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Raul’s First Mistakes

Starting today, the Cuban government is permitting its citizens to stay in the island’s resorts, which had been restricted to foreign tourists. Havana’s directive ends the hated “tourism apartheid” policy that Fidel Castro introduced in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in order to increase hard-currency earnings. It is also reported that the government will permit Cubans to rent cars.

The hotel order follows Friday’s announcement that Cubans will be allowed to own mobile phones, previously restricted to foreigners and high officials. The Interior Commerce Ministry also permitted them to buy computers, microwaves, and DVD players, which had previously been available only to companies and foreigners. The cellphone order is considered the first major liberalization under the administration of Raul Castro, who succeeded his older brother as president last month. There are rumors that other changes have been implemented.

The Associated Press speculates that the younger Castro–he’s 76–is trying to use these minor reforms to “quell demand for deeper change.” If so, he has obviously fallen behind in his readings on political science. Instead of prolonging his rule by the now-popular changes, he has probably shortened it. “Reform,” Harvard’s Samuel Huntington writes, “can be a catalyst of revolution rather than a substitute for it.” Why? “Patiently endured so long as it seemed beyond redress, a grievance comes to appear intolerable once the possibility of removing it crosses men’s minds,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, on the French Revolution. “For the mere fact that certain abuses have been remedied draws attention to the others and they now appear more galling; people may suffer less, but their sensibility is exacerbated.”

Yes, Cubans today may be happy that they are (theoretically) able to stay in the finest hotels their country has to offer. But tomorrow many of them will realize that they cannot afford to do so. In the future, we can expect a thousand little things about their government to irritate the Cuban people. Those annoyances will eventually push them to changing their leaders-and the form of their government. Fidel may never have read Huntington, but he instinctively knew the danger of reform and therefore remained intransigent during his long tenure.

The real destabilizing factor about the cellphone reform is not that the Cuban people can find out about the rest of the world, as commentators have said recently. It is the resulting perception that their government can now be pressured. Raul has just started down a path of change that will, one way or another, lead to the end of communism in Cuba.

“I believe that the ideals of socialism, which are so generous and appeal so much to solidarity and fraternity, will one day disappear,” his elder brother once said. Fidel did his best to keep socialism in Cuba, and his brother has started a sequence of events that will lead to its demise.



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