Fidel Castro has passed away, and after the initial moment of crying and celebrations – temporary phenomena which are still necessary – there is one fact that we have to assimilate. His figure has marked the fate of too many lives for decades, which means that something so defining like his death can’t be overlooked.
Now comes a feeling of emptiness and helplessness among the Cuban people. Up until just over 20 years ago, the idea of Castro dying in his bed was a difficult idea for the exile community in Miami to take in. Then, it slowly began to dawn on them.
In the final stages of his life, beyond the ravages of illness, the irony that getting old means and the images that revealed his physical decline, the fact was always present that, in spite of everything, Castro was still the one to call the shots, even in his stubbornness in the face of death.
For those who lived on the island, getting used his daily absence came naturally and on time, in keeping with the generation that he belonged to, and the next steps that they had to accept. For some Cubans, Castro was their entire life. Many of them lived and died without knowing any other leader. This emotional burden isn’t easy to assimilate. The cries and sobs, the display of sorrow and joy, tributes and rejection, will barely be able to channel just how great the meaning of this event is.
Among the exile community, after the initial reaction, two feelings will settle in, which might seem contradictory but at the end of the day, they are complementary. The first has to do with the end of a chapter. The second has to do with the end of a dream.
“No Castro, no problem” was a favorite bumper sticker on emigres’ cars at one point. However, Castro lived long enough to prove that his physical disappearance wouldn’t be the end of their stress: his departure isn’t synonymous with a leap back in time, a return to Cuba in the 1950s.
In this sense, their reasons for not doing it differently have also disappeared with Castro. For decades, Cubans learned to master the art of being patient: a better future, a gradual change in living conditions, a fortunate journey abroad. This included an attitude of not taking risks, of believing in chance and resigning oneself to indifference.
If leaving the country has meant for many Cubans being able to have a destiny without Fidel Castro’s presence, there is a whole other set of emotions – defined by geography and history – which takes on emotions that go beyond their departure. Some Cubans try to turn the page and carry on with their lives, while this proves to be a difficult task for others. If they had managed to forget the figure of “Commander in Chief”, the day that he died, on a conscious level or not, they would have had to come up with an alternative to forgetting, or not, this event as soon as possible. Not being able to do this would result in another period of frustration. Trying to, however, would bring greater hope. For others, less fortunate, Fidel Castro will remain dead for too long.
Another question, which is also emotional, but more political in nature and with usual implications, is what will happen in Cuba in a not-so-distant future.
When the Cuban government tries to sell the image of Miguel Diaz-Canel, as Raul Castro’s successor to the presidency, they reveal their game of poker to the world where participants have two different packs of cards: some have one set of cards, others have another pack and third parties have another one.
Because power isn’t passed down at the polls or via the president in Cuba, but mainly by the Party machine.
Along with Diaz-Canel, 56 years old, who will take on the presidential role in Cuba by law in the case that Raul Castro dies or resigns, there is Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 86 years old, who would then become the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. A unique blend of the old and the new, where both of these figures don’t really fit into these definitions either.
This kind of death in the palace places the math of life in the foreground, and as well as feeding Miami´s current hopes, also poses again the hidden but present question about Cuba’s possible options, not in the sense of fighting for power which has always been on the cards but rather about its immediacy. When Fidel Castro passed away, this out-dated concept of time which had reigned in Cuba for decades shattered forever: the eternity of the moment blessed on January 1st 1959 ended.
Raul Castro currently controls both powers (the government and the Party), like his brother did when he was in power. However, he doesn’t seem to be willing to extend this privilege to somebody else.
So, in order for Diaz-Canel to reach a true position of power in Cuba, he would have to travel a long path, whose steps still depend on him becoming the Party’s Second Secretary (he didn’t manage to do this in April this year), then he would have to become the President of the State Council and the Council of Ministers (we have to wait and see if he manages to do this in February 2018) and last but not least, he’ll have to win the position of the Cuban Communist Party’s First Secretary (8th PCC Congress, three years later). An ideal process that has very little to do with Cuban reality.
