Cuba's Transition

By Demarest, Geoff | Military Review, May/June 2001 | Go to article overview

Cuba's Transition


Demarest, Geoff, Military Review


The descendant of the Rebel Army, today's FAR has a tradition of civic soldiering, and the population considers it an efficient, productive, organized and qualified landlord. The FAR has participated in little direct repression, is not associated with the collapse of communism and is considered less corrupt than other institutions.

THE CASTRO REVOLUTION is a survivor. A decade ago history had seemingly caught up with perennial predictions of the regime's imminent collapse. Its hero was long in the tooth, and its geostrategic godfather was dead. Nevertheless, Fidel Castro and Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) chief Raul Castro remained in power. The Castro brothers' role as impudent David to Uncle Sam's ambiguous Goliath subdued the kind of international rejection that might have rendered communist Cuba a pariah state. Solidarity with the dictatorship has been as great, if not greater, than solidarity among those who wish to see it fall. Analysts who had relegated any Cuban contingency to a back burner among national strategic concerns were correct. Castro was not going to be overthrown from within and, therefore, not at all. Still, someday Cuba's opening will occur, and the possibility of violence keeps it worthy of our military attention.1

US policy objectives and events on the island will define Cuban-related US military missions once Fidel Castro is no longer dictator. The US Army role, if any, could center around stability and support operations on behalf of law enforcement and aid agencies. Current scholarship regarding the probable face of post-Castro Cuba lends hope that changes there will be peaceful. However, even a peaceful transition could include dysfunction and unrest-a Cuban Sturm and Drang marked by corruption, street crime, economic tumult and the potential for even more serious instability. There are too many ingredients that promote civil violence to expect trouble-free transition to a free society. Whatever the level of unrest, however, and almost regardless of the objectives pursued, rational transition in Cuba will involve three centers of gravity: property rights, the FAR and the Internet.

These three things, if not mastered, can threaten the achievement of US policy objectives. Each resides on a distinct conceptual plane. One, property is the key to realizing long-term social and economic goals. The FAR, on the other hand, is an institutional, political center of gravity. Finally, the Internet (as shorthand for new information technologies generally) is the linchpin to argument and perception. Only in light of these three central subjects can the US military determine its optimal role in what may be one of the most broadly engaging interagency campaigns ever undertaken. The Army may be called upon to reach out to its Cuban counterpart with an open hand rather than a closed fist.

Center of Gravity 1: Property Rights

Real estate is not the only kind of property that will be hotly contested in Cuba. Utility concessions, contracts, bandwidth, overflight and regulatory controls-all property interests-will be disputed. In addition to these tangible slices of property, another property rights question clearly ties property to ideology and describes why the possibility of gradual reform is slight and why changes in Cuban society will be rapid.

Property is quickly becoming the key word in international-development theory. In 2000, Hernando deSoto's The Mystery of Capital exposed a lost fact of economic development.2 DeSoto concluded that widespread material well-being occurs only if a formal property system defines and protects ownership. A stable property regime properly identifies and titles property, has a credible system of peaceably quitting titles, makes title insurance available, and has a transparent and responsive market.3 Unless the poor can generate the intangible quantity called capital, their economic progress will be stunted.4

The deSoto theory is an important milestone paralleled by other works that identify property at the base of most conflicts. …

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