Cuba is Fidel’s No More

Early this morning Fidel Castro, Cuba’s leader for more than 50 years resigned his post as President.  At 81 years old and fraught with health problems, Castro announced that he will not accept the post of the Presidency following the Parliamentary meetings to be held on Sunday. 

These meetings are the first such meetings held for the newly elected parliamentary members and are the setting for which members of the “Council of State” (including the President) are chosen.

This is quite the surprising news to many of us, despite the fact that many have been speculating over it for some time.  However, I for one, didn’t expect Fidel to ever resign unless it was to simply hand over the reigns to his brother, Raul.    

Raul will likely still be Fidel’s successor and my guess is that this has already been arranged, but the question then is how much power will Raul hold?  Will he have a grip over Cuba like Fidel had? Or will Cuba’s parliament garner more control and make the country more democratic? 

I am not expert enough on Cuba to give anymore than the possibilities that I see could happen and what I hope will happen.  The first possibility that I see is also the one that I hope will occur, and that is that Cuba’s Parliament will claim some of the Presidential powers for themselves and establish a truly democratic Cuba and will write (or re-write) the constitution calling for democratic presidential elections.  

There are both reasons I think this is and is not a distinct possibility. It would not surprise me if for Fidel’s final act, he decided that he and only he in Cuban history would go down as the greatest and most revered leader.  The best way to do this after 50 years of rule is to decide that the only people as well suite as he to make decisions are the people as a whole.  Thus, he could dictate that the country will move to a more democratic system.  What result could better solidify the love a people has for their leader and revolutionary?

However, I think we would all be shocked if such a turn of events occurred.  Such a thing likely wouldn’t happen because it would then risk the ruling party eventually losing power, why would people already in power and in a system so rigged to their benefit ever want to change it?  Further, while Raul likely will not be as dominant a figure as Fidel was, he too will likely have no desire to abdicate power. 

There seems to be a great opportunity here for real and positive change in Cuba, also a great chance for America to reach out and embrace a democratically controlled Cuba.  The future of Cuba may well rest on how the United States plays its hand.  I would caution the Bush administration and diplomatic corps to be very gracious and not speak sternly and threatening to current Cuban leadership, but rather extend a hand of support and reconciliation.   Help Cuba know that we are here to offer support and are open to expanding the lines of communication.

I get the sense, all in all, that not much will rapidly change in Cuba.  I suspect that Raul will become the new President this week and it will be business as usual.  However, overtime there will gradual change for the better that may well turn Cuba into a fully democratic state.  If Cuba can get there on its own, without the U.S. demanding it or forcing it, Cuba may well find long-lasting success, we will see.

On a completely unrelated note:  Last night I watched a program on NatGeo channel on Inside North Korea.  Wow! Kim Jong Il and his father have set up a cult-like government there.  People seem to literally rever Kim Jong Il as a god.  It was disturbing to say the least.  There was a humanitarian doctor who went there to remove cataracts to help cure blindness, he performed over 1000 surgeries.  The day that the bandages were removed, people could see for the first time and rather than thanking the doctors they went to the front and praised the pictures of Kim and his father.  I was looking for signs of insincerity and I didn’t see much, it appeared that most genuinely revere him and view him as the almighty.   That is the effectiveness of locking your country out from the rest of the world.  If your people don’t know what it is like anywhere else, what do they have to complain about?  It is incredible that there is still such a place in today’s world.

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