If Diaz-Canel is the physical face at unimportant events and speeches, and Machado Ventura appears from time to time at unimportant meetings and doesn’t say anything worth repeating, there are other figures who do command – with their actions and not speeches – and seem to be flagged to define the course of our country´s future; not in terms of Raul and Fidel Castro, but not in the comedy of Diaz-Canel and Machado Ventura’s mistakes neither.
These are two military men who have very close ties to the current leadership, but their positions don’t come down to family privileges: Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin and General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja.
None of this was resolved at the 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress, which wasn’t a defining moment and was simply labeled a game of marbles, another march of a cemetery full of elephants who refuse to accept that they are nothing but bones.
Up until now, the funeral celebrations being held for Fidel Castro don’t reveal much about Cuba’s future, and nothing seems to indicate that things will have changed by the end of them. It is simple confirmation of a succession that took place over a decade ago. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the next few months or maybe even in a few years.
For the time being, and with Raul Castro in good health, or so it seems, the fate of Cuba lies in the hands of Nature once again. That a series of deaths in a relatively short period of time, like what happened in the now dissolved Soviet Union, is still just another possibility among many others. There is only room for so much wishful thinking in Fidelista Miami.
In this regard, the two most important events this November which have ended today – Donald Trump´s election to be the next US President and Fidel Castro´s death – have once again sparked the dreams of going back in time in this city. It’s a longing which is reinforced by the fact that part of Trump’s victory is precisely founded on this ideal, with regard to US society. But just as much as this has to do with Cuba and the US, going back in time is impossible.
In the edition of the U.S. News and World Report magazine which was published on September 18th 1995, an article written by Linda Robinson about Cuba was featured under the heading “Casualties in a War of Wills”. The aim of her piece was to show that family ties between residents on the island and in exile were much stronger than the rivalry between the US and Cuban governments at the time.
Back then, Fidel Castro had already won the family battle. Like in soap operas, when the plot reveals new unexpected events on a daily basis which leave what happened the day before in the past, manipulation of these strong family ties, which defines us Cubans, had been transformed – after an initial period of the Government’s ideological purposes, insisting on destroying these ties – in a successful effort to convert the Cuban community abroad into one of the Cuban people living on the island’s greatest economic sources.
The exile community´s mistake, who now want to wipe the slate clean and start over, is to not take into account the changes that have been occurring in Cuba over the last ten years and in the exile community itself over the last two decades. It won’t be this exile community which will inevitably disappear one day, like Castro, nor will it be their heirs, born outside of Cuba, those who will define Cuba´s future at the end of the day, unless they do so by force, but otherwise it will be the country’s new generations.
Paraphrasing Sartre: now that Fidel Castro is dead, some emigres feel obliged to create a new one: they need him to be enduring, eternal and permanent in their lives. If they needed him alive before, to believe that he was dead, now -110% ironically – they hold fast onto the hope that his physical disappearance will allow them to tear off the pages of a calendar that no longer exists.
There are three institutions of control on the island, which are regularly confused and have been united under Fidel and Raul Castro: the military, the political-ideological and the administrative.
The essential and immediate change to the end of both of the Castro brothers’ reign in power – naturally or voluntarily – will break this triad. Just because one is dead, doesn’t mean the other one is void. Understanding this path will prevent confusion about the handing over of power. In Cuba, there won’t be an inheritance of power, like there was in North Korea, and there won’t be a generational transfer that leaves out its origins.
The essential thing in this transition process is not to get stuck on information and short cuts, that try to predict the present or future role of Colonel Castro Espin within this change – and fall into the old outline of the omnipresent Fidel Castro relating to the exile community in Miami: in this case with his nephew in power – but understand that a new system which subordinates ideology, politics and administration to business potential, only in Cuban terms, has been established years ago.
Therefore, these military men will remain in the middle of this equation, already transformed into the main economic power, once Raul Castro disappears, loses his functions like his brother did, or that the suspicious promise of him retiring comes true.