By José Azel
December 27, 2008
In his famous 1935 thought experiment, Erwin Schrödinger sought to
illustrate one of the strangest concepts in quantum mechanics:
superposition. Schrödinger's mind game proposed a scenario with a cat
sealed in a box, where the cat's life or death was dependent on the
state of a subatomic particle. The experiment illustrates the
bizarreness of quantum indeterminacy in that the cat remains both alive
and dead until the box is opened. Which poses the question: When does a
quantum system stop existing as a mixture of states and become one or
The state of Cuba's leadership is a similar superposition of possible
states with Fidel Castro in the role of Schrödinger's cat. His
reappearance as a background figure and his frequent "reflections" in
Cuba's media pose intriguing questions of his true role and influence in
Cuban politics. Perhaps if Cuba's Communist Party Congress meets in late
2009, we may open the box and determine figuratively whether Fidel
Castro is politically dead or alive.
The central question, however, is whether a change in leadership implies
a fundamental change in Cuba's policy. The timid economic changes
initiated by Raul Castro after officially assuming power have stalled,
and a series of recent events where Cubans have begun to complain
publicly have been thwarted by increased government repression.
Alternatively, Raul Castro could allow controlled expressions of
discontent as his version of Fidel's Mariel. Where Fidel opted to allow
the exit of discontented Cubans as a control mechanism, his younger
brother may permit some ancillary venting for similar purposes. Where
Fidel governed capriciously and arbitrarily, Raul Castro emphasizes
organizations and military-like discipline. Where Fidel Castro was
disdainful of the country's economic needs, Cuba's new leader is seeking
to satisfy basic needs via increased productivity and efficiency within
the existing political and economic frameworks. In and of themselves,
these stylistic changes in leadership from Fidel to Raul Castro do not
lead to a conclusion of substantive policy changes to follow.
Next year's Communist Party Congress may allow a peek inside Cuba's
Schrödinger's box. For the moment, the Cuban system will remain a
quantum-like superposition of possible states with Fidel remaining both
alive and dead as if in suspended animation.
José Azel is a senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.