Domination, Contract, and Trust in the Cuban Transition


Paper prepared for

"Toward a New Cuba?: Legacies of Revolution"

Princeton University, April 1995

Miguel Angel Centeno

Draft, March 15, 1995

NB: This paper is meant to provide an introduction into some of the themes of the conference. Later versions will reflect presentations so as to provide an introduction for the proposed volume.


When Fidel Castro announced the beginning of the "special period in time of peace" in the Fall of 1990 he changed Cuba's old battle cry to "socialism or death". Immediately, wags in Havana wondered aloud if there was a difference between these two alternatives. Others wanted to know if these were the only two options available. This conference is an attempt to answer the last question. What paths are open to Cuba 36 years after the triumph of the Revolution and 6 years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall? What will Cuba look like in the 21st century?

In order to consider the alternatives we first need to ask the following questions (the provided answers reflect the "sense of the literature"):

Unknown, but the 1980s in Latin America demonstrated that suffering does not necessarily lead to rebellion.

Based on these admittedly uncertain answers (amplified in the pages below) we can imagine a variety of scenarios. Let us begin with three simple end-points or dependent variables and consider the accompanying paths. These three are political democracy, social order, and degree of market penetration.

Under the best conditions one hopes to find a democratically elected regime that has been able to make significant changes in economic policy while maintaining public order. Unfortunately we have few examples of these: The Czech Republic and Poland are the best examples from 1989, Spain in the late 1970s and early 1980s may be another. (I am not counting post-plebescite Chile since the economic transition was managed under an authoritarian regime). A second transition type sacrifices democracy for order and economic change. This is the classic variant of Pinochet Chile, PRI Mexico, and Deng China. Contemporary Russia may be an example of a third type: significant accomplishments in democratic reform with costs in levels of public order and ability to transform the economy. A fourth version is order maintained by stagnation. One example is post 1989 Romania, another may be present day Cuba. A final variant is chaos and failure on all counts best exemplified by Yugoslavia or Haiti.

Which one of these best fits Cuba? This paper does not attempt a formal prediction. Rather, it uses these "models" in order to explore and define the special obstacles and challenges facing any Cuban transition. As discussed below, one clear pattern emerges: the absence of instituional mechanisms through which Cuba can proceed to a political and economic redefinition. The three required qualities for a successful transition (whcih I am calling contracts, domination, and trust) demand in turn the development of political institutions able to manage this complex process. Unfortunately, the charactersitic that may best account for the longivity of the regime (Fidel's nationalist charisma) may be hampering the very developments that would make the transition smoother. Because of his central role, the discussion below is divided into two parts: scenarios including Fidel Castro and those requiring his exit.

Con Fidel

To an extent, almost everyone is assuming there will be change and that the status quo does not represent a viable long term option. The Cuban economic collapse cannot continue indefinitely. The Economist estimates a decline of nearly 50% in the economy from 1989 to 1993. Even with the expected slow-down of the decline, hardly anyone perceives a significant improvement in the Cuban economy in the near future, while most see a continued decline in living standards. Tourism has improved, but given the buyers' market in tropical paradises and the special pressures on Cuba, this has limited potential. Moreover, with greater publicity about the difficulties facing the population a visit to Cuba may no longer enjoy the political cachet of the past. The investments made by foreign businesses in other sectors (e.g. nickel) will take some time to develop. Even then, it is unlikely that they will replace the collapsed CMEA trade and investment. (Oil remains the wild card, but findings are still negative. We hope that the papers in the economic panel later today will give us a more concrete picture).

Meanwhile, the nutritional and health standards of the population are reaching crisis levels. The monthly rationed food basket only provides about 20 days of sustenance while hospitals no longer have basic medicines (El Pais, 6/28/95). "Option zero" is the strategy of the killing fields and no one (outside of Miami's AM stations) sees the Cuban government as some tropical Khmer Rouge.

The strategies that the government is using to provide some relief also present possible dangers. Farm markets and the legality of dollars have made conditions bearable for those who are lucky enough to have generous relatives in exile or a caballeria on which to plant vegetables. This money also allow Cuba to import those goods necessary to maintain the minimal economic infrastructure and tourist services. But, they also serve to reinforce the dollar apartheid which is increasingly resented by the unlucky many. As in much of the ex- socialist societies, the entry of the market has produced a reversal of class positions where professionals and managers have less access to key resources than do some blue-collar workers and farmers. This has produced noticeable social and political tensions. Moreover, both the markets and the greenbacks serve as a daily reminder of the failure of a regime and the collapse of its bravado. While Fidel and the regime still enjoy considerable support (especially in the countryside) discontent is growing. For example, in the Nation Assembly elections following the 4th PCC Congress, 31% of the ballots were invalidated or left blank and surveys indicate considerable disatisfaction with living conditions (Baloyra 1994, p. 31, Dominguez 1994).

I think we can all agree that whether socialist or capitalist, democratic or authoritarian, Cuba will have to undergo dramatic change in the coming years. Simply put, the "special period" is precisely that and cannot be politically or economically maintained for much longer. We have entered what we might call a random space in social scientific prediction-- change is coming, we just don't know when.

The Chinese Temptation

The Cuban leadership may be aware of the impossibility of maintaining the current status quo and may also be wary of the kind of chaos often associated with transitions (and described below). In that case, and in combination with some "healthy" self-interest, the so- called Chinese model may appear quite attractive. Descriptions of the preferred model as "socialist openings to the capitalist world" or "islands of capitalism in a sea of socialism" and of a bifurcated economy of capitalist trade and socialist domestic economy sound much like the Chinese policies (Roca 1993). In its old age, the regime may yet discover Lenin's fascination with Taylorism or Deng's pragmatic acceptance of many colored cats as long as they catch mice. Certainly the ability of the Chinese communists to maintain power and the willingness of the global community to accept Tiananmen would appeal to those who want to keep at least some aspects of the regime, if not only their jobs.

It is important, however, to emphasize that the Chinese model is not simply a question of perestroika without glasnost. Rather, the key to the Chinese success is the selective application of economic reform. China has managed to create extremely dynamic private entrepreneurship while at the same time maintaining much of the public sector. This has allowed it to both grow at a fantastic pace while also minimizing economic and social losses for large parts of the urban population. The Chinese model is essentially based on an over- populated countryside whose excess workers are willing to migrate and work for low wages and no benefits at the private firms. The government's share of these profits goes to maintaining the inefficient public sector which employs large parts of the population in the most strategic cities. All this is also fueled by the import of billions from both international capital and the overseas Chinese community assured by the political stability of the PRC.

What are Cuba's chances to replicate such a model? Some conditions are there: a rural sector able to pump food into in the cities in response to economic liberalization, potential interest from foreign investors, an exile community that for whatever reasons is willing to send large amounts of cash. One possible obstacle is that while the global market is willing to ignore China's politics in return for China's economics, Cuba would not enjoy the same largess; especially not from the United States or even from a Latin America ever more sensitive to the desires of Washington. Cuba is not a large enough plum to merit the kind of political backlash that such a permissive attitude would create. Florida's electoral votes weigh more than the potential returns from the Cuban market.

More important, Cuba cannot afford the massive budget deficits with which China has maintained its "iron ricebowl" and thus secured political stability nor can it sell its population at quite the same rate of the Chinese rural proletariat. Moreover, while China's reformers may feel that they need the long marchers (and vice versa), the cadre politics in Cuba would probably not be able to withstand the strain of the inevitable Tiananmen. Most importantly, the regime's continued dependence on Fidel's charisma makes it difficult to imagine how it could survive such a blow to the already frayed image of the comandante. (Our political change panelists will hopefully be able to further explore this issue).

Thus, it would appear that the long term viability of a Fidel-led regime is limited. This is not to deny the political genius of Fidel and his apparent inexhaustible number of lives. But it is arguable that the resource and legitimacy constraints under which the current regime operates require a change sooner rather than later.

