CUBA: READY TO EXIT ITS EVOLUTIONARY CUL-DE-SAC?
Visions from Two Theories
A place to put musings and other materials about:
How and why people's space-time-action orientations (STA)affect their
How and why four major forms of organization — tribes, hierarchical
institutions, markets, and networks (TIMN) —
affect social evolution.
— a TIMN perspective
CUBA: READY TO EXIT ITS EVOLUTIONARY CUL-DE-SAC?
"…assuming that the post-Fidel regime endures,
the model it prefers next may be a mild kind of fascism
rather than a potential liberal democracy…"
By Dr. David Ronfeldt
Two Theories Blogspot
Armando F. Mastrapa
Board of Directors
La Nueva Cuba
July 26, 2009
I haven't worked on Cuban issues for over ten years. But I still discuss
Cuba and Castro with former co-authors. And I perked up when I saw that
the Obama administration was offering to hold new talks with Cuban
officials. I also recalled that I had once drafted a few paragraphs
about Cuba's system and Castro's worldview from a TIMN perspective. As a
result, I've gone and revisited my old notes, done a bit of new reading,
and written the following little essay.
It may seem rather hard on the Castro regime and Fidel's views, but that
is not my main intent. I think Cuba is an interesting case for
illuminating some theoretical principles that may be important for
building the TIMN framework and understanding its implications for how
to achieve social evolution. Fidel represents violations and departures
from many of those principles:
Castro is about centralization and control, whereas TIMN is also about
decentralization and decontrol.
Castro is about the fusion of two forms (T and I) and the rejection of a
third (M). TIMN is about the balanced, separated, regulated growth of
each and all forms.
Castro is about the bright sides of two forms (T and I) and only the
dark side of the third (M). TIMN involves recognizing that all the forms
have both bright and dark sides — and dealing with them.
I plan to be clear about all that and more in a new theoretical post
before long. For now, I mention it as background for showing where I'm
headed — and to hope that this post is of interest to readers other than
maybe a few Castro/Cuba specialists.
* * * * *
One aim of the TIMN framework is to provide clarity as to why systems
like Cuba's are so limited — in fact, self-limiting. The framework also
shows how to think about Cuba's future from an evolutionary standpoint.
Briefly stated: In the name of revolution, Fidel Castro committed a
strategic error of devolutionary proportions. He rejected developing
Cuba in T+I+M directions, and fell back to construct a hyper T+I system.
If this could have served to prepare Cuba for an eventual new transition
to a +M system, the outlook for post-Castro Cuba might be promising. But
his regime's practices have not assured that Cuba will get a +M
transition right, even though it is the inevitable next phase.
Meanwhile, +N forces are even more suborned and restricted, especially
among civil-society NGOs.
The current hoopla about U.S.–Cuban relations provides an opportunity
for elaborating on this theme.
The current policy juncture
It is sensible for the Obama administration to alter U.S. policy in
order to increase information and communications flows to Cuba, as it
did in a recent memorandum. We — Cuba expert Edward Gonzalez and I —
have long advised going in this direction:
[T]he present policy should be sustained but augmented with a parallel
policy to increase information flows and build communication bridges to
Cuba. . . This seems to be the best prescription for continuing to deal
with a Fidel Castro who cannot change with the times, while preparing
for a post-Castro Cuba that is bound to go through profound changes,
requiring yet another U.S. policy. (Gonzalez and Ronfeldt, 1992, p. xii)
We recognized early on that the information revolution does not
necessarily favor democratic forces, and that authoritarian systems can
exploit it too. The Cuban regime will continue to do its utmost to guard
and manipulate Internet access and other telecommunications.
Nonetheless, expanded information flows and communications links should
help strengthen some civil-society elements in Cuba, and provide U.S.
policy with some benefits in the event of an opening-up or a major
crisis on the island.
At the same time, it is sensible for the Obama administration to
maintain the U.S. economic embargo, pending further developments. Simply
lifting it remains inadvisable; conditions are still such that doing so
would reward and strengthen the Castro regime and its hardliners, more
than it would free up the Cuban people or induce evolution toward a +M
system. Indeed, the recent expansions of Canadian, European, and other
countries' economic relations and commercial ventures in Cuba provide no
confirmation that such expansions will induce democratic change, a
market economy, or increased respect for human rights in Cuba.
