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Speech at Baltic Working Forum on Cuba "Imparting Lessons Learned: Linking the Baltic Experience to the Promotion of Democracy in Cuba"

Dr. Laima Andrikienë
Member of the European Parliament
Vilnius, October 19, 2007

Some introductory remarks

The day that our conference is taking place here in Vilnius is October the 19th. Exactly on that day, 45 years ago the two-week crisis known to the world as the "Cuban Crisis" was at its height. Let me remind you: on October 14, 1962, the U.S. reconnaissance photographs taken by an American U-2 spy plane revealed the Soviet missile bases being built in Cuba. The President of the USA John F. Kennedy immediately concluded to impose a naval quarantine around Cuba and demanded that the Soviets remove all of their nuclear weapons from Cuba. In the meantime Soviet ships of war were sailing across the Atlantic. This was the time the world came closest ever to the nuclear war. Initially having denied the information about the deployment of the missiles in Cuba, the Soviets were presented as evidence the air shot pictures. The crisis was resolved by way of negotiations held between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev by telephone. The crisis ended after the Soviets agreed to dismantle the nuclear weapons in Cuba in return to Americans removing the nuclear facilities from Turkey. At that time many of those participating in this conference were not even born, and I was then only 4 years old. That is an old story but never forgotten.

A month ago, on September 19, Felipe Perez Roque, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba demanded once again that the USA lift the trade embargo against Cuba. As every year this month the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA) will vote on the Resolution on the revocation of trade embargo against Cuba. In the course of the last fifteen years the UNGA has been recommending the USA to lift the embargo. Last year only 4 states voted in favour of extending the imposition, 183 were against, and one state abstained. The Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs has quantified the damage that Cuba has suffered since the imposition of the embargo in 1962, – as much as 89 billion US dollars.

The US Government, as stated by its Trade Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, has no intention to yield, and reiterated that the Cuban embargo policy was a political success and will not be withdrawn as long as the present regime in Cuba remains in power. The legislators, however, from both – the Republican and the Democratic – parties this summer suggested opening exports of agricultural products to Cuba and relaxing the travel limitations, despite the opposition on the part of the White House. The Democrat Senator and the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus pushing forward a bill on the lifting of the embargo of agricultural products and the facilitation of the visa regime; yet there has not been a case in America that such bill is passed – due to insufficient support, or the threat of a Presidential veto.

Possibilities of the Cuban regime transformation and possible future trends currently are much more often on the agenda, since on July 31, 2006 Fidel Castro temporarily handed over the power to his brother Raul Castro, the Cuban Minister of Defence. On October 5, Caleb McCarry, who is also a participant of this conference, said that "for the first time in decades there is uncertainty". The USA and EU have been and are further calling Cuba to start liberalisation processes, ensure the respect for human rights, release political prisoners, etc. Thus, with Castro’s resignation or the weakening of his position significant changes can be expected to take place in Cuba which I am going further to briefly discuss.

The EU de facto has not developed any common position in respect of Cuba: it will suffice here to mention the policy of the Spanish Socialist Government or, say, the Czech Government.

Transformation scenarios and their potentials

The transformation of the Cuban regime may develop in a range of forms – it may be its further persistence or its overall collapse. The possibility of a sudden collapse of the regime is hardly probable, therefore, its gradual democratisation applying the experience of the Eastern and Central Europe as well as of the Baltic States should be considered as a more likely scenario.

Possibilities and character of the transformation of the Cuban regime depend to a much higher extent on the internal, rather than the external factors: 1) whether the regime will be able to consolidate the political system and resist the external pressure, or 2) the opposition will be able to mobilise and overturn the regime.

With that said, in my opinion, there are four possible scenarios that Cuba can continue along: 1) the handover of the power to the favourite of Fidel Castro / temporary handover to Raul Castro becomes permanent, the regime is legalised in one way or another, 2) "palace-coup" takes place, 3) consistent democratisation of the regime, 4) civil revolution.

The first scenario is the most advantageous for the current regime, for the democratic world – the third, and for the Cuban opposition – probably the fourth. The question is which scenario is the most realistic? None of them can be ruled out – once a jinnee is released from the bottle, no one can push it back – and we have all been witnesses to that (democracy launched by Mikhail Gorbachev, perestroika, glasnost – aspirations for the restoration of the statehood in the Baltic states – the breakup of the USSR).

The second scenario would be feasible if the factor of the heterogeneity of the Cuban elite is activated. This is why I have asked the Cubans, attending this conference, – is the Cuban elite - political, military, economic – homogeneous. Is there any tension or struggle going on between them? Or is there any "rising star" next to Raul Castro in the Communist party? Are there any people more democratically-minded or pro-Western within the Communist party? This factor could and should be taken advantage of.

An international factor could also play a role here, for example, another state (states) supporting not Raul Castro, but an alternative candidate from the same political – military (or economic) elite. On the other hand, the "palace-coup" scenario in view of its unpredictable outcomes possibly leading to deep political unrest is the least favourable. The most adverse possible outcome then would result if the situation becomes protracted and provokes a long-term instability in Cuba. On the contrary, a speedy takeover of the power if it is affected by moderate forces inclined to cooperate with the EU and the USA, would definitely trigger further democratic changes in Cuba.

