It is too early to say how Hugo Chavez's passing will effect developments elsewhere in the region. One wonders first and foremost about the consequences on and in Cuba. It is a reminder to the Castro brothers that power is ephemeral.
Cuba is ready for change. In spite of the efforts by the regime to paint a rosy picture, eye witnesses tell a sad story. Living conditions are bad, the economy survives only at the mercy of Venezuela. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission, in its 2012 a report on Cuba, speaks of "permanent and systematical violations of the fundamental rights of Cuban citizens." Ironically, however while the Cuban people suffer, the regime is internationally stronger than ever.
Progressive rock musicians, like Gorki in the band Porno Para Ricardo, are prevented from writing and performing freely. The international pressure for the respect for human rights is weak and inefficient. It seems like the ethic conscience of the west is comfortable with the situation. It shouldn't be. Solidarity with the people submitted to human rights violations by dictatorships is a moral imperative. However, the opposition movement is gaining voice, even in face of a forgetful international community. They are increasingly self-confident. Oswaldo Paya is now dead, but others, like Yoani Sanchez stepped into his place. Courageous people, who defy threats and speak more and more openly about the true state of the country. They deserve all the support they ask for. Cuba is ripe for change.
To understand today's Cuba, one must better study the history of communist Eastern Europe, rather than that of Latin America. The resemblance is striking. The inner workings of the regime are similar to the more conservative countries of the former communist bloc in 1989.
Halfhearted, thus unsuccessful economic reforms, the total control of the media, isolating the population from the world, harassment of the political opposition and the communist elite clinging to power. At the same time a disenchanted population, including a big part of the party membership, the majority of which does not any longer believe in the ideology or the future of the system. It is more like East Germany or Romania, rather than Hungary or Poland of the day. However, the leaders of Cuba surely understand, that the desire for change swept away even the harshest regimes of Eastern Europe.
Cuban society is fractured, with the supporters of the regime and those who reject it altogether representing approximately 25-30 percent each. It is however the remaining silent 40-50 percent that can make transition a success or a disaster. The regime is playing on their fears of the unknown. Having them on the side of change is decisive.
Europe's and more importantly, America's stance is key. Europe needs to be a lot more outspoken on human rights. The U.S. must have a policy that takes note of the diverse interests of all stakeholders of democratic change. First and foremost the majority of Cubans living in the Island State and help genuinely democratic minded leaders in their midst, like it did in Eastern Europe, in an open and transparent manner. It must cater for the interests of its vast, talented, successful and influential Cuban-American community. The two interests are not similar, but mostly overlapping. They can and should be aligned in a generous, smart and forward looking policy. Cuban-Americans must play their cards smartly. They will be an important, even decisive, but perhaps not dominant part of transition and future democratic Cuba. They must be magnanimous. Their most important task will be to accelerate a transition to knowledge and internet based economy. They must win the confidence of the majority on the Island. They must also understand that Castro's successors will single them out as being responsible, when the inevitable difficulties of the transition arise.
There is a treasure trove of experiences out there to be considered. We now know how difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy was, in Spain, in Eastern Europe or South Africa. There are valuable lessons learned, Cuba need not repeat the mistakes of others. It is easy to erect institutions of democracy, create a free press, a free and independent judiciary. It is far more difficult to guard these institutions. Beware of populism, smart and attractive, but equally dangerous leaders. It is now also understood, that success of change hinges on economic success. The wider population will embrace democracy only if it associates more freedom with a better life. For a country without natural resources the only source they can exploit, it the smartness of its people. Only full-fledged democracy can ensure the frameworks for that. Only strong institutions can mitigate the ugliness of a privatization. Dreams must be constructive, not destructive.
Revenge can be a political tool in the hands of a few, instant gratification to the angry masses. It is morally justified for the lost years, for lost property, for the rejection by the motherland, for the divided families. However, the happiness gained through revenge will be short lived. Sowing the debilitating fear of change, must be countered by wise and magnanimous politics.
We are looking forward to seeing an uncensored Gorki performing in the Rotilla festival on stage to celebrate freedom. We will be there, with our guitars.