BY LYDIA MARTIN | Miami Herald
It’s Valentine’s Day 2008 and Fidel Castro, after a mind-boggling 49 years in power, has finally met his maker. He goes anticlimactically—complications from Parkinson’s disease.
Conga lines down Calle Ocho? Horns honking through Hialeah? A celebration that brings down the Orange Bowl?
Sure. But forget the fantasy about how it will go down on the island.
Some Cuba scholars from the University of Miami will offer what they say is a more likely scenario during a simulation Friday night titled Cuba Without Fidel Castro—and it’s a downer.
The American banks, fast food restaurants and construction companies hoping to swoop in will have to pump their brakes. No frenzied celebrations in Cuba, the scholars say. No magical switch to democracy. No opportunity for Cuban Americans to blast onto the island to reclaim property or to set up no-credit-no-problem used car lots.
‘‘Too many people assume that when Fidel dies, the system is going to immediately collapse. We don’t anticipate that. Raul Castro will take over. The succession will be smooth and quick,’’ said Jaime Suchlicki, director of UM’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, who will be playing the role of Gen. Alvaro Lopez Miera, chief of the general staff for Cuba’s armed forces.
“The Politburo will first be concerned about security. Second, assuring there are no rebellions, no demonstrations. Then there is the question of the funeral. And if a U.S. delegation wants to come, do we accept them or not accept them?’‘
The simulation picks up when Fidel’s brother Raul Castro, who heads the military, convenes members of Cuba’s Politburo to discuss the immediate future. There’s a script. But not a lot by way of costumes and props. Organizers want to make sure nobody confuses their simulation with fun.
‘‘I am going to refrain from theatrics,’’ said Brian Latell, who will portray Raul. “I’m not going to dress like him. I don’t want to be seen as remotely resembling him.’‘
In the early 1990s, Latell served as national intelligence officer for Latin America; he is the author of the book After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro’s Regime and Cuba’s Next Leader.
“We are going to explore the kinds of tensions and pressures Raul will immediately come under. Fidel has been able to hold it all together just by sheer force of his titanic personality. Keep in mind that Raul is 74 and he’s an alcoholic. Will he get drunk when he faces his first crisis?’‘
Indeed, isn’t Raul pretty much the comic relief of the Cuban government, a sort of Billy Carter without his own brand of beer?
‘‘People do see him that way,’’ Suchlicki said. ``But actually, Raul is ruthless. In some ways, more ruthless than Fidel.’‘
Said Latell: ``He is not charismatic and, by and large, the Cuban people don’t like him. But he is a very skilled organizer. He has run the armed forces for 47 years. This is the most successful military of any Third World country for many years. . . . Fidel would have never lasted this long without his brother. Raul is underestimated in Miami.’‘
Among the other players:
Alcibiades Hidalgo, a Cuban journalist who was a high-ranking member of Cuba’s Communist Party, as Jose grave; Ramon Machado Ventura, a Politburo member in charge of organization.
Domingo Amuchastegui, former professor of Havana’s Higher Institute of International Relations, as Ricardo Alarcon, chairman of the People’s Popular National Assembly.
Georgina Lindskoog, project coordinator for UM’s Cuba Transition Project, as Yadira Garcia, minister of basic industries.
It’s not that the players believe there is no hope at all for Cuba.
‘‘We’re talking about what we think will happen immediately,’’ said UM assistant provost Andy Gomez, who will portray Abel Prieto Jiminez, minister of culture. “There can be significant change in Cuba, but it will be slow, much slower than the Cuban community in Miami wants. It will create a let-down.’‘
The scholars are quick to say they’re not fans of the scenario they’re setting forth.
‘‘We’re just offering a reality check,’’ Suchlicki said.
But couldn’t somebody in this cast of characters break from the pack? Isn’t there somebody in the Politburo with enough of an ego to want to go after the Nobel Prize, at least get on the cover of Time magazine for single-handedly steering Cuba to democracy?
‘‘Not in this crowd,’’ he said.
‘‘Their priority is to control Cuba,’’ Suchlicki said. ``They don’t want to risk winding up exiled. They want to keep things as they are.’‘
What with the Cuban spy situation at Florida International University, do the UM scholars think there might be Cuban spies checking out their simulation?
‘‘The Cuban government will send a couple of agents, I’m sure,’’ Suchlicki said. ‘‘And I do think they will probably agree with the scenario. It’s what’s most likely. But are there spies around all the time? I think there are. I think they’re probably listening to us right now.’’ Suchlicki laughed.
Not that he’s exactly kidding.