It's no surprise
that the death of Fidel Castro has been heralded as an enormously
political event with deep historic symbolism. However, it's not
reasonable to expect this event to be a watershed moment that will
throw Cuba off its course of liberalization of trade and investment
that has been the hallmark of the government's plan over the
past 10 years.
Some in the international press have described the passing of
Castro as "plunging the country into a time of great
uncertainty." However, from my perspective, as a Canadian
lawyer with Gowling WLG who's been living and working in Havana
for over two decades, I don't believe this to be the case.
While Castro's death is indeed of historical significance,
and a cathartic moment for both those Cubans who support the
revolution and those who are opposed to it, it won't lead to
radical change or a weakening of the Cuban government. In fact,
what will continue to characterize Cuba is political stability, and
a continued process of economic reform and opening the country up
to foreign investment.
A political transition 10 years in the making
The Cuban government has been preparing for the death of Fidel
Castro for the past 10 years, ever since he almost died in 2006.
And in reality, a political transition has long since taken
Raul Castro and an inner circle of leaders have been running the
country for over a decade now. Although Fidel Castro had an
indirect influence on decision-making in Cuba during that time, he
had long since allowed his brother and the rest of the Cuban
leadership to make the country's decisions autonomously.
Reforms not in doubt — just the pace
The Cuban leadership comprises differing points of view when it
comes to reform, from those who want to speed up and deepen
economic reform, to those who would be more comfortable with a
slower pace of reform.
However, the collective leadership (and it is indeed a
collective leadership, as Raul Castro's style of governing is
based on broad consultation and institutionalization) has shown
remarkable cohesion and resiliency. A focus on consensus-building
and internal negotiation has ensured unity within the ranks. The
result has been a balanced economic opening that has been accepted
The future of Cuba-U.S. relations under Trump
It's important to recognize that — notwithstanding the
uncertainty created by the election in the United States of Donald
Trump and other international events over the past year — the
Cuban leadership will continue to set its own priorities,
strategies and tactics with a significant degree of planning and
While the Cuban government is not immune to external pressures
and developments (such as the crises in Venezuela and Brazil),
it's typically not overly reactive to international events, let
alone exhortations by foreign powers.
The Cuban government takes the position that they survived two
terms of George W. Bush, along with previous Republican presidents,
and they will do the same with Trump, even if he steps back from
the Obama rapprochement.
Even during the Bush years, foreign investors were doing
business in Cuba, some very successfully. A Republican presidency
may make business a bit more difficult, but not impossible, and
certainly not unprofitable.
There are a number of constants that will not change in
First, the Cuban government will continue its reform process,
and most likely accelerate it.
Second, the country will maintain political stability and
And third, there will be a growing number of voices in the U.S.
Congress, from both Democrats and Republicans, along with the U.S.
business community, decrying the U.S. embargo as anachronistic and
not in line with U.S. commercial interests. It's likely only a
matter of time — counted in terms of two to five years
— that the embargo will be lifted, and the Cuban economy will
begin to prosper by opening up attractive investment and trade
opportunities to foreign companies.
In summary, stable, slow and steady economic change in Cuba is
what's most likely to occur. Incidentally, that's also
what's best for the Cuban people and for foreign investors who
are focusing on the future by acting early to enter the Cuban
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