A year later, and the Jeep is probably still in the shop

Fidel Castro died a year ago.  It was not a shock because there were serious rumors about his health all the time.  Almost weekly, there was a flash out of Miami that the old man had died.

During his funeral, a military vehicle (some sort of Soviet Jeep) took his remains to their final resting place.

Then the jeep broke down, and several soldiers had to push it.

The "malfunctioning Jeep" photo was so amazing that I had to triple-check it to believe it.

And so Raúl Castro was left all alone in power with a country that resembles that broken down Jeep!

My friend Carlos Alberto Montaner, one of the best Cuban analysts around, looks ahead to Raúl Castro's Cuba and some of the challenges ahead:

Raúl is president because that's what Fidel decided. 

He may have seemed a mediocre person to Fidel, without savvy and without charisma, but he was absolutely loyal, a virtue that paranoid people value far above all the others, so Fidel fabricated a biography for him to turn him into his shield bearer. 

He dragged him into the revolution. Made him commander. Made him defense minister. Made him vice president, and finally bequeathed to him the power, initiating the Castro dynasty.

Since then, Raúl has governed with his familial retinue. 

With his daughter Mariela, a restless and plain-speaking sexologist. 

With his son, Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, educated in the KGB's intelligence schools. 

With his grandson and bodyguard Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, son of Deborah. 

With his son-in-law or former son-in-law (nobody knows if he's still married to Deborah or if they divorced), Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, head of GAESA, the main holding of the Cuban chiefs of staff.

Those are the people who govern with Raúl, but they have three very serious problems. 

The most important is that very few believers in the system remain in Cuba. Sixty years of disaster are too many to stay faithful to that folly. Raúl himself lost his confidence in the system in the 1980s, when he sent many army officers to European centers to learn management and marketing techniques.

Raúl himself promised to leave in 2018 and has designated First Vice President Miguel Díaz Canel to formally take over.  However, don't bet on that, because an internal struggle is coming.

The first problem, as Carlos points out and everyone who goes to Cuba confirms, is that nobody believes in communism anymore in Cuba.  Everyone sees the failure, but a lot of people did not want to admit it when Fidel was around and probably fear saying it during Raúl's tenure.  As I heard a Cuban say, the only people who believe in communism in Cuba are the ones who are paid to read the news.

The second problem is that the post-Castro leaders will realize that there is no money, nor anyone willing to lend them any.  Yes, the Russians will help with debt structure, but that's in exchange for reopening an intelligence base near Havana.  As for the Chinese, they want minerals or other resources, and that's the extent of their interest.

So I agree with Carlos that the new leadership faces two bad options:

1) a true political opening or multiparty elections that will dismantle the system in hopefully peaceful fashion or

2) holding on to a failed system that everybody knows does not work and may threaten the power structure.

The first option will bring the U.S. into the game and end the embargo.  It will also encourage Cuban-Americans like me to play a part in reconstructing the country that the Castros wrecked.  The second option is unsustainable because even the Russians and Chinese are not about to bail out Cuba.

It was customary for many of our parents to close their eyes around the Christmas dinner table and say something like "next year in Cuba."  I feel that 2018 may just be that year!

PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Fidel Castro died a year ago.  It was not a shock because there were serious rumors about his health all the time.  Almost weekly, there was a flash out of Miami that the old man had died.

During his funeral, a military vehicle (some sort of Soviet Jeep) took his remains to their final resting place.

Then the jeep broke down, and several soldiers had to push it.

The "malfunctioning Jeep" photo was so amazing that I had to triple-check it to believe it.

And so Raúl Castro was left all alone in power with a country that resembles that broken down Jeep!

My friend Carlos Alberto Montaner, one of the best Cuban analysts around, looks ahead to Raúl Castro's Cuba and some of the challenges ahead:

Raúl is president because that's what Fidel decided. 

He may have seemed a mediocre person to Fidel, without savvy and without charisma, but he was absolutely loyal, a virtue that paranoid people value far above all the others, so Fidel fabricated a biography for him to turn him into his shield bearer. 

He dragged him into the revolution. Made him commander. Made him defense minister. Made him vice president, and finally bequeathed to him the power, initiating the Castro dynasty.

Since then, Raúl has governed with his familial retinue. 

With his daughter Mariela, a restless and plain-speaking sexologist. 

With his son, Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, educated in the KGB's intelligence schools. 

With his grandson and bodyguard Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, son of Deborah. 

With his son-in-law or former son-in-law (nobody knows if he's still married to Deborah or if they divorced), Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, head of GAESA, the main holding of the Cuban chiefs of staff.

Those are the people who govern with Raúl, but they have three very serious problems. 

The most important is that very few believers in the system remain in Cuba. Sixty years of disaster are too many to stay faithful to that folly. Raúl himself lost his confidence in the system in the 1980s, when he sent many army officers to European centers to learn management and marketing techniques.

Raúl himself promised to leave in 2018 and has designated First Vice President Miguel Díaz Canel to formally take over.  However, don't bet on that, because an internal struggle is coming.

The first problem, as Carlos points out and everyone who goes to Cuba confirms, is that nobody believes in communism anymore in Cuba.  Everyone sees the failure, but a lot of people did not want to admit it when Fidel was around and probably fear saying it during Raúl's tenure.  As I heard a Cuban say, the only people who believe in communism in Cuba are the ones who are paid to read the news.

The second problem is that the post-Castro leaders will realize that there is no money, nor anyone willing to lend them any.  Yes, the Russians will help with debt structure, but that's in exchange for reopening an intelligence base near Havana.  As for the Chinese, they want minerals or other resources, and that's the extent of their interest.

So I agree with Carlos that the new leadership faces two bad options:

1) a true political opening or multiparty elections that will dismantle the system in hopefully peaceful fashion or

2) holding on to a failed system that everybody knows does not work and may threaten the power structure.

The first option will bring the U.S. into the game and end the embargo.  It will also encourage Cuban-Americans like me to play a part in reconstructing the country that the Castros wrecked.  The second option is unsustainable because even the Russians and Chinese are not about to bail out Cuba.

It was customary for many of our parents to close their eyes around the Christmas dinner table and say something like "next year in Cuba."  I feel that 2018 may just be that year!

PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.