Better to wait, maneuver, and negotiate a while before easing the
embargo. Perhaps it is archaic, and perhaps it imposes only marginal
constraints on the regime's intentions and capabilities. After all,
Castro's own policy choices have placed the major constraints on Cuba's
potential for economic growth. Yet, lifting the embargo will be such a
big deal, with so many ramifications, that it should be linked to when
Cuba finally opts to exit its evolutionary cul-de-sac and turn in +M
Cuba in TIMN perspective: past, present, and future
In the decades before Castro, Cuba represented a flawed, halting,
muddled effort to evolve a democratic T+I+M society. Cuba's political
system was supposed to be based on political parties and democratic
elections. But by the early 1950s, the government was again in the hands
of a dictatorship, backed by the military (and U.S. government) and
fraught with cronyism. Meanwhile, the economy appeared to be based on
the capitalist market system. But in fact, it was rigged to favor
corrupt government officials and oligarchic families. Moreover, it was
dominated by foreign-owned sugar mills and gambling casinos.
Indeed, these foreign-owned enterprises often did more to reinforce
local T+I practices that reflected Cuba's colonial heritage, than to
help instill a true +M system. As often happens in Latin America, Cuba
had a kind of distorted, corrupt, oligarchic, crony capitalism that was
not leading to an open, fair market system. Nor was it doing much to
spread wealth and strengthen democracy.
Thus, when Fidel Castro seized power, he had plenty of grievances and
distortions to deal with. He also had an opportunity to direct the Cuban
Revolution to foster a liberal, democratic T+I+M society — and initially
it looked as though he and the revolution's moderate leaders might do
so. But instead, in the name of what he claimed were forward-looking
communist ideals, Castro reverted Cuba's government, economy, and
society back to a T+I system — and of a type that was more centralized
and fused than ever. He installed a totalitarian single-party
government, eliminated the private sector, suborned the cultural (T)
realm to the state, and used his charisma to arouse a fervent,
worshipful nationalism. Nothing — no TIMN realm or any individual —
would be allowed to develop on its own. He demanded tribal solidarity
and institutional solidity. He said this would end poverty and inequity,
foster immense growth, and assure a home-grown culture, while also
enabling Cuba to eradicate foreign influence and resist U.S. imperialism.
Thus, it is often said, Castro chose communism over democracy. My own
view, at this point, is that he never really faced such a choice; his
choice was mainly between fascism (a type of fused T+I+M system that he
had long admired) or communism (an I-centric system). He opted for the
latter partly because, from a TIMN perspective, he knew how to promote a
nationalistic tribalism (T) and hierarchical institutions (+I), but not
how to develop and rule over the kind of market system and private
sector (+M) that fascism involves. Besides, he had a patron — the Soviet
Union — to underwrite his turn to communism and his ambition to become a
major actor on the world stage, the superclient of a superpower.
Fidel represents a supreme contemporary expression of the fusion of T+I
ideals and principles. Accordingly, he has believed that if people would
just behave like one big family under his chieftaincy, then everything
would work fine. He did not see that the organizational forms on which
his ideals rested — the tribal and institutional forms — have
performance capabilities that are self-limiting, especially with regard
to economic growth. Indeed, Cuba's low level of development today
reflects the inherent incapacity of T+I designs to promote and manage
increasing levels of economic complexity. As with the feudal and
absolutist systems of long ago, as well as recent Soviet systems based
on central planning and social exhortation, this design can produce a
strong, aggressive state and military, but not an advanced,
multi-purpose economy and society.
By seeing only capitalism's dark side, Fidel not only rejected adding
the market form to Cuba's capabilities, he also ignored that all four
TIMN forms have both bright and dark sides. It is already becoming
evident that his T+I regime is far from clean of the clannish cronyism,
nepotism, arbitrariness, venality, crime and corruption that often
infest the obscure echelons of such regimes. Meanwhile, the degeneration
(or at least, stagnation) of Cuba's economy and society is causing a
return of many of the vices and distortions that Fidel denounced in the
1950s — e.g., prostitution, apartheid tourism. Is he blind to this? Or
does he, through a self-serving logic, secretly want vices and
distortions to return if Cuba abandons communism for capitalism?
