Fidel Castro is nothing if not a master thespian. His disappearance
and purported power shift to his brother Raúl on July 31 is
still a mystery. According to Miami Herald columnist
Andrés Oppenheimer, it could be a cynical charade to smoke
out disloyal underlings or a genuine health crisis, or perhaps the
dictator died and the regime needs time to regroup.
any case, the drama is akin to Fidel's speeches: lengthy, opaque,
and leaving anxious Cubans wondering what will happen to them next.
Perhaps they should stop worrying and take charge of their own
lives. But for them to feel confident enough to do that, they will
need plenty of encouragement from sympathetic democrats around the
That doesn't mean President George Bush should announce that the
U.S. government will do the job for them. On the contrary, this is
the Cuban people's moment to reflect on what they've been deprived
of over the last 47 years, lose their fear, and consider how to
reclaim their future. That requires a judicious, coordinated
communications strategy on the part of the democratic world.
Officially, the United States and other governments have primed the
pump for years through foreign broadcasting efforts like Radio and
TV Martí, some of which get through unjammed. Commercial
radio stations also reach the island, and foreign visitors
sometimes bring literature to break the regime's information
good news is that the Cuban government has no new ideas or
solutions to the island's problems. Fidel and Raúl expressly
set up the Communist Party and the National Assembly as parallel
organizations, peopled by rivals, to compete in approving and
enforcing the Maximum Leader's pronouncements. They provide an
institutional facade for a one-man state.
bedrock of the regime, the Revolutionary Armed Forces which
Raúl created, is unlikely to do more than put boots on heads
for a short period. According to former Castro official Alcibiades
Hidalgo, its mission is to prepare for "War of All the People" and
enforce martial law in case of Fidel's incapacitation or death, but
not much more. Again, it lacks ideas outside of defending the
fatherland against a U.S. invasion.
Outside messages to the Cuban people should be both personal and
institutional. It would help if the Martís and responsible
commercial broadcasters feature candid messages from Cubans living
abroad, thoughtfully emphasizing that what they do with their own
lives is their business, not the state's. They should explain how
the government should belong to the people, not to its leaders.
Personal stories can highlight the individual successes of the
Cuban diaspora's entrepreneurs, professionals, sports heroes, and
celebrities who have benefited from living in free societies
throughout the world.
avoid misidentifying dissidents with the United States, which the
regime considers its adversary, European and Latin American
broadcasters should be the ones to discuss homegrown transition
initiatives like the Varela Project and National Dialogue, both
created by Cuban dissidents.
is also time for Latin American countries like Mexico, Chile, and
Uruguay to step up to the plate. While it would be uncharacteristic
for them to bid either Castro brother ill, it would be appropriate
for their leaders to wish the Cuban people strength in creating a
vibrant free society in which all citizens can realize their
President Bush should point out how long Cubans have waited for the
freedoms that nearly every American enjoys. And he should also
emphasize that Cuba's next leader should be chosen by the people,
through competitive elections. Smoke-filled rooms are no place for
the peoples' patrimony to be carved up by generals and
Helms-Burton Act that codifies U.S. sanctions against the Cuban
regime is now more important than ever as a negotiating tool. But
its contents should be expressed as incentives to Cuba's
instance, Cuba could enjoy basic trade relations with the United
States when ordinary Cubans may establish and run their own
businesses and work for whom they wish. Diplomatic ties could be
restored when Cuba celebrates competitive elections and guarantees
certain civil liberties. Restrictions on American tourists visiting
the island could end when Cubans may travel freely and work where
then there is the possibility of aid as contemplated by the
President's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. Conditions
for aid should be clearly stated to Cuba's leaders and frequently
broadcast to its citizens over U.S.-sponsored Radio and TV
Martí, acknowledging that these choices are theirs, as
Sociologists tell us that there are certain times when people are
more apt to change behavior than others, such as when opportunities
present themselves and when they experience a significant emotional
event. Both conditions are present in Cuba.
It may be that the
lights have dimmed on Fidel Castro's stage, the curtain is closing,
and the microphone is finally off. Whether the old man is gasping
and still pointing in the air with his index finger seems
increasingly irrelevant. Now is the time for a communications
strategy to open a path for true Cuban self-determination.
Stephen Johnson is
Senior Policy Analyst in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for
Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.