Castro and the Caudillo

Castro and the Caudillo

Mini Teaser: Francoism in Spain did not survive its namesake. Cuba’s brand of communism is likely to suffer a similar fate.

by Author(s): Irving Louis Horowitz

Franco declared in his last will and testament that the "enemies" of Spain-or rather those opposed to his rule-were also the enemies of Christian civilization. But in an unexpected twist of national politics, the very royal family employed by Franco as a tool against political secularism and social pluralism turned out to be a major instrument for a relatively quiescent and peaceful transition towards democracy.

Despite some of the more prevalent predictions regarding Cuba, my own thinking is that Cuba will become neither benevolent democracy nor benign dictatorship in the near future. Instead, one can expect a return to the classical Latin model of military authority. The fact that Raúl Castro has been Cuba's defense minister since the early 1960s and has also served as a direct representative of Fidel in strategic policy issues provides a linchpin and continuum that may not be royal but is certainly dynastic.

The Cuban military, the only solid force in the nation other than the Communist Party, will indeed inhibit, if not dismantle, the current communist apparatus. At the same time, it will severely limit tendencies toward multiparty change. Even if Raúl Castro is open to some sort of power-sharing arrangement with others, his own strong links to the armed forces almost ensure his role as maximum leader. The transition from the charismatic Fidel to Raúl will be characterized by an elevated public presence of Cuba's armed forces.

The pivotal importance of the military in Cuba arises not from general theory-which states that the armed forces were the praetorian guard of the working class-or from a Latin American inclination to champion the "man on horseback" in times of political malaise, but rather the decimation of all forms of Cuban civil authority: the virtual dissolution of an independent judiciary, the rubber-stamp, toothless nature of the legislative body and, above all, the Communist Party's assumption of executive powers.

The origin of the Cuban Revolution and its emergence as an armed struggle through guerrilla insurgencies and overseas adventures are a special feature of Cuban history. While in most other Latin American nations the military served internal police functions dedicated to the repression of popular movements, the armed forces in Cuba have not been seen as a comparable mechanism of repression. Its heroic image may have been tarnished over time by charges of corruption and even incompetence, but this was far more the case under the pre-Castro regime of Fulgencio Batista. The professionalization of the military under Castro's rule has created the unique basis for a post-Castro instrument of political transition.

The shattering impact of the Ochoa Affair of 1989-involving the trial and execution of a small clique of high-ranking military officials and heroes of foreign battlefields on charges of corruption and drug smuggling-did demoralize the military for a considerable time. But its reconstitution caused the Cuban armed forces to become increasingly professionalized-less a function of military choice than the level of punishment and reprimand.

One might reasonably argue that military authorities will yield to a civilian establishment predicated on liberal norms. But the special problems of Cuba will make this a very lengthy interregnum. The problems that the new regime must deal with are immense: racial strife between the large black minority and the white majority, a divide suppressed, rather than bridged, by Fidel; as well as a badly damaged infrastructure, from urban housing to medical facilities; to an educational system that is so rooted in ideology as to destroy scientific advances found elsewhere in Latin America.

The issue of private property is not simply one of establishing a healthy business climate, but the restoration of business and property to former ownership. This is an issue that extends into the relationship between the exile communities within the United States and the potential entrepreneurial forces within Cuba. Especially important will be the handling of the huge unrequited demand for new goods and services. In short, absent a fully operational civil-administrative state, which has been severely damaged by Castro, the armed forces, whatever their limitations, will in all likelihood be required to supervise such a national transformation.

The End of Francoism and Castroism

WHAT I will forward with some certitude is that the same final judgment made by the fine historian Raymond Carr on the Spanish tyrant Franco will also await the Cuban tyrant, Fidel Castro: "His rule, he claimed, would be for life. And so it turned out to be. But ‘the novel solution' could not outlast its architect. There was no Francoism after Franco." And so it will be with Fidel Castro: There will be no Castroism after Castro.

The common aspects of Francoism and Castroism limit their continuation. Both were driven by a cult of personality that becomes difficult to extend beyond the life of the person. And the sweeping repression so central to both dictatorships depends on an image of invincibility that is often undermined by the death of the leader. The reliance on foreign allies generally makes the dictatorship less tenable and the dependence on a command economy becomes unsustainable, particularly in the current Cuban context.

The expected death of Castroism becomes the ultimate irony and penalty of foisting upon a decent people a truncated Marxism-Stalinism, making endless appeals to personal sacrifice and metaphysical history, instead of governing through modest guidance and the presumption that human beings are quite capable of determining their own lives.

Irving Louis Horowitz is the Hannah Arendt distinguished university professor of sociology and political science at Rutgers University. He has published eleven editions of Cuban Communism (Transaction Publishers) and the Bacardi Lectures on Cuban Politics and Culture in an American Context, The Conscience of Worms and the Cowardice of Lions. He is currently at work on a volume of essays, The Theory and Practice of Cuban Communism: 1959-2007.

Essay Types: Essay