What Happens When Castro Dies?

| Tue Aug. 1, 2006 1:42 PM EDT

Now that's good journalistic timing. Jon Lee Anderson had a New Yorker article last week asking who would succeed Fidel Castro should the Cuban dictator die, and now, today, Castro is temporarily handing over the reins to his brother Raúl. So we should all read Anderson's article, which… sadly isn't online.

So you'll just have to trust my summary. The short answer is that Raúl would succeed Fidel. But Raúl's already 75, and he might not be long for this world, either. So after Raúl, Cuba would probably be run by a civilian triumvirate made up of Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Rocque, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón, and Carlos Lage, the "country's economics czar." All of them seem keen on continuing Cuba's socialist government, although historically triumvirates don't always go as smoothly as planned. So we'll see. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has its own plans to take advantage of an uncertain transition period in Cuba:

In December, 2003, President Bush appointed Senator Martinez as cochair of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, along with Colin Powell. Their mandate was to find ways to "hasten the end of Castro's tyranny," and to develop "a comprehensive strategy to prepare for a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba." The result of their work was a five-hundred-page report, issued in May, 2004, that included guidelines for everything from setting up a market economy to holding elections. It also recommends "undermining the regime's 'succession strategy.'"...

The report, which the Bush Administration adopted as policy, recommended the appointment of a Cuba transition coördinator. The person named to the new post was Caleb McCarry, whose previous position was staff director for the House Foreign Relations Committee's Western Hemisphere subcommittee. When I spoke with McCarry, he said, "My function is to be the senior U.S. official in charge of planning and supporting a genuine democratic transition in Cuba, and to work on it now." He is, in effect, the Paul Bremer designate of Cuba. As with Iraqi however, the United States is hampered by its inability to operate openly in Cuba, and by its reliance on information from exiles and dissidents. And it does not seem to have a candidate for Castro's replacement.

McCarry said that, while the transition would be in Cuban hands, "we will be there to offer very concrete support." The U.S. is already channelling money and aid to the opposition. Two leading dissidents, Osvaldo Paya and Elizardo Sánchez, have said that this tactic has been counterproductive, and criticized it as heavy-handed meddling. Many of the dissidents arrested in 2003 were accused of illegally receiving American funds. (In a speech, Castro called them "mercenaries.")

McCarry emphasized that the Administration would not regard the accession of Raúl Castro as a satisfactory outcome, even if it was accompanied by economic reforms. "We will continue to offer support for a real transition," he said. "You know, this is not an imposition. It's an offer, a very respectful offer, with respect for the sense of Cuban nationhood."
Not surprisingly, a number of Cuban exiles are apprehensive about the idea of the United States meddling in yet another foreign country, trying to impose democracy and the like from without. That's true not least because many Cubans fear that any American-backed government that came to power would take away their homes and give them to their old owners from the Batisto era. So it's certainly something to keep an eye on.