Geopolitics

After Raúl: What A Post-Castro Cuba Could Look Like

With Castro's retirement as Cuban President, Cuba is left to face ongoing issues of the communist party — primarily the shambling economy.

Fidel and Raul Castro, 2001
Fidel and Raul Castro, 2001
Arlene B. Tickner

It is not every day the leadership changes in Cuba. It has happened once since the 1959 revolution that brought in communism — and that was when President Raúl Castro replaced his brother Fidel as leader. That handover had also made it clear that another successor would eventually be needed. The succession process that is beginning today will soon see the replacement of the "historic generation" of revolutionary leaders in favor of their heirs.

If there are no surprises, the First Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel — with a loyal, hardworking and discreet profile — will become president, though Raúl Castro, 86, will still lead the Communist Party until 2021, which allows him to rule quietly beside his handpicked successor.

The new leader will face unresolved and formidable problems.

When he took power in 2008, the younger Castro brother began a renovation process for the socialist polity he had helped build, with the intention of assuring the survival of socialism and the regime. His most important initiatives include the (incomplete) reform of the dual monetary system, encouraging some private enterprise (including buying and selling homes), liberalizing personal communications, eliminating exit permits, loosening rules on remittances, fixing time limits on public positions and more recently, a restoration of diplomatic ties with the United States.

In spite of these, the new leader will face unresolved and formidable problems, beginning with an anaemic economy. While the number of Cubans working in the private sector has tripled, 75% of all workers remain state employees. The dual exchange system has widened income gaps in both state and private sectors — with average monthly earnings remaining at about $31 — which may have prompted the state to put the breaks on private enterprise in tourism.

Havana, Cuba Photo: Pedro Szekely

The government has suspended new licenses for business or cooperative activities in this sector (like restaurants or holiday rentals), at a time of stagnating public-sector employment. The crisis in Venezuela has dramatically curbed both the country's petrol supplies and the number of Cuban doctors and teachers (and other professionals) who could work there. These conditions are starting to remind some here of the "special period" and "energy austerity" that followed the fall in the 1990s of Cuba's patron and supplier, the Soviet Union.

On the other hand there are now some five million mobile phones in Cuba (among a population of 11.5 million), and Internet use is booming, which means more connections with the world and a wider scope for criticizing the regime. Ultimately, renewed tensions with the United States and its hardened stance toward Cuba, are darkening the economic horizon for their effects on tourism and trade (which exist in spite of the embargo).

While observers expect continuity with the policies of the Castros as the government consolidates its authority in the Party, it may no longer be able to use the credibility of the Castro name and the old guard's mystique to shore up its popular legitimacy. Cubans seem mostly concerned with economic issues, but more time is needed to show whether or not true political reforms will find a place on the country's agenda.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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