Led by Raul Castro and the military, some regime elites realized years
ago — especially after Soviet subsidies ended, and consumer shortages
mounted — that the island's inefficient, malfunctioning economy required
reform. They initially supposed, in line with Fidel's exaltation of
institutional ideals, that all they had to do was "modernize" the
regime's administrative systems; surely then the economy and its state
enterprises would finally work well. But administrative modernization
did not succeed in revitalizing the economy, and some reformists
recognized anew a need to experiment with selected +M practices.
Shifting to a market system was not an option, given Fidel's antipathy
to capitalism. Yet, selected liberalizing measures have been allowed
since the 1990s, with his reluctant approval. These include peasant
markets for foodstuffs; small, mostly home-based businesses
(microenterprises) for restaurants, repair services, room rentals, and
taxis; and large hotels and resorts for tourism that operate as joint
enterprises with foreign investors.
All are productive, to a degree. But all exist under tight restrictions
— most microenterprises can employ only family members, the resorts
amount to tourism enclaves where most ordinary Cubans cannot go, and
Cubans must submit to a dual-currency system. Moreover, all these
enterprises must serve the state; their purpose is to strengthen
institutions, not individuals. Indeed, the joint enterprises operate as
army franchises — favored officers are assigned to run them, earning
Meanwhile, Cuba has long had trade deals with foreign companies, lately
expanded to include U.S. agricultural companies. These provide Cuba with
access to world markets, but without marketizing its internal economy.
(The U.S. embargo has constrained but never blocked Cuba's access to
non-U.S. markets and companies.)
The result is an anomalous political economy that remains statist —
socialist if not communist — with allowances for limited market-like
endeavors in a few selected areas. Some Cuban leaders may sense the
limitations, if not obsolescence, of this T+I (or T+I+m?) system and
desire further liberalization. Some may prefer to move to a kind of
market socialism, even a market socialist economy like China's or
Vietnam's where key sectors and enterprises remain in state hands but
the economic system as a whole is becoming +M. But Fidel is determined
to sustain his fused, collectivist, centrally-run T+I regime as the only
true and trustworthy expression of the Cuban Revolution. There will be
no +M for Cuba's evolution on his watch.
U.S. policy and strategy: able to induce Cuba's evolution to +M?
From a TIMN perspective — my view of it, anyway — a challenge for U.S.
policy and strategy is to ameliorate Cuba's hard-line T+I behaviors
while nudging its evolution toward a +M system.
Washington has endeavored to do that for decades (though not in TIMN
terms, of course), and nothing it has done has worked well. Some
measures have proven worthwhile for specific goals (e.g., to enable
remittances to needy family members). But Fidel has remained resolute;
his worldview has not budged. For him, Cuba already represents the
vanguard of social evolution. He does not understand or believe in +M
(not to mention +N). Moreover, no cracks or other weaknesses have arisen
in his regime that might open doors for promoting economic or any other
kind of liberalization.
Today, Cuba does not pose a military threat to U.S interests, by itself
or as an ally of a foreign power. Nor does it pose a criminal threat,
though the island could serve as a base for some transnational smuggling
operations. It is also doubtful that Cuba is offering much support to
insurgent or terrorist movements anywhere. Thus, with Cuba's external
threat potential lower than ever and its internal economic needs higher
than ever, the environment is riper than ever for calling into question
the centerpiece of U.S. policy: the economic embargo.
I have no desire to review all the pros and cons, ins and outs, of U.S.
policy or alternative options for dealing with Castro's Cuba or
preparing for a post-Castro Cuba. Others have done that. But I do want
to comment on notions that relate to TIMN.
Idealistic notions are sprouting anew — here and here, for example —
that ending the embargo would ameliorate Cuba's hard-line T+I behaviors
and induce +M effects: Thus, it is said, lifting the embargo would
deprive the regime of an anti-American rationale — a scapegoat — for
maintaining its tyranny and explaining away Cuba's economic woes. It
would generate maneuvering room for reformers who want political and
social as well as economic liberalization. It would encourage
free-market reforms, and a more open, pluralistic civil society.
Yet, there is no evidence — only speculation — that ending the embargo
unilaterally would have such positive effects under current
circumstances. More likely, it would reinforce Fidel's sense that he is
winning and provide him with extra resources and rationales for staying
his course. And there is evidence for this contrary prospect.
