Cuba Politics

What will happen in Cuba when Fidel Castro dies?

Posted October 30, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Politics.

Latin America Advisor

Question: Cuban President Fidel Castro’s fall following a speech Oct. 20, in which he broke bones in his left leg and right arm, brought to the fore questions about what will happen in Cuba after he is gone. Is the Cuban government prepared for Castro’s eventual departure? Is the United States prepared?

Answer from William Rogers, a senior partner at Arnold & Porter and former assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs: One would suppose that the Cuban government is prepared but only in the limited sense that it is ready to designate some successor, or a cabal of successors acting collegially, to inherit Fidel’s monopoly of power. The U.S. government is distinctly not prepared for that. It favors, and is doing what it can, to bring about a sharper break with the existing political system. A soft landing is conceivable. But the higher probability is that Castro’s departure will let loose a storm of unforeseeable consequences for which neither government is ready. The risk of conflict and confrontation is all too serious. The only thing we can be certain of is that the future in this instance will not be surprise-free. There are lessons here from the post-communist experience in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. When a long-embedded socialist system loses its grip—and, as Raśl Castro has admitted, there will never be another Fidel—a smooth and easy transition to market-oriented democratic institutions is not inevitable.

Answer from Dennis Hays, managing director at Tew Cardenas: Fidel Castro and his regime have both been ossifying for decades, to the point where the only question is which one of them is the more brittle on a given day. His recent fall thus provides an apt snapshot of Cuba at present. Castro makes a serious misstep and his aides are powerless to prevent it. The real damage from all of this, of course, is inflicted on the Cuban people. Outside of Robert Mugabe and Kim Jung Il, it is hard to think of anyone who has willfully beggared a rich land and proud people more effectively than Castro. Even those regime adherents who dream of succeeding Castro must be getting to the point where they rediscover just enough religion to pray that his passing is sooner rather than later.

Answer from Phil Peters, vice president of the Lexington Institute: It’s a safe bet that Cuba will carry out a constitutional succession. But it is simply unknowable whether a political system built and dominated for decades by a single figure will be truly prepared after he’s gone to manage its future challenges (growth, pluralism, reconciliation, U.S. relations) and to adapt to change. The U.S. government has prepared, but badly, by cracking down on Americans who want to build people-to-people contacts, punishing Cubans with economic sanctions that now even block small acts of family charity, harassing foreign companies for doing in Cuba precisely what U.S. businesses do in other communist countries, issuing a ‘‘transition’’ blueprint that reminds Cubans of the colonial past and designing solutions to non-U.S. property disputes that should be resolved among Cubans alone. Today, the result is limited communication, narrow contacts, reduced U.S. influence and suspicions that the United States represents one segment of the exile community rather than the democratic cause in general. On the day Castro leaves office, these self-inflicted impediments to U.S. diplomacy will still be with us.

Portions of Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor run each Wednesday and Saturday.

Please post your thoughts below.

Member Comments

On October 31, 2004, Ralph wrote:

It seems to be wiseley not to fret too much about the life-
span of some “big"people,history,specially the human ones is
in manifold ways unpredicted,many conjectures could be issued
but the right one, I mean the real one,nobody knows,neither in
Zimbabwe,nor Cuba or Palestine.In Cuba,for instances,some posi-
tives achievements reached in those trying times will prevail,
I mean education facilities and comodities,sport achievements,
health access,these combined with freedom,fair democratic play,
etc,the economic rebuilt will need help,but help in Cuba could
never be understood as a dependence of any “big’brother,Cuba
will need toomuch love,christian love,to reconciliate each other and Faith,courage and determination to go up and go well,
the genuine cuban feelings should prevail.Turmoil? I should
wait to the moment comes to see,however that is a possibility.

On October 31, 2004, Jesus Perez wrote:

Mr. Phil Peters’ answer is the only one that addresses some of the important issues that would follow the departure of Fidel. I would worry much more about our own preparedness than that of the Cubans. If you study Cuban-American relations for the last century, you will find many reasons for Cubans to be very suspicious with regards to U.S. intentions and policy toward Cuba. As far as Mr. Hays statement that Fidel “has beggared the nation and its people more effectively than any other leader”,
I would submit that Mr. Hays is one of those americans that cannot stomach anyone standing up to the U.S., and in that regard Fidel has given him many reasons to be bitter.

On November 01, 2004, Robert Elliott wrote:

The attitude of the US people / government towards Cuba and Castro is truly fascinating.
1. The US will actively seek trade opportunites with totalitarian states like China and Saudi Arabia (monarchy) yet shun Cuba.
2. The US criticizes Cuba for its revolution (1959), yet many comparisons can be drawn to the American revolution: a response to unjust rule, limited popular support, expropriatation of property, etc.
3. Further to comment about Cuba being “beggared”, I think the average Cuban is better off than the average Jamaican, Haitian, or Dominican Republican and these countries are all democracies. Also, how would Canada fair with a US embargo? How would the US fair with a Saudi embargo?

On November 18, 2004, Jay W Callihan wrote:

What will happen to the current immigration policy?  For fear that the policy of “When my foot hits U.S. soil I am an American” may end will there be a mass exodus of Cubans to Florida and if so can the U.S. handle such a situation.  Another thought, could it be that others of places like Haiti and Domican are also waiting to piggy back such a panic?

On November 19, 2004, Ralph wrote:

Oh man,let’ not to fet and let’ not to gloat over misfortunes
of others,even though you can vouch that he or she really has
a very bad record in his or her life-span,you know what,because
of doing so you are bragging of tomorrow and the real fact is
we don’t know what a single day may bring forth.Again,to relate
what will happen in my CUBA after Castro? Stop talking rubbish,
because that answer is that none has,we need,as somebody said
above,preparedness,decision,etc,but step by step,man,and as at
now to be factual,let me say that Castro is still there.