A friend has provided me with an illuminating article on Cuba’s current round of elections and the upcoming transition from the Castro brothers presumably to Miguel Diaz-Canel, that was written by William LeoGrande, a professor of government in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C. and a noted author and commentator on Cuba.
LeoGrande emphasizes that the elections come “at a delicate political moment. Castro’s ambitious economic reform program, the “updating” of the economy, is still a work in progress and has yet to significantly raise the standard of living of most Cubans. Moreover, it is encountering resistance from state and party bureaucrats who are loath to lose control over the levers of economic power and the perks those provide. The economy has also been struggling because of declining oil shipments from Venezuela, which sells oil to Cuba at subsidized prices, helping to ease Cuba’s chronic shortage of hard currency. . . . The resulting energy shortage has forced Cuba to impose drastic conservation measures and pushed the economy into a mild recession last year.”
Hurricane Irma has been another major problem for Cuba. According to LeoGrande, it inflicted “several billion dollars’ worth of damage as it tracked along the north coast before turning toward the Florida Keys. The storm hit some of Cuba’s most lucrative tourist resorts, cutting into the one sector of the economy that has enjoyed sustained growth in recent years. Most of the major hotels predicted they would reopen for business quickly, but the storm did enormous damage to the power grid, leaving large swaths of central Cuba in darkness.”
All of these problems have fueled “popular discontent over the economy and impatience with the slow pace of improvement . . . . In an independent opinion poll taken in late 2016, 46 percent of Cubans rated the nation’s economic performance as poor or very poor, 35 percent rated it as fair, and only 13 percent rated it as good or excellent. Solid majorities reported not seeing much economic progress in recent years for the country or themselves, and they had low expectations for the future.”
Moreover, Cuban people have “become more vocal in expressing . . . [their] discontent. The expansion of internet access, the ability of Cubans to travel abroad without state permission and Raul Castro’s own calls for more open debate about Cuba’s problems have fueled an increasingly robust public sphere.”
This discontent, however, faces major hurdles in electing candidates with these views. They have “formidable obstacles. First, no overt campaigning is allowed, so it is hard for candidates to run on an alternative policy agenda. In the absence of a formal campaign, people learn about candidates by word of mouth.” And the Communist Party of Cuba has the ability “to influence elections by mobilizing its members against candidates it regards as dissidents.”
Nevertheless, the next president, presumably Diaz-Canel, will face the challenge of balancing “the need for economic reform with the fear of change prevalent within key sectors of the political elite.”
 LeoGrande, Cuba After Castro: The Coming Elections and a Historic Changing of the Guard, World Politics Review (Oct. 17, 2017). A previous post set forth an overview of Cuba’s elections in 2017-2018.
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