As envisioned by Miami’s long-enduring Cuban-exile community, it was always supposed to happen with a bang. The forever-hoped-for end of the Castro brothers’ chokehold on Cuba would be momentous, defining. It would portend the brightest of futures for the island.
Instead, the end came last week with a cruel whimper — Cuban leader Raúl Castro, the highest ranking, still-standing original 1959 Cuban revolutionary, passed the torch to a designated successor, Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel. The ceremony was mostly political theatrics signaling no significant changes; no halt to human-rights abuses.
Miami radio commentator Ninoska Perez Castellón, who has opposed the Castros for decades, told the Editorial Board this is simply empty posturing to maintain the illusion of an enduring Cuban revolutionary spirit.
“This is not a change in power, but merely a strategy,” she said.
The 86-year-old Castro has now moved out of the spotlight. But no way has he exited the stage. He’ll simply be the new president’s puppeteer.
Castro will retain the leadership of the powerful Communist Party, the entity that governs politics, the economy and daily life in Cuba with an iron fist. Díaz-Canel might be the new leader, but Castro remains the boss. But at Castro’s age, for how long can that really last?
For once, however, there is no other commanding Castro on the horizon. Raúl’s sons are powerful but have remained in the background. That means for all practical purposes, the Castro name will begin to fade from the public arena. It’s a small consolation.
From now on, the official invitations to international events — and talks with the United States — will be addressed to Diaz-Canel, not a Castro. He will be the visible face of the government, the target of criticism from a population tired of long decades of anguish, misery and oppression. And Castro, who took power in 2006, never had his older brother’s charisma, so world leaders likely will not flock to visit him in Havana and keep his name in the news.
So the empty transition should still feel significant on a personal level for the nearly 1 million Cubans — or their descendants — who were forced into exile by the brothers’ regime.
Even if this change of power is just part of Cuban theatrics, the passage of time has now taken its toll on the Castro brothers.
The damage they did is a deep pit of human suffering: The deaths and imprisonment of thousands of Cubans who opposed them and the lives derailed as more than a million Cubans fled forever changed the course of the island, of course, but also of South Florida, the state and the nation. The brothers stayed in power for 59 years between them, as if that were their birthright.
The original Castros now are more a part of Cuba’s past than its future. The new leader, an electronic engineer who just turned 58, has offered no hope for meaningful reform. In his first speech as president, he said that, “The revolution continues and will continue to live.” That only suggests dragging a moribund past into the future.
But hard financial times are ahead for Cuba again because President Trump has curtailed U.S. travel to the island following the unprovoked sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats.
We can only hope that the relatively young Diaz-Canel secretly harbors more progressive ideas and invoked the revolution only because the boss was there, breathing down his neck.
As always, time will tell.