It is relatively safe to say that Fidel will not go gently into the good night. It would go against everything we know of his character and personality to a) retire to Galicia or b) accept a gradual diminution of his power and an ideological shift away from his values. Although this will no doubt be one of the topics of conversations during our meals together this weekend, I do not see Fidel as a Gorbachev, a Nyere, or a Juan Carlos. It appears that the elite's readings of the collapse of communism emphasizes the weakening through democratic opening and political softening. From their point of view, compromise leads to disaster. (Smith 1992, p.98) Yet, as long as Fidel exists he will draw the wrath of enough political factions in the United States as to make a negotiated transition practically impossible. Cuba's transformation will require that he be pushed from the leadership: by the frailty of his own body or that of his bodyguard.

Sin Fidel

Despite the growing discontent mentioned above and the events of August 1994 it is unlikely that Fidel will be removed by a popular revolt. Among the few things on which sociologists of revolution and social movements agree is the importance of organization and resources: revolutionaries must have them, and the representatives of the status quo must not. The situation is quite the opposite in Cuba. The state is strong and civil society is weak. While the political events of the last few years should make us weary of predicting anything, it is improbable that the transition will begin from below.In the absence of privileged information, we do not know what the intra-regime security situation is in Cuba. The Abrantes and Ochoa case (and the less dramatic purges that began with the rectification campaign in 1986) demonstrated that Fidel still had the influence and control to eliminate an extremely popular military leader. Five years later, it still appears that Fidel has a very strong control over the PCC, the FAR and the MININT-- the only political institutions that count. There is no sign of the kind of intra-elite debate and conflict, for example, that accompanied the institution and then prohibition of the free peasant markets. (Rosenberg 1992)

Yet, as the various apparatchiks and middle-level military consider their lives and those of their children, as they look at the fate of many of their Eastern European counterparts, they must at least consider whether the patriarch might be better off dead. If the military sees itself as the only guarantor of political stability or independence (e.g. in view of a threatened US invasion), then it might act against the regime.

Will the regime collapse in some Wagnerian finale featuring either some hasty Ceausescu trial of Fidel and Raul or street fighting between various successors of Fidel? Or will forces inside the regime be able to negotiate a transition from Fidel? No one knows. Let us just for the moment assume that Fidel is gone. The two most likely candidates for leadership would be Raul Castro or some junta including Carlos Lage, Ricardo Alarcon, Roberto Robaina, etc. The first could count on the immediate support of the armed forces high command, but would have to carry significant political baggage. The second might be more acceptable to the United States and other foreign actors as well as the domestic opposition, but could not necessarily count on the support of any armed force. What then?


One of the crucial elements of any transition is the maintenance of public order and political legitimacy in the midst of radical change. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of post-1989 Eastern Europe is that the institutional transfer of power went relatively smoothly. In no country (with the exception of Romania) was the period between CP rule and whatever alternative followed marked by prolonged confusion regarding who would take over. Again, with the exception of Romania and the special cases of Russia and China, there was surprisingly little violence involved. All of our studies of transition periods indicate that very strong hands are needed in order to manage this process; political chaos is not a route to democracy or the market.

The worst possible scenario is the breakdown of all institutional and social order accompanied by little substantial change. Fortunately, the most dramatic cases of political chaos in the past decade (Yugoslavia, the ex-Soviet Caucasuses, Rwanda) have been largely driven by forces alien to Cuba: regional differences and ethnic conflicts. While there remain critical gulfs between the famous llano and sierra and between the east and west of the island, the solidity of Cuba as a nation state entity is as assured as any political institution can be.

While Cuba can count on avoiding these kinds of difficulties, other scenarios may present problems. Fidel's departure will most probably signal the end of the regime. Unfortunately the sudden departure of el comandante makes the moderate "Brazilian" style transition very unlikely. It is difficult to imagine that large parts of the population would not use this occasion to signal their discontent. While the government was able to put down the Summer 1994 riots, it could probably not deal with much larger manifestations. A Cuba without Fidel will produce a political vacuum, at least in the short term.

