February 24, 2008

The Next Revolution Will Come Sooner Than They Think

As expected, the Cuban national assembly rubber-stamped Raul Castro as his brother Fidel's replacement as dictator of the island nation. However, instead of keeping Carlos Lage in the ceremonial post of vice-president, or perhaps grooming a successor to the septuagenarian Raul, they picked a man older than Raul as his backup:

Cuba's parliament named Raul Castro president on Sunday, ending nearly 50 years of rule by his brother Fidel but leaving the island's communist system unshaken.

In a surprise move, officials bypassed younger candidates to name a 77-year-old revolutionary leader, Jose Ramon Machado, to Cuba's No. 2 spot — apparently assuring the old guard that no significant political changes will be made soon.

The retirement of the ailing 81-year-old president caps a career in which he frustrated efforts by 10 U.S. presidents to oust him.

Raul Castro, 76, stressed that his brother remains "commander in chief" even if he is not president and proposed to consult with Fidel on all major decisions of state — a motion approved by acclamation.

The message is continuity, and its intended recipients go beyond the really old guard. Some had speculated that Raul would serve as mostly a caretaker for his brother until both die, and that that communists would start to groom the next generation for the eventual transition. Instead, it looks like the Castro establishment has decided to stake their claim to the past instead of the future.

This means a tough transition for the Cuban people when the old guard dies off, especially after the Castro brothers shuffle off the mortal coil. Instead of having a rational handoff of power, this move practically guarantees a civil war within the second generation. It could touch off a revolution if it spreads far enough, and without the Castros, it could come quickly.

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