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Jaime Suchlicki: Predicting the post-Castro panorama
CubaNews / February 2003

By Larry Luxner

Many so-called experts like to pontificate on what’ll happen to Cuba once Fidel Castro passes from the scene. Jaime Suchlicki has made a career of it.

As director of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS), Suchlicki heads a seven-person staff devoted to the analysis of Cuban politics and “transition” issues. The 63-year-old acade-mic has chaired more “how-to” and “what-if” seminars than even he can remember — the most recent one held Jan. 15 at the center’s Casa Bacardi in Coral Gables.

“The institute’s main objective is to preserve Cuba’s history and culture,” he told CubaNews during a lengthy interview in Miami. “Our second focus is on what’s happening in Cuba today, and our third is planning for transition to democracy in Cuba.”


Suchlicki, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, was born in 1939. His father owned a department store on Havana’s Prado, but early on, he was involved in the struggle against Batista. In 1960, Suchlicki came to the United States, eventually enrolling at the University of Miami and earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Latin American history,

He then did doctoral work at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, eventually returning to Miami, where he was founding executive director of UM’s North-South Center from 1989 to 1992. Seven years later, he helped establish ICCAS.

“Back in 1990, I became famous in Miami when I told Cuban exiles, ‘buy your suitcases but don’t pack them,’” said the wisecracking scholar, whose office shelves are crammed with hundreds of books, including at least five of his own: “Cuba, Castro and Revolution,” “Historical Dictionary of Cuba,” “Investing in Cuba,” “The Cuban Military Under Fidel Castro” and “Cuban Communism, 10th Edition,” co-authored with Irving Louis Horowitz.

A poster of one of Suchlicki’s favorite her-oes, Albert Einstein, hangs on the wall near several antique maps of his beloved island, which he has not visited in 43 years.

“It’s gonna be a long and difficult transition, and our project is still going to be valid whether that transition happens now or in three years,” he said. “You still have to know how to deal with corruption, what to do with the economy. These are timeless topics.”


Indeed they are. In order to address them, Suchlicki two years ago established the Cuba Transition Project, which has already re-ceived a $1 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development; another $1 million for the project’s second year will probably be forthcoming next month.

A chief component of the project involves the creation of four computer databases on Cuba. The first contains general information; the second is a bibliographical database of all articles and studies ever done on transition in Cuba; the third is a legal database containing the text of Cuba’s foreign investment code and other laws, and the fourth is a database listing all known foreign investments in Cuba and the dollar amount of each investment.

In addition, ICCAS has sponsored a series of studies dealing with everything from confiscated properties and foreign investment to the future of the Cuban Communist Party and the role of international organizations (see CubaNews, November 2002, page 10).

ICCAS has also published a series of pamphlets on how to run private companies, establish labor unions and fund political parties “once transition begins in reality in Cuba.” These documents are being translated into Spanish and sent to Cuba via e-mail, the U.S. Interests Section and other means. So far, about 20,000 CTP documents have been smuggled into Cuba one way or another.

Suchlicki says this kind of propaganda blitz is essential to preparing the Cuban people for democracy.

“The first thing we should be doing is providing information and literature,” he said. “I’d like Cuban-Americans, whenever they visit Cuba, to bring in newspapers, magazines and literature. I’m not talking about subversive propaganda. But if you send information that talks about how to organize the economy and the issue of private vs. state enterprise and which one is more productive, it’ll get people thinking. That’s the objective.”

Suchlicki scoffed at suggestions that taking USAID money taints him in some way.

“There’s a difference between accepting money and writing what those who give you the money want you to write. Nobody tells me what to write or what to recommend. If that were the case, I wouldn’t accept the money.

“Furthermore, the U.S. government does not want someone to tell them what they’re already thinking. They want good analysis.”


To that end, Suchlicki has outlined 21 specific scenarios, along with the probability of them taking place within the next two or three years. These include the following:

* Fidel dies and his brother Raúl takes over in an orderly fashion (80%).