Essentially, the capacity for order will rest on the ability of the FAR or the Interior Ministry to maintain some institutional coherence. Whether this will take the form of an explicitly military government or through tacit support for a civilian regime is impossible to predict. Both MININT and the FAR seem to be organizationally dependable and the long standing quarrel between the two appears to have been resolved after 1989 making a Romanian scenario less likely. There is considerable tension within the FAR, however, between military "professionals" and party apparatchiks, between generations, and between Angola veterans and those who did not participate in their "international duty". (Phyllis Greene, p. 61) Despite these tensions, at this point, it would appear that the FAR could provide the basis for a post-Fidel regime, thus avoiding a total disintegration. It would seem, then, that the best way to preserve order is to offer those institutions with access to the means of violence some role in the new Cuba. This may even involve having to forgive some sins and forget slights. The cooperation of the FAR and/or the Interior Ministry may be so essential as to justify a loss of memory.

With this in mind, the Miami community could represent a challenge. If the post- Fidel government fails to resolve the succession quickly enough, if demonstrations go on over an extended period, if forces such as the CANF perceive a weakening or if enough individuals decide that this is the moment to intervene, a process of political violence could begin in Cuba that would be difficult to stop or control. The violence of the transitions in 1933 and 1959 should serve as a warning. The emotional baggage of 36 years is considerable, especially when combined with those aspects of Cuban political culture that so venerate the violent and futile gesture. (We can look forward to Max Castro's and Alejandro Portes' comments in this regard).

In the most spectacular version of such a scenario enough chaos and political anarchy would result in political pressure for the United States to intervene. Despite the new Republican isolationism, it would be difficult for even Pat Buchanan to resist calls to "save Cuba from a return to Communism", especially given the many debts to the Cuban exile right. Such an intervention would be a disaster. Whatever the weakness of the regime, an intervention by the United States would touch so many historical memories as to unite much of the island to resist. The FAR may not be up to the levels of efficiency it demonstrated in Southern Africa, but it would provide much greater resistance than the Haitian police or the Somali clans.

The Russian Nightmare

Chaos scenarios do not have to be dramatic as those in Yugoslavia or Rwanda. A somewhat less sensational alternative is a Russian scenario in which the central government maintains command over military and major political functions, but loses control over much of the country to local powers, and control over the streets to a variety of criminals. In this case, the trains still run on time, but you may be mugged while riding them.

With regards crime, it may be important that Cuba has not developed the type of black economy seen in the last ten years of the Soviet Union (and I hope that Dr. Perez-Lopez will illuminate this discussion). That is, the black market that exists involves sale of goods and prostitution, but not million dollar deals with mineral exports to international buyers. I have seen no evidence of the existence of Cuban equivalents to the mafia, for example, that runs a good part of Moscow. This is not to deny the increases in juvenile delinquency and petty crime that all observers have noted since 1990. But, the next Cuban government will not necessarily have to fear an already organized, trained and armed criminal force ready to pounce on the market. The one possible danger here is that the drug cartels may see a political weakening in Cuba as an opportunity to establish a haven only 90 miles from Florida. Certainly the experience of Panama and Colombia make this a potentially critical issue.

Nor does Cuba have to deal with the geographical distances and linguistic and cultural barriers that have made federalism something of an euphemism in Russia. While it is not impossible to imagine some guerrilla activity in the Escambray or the Sierra (from a variety of political viewpoints), whoever controls Havana, will also control Oriente.

A more applicable lesson from the Russian experience is the political vacuum left by the disappearance of the one institution on which the organizational infrastructure of the state depends: the Communist Party. There has been a continuing debate regarding the degree of "bureaucratization" of the regime. The critical issue is not the extent to which Fidel rules, but the survival of some level of institutional rule following regime change.

