2007-02-01 / Carlos Alberto Montaner
Cuba and the keys to the Spanish transition to democracy
Fidel Castro will die shortly and a remarkable opportunity arises to alter the history of Cuba. It is timely, then, to look at similar experiences and try to learn from them. Let us turn to the transition in Spain and utilize the efficient educational technique of questions and answers.
What happened in Spain?
In November 1975, Gen. Francisco Franco died in Madrid after governing Spain with an iron hand for 36 years. He was the military chief and political caudillo who won the Civil War (1936-1939). After his triumph, he established a long, authoritarian, single-party dictatorship that was closer to national-Catholicism than to Falangism. His regime began by looking very much like totalitarian fascism but ended with certain minimal (and closely watched) spaces of political freedom and a great deal of economic freedom.
Surprisingly, after the dictator's death a process of change began -- against all expectations and at a speed no one could have imagined -- that culminated in 1978 with the promulgation of a new Constitution that brought Spain in line with all the other European democracies. Francoism, it was said at the time, had committed hara-kiri. Overturning the laws and the Constitutional restraints installed by Francoism, Parliament approved changes that transformed the political face of Spain, instituting pluralism, civil liberties and majority government. Three years later, in 1981, the Socialists -- the big losers in the Civil War -- gained control of to the government. That process, which was not exempt from dangers, tensions and a certain amount of violence, was called the transition and had Adolfo Suárez as its principal architect. Suárez had come from Francoism and, although he was not widely known, was considered by some to be a dictatorship “hawk.” He wasn't.
How did it all happen?
Although everyone justly attributes to Suárez the leading role in the transition, the truth is that almost all the political factors behaved with prudence and moved in the right direction.
· King Juan Carlos, who since childhood had been carefully taught to carry on Franco's authoritarian tradition, began to move in the direction of democracy shortly after donning the crown. He wanted his monarchy to be like England's or the Netherlands', subject to the control of Parliament. To Juan Carlos, it was obvious that his legitimacy as a ruler should not come from Franco's will but from the people's will.
· At the urging of Suárez, most of the Franquistas moved to the right of center of the political spectrum, forging a coalition with certain Christian Democrats and Liberals, renouncing authoritarianism and the Fascist view of a single party. Suárez even managed to lead the Liberal Internationale, to which he added the adjective “progressive.”
· The Catholic Church, which had been an accomplice of Francoism during the first 20 years of the dictatorship, also moved away from religious fundamentalism and allowed Spain to adopt a lay and free profile. The spirit of the council known as Vatican II had penetrated deeply into the vision of the Church.
· The Communist Party accepted the existence of a parliamentary monarchy as a form of government, renounced Leninism as a method of struggle and abandoned its efforts to achieve power by fostering social disorder, workers' strikes and acts of violence. Instead, it abided by the peaceful rules of parliamentary democracy.
· The Socialist Party also acknowledged the existence of a parliamentary democracy. If the Socialists in Sweden and the Laborites in Britain could govern under the ritual shade of the monarchy, why couldn't the Spaniards? In addition, at a congress held in 1979, the Socialists explicitly renounced the Marxist vision of the economy and society.
· The labor unions -- though deeply penetrated by the Communists -- and the business owners -- many of whom were accustomed to the protection furnished by Francoism -- were able to negotiate their differences peaceably and establish a modus vivendi based on cooperation and a gradual increase in their contributions to the social services. Those accords, sponsored by the government, were called The Moncloa Pacts -- because they were negotiated at Moncloa Palace -- and they guaranteed the social and economic stability the country needed to transit toward an open political model..
· The European democracies in the 1970s, led by France and Germany in the midst of the Cold War, had a special interest in seeing that the dictatorships remaining in Europe (Greece, Portugal and Spain) became Allied democracies that would strengthen the southern Mediterranean region and cooperate in the construction of a common economic space. For that reason, they pressured Madrid, helped the emerging democratic political parties, and conditioned Spain's entry into the European Economic Community and NATO to a total opening of that country's economy and political system.
Why did it happen?
That exemplary political process managed to succeed basically for three reasons:
· All the factors had something very solid to gain, as Theory of Games would later explain. They all needed each other and therefore all were willing to cede something to gain something in return.The only net losers were the orthodox Franquistas, convinced as they were of the virtues of tyranny; but they were very few and by that time had almost no emotional connection with the people.
· The change also had an obvious direction: what was then called the European Economic Community. Spain should not remain isolated from the rest of the booming Europe that emerged from World War II. The old dictum by Ortega y Gasset remained applicable: "Spain is the problem; Europe is the solution." The change was not a leap into the void. Everybody knew what the objective was.
· The youngest sectors of the Francoite ruling class did not see themselves in the mythology of the Civil War and secretly abhorred the tired and anachronistic discourse created in the 1930s during the head-on clashes between Communists and Fascists. The young Franquistas did not see themselves as the victorious heroes of a heroic feat (as the old-timers did) but as the hapless defenders of a regime that was more-or-less repudiated by a majority of the people.
What's the relationship between Cuba and Spain?
