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Fidel's Final Victory

CUBA AFTER CASTRO?

Ever since Fidel Castro gained power in 1959, Washington and the Cuban exile community have been eagerly awaiting the moment when he would lose it -- at which point, the thinking went, they would have carte blanche to remake Cuba in their own image. Without Fidel's iron fist to keep Cubans in their place, the island would erupt into a collective demand for rapid change. The long-oppressed population would overthrow Fidel's revolutionary cronies and clamor for capital, expertise, and leadership from the north to transform Cuba into a market democracy with strong ties to the United States.

But that moment has come and gone -- and none of what Washington and the exiles anticipated has come to pass. Even as Cuba-watchers speculate about how much longer the ailing Fidel will survive, the post-Fidel transition is already well under way. Power has been successfully transferred to a new set of leaders, whose priority is to preserve the system while permitting only very gradual reform. Cubans have not revolted, and their national identity remains tied to the defense of the homeland against U.S. attacks on its sovereignty. As the post-Fidel regime responds to pent-up demands for more democratic participation and economic opportunity, Cuba will undoubtedly change -- but the pace and nature of that change will be mostly imperceptible to the naked American eye.

Fidel's almost five decades in power came to a close last summer not with the expected bang, or even really a whimper, but in slow motion, with Fidel himself orchestrating the transition. The transfer of authority from Fidel to his younger brother, Raúl, and half a dozen loyalists -- who have been running the country under Fidel's watch for decades -- has been notably smooth and stable. Not one violent episode in Cuban streets. No massive exodus of refugees. And despite an initial wave of euphoria in Miami, not one boat leaving a Florida port for the 90-mile trip. Within Cuba, whether Fidel himself survives

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