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Absence of Castro brothers could test Cuba’s Communist structure, experts say

MIAMI – Experts in Miami agree that even though Raul Castro will no longer officially lead the Cuban Communist Party, he still remains the most powerful man on the island. His partial absence will likely test the current structure.

Andy Gomez, a retired University of Miami professor, said Castro, 89, is a survivor. Many of his contemporaries, including Camilo Cienfuegos, Huber Matos and El Che Guevara, vanished from the limelight.

“I think Raul will be remembered for being able to keep the Cuban military loyal to Fidel and to the ideology of the Revolution,” Gomez said.

FILE - In this Feb. 8, 1986 file photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, left, joins hands with his younger brother Raul Castro, chief of the Cuban Armed Forces and first vice president, after the two were reelected during the 3rd Cuban Communist Party Congress session in Havana, Cuba. For most of his life, Raul Castro played second-string to his brother, but for the past decade, its Raul who's been the face of communist Cuba. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi, File) (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Michael Bustamante, a Florida International University assistant professor, said Cuba is going through a generational transition.

“I don’t know if the name will ever fade to the background,” Bustamante said.

Bustamante said Raul Castro was the one who began to experiment with free-market reforms in 2010, and Cuban officials are talking about expanding the private sector.

Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat, of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, a nongovernmental organization that supports the human rights movement in Cuba, said Castro is still in power.

“It must be understood that in the informal power structure of Cuba the Castro family still calls the shots,” Gutierrez-Boronat said. “They control the finances. They control the intelligence services. They control the army.”

Gutierrez-Boronat said that without Fidel and Raul Castro’s heavy-handed rule and their tight grip on power there is likely a leadership vacuum on the island.

“The absence of the two iconic Castro brothers just highlights the leadership crisis that these communist regimes tend to have,” Gutierrez-Boronat said.

Unlike Fidel Castro, Raul Castro was more open to experimenting with a highly regulated semi-private sector in Cuba.

The coronavirus pandemic and U.S. sanctions have deepened Cuba’s economic crisis. Access to the Internet, social media, and a growing underground independent media mean there is more resistance from a more informed populace, Gutierrez-Boronat said.

“The ingredients are in the right place for change to happen in Cuba,” Gutierrez-Boronat said

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About the Author:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.