* Fidel and Raúl both die, and the Cuban military takes over (60%).

* Refugees flood the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo, sparking violence (30-40%).

* Cuba undergoes peaceful transition to democracy (less than 20%).

* Violent demonstrations in Cuba bring down the Castro regime (less than 20%).

* Cuba’s military stages a coup d’etat (10%).

* The United States sends the Marines into Cuba (less than 5%).

* Fidel is assassinated (less than 5%).


In all likelihood, Suchlicki predicts, “Fidel’s death will not usher in a collapse of the system. It will usher in a succession to Raúl and the military, with some civilian leadership as a front. That does not necessarily mean the revolution will collapse.”

He adds: “This is based not on an analysis of Raúl, but on an analysis of the strength of the institutions behind Raúl — the military, the Cuban Communist Party and the state security apparatus.”

As far as Oswaldo Payá and his chances of reforming the system from within, says Suchlicki, “the Varela Project has no chance of going anywhere. It’s a challenge to the system, but it’s a challenge Fidel has taken on. Before the next Party Congress, he’ll further squash opposition — not as violently as in China, but he will eliminate it.”


Suchlicki hasn’t been back since 1960, but he insists that one doesn’t have to visit the island to understand what’s going on there.

“The best centers of Soviet studies were housed at Harvard, run by emigrés who never returned to the USSR,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a prequisite to go to Cuba in order to understand it. If you study Cuban alligators in their habitats, then you need to visit the swamps. But you don’t need to go to Cuba to analyze Castro’s policies or actions. You can learn it all from watching his speeches on TV.”

And even if he did go, Suchlicki fears it may be a one-way trip.

“They may let me in, but I don’t know if they’re gonna let me out,” he said only half-jokingly, adding that “Fidel doesn’t like what I write, for obvious reasons. Ten years ago, I was speaking at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. After the speech, the third secretary of Cuba’s mission to the United Nations came over and told me I was wrong about my views, and invited me to visit Cuba.”

Suchlicki never accepted the offer, and doesn’t appear likely to now, either.

For one thing, he opposes any relaxation of Washington’s embargo against Havana; even lifting the travel ban, he says, would endanger those who support democracy for Cuba. “I don’t think U.S. policy should be changed without a quid pro quo,” he said. “Lifting the ban and permitting Americans to visit Cuba would only enrich those who control the tourism industry, i.e., the Cuban military.

“Secondly, I think that if we lift the embargo and the travel ban unilaterally, without any changes in Cuba, we’ll have no bargaining chips with a future government. Fidel is not about to make changes in Cuba. We should hold onto this policy and use it with a government that is willing to provide concessions. Don’t give it away just because Fidel dies.”

In the meantime, says Suchlicki, “President Bush has a real personal commitment to see a democratic Cuba, and secondly he has some political realities to deal with.”

On the other hand, “the Elian González event showed Cuban-Americans that they were not as powerful or effective as they thought they were, that Washington had a lot of disregard for Cuban-Americans, and that the media disliked the community.”


If in fact democracy does come to Cuba, we asked Suchlicki, will that stem the exodus of refugees and begin to lure Cuban-Americans back to the island? “

I don’t think there’ll be an end to Cuban migration to Miami. Even in a democratic Cuba, a lot of Cubans will take the opportunity to get out,” he replied. “They’ll come directly to Florida and through third countries, and they’ll come legally because their relatives will claim them. And while Cuban-Americans might return to do business and buy a condo in Varadero, most won’t return to live there.”

Economically, he said, the Cuban people would welcome investment and expertise from their brothers across the Florida Straits, though that welcome could quickly wear thin. “

Politically, I think there’ll be a problem if the Miami Cubans try to run Cuba,” Suchlicki told us. “Some of them aspire to be president of Cuba, but they don’t have a chance.”

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