Pepe Escobar: Cuba in transition to more open socialist society
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: So the Cuban press has announced that Fidel Castro will not be running for reelection as president. This became an enormous story around the world today. When I first heard it, Pepe, I actually couldn’t quite understand why it was such a big story. It seems to me he hasn’t been president for a while. And the fact is that the change to his brother or to whoever becomes the next leader, there’s no reason to think it’s going to make some dramatic change in the course Cuba is on. What did you make of this story?
PEPE ESCOBAR, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: The story in itself, it’s not groundbreaking, because Fidel was not the acting president since July 2006. Raúl Castro, his brother, is the acting president. The symbolism of Fidel stepping down is huge, so I can understand especially the mainstream media all over the world jumping on it. After all, this guy has been there for 49 years, he outlasted and outwitted 10 US presidents, and he was not shot, he was not poisoned by the CIA. He just decided to step down because of health reasons. But nothing’s going to change substantially in Cuba. What Fidel has been trying to smooth over the fact five or six years, is the transition. And the transition is there. Raúl Castro is going to be the next president. After that, they need a congress of the Communist Party to ratify the whole thing. And this will go on for awhile. The next step is probably going to be after Raúl Castro. So Raúl’s probably going to be in power for what? Three, four, five more years. After that comes the new generation, and then we’re going to see maybe some social change, because the new generation, probably the guy’s going to be Carlos Lage. He’s only 56. At the moment, he’s the acting prime minister. He’s a pediatrician. He knows a lot about about US politics and history. So he will probably be, you know, the guy who’s going to make the transition of the revolution towards a more, let’s say, relatively open system.
JAY: He’s been quoted as saying that he will stand for continuity and that not to think there’ll be such dramatic changes with him.
ESCOBAR: Absolutely. So for the next, let’s say, two, three, four years, there’s going to be continuity. Don’t expect Cuba to embrace free-market capitalism tomorrow, and don’t expect Cuba to have a Gorbachev in the person of Raúl Castro. No way. It’s not going to be a Chinese model, of course, because there’s going to be an opening. I’ll give you an example. Lula, the Brazilian president, met with Fidel last month in Havana. And what we learned is that Lula told us, in fact, here in Brazil that Fidel told him that he was going more or less to be in the background like a kind of elder statesman, and this is what we should read in today’s message. He’s going to be a figure like Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, the elder statesman. He’s going to be a pundit, actually, because he’s already writing almost every day for Granma, the Communist Party newspaper. He writes about everything, about Chavez, about Latin America, about imperialism, about oil, about American foreign policy, about books he’s reading. So he’s going to be out there, the writer/elder statesman. And Raúl, with the collective leadership, are going to organize this smooth transition.
JAY: When you say “organize this smooth transition,” why do you think there’s going to be a transition to free market? I mean, I’ve been to Cuba—.
ESCOBAR: No, no, no. No. It’s not transition towards free market as I told you. It’s going to be a transition towards a more open society. So they’re going to combine, let’s say, they are public service achievements, they are extraordinary achievements in health and education, for instance, with, you know, they need to invest money in infrastructure, in transportation. You know, they need to sell something extra for the rest of the world. So even from the American point of view, they need investment from US businessmen, as they want investment from the Spanish, and from the Brazilians as well. In fact, Lula and Fidel last time they discussed, like, a sort of Brazilian businessmen stampede towards Cuba to make Cuba kind of a vast platform for Brazilian products to be exported to the US. So we’re going to see that. At the same time, we’re going to see likely loosening of the political process, because the younger generation, there’s people who were born after the revolution. Their memory of the revolution is watching ICAIC the federal organ of cinema in documentaries in Cuba and photographs. And their experience is globalized. In fact, they have access to the Internet. And even if they don’t, they’re not fluent in English. They read the Internet in Spanish, so they know what’s happening all over Latin America especially.
JAY: Often the Cuban standard of living for ordinary people is compared often to the lifestyle in the United States. And for most Americans, the Cuban standard of living in some cases doesn’t compare that well. But what I don’t often hear is a comparison to other Caribbean countries, which would seem to me a fairer comparison. For an ordinary person, how would life in Cuba compare to living in, say, Latin American countries or in Caribbean countries?
ESCOBAR: That’s a very good question. You cannot compare a developing country’s standards to an over-developed country’s standard, with US or western Europe for that matter. But, you know, anybody from living elsewhere in Latin America, when you go to Cuba, the first thing that you notice is that there’s virtually no unemployment. The health and education indicators are absolutely staggering. It’s unimaginable in any other Latin American country. There’s no hunger, for that matter. People are able to feed themselves, even though facing enormous difficulties. People, they are so well educated. You see Cuban doctors in Venezuela, Cuban doctors in Bolivia as well. So compared to most of Latin America, it’s outstanding. So we can say that socialism, in this sphere at least, it worked. It didn’t work, and it could not work in terms of freedom of expression. It’s true. If you criticize the Communist Party frontally, you go to jail. In fact, they are already liberating some political prisoners. They liberated four political prisoners in these last two or three days. So this is going to happen as well.
JAY: Pepe, how do you account for such a different attitude towards Cuba in Latin America than in the United States?
ESCOBAR: It’s very hard for people in the north to understand how Cuba is vital, is so important for people in the south. I mean not only Latin America but all over the developing world. Parts of Asia, in the Middle East, especially in Africa. Fidel was always seen as a true liberator, like another Simón Bolivar. Even with his mistakes, of course, like, you know, the elite in Latin America used to say that Fidel was an autocrat, if not a dictator. Okay, this may be true, but at the same time, they see he was basically an anti-imperialist. And that’s how most people in Latin America, especially the young, view Fidel.
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