Cuba without Castro: what happens now?

Fidel Castro, Cuba’s most prominent figure for over half a century, died last month.

Surviving over 600 assassination attempts, outliving over 10 U.S. presidents, and remaining in power despite the perilous times of the Cold War, Fidel Castro almost had an air of invincibility in the decades preceding his death. Yet, this all changed in 2016. The death of Castro, on 25 November, diminished these views and categorised him as another mere mortal being. His death instigated a period of national mourning across Cuba as people wept at the national loss; however, it also prompted cheers and jubilation as some hoped that it would lead to a period of successful change and reform for their beloved nation.

My study of Castro at school constructed the image of a heroic, revolutionary leader who fought for independence against U.S. hegemony and for his people and nation. It was only at university that I was exposed to students who, due to their Latin American and Spanish heritage, presented an alternative view of this authoritarian ruler. They emphasised the tyrannical, oppressive side to his character, a side that clashed so greatly with the view that I had previously explored.

Thus, it seems as though there will always be an inexorable debate over whether Castro can be truly classified as a charismatic leader, or an authoritarian dictator. Nevertheless, there is one thing that we can all unanimously agree upon; it is impossible to analyse modern-day Cuba without his legacy. Love him, or hate him, it is impossible to ignore him.

So, what will become of Cuba now? How will a nation, that has had nearly 50 years of its history constructed around the work and image of one key figure, continue to express their identity and unity?

Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, has been the socialist country’s leader since taking over from his brother in day-to-day operations in 2008.

The first question to address is, whether we will really see much change. At the time of his death, Fidel wasn’t actually in power. His brother, Raul Castro, took over in 2006 following fear that Fidel wasn’t physically healthy enough to continue his rule. Although the brothers shared identical roots in the emergence of the revolution, it is noted that Raul is much more pragmatic than his brother. From coming to power, he has issued small but significant economic reforms, and thus has enabled some progression in the seemingly backward country. Raul, although undergoing a period of grief, will most likely continue his reign over Cuba in the same way that he did before his brother’s death. Thus, it is possible to tentatively conclude that not much will change in terms of policy with regards to Castro’s death as the real change for Cuba came with Raul’s initial appointment to power.

Yet, the hope for many is that Castro’s death will enable Raul to become more liberal and consequently democracy will be on the horizon for Cuba. However, is this really the case? Cuba has been branded as ‘communist’ within the Cold War context by the USA, and the label has stuck throughout its history. Thus communism, or to be more accurate, Cuban socialism, has been the dominating political ideology of the nation for over half a century. Nevertheless, will we see a change in the political outlook of the nation with Castro’s death?

It is noted by many that Raul is more willing to abandon elements of the original doctrines of Cuban Communism in order to seek solutions to integral problems within society, something that Castro was unwilling to do. Yet, Raul’s outlook doesn’t wildly deviate from his brother’s. The core ideology of both brothers remains the same. Moreover, the careful crafting of the important members of the Cuban Government enables us to deduce that this ideology will continue into the future. Fidel deliberately placed his brother in the position of power in order to prolong his own ideology. The same can be said for the placement of Jose Ramon Machado, and Miguel Diaz-Canel to fill the void for when Raul is no longer present.

Havana, Cuba’s capital, almost seems to be trapped in a time warp due to biting U.S. sanctions over the last few decades which severely restricts trade between the two neighbours.

The death of Fidel Castro instigated worldwide coverage and great debate over whether he was a liberating or oppressive leader, and has also led many to question what lies in store for Cuba in the absence of their ruler. Although it is possible to guess, only time will tell what exactly the future holds for Cuba. Many hope that the absence of Fidel will instigate a period of reform and change; however, this view seems too optimistic for me. It is highly unlikely that much will change in Cuba as long as one of the two Castro brothers remains in power, and even then, their careful appointment of figures in top government positions leads many to believe that come Raul’s death, Cuba will continue to be led by those who were faithful Fidelistas.



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