Even if the FAR can provide some basic order, it is not the kind of political machine on which a new democratic regime could be based. The problem is that Cuba has not developed the kind of "middle-man" organizations capable of managing the transition. (Baloyra, 1994, p. 26) If Cuba is to avoid the fate of the former Soviet Union, the continuity of the PCC or of some of the governmental organizations such as Organs of Popular Power may be essential. This would require even more of a "historical amnesia" on the part of crucial players such as the U.S. and exile groups. Their likely objections might necessitate a very different type of transition. Authoritarian Capitalism

There is, of course, what might be called the East-Asian model in which economic change is directed by a non-democratic state. We are probably all familiar with the oft-heard argument that it is impossible to deliver both economic benefits and democracy. Let us follow the logic of this assertion with one simple example which I hope Julie Feinsilver can describe in detail later on: the Cuban health system. No democratic politician is going to win any contest in Cuba running on the abolition of the system that has accomplished so much. Yet, it is likely that the economic regeneration of Cuba will require either fewer government resources or shifting attention towards medical tourism and away from basic public health. How can the political logic of one and the economic logic of the other be reconciled? Or take another example: various studies have documented the extremely lax work discipline in Cuban enterprises. Anecdotal accounts of tourist visits to Cuba tell of horrific and rude service. If Cuba is to reconstruct its tourism industry it will need a work force ready and able to perform at the snap of the visitors' fingers. A population not accustomed to this may respond with organized labor action with the expected counter-response of foreign investors. On which side will the government fall?

Signs of an answer may be detected in some of the latest proclamations from the Cuban government. In a speech to foreign investors at the Havana International Fair in 1994, Carlos Lage emphasized the appeal of Cuba as an "orderly country [with] a hard working, devoted, highly educated and trained people; a society without terrorism or drugs." Already, the regime is following the pattern of the NIC's is creating a cadre of technical and professional personnel who have (in Fidel Castro's words) "mastered the science of organization and management". (Fitzgerald 1990, p. 199) Could they, in alliance with a properly re-named FAR, lead a transition?

In this case, all trappings of the communist past would be abandoned following a military coup or at least a Romania-like imitation of one. The major difference with the Chinese scenario would be the much more forceful imposition of a new economic order accompanied by more explicit and systemic violence. This might even be accompanied by the participation of elements of the exile right wing whose commitment to democratic values often seems limited by expediency.

Such a regime would resemble Pinochet Chile or pre-1992 Korea more than PRI Mexico or KMT Taiwan. As Ernesto Zedillo has found out, the technocratic revolution in Mexico owed a great deal to the institutional continuity of the so-called dinosaurs. It was the thousands (if not millions) of party hacks and associated hangers on without Ivy League degrees that provided the political stability with which to impose the economic draconism. Again, Cuba does not posses such an institutional resource. The CDR's are remarkedly efficient repressive mechanisms and the Organs have served to provide some response to daily problems and complaints, but neither one can "deliver" the population. Precisely because of the over-reliance on Fidel's charismatic authority, which has increased following the "purge" of the elite in the late 1980's, the regime does not have the symbolic or institutional slack needed to manage the delicate balance of imposing neo-liberal policies while maintaining legitimacy and control.

It is unclear how the United States would respond to a military capitalist-authoritarian Cuba. Almost 6 years of chaos in Eastern Europe and the shocks from Mexico during the past 18 months have done a great deal to reduce American observers' thresholds of political respectability. One can imagine editorials in the Wall Street Journal castigating "radicalized" Cubans for demanding more than their now "fiscally responsible" government can provide and offering sympathetic support and understanding to the post-Castro "Cuban National Front of Salvation".

The longer the current condition continues, the longer the Cuban economy degenerates, and the longer organized and institutionalized politics becomes a thing of the past, the more likely it will be that such an alternative be deemed inescapable. Before accepting such a pessimistic fate, however, let us analyze the likelihood of a more democratic transition. A Socialist Democracy?

While it may be an empirically null set, it is worthwhile to analyze the reverse scenario in which a democratically elected government maintains central control over the economy. Not withstanding Schumpeterian arguments against such a development, it is not impossible that the Cuban population would at least attempt to both express its political and economic voices while also choosing to maintain the economic equality and social services under which it has grown.

