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When an autocratic regime falls, a free and open society is not an indubitable outcome. Not all political transitions are democratic. Some democratization processes are reversed. Others only migrate to different formats of despotism. Some are quite clever. Samuel P. Huntington argued in his 1991 book, The Third Wave, that major surges in democratic shifts occur in block and are part of historical trends. The American political scientist also noted that these seminal proceedings are often overturned.
Politics is dynamic. Dictatorships realize that to stay in power, they must reformulate their model from time to time. Castro-Communism has serious survivability issues. The necessity to still exercise brutal forms of state terrorism against its people—after over six decades of totalitarian control—is most frustrating, from a tyrant’s perspective. While each case always contains sui generis elements, there are various non-democratic options that the Marxist regime in Cuba can attempt to emulate.
There are the Chinese and Vietnamese models. These single-party communist dictatorships have revamped their economic systems along with party-controlled, market models that coexist with a Leninist state. Marxist ideology with nationalist particularities is still official dogma. The São Paulo Forum dictatorial sketch, an invention of the late Cuban tyrant Fidel Castro, is another option. This format is designed to mimic a “democracy.” It has rigged voting processes, an ineffective quasi-opposition, salient limits to freedom, no rule of law, and schemes that co-opt the business and military realms.
In Russia, following the collapse of the USSR, a post-Soviet dictatorial model surged that caused many in the West to believe that the Eurasian giant was undergoing a democratic transition. Perhaps that was Boris Yeltsin’s intention. The maverick reformer, however, probably figured out what Mikhail Gorbachev learned the hard way: the Soviet bureaucracy, intelligence, military, and top-party echelon were not going to part easily with the perks of power. Russia’s “privatization” scheme was a literal license to steal for a smeared capitalism. The Sandinista Marxists called this the “piñata.”
Vladimir Putin perfected the kleptocratic autocracy that was built in Russia, in the 1990s. This authoritarian model is worthy of the name, “Putinism.” By 2000, Putin became the de facto dictator. Within a few years, the organized crime format that was prevalent in post-Soviet Russia was overhauled into a highly personalistic dictatorship, where all the tentacles of power: economic, political, intelligence, and military, were beholden to him. An economic class of oligarchs would be made rich, thanks to Putinism. The sociologist, Max Weber, would have labeled this leadership type as sultanism.
The Castro regime currently shares many of the characteristics of Putin’s Russia. Communist Cuba, it must be stressed, is still totalitarian in structure. The post-Soviet dictatorship in Russia is authoritarian. Russians enjoy greater spaces of movement and are materially in better predicaments. They are not, however, free. The Russian transition from totalitarianism to authoritarianism witnessed the largest privatization scheme in history. Large enterprises were auctioned to select bidders by way of government loans for shares, questionable voucher proposals, and other nebulous mechanisms. The result was an oligarchy, first criminal and then politically controlled. Putin’s authoritarian paradigm annulled any institution that could check his power.
Cuban communism’s economy is today a mixture of state and concessionary (crony) capitalism. The Castroite state-owned enterprises (SOE) directly control 75% of the economy. In the tourist sector, that figure is even higher. The current Cuban economic arrangement would lend itself perfectly for a similar “privatization” scheme. Cuba’s wealth has already been plundered among the Castro brothers, family members, their associates, and the ruling elite. Like Putin’s oligarchs, most of them live, full or part-time, in the West. Many have even adopted dual citizenship or foreign residencies. This is an attempt to shield ill-gotten assets.
Disinformation for the Putin regime, as well as for Castro-Communism, is a way of life. Both dictatorships invest enormously in the field of painting false images that suit their political objectives, through intelligence and counterintelligence operations. Putinism and Castroism are, inherently, imperialistic. The highly personalistic, caudillo-like leadership mode of executive power is another common denominator shared by both dictatorships. Party institutionalization is weak in both regimes. The legal system is arbitrary and serves Putinism and Castroism in similar fashions.
Cuban communism will surely incorporate elements from the other dictatorial models that cling to some notion of ideological underpinning, even in name only. Pieces of the Chinese and Vietnamese models will be incorporated. However, Putinism offers the Castro regime a comfortable starting point from which to migrate its tyrannical model. Forces of freedom must be alert to this ploy. The only successful democratization transition in Cuba, will first have to pass through the liberation process and then transitional justice. The errors of others must not be repeated.
Julio M Shiling, political scientist, writer, director of Patria de Martí and The Cuban American Voice, lecturer and media commentator. A native of Cuba, he currently lives in the United States. Twitter: @JulioMShiling // Julio es politólogo, escritor, director de Patria de Martí y The Cuban American Voice. Conferenciante y comentarista en los medios. Natural de Cuba, vive actualmente en EE UU.