Why Fidel’s death would unlikely topple regime
Jan. 14, 2015
by Alan Gomez, USA TODAY
MIAMI – The latest “Fidel Castro is dead” rumors that roared through
Cuba over the past week appear, like many before them, to have been
The rumors are nothing new for Castro, who’s 88, has undergone multiple
surgeries and hasn’t been seen in public in over a year. The most recent
flurry seems to have been sparked by the death of the son of a Kenyan
opposition leader named Fidel Castro Odinga, and wasn’t quashed until
Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona said he had received a letter
from the still-living communist revolutionary.
But the timing of the debunked rumor serves as a reminder that Fidel
Castro’s death will have a far different meaning today than it would
have just a few years ago.
When Castro dies, Cuban natives who have been waiting for so long for
the day will rejoice. Some will uncork decades-old bottles of champagne
they’ve been saving for the occasion. Local governments in South Florida
have plans in place for dealing with the spontaneous street parades
expected throughout the region.
But after the party is over and the smoke from the fireworks has
cleared, what’s left behind in Cuba will be pretty much the same.
It was once thought that the death of Castro, whose charisma and
leadership were key to maintaining power on the island for all these
years, would lead to a chaotic collapse of the communist regime. But a
combination of the illness that led him to hand over power to his
younger brother, Raul Castro, in 2008 and the surprise breakthrough in
diplomatic relations with the United States announced last month have
created an environment where the regime could carry on with minimal
Castro’s illness had the unintended effect of initiating a transfer of
power without the shock to the system his death would have triggered.
Raul Castro has had seven years to establish himself as the country’s
president, cement relationships with world leaders and instill in Cubans
a sense that life will go on as before.
While not as charismatic as his brother, Raul Castro came into the role
with a 47-year history as a leader of Cuba’s Defense Ministry, the
largest, strongest and most financially viable sector of the state-run
system. The military complex controls key sectors of the Cuban economy,
including hotels and domestic airlines. In fact, current and former
military officers control more than 60% of the major enterprises on the
island, according to Jaime Suchlicki, executive director of the
Institute for Cuba and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.
Those officers will have every incentive to maintain control over their
fiefdoms, regardless of who is in charge. Communist Party leaders, state
and national police and high-ranking officials in the government’s
sprawling ministries will all want to hold on to their spheres of power.
Raul Castro has also undertaken several steps to ease tensions among
dissatisfied Cubans. Fidel Castro used the occasional mass exodus as an
escape valve for the building pressure on the island, as seen during the
Mariel Boatlift of 1980 and the rafter crisis of 1994. But his brother
has taken a different, perhaps more effective approach.
In 2013, he lifted the dreaded exit visa requirement for Cubans,
allowing Cubans to travel abroad more freely and removing the
long-standing complaint that they were trapped. He also instituted a
series of economic reforms, allowing people to buy and sell their homes
and cars for the first time, and get out of the state-run economy and
work on their own.
Add the new relationship with the United States, one that offers the
possibility of American companies selling resources directly to Cubans,
and people on the island now have at least a marginal sense of optimism
that hasn’t been there for a long time.
There is no doubt that untold numbers of Cubans will use Fidel Castro’s
death as a moment to seek an end to the communist government. Dissidents
continue to protest against the regime, and a day rarely goes by without
some desperate Cubans risking their lives by heading out to sea on
makeshift rafts – the U.S. Coast Guard encountered 481 such would-be
migrants in December alone.
But circumstances have changed on the island, and it will very tough to
overthrow the communist regime, with or without Fidel.
Gomez is a Miami-based correspondent for USA TODAY
Source: Voices: Why Fidel’s death would unlikely topple regime | Pacific
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