The Ghosts Of Eastern Europe Haunt Cuba

Raul Castro, Minister of the Revoutionary Armed Forces, on December 23, 2003 in Havana, Cuba during the last meeting of the Cuban Parliament.
By CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.

When Raul Castro took over as Cuba's President in February, he began to amend some of the out-of date policies established by his brother Fidel. He also made it clear more changes were coming.

However, Cuba's rigid state-controlled media doesn't allow for any genuine public discussion of these changes (which would have to include the voices of suppressed dissidents).

But there is one journal that acts as a window into the government's cautions musings over social change. Temas, an officially tolerated magazine with non-governmental funding, has been publishing articles that explore Cuba's political options.

Rafael Hernandez is the editor of Temas. Under his editorship Temas has previously broached taboo subjects, including the prevalence of domestic violence in Cuba and the issue of racial discrimination.

Hernandez points out that Raul Castro's master-plan for Cuba's future will be fully revealed at the Communist Party Congress, scheduled for sometime late in 2009.

"One serious problem of the socialist model in Cuba," said Hernandez, "has been hyper-centralization, so the most important political change will be decentralization."

In agriculture, for example, reorganization will transfer decisions to the local level.

Already, Raul Castro has announced farmers will be allowed to expand their operations onto vacant land if they wish, and buy farm implements in hard currency rather than waiting for state-issued tools.

The Cuban Communist Party knows the island's agricultural output has to improve; right now, this fertile country imports 80% of its food.

Raul Castro, who fought alongside his brother Fidel in Cuba's revolutionary battles, is now 77 years old. For many years Cuba's Defense Minister, he is also an ideological Communist. This year, his pragmatic side surfaced when he explicitly recognized that information technology was unstoppable by finally making it legal for Cubans to own cell phones and computers.

However, his liberalizations do not extend to a free press or media.

Similarly, multi-party politics are not in the cards either, said Hernandez.

Cuba's leadership is deeply suspicious of adversarial politics, and its sometimes messy, rambunctious debates - as they are of the United States.

Certainly so far, Cuban leadership has shown no sign of loosening the authoritarian control it wields through the Communist Party Central Committee and an inner circle of advisors. All serious policy disagreements and power struggles take place in the inner sanctum, away from public view.

Raul Castro has talked of "democratizing" Cuba's Communist Party but so far has not spelled out what he has in mind.

Nevertheless, Hernandez said change will have to come because of "social pressure." He credits Cuba's stability to the fact that until now there has been a consensus behind government policies. At present, he said, "the consensus is shrinking." People are not in agreement with the continuous postponement of overdue political decisions.

People can't live on their salaries. Basic goods are out of their reach. That's putting pressure on the leadership to find solutions.

However, it would be quite wrong, said Hernandez, to think of Raul Castro as Cuba's Gorbachev - the Russian politician who precipitated the disintegration of the Soviet Union with his policies of "glasnost" and "perestroika."

"In fact, quite the opposite," said Hernandez. "One of the ghosts that is haunting Cuban politics is the fate of Eastern Europe. We must avoid that outcome here. That's why policy implementation and political reforms are so slow - because the political leadership doesn't want to let things get out of control."

Raul Castro and Cuba's leadership know that Soviet-style Communism is dead. Instead, they are aiming to give Cuba some form of autocratic socialism with an overlay of private enterprise.

"I would say that would be a combination of Nordic socialism, Vietnamese socialism, Chinese socialism," said Hernandez. "But I don't think there is a model we may follow because we have a unique history - and we need to work out a new socialist model based on that experience."