Until 1898, Cuba was a political and historic portion of Spain. Those links had lasted for 400 years but were not severed when the Republic came into being -- they strengthened. Somehow, Cuba continued to be an essentially Spanish society throughout the 20th Century, especially in the first several decades, just like the United States, at least for a while, continued to be a spiritually and culturally British territory even after the country's independence, in the late 18th Century.
Between 1902, when the island had barely one and a half million inhabitants, and 1926, when the first laws against immigration were enacted, almost one million Spaniards migrated to Cuba and the human links between the two countries tightened. Cuba continued to be a very Spanish nation. That explains, for example, why during the colonial war in Morocco, fought by Spain to put down a rebellion in the 1920s, about 1,000 Cuban volunteers fought in the International Brigades, a huge number -- proportionally speaking -- given the small population of the island. At the same time, the ups and downs of that Spanish war were part and parcel of the impassioned political debate in Cuba..
There were also some secret links, however: the political gangsterism that flourished in Cuba in the 1930s and '40s was very reminiscent of the pistolerismo carried out by the anarchist labor unions in Catalonia in the 1920s. The Cuban revolutionary vision of the 1930s resembles (or was inspired by) the radicalism of numerous Spaniards. Moreover, the Cuban Constitution of 1940 owes much to the Spanish Constitution of 1931.
Are there major differences between Spain during the transition and today's Cuba?
Of course; the historic and political ties between the two countries cannot hide the big differences between them. Compared with the misery wrought by Castroism, Spain in 1975, when Franco died, was a middle-class society that had attained 75 percent of the per-capita earnings of the EEC. Millions of Spaniards had savings in the bank and 80 percent lived in their own homes. At that time, the level of unemployment was very low and so was the cost of living (though wages were low, too).
There were other fundamental differences. In Spain, property rights existed and were respected. And, with the exception of politics, where a special, harsh and arbitrary legislation applied, the courts dispensed justice in accordance with the law. Spain had an orderly and clean society that had reached the highest level of development in the nation's history. Although other countries, like France, Italy and Germany, had grown a lot more than Spain after WWII, Spain's progress was nothing to sneer at.
Without a doubt, when it came to the economy, income distribution, social protection and quality of life, Francoism had been successful. It is possible, then, that that relative well-being, accompanied by the strong hand of Francoism, made the Spaniards more conservative and prudent; they had real achievements to preserve. And that's quite different from the panorama of failure we see in Cuba.
Can the Spanish transition serve as a guideline to the Cubans?
Of course. Several lessons can be learned from the Spanish experience:
· It is not true that societies are by nature reluctant to engage in democratic behavior, as Franco believed and Castro believes. Perhaps the horror of a long dictatorial period makes the people more reflective and distrustful, which makes them more reluctant to follow the caudillos.
· The death of the dictator is to all -- government and opposition -- a magnificent opportunity to bury the regime and, with it, a historical period that has been totally overtaken. With the death of this type of dictator, all the loyalties founded on personal relations, not on ideological links, disappear.
· The key to the transition lies in creating the conditions so that everyone, or almost everyone, sees the change as an opportunity to improve living conditions for oneself and one's relatives. In the same manner as the Franquistas discovered that there was life beyond Francoism, the Cuban Communists will inevitably reach the same conclusion: there is life beyond Communism. And that, of course, is easy to verify by reading the history of what once was Communist Europe.
· It is smart to propitiate a sort of collective historic amnesia that leads to the reconciliation of societies. A former minister in Franco's government whose father was executed by the Reds during the Civil War phrased it this way: "I cannot fix and save the past. I can only save the future." That attitude is compatible with the total freedom of expression and publication that will enable everyone to tell their experiences and air their grievances without resorting to the official "truth commissions" that only manage to needlessly complicate the transition processes.
How can we contribute to a peaceful transition in Cuba?
There are several measures that can help Cubans. The most important may be these:
· The United States and the European Union must make it very clear (and repeat in private or in public every time it's useful or necessary) that the only legitimate and acceptable goal is the establishment in Cuba of a plural democracy where human rights are respected. In other words, there will be no give-and-take with political dictatorships that limit an opening to the economic field.
· The U.S. and the E.U. must continue to give all kinds of support, symbolic and practical, to the democrats in the opposition, both inside and outside Cuba. That support must be combined with public denunciation of the abuses Cubans suffer at the hands of the dictatorship.
· Initiatives such as the ones put forth by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a key figure in the process of pacification of Central America, must be encouraged.
· It is advisable to maintain the economic pressures on the dictatorship, as the United States and Europe do, with the understanding that they will be eliminated as soon as a genuine process of change begins in Cuba.
· It is vital to expand the conduits of information to the Cuban people via Radio and TV Martí, the Internet, and any channel of information that manages to break the dictatorship's news blockade.
· The plans for future aid to a democratic Cuba must be given maximum publicity, so Cubans may see very clearly that change will bring them a reasonable climate of material prosperity and security.
· It would be good to leave the door open so Cuba may join the Free Trade Area of the Americas if that's what the Cubans decide to do in a democratic future. It would also be very useful for Cubans to learn the enormous advantages that that accord has brought to Mexico so they might imagine what it could bring to Cuba. Somehow, it would be the equivalent of the stimulus felt by the Spaniards when they learned that the establishment of a democratic regime would take them into the European Union.