Cuba Transition Project
Fidel Castro's nearly forty-nine year tenure as Cuba's de facto and
constitutional head of state and government may finally be drawing to a
close. National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcon told reporters in
Quito in October that Castro may not "be available" to serve another
five- year term as president of the Council of State.
Occupying that office since it was created in 1976 under Cuba's new
socialist constitution, Castro has served as head of state while
simultaneously presiding as head of government in the role of president
of the council of ministers. But to be re-elected for another five-year
term he would first have to be chosen as a provincial delegate in
regime-controlled elections. Last week Raul Castro issued a cursory
announcement that delegates to the provincial assemblies and deputies to
the national assembly will be chosen on January 20, 2008. Alarcon seems
to be suggesting that Castro will not be a candidate that day, and
therefore will be ineligible to continue next year as Cuba's president.
The assembly president's remarks stand in sharp contrast to what he has
said in the past. Last March, for example, he told a wire service
reporter that Castro will be "in perfect shape to run for re-election. I
would nominate him. I am sure he will be in perfect shape to continue
handling his responsibilities." This suggests that between March and
October Castro's health, and perhaps his cognitive abilities, have
further deteriorated. That would be consistent with rumors that he
underwent another life-threatening surgery during the period. Castro has
not appeared in public in sixteen months and his most recent taped
television interview with a Cuban reporter several months ago revealed
him in an obviously handicapped state.
A second ranking official also commented recently on Castro's prospects.
Communist Party Politburo member, Abel Prieto, who, unlike Alarcon is
not an authorized or practiced commentator on the subject, suggested to
an AP reporter on September 12 that Castro might decide to bow out
because of his failing health. "I don't know what he would say about the
state of his health, and I think it depends a lot on that." But Prieto
added an intriguing twist. He proposed that Castro first "would have to
convince the people not to be re-elected."
A third Cuban leader, the most prestigious and influential of them all
except for Raul Castro himself, has also recently provided some
meaningful clues on the subject. On November 8, while representing Cuba
at an Ibero-American summit in Chile, vice president Carlos Lage
remarked on the role Castro currently plays in Cuban affairs. "He is
working, working hard, every day more," Lage said. "I'd say he's
reading, studying, analyzing, offering ideas, thoughts, giving us ideas.
. ." There was not a word about Castro participating in decision making,
consulting or being briefed by other officials, or preparing to reassume
any such responsibilities.
Asked whether Castro would resume presidential power, Lage replied
evasively. "He's already assuming tasks, perhaps the most important one
a chief of state can have, which is seeding consciousness." All of this,
from three of Cuba's senior leaders, seems to indicate that Castro has
assumed an emeritus role in the leadership and suggests too that by next
spring or summer he will no longer be Cuba's president, though he may be
granted some new honorific title instead.
But all this begs the tantalizing question raised by Prieto: exactly how
will Castro's final, irrevocable abdication be orchestrated and
explained? Prieto may have meant that, if he is able to, Castro would
want to inform the Cuban people in another televised interview, or one
or more of his reflections, of his decision to retire. Prieto probably
does not really believe the populace is anxious for Castro to return.
The reality, as he must appreciate, is quite the opposite. Anecdotal and
other evidence indicates that Cubans generally, like most in the
leadership class, by now have moved on, accepting –even finding genuine
relief—in what is overwhelmingly viewed on the island as the eclipse of
the fidelista era.
So perhaps Prieto was referring to Fidel himself. Will he willingly step
aside? Is he mentally and emotionally competent to make that decision?
Might his physical condition be so precarious that the exercise of any
real leadership responsibilities could actually be fatal? Have his wife
and children, and possibly other relatives in the huge Castro clan,
weighed in urging him to withdraw? Might they, as has been rumored on
the island, be counseling Raul and his closest associates to discourage
Fidel from any thought of returning?
Most students of his leadership performance could never have imagined
that an alive and aware Fidel Castro could voluntarily yield power. But
perhaps now, after so many months out of the limelight, out of uniform
and out of character, wearing a ridiculous red jogging outfit, not
having been seen walking, striding, or standing in his accustomed pose
before a speaker's lectern, he has grudgingly accepted the inevitable.
Yet it may be just as likely that this titanic, narcissistic, unyielding
potentate may have to have the power he has craved since the early 1950s
wrenched out from under him. Only Raul Castro could do that, and at this
point in his brother's decline, and as troubles and dissatisfaction on
the island multiply, the defense minister and acting president may
realize that he will soon have no alternative but to do so.
I wish to acknowledge the valuable assistance provided by Vanessa Lopez,
my University of Miami student research assistant, in the preparation of
Dr. Brian Latell, distinguished Cuba analyst and recent author of the
book, After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next
Leader, is a Senior Research Associate at ICCAS. He has informed
American and foreign presidents, cabinet members, and legislators about
Cuba and Fidel Castro in a number of capacities. He served in the early
1990s as National Intelligence Officer for Latin America at the Central
Intelligence Agency and taught at Georgetown University for a quarter
century. Dr. Latell has written, lectured, and consulted extensively.
The Latell Report November 2007
Welcome to The Latell Report. The Report, analyzing Cuba's contemporary
domestic and foreign policy, is published monthly except August and
December and distributed by the electronic information service of the
Cuba Transition Project (CTP) at the University of Miami's Institute for
Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS).
The CTP, funded by a grant from the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID), can be contacted at P.O. Box 248174, Coral Gables,
Florida 33124-3010, Tel: 305-284-CUBA (2822), Fax: 305-284-4875, and by
email at firstname.lastname@example.org.