Castro dynasty has official expiration date

Mariella Roque/Staff Writer

Following the Cuban government’s decision to tweak the travel laws effective last January, Raul Castro announced his plan Sunday to step down in five years, simultaneously introducing a new potential heir to the regime: Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez.

“I don’t think it’s clear at this point what the announcement will bring other than a change in personnel,” said Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute. “This is a significant event in the sense that it’s the first time there will be a Cuba without the two Castro brothers. On the other hand, the choice of the vice president, Diaz-Canel, may or may not be the beginning of a transformation.”

Diaz-Canel Bermudez, 52, was the former minister of higher education who climbed through the ranks of the communist party and has a reputation of being an enforcer of the Castro brothers’ rules.

“The historical development of the Cuban revolution also teaches us that whenever a new face arises within the Cuban regime, it’s very difficult for that person to stay very close to power so that most of the other people who were considered to be presidential material in Cuba are no longer there,” Duany said.

Duany cited the president of the Cuban parliament Ricardo Alarcon, former Cuban general Arnaldo Ochoa and former foreign minister Roberto Robaina as examples of younger leaders in high standing who were unable to walk the tightrope of performing as part of the top echelons while maintaining a low enough profile so as not to raise suspicions of harboring “too much” ambition.

“Once Raul steps down and somebody else comes in, then you would expect to find a new way of doing politics in Cuba within the very strict limits of that regime,” Duany said. “We shouldn’t expect free elections, the legalization of political parties or tolerance for dissidence any time soon.”

Duany, however, characterized Castro’s announcement as a sign of the difficulties the Fidelista regime has had in terms of passing on important political positions to a newer generation.

“I think the hope of many Cubans both on the island and in the United States is that whoever comes next after the Castros would be able to do something to what Gorbachev did in the Soviet Union,” Duany said. “For example, initiate a series of small, but significant reforms which would eventually move Cuba in the direction of a market economy.”

Sebastian Arcos, associate director of development for the school of international and public affairs, agreed with Duany on the importance of Castro’s alleged retirement.

“Cuba used to be a typical totalitarian regime and it now has a foreseeable successor that is not a Castro and this is insurgent of a democratic state,” Arcos said. “The fact that Raul has a successor and that the Castro dynasty is supposed to end might create a change.”

Arcos is a Cuban dissident who was a political prisoner in Cuba for a year. He considered Diaz-Canel Bermudez to have potential for leading more reforms, but explained that it is precarious whether or not he will become the Castros’ successor.

“Once Castro dies, things will be moving a lot faster, but there is no guarantee,” Arcos said. “And five years is a long time for people like myself who have been waiting almost 45 years for this regime to end.”

Cuban students at the University also expressed their hopes and cynicism toward Castro’s announcement.

“The same communist regime will still be there even after Raul is gone,” said senior criminal justice major Christian Barbera, whose grandfather was a political prisoner killed by the Castro government. “It’s the same misery, just different leaders.”

Unlike Barbera, Roger Thomas, a junior in political science, felt that Cuba’s solution is a transition to new faces.

“The younger generation in Cuba has been exposed to Western ideas outside of Cuba through the Internet so a change in leadership might lead to reforms,” Thomas said.