Nothing happens by coincidence in Cuba. I’ve stated it before: Any major development on the communist island seems to have been carefully planned by its government well in advance.
Fidel Castro’s shocking announcement that he temporarily handed over power to his brother Raul after undergoing a complicated intestinal operation is certainly the most important political turnaround in Cuba.
But was it something completely forced upon Castro or rather a calculated move on his part, perhaps one to test the strength of the island’s communist system and its future while he is still alive?
There are reasons to believe that the latter interpretation of the current events in Cuba might be indeed the correct one. Here is why:
Once a taboo argument, a post-Fidel scenario in Cuba has been debated at length by the country’s authorities since last year. Fidel himself not only reiterated that his brother remains the designated successor but also stressed that a new generation of younger leaders loyal to him and his revolution’s main precepts will guarantee a continuation of the present political system.
Furthermore, Raul is assuming an increasingly prominent role in Cuban media, whose coverage of the younger Castro’s activities and the achievements of the armed forces he has led since 1959 have intensified dramatically in recent months.
Early in June, the state-run newspaper Granma featured a long article on Raul’s leadership abilities and his wisdom, portraying him as “a man of the revolution who has received the historic mission of making big decisions.” Some foreign analysts have interpreted such an article as an indication that Raul has been given the green light by Fidel to initiate the ascension to power. Raul’s comments also received great exposure when the same newspapers announced a major reshuffle in the highest levels of the Communist Party last month.
Finally, and probably most important of all, Fidel Castro’s announcement highlights a new scenario that had never been considered by foreign analysts and not even by U.S. authorities.
While relinquishing his powers and cancelling the celebrations for his imminent birthday scheduled for Aug. 13, Fidel stressed that he would delegate control of Cuba to Raul only temporarily and postponed the aforementioned celebrations to Dec. 2, implying that he would resume his duties at a later time.
In other words, Fidel could be offered the unprecedented opportunity to monitor potential developments on the island and the reaction of the Cuban people to his absence before he actually passes away and when he still has a chance to regain control.
Based on this unique experience, he could take additional steps to ensure a smoother transition to a government headed by his younger brother and even pave the way for a post-Raul scenario.
New information about Castro’s health problems will likely emerge in the following weeks, shedding light on the gravity of his operation and general conditions.
At some point, he will have to appear publicly or release pictures from the hospital to dissipate the inevitable rumors about a potential death. But it cannot be excluded that he has undergone a medical procedure that, albeit inevitable, is part of a plan to devise a more effective succession strategy.
Time will tell whether Fidel’s announcement is the beginning of the end of his rule on the communist island, how Raul will govern and what kind of reforms he will eventually introduce, and especially how the Cuban people will respond to all this.
A few months from now, however, we might be witnessing the return to power of a Fidel Castro who, as hinted to in the past, has stepped aside at a moment in which he was no longer able to perform his duties. The new element is that he would have gained invaluable information on how the country would likely turn out in his absence.
What’s really happening in Cuba at this point is anyone’s guess.
The one presented here about a specific plan behind Fidel’s announcement is worthy of some attention.
Paolo Spadoni is a visiting assistant professor in the department of political science at Rollins College in Winter Park. He wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel.