By Ricardo Israel Z. (for Safe Democracy)

Ricardo Israel Z. explains how, as long as Fidel Castro is alive, there will be no great transformations within the Cuban government. In Israel Z.‘s opinion, it is unlikely that the revolution will outlive the revolutionary, as Castro was a unique charismatic leader, yet in this time of uncertainty, the Cuban people will take refuge in order rather than in chaos. Cuba will most likely remain relatively calm until Castro‘s death, while the real confrontations take place behind closed doors, rather than on the streets.

Ricardo Israel Z. is a lawyer and a political scientist. He has a PhD and a master’s in Political Science from the University of Essex and is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Chile. He is the Director of the International Center for Quality in Democracy and of the School of Juridical and Social Sciences at the Autónoma University of Chile. Israel Z. also presides over the Committee on Armed Forces and Society, which is a part of the World Association of Political Science.

IN 47 YEARS IT HAD NEVER HAPPENED EVEN ONCE that President Fidel Castro referred power. But as evidence of the seriousness of his medical condition and the infirmity of his age, Castro gave up his authority quickly upon his ingression into the hospital, thus avoiding the danger of a lull in government.

Yet, it is very unlikely that any abrupt changes will take place. People, in times of uncertainty such as these, take refuge in order rather than in chaos.

And so, like going to your funeral before you are dead, perhaps Castro wanted to see what Cuba would be like when he was no longer there; to test the strength of his institutions against the vacancy of his leadership. The rest of the world is just as curious.


Although a longtime enemy to Castro’s regime, the United States does not appear willing to take advantage of the opportunity to destabilize the country and install a democracy. The reason for this is very simple: in a country preoccupied by immigration, the possibility of the reunification of hundreds of thousands of Cubans with their families in Miami is terrifying to the American government.

And so the likelihood of a Cuban-American influenced transformation in government is low.

It is also improbable that the peaceful transition to democracy that occurred in Spain after Franco’s death, will take place in Cuba.

Cuba is a much smaller country, with a much stronger, centralized government, and the end of Franquism was a rare moment in history.

Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, is the new temporary leader. He has been Fidel’s number-two man for ages, but he lacks the popularity and charisma that allowed Fidel to lead. His role in government has been overwhelmingly bureaucratic, letting his older brother do most of the talking. It is unlikely that Raul will be able to uphold castrism in the same way that his brother did.

And so there should be no huge changes as others temporarily step in to replace the ailing dictator. After all, there is only one Fidel Castro, and he was in power for over 47 consecutive years. If something changes it will be after his death. Only then will it become clear whether the revolution will outlive the revolutionary.

The real question to be asked here is: will this become a period of transition or succession?

Cuba is a country based much more upon fidelity than communism, and if there is a transition, the Armed Forces and the Catholic Church will play a key role.

If there is a succession, on the other hand, the fighting will take place within the government itself between the members of the old guard and the younger generation. The old guard is made up of those who have been with Castro since the very beginning of his guerrilla revolution.

The young are those who have never known Cuba without Fidel and who made their political careers alongside him. They occupy such important roles as the Vice-presidency of Cuba and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. It should come as no surprise, that Fidel’s private secretary, who communicated the news of his illness to the world, was a member of this younger generation.

There will most certainly be clashes between these younger, more idealistic leaders and their older counterparts.

As in all situations of this kind, the results will depend upon the fear of those who are leaving office and the impatience of those who are entering. Younger brother Raul cannot hope to hold office long, being only two years younger than Fidel, now 80.

Yet, no matter what happens, Cuba is in desperate need of change. From economic transformations, to the creation of free markets on the island, to the expansion of public liberties, one of the first steps that should be taken is to allow for multiple political parties instead of just one. But change in Cuba is still very distant.

For now, while Castro is still alive, the most probable is that Cuba will remain relatively calm. And when the struggle begins, it will take place behind closed doors, and not on the streets.

Safe Democracy would like to invite you to subscribe to the weekly electronic newsletter, with analysis and commentaries from our international experts (click here).