Analysis: Castro brothers' successor may inherit a very different Cuba
Fidel Castro, left, and his brother, Raul, are preparing to pass the
torch of power to a new generation.
By Carlos Rajo, Telemundo
Raul Castro's recent announcement that he will leave power in 2018, and
his appointment of 52-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel as first vice president
and his de facto successor, are signs of the glacial pace of political
change in Cuba.
Certainly, these announcements won't satisfy those who for decades have
been waiting for the Castro brothers' exit.
Nevertheless, the move marks the beginning of the passing of the torch
of power to a new generation.
For the first time in half a century, there is the real possibility that
a person who did not fight in the Cuban Revolution will lead the
country. Diaz-Canel was not even born when Fidel Castro overthrew
Fulgencio Batista in January 1959. Since then, a Castro has been in
power in Cuba: first the now-retired, 86-year-old Fidel, and from 2006
to now, his younger brother, Raul, 81.
This generational change does not mean that Cuba will move to a
different political system. There is no going back to capitalism, Raul
Castro told the National Assembly on Sunday. Nevertheless, the move
toward a generational change must be seen in the context of other
reforms implemented by the younger Castro.
These reforms already are changing the face of Cuban socialism. Castro
has introduced private farms, cooperatives in industries and activities
outside agriculture, and an array of small business. Granted, these are
restricted and heavily regulated, but still they are earning profits and
starting to create a segment of wealthier, successful entrepreneurs.
Cubans are also now allowed to sell houses and cars, and more recently,
to travel abroad if they can get a visa from another country.
While little is known of Diaz-Canel's ideology, it is likely that as the
appointed Castro successor he is on board with the reforms.
The U.S. State Department reacted tepidly to Castro's announcement and
made clear that it would not be sufficient to prompt a lifting of the
U.S. trade embargo. Although President Barack Obama doesn't have
election constraints in formulating a Cuba policy in his second term,
the issue remains emotionally and politically charged in the U.S., and
Congress is not likely to change its mind and lift the embargo while a
Castro remains in power.
That doesn't mean relations can't change, however.
For instance, the Obama administration could remove Cuba from the list
of states that sponsor terrorism. Cuba had been on that list since 1982,
when it had the financial support of the Soviet Union and could afford
to help guerrilla groups in Central and South America.
Cuba doesn't have the resources to help armed groups – or even the
political will to do so. Cuba is not Syria, North Korea or Iran in terms
of being a threat to the U.S.
However, the lifting of the embargo is likely only after a period of
more normal relations between the countries. There is also a legal
obstacle: According to the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, the U.S. will
recognize the legitimacy of a Cuban government only when someone other
than a Castro is in power. For now, at least, it seems that won't happen
The generational change in Cuba is real. Not only does Diaz-Canel take
the place of the 83-year-old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, but the
composition of others organs of power is younger as well. Eighty percent
of the members of the National Assembly were born after the revolution,
and the average age of members of the Council of State is 57, with about
60 percent having been born post-revolution.
As is the tradition in Cuba, Diaz-Canel owes his influential position to
one of the Castros — in this case, Raul. As far back as 2003, the
younger Castro talked about the "solid ideological firmness" of the
electrical engineer, who also has served as a university professor and
party boss in the Cuban provinces of Villa Clara and Holguin. Notably,
Diaz-Canel served in the armed forces under Raul Castro and earned a
reputation as a good manager of the military's diverse commercial
Diaz-Canel will have to be careful. There have been several young
leaders who once looked like they had been chosen as a Castro successor
but later fell from grace. In every case — Roberto Robaina, Carlos
Lague, Felipe Perez Roque — they went from being the heir apparent to
being suddenly demoted without much ceremony or explanation. The
difference is that all were put in their positions of power by Fidel
Castro and were demoted when they fell out of favor with him. Diaz-Canel
is said to be Raul Castro's favorite.
Assuming that nothing extraordinary happens before 2018, that Raul
remains healthy and that there are no ideological purges – "corruption"
is the favorite accusation of the Cuban leadership when it comes to
making demotions — the big question for Cuba, and for Diaz-Canel
himself, is the success of Raul's reforms.
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If they work well, perhaps the regime will develop a sort of hybrid
socialism-communism with a dynamic, state-controlled capitalist economy.
Or maybe day by day the reforms will penetrate Cuban society and
ultimately destroy one the few communist systems left in the world.
Diaz-Canel, meanwhile, will start toying with the torch of power.
Only time will tell whether — when the day comes in 2018 or sooner —
the Cuba that Diaz-Canel has known will still be there for him to rule.