Some politicians and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. and anti-Castro activists in Florida have been waiting so long for the passing from the scene of Cuban president Fidel Castro, that now that he has actually ceded power, it remains to be seen whether or not they can restrain themselves from attempting to provoke an event or series of events that would force Cuba to turn to its military for political stability and military defense during this transition period.
As far as Cubans likely are concerned, of all the circumstances that could have initiated the transition of political power, the one currently unfolding is best. By ceding power to Raul Castro, Fidel’s younger brother, presumably while Fidel is still alive, the government has given time for the Cuban people to psychologically prepare for a new leader.
Having been born since the advent of the Cuban Revolution the majority of the population has known no other political leader. As they wait to hear a definitive statement on Fidel’s health the emotional tension now must be overwhelming. The military waits as well.
Contrary to prevailing wisdom in the U.S. press, this is not the first time Fidel has ceded power to Raul. In the 1970s Castro underwent another medical situation and temporarily handed power to his brother. Then the mood was not nearly as somber as now.
Correctly the U.S. press has focused on four men whom are considered to be top candidates to replace Fidel. The four, Raul Castro, Foreign Minister Felipe Roque, National Assembly head Ricardo Alarcon and Cuba’s top economist Carlos Lage are all eminently qualified and politically skilled. Of the four, however, it would seem Roque, just 41, is the one who has been most diligently groomed for the job. In addition he commands the most passion among Cubans.
Many consider Roque the most likely long term replacement. He is a former head of the Young Communist organization and in the Cuban perspective is considered politically sound. Raul Castro on the other hand has often been considered to the left of Fidel and he is a sterner person. He does not generate emotion in the people in the way his brother does.
But for the time being Raul Castro is the head of the Cuban government, not because his brother says but because the Cuban Constitution says. Therefore now Raul is not only the head of the Cuban state but he is also head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.
Raul Castro is not the head of the Cuban armed forces the way George Bush is head of the U.S. armed forces. Raul, as a youth was a member of the Cuban Communist Party’s Young Communist League and broke party discipline to join the armed July 26 Movement that brought his older brother to power. He is now a highly trained and more importantly highly experienced militarist, having attended numerous advanced military courses in the former Soviet Union and overseeing Cuba’s highly successful military expeditions in Angola and Ethiopia. Most often in public he is seen wearing his uniform.
Furthermore, Cuban are comfortable with the army in their midst. Unlike the United States where most military units are confined to military reservations and are seen only on television or in parades, the Cuban army is integrated into the people’s everyday life. The army, in particular, is seen everywhere from doing security work at office buildings and large apartment complexes to working in agricultural enterprises. In Cuba the RAF are mostly self-sustaining and control nearly 11 percent of the economy. It participates in the tourist sector of the economy by running hotels and in agriculture by operating sizeable and productive farms.
In addition to all this the Cubans are already organized into a paramilitary organization that has access to arms, the Committees to Defend the Revolution. Most Cubans participate in the CDRs, many even donning uniforms on special occasions, especially when they feel threatened by war sounds coming from Washington. Georgina Chebou, a leading member of the Cuban Communist Party’s Central Committee told this writer not long ago, “We’ve always felt if we were ever to solve our energy problems, Washington would invade us.”
One would be hard pressed to convince Cubans they are all paranoid conspiracy theorists. As far as they are concerned all their enemies are real. History would seem to bear them out. Fabian Escalante, a long time head of Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior (in charge of state security) recently revealed he believes there have been in excess of over 600 assassination attempts against Fidel.
Also, this writer, as a guest of Cuban general Arnaldo Tomayo, has been inside the fortified tunnels that surround the U.S. naval installation at Guantanamo. Reportedly the existence of these tunnels is not unique in Cuba. Clearly any military incursion the U.S. might launch into Cuba would create a far, far more complicated and militarily ferocious response than what took place during 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
No one in Cuba in their right mind would want the military to take over the Cuban government, unless the United States creates the conditions to warrant it.
The best course for everyone involved, especially the politicians and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. and Florida, is to keep their distance and to allow this uniquely Cuban transition of power to continue peacefully.
Jean Damu can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org