Castro’s Last Challenge

Translated by Leonor Marc into Spanish, Translated into English by GeN Higgs

Source:  Sin Permiso

"There are many variables, and even more possible combinations. The possibilities are even more indecipherable given the outstanding personality of Fidel. Fidel, who, irregardless of the judge, has been one of the last giants of world politics in the second half of the last century. A unique personality. As his friend, Garcia Marquez, said one time, ‘Fidel Castro is the revolution’s main strength, and its main weakness too.’ "

We don’t hope so, but maybe Fidel’s last challenge has begun. For a while now, at least one year, moves have been made within the Cuban leadership. They are moving to avoid what will turn out to be, in one way or another, the apocalypse after Fidel, and to give a minimal guarantee that the revolution will survive its greatest leader’s exit from the scene.

It was understood that Fidel’s last challenge would coincide with his eightieth birthday, and they prepared the celebrations on August 13th for this. Certainly nobody, even Fidel himself, who has said, "A revolutionary never retires," could think of retirement. Even now, he is taking a series of steps that would prepare Cubans, and the entire world, for "After." Now, after what happened Monday night, things got ahead of themselves, that challenge seems to be accelerating. It is depending on today, not waiting for tomorrow anymore,

"Fidel," says the official communication read on Cuban TV by his personal secretary, "Has not withstood the ‘extreme stress’ of the trip to Argentina for the MERCOSUR summit and the upcoming anniversary celebrations of the Moncada assault on July 26th 1953. And he has collapsed."

He underwent an operation. Not much is known about it, only that it must have been serious, and that -as it says in his letter- it will put him out of action for "several weeks". This has never happened before. In 47 years Fidel has never been able to totally delegate his powers to others, not to his brother Raul, the eternal number two and already an old man before becoming big, (he just turned 75.) nor to other members of the leadership.

In these hours the questions and unknowns multiply and accumulate: What will become of Cuba? What will become, for better or worse, of the revolution? What will Raul do? Most of all: Who is Raul? What will Bush, who just announced his new plan to foster "the transition to democracy" (backed by $80 million dollars) on July 10th, do now? Whether Fidel returns to power or not, will there be a succession or a transition? And towards what?

There are many variables, and even more possible combinations. The possibilities are even more indecipherable given the outstanding personality of Fidel. Fidel, who, irregardless of the judge, has been one of the last giants of world politics in the second half of the last century. A unique personality. As his friend, Garcia Marquez, said one time, ‘Fidel Castro is the revolution’s main strength, and its main weakness too," because he "is" -or "was"- the revolution.The great unknown of the present moment is if he has succeeded in his most colossal work: To give his creature the strength and the legs so it can walk after him, and without him.

Almost half a century of power is too long a time for any leader, even for a great leader. Even for someone who has had to navigate in the stormy second half of the quick century. Even for someone who has been defying, for half a century, the arrogant and global superpower that is only 90 miles away from Cuba. A superpower which has never forgiven him for snatching the island from the Americans, gangsters or not, who kept it as a casino and brothel, and who had stuck around since it was "liberated" from Spain.

From Eisenhower until today, every president that has set foot in the White House has promised to "Liberate" Cuba from it’s liberators and to bring the island a genuine democracy. Fidel has seen 10 presidents parade past. We hope that the horrendous Bush won’t be the last.

In any case, whatever results from the illness that has taken hold of Fidel, the Americans will have to be attentive. They can let the exalted people in Miami’s Calle 8 go out to celebrate and drink champagne, but like other times, it’s not written that this is for real, nor that if it is, the end of the story will be what they hoped for. Because, as it has been said, the succession – or transition- mechanism was already underway, made ready by Fidel himself. Maybe it was a premonition, maybe fear of the vacancy left by him.

What happens after the mechanism functions, and where it takes Cuba, is another story. A succession system and a transition system coinciding is not unheard of, contrary to what those who plan on the system’s complete collapse say. They have paid – or are going to pay- a lot of attention to the figure of Raul lately. He is pointed to by not only the constitution as the man who should guide Cuba into the post-Fidel period. But in June, Raul himself, talking in front of the military chiefs recalled that, "The Communist Party, as the institution that unites the revolutionary vanguard" is the only thing making good on the legacy of Fidel’s "un-substitutable" leadership.

What is outlined more and more clearly is an "institutional succession": A triangle with Raul in the highest point and the armed forces and the party in the base’s angles. But it could be that this is not enough. Raul is an unknown person, and nobody knows for sure if he could be reserving surprises, and what they might be. After all, he does not possess the extraordinary charisma of his brother, and its improbable that at his age be will be able to force it.

One can infer this, that he could be enough, from the speech the young foreign affairs minister, Felipe Perez Roque, made in parliament at the end of December. He is a member of the generation in its forties, a generation on whom Fidel has betted heavily. According to Roque, the post-Fidel leadership will have to know how to maintain "Moral authority", "The majority support of the population" and should impede a "Re-apparition of the capitalist class on the island." That is not small, nor easy.

The indicators that things were moving towards the succession were already present before Fidel’s illness: The insistent declarations, that the new leadership shouldn’t be from one man, but a collective instead (and this, if it would work would be a great answer), the zeal of the Cuban leadership in re-affirming the role of the armed forces and the communist party, (so much so that the role of the secretary general, abolished since the 90s, has been re-established), the steps towards re-centralizing the economy under a stricter state control, after the opening to private initiatives which brought a serious confusion about "equality in poverty" and gave a superior and growing privilege to those who could deal in dollars (who weren’t only the fortune-seeking ladies on the street), the insistence on the figure of Raul, which gave the impression of promoting him beyond official constitutionality into the rank of successor.

At this time nobody can say what will happen for certain. The Americans have profiled at least twenty different possible scenarios, but the CIA’s analysts haven’t guessed correctly in the last 47 years, a good reason not to take them seriously.

Succession or transition? Slow or rapid? Peaceful of violent?

Osvaldo Paya, the most serious and perhaps frightful Christian Democrat dissident, says that "Fidelism, that is, the concentration of power, will not be able to continue without Fidel", because, according to him, any later government will be transitory. He is not sure where it will be transitory towards, however, it "will depend on many factors". The first factor, inevitably is the "USA factor", which is dangerous to deal with because the Cubans are Fidelists before they are socialists, which is to say they are nationalists. The second factor is linked with the economy: Will it have to open in search of greater consensus or will it close tighter upon itself in the state model? The third factor is the armed forces, depositories of proud national independence sentiments, and a large economic power as well.

Will it be a transition to China or to Vietnam? Soon we will see, because the Cuban succession, has already taken its first steps, which could, with the force of the things happening, turn into a gallop.

Maurizio Matteuzzi is an Italian journalist and analyst specialized in Spain and Latin American who writes regularly in the daily communist journal "Il Manifesto"