By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Fidel Castro, the longtime leader of Cuba, died on Nov. 25. His death prompted both mourning and celebration. It was a fitting response to a dictator who killed and imprisoned countless Cuban citizens to sustain his revolution.
Castro’s fellow leftists are now without the man who was often heralded as a leader of the socialist revolution in the Western hemisphere. In the years preceding Castro’s death, leftist leaders were consistently removed from office throughout Central and South America.
Revolutionary Government Continues without Castro
Though Castro’s misdeeds and the waning of the socialist revolution in the West are well documented, the most important fact at this point is what hasn’t happened. Castro may be gone, but the revolutionary government he created in 1959 still functions.
To be sure, the government in Havana wasn’t exactly expected to fall once Castro died, but he was more than just a figurehead of the revolution. Once Castro seized power, he removed potential threats throughout his opposition in Cuba and even among his supporters.
Opening to U.S. and Economic Reforms Are Cuban Window Dressing
Fidel’s behavior didn’t change with age or regime stability either. Just a few years ago, Castro ceded power to his younger brother Raul, but Fidel still remained very much in charge.
Even with the change in leadership, all covert activities or economic changes still had to have the elder Castro’s approval. The change from Fidel to Raul did allow for a new opening to the United States and plenty of economic reforms.
But it was all window dressing. These changes could not have occurred when Fidel still held formal office.
The change in leadership did have a functional purpose, however. Castro, like all mortals, would eventually die, and he understood this inescapable fact.
When Castro’s brother Raul took over the presidency, he wasn’t much younger than Fidel – still in his early eighties. But the takeover showed that Fidel Castro was prepared for the inevitable day when he would die.
Castro’s Cuba Is a Family Enterprise
The transfer of power to Raul was also important because it demonstrated that Castro’s regime would continue beyond his demise. It also showed that the Cuban regime is very much a family enterprise.
Since the success of the revolution in 1959, Raul has been in charge of the military and the economy. Not surprisingly, all of the corporations that Raul set up to handle economic matters are run by hand-picked Cuban generals. The Cuban economy is nothing more than a military enterprise.
This military-run economy and Raul Castro’s health will likely present the most profound challenges to Cuba in the near term. Though Fidel sat at the top of the political leadership, it was Raul who created the military-run economy and helped several friends make substantial fortunes in the process.
Raul’s Economic Reforms Expand Bribes and Embezzlement
When Raul assumed the presidency, he ushered in several economic reforms that helped the Cuban economy to an extent. Yet they fall short in several areas – most notably in foreign direct investment.
Foreign companies don’t wish to have their money and assets seized. Nor do they wish to be subjected to corrupt generals who require constant bribes or engage in embezzlement. There are some foreign companies willing to move into Cuba, but the government will need to change some ingrained habits.
But those habits will be incredibly difficult to break. The Castros have ruled Cuba for decades, but they have had to rely on people to assist in that role.
No dictator rules alone. They require loyalists who have a vested interest in maintaining the regime – and their income. It’s entirely possible that the Cuban economy can be reformed to accommodate both, but it’s a rather slim premise.
How Long Will Free Venezuelan Oil Flow to Cuba?
Adding to Raul’s troubles, Cuba’s power generation relies heavily on free oil imports from Venezuela. With the death of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and the current Maduro government faltering, this source may be in peril and Cuba’s economic future may sink with it.
There is also infighting to consider. Raul is expected to step down from the presidency in 2018, if he lives that long. His replacement will be Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, a capable bureaucrat but a high-level functionary with little military experience.
Raul’s Hand-Picked Successor Needs to Control the Military
Diaz-Canel may not have the type of experience to keep the military elites that run the economy in check. Also, there is a high probability that the vice president will contend with Raul’s son, Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín.
Castro Espín has been plugged into the Cuban military and economy – both legal and illicit – for some time. As a Castro, he may claim the presidency as a birthright when his father dies, in spite of Raul naming Diaz-Canel as his successor.
But Castro Espín has the military support to back any claim to power he would make. Diaz-Canel lacks this type of support.
For now, Raul Castro runs Cuba. However, his advancing age will impact his ability to rule for very long. The situation in Cuba leaves much to be desired for the future.