The nationwide protests in Cuba have been truly inspiring. In response to the Cuban government’s crackdown on protesters, President Biden has placed sanctions on Álvaro López Miera and the black berets. Miera is the head of Cuba’s Ministry of Revolutionary Armed Forces (Defense Ministry).
If sanctions are to be of any help in accelerating Cuba’s transition to democracy, we also have to consider rewarding the Cuban government leaders who are willing to cooperate with us.
The current situation in Cuba should remind us of the Soviet power struggle following Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. Much like in Cuba after Fidel Castro, Stalin’s death launched a succession struggle within the top leadership of the party.
Nikita Khrushchev prevailed over his rivals Georgy Malenkov and Lavrentiy Beria because Khrushchev understood that a Soviet leader cannot win a power struggle without the support of both the military and the security police.
Shortly before his death, Stalin abolished the office of General Secretary and ruled the country through his other position as head of the Council of Ministers. The Politburo was replaced by the Presidium as the supreme policymaking body within the Communist Party.
Many of the top Soviet leaders in the Presidium wanted to make sure that Malenkov would not dominate the party and the government as Stalin did. Khrushchev was able to reestablish the office of First Secretary of the Communist Party, as head of the party, while Malenkov ran the government through the Council of Ministers.
Beria proposed many reforms to transition power away from Khrushchev’s power base in the Communist Party and toward the Council of Ministers. Beria even considered the idea of accepting German reunification in exchange for money.
When there was unrest in East Germany in June 1953, Malenkov blamed Beria’s proposals and decided to work with Khrushchev. Along with being Malenkov’s Deputy in the Council of Ministers, Beria ran the Interior Ministry (MVD).
After Stalin’s death, Beria merged the MVD with the Ministry of State Security (MGB), which is what the KGB was called in those days. Beria had three First Deputies (Sergei Kruglov, Ivan Serov and Bogdan Kobulov).
Malenkov recruited Kruglov while Khrushchev recruited Serov. Kruglov and Serov were crucial to Beria’s downfall. Because Kruglov was monitoring all the wiretaps of top Kremlin officials, Beria depended on him to alert him of any coup attempt.
Even without an early warning system, Beria could not have been arrested unless Serov refused to mobilize the MVD troops and the Kremlin Guard to help him.
After Beria and his top loyalists were executed in December 1953, Kruglov and Serov divided the security services. Kruglov ran the Interior Ministry while Serov became the first chairman of the KGB.
Cuba’s communist system very much resembles the Soviet Union during the '60s. In 2019, the Cuban communists adopted a new constitution. While Khrushchev denounced Stalin and reduced the level of repression, Cuba’s new constitution provided some limited reforms. In both cases, the regime retained one-party rule.
President Biden has already said that his administration is exploring ways to help restore internet access to Cuba. Internet and cell phones are vital for the Cuban resistance.
In 1960, Castro established the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). As of 2008, there were approximately 133,000 CDRs in Cuba with 8 million members out of a total population of 11.2 million Cubans. These neighborhood watch organizations are designed for people to spy on their neighbors and prove their loyalty to the regime.
President Biden, and our allies in Latin America, should try to facilitate contacts between the protestors and elements within the regime that are willing to defect. The protestors know it is risky to meet with Communist Party members alone.
Even if some officials refuse, this will create a prisoner’s dilemma within the Communist Party hierarchy. The communist government would almost certainly respond with a purge to find them.
This will only alienate more people to join the protestors.
Communism will not last forever in Cuba. In 2020, Cuba’s economy contracted by 12 percent. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel wouldn’t dare risk a free and fair election.
One of the few heroes for both Cuba’s communists, and anti-communists, is José Martí. He died fighting for Cuba’s independence against Spain in 1895.
Martí once wrote that, ''Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.'' I hope that the Cuban people will soon get the right to speak honestly and vote the Communist Party out.
Robert Zapesochny is a researcher and writer whose work focuses on foreign affairs, national security and presidential history. He has been published in numerous outlets, including The American Spectator, the Washington Times, and The American Conservative. When he's not writing, Robert works for a medical research company in New York. Read Robert Zapesochny's Reports — More Here
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