Cuba’s Post-Castro Transition Has Already Occurred January 19, 2007Posted by notapundit in World News.
By Anita Snow
Of THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
HAVANA (AP)–Fidel Castro’s enemies in exile have long predicted that the end of his reign in Cuba would bring dancing in the streets, a mass exodus and a rapid transition to a U.S.-style democracy and market economy.
But almost six months after Castro stepped aside due to illness, the transition has occurred – and with none of those changes. Cubans are calmly going about their business, and there has been no northbound rush of migrants, and no signs of impending policy shifts.
Even if Castro recovers fully and returns to public life, officials no longer insist that he will return to power. Why would he? Cuban officials already have pulled off what their enemies have long said would be impossible: They have built a post-Castro communist system.
About the only thing different in Cuba is that its government, instead of being led by a single person, is handled by a group. Raul Castro heads a collective leadership guided by the same Communist Party his older brother extolled during a nearly half-century in power.
“These guys know what they are doing. They are prepared to lead Cuba without Fidel,” said Marifeli Perez-Stable of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank. “The country, in the short run, is not going to collapse.”
Even a senior U.S. intelligence official said last week that Raul Castro has the support and respect of military leaders critical to ensuring a leadership succession within the existing communist system.
Army Lieutenant General Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the temporary president is firmly in control and “will likely maintain power and stability after Fidel Castro dies, at least for the short-term.”
Cuban officials say no single person can replace the 80-year-old Maximum Leader, who micromanaged projects, gave marathon speeches and entertained visitors at dinners lasting until dawn.
Raul Castro, the mustachioed longtime defense minister, now greets visiting dignitaries and military parades. But he hasn’t kept his brother’s long hours and reserves his evenings for family.
“The only substitute for Fidel can be the Communist Party of Cuba,” the 75-year-old Raul Castro told university students in September.
The most visible official after Raul is Vice President Carlos Lage, who favors a white guayabera dress shirt over fatigues and is said to drive himself around in a boxy little Russian Lada sedan. Lage, 55, exercises wide control over government administration, much like a prime minister.
Lage recently represented Cuba at Bolivia’s constitutional convention and presidential inaugurations in Colombia and Ecuador. And when Fidel Castro ceded power in July, he gave Lage sole responsibility for his “energy revolution,” the renovation of the country’s antiquated electrical grid that is close to Castro’s heart.
Castro decreed that five other top officials would share responsibility for other projects important to his legacy in Latin America:
-Felipe Perez Roque, 41, the boyish, clean-shaven foreign minister;
-Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer, 74, Cuba’s powerful former chief of ideology;
-Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 76, the longtime Communist Party leader who represented Cuba at the inauguration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega;
-Esteban Lazo, 62, the country’s most powerful black leader who headed Cuba’s delegation to the U.N. General Assembly in September;
-Francisco Soberon, 62, the central bank president who was evidently included to facilitate project funding.
Fidel Castro did not mention National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon among the group, but the 69-year-old parliament speaker and veteran diplomat could be called on should the U.S. later accept Raul Castro’s offer for dialogue.
With Fidel out of view and the state of his health uncertain, the top priority for these officials is to work for unity.
“There will be no division among Cuban revolutionaries,” Lage said at a belated 80th birthday celebration that Castro was too sick to attend. “There will be no ambitions, no egos.”
While no major policy changes are expected while Fidel is alive, analysts believe Raul Castro and Lage could eventually favor a slight economic opening.
Raul Castro in the past expressed interest in China’s model of a state-dominated market economy with one-party political control. Lage promoted modest reforms, including foreign investment and limited private enterprise, that saved Cuba’s faltering economy in the 1990s after the Soviet bloc collapsed.
Perez-Stable said the collective leadership should listen to Cubans anxious for economic options in a country where government salaries of around $15 a month fail to cover basic needs.
“Any gesture they make toward opening the economy will be applauded not only by ordinary Cubans, but will be welcomed by Europe, Canada and countries elsewhere,” she said.
But Cubans recognize that any changes will be gradual, and “will be orchestrated by those whom Fidel has long been grooming,” Julia E. Sweig of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations wrote in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.
“Washington, too, must accept that there is no alternative to those already running post-Fidel Cuba,” she wrote.