By Chimène Coste (for Safe Democracy)

Chimène Coste describes the current state of political and social paralysis provoked by Fidel Castro‘s illness, leaving the Cuban people with a vacuum of power. Through written statements, Fidel delegated provisional powers to his brother Raul and several other members of his cabinet, yet no high-ranking official has stepped up to publicly assume power. Despite the seeming normality and unity of the Cuban people, strong tensions are coursing as the society militarizes and prepares for the transition. In Coste‘s opinion the most important question to be asked now is: What will prevail? the revolution or the family dynasty?

Chimène Coste is a political scientist with a Master’s in Political Sociology from the University of La Sorbonne in Paris. She is currently completing her doctorate on Cuba.

ON JULY 31ST CARLOS VALENCIAGA, FIDEL CASTRO’S PERSONAL SECRETARY, APPEARED SUDDENLY on every television screen in Cuba, with a statement written by the ailing leader. In it Castro declared that he would provisionally delegate his authority as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, Commander and Chief of the Heroic Revolutionary Armed Forces, and President of the State Council and Government of the Republic of Cuba to his brother, Raul Castro Ruiz.

He also added that he would provisionally delegate his authority as chief head of the national and international program of public health to Jose Ramon Balaguer Cabrera, a member of the cabinet; on Machado Ventura and Esteban Lazo Hernandez, also cabinet members, Castro provisionally delegated his authority, as chief head of the national and international program of education, and to Carlos Lage Davila, cabinet member and Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers, he handed over his authority as chief head of the national program of energetic revolution in Cuba.

On August 1st another message from Castro was read to millions on Cuban television: the state of Castro’s health would be kept secret and would not be conveyed at all to the public.

The situation in Cuba is completely unheard of. Fidel Castro disappeared suddenly from public life leaving the Cuban people in uncertainty. First he delegated all of his authority away through a written proclamation read by somebody else, and he did it only provisionally. In Havana rumors are flying. Has Castro already died? Everyone has different theories, but no one knows the true state of his health.

Since the news of his illness began to spread, Cuba has suffered both political and social paralysis. No high-ranking state official has stepped forward to take charge of the transition. Neither Raul Castro, nor any of the members of the cabinet have publicly taken power.

And while, the media is accepting the possibility of political transition within the country, no one seems willing or able to step forward and analyze the situation. In the streets, normality reigns: life continues as it always has.

Yet, there are strong tensions behind this apparent normality. The carnival in Havana was cancelled and it was forbidden to sell rum (the national drink) in the nightlife district of Malecón.

Other pieces of news are circulating without verification. The number of plain-clothes police has gone up drastically. The Armed Revolutionary Forces have mobilized and it is thought that some 300,000 reserve troops have also been called up. It’s impossible to be certain of the number, but the troops are everywhere, patrolling the city streets in their olive green uniforms. Tank movements are also being reported on the outskirts of Havana.

Yet despite all of this militarization, the public has by no mean reacted in fear. Acts of civil disobedience continue: many of the cities youth have hid themselves or simply refused to respond to military convocation.

The current situation is like a trial run for what will actually happen when Fidel dies. A kind of psychological war has begun on almost every medium of communication to preserve and bolster the status quo. Phrases like, We Will March On, More Socialism, Triumphant Will, are commonly heard throughout Cuba as well as We will achieve as much as this young man of 80 years, and in reference to the Cubans in Miami, maggots with bad taste. Once again, the Cuban government is using propaganda to prevent the emergence of an alternative to the opposite and irreconcilable poles of communism and capitalism.

The reactions of the people are being studied through organizations that study mass behavior, and Cuban security agents are patrolling the streets. The state has its eye on hot spots throughout the country to control any dissidents and keep possible insurrections down.

Yet, despite this militarization, the past weeks have been marked by normality, trust, unity of the people, and continuity.

The question, however, is what will continue, the revolution or the family dynasty?

Only one thing is certain: if Raul Castro wasn’t popular before, the government is doing everything that it can to glamorize him before the public, and legitimize him for power.

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