The infusion of foreign investments and tourists from Canada, Europe,
and elsewhere since the mid-1990s, by providing new income for the
regime, actually enabled Fidel to slow or reverse the modest
liberalizations he had grudgingly permitted in order to ease the
economic shortages following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Little
new liberalization has occurred since then. Moreover, European
governments that have increased their trade and investment with Cuba
have been rebuffed when they have pressed for even modest shifts in the
regime's human-rights behavior.
And then there's this recent development: Fidel is aged and ailing, and
he has passed the mantle of rule to his brother, Raul. But the way he
barked back at Obama's overtures for talks with Raul last month confirm
that Fidel still has a grip on Cuba's direction and is not about to
alter course because of any shift in U.S. policy.
In a bit of a contrast to the idealistic views about lifting the
embargo, a more nuanced, pragmatic U.S. view has surfaced in a U.S.
congressional staff trip report. It recognizes that lifting the embargo
may not have grand effects, but supposes it may be advisable to
countenance anyway. In this view, the Cuban regime is so
institutionalized and accepted among the Cuban people that it will
probably endure without democratizing, even if the embargo were to be
lifted. Yet, Washington should begin to hold talks about specific
matters of mutual interest. The prospect of eventually lifting the
embargo might give us some bargaining leverage. Besides, it would please
U.S. commercial interests who stand to benefit from new trade and
investment opportunities. It may also gratify some U.S. political sectors.
I have less to say about this pragmatic view. I see no reason to object
to talking with Cubans along the lines the report suggests, for it makes
few claims about inducing change in Cuba and some of its points (e.g.,
about improving the U.S. image abroad) have little to do with TIMN. But
the report still contains a notion, partly modulated, that the prospect
of easing the embargo may give U.S. officials leverage for negotiating
some economic and political liberalization, through a process of
Again, this notion of leverage seems illusory. It is doubtful that the
current regime would negotiate any kind of liberalization in exchange
for easing the embargo. And easing it for any reason while Fidel still
holds sway would mainly reinforce his and his fidelista cohorts' efforts
to preserve his T+I system, while preventing a transition to +M.
That said, the report's proposal for increased dialogue with Cuban
officials is a good idea. So is it's proposal for a bipartisan U.S.
commission to forge a future U.S. policy and strategy (echoing a 2007
proposal by Ed Gonzalez). The two initiatives could lay groundwork for
an eventual propitious situation when Cuba may decide, on its own and in
its own ways, that evolving in +M directions is advisable.
In sum, Fidel Castro remains committed to a theory of social evolution
that is fundamentally erroneous. He is not entirely wrong to rail
against the evils of capitalism — it can have detrimental effects, and
what's happening in the United States today provides new evidence. But
by failing to see that the market system is essential for continued
social evolution, and by not figuring out how to make it apply in a
balanced, positive way in Cuba — even so that it deserves a name other
than capitalism — he keeps Cuba's potential arrested in an evolutionary
cul-de-sac of his own fabrication.
Eventually a breakout will occur. Odds are, a multitude of U.S. actors
will then rush ahead with their usual patterns about promoting democracy
and freedom, including free enterprise. But if the objective is to see
Cuba turn into a balanced T+I+M system, new kinds of advice and
assistance may be needed. The United States has policies and strategies
for promoting capitalism — basically saying, open your markets, and we
will come. But do we really have adequate policies and strategies for
building a properly free, fair market system? I gather not, for that's
never been as major a goal as promoting capitalism. It's time to
rethink. Otherwise, assuming that the post-Fidel regime endures, the
model it prefers next may be a mild kind of fascism rather than a
potential liberal democracy.
[Many thanks to Ed Gonzalez for sharing his knowledge and providing
edits on an earlier draft.]
(STA) People's space-time-action orientations.
(TIMN) The Four major forms of organization — tribes, hierarchical
institutions, markets, and networks.
* David Ronfeldt Professional status: retired. Fields: first 20 years,
U.S.-Latin American security issues (esp. Mexico, Cuba); last 15 years,
worldwide implications of the information revolution (cyberocracy,
cyberwar, netwar, swarming, noopolitik, the nexus-state). Goals: finish
"STA" framework about how people think and act; finish "TIMN" framework
about social evolution (past, present, future). Publications: mostly
online at rand.org and firstmonday.org.
LA NUEVA CUBA (26 July 2009)