Friday, July 21, 2006

Who will rule Cuba?

Who will rule Cuba?

With Fidel Castro rumored to be ailing, his younger, 75-year-old brother
Raul could be next in line to lead Cuba, much to the dismay of Washington.

Commentary by Carmen Gentile for ISN Security Watch (21/07/06)

On the surface, it's business as usual on the communist isle of Cuba,
where Fidel Castro has overseen his social "revolution" for more than
four decades.

However, the seemingly timeless Castro, whose authority dates back to
the administration of US President John F Kennedy, turns 80 this year
and is showing subtle signs of at least beginning to think about a
future for a Cuba without him at the helm.

In recent months, Castro's younger brother, Raul, albeit at 75, has
assumed a greater public role in Cuba's one-party politics. For the vast
majority of Cuba watchers, he appears to be the most likely heir
apparent to his brother Fidel.

Whether the elder Castro will pass the torch to Raul at death or before
his demise remains a mystery. Fidel has made no public statements about
a line of succession involving his younger brother or any other member
of the Communist party, for that matter.

But his presence is certainly more pervasive in the pages of Gramna, the
Communist party's official newspaper. For the last month, its online
edition has featured a posting of a speech Raul gave for Cuban troops in
June. The younger Castro is Cuba's minister of defense as well as a vice
president, making him the next in line should something happen to Fidel.

Assuming Raul is the anointed successor to Fidel, Bush administration
officials are watching closely for physical signs of weakness from the
Cuban leader, who is rumored to have Parkinson's disease and a host of
other ailments.

At the same time, they are prepping for the likely handover of authority
to Raul and speculating on what might happen under his watch.

Analysts are split on predicting whether Raul will follow in his
brother's footsteps and maintain Cuba's hardline communist regime or
perhaps adopt some free-market reforms and ease restrictions that forbid
Cubans from speaking out against their government, accessing information
via the internet and gathering in groups. Human rights activists are
curious to know whether Raul would free Cuban dissidents who were
imprisoned for their defiance of Cuba's strict laws.

In the meantime, the US is preparing for a future when neither Fidel nor
Raul rule Cuba, a future in which democracy is the rule of law on the
Caribbean island.

Earlier this month, the White House approved a new 93-page report to the
president dubbed the "Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba," which
pledges that the US will provide monetary assistance to a future
transitional government with intent to form a democratic nation after 40
years of communist rule.

The report outlines how US$80 million would be donated to the island
nation during the first two years after Castro's demise and US$20
million each subsequent year as long as the transition is under way.

"The report demonstrates that we are actively working for change in
Cuba, not simply waiting for change," said US President George W Bush in
a statement earlier this month. "I call on all our democratic friends
and allies around the world to join us in supporting freedom for the
Cuban people."

Among the pledges made by the Bush administration were to assist a
transitional government in conducting free and fair elections and
provide consulting and monetary assistance to the country's Central Bank
during the transition from communism to free-market economic policies.

While the report was lauded by Cuban activists in the US, officials in
Havana roundly condemned the new Bush doctrine on Cuba as meddlesome and
a blueprint for fomenting future dissent and rebellion.

Regardless of its intent, none of the US promises to aid Cuba are likely
to come to fruition if Raul Castro becomes the country's next president.

In the event of a transition from Fidel to his younger brother, the US
will certainly condemn the move and maintain the economic sanctions that
have dealt a devastating blow to the country's economy since the fall of
the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Cuban activists stateside, who refer to the sanctions as merely "the
policy," have said they would be disheartened by a Cuba ruled by Raul,
though not defeated, and pledged to continue their fight for democracy

One administration official told ISN Security Watch that the White House
would maintain its same line on Cuba unless Raul Castro showed
definitive signs of dropping some of his brother's more stringent
political and economics policies in favor of real democratic reform.

That decision won't likely fall to the Bush administration, as Fidel
seems intent on remaining in charge at least until the end of
president's term, ending in early 2008.

Until then, activists and the White House can only speculate as to what
Fidel has in mind for the future of Cuba.

Carmen Gentile is a senior international correspondent for ISN Security
Watch. He has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan and Bolivia for ISN
Security Watch, and Haiti, Venezuela and elsewhere for Newsweek, The
Boston Globe, The Washington Times and others.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only,
not the International Relations and Security Network (ISN).

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