The New Yorker, March 18, 2018
Original Article: As Castro Prepares to Leave
The year 2018 is a seminal one for Latin America: two-thirds of the region’s people will choose new national governments, and the citizens of Communist Cuba will be among them. Last Sunday, the island held parliamentary elections to elect a new roster of deputies for the National Assembly of the People’s Power, Cuba’s parliament. It was the penultimate step in a series of complex voting exercises that make up Cuba’s version of political democracy. Twelve thousand ward delegates had already been chosen in a public ballot in November. Next, in a historic final step, scheduled to take place on April 19th, the six-hundred-and-nine-person National Assembly will vote for a leader to replace Raúl Castro, who is now eighty-six and intends to vacate the Presidency. (He has served two five-year terms, which he has declared to be the limit for the office.) Once he does, someone other than a Castro will rule the island for the first time since 1959; In 2006, Raúl succeeded his ailing brother, Fidel, in office, and officially assumed his duties in 2008. Castro’s likely successor is the Vice-President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, a fifty-seven-year-old, second-generation Party stalwart. It’s always possible that someone else will emerge; a number of Castro heirs presumptive have fallen in the past. But it seems improbable now. Díaz-Canel has been in his job for five years, following stints as a provincial Party chief, so his selection would telegraph a message of steadiness to Cuba’s citizens and to the outside world.
In any event, Castro will remain the secretary-general of the Communist Party, meaning that he will continue to be the maximum arbiter of political life in Cuba. Given his age, however, he may not stay in the post for long. He is said to be planning to move to the city of Santiago, on the eastern end of the island, not far from the farmlands where he and his brother were born. Fidel’s ashes are encased in a boulder in a cemetery in Santiago, and Raúl’s final resting place will be in a mausoleum in the nearby Sierra Maestra mountains, where the Castros fought the guerrilla war that brought them to power.
For much of the past two decades, many of nation’s economic needs were provided for by oil-rich Venezuela, but that supply has been dropping, and, particularly if Maduro loses power sometime soon, Cuba will need a new partner. Coinciding with Trump’s pullback, the Russians, for one, have exhibited a growing interest in revitalizing their own presence on the island. Moscow has resumed oil shipments to Cuba, for the first time this century, and other export and infrastructure deals are under way.
Trump’s bullying only makes it more likely that the Cubans, with or without a Castro, will do what they have done for the past fifty-nine years: exhibit stubborn pride and, if necessary, forge tactical alliances with any of America’s geostrategic foes who might be willing to watch their back.