With the passing of Cuban President Fidel Castro this past weekend many people are left with fairly polarizing sadness or joy that the former revolutionary is no longer with us. Regardless if you view him as a champion of the people, striving for a fair and equal living for all, or an oppressive dictator squashing civil rights and freedoms, you can acknowledge that he has made his indomitable mark on Cuba. With his passing former expats and Cuban citizens alike are calling for a progressive change and movement forward for a more prosperous Cuba. Unfortunately one only needs to look across the Caribbean Sea to find an example of a stifling of progression and change in the wake of an infamous leaders passing.
For a look at what might be to come of Cuba in the future look at the parallels that have preceded them by fellow founding member of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, Venezuela. Former President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez similarly to Fidel Castro got his reputation as being a great freedom fighter. First attempting to gain power through numerous coup attempts, and after spending a few years in prison, he finally was elected President in 1998. His platform was based on the idea of “Bolivarian Revolution”, which was a nationalist platform which progressively adhered to a socialist perspective on turning the economic and poverty stricken country around. Similarly both Castro and Chavez never openly admitted to being socialists until they were deeply entrenched within their own presidencies. With a rallying cry of helping the poor and anti-imperialistic rhetoric, Chavez guided Venezuela for almost 15 years. Similarly to both Castro and Chavez ran on an During that time his policy of spending their nationalized oil revenue primarily on social programs, and often lost to corruption, caused several currency devaluations and economic downturns. At this point it is worth noting in regards to the corruption that for a leader whose policy is helping out the poorest people and railing against the rich “being rich is bad”, that his own daughter is the wealthiest person in Venezuela having an estimated net worth of 4.2 billion dollars while never having a job higher than deputy representative to the U.N. Similarly Castro is renowned to have bemoaned the rich and wealthy, while having amassed riches in the form of over 20 properties, his own private island, and a net worth north of 200 million dollars; oh the spoils of socialist regimes. Both men also were harsh censors of free speech and opposition, and used their prison system as an opposition holding tank for anyone who challenged their rule.
The danger however isn’t the destruction that they might have caused during their tyrannous rule; the danger is what happens next in these countries. In the wake of Chavez’s death, Nicolás Maduro, whose primary qualification to lead Venezuela was being a Chavez crony, was elected as President. He has since continued lock step with all of Chavez’s policies and run the country into one of the worst economic depressions it has ever experienced. Supermarkets are empty, basic hygienic products aren’t available, citizens are starving, and civil unrest is starting to boil over. The drop in price of oil has only exacerbated the deteriorating situation due to it being Venezuela’s main economic engine, one that for years was not only propping itself up, but Cuba as well in the way of petroleum assistance. Maduro is now faced with a country rife with crime, inflation, and without the necessary supplies to sustain a healthy functioning society, yet is still bullish in his chavismo ways to make changes to right the ship. Similarly in Cuba, the torch has been passed on to Fidel’s younger brother Raúl. Although tensions with the United States have eased up recently, a lot of the same policies and ideologies are carried on through the second iteration of the Castro hierarchy, much like Chavez’s successor.
This is the fear that one can have for Cuba. When you replace your leader who has turned your country into an economic wasteland with simply another figure head spouting the same policies and ideology, how can progress or change truly right the ship. Not to mention if your friend across the Caribbean is no longer able to prop you up with their oil reserves due to their own economic and civil unrest. For Cuba to shed it’s oppressive, exploitative, and abusive past it needs to take a serious look at the consequences of what continuing on failed policy will do to a nation and its people.