Fidel Castro has taken ill and turned over control of the government to his brother. The 80-year-old despot who has ruled Cuba for almost 50 years had a sudden bout of intestinal bleeding, requiring emergency surgery:
Fidel Castro temporarily relinquished his presidential powers to his brother Raul on Monday night and told Cubans in a statement that he had undergone surgery.
The Cuban leader said he had suffered intestinal bleeding, apparently due to stress from recent public appearances in Argentina and Cuba, according to the letter read live on television by his secretary, Carlos Valenciaga. ...
Castro said he was temporarily relinquishing the presidency to his brother and successor Raul, the defense minister.
He said the move was of "a provisional character."
Raul is no spring chicken either at 75. The quiet sibling of the Cuban strongman has taken more of an active public role of late, which might indicate that Fidel's health issues may not be as acute as Castro's announcement might indicate. Raul has taken over his brother's duties in both the Party and the presidency, and the nation has postponed Castro's upcoming birthday celebrations in two weeks until December.
That sounds like the Castros do not expect Fidel to be recuperating very quickly. If Fidel stays sidelined or declines significantly, one has to wonder how long Raul can hold the government in place. Raul has never had the kind of personality cult that his older brother encouraged for himself. When the strongman of a dictatorship fails or appears to do so, it causes the men around him to suddenly recalculate their own fortunes.
Even if Raul could hold things together, it won't be for very much longer in any case. His own advanced age, combined with the stress of domination, will tax him in a way that Fidel somehow avoided -- perhaps because he enjoyed it so much. Raul will likely not have the same quality and will quickly weaken.
This could develop rather quickly if Castro fails to return soon. Keep an eye on the Cuban-American bloggers, who will have the best information. And that means keeping my friend Val Prieto high up on your feedreader.
UPDATE: Well, Val doesn't disappoint; he's already all over this. He also gives a characteristically original caveat:
I feel I must urge everyone to take this news - however absolutely grand it is - with a grain of salt. castro has "died" many times before, only to then reappear like genital herpes. Let's all keep the champagne chilled, but let's not be popping any corks just yet.
UPDATE II: Er, "strongman of a dictatorship", not "strongman of a democracy". Thanks to LC Scotty in the comments for pointing out my brain fade.