By Pedro G. Cavallero (for Safe Democracy)

Pedro G. Cavallero remarks that even if it has been known for years that Raul Castro (Fidel’s younger brother) is the regime’s number-two figure, or even the island’s de facto regent, it is less clear what the brother-to-brother succession would mean for the regime’s continuity. Cavallero comments on the two possible after Fidel scenarios, both dominated by the Cuban military: either a succeeding praetorian regime resulting from Raul assuming leadership, as repressive as the current one, or a second even more worrisome scenario that would occur if Raul were to die before his brother.

Pedro German Cavallero is a policy analyst based in Washington DC. He holds a master degree in Comparative Law and comments regularly on U.S. foreign policy and inter-American affairs.

EVEN THOUGH, IT HAS BEEN KNOWN FOR YEARS THAT RAUL CASTRO (Fidel’s younger brother and the regime’s number-two figure) was the Cuban Revolution’s anointed torch carrier, it is less clear what the brother-to-brother succession would mean for the regime’s continuity.

In recent years, Raul, the longest-serving defense minister in the Western Hemisphere, has been acting more prominently, while acquiring a larger role within Cuba’s inner sanctums. Some analysts even refer to him as the island’s de facto regent.


During the past four decades, Raul Castro has been running the armed forces as a quasi-autonomous domain. With an obsession for detail, he managed to remove any semblance of disloyalty or discontent. In fact, all along he has been the supreme guardian of the status quo.

In his book, After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro’s Regime and Cuba’s Next Leader Brian Latell poses potential outcomes for the day after. According to him, the Cuban military (the country’s most powerful and influential institution) will play a central role in determining the course of events.


Latell presents two possible scenarios. In the first, a succeeding praetorian regime dominated by Raul would take over, initiating a rather colorful version of the same highly-repressive system. Accordingly, he seems to be in favor of a Chinese type of regime (the Beijing formula), which implies no political freedoms for ordinary Cubans, unrelenting control over the society, and limited economic concessions.

Unlike Fidel, Raul Castro is not wed to ideological certainties, nor inclined to engage in utterly-dogmatic rhetoric. Cuban affairs analysts see him as more concerned with the widespread socio-economic hardships that erode popular support, explaining why he has advocated so strongly for economic reforms. Ultimately, these reforms have benefited and strengthened the military establishment, as he aligns trusted collaborators on the most important projects. At the same time, Latell sees little chance for civilian-led dissenting groups to articulate any realistic challenge to the system for as long the military remains united.

The book’s second scenario analyzes an even more worrisome future if Raul were to die before his brother. In this course of action, the succession roadmap –and accordingly, the revolution’s continuity– would be seriously endangered as no other leader in the party, government, or military has the credentials or status to make a credible claim to be next after the Castros. Ultimately, this outcome would result from Fidel’s rigid determination to prevent the emergence of any potential contender.

The resulting power vacuum would likely generate political instability, and even chaos, as all three lines of succession (government, Party, and the defense ministry) will contend for the upper-hand. In the midst of the ensuing unrest, massive waves of desperate Cuban balseros would then flee toward the Florida straits, triggering an American military intervention.

A third possible scenario is missing in After Fidel. As its author ponders the complex Cuban domestic dynamics (and the American factor) he overlooks the regional context where the Cuban drama would also unfold. Indeed, Latin America has been the revolution’s primary source of international legitimacy.

Historically, Fidel Castro enjoyed an iconic status among Latin American masses, which has fueled a strong anti-American sentiment.

In the early 1980s, when several countries in the region initiated their journey back toward democracy, they still avoided condemning Cuba’s dreary human rights records. Appallingly, they overlooked Fidel’s regular crackdowns on dissidents and independent political activity. Even in countries with open bounds from long years lived under harsh autocracies (such as Argentina, Chile, and Brazil), elected leaders remained silent as Cubans were denied basic freedoms and liberties.

However, the historical and emotional allegiances will start to fade as soon as Fidel leaves the scene. By then, it will be extremely difficult for the Latin American democracies to condone the empowerment of an anachronistic military clique. Once Fidel is gone, an entire era of worn-out revolutionaries will follow suit.