Last Monday, Fidel Castro, in a letter read on state television, stated that “My elemental duty is not to cling to positions, or even less to obstruct the path of younger people.” This Monday, however, his younger brother gave every indication that Fidel has no intention of giving up his formal positions of power. Raul, who has been running the country for seventeen months as “provisional” president, claimed that the 81-year-old leader is fine and hampered only by “some small physical limitations.” Said the younger Castro: “We consult him on principal matters, that is why we the leaders of the party defend his right to run again as deputy of the National Assembly as a first step.”
First step? Castro must keep his National Assembly seat in order to retain his official position atop the Cuban political order as president of the Council of State. Elections take place January 20. Despite his I-won’t-cling declarations, Fidel this month announced he would run for the legislative seat.
Of course, it’s unlikely his constituents will see much of him on the stump. Since last July, when he was hospitalized for intestinal problems, he has released photos of himself in his Adidas track suits, he has met with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and he has issued written pronouncements with great regularity, yet he has not been well enough to appear in public. Not surprisingly, therefore, he’s asked Raul to campaign for him for the National Assembly seat.
And there is something else he has been asking Raul. Fidel evidently wants his brother to take over formally when he dies. That will be only the second dynastic succession in a Communist state. In the first, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il assumed power after his father, Great Leader Kim Il Sung, died in 1994. At the time, virtually every analyst assumed that the North Korean state would collapse without its charismatic founder. Today, history is repeating itself as most every Cuba watcher thinks there will be great changes after Fidel, who brought Communism to Cuba, goes. Raul is said to be more pragmatic than his hardline brother and appears to want reform.
There is always optimism when leaders in Communist nations change. We hope that Raul is indeed a reformer, yet we have to remember that Marxist states operate according to their own logic. The risk is that, when Fidel finally passes from the scene, the West will reward Cuba in anticipation of changes we assume his successor will make. The better approach is to first watch what happens. After all, North Korea is still the same North Korea, just more dangerous.