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Forget About Fidel

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
March 7, 2009


There are signs that change may finally be coming to Cuba, 50 years after the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. In a major shakeup, Raúl Castro, Fidel's brother, fired several high-level officials last week. While Raúl did more to raise expectations than living standards in his first year as president, he may now be positioning the government to go beyond the tentative reforms so far introduced. Then again, he might merely be installing loyalists who share his view that the regime should keep a tight grip on society.

What's more certain is the need for change in Cuba. Last year's hurricanes cost the already poor island nation $10 billion, 20 percent of its GDP. The global economic slowdown has dampened tourism. The population of 11 million is shrinking, in part because of a housing shortage that's leading many families to have fewer children. Cuba's people, the lion's share of whom were born after 1959, face a future that promises little in the way of either prosperity or freedom.

Some American conservatives maintain that all this is reason enough for the United States to persist in its policy of ignoring Cuba diplomatically and sanctioning it economically. At least in principle, one could argue that the revolution is running out of steam and that regime change from within may finally be at hand. The problem is that this argument ignores Cuban reality. The country is not near the precipice of collapse. To the contrary, the intertwined party, government and military have matters well in hand.


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