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Important Questions for the Cuban Revolution in 2016

2015 was a pivotal year for Cuban Revolution. After five decades of harassment aimed at toppling the government and bringing an end to socialism in Cuba, the United States finally relented, admitting in late 2014 that its policy of isolation was an abject failure.

2015 saw the formal reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the opening of embassies between the two long-time adversaries, the easing of travel restrictions, and the removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of “state-sponsors-of-terrorism.”

But the thaw in relations between Cuba and its hostile neighbor brings risks as well. The 1959 Cuban Revolution served to inspire millions throughout Latin America and beyond. The Cuban Revolution's continued perseverence over the unrelenting attacks by U.S. imperialism showed the world that the United States was not invincible and could be defeated, in their very “backyard.”

But the greatest modern threat to the revolution and its socialist model may now come this new friendlier approach toward Cuba.

1. How will the restoration of diplomatic relations with the U.S. affect Cuba's economy?

Many U.S. pundits and politicians remain hostile to Cuba. The more cynical amongst them, such as disgranced U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, fiercely opposed the warming of relations between his country and Cuba.

Others however see the reestablishment of diplomatic relations as another means to the same end – ending socialism in Cuba.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said as much when he told the media that this new approach would “"create a force for positive change in Cuba that more than 50 years of our current policy of exclusion could not achieve.”

IN DEPTH: Cuba-US Relations Continue to Evolve, Slowly

Opponents of Cuba’s revolution are betting on the idea that the key to change in Cuba is the economy.

Economically starved for 50 years as a result of the U.S. blockade, Cuba is in desperate need of investment. Preferential rates for Cuban exports to the Soviet Union before the collapse of the communist bloc and favorable deals with key ally Venezuela kept the economy afloat but major issues remain.

This is something recognized by Cuban President Raul Castro himself, who told the 20th Congress of the Cuban Workers' Federation in 2014, “I fully agree with you that the current wage system is not consistent with the socialist principle of distribution … It is also true that salaries do not meet the needs of workers or their families.”

The loosening of restrictions on U.S. investment in Cuba could inaugurate a flood of U.S. capital into the Cuban economy and possibly threaten the central role played by state enterprises in the planned economy.

The Cuban parliament recently approved a series of economic measures aimed at updating Cuba's socialist socioeconomic model, which, critically, includes provisions for welcoming foreign investment.

Keenly aware that critics may interpret these changes as a threat to the socialist model, Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade, said that “foreign investment neither sells the country nor is it a return to the past, as some have judged.”

“Rather it is a way of strengthening it economically which, when subject to the conditions established by the law, does not threaten the socialist system," Malmierca said.

The introduction of foreign investment and capital through the tourism industry has already created inequality in an economic model that is meant to strive for a class-less society.

Nonetheless, Cuban President Raul Castro has always maintained that the change in relations with the United States would not affect his country's economic or political model. In fact, he warned U.S. policy makers not to view this as an opportunity to undermine the country’s political system.

"In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours," said Raul Castro in late 2014.

That position was recently reiterated by Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs in the Cuban foreign ministry, who told reporters in December, “Cuba has always said ... it is not going to negotiate matters that are inherent to its internal system in exchange for an improvement in or the normalization of relations with the United States."

Respect for Cuba's political and economic system invariably means an end to foreign intervention and, most importantly, the end to U.S. economic blockade.

2. Will U.S. temper its foreign intervention in Cuba's domestic affairs?

In 2015, the U.N. General Assembly once again voted overwhelmingly (191 to 2) in favor of a resolution calling for an end to the U.S. blockade. Only the United States and Israel voted against the resolution – this despite the restoration of diplomatic relations.

Contrary to logic, according the report prepared by Cuba ahead of the vote at the U.N. the past year “has seen a toughening of the blockade in its financial and extraterritorial dimension, which can be seen in the imposition of million dollar fines on banks and financial institutions as the result of the persecution of Cuban international financial transactions.”

Cuban officials have been unambiguous, the normalization of relations can only be called normal with the end of the blockade.

Cuban President Raul Castro very recently called on his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama to use his executive powers to lift the blockade.

“The essential thing now is that President Barack Obama uses with determination his vast executive powers to modify the implementation of the blockade, which would give meaning to what has been achieved so far and permit for solid progress to continue,” said the Cuban president.

The blockade is perhaps the most visible and obvious act of interference but it is not the only one.

The U.S. continues to fund so-called “pro-democracy” groups inside Cuba. In fact when U.S. President Barack Obama floated the idea of visiting Cuba, one of the conditions he set for his potential visit was the ability to meet with these very groups along with other political dissidents.

Since being first elected U.S. president, Obama has often reiterated his pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. In addition to it being a site of torture and the illegal detention of alleged combatants, Guantanamo Bay is also an affront to the sovereignty of Cuba, which maintains that that portion of the island has been illegally occupied by the United States since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution that has repeatedly asked the United States to leave its territory.

The Cuban government has specified four conditions before relations are considered normalized, all relate to U.S. interference. These includes: that the United States leave the Guantanamo Bay detention camp; end the blockade against the island; end the “wet-foot-dry-foot” policy encouraging Cubans to pursue residency in the United States; and end anti-government radio and television transmissions into the island.  

3. Are there changes coming to Cuba's political leadership?   

Cuban President Raul Castro confirmed as recently as November that he intends to step down as president in 2018. His departure as the head of state will mark a major change in the country’s top political post since the triumph of the revolution in 1959.

Although 2018 is still a number of years away, a renewal of leadership inside Cuba could come much sooner as the Communist Party of Cuba will be holding its VII Congress in April 16, 2016. The date coincides with the 55th anniversary of the Declaration of the Socialist Nature of the Revolution.

The congress will review the work done since the last congress, held in 2011, where proposals for improving the Cuban economic and social model were debated and approved.

Although it is expected that Raul Castro will remain as First Secretary of the party, the congress will also elect the composition of its central committee, secretariat, and political bureau. Who comes to occupy these key posts will be an indication of what direction the Communist Party of Cuba intends to take.

A recent change also made it those serving in senior positions can only serve a maximum of two five-year terms, making the choice for incoming leadership of the party even more important and many of these figures will occupy senior positions within the state. The party has been pushing to increase the role and prominence of younger leaders since the last congress.

There is also speculation that an expanded role for the parliament will be debated. A similar proposal to increase the authority of local governments was previously debated by the Communist Party and is expected to be expanded as party leaders have indicated that they wish to see the role of the municipality strengthened.

  

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address:
"http://www.telesurtv.net/english/analysis/Important-Questions-for-the-Cuban-Revolution-in-2016-20151230-0042.html".

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