It is only a matter of time before Cuban communism collapses. While the date of its demise is obviously unknown in advance, it can be expected sooner rather than later. Fidel Castro still seems determined to hold back history but, with the death of the Soviet Union, his last hope for a conservative leadership in Moscow to rescue Cuba’s crumbling economy may also have died. The end of Soviet patronage has left Castro with a dilemma: to avoid challenges to his continued rule and to revive Cuba’s flagging economy he must relinquish some control, but his domestic opponents could try to use the momentum of reform to force him from power. As 1991 drew to a close Castro still had not found a satisfactory solution to his problem.
The island’s economic disintegration was accelerating at a breathtaking pace. Aid from the former Soviet Union, which was already drastically reduced, should now disappear entirely. Castro’s attempts to attract foreign capital to replace Soviet subsidies are likely to be too little, too late. Tinkering with the design of Cuba’s outmoded communist system may postpone Castro’s day of reckoning, but fundamental economic and political changes seem increasingly unavoidable. The most interesting question now is whether Cuba will be able to avoid violence and experience a peaceful transition from a communist dictatorship to representative democracy.
The history of the Cuban Revolution is in great part the history of Cuba’s growing dependence on Soviet economic and military aid. By the beginning of the 1990s almost three quarters of Cuban imports came from the Soviet Union, principally Russia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan. The most important import was petroleum. Until 1991 the Soviet Union furnished virtually all, and often more than, the estimated 10 million tons of oil Cuba used annually. In return Cuba exported to the Soviets sugar, some citrus, tobacco and nickel.
Yet Cuba’s exports never came close to balancing what the island received from its patron: the Soviets