Cuban ‘bright stars’ hope to shine after Castro

August 22, 2006

Financial Times- Marc Frank

Cuba may have pulled off the temporary transfer of power from an ailing Fidel Castro to his ageing brother Raúl, but the question remains: what happens when the famous brothers and the few remaining “historicos” around them no longer influence events on the Caribbean island?

Experts tend to agree that, with defence minister Raúl Castro in charge, an already influential military will play an even more decisive role in selecting future leaders, though the Castro brothers insist the Communist party, with a minority of military in its leadership, will make the final decisions as called for by the constitution.

Cubans tend to agree, as they do not differentiate so much between the military, party and government, as between generations; perhaps because the Castro brothers have always worn military uniforms, provincial party leaders appear in military garb when hurricanes strike and many citizens are trained to fire weapons.

“It is only logical that [the younger generations] will think differently from [Fidel and Raúl] and there will certainly be changes,” one Havana party member said, asking her name not be used.

Among those considered to be top contenders for leadership posts are: Ricardo Alarcón, 69, parliament’s president and Mr Castro’s point-man for US relations; Carlos Lage, 54, who as head of the executive committee of the council of ministers is a virtual prime minister, and Felipe Pérez Roque, 41, foreign minister and a talented orator.

“Too often we think of the troika [Alarcón, Lage, Pérez Roque] as Plan A,” says Canadian historian and Cuba expert John Kirk.

“In fact there is also a clearly constituted Plan B made up of bright stars in the party, the government and military who have been groomed to participate actively in the succession.” He adds that the majority of members of a 12-member Communist party secretariat created on July 4 were in their 40s and 50s, and Mr Alarcón, Mr Lage and Mr Pérez Roque were not on it.

Influence is also exercised by generals; the 25 members of the political bureau, who would choose a new temporary party leader if Raúl was to become incapacitated; the 30-member council of state, which would choose a new temporary president under the same circumstances; and the party and government leadership at the provincial level.

“New generations are already in control of much of the existing power structure and its institutions,” says Domingo Amuchastegui, a former Cuban intelligence officer who defected in the early 1990s.

In a recent paper Mr Amuchastegui pointed out that the military and security forces were dominated by men between 40 and 60 years of age. “At the provincial level the average age of party first secretaries is between 46 and 53,” he wrote, adding many political bureau members were in the same age range.

The calm that has followed Castro’s handing of power to his brother, after undergoing major surgery for intestinal bleeding on July 31, has convinced many observers that Cubans do not want violent or tumultuous change.

“Many people think that because so many Cubans want change, that they want a revolution that turns everything upside down. In Cuba obviously that’s not the case,” says Cuba expert Phil Peters, vice-president of the Lexington Institute policy group in Virginia.

“This is their government, they don’t want it overthrown.

“And it has always seemed to me that Cubans who want change, even deep change, want their current government to be the departure point,” he said.

Yet many Cubans were surprised and even proud there was no unrest in the country, and the government not only mobilised the military to defend the country’s borders but also internal security forces to put down potential domestic trouble.

“I do think it’s a toss-up when both Castros are gone and a number of fissures could emerge to break the regime and force change from below,” Frank Mora, a national security and Cuba expert at the National War College in Washington, said.

Brian Latell, an ex-CIA analyst who watched Cuba for decades and is the author of After Fidel, a recent book on the Castros, agreed.

“The Castro brothers have never anointed, or permitted, the emergence of a ‘third man’.

“It has been one of the secrets of their success at holding on to power virtually unopposed on the island all these years,” Mr Latell said.


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