Slow change after Fidel
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
For many, Fidel Castro's death is like the lifting of a heavy fog, a
defining moment that will carve out a new path and allow Cuba to move
forward. But some analysts say the revolutionary government remains
firmly in place and they see no immediate changes coming to the island.
Although Castro still loomed large as a symbol at the time of his death,
announced late Friday, the reality is that he has been out of power
since 2006 when he became critically ill and ceded power to his brother
Raúl Castro — first temporarily and then officially two years later.
And beyond that, Raúl Castro, 85, is already taking steps toward his own
The younger Castro has said that he will step down as the president of
Cuba's Council of State on Feb. 24, 2018, and Miguel Díaz-Canel, the
first vice president, is the heir apparent. With most historic
revolutionary leaders now in their eighties, the 56-year-old Díaz-Canel
represents a generational shift. He wasn't even born at the time of the
But even as he has pledged to cede his presidential seat, Raúl Castro
has said nothing of resigning as head of the Cuban armed forces or as
the powerful head of Cuba's Communist Party.
"I don't think Fidel Castro's death will make a tremendous amount of
difference in the short-term on the island. Fidel Castro has been
retired for a decade now," said William LeoGrande, a government
professor at American University who has long followed negotiations
between Havana and Washington. "In some ways, the greater shift is here
in the United States."
There does seem to be more acknowledgment that Cubans should be the
protagonists of their own future, but Cuban-American politicians are
still calling for stepped-up action against the current regime by the
U.S. and other governments.
South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who favors keeping
the embargo against Cuba in place "until the gulags are closed,
elections are held, political prisoners are freed, and liberty is
restored," still sees this as a pivotal time for Cuba.
"Now a new beginning can dawn," Ros-Lehtinen said of Castro's death. "We
must seize the moment and write a new chapter in the history of Cuba."
In her view, Cuba's current leaders have now been put on notice that
they cannot "continue to misrule Cuba through oppression and fear.
Not all Cuba watchers agree.
"The government of Cuba will retrench to demonstrate that the revolution
survives its founder — and continues to defy the United States," said
John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba and Economic Council. "The
passing of former President Fidel Castro will neither have immediate or
consequential impact upon the lives of the 11.3 million citizens of Cuba."
Other analysts point out that the rule of Raúl Castro is far from
synonymous with the decades that his brother spent in power.
The younger Castro has undertaken reforms ranging from freer travel for
Cubans to more market-oriented economic changes, including expanding
self-employment and allowing private cooperatives. Under his watch,
diplomatic relations with the United States were renewed after a gap of
more than half a century and Cuba is actively courting foreign investment.
"I do see important differences between Fidel and Raúl," said Ted
Piccone, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
"Raúl seems more interested in institution-building and passing the
torch to the next generation. Now there is an opportunity for Raúl to
consolidate his approach."
Nevertheless, he thinks change will still come slowly in Cuba with
one-party rule continuing, technocratic rule by committee and continuing
marginal economic changes. "The big question is what will happen in 2018
with Díaz-Canel or someone else," he said.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio sees little difference between the
Castro brothers: "The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not."
Without being specific about what course U.S.-Cuba relations should
take, he said: "The future of Cuba ultimately remains in the hands of
the Cuban people, and now more than ever Congress and the new
administration must stand with them against their brutal rulers and
support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights."
During an appearance on "Face the Nation" Sunday, Rubio said he is not
opposed to U.S. policy changes toward Cuba, but said they must be
"reciprocal" and "that was not part of what President Obama did" in his
rapprochement with Cuba.
President-elect Donald Trump has said variously that engagement with
Cuba is OK as long as the U.S. gets a better deal but more recently that
he would roll back President Barack Obama's executive orders allowing an
opening toward Cuba.
"It is unclear whether the Trump administration will take a pragmatic
approach to U.S-Cuba relations, but the death of Fidel Castro will make
it more difficult to justify policies that are rooted in past ideologies
rather than future opportunities," said Geoff Thale, director of
programs at the Washington Office on Latin America.
What tack Trump will take on Cuba policy isn't the only unknown in the
whither-Cuba equation. There's also the impact on the island of the
rapidly declining economy of Venezuela — Cuba's ally and benefactor, and
the pace of economic reform in Cuba.
In Miami, many Cuban Americans do view Fidel Castro's death as a prelude
to a free Cuba and it has served as a catharsis of sorts, triggering
memories of loss, separation and suffering but also discussions about
the future of Cuba.
"Among Cuban Americans, a lot of passion was focused on hatred of Fidel
Castro as a symbol of a revolution that took away their country and
everything they had," said LeoGrande. "I wonder now that he is gone
whether some of this will be dissipated. If this really is a catharsis,
it could eliminate an important barrier to improving U.S.-Cuba relations."
The Cuban American National Foundation, long one of the most strident
voices against the Castro government, sounded a more conciliatory note
on his passing and called for Cubans on both sides of the Florida
Straits to work together for a better future for the Cuban people.
"As Cubans, this historical moment forces us to consider our own future;
and encourages us to put aside our anguish, our differences, and our
fear in order to pave the way for a brighter future," the Foundation
said in a statement. "Today must be a day of hope, willingness, and
solidarity in favor of peace, freedom, and the well-being of our
brothers and sisters on the island."
Richard Blanco, a Cuban-American poet who not only recited his work at
President Obama's second inauguration but also at the ceremony marking
the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana last year, said that "Fidel
Castro's death is certainly a symbolic 'victory' that will bring
much-needed closure to many who've been in his psychological grip. But I
worry it will essentially change nothing unless efforts toward change
Source: While some see Fidel Castro's death as a prelude to a free Cuba,
others don't expect quick change | Miami Herald -