidel Castro demonstrated strong leadership before age and illness led him to retire. After taking power in early 1959, enforcer brother Raul handled bloody mass executions with efficient dispatch. Fidel highlighted new alliance with the Soviet Union by joining Nikita Khrushchev in a 1960 visit to the United Nations in New York. The Soviet premier was wildly disruptive at U.N. sessions, while the Cuban delegation provided a media sideshow, based at a Harlem hotel. The Eisenhower administration began a clandestine effort to overthrow the regime, including a CIA project to assassinate Castro. The successor Kennedy administration vastly escalated efforts. Cuba became an active far-reaching revolutionary force. The U.S. aggressively intervened against perceived threats, notably in Chile in the 1970s, where East Germany was influential. Cuban troops served as Soviet proxies in various Africa wars.