Journalist and respected Cuba watcher Ann Louise Bardach outlined a post-Castro world for our readers late last year in her piece “We’ll Always Have Fidel.” Her premise was that even as Fidel Castro faded from the scene, and his younger brother Raúl followed suit, that the dynasty would continue through the seeds – both genetic and ideological—that the brothers have planted and nurtured in the past half century.
Raúl Castro’s announcement that this new five-year term is his last, made at yesterday’s National Assembly conference with Fidel at his side, telegraphed that the change in power the Castros templated has begun. First on the agenda is naming a successor. That honor goes to Miguel Diaz-Canel, 52, who was named first vice-president of the Council of State and as such is the likely replacement caudillo for the 81-year-old Raúl.
“As predicted here in Pacific Standard,” Bardach wrote to us today, “Miguel Diaz-Canel, Raúl Castro’s favored Young Turk, has caught the bouquet. He is a bright, hard working technocrat—a trudger and plodder. I’m sure that Raúl identified with his willingness and ability to stay in the trenches and out of the limelight!
“But there remains HUGE PROBLEMS FOR CUBA—staggering debt, a dying Hugo Chávez (whose patronage keeps Cuba afloat), the unresolved issues regarding Alan Gross that prevents any rapprochement with the U.S. All this require a master politician and diplomat, while Diaz-Canel has both a significant charisma-deficit problem and seemingly impossible shoes to fill.”
If that wasn’t enough, she adds, “remember that [octogenarian] Ramiro Valdes retains all his seats of power, and the Army remains the central organ of power.” Valdes, as keen readers will recall, has tangled with Raúl before, but was both rehabilitated and then used as the envoy to Chávez’s Venezuela.
While some outside Cuba are claiming to see these inevitable changes as portents of a gradual shift to democracy and perhaps capitalism, Raúl was having none of that. “I was not chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba. I was elected to defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism, not destroy it.”
Or as Bardach wrote months ago:
One thing is clear: there will be no dramatic transition from Castroismo to a market-based economy; but rather a painstakingly slow transformation through myriad small, measured reforms, just enough to ensure the survival of the island nation—and its ruling family.
And for an interactive graphic on who is who in Cuba today (and tomorrow), click here.