Such a development could only arise after a peaceful transition inside the island led by an organized dissident group. This first condition already makes it an unlikely outcome of the current crisis. The combination of nationalist legitimacy, efficient repression, and the availability of exit through exile have contributed to Cuba's relatively feeble dissident movement. The Church certainly does not provide the kind of institutional base which was so important in both the Polish and East German cases. So far, we know of no Vaclav Havel around whom various forces and groups can unite, at least for the short term. Ochoa might have served as a Yeltsin, but no one inside the government seems willing to challenge Fidel's power. Also, given the ideological tide toward the right, it is conceivable that a majority of the Cuban population would favor a rightist electoral alternative.

Moreover, even if such a transition took place it would face two overwhelming obstacles. First, it is unlikely that the United States and the exile community would accept that democracy had produced a socialist Cuba. Second, the Cuban welfare system may have been partly a product of the regime's policy of collectivizing social goods, but it also depended on the considerable Soviet largesse. In an ironic twist, the only chance that Cuba may have of preserving its incredible accomplishments in health and education may be by following Mexico's strategy: serving as a model of American inspired policies and making its survival politically vital to the US.

Markets and Votes

The other desirable scenario would be a democratically elected government overseeing a conversion to the market and regenerating the economy. This is the pattern followed most successfully by Spain in the late 1970s and arguably by the Czech Republic and Poland in the 1980s. Looking at the Cuban case, it appears that it lacks the capacity to use mechanisms which seem essential to a peaceful and successful transformation. In a previous article I have called these contracts, domination, and trust.

Contracts include elite agreements, transition bargains, and social pacts that provide the frameworks for avoiding violence. They largely do so by providing assurances to the various players that worst case scenarios within the agreement are still preferable to likely outcomes of breaking the rules. In the Cuban case, critical issues might include the institutional viability of the FAR, the continued employment of the PCC and government apparat, and, perhaps most importantly, the status of property claims. This last issue will be specially difficult given the many exiles' expectations of financial revenge. It is unlikely, for example, that the large numbers of islanders living in ex-middle class neighborhoods such as Miramar, will accept being thrown out of their homes in the name of democracy and the sanctity of pre- revolutionary property. On the other hand, no post-Fidel government can ignore the issue of privatization and the many claims that will be made arising from events after 1959.

The biggest challenge here is the absence of organized forces that can both legitimately represent large sectors of the population and assure compliance with agreements once they are made. Contracts require negotiators and it is still unclear who these would be in the Cuban case. Political institutions provide channels through which demands can be articulated. They serve to distribute political favors. Perhaps most importantly, they impose a level of discipline of political actors. Finally, through the mechanism of representation and control they limit the number of relevant actors in any negotiation thus easing the bargaining that need take place before, during and after the transition.

In order to assure a successful transition, independent institutions must begin the develop in Cuba. Whether these be explicitly political, or more representative of what Robert Putnam has called "civic communities" does not matter. What is important is that the atomization produced through the combination of three decades of authoritarianism and the political vacuum following its collapse be curtailed through collective memberships. Only though such combinations can Cuba's future be protected and negotiated.

In any discussions of contracts it is also important to keep in mind the potential benefits available to the population from various outcomes. Cuba may have a much more difficult time in a transition precisely because the extent of state penetration into the society. The level of collectivization or socialization of economic activity was more extensive in Cuba than in Eastern Europe. Simultaneously, the provision of social services was more advanced on the island (Svejnar and Perez-Lopez, 1993). Thus, for large segments of the population, transition to the market may mean a loss of benefits without any obvious gain. Not the best circumstances under which to strike a bargain!

