THE BLOG
01/22/2015 11:12 am ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

The Cuban and U.S. Revolutions: A New World Series?

Marcio Silva via Getty Images

As Raul Castro absorbs the effects of the December 17th deal with the U.S., he will realize that one of the tenets on which the Cuban revolution has been built is likely to disappear. That is the value it has found in the U.S. "blockade" in mobilizing Cubans and international support. The other central tenet -- that Cubans are not allowed to become privately self-sufficient in income and are dependent on their government for the income and services they receive -- is now also in danger.

It has always troubled me that the social policies the Castros prioritized at home and overseas were only possible with other countries' money. One of Fidel's claims to be a master diplomat was that he walked away with vast Soviet and Venezuelan subsidies -- other peoples' money. A large part of that was due his global role as anti-American cheerleader. That is no longer a possibility.

This week, Roberta Jacobson and her U.S. team will be getting to know senior Cuban officials. But they will already know that they are dealing with a very foreign country. The Cuban revolution was a real revolution. It challenged directly many of the founding principles of the U.S. revolution -- frequent (and expensive) elections, separation of powers, devolving responsibilities to states, sanctity of private property and putting your faith in the wealth creation of people making their own money.

The U.S. revolution also produced a powerful country that veered from periods of isolationism to a fervent proselytizing of its virtues. Cuba, a small communist neighbor, became a U.S. obsession and Fidel skillfully developed the role of the heroic resistor. The U.S. revolution also developed a government capable of relentless renovation and self criticism. That has led to President Obama's reassessment. And term limits -- a key principle -- have now been accepted by Raul Castro. He has said he will step down in 2018. After nearly 60 years, a non-Castro will lead Cuba.

With his brother Fidel still alive, Raul is unlikely to dismantle quickly the controls and narrative of the Cuba that transformed it from a sugar and tobacco island into a country with influence in the world. But he knows he cannot reinforce those controls. The movement of the revolution will have to be toward the relaxing of the second tenet -- that ordinary Cubans must be allowed to earn more money and -- despite it being abhorrent to Fidel -- become rich. Raul also knows that the clock is ticking. If any change in fundamental philosophy is to be made, it has to be done by a Castro. Diaz-Canel, the successor he chose, will not have the authority.

What tasks now face each revolution?

Raul Castro knows that a thriving private sector will see the government not as a provider but as accountable to taxpayers. Education, healthcare, the role of the media and the Internet all show the chasms that separate his revolution from the U.S. Not least, Cuba must become self-critical, it must open its books and show what its economic baseline really is. Investors will demand this. Other people's money is no longer an option for the Castros.

The U.S. revolution has also now humbly changed direction on Cuba. It must follow up with agile and sensitive diplomacy. One thing the U.S. needs to address is public diplomacy. American creative minds will be thinking how to show the Cuban people that there is a visible wish to engage -- Fulbright scholarships, sports collaboration, health-care projects, a Havana Major League Baseball franchise, a venture-capital fund for Cuban entrepreneurs. They need to push proactive collaboration on mainstream policy issues and scrap the clumsy and counterproductive funding of programs like Radio and TV Marti.

And, of course, the two revolutions will be competing still. Which approach can deliver the best outcome for Cuba in 5-10 years? Both share a common asset -- the interconnecting families of Cubans and Cuban Americans. The two revolutions combined to build this unique community. Fidel jettisoned the troublemakers who were not sent to jail. They came to the land of immigrants where there were no committees to defend the revolution, rather a network of individuals and businesses trying to better themselves. Fidel sent other Cubans to work for the revolution overseas as fighters or doctors. But these were Cubans "owned" by the government. In 2015, Cuban Americans will be the most likely to rebuild the Cuba they find, and not await the results of change. As in China, the ex-pats will lead the way to pull their compatriots out of poverty.

So both revolutions will have to downplay the rhetoric of rivalry -- this is not a world series. Both have failed to impose their will. Cuba will not build socialism through other peoples' money; neither will it soon espouse representative democracy. In the words of the great Cuba songwriter, Carlos Varela, "What does it matter who won or lost when the old dream has ended?" Both the U.S. and Cuban revolutions have to reinvent a dream.

This post is part of a Huffington Post blog series called "90 Miles: Rethinking the Future of U.S.-Cuba Relations." The series puts the spotlight on the emerging relations between two long-standing Western Hemisphere foes and will feature pre-eminent thought leaders from the public and private sectors, academia, the NGO community, and prominent observers from both countries. Read all the other posts in the series here.

If you'd like to contribute your own blog on this topic, send a 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.com (subject line: "90 Miles").