After Fidel

2008-02-26 00:00

Fidel Castro has just stepped down as president of Cuba. Despite being public enemy number one of the United States for almost half a century, he outlasted nine American presidents. He is the great survivor. As a charismatic revolutionary he has been a cult figure in the communist world but his regime has become increasingly anachronistic in the 21st century.

The large number of Cuban exiles in Florida and elsewhere in the U.S. is testimony to the unpopularity of his government among some at least, but nobody can dispute that there is now 98% literacy in Cuba and good medical care is freely available to all. In fact, child mortality rates compare favourably with Western countries.

For nearly 50 years Raul Castro has stood unobtrusively in the shadow of his elder brother. Now the baton has been passed to him. Analysts are divided as to what kind of leader he might make, but it is unlikely that he will be in the vanguard of change. The choosing of 77-year-old ideologue Jose Ramon Machado Ventura as his first vice-president does not suggest the immediate demise of communism.

However, Raul’s reliance on the faithful old guard for his leadership team might well indicate a sense of insecurity in the corridors of power. The young revolutionaries of 1959 are now in their seventies. Time is not on their side. Is their defensiveness perhaps an indication of their eroding support in a changing world?

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