Contracts also require police ready to enforce them. Whatever the promise of freedom, all players involved in the Cuban transition must accept new limits on their actions. The exile community, for example, can no longer engage in the kind of fruitless confrontational politics at which it has become so expert. The post-transition forces will have to place some limits on the kind of popular demands they are willing to meet. The new state must be strong enough to ensure respect for private property, but it must also be able to impose fiscal controls so as to continue delivering public goods and preserve the incredible social and economic equality of the Revolution. Unfortunately, as we have seen in other transitions, the democratic states that are produced by them tend to have all of the problems of newborns: they are weak and require a great deal of loving care. They certainly do not have the capacity to guarantee fragile agreements.

In other transitions, external players such as the US or the EC have served to guarantee the rights of all relevant players thereby enabling contracts to be negotiated and, most important, be kept. Unfortunately for Cuba, the most likely candidate to do so, the US, is so closely associated with one side as to make its role problematic to say the least. The only hope in this regard is a strong commitment on the part of Latin American countries and/or Spain to serve as guarantors of whatever post-transition bargain is struck. Without such guarantees it is difficult to imagine how the various interests and factions can ever agree on a political solution, much less how to apportion the economic sacrifice sure to come.

The role of such guarantees is particularly relevant in a situation of such widely shared social distrust as in Cuba. The first obvious divide is between the population on the island and the exile community. One need only spend five minutes with representatives of either to realize that there is a not much faith in the trustworthiness of the other. The exiles see the islanders as failures requiring their guidance, the islanders see the exiles as potential oppressors.

Great divisions also pervade the respective communities. Despite the claims to be a monolithic force, the CANF only represents a part of the community, arguably a small minority. Other exiles see it as a threat to democracy, but have yet to produce an equally viable or public alternative. On the island divisions are even more complex. To begin with, Cuba avoided the civil rights movements of the 1960 by proclaiming racism dead on the island. Few would agree that this is true or that the Afro-Cuban population has truly been integrated. As Alejandro de la Fuente will demonstrate, the Afro-Cuban population will be quite understandably nervous about its status in any transition. Those who have benefitted from the social programs of the revolution will also distrust those who might benefit from its revocation. The divisions stemming from access to dollars or to nomenklatura privileges may also represent a significant obstacle.

Unity cannot be preserved forever, nor is it desirable in a country with as many real cleavages as Cuba. But, during the transition it may essential that all participants agree that they are part of a community which all have a share in maintaining and defending. Who or what will provide that cohesion is impossible to tell.

Given Cuba's past experience with demagogic leaders, it might appear foolhardy to suggest that the island needs yet another one to assure the successful transition. But, if not a caudillo, Cuban society requires a symbolic center on whose legitimacy and trustworthiness all can confide. Ten years ago, even Fidel could have metamorphosed into such a transition figure. No one appears on the horizon capable of assuming such a role. Combined with the organizational vacuum likely to follow a change in regimes, this might make impossible to democratically manage a transition. Once again, Cubans may be left softly singing, "Marti no debio de morir...".


Looking at Cuba during this special period, it appears that the problem is what Gramsci once called "a disastrous equilibrium". The regime may not collapse soon, but it is also not a viable choice. It needs the formulation of an alternative, yet has closed internal dissent and de-legitimized external pressure. The transition will require some institutional handmaiden, but only the patriarch can do so and he prefers to live in his isolated "autumn".

As I have emphasized above, the most difficult obstacle facing the transition is the absence of political organizations that could negotiate and enforce the new social and economic contracts. Fidelismo may be the most significant legacy of the revolution.

Perhaps the best model for the beginning of the Cuban transition (and I do not mean to make any implicit parallels here) is 1933. Much as in those years, we are likely to see (or are already seeing) the slow collapse of an institutional order whose legitimacy is increasingly suspect and whose ability to produce and distribute goods in the absence thereof is ever more strained. The fall will be accompanied with some random violence, but I am hoping that this is temporary-- at most a Bucharest. Whatever body establishes authority: be it a reconstituted army, some civic alliance of technocrats and popular groups, or a Miami led exile vanguard backed by Marines, they will have to deal with the real dilemma: After many years of sacrifice and hope how do you satisfy the population's political and economic aspirations? Let us hope that this time we do not get a Batista.