In what has been described rightly or wrongly as "the first authoritative poll of the aspirations and attitudes of the Cuban people," it was found that the overwhelming majority of the Cuban people (75 percent) want to be given the opportunity to elect Fidel Castro's successor. At least that's how the pollsters from the non-partisan International Republican Institute (IRI) have presented the data. It would have been simpler and truer to say that Cubans want a return to democracy, which necessarily entails dismantling the present system. Nor is the implication correct that they are content to see Fidel Castro become the first Cuban dictator to die in his own bed. That may be inevitable by now, but it is not so by the will of the Cuban people. The poll also found that a corresponding number (79 percent) believe that the present regime is incapable of solving the country's problems and that only a market-based economy could improve their daily lives (83 percent). Since it created the problems and declined to solve them by the only expedient that could — namely, disappearing from the national life — it is certainly no stretch of the imagination to suppose even in the absence of a poll that Cubans are fed up with 48 years of unrelieved economic failure supported by an unprecedented apparatus of repression, whose maintanance aggravates that failure. At best, this poll confirms what should be taken for granted by everyone since surely no people on earth wear chains as a talisman for one much less 48 years. That even the presumption should exist that this is still an open question shows the extent of the world's delusion about Communist Cuba.
600 Cubans in "14 of the 15 provinces" were polled by IRI, which I interpret to mean (since for me there are only six provinces) that 94% of the national territory was covered. What is different about this poll from, say, the recent Gallup poll which also claimed to be the most extensive and authoritative to date, is that the pollsters were in cognito when they sounded out their subjects on these various questions. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this modality. For one thing, as an official pollster — or an official anything — you are unlikely to elicit honest answers, since most Cubans would assume that you were either working on behalf of the regime or that it was monitoring your activities and would somehow gain access to your data. Gallup pointed out that engaging subjects in exploratory conversations might skew the results because the questioner must also reveal to some extent his own opinions in order to expect equal frankness from those he engages in conversation. If the pollster were to present a series of questions, one after the other, without commentary or feedback, his subject would presume, at the very least, that he was a pollster. And that would certainly never do. Just how must better are IRI's protocals than Gallup's may be be judged from the response which each received to the question, "Do you disapprove of Cuba's leadership?" 39% of those polled by Gallup answered in the affirmative. 79% of those surveyed by IRI did.
Cubanologists on the left, who are mostly concerned with justifying the Castro regime, do not believe the findings of the IRI poll to be any kind of indicator of Cubans' real feelings about the regime or Cuba's future. Phillip Peters, of the Lexington Institute and Cuban Triangle, regards the poll as a godsend — for Raúl. All he has to do now, according to Peters, is fix Cuba's economy to earn the support of the Cuban masses. This presupposes that Raúl cares about the support of the Cuban people. Having ruled 48 years without it, why should he be concerned about it now? It also assumes without any basis that if Raúl Castro were able to raise the living standard by implementing some reforms (such as allowing Cubans to own airplanes?) they wouldn't care about human rights or anything else. In this Peters is echoing Booker T. Washington's Atlanta Compromise, which deferred civil rights for a place at the common table (or, rather, under it).
Vicki Huddleston, a fellow at the Brookings Institute and former chief of the American Interests Section in Havana, following in Wayne Smith's footsteps, as have most of his successors regardless of party, opined that the poll shows that Cubans want to reform the system in order to "preserve some things, such as free education and health care." There is more to life than going to school or getting sick. Very little of life, in fact, is spent at school or in hospital. But even if that were all there was to life the Cuban people would not be any less miserable for it, because Cuban schools are anything but free and Cuban health care both inadequate and dangerous. Still, Ms. Huddleston believes that Cubans "do like some of the things they've been given [by the Revolution] and might not be willing to give up stability for democracy." So the present situation, the greatest convulsion in Cuba's history, represents "stability" to Ms. Huddleston, while democracy, which would certainly disrupt the status quo, conduces to disorder and chaos. And what about the things that Cubans have not been "given" by the Revolution? Such as democracy, the Rule of Law, economic, civil and human rights? No, those are of no importance to the Cuban people; there both Peters and Huddleston agree. What they fear and reject — the restoration of democracy in Cuba — even the Cuban people, locked in a box for nearly 50 years, recognize intuitively as the only hope for their country. Why must Cubans choose between "stability" and democracy? Why can't they have both? Or, more to the point, why can't they be presumed to want both?
Phil Peters said...
Mr. Tellechea, I think you got a little carried away with a single sentence where I was quoted in the USA Today article.
Regarding the poll, it seems to me to be a good effort in an environment where accurate polling, as we understand it, is not really feasible.
This is certainly not the “first authoritative poll” done in Cuba. It bears noting that the poll itself has not been released. A link to the selected results that IRI released is on my blog, here.
I believe the poll is probably accurate in its finding that when Cubans are asked to identify the biggest problem they face, they predominantly cite economic issues. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want political freedom too, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t think they deserve it.
But if the poll is accurate, and if Raul Castro delivers effective economic reforms – two significant “ifs” – then he stands to benefit politically. That seems obvious, doesn’t it?
11/19/2007 10:06 PM
Manuel A.Tellechea said...
You do seem rather fixated on the idea of Raúl as an agent of change. This he never has been. What change could he possibly implement that would place him in a better position than he is right now? The only positive change that can be expected of Raúl is for him to die. If he should do so before his brother, it would be the best thing that could happen to Cuba.