Looking at Cuba After Castro

Instead, most experts said the new regime would initially close ranks to protect against common enemies, and then attempt to make a little political ground by appearing to make reforms.

"They'll announce minor changes, let go a political prisoner or two [to convince the world they were reforming,]" said Hays, adding that most of these changes would likely only be cosmetic.

They won't do anything to jeopardize their position of power, he said.

Looking to the Future

True democratic reform only has a chance after Raul, according to most analysts.

Like Mao, Tito and Stalin before him, Castro is a charismatic revolutionary figure — but Raul doesn't have the same presence and when he takes over he may be forced to adopt other methods to retain loyalty.

Hays predicted that after his ascension, Raul would award many of the country's prime enterprises and properties to the military or other power-brokers.

However, the prizes will only delay an inevitable power struggle that's expected to emerge as each member of the new power structure acts to maintain and extend their interests.

"It seems to me many of the people who are rational, intelligent people who definitely want to continue to enjoy the privileges of power will seek ways to normalize and legitimize their position," Jorge said, adding that some of them may think the best way to stay in power is to introduce democratic reforms.

Even more impetus may come from the Cuban people, who have suffered economically for so long out of their admiration for the charismatic Comandante. "There won't be any possible rational motivation, to keep going on in sacrifice," Jorge said.

The 1996 Helms-Burton Act prohibits full diplomatic and trade relations between the U.S. and Cuba until the island achieves full democracy and frees political prisoners, and both Fidel and Raul are out of power.

Hope and Despair

However, if Washington eases up on the new regime because it appears to have reformed itself, Hays fears that Cuba would simply become "a more efficient dictatorship."

He expressed worries that Cuba might become like China.

"We see it all the time ... most people can't name a political prisoner in Cuba," he said, drawing a comparison to the Czech Republic, and how it emerged from Communism with the help of famous dissident Vaclav Havel.

But Jorge says the parallels between Cuba and many of the new democracies in Eastern Europe are already there — and comparisons to China and the Soviet Union don't fit.

"There's no question that Cuba has had more experience with democratic institutions than the Soviet Union or China."

The island, in fact, has more than 50 years of history as a republic — and that, he said, made him believe that Cuba could one day move into democracy.

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