This week, Cuba entered a new, post-Castro era. For 60 years, the country had been directly led by two members of one family. First, there was Fidel Castro, a charismatic but often ruthless revolutionary who was prime minister between 1959 and 1986 and then president until 2008.
After Fidel stepped down, his younger brother and loyal ally, Raúl, took over.
On Thursday, the 86-year-old Raúl Castro stepped down as the head of Cuba’s Council of State, a position that effectively serves as Cuba’s president. There was only one candidate offered to succeed him: Miguel Díaz-Canel, a 58-year-old non-Castro civilian.
Is this the end of the dynasty that has controlled Cuba for decades? Probably not. Many critics contend that Raul, who will remain as head of the Communist Party until his term ends in 2021, would keep the real power for himself. But it is notable that the next generation of the dynasty - the Castro kids - are not officially taking hold of the reigns.
Many political dynasties operate based on blood lineage. One obvious example is North Korea, another small, still-nominally-Communist country that emerged as a separate state around the same time as the Cuban revolution propelled the Castros to power. The Kim dynasty, founded by the Kim Il Sung, has now held onto power for three generations. There are no signs that it will relinquish it any time soon.
And if the passing of power from generation to generation is common in autocracies, it isn’t unheard of in democracies, either. Even in the United States, political power can pass down through generations. Two generations of the Bush family held the presidency within the space of two decades - and certainly, another President Trump is not outside the realm of possibility for the United States of the future.
Raúl Castro had the option of choosing his successor - he had openly described Díaz-Canel as handpicked Thursday. “His election is not by chance,” Castro said. But Raúl did not choose a Castro, even though there were plenty to choose from: Although details about the extended family were once kept quiet, it is now believed that Fidel had 11 children, while Raúl himself had four.
Some of the younger Castros are obviously unsuitable to the job. Fidel’s only son from his first marriage, also named Fidel but popularly known by the diminutive Fidelito, was once in charge of Cuba’s nuclear program. He was removed from many government positions in 1992 after falling out with his father, who reportedly accused him of “incompetence”; he killed himself early this year.
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Another high-profile child was Alina Fernández, the product of an affair between Fidel and a Cuban socialite, who fled Cuba in 1993 and became a vocal critic of the Cuban government. Of Fidel’s known children from his second wife, most seemed to avoid the limelight: One son was a state photographer; another worked with the Cuban Baseball Federation; and another was once reported to be a computer scientist. None appear to have held political ambitions.
Raúl’s children are more politically minded. One daughter, Mariela Castro, is a prominent campaigner for AIDS prevention and LGBT rights, and a member of Cuba’s National Assembly. Her brother, Alejandro Castro Espín, runs Cuba’s counterintelligence services and helped secretly negotiate with the Obama administration. Also of note is Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, formerly Raul’s son-in-law, who has a powerful position running the business arm of the Cuban military.
This younger generation may well come to play a role behind the scenes in Cuba. However, the Castro family also has a history of political division: Fidel and Raúl’s eldest sister, Juanita Castro, defected from Cuba in 1964 after collaborating with the Central Intelligence Agency. The family of Fidel Castro’s first wife, Mirt Diaz-Balart, have become prominent U.S.-based critics of the Castro regime.
As he passed the presidency over to Díaz-Canel, Raúl Castro emphasized that continuation as a theme of the changeover of power. Díaz-Canel himself said that he would bring “continuity to the Cuban revolution” and change in the context of Cuban socialism. With a reputation as a consensus-builder, he is expected to largely follow the cautious reforms of Raúl Castro. If the current plan holds, Díaz-Canel will hold a powerful position in Cuban politics until 2031; first as president for two terms, then as Communist Party leader for two terms.
Such a change may be in keeping with what Fidel Castro would have wanted, too. When Fidelito was removed from his government position in 1992, Fidel reportedly told a journalist: “What’s the problem? We don’t have a monarchy here.”