Post-Fidel Castro Era Begins

The absence of Fidel Castro at his own 80th birthday celebration and the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution on Dec. 2 in Havana clearly marked the beginning of the post-Fidel Castro era in Cuba and the commencement of a new period under Raul Castro.

The main questions that remain unanswered are how effective Raul Castro will be and for how long he will be able to maintain "continuity" in the leadership structure.

Fidel's strengths have been his charismatic leadership and ability to keep 11.4 million people complacent and believing in his failed revolution. In reality, Fidel has run the nation based on Fidelismo -- his own personal charisma and enrichment. Forbes recently estimated the dictator's net worth to be nearly $1 billion.

Raul, on the other hand, has been an ardent communist since his teens and lacks the charisma of his brother. Raul, however, has been very effective in leading the most important institution in Cuba -- the military. The military now controls more than 60 percent of the economy. It is in the military leadership's interest to maintain a Raul Castro government for its own financial benefit.

Raul Castro is unlikely to introduce political reforms once Fidel is gone, but will need to make minimal economic reforms to placate the Cuban people and buy himself time to solidify power. Reforms will likely look similar to a Chinese model: controlled political ideology with a degree of economic reform.

Raul has been increasingly interested in this model since a late-1990s visit to China. Reforms may include improving accessibility of food, housing conditions, health care provision, the quality of education, and finally putting the Cuban people to work repairing the nation's dated infrastructure.

Raul may also allow Cubans to operate small enterprises in order to generate currency and to pacify the masses. Furthermore, the dissident movement on the island remains too small, poorly funded and poorly organized to present any alternative to a Raul Castro succession government.

Andy Gomez is the assistant provost and a senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

Minimal economic reforms may not be enough to appease the 2.2 million Cubans born after the fall of the Soviet Union and loss of financial and political support to the island in 1991. They have no strong allegiance to Fidel, Raul, or communism.

This is the group of Cubans who will want to leave the island at the first opportunity. For most, this will mean South Florida to reunite with family and friends and the chance to live in freedom. The United States must prepare for the likely inundation of immigrants at a time when the issue of illegal immigration will be at the forefront of the 2008 elections.

The Cuban-American community, concentrated in Miami, has waited for nearly a half decade for the demise of Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution with the hope the Cuban people will once again live in a free and democratic society. However, the events of Dec. 2 and all evidence from inside the island indicate those hopes may remain unfulfilled.

In a recent poll, by Bendixen and Associates, more than 80 percent of Cuban-Americans said they would not return to Cuba even under a democratic government.

Further, a UT-Pan American/University of California poll taken more than a year ago found that Cuba ranked fifth in order of importance to the Cuban-American community in Miami, following the Iraq war, the U.S. economy, rising healthcare costs, and affordable education.

There is a deep psychological divide between Cubans on the island and Cuban-Americans in the United States. Their political and social values, attitudes and beliefs have diverged, making miscommunication and conflict likely. This will be a challenge for the Cuban-American community in contributing to a transition in Cuba.

Raul is likely to be effective at mollifying the Cuban people by making minor improvements to the quality of their daily lives. However, the Cuban revolution may not extend beyond the name Castro. It will be very difficult for a non-Castro leader to avoid an uprising of the people without major political, economic, and social reforms.

Any reform and possible move toward democracy will be slow in coming in a society accustomed to totalitarian rule. The real challenge will be the reconstruction of human values and attitudes to support democratic change.

Andy Gomez is the assistant provost and a senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.