By Marc Frank | Reuters
With President Fidel Castro ill, and acting President Raul Castro 75 years old, the era of those who won the 1959 revolution is ending and the ascendancy of a new generation is about to begin, Cuba experts say.
A video of Fidel Castro, 80, in a hospital bed after surgery two weeks ago for intestinal bleeding quashed rumors he may have died and his brother’s public appearance at the weekend may have settled the question who is in control for now.
But Fidel Castro’s obvious frailty and Raul Castro’s age have also fueled speculation about who comes next.
“The system can go on for some time, but it all depends still on the life of two old individuals,” said a European diplomat, asking not to be identified by name.
Future leaders include long-time Castro confidant and parliament head Ricardo Alarcon, 69, Vice President Carlos Lage, 54, and pugnacious Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, 41, a staunch ideologue groomed for years by Fidel Castro.
“The Castro brothers have never anointed, or permitted, the emergence of a ‘third man,’” said Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst and author of a recent book on the Castros.
“It has been one of the secrets of their success at holding on to power virtually unopposed on the island all these years. As Raul takes command he is no doubt concerned about precisely this problem,” he added.
An influential military will play an even more decisive role in the selection of future leaders now that Defense Minister Raul Castro is at the helm, even though the Castro brothers insist that it is the Communist Party that, constitutionally, will lead the country.
In secretive Cuba, influence is exercised by generals, the 25 members of the “Politburo” who would choose a temporary Communist Party leader if Raul Castro were to become incapacitated, and the 30-member Council of State, which would select a temporary president under the same circumstances.
Cuba in July also established a new Communist Party executive committee. Most of its members are young up and coming stars in their 40s and 50s. Alarcon, Lage and Perez Roque are not on it.
CUBANS FEAR TURMOIL
In addition, the younger generations are filling key mid-level positions throughout the state apparatus, and it is still not clear if a new “strongman” will emerge, a more collective leadership or even a power struggle.
“New generations are already in control of much of the existing power structure and its institutions,” Domingo Amuchastegui, a former Cuban intelligence officer who defected in the 1990s, wrote in a recent paper on the leadership question.
The calm that has followed Castro’s handover to his brother has convinced many Cuba experts that Cubans do not want violent or tumultuous change.
“The key word for the future in Cuba is gradualism,” said John Kirk, a Latin American expert at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. “Change will come, but it will be gradual, far less dramatic than anybody imagines.”
But some Cubans fear that without the Castros around to keep their proteges in line, power struggles may erupt.
“We worry a lot that a crook could somehow get back in power after Fidel and destroy everything,” said a city of Camaguey municipal level party member, asking not to be identified.
“I do think it’s a toss-up when both Castros are gone,” said Cuba expert Frank Mora of the National War College in Washington.
“It’s this scenario that I fear could ignite a real ‘battle for power’ and (cause) a number of fissures to emerge that could break the regime and force change from below.”