The National Intelligence Officer (“NIO”) for Latin America from 1990-1994, Dr. Brian Latell, published an op-ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that does a good job summarizing key recent events regarding the inevitable change in leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba. His analysis builds upon some of the arguments advanced in his book, After Fidel, published in 2005 and already in its second edition.
Latell argues that “skillfully Raúl Castro will lead and deal with inevitable crises once his brother is gone. He clearly wants to begin rectifying economic problems but knows that, for some time at least, he cannot broadly repudiate his brother’s legacy. A powerful backlash could come from fidelista hard-liners in the leadership …”.
The eventual change in Cuban Communist Party leadership or, we hope, broader and government-wide changes in the leadership structure and political of the island is a political chimera that, because of its nature, may not be easily contained. Many U.S. officials have repeatedly observed that predicting an outcome is difficult, if not outright impossible. Yet with just ninety miles of separation, planning is a necessity.
This planning is necessarily focused around the most likely scenario that “legitimizing the longer-term succession is surely now one of Raúl’s highest priorities.” What Cuba has wanted most for decades is recognition by the U.S. government and free access to the U.S. market place. For the moment, U.S. law makes clear how the Cubans can do that and it does not include either Castro brother in power.
Are Cuban Communist Party or high-ranking military officials paying any attention to the parameters of the Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act that would allow engagement with the U.S.? Who really knows but probably not and, as long as either of the Castro brothers loom on the leadership horizon, never will.