Nevertheless, the first scenario seems to be most likely – no change of the political system, a smooth transfer of the power to the successor tolerated by most Cubans, the governing elite, the international community and, what matters most, Fidel Castro himself. Under this scenario perhaps the political, military and economic elite would concentrate around the favourite, the successor of Fidel Castro, who will be likely seeking to open a dialogue with the West. In Cuba’s case the power is being transferred with Fidel Castro aging and suffering from the failing health, still the process could be accelerated by some external impacts: the growing need to seek partners in the EU, opening of these countries to Havana (formal toleration of the "new" government). The overall environment is most conducive to exactly this scenario, and the critical preconditions for it to be realised are already in place: 1) any effective alternative to the existing regime is hardly feasible, 2) the regime is consistently developing a structure of loyal persons to take an overall control of the processes in the country, 3) the opposition is weak and is not able to resist the policy pursued by the Government.

Hence our mission is clear: to seek that the first scenario – transfer of power to the successor – as quickly as possible evolves into the third scenario – a gradual and unfailing democratisation of the regime.

This third scenario would mean alleviated repressions against the opposition and NGOs, implemented democratic reforms (above all, during the elections, and by ensuring the freedom of association and expression and opening for the influence of the EU (possibly also the USA). The scenario could be facilitated by: 1) the fundamental changes in the top levels of the Cuban government (that requires the resignation of Fidel Castro and the reduction of the influence of his closest allies at least to the extent allowing the alternative governing or opposition forces to compete on equal terms), 2) more active involvement of the EU, the USA and other democratic countries, and the shared understanding that the influence of the EU, and the involvement of its new Member States from the Eastern and Central Europe constitutes an important precondition for ensuring the political, economic and social stability of Cuba.

For the EU this scenario should be a priority as it would allow ensuring a consistent democratisation while avoiding any major turmoil and economic crises.

The fourth – the civil revolution – scenario, i.e. transfer of power after mass civil protests and resistance, if possible is provided with: 1) a certain revolutionary potential within the society with clear demands to the government comes into being (in particular under the conditions of the great economic recession and social disorders in Cuba), 2) a significant and a well-organised group capable of accepting the requirements of the society by promising fundamental reforms and the growth of welfare (birth of a reform movement of Cuba), 3) the presence of the weak political regime not capable of responding to the expectations and public pressure. Considering the present character of the Cuban regime and the low civil activeness, the civil revolution scenario is highly unlikely, nevertheless, cannot be ruled out as totally unrealistic.

The scenario under which the power is handed over to the favourite of Fidel Castro would allow a merge of the most likely (regime consolidation) scenario with the most preferable one (regime democratisation). This could likely facilitate the influence upon the transformation of the Cuban regime from the outside, and in the medium-term regime consolidation scenario can be expected to evolve into the scenario of the democratisation of Cuba.

Application of the Baltic experience

As an introduction I would like to mention certain items that were specific to the Baltic States, while not characteristic of Cuba. Above all, the political, economic, social transformation in the Baltic States was part of the national liberation movement, restoration of the statehood of the Baltic nations, which is not the case in Cuba. Secondly, a huge role was played by the USA – its moral and political support to the Baltics, the refusal to recognise the legitimacy of the incorporation of the Baltic States into the USSR. In Cuba’s case it is of utmost importance to consider the up till now successfully fuelled anti-American moods which will have its impact upon any efforts to develop or enforce any strategy.

So what would I suggest to Cuba basing myself on the Baltic experience? A five-year plan highlighting the following guidelines:

1) Economic reform programme: introduction of a self-supporting (cost accounting) in the Cuban state enterprises that would teach a country with a population in excess of 11 million the fundamentals of market economy within a shortest possible period of time; development of cooperation; creation of joint ventures with foreign capital; strengthening of private property, launch of small scale privatisation.

2) Liberalisation of the political system: elections, opportunities for people to say what they think about the government (I will not repeat the Gallup research results of this year but this is what the people of Cuba want!).

3) Liberalisation of the fiscal policy: to allow the circulation of foreign currencies in Cuba (now US dollar is functioning along peso), liberalisation of the foreign currency mode.

4) Social life reform, cultural invasion: unrestricted establishment of public and non-governmental organisations; freedom of press and speech; release of political prisoners. Cultural invasion: radio, TV programmes, broadcasting of TV channels of the EU countries (Spain?) to Cuba.

5) Liberalisation and intensification of people-to-people contacts: to improve communication of all kinds between the Cuban Diaspora in the USA and other countries and the people of Cuba: relaxation of the visa regime, liberalisation of parcels, and cash remittance procedures.

6) EU and USA financial and other support for all political, market economy, etc. reforms in Cuba. The greater the support, the better. Support shall be granted on certain conditions, i.e. the scope of the support is related to the extent of reforms. Support has to be focused to the areas most vital to the ordinary Cubans: hospitals, schools, universities, etc.

The purpose of all these reforms is the creation of the civil basis, of foundations for the civil society in Cuba, prevention of the authoritarian regime, creation and enhancement of democratic institutes, prevention of civil war, armed conflicts, and the victory of the colonel dictatorship, etc. The ultimate goal of this plan is the creation of the market economy, foundations (preconditions) of the democratic society in Cuba.

And the closing but still an essential remark: these reforms can be implemented, foundations of the democratic society, the market economy can be created in five years only provided the regime opens itself to the EU, and the USA cooperates with transitional regime having abolished the policy of isolation and trade. I think that we have to admit that all authoritarian regimes – in Cuba, North Korea, and Belarus – extend their existence taking advantage of the isolation policy that is used by the democratic world as a means of punishing the totalitarian regimes.