By Marcelo Fernandez-Zayas



August 14, 2001


In spite of Cuba's efforts to distract world opinion from Fidel Castro's health problems, all eyes are focused on Havana. It is known that the 75 year-old dictator (b. August 13, 1926) is fighting a long battle with cancer. In July, 1998, I provided a detailed account of his health history, see:

Fidel Castro celebrated his 75th birthday August 13 in Venezuela, then flew back to Havana late in the day for a second party at home. Venezuelan sources informed Intelligence Report that Castro appeared weak and required the help of his bodyguards many times to move from one place to another. His personal physicians were visible nearby throughout the visit.

Official Washington and Havana pretend that Castro is in good health, but Cuba is politically on hold. On the other hand, Fidel's designated successor, his 70-year-old brother Raul, cannot be assured of political survival beyond the charismatic leader's state funeral. Despite his health concerns, Castro seems to feel it necessary to appear in a series of physically taxing public appearances to dampen speculation about the island's future.

Castro's dramatic June 23 collapse in front of television cameras at a rally at the town of El Cotorro has prompted a degree of economic pressure on the island from creditor countries. With a possible end of the US embargo in mind, foreign investors may have second thoughts about their operations in confiscated plants and the use of trademarks expropriated from Cuban owners after the Castro takeover. As in Russia and former Soviet client states, the issues of accommodation and compensation for prior owners will have to be addressed as Cuban industry is privatized and turned over to management by entrepreneurs. An investor holding a contract personally approved by Castro several years ago may find the paper not so attractive in today's climate of expectation.

Cuba is maintaining a propaganda campaign in favor of five arrested spies recently convicted in Miami. In spite of the official pressure mounted in Cuba to popularize the image of the apprehended agents, the population seems to be bored with the issue.

Will Cuba be the same after Castro's departure? Knowledgeable Cuba watchers in Washington doubt that this will be the case. The economy is flawed and visibly ill. The potential successor popularity is thin. Consensus is that most probably Castro's death will herald the death of Communism (or Socialism, if you prefer) on the island.

Now the ball is in Cuba's court, and official Washington appears to wait with patience for events to unfold. The "mainstream" US media has begun to focus on the future for a post-Castro Cuba. On August 13, The Washington Post ran a laconic article about Cuba on the day of Castro's birthday. Writing from Havana, author Ken Ringle starts out with the image of vultures roosting on the national monument, and proceeds to describe his travels around the island and conversations with Cubans that ranged through the privations of daily life, troops sent to fight in Angola, and a possible model for an economic future ("Maybe it will be just like Russia").

The Autumn of Their Discontent (

Also on August 13, National Public Radio carried a 20-minute feature by Tom Jelton that focused on the present and the future for the Cuban rum industry.

In his balanced report, Jelton identified interested parties, outlined the complex issues and offered possibilities for the future. In a conclusion, he highlighted the competence of managers now in charge of rum production in Cuba, along with a quote from an American source who indicated that the men in control of the assets will be major players after change in Cuban governance. The message was clear that the recent history of Russia and Eastern Europe would be a useful guide for the future.

In a previous issue of Intelligence Report we announced that a group of politicians and military officials in Cuba are exploring the privatization of the island along Russian lines after Castro's passing - an event that some in Cuba believe is not far away.

This publication has conducted an informal poll among exile Cuban leaders in the US about persons in Cuba who would be an obstacle for a policy of "forget and forgive" after Castro's death. While the answers varied somewhat, exile leaders seemed to agree that the members of this small group are: General Raul Castro, General Abelardo Colome, Comandante Ramiro Valdes, General Juan Escalona, and on the civilian side, Osmany Cienfuegos and Fernando Flores Ibarra. A group too small and old to be considered an impediment for a future peace and reunification of the island.

This informal survey was revealing in two aspects. First, this is a short list of six people. Second, the majority of the respondents see the future path of Cuba after Castro's death more as a matter of negotiation rather than a debacle of retribution and the settling of old scores.

What are the options open to the Cuban Communist Party and the Armed Forces?

Most political observers, including this publication, believe that an orderly transition to democracy is needed to end Cuba's present tragedy. We believe that overseas observers as well as thoughtful leaders inside the country recognize that it is essential to avoid a bloodbath of turmoil and retribution after the passing of Fidel.

Economic recovery and transition to a more democratic system of governance would be delayed and much more difficult to achieve if fighting takes place. Careful planning and an attitude of accommodation and good-will on all sides, will help to foster an orderly transition. For now, quiet contacts among all interested parties are taking place.

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