July 29, 2007

Opportunities For Action?

Two recent articles regarding politics in Latin America are noteworthy. The first is this article in the Washington Post describing Raul Castro’s July 26 speech in Camaguey, Cuba; during which he apparently indicated he was willing to open the country to more foreign investment.

Speaking at a ceremony commemorating the start of the 54th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, Raúl Castro declared that Cuba is considering opening itself further to foreign investment, allowing business partners to provide this financially strapped nation with "capital, technology or markets."

The younger Castro's remarks, coupled with his unusual admission that the Cuban government needs to pay its vast cadres of state-employed workers more to cover basic needs, amounted to the clearest indication yet of how he might lead this island nation. Castro, who was named interim president last July 31, vowed to partner only with "serious entrepreneurs, upon well-defined legal bases."


But he also was careful to appeal to hard-line party leaders, saying that any new business deals must "preserve the role of the state and the predominance of socialist property" and that the government would be "careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past, [which] owed to naivete or our ignorance about these partnerships."


Castro condemned the United States for using "corn, soy and other food products" to produce fuel, saying prices for those food staples were sure to rise. But he also leveled withering criticism at his countrymen for "absurd inefficiencies" in food
production that force Cuba to import food and promised unspecified "structural

Before this speech, it was generally considered that, though incapacitated, Fidel retained significant influence because his “Fidelistas” retained positions of power in government. Raul Castro, of course, has his “Raulistas,” mostly military men that dominate the island’s security structures. The big questions after Fidel’s operation was whether these two factions would duke it out, how that fight was going to be conducted, and who was going to emerge winner. Of course, there was very little doubt that Raul was going to be the successor, but what was open to question was the degree of bureaucratic resistance or support to Raul’s rule.

Raul’s frank language during his speech, particularly his criticism of his brother’s failed policies, indicates that the Fidelistas may be coming around to Raul’s point of view. The article alludes to this scenario, to some degree of Raulista consolidation.

For the U.S. this is an opportunity to exploit the schism that exists between the Raulistas and the Fidelistas. While neither of these groups are democratic, the Raulistas appear to be the lesser of two evils. U.S. policy inaction over the last months could be understandable given the uncertainty over which faction was going to come out on top in Cuba. But as it appears that the Raulistas are emerging victorious, it may be time for the U.S. to offer incentives to encourage their development and help isolate the Fidelistas. The U.S. should change their overall approach of conditioning full relations with democratization, but flexibility could go a long way towards speeding up a transition.

The second is a Miami Herald article, here, describing the speech given by Venezuela’s departing Minister of Defense in which he appears to be criticizing some of Chavez’s policies. Here’s the relevant section form the article:

''We should invent socialism of the 21st century . . . but not in a chaotic or disorderly fashion,'' Baduel said at the ceremony. “Before we redistribute wealth, we have to create it. We can't redistribute what we don't have.''

Taking a jab at Chávez's control of all government branches, he added: ``It should be clear that a socialist production system is not incompatible with a profoundly democratic political system, with checks and balances and separation of powers.''

Baduel wound up his speech without uttering the new Cuban-inspired salute that Chávez has recently imposed on the armed forces -- ``Fatherland, socialism or death.''

On the assumption that the journalist covering this speech is doing an accurate job and the article accurately reflects what happened, there are two things one can surmise right away.

First, General Baduel has big balls to criticize Chavez’s polices in public while Chavez is sitting in the stage behind him. That is a courageous man.

Second, if the article is accurate, the speech is a sign that all is not well within Chavez’s security structures. Whatever ideological differences may exist (if any) between the President and his security structures, bureaucratic politics is likely the driving factor in any potential schism.

If one is to take Chavez’s defense reforms seriously, from the development of an asymmetric defense warfare strategy to the creation of a civilian militia to act as a “military” vanguard in case the U.S. invades Venezuela, the traditional primacy enjoyed by conventional military forces in Venezuela’s security structure is in question. As a result, proud men like Baduel, career military officers that are clearly devoted to their Service and their chosen profession, will form the core of bureaucratic resistance to some of Chavez’s policies.

In this scenario, improving U.S. military-to-military relations with the Venezuelan armed forces is a key to not only exploit this potential schism for information and intelligence but also to provide moral and other support to these types of officers. Of course, this is assuming that such officers would like support from the U.S.—admittedly, a dangerous assumption. Mil-to-mil relations with Venezuela have long been dormant. It’s perhaps time to attempt to reinvigorate this channel.

No comments: